Hebrew Roots, Unhelpful Fruits

by Reed DePace

I first was compelled to examine the Hebrew Roots Movement (more broadly, Messianic Christianity) because of a beloved Christian father in my circles who had a relative drifting into the movement. This relative has a sincere faith, spending a part of life working for a reformed ministry of some renown. Circumstances in life led this relative to some understandable and rightly placed disillusionment with some reformed churches. In response to these hardships the relative sadly and unwisely in my view latched onto a Messianic congregation/ministry. Hence, in order to help this Christian father, I did some research on this movement.

I’ve concluded that MOST of the folks involved with what Lane has aptly titled the Hebrew Roots Movement are dissatisfied Protestants looking for THE explanation/interpretation that will bring to life the full realization of the promises for the Christian Life taught in the Scriptures. Rightly NOT satisfied with the experience of ordinary Evan-jellyfish Christianity that makes a great blasting trumpet sound but has no extraordinary follow through, these folks, motivated by a sincere desire to believe Christ, are looking for the answer somewhere other than the tradition they’ve come out of.

Thus they follow in a long line of similar seekers of the fulfillment of what Calvin called “Golden Jewish Dreams.” They are the descendants of the Anabaptists, the various movements into spiritualism, mysticism and pietism. They are the next heirs of the higher life movement, the Pentecostals, and late born cousins of Dispensationalism and prosperity gospel preachers. Like all such movements, they claim a “New” understanding of the gospel that is also recovery of the gospel as taught in the Early Church.

And, in a manner they do not suspect, they are indeed right. They do have ancient roots and they are the latest new version of an old error. These folks yet again, in the end, propose a relationship with God that is synergistic for its fulfillment. For them it is not Jesus + fundamentalism, or Jesus + sacerdotalism, or Jesus + mysticism, or Jesus + signs and wonders, or Jesus + prosperity. No, for them it is Jesus + a modern expression of the oldest form of fundamentalism known in the Church. They are indeed a new expression of the old Judaizers. Like some of the early profession-making Pharisees (the party of James), these folks in the end teach a Jesus + Talmudic-Torah-observance, a Jesus + the necessity of some sort of a Jewish informed lifestyle.

They don’t realize that they are making (at least) two tragic mistakes. First, like most imbalanced Jesus + something else movements, they have an over-realized eschatology. They are expecting the experience of things now that are reserved for the eternal state. Specifically they are expecting a fleshly experience of what is only a spiritual experience of the Christian life now. They mistakenly think that fleshly practices in some way secure the dramatically powerful experience of the Spirit’s work in day to day life. In this they are no better than the forms of Evan-jellyfish they left behind. Missing that the ordinary experience of the Christian life is one marked by fleshly suffering and weakness this side of eternity, they are pursuing just another expression of the “Kingdom NOW” lie so common in the Church today.

Second, these Hebrew Roots Movement folks unwisely are adopting practices and habits, accouterments of a “Jewish” lifestyle that actually are derived from a heretical source. These folks do not seem to realize that with the destruction of the Temple the practice of a Jewish form of Christianity ceased to be an option. The core of OT worship was the sacrifices; all of Leviticus, the key book in terms of Jewish life and worship (i.e., life = worship, worship is life), is built around the sacrifices. They were essential to the maintenance of even the smallest component of the law of cleanliness, etc.. Without sacrifice one CANNOT rightly practice any of the OT worship system.

And when the Temple was destroyed – that was it. All that was left was the Pharisaical/Rabbinical traditions. All that was left was the ethical teaching of the rabbis (the Talmudic tradition) coupled with the imitative worship practices, the “616” applicatory traditions of the Pharisees. Outside the book of Acts we actually do not have any Church exclusive sources of what first century Jewish Christianity was like. All we have are sources that at best seek to interpret what Jewish Christianity must have been like based on similarities with second and later century Diaspora Judaism. It is amazing that Messianic Christians think they are practicing a purer form of Christianity. In reality, they are practicing a form contaminated by unbelieving Jews who maintained their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

These modern day “Jewish” Christians fail to grapple with what Jesus said:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mar 7:6-8 ESV)

Quite simply, those who would restore a Jewish form of Christianity are actually restoring the Pharisaical form at best, something condemned by Jesus and done away with at his express command (e.g., Acts 10, 15, the books of Galatians and Hebrews in total). All the practices adopted in Messianic congregations have as their source Rabbinic Judaism, that branch of Judaism that refused to repent of their rejection of the Messiah when in A.D. 70 God removed the earthly temple and left standing only the true spiritual temple, the Church of Christ.

Looking for the transformative power of the Christian life, these sincere but misguided folks ignore the warning of the Spirit who is the source of this transformation:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, (1Ti 4:1-3)

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)– according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col 2:20-23)

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Tit 3:9)

The Hebrew Roots Movement, Messianic Christianity, while well intentioned, is yet another deflection from the simple, pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It is based on the heresy of rabbinic Judaism, NOT first century Jewish Christianity. It in the end, like all forms of Jesus + me Christianity, teaches a defective gospel.

For more information, and helpful “inside” critiques of the movement, see the following resources:

Stan is a Jewish believer in Christ, former pastor, and lately a missionary with Jews for Jesus. Raised in American Judaism, he speaks from first-hand knowledge of the Messianic Christian movement. One interesting tidbit he shares: upwards of 80% of the members of Messianic congregations are NOT Jewish by birth. Instead they are Gentiles, mostly disaffected evangelicals attracted to the Hebrew Roots Movement by a promise of a restoration of “authentic” Christianity.

Baruch is a born and raised Israeli Jew. He grew up actually Jewish, served his mandatory term in the Israeli army, and lived a thoroughly Jewish life before being converted. And after conversion, he continued to live a Jewish lifestyle – but one that does not involve the restoration of rabbinic Judaism in the Church seen in Messianic Christianity. A reformed pastor, he has a long-term credible missionary-pastoral-writing ministry based in Israel. If anyone can speak with credibility to the non-Christian aspects of the Hebrew Roots Movement, it is Baruch.

In the end, I conclude on a sad but hopeful note. The sadness is that these folks have saddled themselves with the old law-slavery that Jesus lamented: 

And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)

The hope is that it was to just such a people Jesus called out with this promise: 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:28-1)

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NOTE: significant in the misunderstandings of these folks is the role of the Levitical regulations. It is these that make up the bulk of the “Jewishness” that Messianic Christians strive to adopt in their worship and life.

Consequently, both to understand where these folks get off track and in order to help them, getting a handle on how Leviticus works is important. Consider the following sources:

For some really deep background and seminal thinking on the nature of clean/unclean, holy/common themes in Leviticus, one ignores Mary Douglas to their own hurt: The Forbidden Animals in Leviticus and Leviticus As Literature. While you may not agree with all she says, her insights are very helpful in rightly interpreting the meaning of these concepts.

For some thinking on the role of the Mosaic law in the Church/Christian life, see:

As well, one will find great help, simple and sound investigations of the Scripture via the Westminster Confession of Faith. See Chapter 19, Of the Law of God,  especially paragraph three (scroll down to page 83).

Reed DePace

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The Hebrew Roots Movement

There is a movement afoot (small, but rather persistent) to return to the Old Testament way of doing things (and they would argue that the New Testament changes pretty much nothing). This (usually) involves a return to Saturday Sabbath, celebration of the Old Testament feasts (and even non-OT feasts like Hanukkah!), and observance of the Old Testament dietary laws. There have been Messianic Jews around for quite a while, but what is happening now is that previously Reformed people are becoming persuaded by this viewpoint. What I want to do in this post is examine some of the architectonic issues at play, and then respond to some specific things in the blog post linked above.

The first and most important question, when it comes to the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament is this: how do we read our Bibles? This is the question of hermeneutics. What are the principles by which we come to the conclusions we do? Is there such a thing as an apostolic hermeneutic? That is, do the apostles read the OT in a certain way that might not seem obvious to us at first? I do not have time or space to lay this out in full. There are many excellent books on the subject. I would recommend this one. When we look at John 5 and Luke 24, the following picture emerges: the NT is the lens through which we see the OT, and not the reverse. We read the OT in the light of the end of the story, which is Jesus. Jesus Himself tells us in Luke 24 and John 5 that if we read our Old Testaments and do not see Jesus, then we are misreading the Old Testament! This principle can be taken to an extreme, as in the case of Arthur Pink, who, while having many helpful things to say, went a bit overboard on typology. Not every detail is specifically about Jesus. The story as a whole is about Jesus. It organically unfolds in such a way that Jesus is the climax of the OT. To put it mildly, the Hebrew roots movement does not read the Bible this way. For them, the OT is the lens through which they see the NT. As a result, they misread the OT. A very simple question can point out how misguided this is: if the OT is clearer than the NT, then why did we need the NT at all? Hermeneutically, we read the more difficult parts of the Bible in the light of what is clearer.

A second issue I wish to treat is the ignoring or denial of the three-fold division of the law into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Jesus says that there are weightier matters of the law. He castigates the Pharisees for harping on the minor matters, while ignoring the heavier ones. This indicates a distinction within the OT laws. The fact that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s finger on tablets of stone, whereas the rest of the law was written by Moses on more perishable materials also indicates that the Ten Commandments are the most important section of the law, as reflecting the very character of God. The reason this issue is important is that the HRM (Hebrew roots movement) puts all laws in the same category of permanence. There is no such thing, in their minds, as a built-in expiration date of a law. For them, anyone who changes the law is automatically abrogating the law. For them, there is no possibility that there might be underlying principles (general equity) that carries over, but appears in different form in the NT. However, if the three-fold division of the law is an appropriately biblical way of thinking (and see this book for an excellent argument in this direction), then we are not in fact forbidden to wear 50% polyester 50% cotton shirts (two different kinds of threads), nor are we anymore forbidden to take the mother with the eggs. The principles underlying these laws continue today (be discerning about what is holy and what is not, what is conducive for spiritual growth and what is not: don’t mix the world and the church). But they do not apply in the same way today as they did in OT times.

A third issue is that of sources. He quotes this website as “proving” that it was the Roman Catholic Church that changed Saturday to Sunday, and that the NT says nothing of the sort. Is this a credible website, if it claims that the Vatican was at work in the Council of Laodicea in 321 A.D.? Surely Rambo could be more discerning in his choice of sources. All internet sites (including this blog!) must be tested, and not believed simply because they are out there, and because it happens to agree with one’s position. He also quotes this website which gives a quotation of Spurgeon completely out of context. If he had looked at the sermon from a more reputable website, he would have seen Spurgeon’s rather important qualification immediately following the quotation in question: “Nevertheless since, the current of men’s thoughts is led this way just now, and I see no evil in the current itself, I shall launch the bark of our discourse upon that stream, and make use of the fact, which I shall neither justify nor condemn, by endeavoring to lead your thoughts in the same direction. Since it is lawful, and even laudable, to meditate upon the incarnation of the Lord upon any day in the year, it cannot be in the power of other men’s superstitions to render such a meditation improper for to-day.” Precisely. And this is the position of most in the Reformed world who celebrate Christmas. It is an historic position in the Reformed world to reject all holy days except the Sabbath. But it is not a question of choosing between paganism and the biblical position, if there is a third option that is defended as biblical. Hence, Rambo commits the fallacy of false dichotomy in addition to misquoting sources (which, incidentally, is a violation of the ninth commandment).

A fourth issue that I wish to bring up is a brief discussion of Ephesians and Galatians in regard to these very matters. Paul castigated Peter for not eating with Gentiles in Galatians 2. Why did Paul do that? Because Peter was forcing the Galatian Gentiles to live like Jews in order to be saved! See in particular Galatians 2:14. To re-erect the barriers between Jew and Gentile is false teaching. Gentiles do not have to live like Jews in order to be saved. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul says that Jesus has “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” First question is this: what does “katargeo” (the word translated “abolished”) mean? According to BDAG, the most reputable Greek Lexicon for the study of the NT, there are 4 possible meanings (context must decide which one is in use here): 1. “to cause something to be unproductive, use up, exhaust” (this does not seem likely, as commandments are not like some sort of usable substance) 2. “to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, invalidate, make powerless” (BDAG lists Ephesians 2:15 under this definition). This is definitely possible. 3. “to cause something to come to an end or to be no longer in existence, abolish, wipe out, set aside” This is also possible. 4. “to cause the release of someone from an obligation (one has nothing more to do with it), be discharged, be released” This is also possible. About which laws is Paul speaking? In context, it must be the laws that separate Jews from Gentiles. In verses 11-13, Paul speaks particularly of how Gentiles have been brought near, having before been aliens to the people of God. Then, in verse 15, the effect of Christ’s action is to make one new man out of the two. There is now neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ (as he would also say in Galatians). So, the laws that separate Jew from Gentile are “katargeo’ed.” Any of the last three meanings means that Gentiles do not have to observe those laws in order to be part of the body of Christ. What Rambo is doing, then, re-erects the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile. It creates barriers between people.

Now, to get to some specific things in the blog post. His overarching issue is anti-semitism, which he expands quite a bit beyond what most people would define as anti-semitism. I would define it simply as hatred for the Jews (and I certainly do NOT hate Jews!). However, Rambo defines it pretty much as anything that is not his viewpoint on the OT. So, if we do not observe the OT feasts, we hate Jews. Or, if we do not observe Saturday Sabbath, we hate Jews. One charge that blew my mind into smithereens was this one:

I called Yeshua by a Greek name, ‘Jesus,’ thus denying, with each use, His real heritage and even who He is. Yeshua means ‘salvation, deliverer.’ What does Jesus mean? There isn’t even a letter ‘J’ or ‘j’ sound in the Hebrew alephbet/language or in Greek!…Changing the name of Yeshua to Jesus denies His Jewishness and is antisemitic to the core. Think about it.

So, transliterations of Hebrew names into Greek and into English constitute anti-Semitism and hatred for Jews? So, why doesn’t he use Hebrew letters instead of English letters? One could argue that even transliteration itself is anti-Semitic. Why does having a “j” instead of a iota or yodh (which is a VERY standard transliteration practice) have any relevance whatsoever to anti-Semitism? If it does, then he is still being anti-Semitic for saying “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” instead of “Avraham, Yitzhaq, and Ya-aqov” (gotta make sure that it’s a “q” and not a “k” to represent the letter qav, or else I’m being anti-semitic!). Furthermore, he is not quite correct in his assessment of the name “Yeshua,” which means “The Lord is salvation,” not simply “salvation” or “deliverer.” And, yet further, the name Jesus means exactly the same thing! The Greeks did not change the name when they wrote “Iesous,” nor did English writers change a thing when they wrote “Jesus.” They all mean exactly the same thing, which is not quite what Rambo says it means.

He accuses Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the Reformed denominations of advocating a “covert dispensationalism.” This redefines the term “dispensationalism.” The Presbyterians and the Reformed (and to a lesser extent, the Lutherans) believe in one covenant of grace extending from the proto-evangellion in Genesis 3:15 through the end of the New Testament. There are different administrations of this same covenant, but it is always the same covenant, building later additions on to the earlier ones. There is a progression of the covenants culminating in the new covenant that Christ instituted by His death and resurrection. This is not dispensational in any historical understanding of the term. Rambo seems to think that any change from the OT at all is dispensationalism. If that is true, then we don’t need Jesus at all. Jesus then adds absolutely nothing.

On his quotation of Calvin and Luther, one must be careful to put these quotations into historical context. I would not excuse Luther’s attitude towards the Jews. Neither would just about anyone else alive today. They were different times, however, and we must be careful not to judge the Reformers by our modern cultural situation. As for Calvin, that statement that Rambo quoted is quite mild compared to how he blasted the Roman Catholics. This kind of statement is not something unique in the writings of Calvin, as if he had it in for the Jews in particular. Furthermore, Calvin’s point is that anyone who rejects Jesus as Lord and Savior deserves to have this end. Calvin would have said the same thing about anyone who rejected the Messiah.

This supposed anti-Semitism is then applied as an across-the-board poison that infected everything they wrote. This is HIGHLY fallacious. He says that their anti-Semitism “permeates every doctrine.” This is stunning. Should I accuse Rambo of anti-Semitism because of his mis-transliteration or his mistranslation of a Hebrew term? Or is Rambo simply using this as an excuse to reject anything and everything the Reformers said? Aside from the problem of whether he has interpreted (particularly Calvin) correctly, there is the issue of an illegitimate extension of Calvin’s sayings into all areas of doctrine.

Robert’s Rules of Order-Boring or Helpful?

Many people view Robert’s Rules of Order as a boring exercise in being obtuse and rule-driven. I was asked by the stated clerk of Palmetto Presbytery to be a sort of Stated Clerk in Training. Part of that training was to be, according to his recommendation, studying Robert’s Rules of Order so as to become a good parliamentarian. I agreed to that suggestion, and just recently passed my test to become a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians. I found all the caricatures of Robert’s Rules of Order (and the people who seek to know these things) to be woefully wrong.

The first caricature I wish to eradicate is that Robert’s Rules of Order is all about using rules for one’s own advantage, and being able to use tricks to get one’s way in an assembly. Actually, Robert’s Rules has as its agenda the protection of the rights of every member of an assembly, both of the majority and of the minority. Everything I have been learning has been related to this question: how do we treat everyone fairly, and how do we treat everyone’s ideas fairly in a deliberative body?

The second caricature that is wrong is that Robert’s Rules of Order is boring. My hunch is that many people who say this believe that since they cannot understand it, it must be boring. With a little application, and some help understanding these matters (the training for becoming parliamentarian is extremely helpful!), one actually becomes much more confident in one’s participation in a deliberative body. A person can understand the nature of the motions, and how they rank, and what is in order, and what is not. I have found the study to be fascinating. The logic of the ranking of motions, in particular, is a beautiful thing. It is a very useful tool to help a person become productive and useful in a deliberative body.

The third incorrect caricature that I have found is that people who are interested in Robert’s Rules of Order are only interested in rules, not in substance. Now, there is some basis for this accusation, since there definitely are some people out there who study Robert’s Rules in order to be able to manipulate the system, as it were. However, as I have pointed out, that is not the purpose of Robert’s Rules. The purpose of Robert’s Rules is fairness. Furthermore, there is a level of informality allowed by Robert’s Rules in certain areas. There are shortcuts that are allowed. Robert’s Rules actually helps streamline the process: it does not hinder it. It is actually the ignorance of Robert’s Rules that creates enormous difficulties and time wasting, in my experience. I have seen meetings where, because no one knew Robert’s Rules, the result was an absolute mess, when a knowledge of Robert’s Rules would have streamlined the process amazingly quickly. I highly recommend the study of Robert’s Rules or Order to my readers who are involved in a deliberative body. It will save time and embarrassment (since you will no longer make a motion that is out of order). It will streamline the process. It greases the wheels rather than grinding them to a halt. On occasion in the future, I may point out some things that often happen in deliberative assemblies that are incorrect. I will point out why they are incorrect, and what the solution is.

Science, the Sciences, and the Queen of the Sciences

I have been thinking recently about science and its relationship to theology. In the Middle Ages, theology was the queen of the sciences. This held true even through the time of the Reformation, when theology was taught at universities. With the rise of the Enlightenment, specifically the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, all that changed. Kant’s philosophy was that there are two realms, if you will: the noumenal realm and the phenomenal realm. The former had to do with the nous, the mind. It was the realm of what is unseen. The phenomenal world is that of our senses. Kant argued that we cannot know anything about the noumenal world. That is, nothing from the noumenal world can reveal itself to us. At one stroke, therefore, he ruled out of court any such thing as revelation from God. Because of this philosophy, theology was no longer taught at universities. Departments of religion replaced departments of theology. All other fields became more and more fragmented, since theology is the only science that can hold the others together in any kind of unity, since theology is the only science that bridges natural and special revelation.

But this raises a problem when it comes to our understanding of science today. Science today looks at the data of what is in the universe, and seeks to understand it by positing theories that might explain how things came to be the way that they are. Science, therefore, can only exist in the theoretical world. Science cannot arrive at truth, since the data could theoretically be explained in another way. People thought the earth was flat until Pythagoras came along. People thought that the sun revolved around the earth until Galileo and Copernicus. People thought that the sun was the fixed center of the universe until Einstein came along. Theories come and go. But if this is so, what is to prevent us from seeing theology in the same way, if we posit that theology is a science? Why isn’t theology mere theory?

The answer to this question lies in the nature of the data. Although natural revelation and special revelation are both from God, the latter is like a pair of spectacles (so says Calvin) that helps us to understand everything else. Natural revelation was sufficient before the Fall. And if Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin, it still would be sufficient. The Bible only came about because of the Fall. We can’t see properly unless we put on the spectacles. We will ultimately come to wrong conclusions about natural science unless we first put on the spectacles! Modern science is starting to see, in one sense, that our conclusions are not merely determined by the data. Our presuppositions play a large part in how we read the data. Unfortunately, when it comes to a theory like evolution, the role of presuppositions is typically ignored by modern man, such that he holds evolution to be fact and not theory. But does a theory about origins have more or less authority than the spectacles of God’s Word? Which is the pair of spectacles? Natural science or theology? I just started reading Peter Enns’s newest book, and he definitely believes that evolution is part of the frame of reference for reading the Bible, and not the other way around. He speaks of evolution as fact, and not theory. Whatever else we can say, then, we can certainly say that Enns does not understand the nature of science as theory, not fact.

Theology needs to reign once more as the queen of the sciences. Only then can we halt the progressive fragmentation of knowledge and seek to reunify knowledge again. Kant was wrong. God can and has revealed himself to man. Only by that revelation can our nous (“mind”) be renewed. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Scripture does that by the power of the Holy Spirit. This has far more authority than science ever could.

The case of Galileo is usually misunderstood as the church persecuting Galileo for his views on heliocentrism. However, if you read Owen Barfield’s book Saving the Appearances, you will see a different facet at play. The church was actually more concerned about the relationship of science to Scripture and theology. They were far more concerned about the fact that Galileo posited science as fact, and that he was putting science over the Bible as more authoritative. The issue of heliocentrism was involved, certainly, but the case was more complicated than simply “the church persecuting the misunderstood-but-correct scientist (bad church, bad church!).”