The OPC Report on Republication, Part 6

In this post, we will address the first part of Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the report, which addresses the subject of typology. Typology is much disdained in today’s academia, since it assumes a Christian view of the Bible. Even in Fairbairn’s time (Patrick Fairbairn is the author of what is surely the most definitive work on the subject), typology was on the decline. What is typology? Typology is NOT allegory a mistake commonly made even today. Some have merely said that typology was akin to allegory. Others have said that there is practically no difference. The difference is actually rather easy to see. Typology sees a historical connection between something in the Old Testament and something in the New Testament. There is always a crescendo, or heightening in the process whereby the antitype is better than the type. The New Testament itself does this on several occasions. 1 Peter 3 refers to baptism as an antitype of Noah’s flood. Romans 5 calls Adam a “type” of Christ (verse 14). Again, in 1 Corinthians 10, things that happened in the time of Moses are called “types” for our benefit (verse 6). There is therefore a typology of the New Testament, at the very least, that we can explore. Allegory is not tied to two historical events. It takes one historical event and idealizes it, such that the pattern is attached to the air. It should be noted that the word “allegory” does not, of itself, point to the concept. Paul uses the word, but not the concept, of allegory in Galatians 4. Hagar and Sarah are types of historical realities, not idealizations. Therefore, even though Paul uses the word “allegorize,” he is not allegorizing.

The main question that the report addresses is the scope of typology. According to the report, those who hold to various forms of republication have a more expanded view of typology in the Mosaic economy. There are various aspects of the Mosaic economy that non-republication folks can see as typological. Examples here would include the Red Sea crossing and the Rock of 1 Corinthians 10. The question the report addresses is whether priestly obedience in the Mosaic economy can be assigned a typological function to point forward to an antitypical perfect obedience of Christ. The report seems non-committal on the question, but leans towards opposing such a view (their word is “unlikely”). This is only one particular aspect of the Mosaic economy, of course. It is not clear how other aspects of typology that republication advocates point to would be handled.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 5

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, section 2 of the report. This will cover the distinction between substance and administration of the covenant of grace.

The substance of the covenant of grace is the same during all the time of its various administrations, or dispensations. The covenant of grace has its beginning in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15, and grows, like a tree from a seed, into a huge kingdom that, with Christ as its Head and King, conquers all spiritual opposition. The substance of the covenant of grace is Christ Himself. Therefore, the covenant of grace is understood to be a covenant of saving grace. Christ as Savior is the substance of it. The writers also note, however, that conditions are also often described as being at the heart of a covenant: change the conditions, change the substance of the covenant.

There is both unity and diversity in the various administrations of the covenant of grace. The administration of the covenant differs going from Old Testament to New Testament as typology relates to the fulfillment of typology. Typology itself is a rubric under which we can organize the entire administration of the Old Testament iterations of the covenant of grace. So, the substance of the various iterations of the covenant of grace (or covenants, as the various dispensations can be called) is the same, even if the typological administration varies.

Although the grace God gave to the people of the Old Testament was true saving grace, the amount and clarity of that saving power was mitigated in the Old Testament times by virtue of the lesser stage of redemptive history. 2 Corinthians 3 is very clear in this regard. We have better access now to the grace and power of God than any Old Testament believer did.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 4

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of the report, on defining terms. I am slightly puzzled by the organization here, as the first part of the report was also defining terms. Maybe there should have been one introductory section defining terms. However, we will plow on, and look at their definitions of covenant and law.

Interestingly, they do not define what a covenant actually is. Of course, that part of the definition is not as relevant to their subject matter as the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The differences related to the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace resolve into several points: 1. The federal heads (Adam versus Christ); 2. The requirements (perfect and perpetual obedience versus grace); 3. Pledges (the tree of life versus the Holy Spirit). The similarity between the two covenants hinges on the Creator/creature distinction: both covenants require God to condescend if there is to be any covenantal tie at all between God and man. Of course, the most important thing to safeguard here is that the acquisition of eternal glory happens in a completely opposite way in the two covenants. For humans, it was works in the covenant of works, grace in the covenant of grace. However, when viewed from the standpoint of the respective covenantal heads, it was works in both cases, although Adam would have earned it for himself and his posterity, whereas Christ earned it vicariously for us.

The section on law distinguishes among three definitions (these are distinct from either the three uses of the law, or the three parts of the law, with the exception of the third definition): 1. Redemptive-historical, as in “the time of the law” versus “the time of the gospel”: 2. The Mosaic economy in general, or the Torah, which is most often the way Paul uses the term; and 3. Particular laws, referring to the three parts of the law.

There is nothing particularly controversial here, though the next section on the distinction between the substance and the administration of the covenant of grace is certainly disputed in certain quarters. More on that in the next post.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 3

This post will take us to the end of the introduction section of the report. In this section, the committee writes to distinguish between a more general works principle, and a more narrow works principle.

The more general works principle is defined thus: “Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.” They take care to distance this term from the Old Testament scholarship’s definition of retribution theology, a la Koch. They say unequivocally that there is at least an echo of a works principle in the Mosaic covenant. Equally clearly, however, they assert that salvation is by grace through faith in the Mosaic covenant. How these two ideas are both true will, I’m sure, be seen in the rest of the report. The works principle in view has a great deal to do with Jesus’ person and work. This principle helps us understand how it is that Adam failed to attain the glorified state, whereas Jesus attained it.

The more specific sense of a works principle has to do with external blessings. Writers (like Kline) who talk in this way are separating the idea entirely from a works salvation view, and are instead tying it (typologically, in Kline’s case) to the pactum salutis, the eternal intra-Trinitarian covenant, as well as the accomplishment of salvation in history.

Some thoughts on the progress so far: 1. Starting with definitions is a very helpful way to proceed, especially in a thorny area of theology, and also given how much misunderstanding there has been in the discussion. 2. As I have already noted, the tone is one of light, not heat. This is so essential to any kind of understanding, that I will keep reiterating it as I go along, especially because this is a blog, and blogs have not always been known for preserving light instead of heat.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 2

Sections 2-4 of the “Mandate” portion of the report have to do with terminological distinctions and definitions. This may not be the most riveting part of any report. However, the importance of defining one’s terms becomes rather clear when recent Federal Vision debates are kept in mind. We cannot enter the realm of this debate without carefully defined terms. It helps us to frame the issues with clarity, however difficult the rest of the conversation might become. Three terms are defined in these three sections.

First up is republication itself. The problem of definition concerning this term is the most acute, since there are so many different versions of republication. However, all forms of republication do have this element in common: they all hold that the covenant of works is, in some sense, repeated or republished in the Mosaic economy. That is as much as can be said of all the views of republication, because some republication views believe that there is a national covenant with Israel concerning the land, and others do not. Some believe in various forms of merit (on which, see more below) and others do not, or believe in different merit. Some believe that this republication is an overlay on top of a covenant of grace and is therefore subservient to the covenant of grace, while others do not. So the definition offered above, which is the same as in the report, is narrow enough to have value, and yet broad enough to encompass all the republication views. It should be noted (as the report also does) that the words “in some sense” are not meant as a dodge, but as a recognition of the many varieties of republication on offer.

The next term up for discussion is typology and symbol. Typology refers to an Old Testament historical pattern (whether person, place, thing, or idea) that foreshadows a fulfillment in the New Testament. It says that God works the same way throughout history, only with a crescendo. The money quote here is: “In a very real and profound sense, when we study the history of Israel, we see that she was not behind the times but was actually ahead of her time.” Reformed Christians will quickly recognize that typology centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that this is how Jesus is actually IN the Old Testament. Why is this definition important for the discussion of republication? Questions concerning how the Mosaic economy foreshadows Jesus are an integral part of the debate, especially when one considers the exegetical questions swirling around Galatians 4:21-31.

The third definition has to do with merit. I rather wish the report had defined condign and congruent merit, and not just pactum. They sort of hint at it with the term “proper.” Of course, that follows the Westminster Standards, and one could argue that such is the better course. I believe that problems concerning the definition of merit are some of the most snarly questions in the whole debate, especially because Meredith Kline was not always very clear about how he used such terms. Anyway, condign merit means that the action is directly proportional to the reward, as when a person goes to buy a car and pays the exact amount of money that the price tag has on it. The analogy is not quite exact, since money can buy many things, whereas condign merit is usually a narrower conception. However, the idea is similar. Congruent merit is a Roman Catholic category not used anywhere in Reformed circles that I am aware of, although it is helpful to know its definition. Congruent merit implies that a person has the proper kind of merit, just not enough. So, if a son has $5k to buy a car, but the car is worth $10k, then the son has to have some help to get there (usually from moneybags father). His $5k would be congruently meritorious, but not condignly so. Pactum merit, or ex pacto merit, is very different from condign and congruent, in that the merit in view in “pactum” merit is NOT of the proper kind to merit the reward offered. It only merits by virtue of an agreement. So, in the analogy of the car, the father and the son make a pact whereby the father will buy the son a car if the son’s GPA is 4.0. Obviously, the son cannot take his report card to the car dealership in order to buy a car: it is the wrong kind of merit. However, because of the agreement the son can merit a car by virtue of studying hard and getting good grades. It was reassuring to see the OPC report mention the wisdom of embracing the category of ex pacto merit in the light of Karl Barth’s theology, the Federal Vision advocates, and the New Perspective on Paul scholars. Pactum merit describes how Adam would have achieved the glorified state. Since his obedience was already owed, it could not be viewed as condign or congruent merit. Adam could only merit the glorified state by God saying so, as the committee phrases it. It could also be called “fiat” merit, I suppose, although that does not convey the nature of an agreement, so I suspect that pactum is better.

One last point on these three sections has to do with the definition of grace. The committee rightly distinguishes between the pre-Fall situation and the post-Fall situation by saying that if the category of grace is invoked to describe the pre-Fall situation, it cannot be considered redemptive grace. The Westminster divines preferred the term “voluntary condescension” in chapter 7 of the WCF. The definition of grace will be much discussed in these posts, as I have become convinced that it is helpful to say that grace is not just “unmerited favor” but actually “demerited favor.” In other words, in a redemptive situation it is not merely the case that we have not merited eternal life. It is that we have merited the opposite, and I mean that we have all condignly merited Hell both in Adam (through the imputation of sin, and the generational passing on of original sin) and in ourselves (through our actual sin). Incidentally, it is helpful to remember that the helpfulness of the categories of merit is not limited to positive meriting of good things, but can also be applied to sinners meriting eternal punishment in Hell. The committee is comfortable using the term “grace” to describe the pre-Fall situation, but only in a modified sense, since there is no redemption before the Fall. I have no quarrel with using the terms this way either, as long as one is careful to note the difference between pre-Fall and post-Fall definitions of grace (and thus come to virtually the same place). We could say that before the Fall, grace is unmerited condescensive favor, while after the Fall, grace is demerited redemptive favor. One could also simply say that before the Fall, God acted towards us by means of voluntary condescension, while after the Fall, God exercises grace (understood as demerited favor).

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 1

The idea that the covenant of works has, in some sense, been republished in the Mosaic economy is an idea that has recently generated much more heat than light. On the one hand, proponents have not always been very clear in their presentations of the idea. It is a highly complex issue, requiring a great deal of nuance in order to avoid problems. On the other hand, critics have become so polarized against any form of republication (in reaction to some of the more extreme formulations) that all forms of the idea have sometimes been drawn and quartered as heretical. Surely there is room for a more sober analysis! We have it in the OPC report. I plan on blogging my way through this report in the next few weeks, and hopefully help shed some light on this complex series of ideas. Of the “Mandate” section, we will cover just the first two sections today.

A salutary emphasis of this report is on careful exegesis, cautious statements, and accuracy of expression. The report commences with a discussion of its mandate. The OPC has been troubled by these questions, particularly in the Presbytery of the Northwest. In other words, this issue arose in the church courts. It is not simply an academic question. It is an issue affecting the purity, peace, and unity of the church.

Republication is an enormously complex issue, and the nature of the Mosaic economy one of the most difficult Old Testament concepts to address. This the writers of the report acknowledge often. It is also an issue about which Reformed theologians have disagreed. Hodge favored a national covenant view of republication, while Murray rejected any form of republication. This ought to make us extremely cautious about our conclusions, as well as extremely charitable concerning those with whom we disagree. To jump to the conclusion of the report, some forms of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Therefore, great precision, patience, and charity must characterize any discussion of these things. More light, folks, not more heat.

Republication of the Covenant of Works

It is rather amazing to me to see how worked (!) up people can get over the republication thesis. Is it that people just hate Meredith Kline? Or do they just hate Westminster California? I hear and read overstated cases on both sides. I have read that the republication thesis was the standard position among Reformed theologians in the post-reformation era. This is surely overstated. I have also read that not only is the republication idea heretical, but that no Reformed author ever believed it before Meredith Kline. This is also quite overstated. I have hesitated to write about it, because my own thoughts on the subject were anything but settled. They still aren’t settled. I see helpful insights on both sides (although it must be said that there are an enormous number of individual positions on the nature of the Mosaic covenant). What I am attempting to do in this post is simply to clear away some misapprehensions on both sides.

Definition of republication: that there exists in the Mosaic covenant some sort of republication of the covenant of works. Almost all advocates of the republication thesis I have read agree that the essential nature of the Mosaic covenant is that it is part of the covenant of grace, and that the republication has nothing whatsoever to do with how Old Testament Christians become saved. Most advocates of the republication thesis agree that people were saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone both before and after Christ came. This is not something that most critics of the republication thesis are willing to concede (that republication advocates actually believe this about OT believers). Little, however, is to be gained by caricature, and it is time that the critics saw this. As a matter of fact, there is no Reformed theologian I know of who believes that people in the Mosaic economy obtained eternal salvation by their works in the Covenant of Works.

Another misapprehension among critics is that the Westminster Standards explicitly forbid this notion. It does not. The relevant wording in WCF 7 is as follows: “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others…The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them as a covenant of works” (section 6). The key phrases here are “under the law” and “to be thereby justified, or condemned.” Republication advocates (at least those claiming to be confessional) do not advocate that OT believers are in any way under the law as a covenant of works to be thereby justified or condemned. Unfortunately, the normally careful Cornel Venema makes a mistake concerning this point in CPJ 9 (2013), p. 161, where he states, “[T]he Confession expressly denies that the law was given through Moses ‘as a covenant of works.'” The correction that is important here is that Venema leaves out the qualifying phrase “to be thereby justified, or condemned.” With regard to the last phrase in section 6, again, most republication advocates will say that the republication does not re-obligate us to the covenant of works. As Fesko says, “[T]he Mosaic covenant is part of the Covenant of Grace but that I maintain that the former republishes, not re-administers, the covenant of works” (CPJ 9, 2013, p. 178). The key words there are “not re-administers.” In section 6 of WCF 7, in other words, the phrase “to be thereby justified, or condemned” controls the whole section. The promises of obedience to the law did not come to OT believers by way of the covenant of works. I feel sure most republication advocates would agree with this.

The fact is that republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic economy is, in the theology of most of its advocates, simply another way of talking about the pedagogical use of the law.

However, against some republication advocates, I do not believe that the WCF proves the republication thesis, either. Chapter 19 is often referenced in this regard, but chapter 19 does not say that the covenant of works was republished. It says that the moral law that was used in the Adamic covenant as the covenant of works was later given at Mount Sinai. It is that same moral law that is the subject of the sentence in WCF 19.2, not the covenant of works. Republication is therefore not proven or disproven by the Westminster Standards.

Another common misapprehension is that the republication view is quite novel and new. It most certainly is not. There probably are sources that have been “accommodated” to the modern viewpoints. Turretin’s view is, for instance, enormously complex and difficult to parse. However, James Buchanan, John Colquhoun, and the Marrow divines are not difficult to parse at all, and they quite clearly advocate the republication view, with almost all of the distinctives that the modern advocates have. Here is James Buchanan, in his monumental work on justification:

The Law-considered as a national covenant, by which their continued possession of the land of Canaan, and of all their privileges under the Theocracy, was left to depend on their external obedience to it,- might be called a national Covenant of Works, since their temporal welfare was suspended on the condition of their continued adherence to it; but, in that aspect of it, it had no relation to the spiritual salvation of individuals, otherwise than as this might be affected by their retaining, or forfeiting, their outward privileges and means of grace. It may be considered, however, in another light, as a re-exhibition of the original Covenant of Works, for the instruction of individual Jews in the principles of divine truth; for in some such light it is evidently presented in the writings of Paul (Justification, BoT edition, pp. 38-39).

Can anyone seriously doubt that Buchanan was an advocate of the republication thesis?

Here is John Colquhoun, in his work A Treatise On the Law and the Gospel:

The violated covenant of works, as I observed above, was not, and could not be, made or renewed with the Israelites at Sinai; for it was a broken covenant, and besides, it was a covenant between God and man as friends, whereas now man has become the enemy of God. but though it was not renewed with them, yet it was, on that solemn occasion, repeated and displayed to them. It was not proposed to them in order that they might consent, by their own works, to fulfil the condition of it, but it was displayed before them in subservience to the covenant of grace that they might see how impossible it was for them as condemned sinners to perform that perfect obedience which is the immutable condition of life in it…Now the covenant of works was displayed in this tremendous form before the Israelites in order that self-righteous and secure sinners among them might be alarmed, and deterred from expecting justification in the sight of God by the works of the law…Although the Sinaic transaction was a mixed dispensation, yet the covenant of grace and the covenant of works were not blended together in it…The law promulgated from Mount Sinai to the Israelites as the matter of a national covenant between God and them…the promises of that national covenant were promises of temporal good things to the Israelites, both as a body politic and as individuals, and of these in subservience to their enjoyment of religious privileges. The inheritance of the earthly Canaan as typical of the eternal inheritance was given to Abraham by promise (see p. 67 for a further delineation of the national promises that the republished covenant of works would give to an obedient Israel). See pages 55, 57, 61, 62, 64, and 66 of the SDG edition for the quotations.

Lastly, The Marrow of Modern Divinity:

God never made the covenant of works with any man since the fall, either with expectation that he should fulfil it, or to give him life by it…[L]et no man imagine that God published the covenant of works on Mount Sinai, as though he had been mutable, and so changed his determination in that covenant made with Abraham…[I]t was added by way of subserviency and attendance, the better to advance and make effectual the covenant of grace; so that although the same covenant that was made with Adam was renewed on Mount Sinai, yet I say still, it was not for the same purpose. (Christian Heritage edition, pp. 83-84).

On pages 81-83, there are supporting quotations from Polonus (maybe Polanus?), Preston, Pemble, and Walker that advocate a republication of the covenant of works at Sinai. Now, the idea of republication is not the view of all the Reformed fathers, and it would be difficult to say what the majority view was. A lot depends on which elements one includes in one’s definition of republication. There is the element of the covenant of works renewed as pedagogical. Then there is the element of a national covenant (which can be made for different purposes, as the Colquhoun quotation shows; i.e., not all advocates of a republication thesis believed that it was republished for the purposes of giving the land to Israel upon condition of obedience.). In Kline’s view there is the additional element of simple merit, which is certainly not something all republication advocates share.

Can the critics of republication please stop claiming that all these ideas are purely novel, and haven’t been around until Kline came on the scene? That should now be manifestly absurd.

On the other side of the coin, there seems to me to be some exaggeration on the part of republication advocates as to how widespread the view was in the Reformation era and post-Reformation era. Here is where the danger of accommodation comes in (making old authors speak with modern categories). It does not appear to me from my current vantage point that republication was the majority view. A careful reading of Turretin would seem to bear this out (Venema’s careful handling of Turretin seems mostly on target, although Fesko does have some legitimate points in response. The whole exchange in CPJ 8-9 is essential reading for this debate).

So here is where I currently am: I advocate a form of republication that is very similar to Colquhoun’s. The republication was given to Israel primarily for the purposes of the pedagogical use of the law (though not only for this purpose). Of course, it is helpful to bear in mind that in this pedagogical sense, the covenant of works is always republished throughout the entire Bible. It is always there, sometimes more in the background, sometimes more in the foreground.

There is something unique about the Mosaic economy, however. I believe that there was a national covenant made with Israel, but not for the purposes of giving them the land. That was already promised in the Abrahamic covenant. John Colquhoun’s list of privileges and promises that hinge on the obedience is more in line with what the Scripture says, in my opinion. It is, therefore, a very limited republication view that I espouse. I reject Kline’s view of simple merit, if he means strict merit. No one can merit strictly except Jesus Christ.

How to Reconcile the Immutability of God with “Repent” Passages

On the one hand, we have passages that tell us that God does not change (James 1:17, Malachi 3:6, Numbers 23:19, and Hebrews 13:8. These are quite clear: God does not change. God does not move on to plan B. God is not “open” in this sense to the future. Since these are the clearer passages, we should start with these, and not with the passages that are less clear, like the repentance passages. Going from the clear to the unclear is what the orthodox do. Going from the unclear to the clear (and imposing thereby their own pre-conceptions on to the texts) is what heretics do. This is the error of the open theists (read Socinians!).

So, if these passages are that clear, then what do we make of passages like Genesis 6, where God “repents” of making humanity? Is this a contradiction with the above set of passages? The answer is no. It doesn’t contradict at all. There is not even any paradox involved. What happens is this: God is utterly consistent in His treatment of human beings, depending on their state and their relationship to Him! Those who are God’s children and have a relationship to Him of child to Father (through adoption) can expect to be treated in a very consistent way. This would be a way that includes discipline, for the Lord disciplines those He loves. However, the Lord will never again treat His child the way a judge treats the defendant.

Similarly, those who are not in a right relationship with God can always expect Him to treat them as a judge treats the guilty defendant. God is long-suffering, and so sometimes that judgment takes a while. Nevertheless, the judgment will come. In other words, what changed in Genesis 6 was humanity, not God. It kept on changing for the worse (see verse 5). When that happens, the relationship changes, and God is always consistent in His treatment of people based on the state of that relationship.

The idea of covenant is heavily involved here. The first category of people we described above are members of the covenant of grace, and will always receive consistent covenant-of-grace treatment. Those not in that covenant are still condemned under the covenant of works, and thus, the more evil they do, the closer to judgment they get.

To sum up here, God does not change. He is always consistent with His character, and always treats people based on the state of the relationship that person has with God, a relationship that is covenantally determined.

One other thing must be mentioned here, and that is the “relenting” of the prophetic literature. Take the case of Jonah, for instance. After Jonah’s rebellion, he goes into Nineveh and preaches the world’s shortest sermon, (“40 days, and you’re toast”). The people repent and God relents. What is going on here? Take note of the 40 days. Why give Nineveh 40 days? Why not just say that it’s going to happen tomorrow? Because, built into every single judgment oracle in the OT, is the understood condition that if the people repent (i.e., their relationship with God changes!), the judgment will either be delayed or eliminated. So the relationship change works in reverse, too. If the relationship changes for the worse, God brings judgment. If it changes for the better, God holds off on judgment. God is rigidly consistent in this! In other words, God does not change, man does.

Announcing the New Covenant

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a curious question that arose in our Hebrews study recently (starting our second year at ch. 8!):

We understand that the Old Covenant was inaugurated with blood (Ex. 34) and its terms were verbally established for God’s people through the giving of the Law. If the New Covenant was similarly inaugurated with blood (Luke 22), when was its content verbally established?

I suspect possible answers might include one or all of these: at the articulation of the Abrahamic Covenant; in Jeremiah 31; whenever Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand; whenever the gospel was/is proclaimed after the resurrection of the Son. More? How does the NT itself fit into this picture?

Just curious how any of you would frame an answer, and what you would choose to emphasize as the verbal establishment for God’s people of the terms of the New Covenant. Thanks!

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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