Sunday, October 21, 2007

To the Jews first, and also to the Greeks

Let's pick up on the conversation that's been going on in our "email dimension." Sean got us started with some helpful comments and insight about some of what it means to be Jewish and a follower of Jesus. We discussed whether Gibson's film, "The Passion of the Christ" was anti-semitic or not, and why. Are we supercessionists--has Israel been superceded by the church? Is there a continuing role for Israel in the redemptive purposes of God, and if so, what it it and how is it different from the church's role? Is Romans 9-11 a "parenthesis" to Paul's major 'argument' in the letter, or does it represent the culmination of that argument? Does any of this matter, or is it mere abstract theologizing with no real-world purpose or application?


Brian Emmet said...

I was invited to speak at the shabbat/sabbath service of a nearby messianic church this past Saturday. It was the first time I had attended such a service; up until then, my Jewish-Christian dialogue had been pretty much limited to "Christ in the Passover" seder events. The NT text for the week was Matthew 2:1-12 (magi) and I found it intriguing in light of Robert's recent challenge to us, "Is it about us or them? More about us or more about them? How can we move towards making it more about them?" (The 'them' of course is not restricted to the Jews, but instead represents the people God has called us to in witness, evangelism and discipling.)

I wondered if Matthew 2 might not serve us as a parable of postmodern ministry: the Gentile magi wander into a situation in which the people of God are so consumed by their internecine 'border wars' that they can't recognize what is happening--"Can you tell us about the one who is born king of the Jews?" The fulfillment, at least in "first fruits form," of God's promise to Abraham (to bless all the nations)stumbles right into Jerusalem, looking for the Messiah/King, with some sense that the birth of this Messiah is of significance beyond the borders of Israel. The magi receive a technically correct but totally disinterested response from the teachers of the law ("The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem") and a murderously deceitful response from that other 'king of the Jews,' Herod.

Oh, yeah, remember my rule about keeping our posts concise? Uh, er, sorry... can I claim Adminstrator's Prerogative (aka 'the divine right of the administrator')?

josenmiami said...

good points Brian...I have nothing to add at the moment ... I'll read along and see if I get any thoughts

Sean said...

I like it Brian. I was talking to my rabbi/pastor this weekend about a false gospel that has been circulating about some Christian groups. In effect, it says that the Jews will be saved because they're Jewish. John Hagee may be one of them (I'm still researching that). "To the Jews first, and also to the Greeks" implies for me that the gospel of Jesus must be proclaimed as the single and only message, whether you are Jewish or not. I eluded to this in my last post on email...

I think the border wars is an important metaphor. Do I have borders that I defend? Should I defend them?

I'm even critical of Jewish Christians creating their own enclaves of Messianic congregations. Of course, I understand that some churches might not be too keen on accepting them either... How can we keep the wall of division broken down (Ephesians 2)?

josenmiami said...

here is a thought, Sean. Instead believing Jews joining messianic congregations, or even Christian congregations, what if they stayed in their Jewish congregations? I'm sure there would be some social pressure (harassment? Persecution?) but why should they allow themselves to be separated from other Jews?

I decided not to respond to your email with an email, since we opened up this topic in here. And I don't have much to say about Jewish salvation theologically, but you made a key comment in your email.

You said:

"After Christianity became the dominant religion of
the empire, things really began to change."

This is a powerful understatement. If we were to break it down, we would have to look at 4 important words:


In addition to the persecution of Jews, here are some other things that happened after Christianity became a dominant religion in the empire:

1) The clergy-laity division was crystallized into a sacred hierarchy modeled after Roman governance.

2) Being a "Christian" became an issue of social identity and social control, rather than following Christ.

3) Nearly one million women were burned to death as witches for practicing medical herb-lore.

4) Christ and the Cross were combined with the power of the sword in forcible conversions in Spain and in the Crusades, and we are still eating the bitter fruit today.

5) The inquisition took religious violence to new levels with torture used as a means of spiritual purification of Jews, Muslims and Protestant heretics.

6) nearly 70 million indigenous people perished with the "discovery" of the New World by crusading Spaniards...6 million in the Caribbean alone...all in the name of Christ.

7) Eight civil wars over church and state issues were fought in Colombia were Catholicism was "the dominant religion." In the last one, 200,000 people died.

...and we could go on. I thank God that we live in a country were no religion was allowed to be dominant. If we are going to emphasize the important of identifying with our history as "Catholic" Christians ... we either have to find some rubric for being selective about it, or we have to take the bad and ugly along with the good.

My thesis: Any time any religion becomes dominant in an empire ... you had better duck, because it is going to get nasty.

josenmiami said...

oh yes, and I forgot the African Slave trade, more than a minor footnote in history. Most scholars agree that there is an inextricable relationship between the rise of modern capitalism, and the sugar industry/african slave trade...800,000 to Cuba and over 4 million to Brazil...with all of the horrors that went with it.

You are so right when you say that after Christianity became a dominant religion in the empire. a lot changed....

Brian Emmet said...

Yes, Sean, that was part of my reaction/response to my visit with the messianic congregation this past week: it seems to me that messianic churches are saying something a bit different from what we've been discussing in some previous posts. Yes, there are ways in which a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, etc. may continue to maintain cultural/ethnic identity markers while being a follower of Jesus... we maybe haven't figured that all out (e.g., Jeremiah's focus on all of culture needing to be brought to/through the cross), I think the messianic believers are saying something different, and deeper--that the Jews continue to enjoy a unique standing in the redemptive purposes of God, not as over against the Gentiles--not better than, just different from.

And this gets further complicated by the questions around Israel the current nation. Are Gentile Christians obligated, if that is the right word, to support the State of Israel? If so, do we do so for political reasons (Israel is the only democracy in the region, presents a just and humane counterweight to the repressive Arab and Muslim governments, etc., or do we need to support Israel for essentially theological reasons?

Help me out here, OK?

Congrats to Vandy--big football win this past weekend, eh? 'Course, we in Boston are so used to that sort of thing!

Jeremiah said...

one word regarding slave trading Jose is that the most consistent slavers of history have been the Arabs.

Very interesting conversation regarding Messianic Jews. Only thing I've got to add is anecdotal. My dad was at a preachers meeting of some sort and the guy next to him introduced himself as a "Messianic Jew" my dad then introduced himself as a "Messianic Scot". This was not well received, but in light of the comments regarding "there is now no Jew or Gentile..." etc. etc. I guess I pretty much fail to see what the value of bringing up any pedigree really has.

I am often tempted to feel proud of the fact that my dad is a preacher and both of my Grandad's were preachers, but while that may give me some spiritual advantage in how well I may or may not get trained, if it doesn't help me know JESUS then what good is it? That does seem to be the point of Phil 3

Brian Emmet said...

I posted almost simultaneously with Joseph, so my most recent comment appeared before I had seen his.

Let's retain Joseph's list for a separate discussion--not because it's not important, but because it takes us off-topic (see original post).

If we don't have much to say about the current topic, then we can move on to some of the issues Joseph raised.

Joseph's suggestion that Jews who become followers of Jesus remain in their synagogues, and not either join churches or messianic congregations is an interesting one... but I don't want to pursue the "nature of the church" questions that are embedded in Joseph's proposal, but we've been discussing this for some time, and I'd like to see if there's enough juice in the current topic. None of this is meant to be critical of Jospeph's comments!

Sean said...

Joseph, that's an interesting proposal of messianic Jews staying in their Jewish community. But, is it not the equivalent of a wiccan who turns to Christ but stays in her wiccan congregation? Your several points about Christianity becoming the dominant religion is well-crafted. The priesthood/laity issue - I knew about that but never really actually sat down and thought about it until you said it.

Brian, I don't know what to do with Israel. I support Israel because I feel it's a safe haven for Jews just in case another holocaust comes along (which, if we view history, is bound to come along within the next 100 years). Theologically, it's difficult to say. I think true Israel is among the Israelis in the State of Israel. I don't think the State of Israel - the political entity that is - is ordained by God per se. But I do think God has gathered many Jews back into the land, and among those Jews are children of the promise - new covenant Jews (many of them don't know it yet). We often think of modern political nation states and insert thise idea in Scripture. But the Bible talks about people groups instead when it refers to "nations".

Jeremiah, you're right on pedigree. But too often Gentile Christianity as a whole asserts its own pedigree, whcih has been distinctively non-Jewish.

Of course, Scottish Presbyterians have a wonderful and rich history of Jewish evangelism. Many a Jew has found Christ through them - at least in the 19th century.

josenmiami said...

Righto Brian ... I agree. I knew I was veering off topic with my post, and we can leave it for another discussion. I had to post it for two reasons: one is that the Jewish-Christian issue is not only a theological issue, it is also a historical-social issue that must be seen in the light of the larger context of "imperial" "Christianity."

The second is that Sean's lovely understatement about a lot of thing changing when Christianity became the "dominant religion of the empire" was so beautifully pitched right across the home plate, that I could not resist hitting it out of the park. Needless to say, I agree with Sean.

Back to Jews and Christians. The reason I suggested the idea of messianic Jews staying in orthodox (or reformed or conservative) congregations was missiological. This is very same thing that many people are encouraging formerly Muslim followers of Isa to do...stay in the mosque and pray facing the east Isa ... and live as a witness to Isa rather than lose the influence with the community of relationships.

This accomplishes two things: one is that the messianic Jew retains her or his culture and sense of identity and community (which, if I understand correctly, is what messianic congregations are attempting to do).

second, they are not separated from their family and community, thus providing a witness. Otherwise, they will be absorbed into the gentile church (or wind up in a 3rd option in a sort of no-man's land in a Messianic congregation which is not gentile, and would not be considered by most practicing Jews to be Jewish).

I realize that some would face tremendous pressure... even persecution. But it seems like a truly apostolic option to me.

and finally, on the State of Israel. I would agree with Sean that the actual political State of Israel is NOT God's agent in the middle east, although there is merit in the fact that it is a democracy. I am increasingly disturbed by the imbalance of those "left behind" Christians like Hagee and others that romantically idealize everything the State of Israel does as being ordained of God and demonizes the Palestinians. There needs to be a more balanced view of the political realities.

And to Jeremiah… I’ll have to think about the Wiccan thing. I have not studied it enough to know how much there is within Wicca that might be harmless for a follower of Christ. It is a good point though…I am spending some time right now with the group of tattooed gothics in Homestead and at least one of them is a Wiccan … and a young women with real gifts of discernment and healing. I have her ear…and I am choosing not to be adversarial but to nudge her gently toward the ”Christ in me, the hope of glory.” I am reading a book right now on Shamanism that she loaned to me and asked me to read. We are becoming friends.

John M. said...

Joseph, it was actually Sean who raised the Wiccan question.

It would a lot more than a two-hour superficial internet surf to come to a real conclusion on the Wiccan issue. But after doing the above one Sunday afternoon, I was totally surprised at the clear moral code that seems to exist with true Wiccan followers. It was clear that it is not a free-for-all, do-it-yourself orgy, as some would believe. It was clear from reading the posts on some of the sites that there are some sincere, seekers for spiritual truth among them. So, we can choose to see them as enemies to fight or friends to win.

Back to the subject that Brian is valiantly trying to hold us to...
Paul had a policy of going to the synagogue with his message and staying until he was thrown out or asked to leave.

Could we encourage new followers of Jesus ("Messianics"- followers of the Messiah, the Christ) that no matter what ethnic/religious/non-religious or whatever, group they are part of to stay in the group, until it becomes impossible to remain either for reasons conscience, or because the other members of the group have become so uncomfortable with the "messianic" there that they ask him/her to leave?

Again, this is an intentional, missional strategy, and would require a good mentor/discipler and possible a small group outside the group of origin to give that person support, fellowship and grounding in the faith. I think that could include a Synagogue, a Mosque, a Hindu temple (that one would be hard because of the idol worship, but it's possible to visit the temple and not bow to the idols), a gang (if you can remain in the social circle and not engage in overt illegal activity), a Wiccan circle/coven, etc.

Gov't, and law-enforcement officials do that sort of thing all the time to catch criminals and conduct espionage. Why shouldn't Messiah's followers do it for him? Perhaps not everyone would desire to or be able to hold in to their social group. But I don't think that we should always, automatically think of extraction as the only option.

Many, if not most, I believe, would want to maintain their friendships. It's just that the Church historically has not allowed them to to so.

josenmiami said...

...and why has the church historically not allowed them to do so? Because they must be extracted from their social network, and added to the artificial social network of the Christian congregation and attend Sunday worship at the meeting, and learn to give (tithe) so that there will be sufficient funds to pay for the building so that the Greek tragedy drama will go on the platform on Sunday morning (Dr. Dow Robinson) so that more money will come in to pay the salary for the pastor so that he can be the hero and the superpastor and solve all of the problems for the poor helpless sheep who need a mediator between them and almighty God... because the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross and the teaching work of the Holy Spirit is not sufficient to keep them in his grace...

sorry guys... it is late, I am in dental pain, my wife has incurable cancer, and I took a pain med pill and had a vodka tonic and it dropped my inhibitions and made me too honest and maybe a little cynical! and besides all that, I really don't give a damn anymore... I guess I am off topic again....but dear Lord, how I love these pain meds....

Sean said...

I don't think you're being cynical Joseph. The reality of life can be just plain difficult and it overwhelms you. I shall pray right now.


John, I agree with you: there has to be a small group or a mentor on the outside, at the very least. Unless a person was part of both groups: a church/community and their missiological community.

Of course, the apostles still went to the Temple, and many Jewish Christians still went to synagogue.

This whole new concept is pretty radical. I haven't thought through all the pro's and cons of it.

John said...

Before the bashing of large congregations, large facilities, pastors/leaders, elders etc. becomes crystalized, I think some investigation needs to be made of the phenomenal impact many of theses large churches have made in the local communnity and their involvement and support of missions throughout the world.
The larger than life church leaders,evangelist and their flashy, self-serving practices make one frustrated...but don't put all in that one basket. I am aware of large and ever increasingly growing churches that have solid theology, focused missions, dynamic members, and are abundantly generous with their finances which blesses many a work locally, and throughout the world. On the other hand, I have seen little evidence (in the U.S.)to make me overly excited about the cell/home church model, though I wholeheartedly agree with it in principle.
To me, it's about the King and His Kingdom, and the love He has for His Church in all its various expressions.
Sorry, Brian for getting off topic. See you all at ACM.
John L.

josenmiami said...

right you are John. I was not really aiming my comments at large churches per se...but more at the church-meeting mentality, large, medium or small. A cell group that pulls people out of their social context into an artificially created "meeting" would be just as problematic in my mind. I was being an equal opportunity cynic in my comments! I do realize that there are many wonderful exceptions to the tragic rule, especially in our circles.

Brian Emmet said...

Uh, guys--the topic? Don't make me come over there to discipline you--it could cost you your secret decoder rings!

josenmiami said...

what? oh, yes. The Topic.

Why don't Jews who come to recognize the prophet Yeshua as the Messiah just stay in regular Jewish temples and worship Jesus and learn his commands while continuing their current life in their actual social network? Why leave and go to either "gentile" churches, or "messianic" copy churches? Why not obey Jesus' encouragement in Matt 10 to stay in whatever "house" (oikos) you find yourself as long as your peace remains on it?

Sean said...

They would have to have fellowship some where however.

I mean, when I embraced Jesus my uncle basically said I was no longer Jewish. Embracing Christianity is seen as treason in some Jewish circles. Some Orthodox Jews basically have a funeral for you and never speak to you again. The Jewish believer may not have a choice but find another community.

Traditional Jews think Messianic Jews are traitors. Gentile Christians don't understand them. So, they form their own group. What else can they do?

Sean said...

Actually, when Christians find out I have a Jewish heritage, I get two responses:

1) I'm treated strangely, like some type of novelty and it is automatically assumed I know everything about the Old Testament (which I don't at all).

2) I get the sense that people say under their breath, "Well, you're not really Jewish anymore..."

Both of them are not good. If I know anything about the Old Testament it is because I study, not because I'm Jewish.


josenmiami said...

really? Like Paul did in the dessert for three years? He also got beat up a lot for trying to hang out with his former friends.

Thats what got Jesus crucified ... that relentlessly honest agape love ... I know this kind of talk coming from me is cheap ... I have never had to walk in those shoes...

josenmiami said...

sorry Sean, you and I must have posted at the same time. I was responding in the previous email about your experience with your uncle....

I'm sorry for the misunderstanding you have experienced. I think at least part of it has to do with our "Christian" culture, and our uncomfortable response to Jesus-followers in a pluralistic context.

Not to diminish the challenge of being a Jewish Jesus-follower and having to deal with frequent stereo-types, but since I have gotten out of the "Christian" cultural fish bowl and have started spending the majority of my time with all kinds of people with varying levels of spirituality and commitment in a secular context, I think I am getting more comfortable with uniqueness.

For example, one of the girls who has described herself as a Taoist, came to Carlos' grad party last Saturday. In a conversation with me and dr. Sam, she told us that she had gotten saved this way "I'm f_____ing tired of being f_____ed up! so I decided to get saved"

(Am I getting off topic again here? If so, sorry).

I have another friend who claims to be a follower of Jesus (admittedly from a distance) and is gay. I believe him. He is also pretty unhappy.

I know you just moved from Kentucky ... Bible belt country if there ever was one. I think you would find a very different response from people in Miami. A lot of this has to do with culture and pluralism. Persecution of Jews (and almost any other group) is far more likely to happen in a situation where you have a monolithic religious culture and a religious monopoly.

Brian Emmet said...

Sean, I sensed someting of what you were writing about during my visit to this messianic church last weekend. You could see that these folks were trying to negotiate some difficult terrain: the Christian response tends to be, "Why don't you guys just go ahead and become, you know, Christians? Why hang onto all this ancient outmoded stuff?" For Jews, messianics are "converts" at best (a negative categorization in this context) or traitors.

I think this is a deeper issue than the stay-in-your-culture approach allows for. If we want to say that Jewishness is merely/primarily a cultural/ethnic marker, similar to being Buddhist, Muslim, wiccan, etc., we're not actually responding to what messianics are saying, namely, that there is an enduring quality to God's covenant with Israel as Israel, which is a different matter altogether from a Buddhist being a Buddhist or a Korean being a Korean. It's acceptable to argue that Jewishness now is not really any different from being a [fill-in-the-blank]--is that pretty much our consensus?

John M. said...

Brian, good point. I can see how my last post could be interpreted that way, although I didn't really think through the implications that you are stating.

That's why this issue is complicated and confusing. Obviously, Israel (the Jews) play a vital role in God's redemptive purpose. They are our kinsman (or I should probably say, we are their kinsman). Their story is our story too, and those who embrace Jesus share the story together with us right up to the present and into the future.

But on the other hand like Sean said, in order to be saved from a New Covenant vantage point, Jewish people must confess Jesus as Messiah.

So, do they have a special place or not? It makes one feel rather schizophrenic. It would be easiest to just fill them in the blank you mentioned, but I'm not comfortable with that either.

One thing I do know. Having fellowshipped with Sean for the past four years, I simply see him as my brother in Christ. The ground at the cross is level for us both. There is no dividing wall. That is experientially clear and good.

Sean said...

John, yes - the fellowship was at the foot of the cross. And from you I have learned a great deal.

We have to remember a few things. There's a big difference between biblical Judaism and rabbinical, post-70 CE Judaism, or what we have today. We have to remember that many Jews today practice a very different religion than the Judaism Jesus practiced, although there are some similarities. For one thing, there is no sacrifical system in today's Judaism.

For example, the bar mitzvah ceremony, which is practiced widely among many Jewish groups today, is not mentioned in the Old Testament at all, or even the Talmud. But, it's importance is enormous. It's a rabbinical Jewish practice. Some Messianic Jewish groups place a high importance on the ceremony, but I ask: why? This is not biblical Judaism. This is not the Judaism Jesus practiced. This is not new covenant Judaism.

So, not everything Jewish is biblical. Rabbinical Judaism is not biblical and grew up in response to Christianity, and it splintered into several different denominations. So, when we talk about what to keep in Judaism and what the throw out, we have to use the Scriptures as the standard.

Circumcision is a bit more complicated...

steve H said...

"So what advantage does the Jew have? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Considerable in every way. First, they were entrusted with the spoken words of God." (Rom 3.1-2)

[Concerning the physical descendants] They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple service, and the promises. The forefathers are theirs, and from them, by physical descent came the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen." Rom 9.3-5

At one time, we Gentiles "were without the Messiah, excluded from citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, with no hope and without God in the world. But now, in Messiah Jesus... we are no longer foreigners or strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles [New Covenant?] and the prophets [Old Covenant?]..."

Part of the reason many of us Gentile "Christians" do not understand the unique place of the Jew is that we do not understand (and in some cases even deny) the advantages -- law, covenants, physical descent.... At the least through these advantages Jews should be more prepared to receive Messiah and the New Covenant, shouldn't they?

The problem is that many Jews have "disregarded the righteousness from God and attempted to establish their own righteousness, they have not SUBMITTED to God's righteousness. For Messiah is the end [goal, fulfillment?] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Rom 10.3-4

The advantage (if one may call it that)of Gentiles is that we had no other seeming righteousness on which to stand. Once confronted with our helpless state... once enlightened by the gospel... what can we logically do, but submit to Messiah, the righteousness of God?

josenmiami said...

oh... I don't know... I can think of plenty of self-righteous gentiles ... I really don't think it is that hard for gentiles to find ways of standing on their own righteousness ... I saw it all the time as a pastor, and I have done some of it myself.

Sean said...

Steve, theologically I agree with you - no question about it. We have established our own righteousness. There is pride to be sure - pride in your heritage. I have to be as Paul, and find it to be rubbish compared to Christ.

On the other hand, however, I don't think the Church has done the best job of reaching out to Jews with the good news. Instead of speaking and acting in the spirit of Romans 11, they have acted out of hubris or simple disdain.

Would you join a religion that consists of people who dislike you, treat you with contempt, persecute you, steal your property, deport you, or force you to convert? I wouldn't.

The fact that I'm even a follower of Christ is a miracle in itself, because by all rights I should not be. If it were up to me, I would not be a Christian at all. However, the Holy Spirit drew me in, dragged me into the kingdom, brought me to the point where I said to myself, "What do I have to lose?" I accepted Jesus as an experiment really. The rest is history. I cannot escape the God who has called me.

So, many Jews just don't trust nor like Christians because there is some bad history there.

Jeremiah said...

Hey guys,

I'm back.


I'm only a disciple because of a miracle too. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's true of us all otherwise its our efforts and by definition that makes us not a disciple but a follower of "...another gospel..."

I understand the desire and strategic importance of maintaining the relational connections someone has with those who they were/are connected with before they come into the Kingdom, but we must not ever forget the very very clear statements Jesus made regarding "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple."

In a society which is fundamentally Anti-Christ, the question is how much do we participate? This is what the council of Jerusalem and Paul were addressing in the eating of meat sacrificed to idols and what Naaman's request to Elisha was about after being healed. Obviously there is room for leeway.

Ultimately this boils down to the principle "You become what you behold" Or "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he"

Appropriate questions that MUST be addressed are:

1) How do you stay grounded in Christ when all you see is Anti-Christ?
2) If you are drinking from the same philosophical wells as those you are trying to reach in order to "relate" how do you keep that poison from ruining you as well?

Those who are more evangelistically oriented will always have a tougher time with this and will need a special grace and special precautions.

Brian I am handling this in the generic sense as I don't see really why it matters whether the specific society being addressed is Rabbinical Judaism or the yo yo's down at the local pub.

BTW have fun at the conference

josenmiami said...

good points Jeremiah.

Sean, you said something interesting to me:

"If it were up to me, I would not be a Christian at all. However, the Holy Spirit drew me in, dragged me into the kingdom, brought me to the point where I said to myself, "What do I have to lose?" I accepted Jesus as an experiment really. The rest is history. I cannot escape the God who has called me."

At the risk of being repetitive, I think this reinforces my original point about Jews who follow Jesus at least considering staying within their Jewish context as at least one viable option among several.

Your point was that they would need some kind of mentoring or fellowship from Christian sources ... However, your quote above makes me think that you came to faith in the Messiah in spite of the church, not because of it (I think that may be more often true of new followers than we think).

I think this tends to re-inforce my point that the drawing and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit is far more sufficient for those who are coming to faith in their journey than we have been willing to admit.

Randy R. said...


Randy R. said...

A few comments to add to this string . . . I don't think that it is fair to judge the Messianic movement, if you haven't had significant contact with some of their leaders. Their goal is not so much to be separatist (although our Pligrim fathers were that and all accross this country we will be celebrating their survival on Thanksgiving Day!), but to create a viable worship expression that is attractive to Jewish unbelievers, with the goal of winning them to Messiah.

With regard to Israel's cessation . . . my Bible says that Jesus is returning NOT to New York City or to Tokyo or Mexico City or Paris, but to one and only one city, Jerusalem. When? I don't know either, but I have found it increasingly interesting that on the Jewish calendar this new year is 5768, marked from the time of Adam! If I were a betting man, I think that I would wager the Jewish Calendar vs. the Roman Calendar in God's economy!

Finally, we might ask the question, "Who as the first 'Christian' believer in Jesus as the Messiah?" Could we answer by saying it was "Jesus"?! Mmmmmm. . . .? He was VERY Jewish, keeping all the holidays and the Sabbath, etc. It didn't seem that his "Chrisianity" or the Disciples' or Paul's made them any less Jewish! Shalom.

josenmiami said...

actually, I would not consider Jesus a "Christian" ... because I tend to view it in cultural terms rather than dosctrinal. I would very much agree with you Randy (and I think with Sean) that Jesus was quite Jewish ...and I would go as far as to say that I don't think his intent was to start a new world religion ... but rather to help the people of faith of his time (Jews) break out of national and cultural prejudices to become a light to the nations of the earth.

Forgive me if I gave the impression that I was judging Messianic churches ... and totally in favor of a full and rich variety of kinds of churches, but ethnically and culturally (and linguistically I suppose) to reach all tribes and languages ... I am only suggesting that SOME believing Jews might feel called or sent to remain fully in communion with the Jewish community ... as one option of many as some believing Muslims do.

Good topic

Brian Emmet said...

Perhaps we can say that God only has one people? It's not Jews versus Gentiles, but the one people of God, which is Jew-and-Gentile. In that sense, the people of God is neither "Jewish" nor "Gentile" (nor, Joseph might hasten to add, "'Christian'-in-the-Christendom-sense-of-the-term"). Putting it that way gives some discomfort both to Jews and Gentiles, while also opening up some interesting possibilities for moving beyond the hegemony (see, I really am a postmodernist after all!)of the Christendom paradigm.

For Gentiles, this forces us to face our anti-historical, dualistic approach to the Gospel: Jesus is not "the man from nowhere" that characterizes much Christian thinking about him, i.e., his 'Jewishness', whatever that may be, is totally incidental and even accidental to his work as Savior. For Jews it might open up the possibility of considering faith in Jesus without having to see it as an abandonment or worse, a betrayal, of Jewish heritage.

josenmiami said...

I agree Brian ... God only has one people, but they are scattered everywhere, perhaps most within historic Christianity, but I have little doubt that some of his people wear other religious name brands such as Jewish, Islamic or even Buddhist. He can look at the heart and he can sort us out.

By-the-way, when I said earlier that Jesus was not a Christian, I was thinking of two passages: in Phil. 2:5, Paul make a very clear point of Jesus' incarnation, not only as a man, but as a Jewish man.

Also in Acts 13, believers were first called "Christians" in Antioch...probably in the context of Greek's coming to faith in Christ.

Sean said...


If people wear other religious name-brands, do they practice them while simultaneously following Jesus? (I don't think you meant without Jesus, like universalism teaches).

I find this somewhat problematic I suppose. I'm not sure if I'm getting what you're saying... Ex-pagan Gentiles in the first century: did they remain in their pagan temples?


Could you talk a bit more about this?

Fred said...

With Joseph's encouragement, I will try to weigh in but not right now since I am late for Bob Mumford's talk.

josenmiami said...

hey Sean

just lost my connection and a long email I wrote in response to your question...and I am also late for a mtg. I'll get back to you.

Fred is my dear friend from Maryland, a pastor and a messianic Jewish believer ... we had a great time talking this morning and I begged him to come in and contribute some of his thoughts on this subject.

He recently got his master's in Jewish studies and also just returned from visiting the largest Messianic congregation in the world in Russia....I'll let him tell about it ...

I'll get back to your question later...I promise!

Fred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steve H said...

Welcome, Fred! It was great to see you again this weekend! I look forward to hearing from you.

steve H said...

Joseph, Thanks for finding the pub. I appreciated the face-to-face fellowship that several us were able to share.

josenmiami said...

np Steve, it was a real pleasure for me to be with all of you men ... I was especially grateful that Jeff Rohr and Michael Tomko were able to join us and find a deeper sense of face-to-face connection with some of the other men. There really is a "flattening" effect that serves us well with digital technologies ("Thomas" Friedman).

I was also delighted with my breakfast appointment with Fred Lessans ... I hope he will visit in here again to share with us about his trip to Russia where he visited the largest Messianic congregation in the world...


Fred said...

Thanks Joseph - actually my trip was to Kiev, Ukraine where I went on a week prayer and fasting retreat with the Kiev Messianic Jewish Congregation. They began in 1997 when Jonathan Bernis did his Festivals of Joy throughout Eastern Europe. Many hundreds of Jewish people came to the Lord through these festivals giving birth to messianic congregations throughout eastern Europe. The Kiev congregation currently has about 1200 people - mostly Jewish. They also have significant outreaches to the poor, widows, prisoners and elderly. They are also moving significantly in the power of the Spirit and see many supernatural healings at their services. There worship is infectious as they incorporate Chassidic style dance in their worship. They are also very serious about prayer as they have all night prayer meetings seven nights a week interceding for the nations and particularly Israel. It really was a transforming experience.

Sean said...

Fred, that congregation in Kiev sounds great.

Just to re-orient ourselves, we were talking about whether or how believers should maintain contact with their previous religion. Should a Wiccan who comes to Messiah still attend her Wiccan congregational meetings until she is kicked out (I know, there are male Wiccans as well)?

Should a Jewish person who embraces the Messiah still remain in their Jewish congregation? I think you might be able to pull that off in a Reconstructionist congregation...not sure about the others.

I can see the benefits and the detriments of this...



Sean said...

Fred, that congregation in Kiev sounds great.

Just to re-orient ourselves, we were talking about whether or how believers should maintain contact with their previous religion. Should a Wiccan who comes to Messiah still attend her Wiccan congregational meetings until she is kicked out (I know, there are male Wiccans as well)?

Should a Jewish person who embraces the Messiah still remain in their Jewish congregation? I think you might be able to pull that off in a Reconstructionist congregation...not sure about the others.

I can see the benefits and the detriments of this...



josenmiami said...

Hi Sean,

Fred recently completed his master’s in Jewish studies and has given a lot of thought to these issues. I think he might help us think through some of this.

Back to your question: generally I think it is better for a person to remain within his original social context WHEN POSSIBLE. There is a great book called “Christianity Rediscovered” (2003), written by a Catholic missionary priest, Vincent Donovan, that discusses the value of trying to encourage people to not make individual commitments to Christ but to process that commitment with their ‘oikos’ or tribal group and make that decision together as a community.

There is a school of thought among those who work with Muslims that advocate something called “C5” missional outreach which endeavors to encourage new Islamic believers in Isa to remain in the mosque and to be a witness to their family and friends as believing Muslims (Muslim means “surrendered to God”).

Of course, this is not possible for every individual. In some ways, it would be an “apostolic” commitment that might lead to great personal suffering or even martyrdom.

I would much rather see believing Jews join a Messianic congregation and retain their cultural distinctive than to start attending a gentile Christian congregation and get lost in a sea of American gentile Christianity. I would say the same for almost any ethnic or traditional group. I don’t have an answer for you about Wiccan’s yet, because I don’t know enough…however, I am spending time sharing with one wiccan and another spiritist medium…so I might be able to give a more educated answer within the next few months.

by-the-way, Jamie and I are creating a google discussion group called 'goodnewsing' for those who were present at our "evangelism" tables at ACM, or anyone else interested in processing issues related to evangelism. The link is


josenmiami said...

hey guys, have you ever tried "googling" your own name to see what come up? I don't get much under Joseph Holbrook, but when I tried josenmiami, everything I have ever posted on-line came up ...(scary).

I tried googling "Brian Emmet" and the 7th post down was comments Brian made in this forum. Interesting ....the world is indeed become flat ... and public!

Patrick said... the way, this blog will now email you follow up comments. Check the box above "Publish your comment".

Fred said...

I believe messianic congregations are necessary for three reasons: 1. Theological: maintaining a living testimony of God's faithfulness in sustaining a remnant people (Rm.11:1-5); 2. missological: providing a long term testimony of Jewish faith in Yeshua to the greater Jewish community, long hindered by cultural stumbling blocks (1Co.9:20-23); 3. ecclesiological: ensuring the transfer of faith as a heritage to future generations of Jewish believers while maintaining a "one new man" testimony of Jews and Gentiles one in Messiah yet maintaing cultural distinctiveness.

As to believers remaining part of their original social context, i.e., muslim, wiccan, etc., there may be missiological reasons to do so but not theological reasons - in contrast to Jews because of their unique status as a people group in an irrevocable covenant relattionship with God (Rm.11:29). When considering remaining part of an "unbelieving" social group,it seems to me that 1Co.6:14-18 must be seriously considered. Again, I believe Paul is not speaking about separation from non-Yeshua believing Jews because he still considers them "brothers" because of the irrevocable covenant. Though I believe certain individuals could have an "apostolic" calling to remain part of their original (unbelieving)social grouping, it seems that for Paul, that is not the norm.

Fred said...

Forgive me - the reference is not 1Co.6:14-18 but 2Co.6:14-18

josenmiami said...

good points Fred. I would probably agree with you that it would not be the norm. There is something in the scriptures about oikos (household or family networks) coming to faith collectively rather than individually. Lydia, the Phillippian jailor, and the gentile Cornelius are all examples of an entire oikos coming to faith.

Jesus said in Matt. 10 to go into a city and seek out a household (oikos) with a man or woman of value (peace) and to remain there as long as one's peace remains. He also said, "if they receive you, they receive me..." I suppose the opposite is also true "if they reject you....."

I think what I am proposing is that we not be quick to extract people from their social networks when they cross the frontier to faith...but to give it some time to see if their family/social network will allow them to remain within the oikos as a faithful believer, thus holding out hope that the "Jesus" virus will infect the rest of the tribe.

If they reject the new believer, or persecute her, then the biblical injunction is to shake off the dust ... and of course they will need fellowship with others.

One might see this in the life of Paul. Soon after his conversion, he tried (unsuccessfully) to tell the good news to his kinsmen and fellow Jews... it also took awhile for the believers to be willing to "hang" with him.

thanks Fred for your three points about the need for Messianic congregations, that was very clear.

When you get a chance, share with the guys your thoughts about having one community with two congregations...I thought that was insightful and it draws upon your history with the ecclesial communities of Catholics and Protestants.

Sean said...

Fred, I am not convinced that Romans 11:29 can be used to justify maintaining fellowship with rabbinical Jewish congregations while other non-believing religious expressions you would apply 2 Cor. 6:14-18. The question is whether rabbinical Judaism as we have it today puts it into a separate category than other religious faiths. Does this irrevocable covenant apply to them? I would think only to the children of the promise (Romans 9:6-8).

Besides, as a Messianic Jew, I don't think conservative or orthodox congregations, upon finding out I have accepted Jesus, would make it possible for me to stay. Reformed congregations is a stretch as well. For Gentiles, it is easier - they are expected to be Christian. With me, I'm a traitor. Have you had this experience?

I am not sure Messianic Jews and Gentiles (Christians) should have separate congregations. I think Ephesians 2:14-18 says something different. If there is no wall of division, why do we keep having one?

What I think needs to happen is for the body of the Messiah, both Jew and Gentile, to reconcile into one family. I know, it's nearly impossible; Protestant Gentiles can't come together nor can Eastern Orthodox with Catholic - but it is the ideal I think. Christianity should be viewed a 'New Covenant Judaism' - a Judaism that is rooted in the New Covenant: Gentiles can embrace the Hebraic roots of the faith and shed Hellenistic theological thinking and unbiblical practices rooted in tradition that is alien to these roots; Jewish believers can shed unnecessary rabbinical customs that are post-biblical and have nothing to do with the New Covenant - especially if these customs give status or distinction that is not rooted in biblical faith. I know, this is controversial.

What do you think?



Brian Emmet said...

Wow, my thanks to Sean and Fred for these very stimulating insights!

I also want to echo how good it was to get a chance to see and meet at least some of us in Columbus. Thanks to all who came, and I'm eager for opportunities for this sort of face2face in the future... no idea how to do it, just looking forward to it!

This discussion reminds me of the "conflict" (too strong a term!) between two of our early leaders, Ern Baxter and Derek Prince, about the ongoing nature/role/identity of Israel. Derek, if I understand this all correctly, had a deep, ongoing relationship with national Israel, while Ern was more of a supercessionist (I think).

Does the New Covenant replace the Old... or renew/recreate it?

Robert said...

You guys are off and running...and if I got it right, some were blogging at ACM! It was good to have a little face time. We missed those who could not make it.

Welcome Fred...good to have time with you. This conversation is deeply connected with your current pursuits. Let's hear it...

Randy R. said...


Randy R. said...

As much as I loved Ern Baxter's teachings, I believe that he was wrong concerning the Jewish people. If I may borrow from the title to Josh McDowell's famous book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, there is a special, particular history of the Jewish people in this earth that cannot be ignored! Plus, it seems to me that the overwhelming scriptural evidence is that our God is a covenental God (we of ALL believers should understand this concept). Therefore, I don't believe that His purposes for the Jewish people have ended, quite to the contrary, I believe that He is turning up the heat . . . Israel a nation for the first time in more than two Milleniums (!), and presently, more Jewish believers (in Jesus as Messiah) in Israel than any other time in history apart from the first century! Mmmmmmm . . . seems to me that it is a time to be awake! Shalom! RR

Robert said...

What do we do with Romans 11:17...

Rom 11:17-18
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

How do we view the "olive root" without considering the covenant promises of God to Israel? If we are nourished by that same sap, how can we dismiss the former?

Are we part of the great continuity of God's covenant promises or was there a sudden disconnect between the old and the new? Does the more glorious covenant discount the former...or embrace it and bring it forward into a new a better way?

Paul declared..."Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law."

Sean said...

Robert, great questions/post. I will look into this.

How we uphold the law is an interesting question. What does Paul mean by it?

Brian Emmet said...

New post up! OK to continue here, too!

josenmiami said...

Anymore thoughts from Sean or Fred about the Jewish-Christian believer's issue?

Brian Emmet said...

Yes, let's not drop a topic that is still lively for us! I try to balance giving us time to think and interact with making the call about "time to move on." I certainly don't always make the right call, so there's no reason not to have two conversations going on at the same time.

Sean said...

There are many issues Brian...I don't think we've satisfactorly answered the Israel question; this may not be the forum to do that...I don't know.

1) We have to distinguish between rabbinical Judaism and biblical Judaism when it comes to religious practice.

2) We have to discover what kind of Judaism the Jerusalem Church was practicing between Jesus' ascension and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

3) This will be the kind of Judaism that should be presented to non-believing Jews - whatever that looks like.

4) Ecclesiological issues: is the Sabbath Saturday or Sunday? Should all Christians, Jews and Gentiles, observe the Sabbath? The Law? What do we do with it?
Circumcision for Jewish follwers of Jesus - should they be doing this, or is the sign and seal of the New Covenant water baptism? Dietary laws - are all of them nullified?
I think we need to re-look at everything.

4) Israel: political Israel, spiritual Israel, or both/neither? Romans 11 - yes, I believe that "all of Israel" will be saved, but the Israel here and the State of Israel are not necessarily the same thing. I do though, believe that the Israel of Romans 11 is contained in the State of Israel. But Paul is not talking about politics, is he? Is he talking about the Land? Maybe. Maybe not. I could go either way.

5) The Jew first: I don't think this will happen until Romans 11 is embraced by a majority of the Church.

I don't know if anyone will read this or not, but these were some issue I have been thinking about for a long time. And there's more...


John M. said...

Sean, Acts 13 seems to be clear regarding keeping the ceremonial law and circumcision for Gentile believers. Are you saying that perhaps Jewish believers in Yeshua should be held to a different standard?

Sean said...

John, where in Acts 13? Or do you mean Acts 15 (I think you mean Acts 15...)?


steve H said...

Great questions, Sean.

Have you read any of N.T. Wright concerning Judaism in the 1st Century? If so, what is your take on his work in that regard? His works sheds fresh light on the substance of the "gospel of the kingdom" in my opinion.

On many point I differ with the Reconstructionists, but I do believe that Greg Bahnsen ("By What Standard") and some others have done a good job show that we have to deal with the matter of law -- not as the means to salvation, but as at least a guide when it comes to working out salvation in culture.

Sean said...

Thanks Steve. Christians and the Law - whether Jew or Gentile - what place does the Mosaic Law have in the life of the church?

I would venture to guess much more than we think. For example, every Christians, Jew or Gentile, is to follow the Mosaic Law on many issues:

1) Don't murder
2) Don't commit adultery
3) Don't steal, etc.

These are found in the Mosaic Law.
You bring up the point of the salvation issue. That's the thing: the Law, among Jews, was not seen as salvific - i.e. 'follow the Law and you'll go to heaven'. We have interpreted Judaism to be this way.

The law to the Jew was a life in response to being the elect. It wasn't how to get into the kingdom, it was what you did as part of the kingdom. But we do not interpret ancient Judaism this way...

N.T. Wright's continuation of the New Perspective on Paul debate tackles similar questions in his 'What Saint Paul Really Said".


John M. said...

Sean, yes, not Acts 13, but the Jerusalem council deciding the issue of what to require of Gentiles who become followers of "The Way".

Brian Emmet said...

Glad I checked back in here! Sean, I'm puzzled by your points concerning rabbinic vs. pre-70 Judaism. Do you mean that contemporary Jews, who are formed by rabbinic Judaism, are somehow not practicing "real" Judaism, and therefore need to be won that that, and then won to Christ, kind of a dual conversion? Pre-70 Judaism was centered in Torah and Temple; should those twin devotions somehow characterize Judaism today?

I think it's clear that water baptism is the covenant sign of the new covenant. An observant Jew would of course be circumcised on the 8th day, and upon coming to faith in Jesus, should obviously not seek to be un-circumcised! But he would need to be baptised upon confessing Christ, no?

Sean, following NT Wright and others, is absolutely correct that Jews did not view law-keeping as a means of salvation, but more of a sign of having been brought into the covenant by the grace of God. While legalism is always a problem for humans, that was not the heart of the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. I think Wright is correct that it really was a fight about what it means for Israel to be Israel. Jesus fulfills in his person the meaning and mission of Israel--he is a kind of "one man Israel," perhaps along the lines of Isaiah 53.

The question of role of the Law/Torah is worth pursuing.

Sean said...

Brian, I am not advocating a Jew to convert to pre-70 Judaism and then convert to Christianity. On the contrary, I am advocating that they convert to New Covenant Judaism - which is Christianity. Rabbinical Judaism is not biblical Judaism. Biblical Judaism is found in the Scriptures, which included Temple sacrifices. Rabbinical Judaism, which is practiced today, is an evolution of Judaism over the last 2,000 years, minus the Temple. There are many things in Rabbinical Judaism that are not in the Bible, like bar-mitsvahs... I'm not saying there's anything wrong with them, but some Messianic Jewish congregation really expect bar-mitsvahs to take place to keep their Jewish identity ect...even to be more spiritual. I think that's wrong.

We just don't know what Christianity looked like prior to 70 A.D. other than the life of Jesus, and a few glimpses from the New Testament...Ha!

People would like to think that the Protestant form of Christianity that they're practicing today is essentially the same as what James and the elders in Jerusalem practiced. I am not so sure, which is why I bring up the Law...

If baptism is the sign and seal of the New Covenant, why should Jewish boys, born of belieiving Messianic Jewish parents, get circumcised? Is there a theological basis for it?

What parts of the Law should Christians follow? The Acts 15 council highlights of them, but I'm sure that it was understood that murder, stealing, and many others were not permitted.

Not for salvation, but in response to your salvation.

Should Christians celebrate Passover? The other holidays of biblical Judaism (which includes the Feast of Dedication - Hanukkah that we see in John 10 - I think it's John 10)...

Is Acts 15 talking just about circumcision or ALL of the Law of Moses? Most comentaries say all the law, but I'm not so sure...


Brian Emmet said...

Yikes, Sean, you're scaring up more rabbits than I can chase!

Re Torah-keeping, the traditional Christian exegesis contrasts the "ceremonial" portions of the law with the "moral" portions (a distinction that I think would have been entirely lost on Moses!). Do we think this is barking up the wrong tree?

Good Q about the son of a Messianic couple: do they circumcise him, and then have him baptised... and would they practice infant baptism or believer's baptism? If true Judaism = New Covenant Judaism = Christianity (??), then I think the answer would have to be...baptism, not circumcision. But thi smakes me sound like a supercessionist!

Sean said...

Yes, it does...but then again, what other solution is there than baptism?

The differentiation between the "moral" law and the "ceremonial" law is interesting, but I don't think it's biblical. You're right, Moses wouldn't understand it, because the moral and the ceremonial are one and the same, making this distinction, as far as I can tell, an artificial construction. Is bringing two pigeons to the Levite priest for sins moral or ceremonial? I would think both.

Sorry for allowing my rabbits to multiply like rabbits. I have many more questions and few if any answers. If baptism is the New Covenant Judaism equivalent to circumcison, maybe infant baptism has some basis. This is what my Jewish-Presbyterian twin brother believes and practices (he is a pastor).

I would think that the Law is still in effect for Christians - just how though, and which ones, is the question. Obviously there's no more need for sacrifice. But is that it?

Summed up: love God, love your neighbor. Jesus makes it simple. You will fulfill the law by doing these to things with all that you have. But we must remember: he was speaking to people who knew what the Law said and meant. Most people today do not. So, we should learn the Mosaic Law - at least know what it says and why it says what it says. Then we'll better understand what Jesus means.

Just thinking out loud.

Brian Emmet said...

A potential resource for this conversation is Mark Kinzer's book "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redfining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People" (Brazos Press, 2005). I'd be especially interested in Sean and Fred's responses to it (not that you have nothing else to do other than read books I suggest!)

Fred said...

Sorry I have seemingly "dropped out." Things have been very busy due to some family "crises." I spoke at a messianic congregation today and talked with an old acquaintance of mine name Alan Rausnitz who is a Jewish believer and has been in the movement for many years. He has been publishing various articles concerning Messianic Judaism and I thought he may be able to make a contribution to this discussion if that is ok. You may be hearing from him. I hope to get back into the swing.