I have identified nine foundational principles I find helpful to keep in mind when thinking soberly and responsively about Messianic Jews and halachicly informed Torah observance. This time let’s look at the fourth through sixth of those principles.
Our fourth consideration is closely related to our third. It is this: none of us see Scripture solely as it is: all of us see it through the lens of mostly subconscious communal assumptions. This being so, the Torah most properly ought to be seen through the lenses of that community to whom it was given, the Jewish community. From the comments I get to my blog postings over the year, it is clear that some people view this as dangerous heresy. However, there is something profoundly wrong in assuming that, say, the Lutheran historical and communal stream, or the Reformed stream, to whom Torah was not given by God as a patrimony, are likely to be fundamentally right about the Torah, while the community which has interpreted Torah reverently for millennia, and to whom it was given by God, should be assumed to be categorically untrustworthy. What is operating here is not common sense, or biblical truth: rather it is a cryptosupersesionist world view and bad old fashioned prejudice.
Cryptosupersessionism is an unconscious and entrenched cluster of presuppositions held by those who assume the expiration or setting aside of those identity markers that formerly applied to the Jewish people, effectively nullifying Israel’s unique chosen status in whole or in part. These assumptions exert greater power due to their being unconscious. Even people who theologically reject supersessionism can and do evidence cryptosupersessionism. These presuppositions are so pervasive as to be almost universal. They are the covert legacy of well established theological traditions.
What are these presuppositions? Among them is the setting aside of the Law of Moses/Torah, allegedly replaced by the Law of Christ which serves as a standard of righteousness for all Yeshua believers, Jewish and Gentile. However, if the Law of Christ replaces the Law of Moses, becoming the uniform standard of righteousness and rule of life for Jewish and Gentile Yeshua believers, how are Jewish Yeshua believers actually, rather than rhetorically a distinctly chosen people? These presuppositions robe Israel’s distinct chosenness of its force, and make Jewish covenantal identity either vestigial or eschatological.
While in supersessionism, Israel’s identity as God’s chosen people is overtly transferred to the Church, in cryptosupersessionism, Israel’s identity is effectively nullified when her identity markers are treated as expired, no longer significant, mandatory, or no longer applicable. While the rhetoric of chosenness may remain, its weight and significance are nullified. When Torah is no longer treated as the divinely mandated standard for Jewish communal faithfulness, the Jews lose their unique life-style and their identity becomes less actual, and instead, merely rhetorical. And cryptosupersessionism is not mitigated by substituted national identity for covenantal identity. The secularizing of the Jewish people, even in the Land, while maintaining shabbat, kashrut and holy days as matters of civic solidarity rather than religious conviction must not be seen as a step closer to the will of God for the Jewish people. The God who is moving all Israel toward eventual Torah obedience (Ezek 36:37; 37:24), is neither pleased nor served by substituting secular quasi religious conformity for the return to covenant faithfulness which he extols in his Word.
Fifth, we would do well to examine the degree to which we have been indoctrinated with a “tradition of contempt. ” Jules Isaac spoke of “the teaching of contempt,” his term for Christendom’s multi-generational inculcation of theological anti-Semitism. JBY’s and missionaries risk being indoctrinated with various strains of a “tradition of contempt” regarding Torah, halacha, the rabbinic tradition, its sources and exemplars. This tradition of contempt is closely related to supersessionism, and needs to be brought into the light and either validated or invalidated. Those indoctrinated by such presuppositions have a skewed perspective on all experience and evidence because those indoctrinated with a prejudice easily accept as evidence anything that confirms their prejudices, however flimsy and contrived. To the extent that any of us are steeped in a tradition of contempt, we are likely to be uncritical and unaware of how readily we accept as evidence what proves to be spurious when subjected to objective scrutiny. We need to learn to love the truth more than our opinions, and be courageous and humble enough to reconsider some of our most cherished opinions.
Sixth, JBY’s need to tighten up our position on what it means to be appropriately “biblical.” Does it means to only believe and do that for which one has a proof text? Or does it not rather mean that the Bible sets parameters as to what is to be permitted, safeguarding against going beyond appropriate limits? This is what Charles Kraft called “the Bible as tether.” We might add another metaphor, “the seed of the Word,” by which I suggest it is helpful to see the text of Scripture as frequently presenting the germs, the seeds, the center from which a tradition and practice grows, with practice always being a matter of communal discussion and process (thus tradition). I find this to be inevitable for one crucial reason: the text of Scripture has never existed apart from a community which discussed, “How are we going to do this? What comes first? What comes last? What is most/more/less/least important. And what if X or Y or Z happen? Then what?” Because Torah is a text meant to give birth to communal living practice, such questions are inevitable. It is not simply a book to be mastered but a life to be lived, and that, communally and situationally. We ought not to assume that it is possible or necessary to do only what the Bible explicitly says, but rather, when possible, to show how whatever one is doing grows legitimately out of what the Bible teaches, and does not violate proper boundaries.