Messianic Apologetics

Addressing the Theological and Spiritual Issues of the Broad Messianic Movement

Articles

This one verse written by the Apostle Paul speaks of a new status for human beings that has been inaugurated via the sacrificial work of Yeshua, as God’s people are to be united as “one person” (NEB), actively accomplishing His tasks in the Earth. At times, we do find Galatians 3:28 quoted among those in our Messianic faith community, but its ramifications are not often fully considered or probed for their significant spiritual power. Current and severe developments in the Messianic movement in our day—with the future steadily looming—require that we take a fresh look at this verse, what its message of equality means for us, and things that we are certainly missing as we seek to be those who are useful in the Lord’s work. This single verse asks us many difficult questions about both Biblical equality and why the Messianic community seems to have less unity and more rivalry.

One of the most significant issues that is dominating all of the contemporary Messianic movement, at present, is the future. Many are of the conviction that even though we are living in the end-times, that there are a number of things which need to transpire via the emergence of the Messianic movement, the salvation of the Jewish people, and the restoration of Israel—which will require some more time to see properly develop.

Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4 both contain a very important prophecy, speaking of the significant influence of Israel in the “end-times,” and how the nations are to be instructed from God Himself in the ways of peace. Both of these passages feature prominently within the Jewish liturgical tradition, but they have had significantly more influence in motivating faithful Jews and Christians to be active in social justice, humanitarian efforts, and in helping to foster world peace. Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4 are very well known to Jewish and Christian philosophy, even though in today’s Messianic community these passages are probably not probed as much as they should be for their theological, spiritual, and missional significance. This prophecy, delivered via two prophets, anticipates great changes that will affect the entire world, directly involving God’s Torah.

Belief in a post-mortem afterlife, where deceased Believers wait in Heaven in the presence of the Lord until the time of resurrection, has come under considerable attack in the past century, primarily from theological liberals, but now even from some purported theological conservatives. Even in our own Messianic movement, the idea that “going to Heaven when you die” is not a Biblical teaching, has gained much ground in various sectors, even though there has been little detailed engagement with the ramifications of such a view.

One area that receives some discussion, in various parts of the Messianic movement, is whether or not the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy)—which we usually refer to as the Torah—should ever be called the Law. A statement that can be heard from time to time in our Messianic faith community, is: The Torah is teaching. The Torah is not the law. It is said that Torah just means Teaching or Instruction, and should never be referred to by the term law.

Over the past few years, I have become consciously aware that some serious challenges and tension are in store for the Messianic movement. We are going through some growing pains, and issues are on the horizon that too many are unprepared for. The world at large is certainly not getting any less complicated, and globalization and the mass market mean that old ways of doing things may not necessarily work any more in the Twenty-First Century. Both the Jewish Synagogue and Christian Church are beginning to recognize this—which means the responsibility for Messianics is twice as high as it is for your average Jew or Christian. We need to be a people stirred to action, and guided by the Holy Spirit as we prepare to enter into a new chapter of our development.

Matthew 23:2-3 is a passage which has been used to justify everything from today’s Messianic Jewish Believers following almost every single halachic ruling of the ultra Orthodox and/or Chassidic Jewish authorities and their literature, to Messianic Believers completely disregarding all forms of ancient and/or modern Jewish tradition in their approach to the Torah or Law of Moses, totally dismissing works like the Mishnah or Talmud as valuable historical records. Unfortunately, for whatever reason or series of reasons, moderating the extremes on Matthew 23:2-3 has not been too permitted in the Messianic movement of 2013—for it is easy to see the negative spiritual and theological fruit of the extremes of Matthew 23:2-3, either (1) representing a widescale dismissal of all forms of Rabbinic Jewish tradition and custom, or (2) requiring a blind obedience to Orthodox Judaism on the part of contemporary Messianic Believers. A third, depolarizing alternative to the current interpretations widely touted, desperately needs to be presented.

The One Law/One Torah sub-movement has been the cause of a great deal of legalism, judgmentalism, and condemnatory attitudes that we should not want to see present among born again Believers. The One Law/One Torah sub-movement, while having rightly encouraged non-Jewish Believers to pay attention to the Torah’s Instruction, has been responsible for invoking spiritual dynamics from various Torah passages—which we do not want to see present in our Messianic congregations and assemblies.

In our day, a wide number of non-Jewish Believers, in significant numbers, have chosen to address what many throughout religious history have called, “the Ten Lost Tribes” of Israel issue. This has often taken place because of a strong interest by many Christians in the Hebraic Roots of our faith, and a renewed interest in Israel and their faith heritage in Judaism. A loose sub-movement, commonly known by the descriptions “Judah and Ephraim” or “Two-House” or “Messianic Israel,” has gained wide adherence in various sectors of the broad, modern Messianic movement. There is no doubting the fact that it has caused controversy, consternation, and even division among many Believers…

We could go on and on for many more pages discussing how there were problems in the First Century and how many of those problems are now manifesting themselves, in various forms today, in distinct sectors of the broad Messianic movement. But this would only stir up negative emotions. We have to understand why there are problems, so that we might properly counter them.

What would happen if your Messianic congregational leader, or rabbi, asked the congregational constituents why they believe that Yeshua the Messiah is God? What would be some of the reasons given? Would they encounter dogma or doctrine? Would people express a principled set of reasons for affirming Yeshua’s Divinity, or would they only express a dogmatic “you have to believe” reason, without any real substance? Many might indeed affirm something having to do with only God being able to redeem human beings from their sins (Psalm 49:7, 15), or explicit claims made by Yeshua (i.e., John 8:58). But, how many people would not really know what to say? Do we even want to know some of the reasons why people might believe that Yeshua is God?

Each one of us as a man or woman of faith, continually treading on a spiritual journey, has a certain series of expectations when we read the Holy Scriptures. All of us affirm the great power of the Word of God to change lives, the need for each of us to be diligent students of the Word, and the requirement for us to be informed from the Word as it involves the interactions with God and humanity—and especially what the Bible teaches us about God’s character. We can identify with how Paul directed Timothy “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to encouragement, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13, TLV). But aside from spiritual people all agreeing that the Holy Scriptures are to be the place where we turn for some decisive answers to life’s questions—how do we study the Bible? As we are considering some of the issues present in Messianic theology, it needs to be fairly noted that some of the controversies that we are facing today, come as a result of inadequate, and perhaps even inappropriate, ways of reading and interpreting Scripture.

Today, many are wondering why there is a sector of individuals in the Messianic community who have denied Yeshua and either converted to Judaism, or their own primitive form of “Yahwism.” While the reasons vary, one thing that is occurring in our midst is that idle words have taken root in the hearts of people, which are now coming to full fruition. One of the statements that is made far too frequently among certain Messianics today is: “Christianity is pagan.” This statement, while often said “innocently” to describe the ills and some non-Biblical practices of mainstream Christianity, can cause the naïve and spiritually unstable person to begin to think that if the pagans believed something, it must therefore be rejected.

The problem with this line of reasoning is two-fold: (1) The problem is not with non-Biblical and questionable practices in contemporary Christianity; the problem is rather with the fact that all of us have strayed from God’s Word. God’s people have not widely made the Bible and being Scripturally compliant their top priority. (2) If you believe that the message of the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) is “pagan,” you must hold the Tanach (Old Testament) to the same standard. If you believe that the story of Yeshua the Messiah and His resurrection are copied off of pagan myths, then you also have to believe that the Bible stories of the Tanach are also borrowed or copied from the mythology of the Ancient Israelites’ neighbors.

While the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 undoubtedly has an imperative for God’s people of worshipping, loving, and serving Him—the Shema also has an important place in religious history as it concerns monotheism. When the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, and were preparing themselves to enter into the Promised Land, they would certainly need a “statement of belief,” if you will, by which they would declare their exclusive loyalty to the LORD God, and not any of the other deities of Canaan. The Shema enjoined the requirements for God’s commandments to be taught to the people of Israel, and that they were to instruct their children.

In much of religious studies since, and most especially today, approaches to the Shema have gone beyond what was originally intended for the Ancient Israelites. While all who profess the Shema claim that their devotion is directed to the God of Israel, there can be a wide difference of approach between how the Shema is viewed in Jewish theology and Christian theology—particularly when it comes to the statement “the LORD is one.” In historical Judaism, the Lord being “one” means that God is a single entity. In historical Christianity, being “one” means that God is surely a prime entity, but that He may be composed of multiple elements like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There is a great deal of significance attached to this day in Jewish theology, as it is most often emphasized as a time when God looks down from Heaven and reconsiders where He stands with people. It is a time where we are to rejoice and celebrate, remembering His goodness to us, but also begin a sober examination of our humanity, and consider faults and sins that must be rectified.

The Day of Atonement for Messianics can equally be a challenge, because of a possible emphasis on celebration at Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah, instead of a serious attitude and call to reflection from the sounding of the shofar. Many Messianics likewise have difficulty reverently focusing on their relationship with the Lord, and in considering where they need to improve in their spiritual walk. For us, while recognizing that our ultimate forgiveness is indeed found in Yeshua, we still need to know that we are humans with a fallen sin nature, and that we need the Lord to empower us for good works. We need to be reminded that without Him, we are nothing, and we need to intercede for the salvation of others.

Anyone who enters into Pauline theological studies today will easily encounter the fact that there are scholars and exegetes who think that the term “works of law” or ergōn nomou—appearing first in Galatians (2:16[3x]; 3:2, 5, 10), and then appearing again in Romans (3:20, 28)—actually does designate something other than “works/deeds/actions required by the Mosaic Law,” or at least something a bit more specific than just “observing the law” (NIV) in general. These proposals, though, have been met with a great deal of criticism, and even some hostility, by those of particular theological traditions. Alternatives to the customary meaning of “works of law” have been proposed more frequently, as New Testament theologians, over the past fifty years or so, have had greater access to ancient Jewish literature and resources, and this information has had to be considered in their exegesis.

Today’s Messianic movement is in a very precarious situation. On the one hand, some good things are happening as many Jewish people are coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua, and Christians are expressing a love for Israel and embracing their Hebraic Roots. Our numbers are getting larger and larger—with many not having to really wonder what “Messianic” is any more. Many people know that when you call yourself “Messianic” you are either a Jewish Believer in Yeshua, or a non-Jewish Believer in Yeshua who has some kind of strong connection to Israel.

On the other hand, though, there are some not so good things happening today in the Messianic movement. The theology of the Messianic community and its understanding of the Bible have largely not been able to keep up with its growth. On the whole, many of the answers that we have to give in response to external criticisms of our convictions have not been very deep. They have sometimes not been examined very well from the Scriptures, and our engagement with theological discussions—in some cases going back several centuries—is often just not there. We have a great deal of progress that we must make in the coming years as a more coherent and scholastically-minded Messianic theology begins to come forward.

What needs to be done to secure a stable and secure future for today’s emerging Messianic movement? How can we be people who make a positive difference in the fallen world in which we live?

This further study, of what “under the Law” really means, will consider some of the strengths and weaknesses today’s Messianic Believers have, especially when a Christian family member or friend exclaims “We’re not under the Law!” Not only will this analysis provide some more detailed answers to those who are skeptical of a Messianic’s Torah obedience, but it is engaged with contemporary thought and opinion surrounding the terminology “under the Law,” and why “under the Law” meaning “obedient to the Torah of Moses” is a poor conclusion.