Is the HRM Legalistic?

Is the Hebrew Roots Movement (also known as the Messianic Jewish movement) legalistic? One has to acknowledge that there are a variety of views on particular aspects of the law even within the HRM. It is not a monolithic movement in regard to specific points about the law. Also, it is important to point out that there is more than one definition of legalism. One does not necessarily avoid legalism simply by saying that such and such law is not integral to salvation. For instance, if an HRM proponent claims that circumcision is necessary, but not for salvation, said proponent might still be legalistic, even if not so in the ordinary way. It is my contention that at least some forms of HRM are legalistic.

One would think that if an HRM proponent believes the Gospel, and sees that someone else is preaching the gospel, that great rejoicing on that account would result. For instance, I believe that Jesus Christ crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended into heaven, and in session at the right hand of the Father, is the only Lord and Savior of sinners. The salvation that was accomplished for us by Jesus Christ is applied to us by the Holy Spirit by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ alone, to the praise of the glory of God alone, told to us in Scripture alone. If a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sin and turning to Jesus (which happens by the power of the Holy Spirit in effectual calling), that person is saved. This is redemption accomplished and applied. If a person believes in Jesus Christ in this way, he will be saved. Let any HRM people reading this blog know that this is what I preach.

Nevertheless, one HRM proponent in particular has accused me of having no light in me whatsoever, because my views on OT law are not HRM. According to this person, if a person is not HRM in their viewpoint, they have no light in them whatsoever. On three occasions in that thread, I asked the person to clarify his quotation of Isaiah 8:20 (here, here, and here). He did not choose to answer that question. Now, I don’t know why he chose not to answer it. However, in the context, the comment means that those who do not have the same view of the OT law as he does have no light in them at all. It doesn’t therefore matter whether I preach the true gospel or not. If I don’t have an HRM view of the OT law, then I am in complete darkness. I say this not out of defensiveness. I am not on defense right now, but most definitely on offense. Would not this view of non-HRM proponents qualify as a legalistic view? I do not believe in the erasure of any OT laws. I believe that the application of them has changed. So the question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is true. We do. The question is NOT whether we both believe the OT is still authoritative. We do. The question has to do with the interpretation of that Old Testament. Does Christ’s person and work change the application of the OT law, and if so, how? That is the question. I would simply argue that if an HRM proponent accuses a critic of having no light in them whatsoever because of a differing view of how the OT law applies, then the HRM proponent is not focused on Jesus Christ and the Gospel, but on the law. He is not preaching Christ crucified. He is preaching feasts, dietary laws, and Saturday Sabbath, which are not changed or affected by Christ’s coming. He is a legalist. He cannot rejoice in another’s preaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is de-centralized. I would argue that any view of the Bible that de-centralizes Jesus Christ’s person and work is legalistic. The reasoning for this is simple: anything that is not gospel is law in the Bible. So, if we are not preaching the gospel, we are preaching law. And if we preach law in any way that does not make a beeline straight to Jesus Christ, then we are not preaching the law correctly. We would be preaching the law legalistically.

Preaching law is essential, don’t get me wrong. But it must lead to Christ’s fulfillment of the law, or else we are not believing John 5 and Luke 24. We need to preach the law in its three uses: pedagogical (leading straight to Christ), civil (as a restraint on evil in the world), and normative because of salvation (the third use of the law). Of these three uses, while the second one is present in Scripture, it is not hugely emphasized. The first and third uses are of paramount importance, and both are Christ-centered, since the first use leads us to salvation in Christ, while the third use leads us from salvation in Christ.


  1. January 10, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Your last few words are not what you intended surely! I suppose you meant not that the 3rd use of the law does lead us from salvation in Christ, but leads us on in our salvation in Christ, or the like.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    January 10, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Yes. From as from a source, not “away from.”

  3. Tim Harris said,

    January 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

    Rambo has been instructed on several linguistic mistakes at his blog as well, yet refuses to change. It is man-worship.

  4. Jeff said,

    January 13, 2014 at 11:42 pm

    You might be interested in the lead article found in this journal. Blessings!

  5. Pete Rambo said,

    January 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    I apologize for that comment. It was a general comment to the board, made in frustration.

    Please forgive me.


  6. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Thank you for that, Pete. I do forgive you. Questions, of course, remain about how the HRM sees those who are not HRM and whether that vision is legalistic or not.

  7. Pete Rambo said,

    January 20, 2014 at 9:36 am


    If you were driving down the road at 55 and I saw a sign flash by that said 35, what should I do? If I tell you, ‘I just saw a sign that said 35,’ am I being ‘legalistic’ or am I being legal and loving.

    If you disagree and keep going, I should insist that I saw the sign, even if you need to turn around and go take a look.

    If/when we get stopped, you may not lose your license, but the points, fine and hiked insurance premium will be hefty! Particularly since the Judge knows you were warned and you have a bus load of passengers.

    No, this isn’t legalism, it is love.

    The question you should be asking is, ‘Why is this grassroots movement spreading like it is on every continent and across all denominational bounds? Is this a move of the Spirit and have I missed something?’

    Consider the wise counsel of Gamaliel in Acts 5:33-39, because what I am seeing is a HUGE movement that understands Acts 5:41-42.

    I beg of you brother, be willing to humble yourself before the Father and ask some VERY hard questions, then wait.


  8. Tim Harris said,

    January 20, 2014 at 10:09 am

    I think the reason it’s spreading is because our nation is effectively ruled by jews, and the sheep (in every age and place) tend to want to be complaisant and ingratiating to those that rule. HRM provides a way to feel like as if still a Christian while sucking up to the judaica in every culturally-relevant respect. It goes to one’s head after a while. I had a goyish co-worker ten years ago that was into this, and he was diligently searching his ancestry to find some plausible way to claim even just a little jewish blood. Then he would REALLY be something. He carried a yalmuka in the glove compartment and bragged that it saved him from a traffic ticket once. That the cop would give a special pass thinking he was a “chosen one” gave him pleasure, not horror. The talmudic mindset is unavoidable if you stick with this long enough. Truly, this is a people that serve their father Satan, as brother Nathaniel points out tirelessly, following our Lord’s similar observation.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Pete, Thanks for the analogy. It is a helpful one for understanding what you believe you are doing.

    I believe I am asking the hard questions, the most important one being this: what does the Scripture teach, particularly about Jesus and the law? So far, it does not seem to me to be teaching what the HRM says it is. I have not studied all the texts yet, but am working my way steadily through them.

    Theoretically, it is of course possible that a rapidly spreading movement has God’s blessing on it. Many movements, however, have been rapidly spreading in the past, and were not of God, even when they claimed they were of God. Arianism spread like wildfire, too. So did the charismatic movement. I’m sure you would agree, would you not, that the acid test of a movement is not how fast it is spreading, but whether it is biblical or not? The fact that a movement spreads rapidly really has nothing to do with whether it is of the truth or not. Christianity spread rapidly in the first few centuries after Christ. So did the non-biblical movements of Arianism and charismaticism.

    Here is the nutshell of my problem with how you got to your position. You left the Reformed faith without ever asking it seriously whether it had answers to your questions. A seminary education at CIU is not equal to the Reformed tradition, which is far vaster (we’re talking hundreds of thousands, if not millions of books and articles) than any seminary education (including whatever years you spent in the ministry) can even start to penetrate (and CIU is not the most Reformed seminary on the face of the planet, though there are good Reformed people there).

    Reformed authors have written mountains of material (if you will pardon the pun) on the law. Did you read, for instance, Anthony Burgess’s book “Vindication of the Law” or John Colquhoun’s book “A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel?” How about Samuel Bolton’s book “The True Bounds of Christian Freedom?” those are just off the top of my head. Of course, there is the entire theonomy debate of the last forty years, and the additional mountains of books that have been published on that subject. You abandoned the faith of your fathers and the rest of your family assuming that you knew what the Reformed tradition said about the law. How can you do that without scouring the Reformed tradition to see if there were answers to your questions? I highly doubt that you made even a dent in reading the Reformed tradition on the law.

    Then you claim to be only reading the Bible, not being dependent on extra-biblical tradition, when in fact you are highly dependent on a very few rather bad sources. In doing this, you have almost completely rejected the visible church (where has your “church” been for the last twenty centuries?), based on conspiracy theory instincts. Nowadays, you seem only to read older writings in order to find fault with them. In your mind, seemingly, the Holy Spirit did not speak to the church in the last twenty centuries, or give them any gifts of understanding.

    These kinds of actions and mindsets, Pete, are characteristic of sects, not of the church. The magisterial Reformation always saw itself in continuity with the church all through history. Yes, the church has always had problems. But the gates of Hell will never prevail against the church. The HRM in general, as far as I have seen it, does not like the church. On the blog here, I have seen explicit distancing of the HRM from the church. As corrupt as the church often is, it is still the bride of Christ. I have a big problem with how the HRM treats the church. One cannot claim legitimately to love Jesus and simultaneously hate His bride.

  10. Pete Rambo said,

    January 20, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    @ Tim (8),

    Your comments are appalling, but not unexpected. Your antisemitism is reflective of many church ‘fathers’ and many Reformers, from Tertullian, Origen, and Chrysostom to Luther, Calvin and many, many others.

    Knowing they had this bias against anything they perceived to be ‘Jewish,’ is it any wonder I would set aside their ‘works’ and return to Scripture instead of filtering my thoughts and opinions through their prejudice?

    Scripture says, ‘to the Jew first.’ Further, you will give account for those opinions before a VERY Jewish Judge.

    @ Lane (9),

    The irony of your post is palpable. You denigrate my education and lack of Reformed indoctrination while writing, almost in the same breath, on another post,

    “Lastly, for those of you who would believe that the communion of saints is a means of grace, should there be a revision proposed to the Westminster Standards?”

    thus indicating that the Reformed position and/or Westminster Standards are imperfect.

    Am I missing something? Or, should this give me a headache?

    I’m just asking.

  11. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Pete, I am not denigrating your education. I am disputing the conclusions/assumptions you seem to have drawn from your education; namely, that you know that the Reformed tradition has no answers to your questions, and that therefore you have to look elsewhere. You leaped before you looked, which is not wise when one is changing one’s entire paradigm from the faith of one’s fathers to the faith of the HRM. Also, I am not saying that you did not learn Reformed theology. I am saying that the Reformed tradition is much larger than your experience in it would encompass. There are oodles of resources out there, which you did not, seemingly, pursue before leaving the Reformed world. You did not give the faith of your fathers anything like the benefit of the doubt. Instead, the Reformed tradition became guilty until proven innocent. I don’t care which tradition or religion a person grows up in, if they decide that there are problems in it, what they should do is discover if there are answers in that tradition to their questions.

    As to the Westminster Standards, I don’t recall ever claiming that they were perfect. In fact, I am quite sure I have never done so. They are normed norms (they are subordinate to Scripture). They can and have been amended in American Presbyterianism (3 times, to be exact). Even if I believed that the Westminster Standards were perfect, why would that be ironic? The Westminster divines themselves did not think of the Westminster standards as unamendable. Only the Scriptures are perfect. I take an oath saying that I believe that the Westminster Standards are the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. That does not say that I believe the WS are perfect.

    Everyone’s theology is imperfect. This is because we are pilgrims on our way to the blessed state. We do not have the theology of the blessed state (which entails direct communication with God) right now. We have the theology of the pilgrims. I think it was Calvin himself who said that any theologian can be at most 80% correct in his doctrine. We are finite and we are sinful. That is why we should never lean on our own understanding. That’s one of the biggest reason why my library is so huge: I need all the help I can get. It’s not so that I can boast about the size of my library.

    I believe that the fifth commandment applies not only to our immediate families, but also to the fathers in our faith who have gone before us and been the pioneers. Honoring them means assuming that they were not idiots, nor hopelessly in the dark all the time. Honoring them means giving them the benefit of the doubt and learning at their feet, since the Holy Spirit has been given to them as well. I have not seen you do this much, Pete.

  12. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Pete, saying that you reject the Reformers and the early church fathers because they were anti-Semitic (even supposing you could prove your point) is like saying I’m going to reject everything Robert Lewis Dabney says because he was racist. Error in one area does not imply errors in all areas, a principle you have now violated at least twice on this blog.

  13. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    One other point needs to be made about anti-Semitism. There is a considerable difference between saying that the Jewish people are wrong for rejecting Jesus, and saying that the OT is now worthless, or less authoritative. You need to realize, Pete, that for the Reformers in particular, their frustration with the Jews existed entirely in the realm of the Jews’ continuing rejection of Jesus. That is a distinct issue from the interpretation of the OT.

  14. Pete Rambo said,

    January 20, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    John Chrysostom (ca. 344-407), recently cited on this blog as a valid opinion of dietary instruction in Scripture, wrote:

    [How can Christians dare] have the slightest converse [with Jews], most miserable of all men [Homily 4:1]…[who are] lustful, rapacious, greedy, perfidious bandits….Inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil [whom] debauchery and drunkenness have given them the manners of the pig and the lusty goat. They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, get drunk, to kill and maim one another… They are impure and impious… (1:4). …they have surpassed the ferocity of wild beasts, for they murder their offspring and immolate them to the devil (1:6). …[The synagogue is a place of] shame and ridicule 91:3) …the domicile of the devil, as is also the soul of the Jews (1:4, 6); [their houses of worship] an assembly of criminals … a den of thieves … a cavern of devils, an abyss of perdition (1:2, 6:6) … [their rites are] criminal and impure; [their religion] a disease (3:1). [The Jews are corrupt because of their] odious assassination of Christ 96:4) … no expiation possible, no indulgence, no pardon (6:2). [Why Christians must hate Jews:] he who can never love Christ enough will never have done fighting against those [Jews] who hate Him (7:1). Flee, then, their assemblies, flee their houses, and far from venerating the synagogue because of the books it contains, hold it in hatred and aversion for the same reason (1:5). … I hate the synagogue precisely because it has the law and the prophets … I hate the Jews also because they outrage the law.

    Quote taken from Allan Gould, ‘What Did They Think of the Jews?’ (Aronson, 1991), 24-5.

    Now, I seriously ask, can you take ANY opinion of Chrysostom on ANY part of the Law with any degree of seriousness? I’m sorry, but I can not!! Those quotes make my heart very sad. It is clear, anything out of his mouth was tainted by an antisemitic bias that is utterly repulsive.

    I’ve got lots more of these quotes… Why would I want to listen to someone spewing that kind of venom? Are you not repulsed by that?

    To go a step further, you’ve commented on here multiple times but not addressed comment #8. Do you agree with it? It makes me sick to my stomach.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Pete, I would like to examine that quotation in its original context, and not in the obviously edited form that Gould has (that’s a LOT of brackets!). Where did Gould get the quotation from? I don’t trust secondary sources as much as primary sources. And does Chrysostom, for instance, say the same things about pagans? Context is everything, Pete. Chrysostom lived well before the Holocaust of the 20th century.

    As to #8, I have a few thoughts. There are definitely some things that I would not say about Jews in that comment. That Jews occasionally indulge in nationalistic pride is not unique to them, of course. Jesus had some pretty critical things to say of Jews as well. As to my own opinion of them, I have compassion for them, since they have rejected Jesus, and I pray that the veil will be lifted, and they will submit to the Messiah.

    Are you going to answer the rest of my comment?

  16. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    Pete, one of the frustrating things about debating you is that you do not engage the whole of what I say. I may have five or six points that I make, and you engage only one or two of them. When I respond to your comments, however, I make a special effort not only to answer all of them, but to answer all of them to the very best of my ability. I wish you would show the same courtesy. What am I to infer from your evasion of 3/4 of my comments 11-13, for instance? That you agree with the criticism? That you are unable to answer my points? What, exactly?

  17. Pete Rambo said,

    January 20, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    No, Lane.

    I have answered those very questions of you on several occasions, but you fail to grasp what you consider to be the incomprehensible: I do not feel like I have to filter Scripture through the Reformers. They were not perfect and in fact, have some serious issues that they tracked into the Reformation from Catholicism.

    The root of those issues? Antisemitism creating fogged lens through which they read Scripture.

    We’ve been down this trail and I’ve answered.

    You insist on continuing to bring up the HRM on your blog and using me as your ‘poster boy,’ then you get frustrated (or the board does) when I defend from Scripture and refuse the ‘Talmudic Traditions’ of Christendom.

    That is blunt, but I don’t know how else to say it.

    I love you and we share much in common, but I have found liberty in the Torah, walking as Messiah walked, and I have no desire to return to a theological box. We can agree to disagree, but as often as you attack those who love Messiah, I’ll have to show up to defend my brothers, both Jew and Gentile who walk Torah and follow Messiah. Rev. 12:17; 14:12

    Genuinely, shalom!

  18. Tim Harris said,

    January 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    No, Rambo, your problem is antijaphethism, plain and simple. Explains everything.

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