Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When "Messianic Christianity" Becomes Dangerous

A few years ago, I was invited to sit in on a bible study that was pitched as a time to learn more about the Jewish roots of Christianity by a pastor from a Messianic Congregation. I love the topic and desired to put on the scuba gear and dive a little deeper. Having brought a few folks from the congregation that I served, we quickly learned that the gathering had the agenda of converting Christians (who do not observe the Jewish customs as found the Scripture), call them to repent of Anglicizing Jesus, and to embrace Jewish Christianity. This email exchange is a small sample of conversations we had as a group and in personal correspondence before we were asked to leave.


Thanks for coming out and sharing your convictions in such an approachable way. Looking over your paper and thinking over the talk, I have to say that there’s a lot that must disagree with. I’ve included some of my thoughts in this email. Please let me know what you think.


In your presentation, you essentially said Christians who do not obey days such as Sabbath are in disobedience to God. When James declares that faith works, you interpret “works” as referring to things like Sabbath-keeping. Which means, in your view, that Christians who do not keep Sabbath are not working as they should. Again, when Jesus says that those who love him keep his commands, by “commands” you believe that he is referring to things like feast-keeping.

Now this is also what you’ve said in your paper. You say that Archbishop is correct when he says “the written word explicitly enjoins the observation of the seventh day as the Sabbath.” Also, the church has “adopted, and do practice, the observance of Sunday, for which they have only the tradition of the (Catholic) church.” In other words, you’re saying that if we truly believed in Scripture alone, then we would keep Sabbath and abandon the tradition of Sunday worship.

It’s almost as if your claiming there’s no substantiation at all for the present practices of mainstream Christianity. This is odd to me, because I think that there’s not just a little, but significant Scriptural and historical support for how Christians regard their relationship with Jewish customs. I assume given your claims, that you have done serious analysis of the support that Christians give for why they do not adhere to certain Mosaic prescription. I would love to here you’re critique of these reasons. Here are some of the reason I would give for my position.

For example, I’m sure you know of the references in the New Testament of Sunday worship. Contrary to your claim that the Council of Trent (in the 16th century) or Constantine (in the 4th century) replaced the Sabbath with Sunday, we have ample Biblical and Historical evidence to the contrary.

We know that the empty tomb was discovered on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1). Further, we see that Christians so venerated the resurrection that they began worshipping on Sunday. We see believers gathered together in holy convocation (Acts 20:7). Paul would have believers set aside their earnings to be given on the first day of the week within the context of worship (1Cor16:1).

Further, we see the testimony of early church leaders who confirm the importance of Sunday.

Ignatius (30-107), "If, then, those who walk in the ancient practices attain to newness of hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but fashioning their lives after the Lord's Day on which our life also arose through Him, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only teacher."

Justin Martyr (100-165), "And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place and memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits....Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assemble because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness in matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead."

The Epistle of Barnabas (between 120-150), "'Your new moons and sabbaths I cannot endure' (Isa 1:13) You perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me but that which I had made in giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is a beginning of another world. Wherefore also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, a day also in which Jesus rose from the dead."

Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (178), "The mystery of the Lord's resurrection may not be celebrated on any other day than the Lord's Day."

Cyprian (220-258), "The Lord's day is both the first and the eighth day."

Though obviously not Scripture, these leaders provide powerful historical evidence that the wide spread practice established practice of the Christian faith was that of Sunday worship. I think this is especially relevant with guys like Ignatius and Justin Martyr, the former probably being a disciple of the apostle John (with Polycarp), and both of them writing in a time that if they conveyed any serious deviation of the faith, they would have been immediately check by the larger Christian community. We find no such rebuttal.

I think the most power evidence is found in Paul’s writings. Paul wrote most about this topic because God had selected him to be the chief apostle to the Gentiles. As such, he was forced to wrestle with both cultural and spiritual matters directly related to what Gentiles should and should not do in coming to the faith which was do deeply rooted in Judaism.

Take Romans 14. The book was certainly written to a congregation with both Jew and Gentiles (the briefest of surveys reveals this). It its certain that Paul was very concerned about the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. In that context Paul says,
“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. …One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
In this chapter Paul declares that there are certain things that Christians are at liberty to adhere to or not. The thrust of Paul’s exhortation is that we should never exercise our liberty in such a way so as to stumble those who do not have the same convictions on areas in which we have liberty. Conversely, Paul chides those who would charge believers with disobeying God because they don’t share and obey the same areas of conviction that they hold to.

I find it fascinating that Paul uses both dietary and ceremonial areas as examples of genuine liberty. It’s as if Paul says, some of you believe that certain foods are kosher, others of you being that all foods are kosher. That, Paul contends, is an area of genuine liberty. Again, one person esteems one particular day as the day that we should set aside for worship (let’s say Saturday), and some of you believe that its another (let’s say Sunday), Paul says that this is an area of genuine freedom. That is to say, we should not label someone disobedient if they worship on Saturday or Sunday. “Each person must be fully convinced in his mind.”

Paul would even go further. As an apostle of the Gentiles, he was in constant struggle with various groups who declared that Gentiles “ought to” conform to Jewish practices and feast-keeping, circumcision, dietary restrictions, etc… For example,
Galatians 4:1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
As you know, Paul is dealing with a congregation plagued with teachers who instructed these believers wrongly about the relationship of believers to the law. For example, Paul refers to the Judiazers compelling Titus to be circumcised. Paul refers to the hypocrisy of Peter who would have the Gentiles live like the Jews, even though as a Jew he lived like a Gentile. Paul chides the Galatians for believing that they could be perfected by the works of the law, even though their salvation began by grace alone. Later on Paul says that the law was our schoolmaster to drive us to Christ.

In chapter 4, Paul says that these particular people were beginning to “observe days and months and seasons and years.” Commentators are almost in universal agreement that Paul is referring to Jewish feasts and festivals. What is fascinating is that these believers at one point did not observe these things, and then they turned back to the weak and worthless elemental things by observing them. Granted, Paul is referring more to how they used them (as a means of continuing in the flesh what has begun in the Spirit), but Paul’s point is that observing these things are not even essential (as you seem to indicate).

Or put differently, Paul’s response is this: not only should these things not be regarded as a means to salvation, but more relevant to your claims, Paul says that these are things that don’t even have to accompany someone’s salvation. That is, the works mentioned by James (ch.2) are not these kinds of works.

Another relevant passage is Colossians 2:
Colossians 2:8-17 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. 16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
Again, we have an obvious reference to the law and how Christ takes the debt we owe and fulfills it. In verse 16 we have the conclusion that no one is to act as our judge in regard to food or drink and what days I celebrate on, like the Sabbath (continuing the theme of Romans 14). Paul is clear that God is not displeased with a person who doesn’t eat kosher or doesn’t worship on Saturday. Put differently, God isn’t more pleased with someone who does. These things are shadows which have passed.

If You Love Me, Keep My….

In your article, you make an argument that since the Father and Jesus are one, then the commandments of which Jesus speaks of are the commandments given by God to obey Sabbaths, feasts, etc.

Firstly, it’s unlikely that the disciples were thinking in those terms when Jesus gave this injunction. Further, Jesus no where commands his disciples that they should obey Sabbaths and feast days. Peter and John weren’t thinking, “Oh, do you remember that time when Jesus told us to attend synagogue every Sabbath.” What we do see in context is Jesus saying things like,
John 13:34 4 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
I think that it is instructive that when John refers to this discourse in his epistle, he doesn’t make reference to Sabbath keeping, feast days, etc…. Rather he refers to loving one another (1 John 2:3-11)

When Paul talks about the liberty of believers when it comes to what we eat and drink and the days we worship God on, his discussion is preceded by a reference to the relationship between the spirit and the letter of the law, the spirit of the law referring to Christ’s commandment
Romans 13:8-10 8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 For this, "YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET," and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Paul applies a principle laid out in Romans 13:8-10 which says, even though I am free to worship on a different day and eat what I want, love will sometimes direct us to forgo our liberty for the sake of someone who is weak in the faith
Romans 14:13-17 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this-- not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
I derive from these passages that the heart and soul of God law is such that it sometimes transcends the details of it. (the kingdom isn’t eating and drinking…) Paul isn’t worried about the detail of keeping a certain day, but how we keep that day. What’s instructive is that Paul says that Sabbath-keeping (or feast-keeping) is not the sort of thing I ought to do no matter what, but rather it is that which I should or should not practice given the spirit of the law which says to love God and one another.

We derive this important application: If Sabbath-keeping or eating Kosher stumbles my brothers, then I think Paul would say he would forgo Sabbath keeping and Kosher eating in those circumstances (eating what set before us without question), because there’s a “greater” command that trumps these.

This is confirmed by James discussion of what it means to work when he says,
James 2:8 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well.
Add to all these observations the fact that Paul makes a distinction between one keeping the moral law and the ceremonial law, such that one can keep one and violate the other.
1 Corinthians 7:19 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
It is clear from this passage that we can’t argue that,

Since the Father commanded circumcision
And Jesus and the father are one
Therefore, Jesus commands circumcision.

for Paul argues that the Mosaic edict to be circumcised is not the commandment of God that we should be keeping.


There’s a lot more I would like to say, but I’ll reserve my comments. I think you have made some grand claims about a believers relationship to the Mosaic law - especially the suggestion that there is no viable support from Scripture for forgoing Sabbath-keeping.

I think that it may be beneficial for your study on Thursday nights to address those verses that Christians have always given for why they do not feel that Sabbath-keeping is binding on them. No one doubts that these things were binding for the ancients, but the question is whether they are binding now. Put differently, if we spend our time focusing on Old Testament passages about how we ought to keep the Sabbath, this doesn’t address the question of whether we should now.
P.S. Could you forward those references about anti-Semitism in the church in the first-few centuries (Origen, Chrysotom, etc…)

Blessings, Jake

From Messianic Pastor


If it takes awhile for me to reply, don’t get discouraged, I’ve got a full plate right now but I’ll do my best. One thing that will help us both is if we can approach scripture from the same perspective. Every bit of scripture was written by and for those people who had and understood Torah from a perspective that was both taught and practiced in their societies. The Apostle Paul most especially taught from that perspective, after all he was a Pharisee of Pharisees. My understanding of ‘proofs’ that backed up my former beliefs about such subjects as the Shabbat and food issues etc. greatly changed when I really allowed myself to see that. My 20th century understanding and training simply did not jib with any semblance of that perspective. In your letter you expressed concern that the practices of the modern church don’t line up appropriately to that which would be pleasing to God. Categorically, many of them do not but that does not mean that none of them do. The real question is going to be, ‘Is anyone willing to actually correct the ones that don’t?’ Jews and Gentiles both are guilty of going to their own little corners and making up defenses for their own past and present faulty practices.

Men have for various reasons moved the practice of the faith far away from God’s directives, this may or may not apply to your personal actions, you will have to be the judge of that. I cannot speak on behalf of every Messianic Believer anymore than you can on behalf of all Christianity. I will answer as many of your objections as time permits but as I have already traveled the road that you are on I understand how people react when they get defensive about their faith. My hope is that if you continue to participate that you can trust the Lord to both protect you and at the same time direct you as He desires. Not everything that you have learned so far in your walk is absolute. Not everything that I have learned so far is absolute. Certainly some things are but for those things that are not, my hope is that God will through His grace enlighten us all.

Here are some references concerning some of the early church ‘fathers’ remarks and teachings.

Justin Martyrs Dialogue with Typho the Jew
John Chrysoston Against the Judaizers (8 homilies)
Martin Luther On the Jews and Their Lies
Origen Against Celsus II 8
Tertullian An Answer To The Jews

The online encyclopedia Wikipedia also gives some information and quotes if I remember right. It’s a so-so source for this information but Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism is well documented and easy to find.

History of Anti-Semitism
Christianity and Anti-Semitism

There are tons of Jewish writings on the subject and many are from Messianic perspectives. Jim Rickard already sent you information about the First Fruits of Zion organization and Tim Hegg. Through links etc. you can find book references and or articles that address these issues.

Anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism is not in anyway a post New Testament issue. The Exodus took place because of it and sets the example of what God will do in response to it. The book of Esther portrays those that hated the Jews just because of who they were -- God’s chosen people. A trace of Haman’s ancestry can be quite revealing. Satan has been at work amongst God’s people and those around them for some time in the area of deception that leads to hate. The adversary works both sides of the street in his efforts to destroy and thwart God’s plans for the return of Yeshua. Satan doesn’t care about winning, he knows that he has lost but he cares more about prolonging the anguish and despair amongst men through His deceptions in the Jewish and Christian communities. As long as he can keep the Christians practicing their religion, claiming to love the Lord but not doing the things that even the New Testament says prove that love [see1 John 2] , the witness to the Jewish community will not provoke them to enough jealousy to turn to Yeshua in mass. As long as the Jewish community can be deceived into believing the Christian Messiah is a completely anti-Torah God and they turn more and more into replacing God’s instructions for living with rabbinical substitutions there will be no unity of the faith with the church. Prophets have concentrated too long on all the bad things that have to happen before the Lord returns. It is time for a change. It is time to focus on the positive requirements, like the BRIDE making herself ready for the coming Lord. Most people don’t even have a clue as to what that means. Defensive posturing is a wasted effort, it’s time to be honest with ourselves and really apply our efforts to seeking and practicing truth no matter how long the church or the synagogue has done something.

Some of the worst 7 words that the church uses are, ‘We have always done it this way.’ And the second 7 worst words are like it, ‘We have never done it that way.’

I will address your concerns eventually. I am not into a personal bantering back and forth between us at the study. First of all it won’t completely satisfy you if your mind is already made up in a certain direction, second of all, not everyone there is there for that purpose. I am willing to meet with you in a personal forum different from this study to go over some of your concerns as time permits. Since the first actual subject of this study will be dealing with God’s appointed times, I think that most of your concerns about the Sabbath will be addressed.

In Yeshua

From Jake

Paul, thanks for taking the time to respond. When the study was pitched to me, it was described as a study on the Jewish roots of Christianity. When we arrived, and the paper was distributed, it became apparent that the study was about why Christianity ought to return to its Jewish roots. I'm sure that just a miscommunication, but it was a little unsettling. So, what exactly is the purpose of the study? What’s the rest of the group expecting?

As you understand being in the ministry, I'm bringing a bunch of guys to the study that I feel personally responsible for spiritually (I being their pastor). If I sense that something is being shared that needs clarification or challenge, I feel obligated to chime in; in a respectful manner of course. Bantering, No. Some form of dialogue, I would expect.

As to the topic, your making some big claims – namely that the Christian Church has been in error for the majority of her history. Now I grant this may be true (for the church is most obviously fallible), but this to me requires some strong evidence and not suggestions or circumstantial evidence. Some of what I read so far seems circumstantial. I’ll definitely take a look at those references.

As you saw in the previous email, I cited some very early fathers that speak in no uncertain terms about the relationship of Christianity and the Sabbath. I read “Fiscus Judaicus” and found it quite circumstantial. In particular, why would a church that was known for a sometimes overzealous desire to protect their fidelity to Jesus (almost looking for martyrdom) cave in to a tax that required them to renounce obedience to Jesus (if in fact custom-keeping is what it means to be faithful to Jesus), especially when the tax was only 2 days of wages for a year per person? Are they willing to die but not pay a small tax. Instead, this strongly suggests that custom-keeping really wasn’t regarded as a part of one’s fidelity to Jesus in the earliest church.

Also, I am working through Hegg’s article on Romans 14. To be honest, I found a lot of circular reasoning and unsubstantiated claims. He says that Paul is clearly talking about Halachi differences. But he really doesn’t show how. Also, Nanos interpretation of the “weaker brother” is contextually weak at best.

I thought his treatment of Acts 11 was puzzling. Do you really think that the “unclean” animals were those Torah-permitted animals that weren’t Rabbinically slaughtered? Peter says “I’ve never have eaten anything unclean.” This would mean that Jesus only ate Rabbinically slaughtered animals (for Jesus and Peter ate together a lot); the same Jesus that was notorious for violating the Halachi convictions of his day. This seems highly unlikely. Also, doesn’t this ruin the analogy between unclean animals and Gentiles? If the animals that Peter was to eat weren’t really unclean, then was Jesus saying that the Gentiles were never unclean? Or, did he mean what he seems to mean: The Gentiles were truly unclean, and through the gospel they are made clean. In the same way, these meats were really unclean, and through the gospel they have been made clean.

I agree that context is critical. I love Scripture and history, and I desire with all of my heart to interpret Scripture in historical/grammatical/theological context. And although we all come to the table with presuppositions, I try to approach things as objectively as I'm able. So I’m very open to dialogue and correction. I know that there are some things that I believe that are wrong, I’m just not exactly sure which beliefs are, and hopefully in the process of reducing them. There’s more I’d like to say.

Maybe we can discuss them tomorrow.

Blessings. Jake