Judeo-Christians, Part 2

Theologian Greg Boyd appearing on the blog of Rachel Held Evans.

It’s an identity thing. And though the following observations sound basic, when there is confusion, basic affirmations are often needed:
(1) It is not “better” to be Jewish.
(2) It is a good thing to be Irish, Nigerian, Indonesian, and/or Generic American.
(3) It is a bad thing to be confused about who you are and what God wants of you.

There are many thousands of Judeo-Christians in the world (though not as many as some imagine and yet more than others imagine). This is in addition to the hundreds of thousands of philo-Semitic Christians (see Part 1 here for definitions).

And a dozen or more Judeo-Christians wrote me last week to say they have at least some confusion about their identity and appreciate some thoughtful reflection. Obviously, not everyone agrees with me, but I hope to present some sane and relevant discussion about what it means to be a Christian who practices some aspects of Torah and Jewish life. This is important to us Messianic Jews because we are together in community with many Judeo-Christians and also, at times, we find ourselves at odds with various groups of Judeo-Christians. Doubtless I can learn from the people holding up signs on Rachel Held Evans blog for the Restore Unity rally last week (see her Day 7 Roundup here). I really like what one sign said: I hope MY beliefs about OUR religion of Peace, Love, and Joy don’t cause you to hate me.

Remember Why You Got Into This
There are many specific scenarios through which Christians were brought into a Torah lifestyle or a Messianic Jewish congregation or some aspect of the Jewish Roots or Hebraic Roots movements.

One thing most had in common: the realization that Standard Christianity had poor answers to things like why-is-Israel-so-central in the Bible or what-about-the-Sabbath or is-the-law-bad. Yes, what R. Kendall Soulen calls the Standard Canonical Narrative skips right over the people of Israel, the history of Israel, and the relevance of the Jewish people and the Torah.

So, you saw something precious that was lost and you took action. That was and is a good thing. But now that you’re here: it is good to be balanced and clear about what this is all about.

Some Troubling Things
The most troubling thing I see in a small segment of Judeo-Christians is the I-dress-Jewish-but-despise-Judaism crowd. They may have tzitzit (ritual fringes) on. They may wear a yarmulke. They usually light candles on Friday and say Hebrew prayers. But they think things like, “The written Torah is good but the rabbinic traditions are bad.” The use phrases like “Biblical Judaism” or they avoid the word Judaism altogether and simply talk about Torah Observance.

I want to say, “How dare you take on Jewish identity and then look down on Judaism!” Those who fit in this category should note that they have been duped (or that they are duping others). Their lives are filled with a pick and choose Judaism, with traditions they unwittingly follow on the one hand and traditions they castigate on the other. (Hint: All who keep a Jewish life pick and choose, because the tradition is huge, filled with varying opinions, and so on — but the thing is not to be against tradition and then, voila, your hypocrisy disappears).

More common and less troubling, but still a problem, are those well-meaning, non-hypocritical types who are simply confused about their identity. Many were brought in with fallacious arguments like the following:
(1) Since the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, all Christians should be keeping it (note: mainstream Christians are confused about this also).
(2) There is only one people of God and they are Israel; in Messiah we are all grafted in and thus part of Israel.
(3) The mixed multitude that came out with Israel from Egypt is a hint that all non-Jews should be keeping Torah.
(4) There is one law for the native and the stranger and I don’t want to be against God’s one law.

Consequently, it has become important to some Judeo-Christians to virtually erase the identity of Jews by assuming that all who are in Messiah are Israel in some sense.

Clarity of Identity
I hope we can dialogue about this. Many of you who are non-Jews keeping some Torah and Jewish traditions are at least on some level confused by the conflicting voices you hear.

It can be confusing.

But I know a plethora of Judeo-Christians with a very healthy and balanced sense of their identity. They see themselves as followers of a Jewish Messiah who want to be close to the Jewish people and to follow a lifestyle that includes some or all of Torah. And they want to do it in a way that makes it clear they are not trying to be Jewish.

Others are pretty sure that I am wrong, that Judaism is wrong about the doctrine of Israel’s unique election, that Messianic Judaism is wrong to focus on reaching intermarrieds and Jewish people, that Messianic Judaism is wrong not to try and get Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians to join the Torah revolution.

For those who choose to draw near, either at heart or literally by being physically involved, to the Jewish community, being a Judeo-Christian is a beautiful choice. But to those who think God will love them less if they (lawfully as gentiles) eat a pork chop or go shopping on Saturday, I think your quandary is sad. If you want to keep Sabbath and dietary law as a part of your lifestyle and worship, beautiful.

What do you think about the following statements, which I consider to be correct and clear about Jewish and non-Jewish identity?
(1) Grafted in does not mean you are a natural branch.
(2) Being in the commonwealth does not mean you are new people of Israel.
(3) The Torah makes distinctions between requirements for Jews and gentiles and so should we.
(4) Paul’s theology of freedom from Torah for gentiles is a perfect Jewish understanding of Torah (which Christianity misunderstood until the New Perspective on Paul).
(5) The election of Israel was always about all the families on earth being blessed as God’s children through the firstborn, Israel.

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23 Responses to Judeo-Christians, Part 2

  1. Michael Miller says:

    I would like to hear a variety of understandings of what being “grafted in” and “the commonwealth of Israel” mean.

  2. benicho says:

    “For those who choose to draw near, either at heart or literally by being physically involved, to the Jewish community, being a Judeo-Christian is a beautiful choice. But to those who think God will love them less if they (lawfully as gentiles) eat a pork chop or go shopping on Saturday, I think your quandary is sad. If you want to keep Sabbath and dietary law as a part of your lifestyle and worship, beautiful. ”

    Why is obedience of law subject to a conditional standard of love? Have we now turned law observance into a standard of Gd’s love?

    On the contrary, why would we tell Christians that they ought not observe some aspects of law?

  3. jeremiah says:

    Well I guess we disagree and most of your answer for why christiens keep torah I do it and No paul didn’t free any one from torah and most messanics don’t even care to keep torah.

  4. Yony Torres says:

    let’s please brothers don’t ever forget this:

    Luke 22:24-27 (Complete Jewish Bible)
    24 An argument arose among them as to which of them should be considered the greatest.
    25 But Yeshua said to them, “The kings of the Goyim lord it over them; and those in authority over them are given the title, `Benefactor.’
    26 But not so with you! On the contrary, let the greater among you become like the younger, and one who rules like one who serves.
    27 For who is greater? The one reclining at the table? or the one who serves? It’s the one reclining at the table, isn’t it? But I myself am among you like one who serves

  5. James says:

    Gee. Funny you should post Part 2 of your series today, since I also wrote about Judeo-Christian (to use your expression) identity confusion. In my case, it’s more like “affiliation-confusion”, and I had to extensively quote a specifically Jewish source to do it.

    You probably haven’t gotten to this part of your series yet, but it concerns me that some sincere “Judeo-Christians” don’t feel comfortable in the church, may not feel they have a place in an MJ congregation, and don’t want to join or start their own congregation, which has no affiliation to a higher, organizational authority. There’s a “gap” in the system for these people.

  6. “I would like to hear a variety of understandings of what being “grafted in” and “the commonwealth of Israel” mean.”

    My opinion: “grafted in” means Gentiles being added to the family of G-d. It’s the same as being adopted by G-d. In need not mean that one is “grafted into Israel” as so popularly interpreted. Instead,one become part of G-d’s Kingdom and part of G-d’s family based on the promises made to Abraham (of whom Jews are naturally born children, i.e. the “natural branches”), fulfilled by the Jew Yeshua the Messiah.

    The whole of G-d’s Kingdom will be lead by the Messiah the King of Israel OUT of Jerusalem/Israel, hence the term the “Commonwealth of Israel” – that is Israel as the head of the nations.

  7. Derek Leman says:

    Jeremiah:

    I notice your response is notably missing any evidence.

    Ironically, you are correct that Paul never freed anyone from Torah. I never said he did. I said he rightly, and as a good Jewish interpreter of the Jewish book called Torah taught correctly that Torah (in its covenantal sense and including the covenantal signs of Sabbath, circumcision, diet, fringes, etc.) did not apply to gentiles.

    Why not try engaging in discussion instead of sending knee-jerk reactions? Maybe you have something intelligent to say. On the other hand, maybe you’ve never heard the Jewish interpretation of Torah as covenant between God and Israel. Maybe you are asserting an uninformed opinion because you do not wish to learn or be challenged. Which is it?

    Derek Leman

  8. Derek Leman says:

    Michael:

    That could be a good blog post to write some day.

    Benicho:

    Maybe you misunderstood. I said Torah (in its full sense) does not apply to gentiles. If God makes a rule, such as High Priests can only marry virgins, and you decide you will refrain from marrying any widows or divorcees even though you are not a High Priest, that is a choice. If God says anyone under a Nazarite vow may not eat grapes and you decide to refrain from eating grapes, that is a choice. It is not a law.

    The reason we should not tell Christians to refrain from pork chops and Sabbath day shopping is that God did not command them about these things. It is likely you disagree with me about that. But let me ask: why are you so convinced that Israel’s Torah is for everyone?

    Derek Leman

    • benicho says:

      “If Gd makes a rule, such as High Priests can only marry virgins, and you decide you will refrain from marrying any widows or divorcees even though you are not a High Priest, that is a choice.”

      If I’m not a Levite, why would I adhere to a law for the Levites for the sake of adhering to the law of a Levite? You wouldn’t mistake me for a High Priest if I married a virgin would you? Gd didn’t want His temple defiled by the High Priest.

      “If God says anyone under a Nazarite vow may not eat grapes and you decide to refrain from eating grapes, that is a choice. It is not a law.”

      Taking a Nazarite vow is by choice entirely, when you’re under it you ought obey the laws associated and outlined in Numbers 6, if you break them you nullify your end of the vow. Gd never nullifies His end of the deal however, fortunately, and thus we have a Messiah.

      “The reason we should not tell Christians to refrain from pork chops and Sabbath day shopping is that God did not command them about these things.”

      The reason you would in the very least teach Christians about the laws is so they understand, if they understood they would likely keep them, but they don’t understand. Fortunately through Abraham the nation of Israel was created, Torah maintained and a Messiah given. The rest of the world rejected when Abraham accepted.

      “But let me ask: why are you so convinced that Israel’s Torah is for everyone?”

      Did we gentiles have an alternate beginning?

  9. Derek Leman says:

    Yony, Excellent reminder.

  10. Derek Leman says:

    James:

    I think alongside Messianic Jewish congregations there could be and perhaps should be Judeo-Christian churches. They already exist. Many call themselves Messianic congregations although there is little Jewish about them. Others prefer different labels.

    Perhaps some need to start congregations for philo-Semitic non-Jews who wish to keep some Torah and Jewish traditions without assuming a false Jewish identity. Perhaps some groups who already exist need to have an identity clarification and embrace their identity as non-Jews.

    What I hope will decrease is the incidence of Judaism-despising, tzitzit wearing non-Jews and confused people who are being taught that God won’t love them if they eat a pork chop.

    Derek Leman

  11. James says:

    Perhaps some need to start congregations for philo-Semitic non-Jews who wish to keep some Torah and Jewish traditions without assuming a false Jewish identity. Perhaps some groups who already exist need to have an identity clarification and embrace their identity as non-Jews.

    But that’s the problem. A small group of “philo-Semitic non-Jews or whatever can get together and decide to create a congregation, but the authority, organization, and decision-making starts and stops with that group. They can say and do anything, even with wonderful motives. On the other hand, any Orthodox synagogue or Baptist church *can’t* just say or do anything because they have a larger, overarching organization and authority to which they must answer. If the leaders in said-synagogue or said-church should start teaching odd ideas or strange doctrine, there is some group above them that exists to bring them back in line. With many “Messianic” or “philo-Semitic non-Jewish” groups, that authority does not exist.

    Even if I were inclined to remain with my current congregation, I make a large number of the decisions regarding what we teach with virtually no oversight from the board, let alone anyone else. I try to teach with integrity and to be as honest as I can be, but who am I to set the tone for the people who attend our group? Unlike how most other religious leaders in the blogosphere present themselves, I don’t have all the answers and I’m not “Mr. Know-it-all”.

  12. Derek Leman says:

    James:

    Kudos on the idea that mutual accountability is a great thing for congregations.

    Pioneer work is possible and there have been those who have stepped out and started new things hoping accountability would develop as the movement would grow.

    There might (I said “might”) be some cooperation and (to a small degree) oversight possible through an arm of the UMJC called the UMB (Union of Messianic Believers). I’m not sure, but I think this would be a good need to present to the leaders and if there should be groups in need of cooperation and mutual accountability, perhaps we can put some heads together and make it happen.

    Another idea is to enter into relationship with some local area Christian leaders who understand your distinctives and are willing to befriend and advise you.

    Derek

    • Rabbi Joshua says:

      James,

      I would be more than happy to discuss the UMB with you, and/or also put you in touch with a really great guy who leads a Judeo-Christian Church. His name is Dr. H. Bruce Stokes, and totally approaches all of this from a great perspective. He is also the Vice-President of the UMB.

  13. James says:

    They wouldn’t be advising me personally because I’m not going to be in a position to do any teaching/leading in about a month or so for reasons I’ve already stated. My concern is for the congregation I leave behind and all of those other groups who are doing the best they can but are doing it alone.

    I understand what you’re saying and, at this stage of the game, getting either a Messianic umbrella organization or a Christian church to provide oversight for a congregation of “philo-Semitic non-Jews” would be quite a long shot. The Messianic groups you cite would be hesitant or completely uninterested because they are still working out how to operationalize “Bilateral Ecclesiology” and develop distinctive identity groups between Messianic Jews and philo-Semitic non-Jews. Providing an authority structure over primarily Gentile congregations would confuse that distinctiveness.

    The vast majority of churches wouldn’t be interested because of the whole “under the law” thing. They couldn’t be seen to support a theology and set of practices that they believe were killed deader than a doornail when Jesus died on the cross. OK, there might be a rare church out there with a point of view sufficiently enlightened, but they’re few and far between. It’s one thing for a church to invite an MJ Rabbi to lead a Passover Seder once a year and another thing entirely for them to provide tacit approval of Saturday Sabbath keeping, kosher-style eating, and other “Torah” indicators observed among a group of Gentile philo-Semitic Christians.

    Perhaps as time progresses and the concept isn’t so difficult for either the MJ or Christian church hierarchies to accept, something could be worked out, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

    That leaves independent congregations made up of philo-Semitic non-Jews on their own. At best, they’ll act with honesty and integrity and not let their assumptions lead them to hasty or erroneous conclusions. At worst, you’ll end up with cult-like structures run by one person who has his (all the ones I’ve heard of have men as leaders) own theological agenda to sell. The latter gives MJ, OL, TH a bad reputation across the board, so it’s not just a problem for philo-Semitic non-Jews, it’s everybody’s problem.

  14. My response to the five
    (1) Grafted in means your not a natural branch so don’t take it for granted.
    (2) Being in the commonwealth does not mean you are new people of Israel, exactly! We are apart of the pre-existing and in no way replace or supersede. We are joint heirs of the promises to Avraham.
    (3) Torah distinguished between native born and foreigner. What about the process of becoming Jewish for foreigners? And those who choose that identity. That is significant as well.
    (4) Paul doesn’t teach a freedom from Torah, he teaches a right understanding of Torah. What can’t be explored or talked about enough is the “new Brit milah” that the Jerusalem Council presented for the gentiles. The process of Conversion was simplified following the Noahide traditions, that’s just how you get in the door. Paul does not teach freedom from Torah. That would be lawlessness which is sinful.
    (5) The election of Israel was always about all the families on earth being blessed as God’s children. Okay, I don’t disagree with that. Within the House of Israel us Gentiles who come in have a place in the election process. To the Jew first and then the Gentile of course. We do have a place at the table.

    I would say that the view that Xianity as a whole is okay isn’t a false dichotomy that if people believe that G-d would give them a different way to G-d that’s shameful. G-d is One and Yeshua prayed that we would be one people as Him and the Father are Echad. I don’t believe that those who follow Catholic Traditions and its pagan influences are doing things right or acceptable.

    The Jewish-Hebraic context of the bible is the right context and should be for all believers. Is salvation by faith, is the basic’s required pretty simple according to the Jerusalem Council, Yes? But that doesn’t mean thats the end.

    Are the exceptions made for gentiles and foreigners in the Torah and Epistles? Yes. Is there allowance for Gentiles to go the full way and take it all on? Yes. Does that room allow for Gentiles to create their on extra-biblical and pagan influenced practices? No.

    I know that Sunday worship is extra-biblical and that there is plenty of paganism in the reasoning behind things the Romantic church and friends do. I won’t be joining them.

    • Wouter says:

      ” would say that the view that Xianity as a whole is okay isn’t a false dichotomy that if people believe that G-d would give them a different way to G-d that’s shameful. G-d is One and Yeshua prayed that we would be one people as Him and the Father are Echad. I don’t believe that those who follow Catholic Traditions and its pagan influences are doing things right or acceptable.

      The Jewish-Hebraic context of the bible is the right context and should be for all believers. Is salvation by faith, is the basic’s required pretty simple according to the Jerusalem Council, Yes? But that doesn’t mean thats the end.

      Are the exceptions made for gentiles and foreigners in the Torah and Epistles? Yes. Is there allowance for Gentiles to go the full way and take it all on? Yes. Does that room allow for Gentiles to create their on extra-biblical and pagan influenced practices? No.

      I know that Sunday worship is extra-biblical and that there is plenty of paganism in the reasoning behind things the Romantic church and friends do. I won’t be joining them.”

      After actually being to Catholic churches and knowing many Catholic christians, I tend to share your view on this. I have also done some study into the catechism of the catholic church, Many of the practices deny Yeshua coming and furflling the Torah, and also very sadly teach doctrine that are very much adding to the message of scripture, such as prayer to dead saints(Maryology) another major problem is that of meritious works, where these works is to observe the sacraments of the Roman Church, which they consider the only true church on earth( even with ecumenical movement around the vatican still teaches that they are the only true church and that we must come back to Rome, however many practicing catholic might disagree here) . These then gain you merit and sanctify you for salvation, this then goes along with the doctrines of confessions to a priest and the continual sacrifice of the mass. Salvation here is uncertian as it depends on how much you have recieved the sacrments and thus God’s grace through this and how much un conffesed sins you have. Here it is obviuos that it is opposed to Fiath leading to gentile salvation, which leads to good works and following parts of the Torah(Moral and ethical issues of the Torah).So the catechism is quite opposed to salvation through faith and the followig of Torah. I do not want to bash catholic for the people they are, THEY ARE SINCERE, but what is the truth of scripture must be upheld. Some might not even be aware of these teachings and there opposition to scripture.

      Blessings

      • Wouter says:

        I dont mean it denies Yeshua coming, but that he actually furfilled the old Law that is still to be followed by both Jew and Gentile is somewhat denied(however I agree with Derek on gentiles not beign obligated to follow all ceremonial law), but rather this is replaced with the sacramental system, which is set to bring salvation.With Rome as the head of the chruch and seen as the successor of the apostles. Just to fill in some of what I said.

      • Derek Leman says:

        Wouter:

        Thank God that he has mercy. I think you are focusing on the negative side of Catholic faith. Keep in mind that many Christians of various stripes believe many strange things. While I do not think statues in worship are kosher and I have some other disagreements, I still say that there are many Catholics who put me to shame when it comes to love, discipleship, kindness, and a deep faith in God and Messiah. When we get God’s view of things we will not look as good as we thought we looked and many we looked down on will turn out to look better than we do in the judgment day. The more Catholics you meet, I think the more you will see what I mean. There is much good amongst the people in the Catholic church. Yes, the differences are important. But right theology minus love is useless noise. And none of us have right theology anyway.

        • Wouter says:

          As I said I do believe they are sincere, and I do have love and I do care for the members of the catholic church, however I have been taught many times how wrong I am for being a prostestant at the same time, guess this is what has made me quite defensive. In saying that many have also been kind ,as you said. I however was making a point that we must stand on what is said in scripture. We should love all people, and my statement might have been taken the wrongs way, I do love catholics and believe God has mercy, however there must be some truth out there as to where there is a line and say what the gospel actually means. People of many faith’s have love, such as many hindu’s but I wont say they are following the way to salvation. Otherwise what are we meant to tell the world when evangelising, I mean what is the message then if we can say that two conflicting messages are the same?

    • Derek Leman says:

      Jeramiah “para-DOX” Giehl:

      You brought up several things and I did not understand what you meant on all points. But let me pick one thing to ask you about: you say Acts 15 is about a new kind of circumcision for gentiles? Can you please give some evidence for this view? Acts 15 is not that difficult to understand. And the proposed interpretation you mention sounds like a stretch. But let’s hear your evidence and then we can better understand what you are saying.

      Derek Leman

  15. Yony Torres says:

    Romans 8:14-16 (Complete Jewish Bible)

    14 All who are led by God’s Spirit are G-d’s sons. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to bring you back again into fear; on the contrary, you received the Spirit, who makes us sons and by whose power we cry out, “Abba!” (that is, “Dear Father!”). 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our own spirits that we are children of G-d;

    😉

  16. Yony Torres says:

    now… the question is: How do i know that i’m being led by the Ruach HaKodesh?

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