The Annual Vilification of Christmas

Probably almost 2 billion Christians, whether nominal or really committed, celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Yeshua.  They celebrate the meaning of the incarnation. We will soon be treated with internet writings, Youtube teachings, and Facebook posts telling us how awful it is that Christians celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of Yeshua (and have in the Catholic Church a communion service, mass, celebrating his birth or Christ’s Mass).  We will be told that this is pagan, a blot on the faith, syncretism. The attack against Christmas does not come from any of the mainstream Messianic Jewish organizations, not the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations in America, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, Tikkun America, or the Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel, Ukraine, Russia, and South America.   Where does it come from? It comes from gentiles who are embracing their interpretation of a return to Jewish roots. Many Messianic Jewish congregations do not make a big deal out of Christmas in their corporate celebrations. They allow members to celebrate according to their conscience, but because they are Jewish oriented and think that Yeshua was not actually born on Dec. 25th, they have not made it part of their religious year of celebrations.  

 

Those on the attack claim that Dec. 25 was chosen due to pagan associations with the Sun, Mithraicism and more.  I do think it is the wrong date. Besides, Jews celebrated miraculous events and not birthdays. Jewish people in the first century may have seen the conception by the Holy Spirit as the great miracle.  I agree with the non-Catholic scholarship consensus of His birth in the Fall, maybe at Sukkot (Tabernacles). But as I have argued, the meaning of a practice is according to the definition of those who embrace it.  That is the sum of it. The Church is not celebrating the gods or something pagan. Most of us as Messianic Jews are glad that the World celebrates the birth of the greatest Jew in history. 

 

So here are a few points in response.  First, Dr. John Fischer, one of the fathers of the Messianic Jewish Movement and the President of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations today, argues that Yeshua was really born on Dec. 25th.  He has not convinced me, but his argument is credible.  You can write and get his video on this from St. Petersburg Theological Seminary in Florida.  That he would argue this should give us pause. Secondly, we have to distinguish between Protestant Church traditions and celebrations and the secular culture.  I for one am hard-pressed to know any historic Protestant traditions that are pagan and not worthy of admiration. Can you list any? The tradition of the hymns for the season are wonderful, touching and biblical.  Church tradition reenacts the events leading up to his birth and then the birth in the four weeks of Advent. All of the biblical passages on his birth and incarnation are read. Sermons are prepared on these themes.  Choirs visit shut-ins and bring them cheer by singing the Christmas hymns. Without Christmas, it would be a much darker world. The only pagan thing that is noted is the date (this is in question) and the Christmas tree, which is interpreted by Christians as life coming into the world and the tree as a reminder that He would die on a tree.  The Jeremiah 10 text on the tree, often quoted by these folks, has nothing to do with this. It is about a tree being cut and chiseled into an image of a god. Besides, the Christmas tree is a recent thing and not part of the historic Protestant Church tradition. 

 

But there are troubling aspects in the larger culture.  The secular celebrations and office parties to reach back to the winter pagan orgiastic gatherings.  They rebel against the Christian tradition, and this is a more recent development. The materialism and buying sprees are certainly not part of the spirit of the Church tradition.  Giving to the poor is. Mistletoe is also a faint reminder of pagan practices. Santa Clause is at best neutral but again not part of Church tradition. I am all for Christians making their traditions more truly biblical in accord with church tradition. 

 

Messianic Jews and their scholars are fighting serious issues.  They include replacement theology, the election of Israel, the special calling of Messianic Jews, the right understanding of law and grace, the prophetic understanding of Israel’s restoration in our ancient Land and more.  However, fighting the Church and its traditions of Christmas is not one of these battles. It is more like tilting at windmills Don Quixote style. It really hinders us in our work of building John 17:21 unity with believers.  It is a foolish battle. Rather, let’s visit churches during this season and bring them more of the Jewish context of the coming of Yeshua, especially the Jewish aspects of Luke 1, 2, and Matthew 1, 2. I am thankful that this is not the orientation of the mainstream of the Messianic Jewish Movement in the world.  Those who pursue this look cultic, narrow and sectarian. 

 

Should Gentiles Keep The Feasts of Israel?

As we move into the Holiday season, I want to address the issue of Christians keeping the Holy Days. 

 

I am not planning on defending my interpretation of the passages that talk about Gentiles keeping the Feasts of Israel, also called God’s appointed times, and the Feasts of the Jews in the Gospel of John.  They were God’s appointed Feasts for Israel. They are still central to Jewish tradition and Jewish identity and have been celebrated continuously even with the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jewish nation in the first and second centuries.  They are all national holidays in Israel. 

 

I read Romans 14, Galatians 3, and Colossians 2 straightforwardly.  I know that there are arguments that the passages do not really mean what they at first glance, in almost all translations, seem to say.  Romans 14 states that keeping specific days is according to the conscience of the person who keeps does so. He does not enjoin their keeping. In context, of course, Paul knows that Israel was and is enjoined to keep the Feasts and the Sabbath, but the context is that Gentiles are not so required.  Colossians states that the Feasts are a shadow of the realities that are in Yeshua, who is the substance of the feasts. The Colossians are exhorted to allow no one to judge them with regard to a Feast, New Moon or Sabbath day. The New Testament scriptures do not explicitly require the observance of the Holy Days by Gentiles, so we want to avoid making any requirement that Gentiles observe these days in the same manner that are incumbent upon the Jewish people. Yet, the sentiment that all scripture is useful for teaching (2 Tim 2:15-16) portrays that it is possible for Gentiles, both K’rovei-Yisrael (those who have been led by the Holy Spirit to join Messianic Communities for the sake of Jewish witness) and other Gentile believers who wish to participate with Jewish congregations as guests, may experience spiritual enrichment and greater revelation of Yeshua as a result of a deepened understanding of, and participation in observances of the biblical feasts and Holy Days.

 

However, the conclusion that the Biblical Feasts are irrelevant is foolish and incoherent.  The Feasts of Israel are revelatory and teach us about God’s provision for our needs, the work of the Messiah Jesus, and are prophetic for the end of this Age and the Age to Come.  Understanding the Feasts is part of understanding the Bible. Why did Yeshua die during Passover? Why was he raised from the dead on First Fruits? Why does the book of Hebrews interpret the atonement of Yeshua on the basis of the Day of Atonement (Heb. 7-9) and the meaning of our spiritual life through the Sabbath (Heb. 4)?  When we understand this, then Gentiles can be supportive of Jewish people who keep these special days. 

 

I think one of the very good ways that I encourage is that the churches would teach on the Feasts during the seasons that Jewish people celebrate them.   This brings out the reality that the Church is an international people joined to Israel. Understanding Israel through the Biblical patterns of Israel is greatly helpful.  Of course, a picture is worth a thousand words. Joining with Messianic Jewish congregations for celebrations can be a great way of bringing out the meaning; a key teaching tool.  Many do Passover Seder Demonstrations for churches.  

 

Must Christians keep the Feasts, and take particular days of the year as Sabbath Feast days?  No, in my view the Bible is clear. But should Christians connect to the meaning of the Feasts in various ways?  Yes, if we are to understand the Bible better and be more in tune with rooting in Israel. 

 

THOSE RARE INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE NOT OF THIS WORLD

I have known three men who are with the Lord who were so filled with God that they seemed not of this world. The first was an elder of the congregation where I was saved, Larry Carroll. He was a spiritual father to me. In December 1964, he and the youth director of The Reformed Church of Westwood, came to our home when it was almost midnight to pray for me to receive the immersion in the Holy Spirit. That was a wonderful experience. Larry walked in a level of faith and love that I had never seen before. He owned a decoration and upholstery business in Westwood, New Jersey. Larry later lost 12 year old son in a terrible accident where five of the church young people on a youth group outing were killed. Now as a married adult, Larry simply said that his son had the privilege of being in heaven before him. He continued walking in love and faith. He won many to the Lord. Then he survived a brain tumor that left him a bit bent over, but continued for many years showing amazing joy and love. It was as if he had one foot
in heaven and one on earth.

The second was another spiritual father, Chaplain Evan Welsh of Wheaton College. During the darkest days of my life, he invited me to his home and opened his heart with an unusual love. Chaplain Welsh also a man who knew tragedy, and yet poured out his life in love for people. His comfort, his constant availability to me, tears of empathy, and hospitality were amazing.  This was the experience of many others. For me, in those dark years, he was proof of the existence of God and the truth of the Gospel.

The third, we have just lost, a messenger of the love of God, Eddie Santoro, the first senior pastor of our congregation in Jerusalem, Ahavat Yeshua. I first met Eddie in Kingston, New York when Dr. Michael Brown was a keynote speaker at a conference at a church where Eddie was an elder. Mike had a strong sense that Eddie was to start a Messianic Jewish Congregation. I encouraged him to do this as well. Eddie was a businessman; his company built houses. Now he would be a Messianic Jewish congregation leader. His new congregation soon flourished. His love and enthusiasm just drew people. Then Eddie and Jackie, his amazing and dedicated wife, sensed they were called to make aliya to Israel. Eddie eventually became an elder of Tiferet Yeshua in Israel which was led by Ari and Shira Sorkoram. Soon young adults gathered in large numbers to experience the presence of the Spirit and to be enjoined to walk in love as Yeshua.

When he was called to plant the new congregation in Jerusalem with Asher Intrater, he was appointed the first pastor and held this role for ten years. He and his wife Jackie offered hospitality, mentoring, counseling and prayers which again drew people. They knew they were loved and valued. This enabled them to believe in God’s love for them. This love did not mean that Eddie was indulgent with regard to sin. Eddie’s love was biblical love, not humanistic indulgence. He called for those he loved to receive the power of God to overcome sin and exhorted all to high biblical moral standards. Eddie was a wonderful cook and invited those he shepherded to enjoy his culinary creations. Eddie’s preaching usually turned to the love of God and our call to love one another. When Eddie was diagnosed with brain cancer, he decided to fight the cancer with prayer, medicine and the word of God and to love all the more. He came through the first surgery and went through a period where no cancer was found. He increased his evangelistic witness everywhere he went. The hospital waiting room was his opportunity to reveal the truth of the good news. He continued to lead the monthly gathering of the over 55 fellowship (third seasoners) sponsored by our congregation but including an inter-congregational contingent. Then came the return of cancer and another surgery and recovery. For a season there was a good result. Eddie’s life was extended three years beyond the doctor’s predictions. The love continued to flow through Eddie and Jackie. This continued in the final weeks before Eddie was no longer able to communicate well. Eddie now is in glory. He is one of those three most god like and loving in my experience. Yes, it is sad and hard for us to be separated from him, but we are with him spiritually at the throne (Eph. 2:6). We will be
rejoined either in our deaths or at His return.

A Brainwashed People

Recently I came across an article by Daniel Greenfield.  He is a conservative Jewish writer who sometimes provides great insight.  This article engaged the subject of cultural brainwashing.  In Greenfield’s view, many of the people on the left or far left have been brainwashed.  They have not come to rational conclusions by weighing all the evidence, but have been conditioned.  There is a parroting like we experience when talking to people in a cult.  We have created a national cult society.  We watch the news and see so many speak the exact same talking points.  I have been lately amazed at the deep intense hatred for those who believe in traditional morality.  When I try to engage issues with some acquaintances, they simply get angry, dismissive and won’t or cannot engage arguments.  The issues are black and white and there is no alternative view point. If you press beyond that and ask questions for which there no stock answer, the intended dialogue partner simply bows out of rational discourse and resorts to name calling and abuse.  But issues are complex.  These responses are religious cult responses.  It is why there are violent protests on campus against reasonable conservatives. This mass conditioning takes place in schools, media and entertainment that repeat the same points over and over again.  It is group think and group speak on steroids.  George Orwell would have been amazed.  

Generally, the leftist culture (I am not speaking about classical liberals) is totally opposed to traditional morals.  Sexual fidelity, the reserving of sexual relationships and bonding to committed traditional marriage, avoidance of promiscuity, the sanctity of human life (it is not your body but a human being created in the image of God) the command to have no other gods before the Creator, and we could go on.  The leftist culture hates these with a vengeance.  Even the idea of not bearing false witness is compromised if such false witness gains the ends of the relativistic post-modern progressives.  (Note the Kavanaugh hearings)

Sometimes it is depressing to read the news.  Recently a California court required a Christian dating service to include LGBT people.  Chick Fil A is banned not because they discriminate in service and hiring, but because their founder embraced the standards of traditional morality and marriage.  Again and again we see Christians and conservative Jews censored in social media.  We see the symptoms of decadence all around us, but the culture formation elite seem to not even notice; the homelessness, the divorces, the opiate epidemic, the suicide rate, the sleaze, the alarmingly low birth rate.  Some on the more radical left point to global warming as the reason to not have children (others include the crises of this world, the environment in general, and the desire for meaning through a career for women).  The birth rate is declining at an alarming rate and will leave us with huge social problems.  Greenfield notes that so many think the same way due to the constant repletion of the same messages from Hollywood, in the universities, in journalism, and the internet.  The group think is amazing.  Greenfield believes that this cultural direction was planned; that gaining control of education, entertainment and media was central to the leftist revolution.  So was dividing the country in identity politics a key part of the plan.  In my view, one finds an amazing similarity in the brainwashing in the radical right and its racist world view, a conditioning that shows irrationality.  Both radical left and right are full of conspiracy ideas.  Both seek control of others and hence control of the society, but it seems the danger today is more from the left.  They seek control and are planning by every possible means to get control.  I  think they don’t believe in a democratic republic from of government but control by the elite on the left     

Greenfield notes the key elements of brainwashing. 

Those three elements are control, crisis and emotional resonance. To successfully brainwash someone, you have to control their environment, force a crisis on them, and then tap into core emotions, fear, love, guilt, hate, shame, and guide them through the crisis by accepting and internalizing a new belief.

Since the Left still lacks total control over the United States, it relies on repetition, itself a form of control and stress, to create fear and panic. It makes up for its lack of physical control by bombarding Americans with messages meant to inspire fear, love, hate and guilt through the media, through the educational system, through entertainment and through every possible messaging channel. 

The political brainwashing campaign in this country targets the upper class and the middle class. The best subjects for brainwashing are intelligent and emotionally vulnerable. They’re easier to manipulate by using the gap between their emotions and their reason, and their emotional instability makes it easier to force them into crisis mode. The ideal subjects are in their teens and their early twenties. In modern times, that’s a period in which identity is still developing, and can be fractured and remade.

Like every cult, the modern campus claims to serve an educational purpose, helping students find meaning and purpose, but insisting that they must first be cured of the subconscious evils such as white privilege and toxic masculinity that are holding them back through a process that deconstructs their barriers, encourages confession, expressions of trauma, shame and guilt, to create new identities.

This isn’t education. It’s not even dogmatic lecturing. It’s the same basic set of techniques used by any major cult in the country. Once colleges began trying to cure their students of subconscious evils at closed sessions, under the guidance of unlicensed therapists associated with a movement, there was no longer any difference between them and that of any cult, except billions in taxpayer dollars.

Some on the right respond by promoting a counter brainwashing. Have you noticed the amazing levels of repetition in some of  the right wing media? However, brainwashing is immoral and is a violation of the human person.  I note in talking to my more leftist friends and acquaintances an inability to dialogue in a reasonable way.  They cannot argue their points beyond a certain repetition or regurgitation of the content of the brainwashing. Because he or she cannot rationally defend the position they simply seek to shut up the other.   “In the hands of left-wingers, the mantle of oppression has become the greatest tool for oppressing others, denying free speech, the free exercise of religion, academic freedom, the free exchange of ideas, and intelligent free debate, thereby proving the doctrine of depravity” —Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph

Is there any hope.  In the movie The Matrix, the star character takes a little pill to awaken to the fact that he was living in a totally fake world.  He joins the opposition to the government controllers.  We have such a solution.  It is in the Gospel preached with power, with signs and wonders that break through the naturalistic world.  It is in the power of prayer which is mightier than the social conditioning of the culture.  It is the outpourings of the Spirit in revival that is mighty to reverse the decay.  As I was contemplating these issues in a semi sleep state, the power of prayer as mighty to pull down the strongholds of the mind, the mind of the culture.  May God give us the grace for prayer gatherings in every town and city, in every congregation, to realized the issue and to come against these forces of evil by the power of prayer and the proclaimed Word.  Also, today more then ever, we need to see that our children are not given over to the educational establishment for this conditioning, and to choose a college with real education that respects classical biblical views.

THE PAINFUL RULE OF THE SHAS PARTY

Some, but not most are aware that the ultra-orthodox Sephardic political party Shas controls the Interior Department in Israel.  This is the price Benjamin Netanyahu pays to stay in power.  His coalition government requires a parliamentary majority (the K’nessset).  Shas required this prize.  When the Netanyahu decided to dissolve his last government and go to elections almost 4 years ago, I feared that he was going to exchange the Yesh Atid party under Yair Lapide in his last collation for the ultra-orthodox parties in the new coalition. That is just what happened.  The leader of Shas is convicted felon, Arye Deri who spent a good bit of time in jail.   The Interior Department controls immigration into the land, visas-entries and exits, the population registry, citizenship issues and more.  There is great injustice form this party, not only against Yeshua followers, but against many others.  Here are some examples of gross in justice.

  1. The biggest one I see is that they have rejected the immigration of over 7000 Ethiopian Jews who have applied for citizenship and remain in poverty in Ethiopia.  Many have relatives here in Israel and want family unification.  These are the Falasha Mora who some centuries ago who were baptized under pressure in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.  They maintained a Jewish identity and are desirous of conversion to Judaism.  The Israeli parliament has approved this and allocated funds.  Yet, they are in limbo?  Why?  Do to prejudice and maybe even racism in the Shas leaders?
  2. The second situation is connected to medical treatment for Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.  One of the great things about Israel is that when there are catastrophic situations of need, Israel will treat them with great care in the hospitals in Israel proper.  However, those in the territories need to get permission papers for this.  Such permission is granted for Gaza Palestinians as well.  However, there is a rule now that if a person in Gaza is sick and needing to come to Israel, Israel will not approve it if they have a relative from Gaza who has moved and is living in the West Bank (Judea-Sumaria).  This week the press reported on one who is in danger of losing their sight, but due to a relative in Ramalla they will not give permission.  The relative has to move back to Gaza.  Yet time is of the essence in this situation.  The reason is that the government does not want Gazans to swell the population in the territories.  Yet this is draconian and a terrible way to assure this.
  3. The third injustice was reported this week.  Two teenagers form South America flew to Israel to visit their mother and stepfather.  The mother married an Israeli and converted to Judaism.  The teen girls live in with the natural father.  The Interior Dept. authorities at the airport interrogated them, and then would not let them enter and put them on a plane back to South America.  They claimed they were not convinced they would not stay illegally.  The mother in Israel protested and got legal help.  They were going to take this to court and certainly would have won.  The Interior Dept. relented and accepted that they could visit?  Would they issue new tickets?  No.  The vacation period is over and a visit is no longer possible.  We regularly hear horror stories of people detained and put back on planes to go home without good reason. 
  4. The government rescinded policies that would require more of the ultra orthodox to be drafted or do national service and policies that would reduce the number on welfare who refuse to work for a living so as to study Talmud (Don’t call it Torah study.  It is not the books of Moses that they mostly study, but the Talmud.  After all, how many years all day can you study the Torah.  But studying Talmud and Rabbinic law can easily last  lifetime).  

For all these reasons a good number of Yeshua followers will not vote for Benjamin Netanyahu.  We like some of his policies, but are having a hard time knowing that a vote for him is a vote for the ultra-orthodox.  How would the prophets respond to these injustices?  I think it would be a pretty intense response.  

Biblical Authority and Messianic Jewish Scholars

Daniel Juster, Th. D.  Restoration from Zion

After almost four years of painful skepticism, I returned to committed faith in April, 1970.  I had graduated from Wheaton College and was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, near Deerfield, Illinois.   As I look back on those years, I am amazed at the mercy of God and his providential care.  I was privileged at Wheaton and Trinity to have the most amazing professors to help me work though many issues, and most importantly, my spiritual father, the Chaplain of Wheaton College, Dr. Evan Welsh. 

My quest was intellectual and I needed the best help possible.  In philosophy there were the brilliant thinkers, Dr. David Wolfe, Dr. Stuart Hackett (Philosophy of Religion) and the famous, Dr. Arthur Holmes.  For a critical introduction to the Old Testament, there was Dr. Samuel Schultz who received his Ph. D. at Harvard and taught at Wheaton.  He had such high regard for the Hebrew Bible and its applicability for all believers.  His teaching was a bulwark against critical theories that undercut the authority of the Bible.  Furthermore, he prepared me for a Messianic Jewish understanding since he argued with great force that the Mosaic Covenant was a covenant of grace that fully taught salvation by grace and also the applicability of the Law of God in the New Covenant.  His books were breakthroughs in the Evangelical world.  He became one of the early Christian supporters of our Messianic Jewish movement.  In this essay, I want to give honor to the late Dr. Kenneth Kantzer.  I consider him to be the greatest teacher on biblical authority in second half of the 20th century.   By the time I finished my program at Trinity (in Philosophy of Religion) I was established in great confidence in the trustworthiness of the Bible, and that every text of the bible teaches the always according to what the author is asserting as truth.

I was the product of an evangelical education that in those days was very solid on the issue of Biblical authority.  But one question loomed.  Would my approach to Biblical authority hold up in a liberal educational institution?  I enrolled at McCormick Theological Seminary whose faculty included many liberals whose views were quite radical.  None believed in the historic view of the trustworthiness of the Bible.  And some did not really believe the Gospel itself.  Critical approaches to the Bible reigned.  Yet after 5 quarters and a degree, I was not at all shaken.  The professors were renowned scholars, but their presentations were weak compared to what I had previously learned.  I was unshaken. 

But now we have a significant issue in our movement.  Several leaders in our Messianic Jewish movement are seeking the credibility of degrees from well known schools under well known scholars. They are receiving masters and doctorate degrees.  However, they have entered these schools without a strong evangelical background of teaching on Biblical authority.   Some think that such an education is not important and that such an education is not adequately Jewish.  They see no claim from such evangelical views upon them.  Yet, I do believe that the very best understanding of Biblical authority has been developed by historic Reformation Evangelicalism.   Messianic Jews need to be humble before truth whenever and wherever it has been put forth, especially when from our Evangelical brothers.

Historic Orthodox Judaism also professes the highest regard for the Hebrew Bible as fully trustworthy.  However, in Judaism, the apparent contradictions in the Bible and difficult passages are often explained away by a midrashic type of Rabbinic interpretation which does not always have to credit the straightforward meaning of the text.  Midrash is a type of spiritual interpretation that can find multiple meanings in texts.  Rashi, the famous medieval exegete did affirm the importance of the peshat, the straightforward meaning of the text, but this was not consistently the emphasis of Judaism.  It was left to Evangelicals to affirm the highest view of Biblical authority and often by hard work to find solutions to difficult texts (as in the recent work of Dr. Walter Kaiser). 

Messianic Jews who do not have a strong evangelical background of scholarship on Biblical authority can find themselves shaken from the view of the full trustworthiness of the contextual meaning of the text as always true.  They can then embrace various levels of liberal critical scholarship or can seek to maintain faith by a more mystical Rabbinic approach to the text. 

Yet as Dr. Kantzer taught, when we lose a high view of Biblical authority, we enter into subjectivism, namely that what we affirm and do not affirm in the Bible is subject to what we think rationally makes sense or what we intuitively confirm.  So are the Biblical standards of marriage and sexual purity to be maintained?  Did Moses really give us the Torah of God that contains the universal moral and ethical laws for all people?  And of course, liberal Christians do not want to credit the texts that speak of Israel’s everlasting connection to the Land as their inheritance.   If the Messianic Jewish movement finds itself influenced by scholars who do not have this high view of Scriptures, then we will be in deep trouble.

This is one reason why we are supporting higher education that is oriented to the full high view of Biblical authority, Holy Spirit power and gifts, and the importance of Messianic Jewish life.  I have a fuller essay on this in the book edited by Rabbi Cohn Sherbuck, Voices of Messianic Judaism.  The essay is on Biblical authority.

Seven Mountains and Second Coming

As a biblical thinker that believes that we are to influence all areas of society with biblically based solutions (the Seven Mountains teaching and classical Reformed thought on societal influence), I yet am disturbed by those who implicitly or explicitly embrace the post millennial understanding in their teaching on The Last Days or Eschatology.  The post millennial view teaches that the great tribulation was past.  The book of Revelation is about the fall of Jerusalem or maybe the fall of Rome *Babylon.”  We can now go forward to conquer the whole world for Jesus without his actual return.  Unlike some of my friends, I do not teach that this view is heresy.  It was embraced by some Puritans, Charles Finney, the great revivalist and Jonathan Blanchard, the founder of Wheaton.   Wheaton’s motto, “For Christ and His Kingdom,” was originally, but not today, understood in post millennial terms.  Many today have the view that we will come to rule the nations without the return of Jesus literally.  Some do not use the term post millennial to describe their views.  They just speak of a victorious Church.

Whatever one does place the great tribulation, whether in the past or in the future like both classic Protestant and Catholic views, the real issue with this thinking is the loss of passion for the return of Yeshua.  One well known prophet brother from a well known charismatic church that has had great influence, put out a list of his rejection of any eschatology that did not give his children and grand children a hope for their future success on this earth, for an intergenerational purpose to be progressing on this earth.  He actually listed 7 or 8 things that amounted to the same thing.   Yet, no Scripture was quoted for these views! The central problem with this view is that the New Covenant Scriptures orient us to long for the return of Yeshua and to believe that it might be soon.   Text after text encourages us to look for the blessed hope, the glorious and soon return of the Lord.  Peter notes in Acts 3 that the Jewish people need to repent, “that He might send Yeshua the Messiah appointed for you.”   In Philippians 3:20, 21 we are told  that, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we eagerlay wait for the Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.”   In Colossians in 3:4 we are to hope that “When Messiah, who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”  In I Thessalonians  5:2 we read, “The Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night …”  We are to be watchful and ready so that day need not come as a thief to us.  In II Thessalonians we read that the Lord will slay the lawless one (the antichrist) at his coming.   We look to the “Appearing of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah,”  (I Tim. 6:4).  In I Corinthians 16:22 we read the word Maranatha, “Our Lord Come,” or “Come Lord.”  This was a greeting among believers in the first century.   And in II Peter 3:12, we read that we are to live in such a way that we are,” Looking for and hastening the coming Day of God.” In the book of Revelation we are told that Yeshua is coming soon and that we are to live with the sense of his soon coming. 

Now of course, we know the delay.  Yet there is nothing in the Bible saying, now go forth and influence every sector of society and bring it into obedience to Biblical principles.  I do believe in such influence as part of understanding the Good News of the Kingdom.  I see that slavery would not have been eliminated in England and America if it were not for believers who so acted.  But the passion of the New Covenant Scriptures is the return of the Lord, not taking the seven mountains.  The passion for his return should supersede every other desire.  We live in the light of his return.  When I was a child, I thought as a child.  I did not want the Lord to return until after I experienced the intimacy of marriage and than after this, until I had children.  Then I wanted to see my children grow up.  But now I know whenever He comes, it will be the best for us all.  Let’s influence the seven mountains, but lets embrace the passion of the New Testament, the sense of the soon return of Yeshua.  We can do both.

Institutional Christianity: Our Response

By Daniel Juster

Institutional Christianity includes all the streams of Christianity that are organized into associations of congregations, ministries, leaders and missions organizations.  It includes everything form the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, to Protestant denominations and those more recent associations called apostolic streams.  It includes missions agencies which also are institutions, and missions movements like YWAM, or Youth with a Mission.   Even independent congregations that are in no association are institutions with a defined order of government, services, and leadership.  In a sense, there really is no Christianity without institutions and that is true of Messianic Judaism as well.

Yet it is popular today to say that one is a Yeshua believer but does not believe in institutional religion, Christianity or Messianic Judaism.  It is also popular in some Messianic Jewish circles (thankfully, we think the minority) to bash Institutional Christianity and to teach in a way that delegitimizes and denigrates institutional Christianity.  This approach places the teacher in a position of superiority as one beyond the errors and failings of Institutional Christianity.  “Follow me since I am free of all these errors.”  One can find plenty to criticize in Church History.  After such criticism, one can then present the true Jewish interpretation of the Scriptures that is totally apart form the teaching of Institutional Christianity, while still affirming that there are true believers in the institutions.   Yet, such individualism in regard to the true believes does not recognize that we are all part of corporate bodies and are not merely believes as separated individuals.  As part of such presentations, some also show disrespect for the creeds, confessions of faith and the governmental structures of Institutional Christianity.  Some who do this present aberrant teaching that is not in accord with the Bible, such as the “One Law” doctrine that teaches that all Christians are responsible to keep the whole Law of Moses (that can be kept without a Temple).  Others teach this “One Law” doctrine with the assertion that true believers in Yeshua are the lost tribes of Israel.   It is interesting that such people have formed institutions or organizations.  However, some who teach against Institutional Christianity are for the most part submitted to true Biblical teaching, though we believe that this approach to Christianity is divisive and can lead to sectarianism and further division.

As Messianic Jews that identify with apostolic and prophetic restoration, our identification with the Church (the Ecclesia) is mostly with the churches that developed out of the Protestant Reformation.  We believe that the Reformation began a process of return to a more accurate understanding and application of the Bible.  So we find fellowship not only with individuals but desire and are open to corporate relationships with all institutional bodies that are founded on the historical Reformation standards that defined true biblical faith, such as justification by faith, being born again, and the full authority of the Bible as our final authority for faith and practice.   The Reformation eventually had a very positive effect on purifying and bringing positive change to the Roman Catholic Church.  However, sadly from the perspective of the first Reformers, Protestantism fragmented into multiple institutions, some due to conscience.  They were committed to practice truths that were not permitted in their former institutions.  Sometimes they people separated for very unnecessary reasons.  So today there are Baptists of many associations, Methodists, Anabaptists, Pentecostals (many different associations), holiness denominations,  Christian Missionary Alliance, Free Church Associations and we can go on and on.  Some say there are thousands, but most today world wide are connected in some way to Pentecostal and new apostolic streams.   We are sad for the unnecessary fragmentation since the Reformation, but do want to acknowledge all that has come form Institutional Christianity.

First without Institutional Christianity there would not be two billion people in the world who profess Christianity and one billion who are broadly Protestant Evangelical.   Without Institutional Christianity, there would be no New Covenant Scriptures since the manuscripts were copied and preserved by the efforts of Institutional Christianity.   There would not be vernacular translations, since these were spurred and supported by the Institutions of Christianity.  There would not be a visible Church that is expressed in visible congregations and associations.  The progress of the Kingdom of God in planting congregations, winning the lost, establishing hospitals that have cared for the needy, orphanages, and movements that fostered biblically rooted social justice like the elimination of slavery in England, simply would not have taken place.  Actually, remove Institutional Christianity and you mostly remove Christianity.  As one senior Messianic Jewish leader of 40 years in the United States said, without the institutional churches, the world would have been a much darker place.   We have to remember that institutions of all kinds are led by human beings who are still sinners.   Great leaders in and from institutions have fostered most of the spread of the Gospel and the gains that have been made.  However, great sin from those in the institutions has also fostered pain and evil.  There has been glory and shame, as we would expect under human leadership!

Institutional Christianity has also provided us with creeds, confessions of faith and models of government.  Some say that they reject creeds and confessions of faith.  They say that they simply accept what the Bible says.  Hence they have a one article confession of faith, the Bible is true.  However their approach in finding truth in the Bible came from the Reformation and was fostered by its institutions!  When one studies history, it is very clear that this is wrong headed and simplistic.  Multiple cults and heretical groups claim to believe the Bible as their authority.   Creeds and confessions wonderfully sift out those who are rejecting foundational Biblical truths.  They distill biblical faith foundations that the association or institution of congregations and ministries believe are crucially required affirmations to protect from dangerous error.  Some statements were also partly a just response to heresy.

In addition, there are theological classics and devotional classics that are amazing and wonderful.  These are from people connected to Institutional Christianity and would not have been written or preserved without Institutional Christianity.  These are the writings of people who have reflected on the meaning of Yeshua and New Covenant realities and have formed the Christian traditions of understanding over  many centuries.

Overall, our conviction is that the spread of Christianity through Institutional Christianity, especially for us the Evangelical and Pentecostal, has been a great gain for the world.  However, though great blessing has come form Institutional Christianity, this not come without those Institutions also sinning, and sometimes grievously.  However, as matter of fact, we saw off the limb on which our ministries depend if we seek to influence the Christian world to a more accurate understanding of the Bible with a more Jewish contextual approach if we reject Institutional Christianity.  There would not be Churches and Christians to influence without institutional Christianity.  Even congregations and movements that claim to be anti-institutional would not exist if they did come out institutions.

So how do we approach the institutions of Christianity.  We recognize a law that great efforts of progress in the Gospel in the world require the coming together in associations.  There has to be institutions.  Therefore we are profoundly not anti-institutional. We also follow the command of Romans 13, “to give honour where honor is due. “  So in our seeking partnership with congregations, denominations, and streams, we want to first be educated about all the good, beautiful and true things that have come from their institutions.  Honoring and humility first opens the door for relationship and mutual blessing.  This includes honoring that in their creeds and confessions that provided a stable framework for their association and mission.  While we do not accept everything in some of these faith confessions, we seek to be open and embrace that which is true in these confessions, and to have our own statements that reflect our agreement and our distinctions.   We also learn form their governmental structures and seek to compare these structures from what we see in Scripture and early second century history.   There is much wisdom in such structures.  However, we will seek to apply this wisdom in our own institution in the way that that fits our convictions.

Though we do give such honor, we also are committed to be honest in love with regard to the failures of Christian Institutions.  So this is where our relationship might lead to correction.

First of all, we are deeply grieved by the history of teaching in Institutional Christianity that was Anti-Semitic.  The Roman Catholic Church has official repented of this teaching and now affirms the election of the Jewish people.  Sadly this legacy of the Catholic Church was not overcome by the Reformation, but Luther and less so Calvin but Calvin as well, carried on the teaching of contempt for the Jewish people.  The failure to understand God’s love for the Jewish people and their ongoing election has been the most grievous failure of the Institutional Churches.  But this is not true of all institutions.  Puritans to various degrees overcame these errors, as did Moravians, Methodists and Pentecostals.   Yet even those who overcame the error of Anti-Semitism and declared that the Jewish people were still elect of God, did not come to see that continued Jewish life in the New Covenant was ordained of God.  We are thankful for Church Institutions today that do affirm the truth on these matters and we especially are thankful for the Four Square Churches, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, and various other apostolic streams that have explicitly affirmed the truth.  We seek the alignment of Church Institutions with Israel and the Messianic Jewish community.  We are called to be one.

Secondly, due to historic Anti-Semitism, the many in institutional churches have not been diligent, in their seminaries, colleges, training schools and Bible colleges, in seeking the original Jewish context for interpreting the Bible.  We still see such trends in some circles where the value of the Hebrew Bible is just not perceived, and where wrong hyper grace teachings are put forth (for correction see Michael Brown’s great book on hyper grace or Walter Kaiser on the Rediscovering the Unity of the Bible).  This produces a wrong understanding of the New Covenant Scriptures.  We are thankful for those prominent Christian teachers and scholars that are clear on these issues.   We want to make it clear that we do not think Protestant Evangelical Christian traditions of worship and celebration are pagan, wrong, due to being on the wrong days (weekly Sunday celebration and annual celebration of the resurrection).   Everything that celebrates Biblical events, teaching or more is good.  We affirm all that is good.  We are not teaching that the churches have to take on the Torah calendar pattern of life.  However, Christian feasts are rooted in Jewish Biblical contexts.  We believe it has been a mistake to not tie Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday to Passover and First Fruits through clear reference and teaching.   Even the Feast of Pentecost is often disconnected to the Biblical feast of Succot.  We do believe that teaching on the fall feasts and identifying with the Jewish people who celebrate them is important for the grounding of Christians.

Thirdly, we are concerned for the fragmentation of Protestant Evangelical-Pentecostal, Charismatic Christianity.  We would urge all to look to the example of Count Ludwig Von Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravians.  He anticipated so much of what we want to see.  He emphasized deep passion for Yeshua, the Unity of the Body of Believers and real effort to overcome fragmentation and come to what we call cooperative unity, world missions and love for and missions to the Jews.  Yes, he even affirmed the continuation of Jewish life in Yeshua.

We believe in the last days that there will be mighty apostles and prophets that will call and lead the biblically true institutional churches into cooperative unity in every city and region and that this restoration will include alignment and deep unity with the Messianic Jewish community that is part of the One New Man with them.  We are glad already to see such cooperative efforts in different parts of the world in such bodies as The World Pentecostal Fellowship and the World Evangelical Alliance.   These two overlap.

The churches are corporately the children of the Jewish people.  They were born out from the Jewish people from Pentecost (Sukkot) in Jerusalem.   The first world missions were led by Messianic Jews.  The Jewish people are the corporate parentage of the Church and hence the churches that historically developed.   Yes, we seek repentance for what was and is wrong, forgiveness and reconciliation.  But we also seek to do this with honoring an affirmation of every legitimate church body that teaches biblical truth and does the true works of God.

The Holocaust and the Gospel

Daniel Juster, Th. D., Restoration from Zion of Tikkun International

I have been involved in efforts for many years to see the Church come into alignment with the restored Messianic Jewish community. Our own ministry in Tikkun International has been deeply committed to this (see Asher Intrater’s new book Alignment). The Toward Jerusalem Council II project is very much given to this task, to see the Church in all its streams, officially commit itself and declare its stand of alignment and support for the restored Messianic Jewish community. We have traveled in Europe to site where regional and international Church councils declared both anti-Semitism and the rejection of the Messianic Jewish life in decrees from 307 A. D. in Alvira, Spain and then in several councils after. On our journeys Church leaders practiced prayerful repentance for these actions. We have included Church leaders who have repented for the Holocaust including at Aushwitz. One of the things I noted in trips to such places as Nuremburg, Germany, is the great spiritual desert where the worst crimes were committed. This is so common in Europe, there are so few who are followers of Yeshua. How can the Gospel ever flourish were there as been such sin without adequate repentance? From studying spiritual warfare, the evidence is clear to me that darkness rules where there is such sin, and it is intergenerational as taught in the Torah, “visiting the sins of the fathers to the children to the third and fourth generation.” Many will be lost due to these sins, for the descendants cannot respond to the gospel in significant numbers. The key to overcome and redeem such people is a group that can represent them, repent and pray for forgiveness. If we have a few from their ranks we can see a door opening for repentance and forgiveness.

In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal on January 20, there was a book review of Anatomy of a Genocide by Omer Bartov. Bartov’s mother immigrated to Israel in the mid 1930s from the twon of Buczacz in Ukraine. The family members who did not emigrate were murdered. This is not unique, and the usual horrible features of the Nazi genocide are repeated. We are so familiar with the terrible and oft repeated atrocities. However, this book adds a level of evil that is beyond the normal unspeakable horror. The evil is not that townspeople supported the Nazi’s in their quest of murder. Rather it is that those who seemed to be friends with the victims changed from friends to enemies and practiced relished sadism in a way that alarms us and shows the depravity of human beings. “Killers knew their victims personally, and most of the time such familiarity only added to the sadistic glee with which they slaughtered children or buried entire families in mass graves. Many of the perpetrators were known as decent folk before the killings began, not displaying any particular tendencies toward violence or ideologically fueled hatred. Afterward they were able to return to their normal lives without a trace of their capacities for cruelty or any indication of remorse or shame. The bloodshed left no stain.” Or did it?

Years ago I used to entertain the thought that very civilized people who seemed to behave with graciousness, could have a lurking root of evil within that could be tapped given the right circumstances. This real inner evil can only be removed through the cross and conversion on a deep level. This view seems even more correct given the story of this town. But then a second question looms. How can the descendants of these people in this town receive the Gospel. The hardness toward the Gospel often has roots in the depth of sin. It is a judgment of God that leads to Hell for many. So the key here is to have massive prayer for such a town and to find some who will respond and then to begin the repentance for that town. I think only then can we see the Gospel take root and make great gains. Yes, we do want to see all people saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but such roots of sin will require much prayer for this to happen.

messianic

Launch of the Messianic Jewish Movement

Before 1970 there were attempts to produce a Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua, and we can be thankful for such attempts. There was Edward Brotsky, the Jewish Baptist in Toronto and later Philadelphia, and others. But it was shortly before 1970 that a Jewish Evangelist, Manny Brotman, anointed by the Spirt in Evangelism, and with great passion, was able in his preaching and witness to win many Jewish people to Yeshua and fostered the idea of Messianic Jewish congregations.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, the Chernoff family began to entertain such ideas. Marty Chernoff, who had been a Baptist missionary and had been “baptised in the Spirit” and saw a vision to build a congregation on the basis of the idea of “Messianic Judaism” as the key term. There was an outpouring of the Spirit on the young people, which they describe as waves and waves of the Spirit upon them. The was much Holy Spirit laughter. Then there was Joe Finklestein, in Philadelphia, a chemist, who attracted Jewish young people to his home, and the same power of the Spirit was experienced. They called his group “the fink zoo.” They and Herb Links, a Presbyterian Jewish leader, connectedl to what was happening in Cincinnati. They began to influence the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, later renamed teh Messianic Jewish Alliance.

Unbeknownst to them, a two young Assemblies of God ministers, Ray Gannon and Phil Goble, experienced a mighty anointing of the Spirit in evangelism and saw scores of Jewish people come to know Yeshua. They planted Temple Beth Immanuel, and it soon had 150 people, very large in those days. (Today this congregation still exists and is known as Ahavat Tzioni). David Stern, who later became famous for his Jewish New Testament and Commentary, was its cantor. He was a professor of economics at U. C. L. A. and also later taught at Fuller Seminary.

I also came to know these people in the early 1970s. But in 1972 when I started, I was still running form a bad experience in the Charismatic world. (see my book Dynamics of Spiritual Deception on this). Though scholarship, I came to believe that Jews who are called to faith in Yeshua were called to identity and live as Jews. This was so very early, 1972-1974. Then Manny Brotman had his sharing seminars in Washington, D. C. (1973). Paul Liberman and Sid Roth began Beth Messiah Congregation. Shortly after, Manny became the first Rabbi. And by 1976 through spiritual healing ministry at Adat Ha Tikvah, the new name of my congregation in Chicago, I was pulled back to the charismatic orientation I later would become the leader of Beth Messiah Synagoguge near Washington, D. C. in January 1978. The following summer we would immerse 26 Jews in the name of Yeshua.

This is why the Chernoff family speaks about the Messianic Jewish Movement as the Jewish revival. It was a supernatural move of the Holy Spirit that tracked with the Jesus movement of those days.

Now as we debate the issues of the Jewish percentages on Messianic Jewish Diaspora congregations (not our problem here in Israel-we have different problems), we have to ask why there were no major questions about Jewish numbers or percentages in those days. We had a wonderful Jewish percentage and a wonderful minority of Gentiles who were called to the movement. The reason was that we were in the middle of a Holy Spirit power thing that was winning Jewish people left and right. That took care of the demographics.

Today we spend much time on theological debate and questions of authenticity. I have been involved in this and worked hard, even to writing several books on such issues. But in the beginning we did not have so much theology, and so much Rabbinic understanding or orientation, but there was power and effectiveness.

Acts 2 at Shavuot (Pentecost) is the template for the move of God among the Jewish people and Acts 13-15 applies the same Holy Spirit power to the mission to the Gentiles. So I am convinced that the problems of the Messianic Jewish movement in the Diaspora (and in Israel as well, but in different ways) will not be solved by getting the rules right for Jews and Gentiles. These things will not fall into proper order until we have a new outpouring of the Spirit for the successful reaching of our people. When thousands of our people come to Yeshua in our movement in the Diaspora and then thousands more in Israel, through a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, our perspective on all these things will be different. We will have the wonderful and massive challenge of disciple making.

The origins of a successful movement often tell us about the founding principles that must be recovered to see this success continue into the future in new generations. The Messianic Jewish Movement began as a mighty move of the Spirit, it was a fully charismatic movement, and nothing else will enable us to solve the problems we face today. I would advise that we spend much more energy praying and seeking God for such an outpouring than debating the issues. And everyone who knows me knows I am theologically oriented!! But this is my view after almost 45 years in this thing!!