Our Meeting with Pope Benedict

It was the fall of 1997, and a small group of three Messianic Jews, one Catholic charismatic Priest theologian, a Catholic Archdeacon of Vienna,  and one Episcopal Anglican clergyman/rector met with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  He would not long after become Pope Benedict XVI.  

The six of us were a committee representing Toward Jerusalem Council II.  (See the web site for information on this effort.)   We were given this opportunity due to the recommendation of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, Archbishop of Vienna.  A few months earlier in the Spring, we had dinner in his palace in Vienna next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  The Cardinal was the primary editor of the New Catholic Catechism and a student of Joseph Ratzinger.  He was very moved by our meeting and therefore recommended us.  Our mission was to see repentance in the Church and to see a full embrace of the Messianic Jewish community. 

Cardinal Ratzinger was the leader of the College of the Doctrine of the Faith, the body that puts out statements and larger documents to foster Catholic doctrinal unity.  His position was one of the highest in the Church. His reputation was that of a rigid man enforcing rigid orthodoxy.  Of course, this is the spin of a more liberal press. We found this not to be true. Yet we entered with great concern to be circumspect.  We expected 30 minutes but were given an hour.  We met in the very room where the members of the College meet, a conference setting.  We were told by Father Peter Hocken to not mention anything about our connection to Free Churches (those not from the historical state Churches, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox). We who were Jewish were just to present ourselves as Messianic Jews and as part of the Messianic Jewish congregational movement.  

Cardinal Ratzinger entered the room and greeted us warmly.  He then asked us to present our purpose.  We had our plan.  Rabbi Marty Waldman would present his story as the child of Holocaust survivors.  Then he would present something of the movement.  I would present the theology of the movement.  David, our prophetic brother, would add anything as he was led by the Spirit.  Fr. Peter and Canon Brian would add their words of understanding and commitment to the vision.  We later followed this same pattern in meetings for many years until today. 

Our meeting lasted almost an hour.  We said noting of the Free Churches. We were taken very seriously.  After answering some of his questions, the Cardinal said to us, “If you people are  who you say you are, the second coming of Jesus is nearer than we have thought.”  He knew Romans 11 and saw Jews turning to the Lord while remaining Jews as an eschatological sign.  

After this, he asked to caucus with the two Catholics.  First, he already knew of our connection to Evangelicals.  He had his source of information, but this did not bother him.  He remarked to the Catholics, that it was not a surprise that we had this relationship since the Free Churches (Evangelicals) where more flexible and open.

He then said he was going to appoint Cardinal Schonborn to be the liaison to the Messianic Jews.  He would get the Pope John Paul II to support this.  This was amazing.  

We also met with Cardinal George Cottier, the Pope’s Theologian, who vets what is given to the Pope and reads all the Pope wants to put out.  He was really with us and started a Catholic-Messianic Jewish dialogue where all came to great accord.  The dialogue lasted for 14 years and is today is at a new level.  Cardinal Cottier would report to Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II.  When Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he continued in his support for the Messianic Jewish community and the dialogue.  There is much more that can be written.  He was a serous theologian whose book on Yeshua is very good.  My connection to believing Catholics, who really love Yeshua, does not mean that I am not troubled by some Catholic doctrines, but I am so grateful for the opportunities that were opened to us by Pope Benedict.  The memory of our meeting will forever be dear to me. 

Messianic Jewish Movement Compared to Gentile Jewish Roots One Law Movement

The Law of Moses.  

MJM:  Is applicable in the New Covenant, but in that application, it is important to distinguish Jewish covenant responsibility and Gentile responsibility.  Jews are responsible as part of their election to maintain Jewish identity and the patterns of life given in Torah in regard to the weekly Sabbath and the annual Feast/Sabbath days of which there are 7.  This also includes avoiding the foods on the forbidden list in Lev. 11.  We distinguish between Jewish-specific Torah and universal Torah which in Rabbinic thought is summarized as the seven laws of Moses. 

GJROLM:  There is one law for the Jew and Gentile.  All are called to keep the same Torah with maybe the exception of circumcision.  Soft one law people say that Gentiles are not required in the same way as Jews but that Gentiles are invited and that it is better and more blessed if they keep them. 

On Biblical passages releasing Gentiles from Covenant responsibility for Jewish specific law. 

MJM:  Acts 15 releases Gentiles from the Jewish specific parts of the Torah, the Sabbath, Feast/Sabbath days, and food laws except for eating blood which goes back to Noah.  This is also clarified in Col. 2 where the seven biblical annual feast/sabbath days are said to be a shadow but the substance is Messiah. “Let no man hold you accountable,” means that you are not accountable to keep these days.  Romans 14, probably written for Gentiles, says that it is up to one’s conscience as to which days to keep, and there is no apostolic rule for such.  Gal. 5, warns against circumcision for Gentiles and notes that the one circumcised is responsible to keep the whole Torah (law).  So, the exhortation is to not do it.  The clear air-tight implication is that the one in Yeshua not circumcised is not responsible for the whole Torah but only the universal standards.  I Cor. 7 also notes that each is to maintain their distinct callings as Jew and Gentile. 

GJROLM:  All the passages noted above are re-interpreted to support one law conclusions.  Acts 15 is just the beginning point for fellowship, but Moses being read in the synagogues is interpreted to mean that all will study Torah and eventually keep it all.  Col. 2 is interpreted to mean that no one is to hold you accountable as to how you keep the sabbath/Feast days but of course, all will keep them.  So also, Romans 14 means that eventually there will be unity to keep these days.  Gal. 5 Is usually ignored. 

On the Legitimacy of Church Traditions 

MJM accepts the legitimacy of Church traditions for the Church, especially Protestant traditions.  As such it accepts the legitimacy of the Church year, the two climactic celebrations of the Church year, Christmas as the celebration of the Incarnation and birth of Yeshua (though there are different views among Messianic Jews as to the date of the birth), and Good Friday/Easter (Resurrection) as the observance of the death of Yeshua and the celebration of his resurrection.  We do not argue that the Christian use of Christmas trees is pagan. We also accept the legitimacy of the Church’s weekly celebration of the first day, Sunday as the day of resurrection.   We accept that God has not enjoined Christians to take Saturday or the 7th day as their Sabbath rest day and accept the Church also seeing Sunday as a day of rest.  We still believe Sabbath continues as a seventh-day celebration for Jews.  Scholars criticize those who say such practices are pagan or rooted in paganism as committing the genetic fallacy.  The meaning of a practice is not some long-ago pagan connection but is defined by the meaning given to it by the community that practices it.  It is recognized, with regard to dating Good Friday and the Resurrection, that the actual dating is very debatable, and we do not pretend to have a final solution. We have no objection to Christians being led by the Spirit to keep the seventh day as their day of rest. 

GJROLM: They criticize church traditions as pagan and declare that Sunday is based in Sun Worship, Christmas in Mithraicism or other pagan celebrations, and Easter in the feast of the pagan God Ishtar.  They call the Church to forsake these pagan practices.  Christmas trees are condemned as pagan.  The Church should embrace the biblical Feast days. 

Our Call to the Churches 

MJM people ask the Church to embrace the following.  First to declare their embrace of the biblical teaching on the continued election of Israel.  Secondly to embrace that Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews, as part of their people.  Third, we desire that the Church would teach the whole Bible in context.  This means teaching on the meaning of the Sabbath and Jewish Holy Days including their historical meaning, fulfillment in Yeshua and still to be fulfilled eschatological meaning.  Fourthly we ask the Church to be in alignment with the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel and the Diaspora, to pray for and support Jewish ministry and consider, if they are in or near Jewish population centers, to embrace witness to Jews and Jewish ministry.  We recognize that a Church may be led by the Spirit to seasonal celebrations near the time of the Feasts (for example a Saturday evening) and to join with Messianic Jews to bring out the full meaning of the first four things that we hope the Church embraces.  We are glad when the church is led to create Jewish space for Jewish members including services, home groups, and specific discipleship programs.  We ask the Church to avoid the actual days of Jewish Feast sabbaths for its seasonal celebrations of the Feasts as the time when our families and congregations gather in our own programs.  

GJROLM seeks to see the Church leave its Christian traditions and keep the Jewish Biblical Holy Days including the seventh-day Sabbath and biblical food laws.  There is some dispute on the right dating and GJROLM people vary on whether to keep the rabbinic dating or dating they calculate to be more accurate.  Some embrace Jewish traditions such as wearing prayer shawls.  While fringes are commanded in the Bible, prayer shawls are a Jewish tradition for one way to demonstrate the command.  Again, GJROLM people keep the Torah food laws for clean and unclean foods.  Some buy Torah scrolls and read the Torah in Hebrew in their services. 

Summary: Many times Church leaders have a negative response to GJROLM people and confuse them with Messianic Jews and think this is what the MJM is teaching.  This is very painful to us in the MJM.  There are key papers from the main organizations of the MJM (the mainstream movement organizations) that refute the GJROLM teaching and orientation.  We think GJROLM teaching will cause division and that it erects a new wall of partition. 

Sukkot | Tabernacles

The first day of Sukkot/Tabernacles begins with a sabbath rest and then will celebrate the next six days as well but not as sabbath day rest days until the 8th day of rest, Shmini Atzeret. 

Messianic Jews and Christians who are zealous for a Jewish-rooted (original context) understanding of their faith are familiar with the major Feasts and Holy Days.  Most know their historical meaning to ancient Israel, fulfillment in Yeshua, and last days and Age to Come symbolism.  I will not belabor this, but no doubt many of you see site after site and blog after blog teaching on this.  Here is a very brief review and then some new comments on what is not usually taught.

The Fall Feasts come on the seventh month of the biblical calendar.  It is the month of making perfect (as symbolized in the number 7).  The month begins with the sound of the Shofar.  It is called Rosh Hoshana due to the Rabbinic teaching that the universe began on this day. It is taught in Judaism, and I think it is likely, that the blowing of the Shofar is a clarion call to get ready and fully engage and prepare for the whole month.  We do see a foreshadowing of the trumpets of the judgments in the book of Revelation.  On the 10th day, Yom Kippur is observed.  Confession of sin takes place, sin is forgiven and covered (kippur).  Of course, Yeshua, our High Priest, fulfilled the meanings and brought His own blood into the most Holy Place.  The day looks forward to the general repentance of Israel and the nations where repentance will take place and His Yom Kippur/Passover atonement will be applied more fully to the whole world.

Sukkot is a festival of the final harvest of the year.   It is also the largest harvest.  We are to dwell in makeshift dwellings and remember our time in the desert before entering the promised Land.  This is to remind us that God provided in the desert and that our provision comes from Him.   However, it also looks forward to the Kingdom of God being in full manifestation on Earth.  After the last wars, the nations will enter the Kingdom of God and send representatives to the Feast, including all who battled against Israel and survived.  We are therefore commanded to rejoice during the week of the Feast.  This was the Feast in which Yeshua proclaimed himself the Light of the World.   The context may have been the candle-lighting ceremonies in the Temple.  Also, he proclaimed himself the Water of Life.  “If any man thirsts let him come to me and drink.”

The rejoicing on Sukkot would have especially been an enhanced rejoicing every seventh year, the Sabbatical Year, and the 50th year, the Jubilee Year.  First, on the Sabbatical year, all debts were canceled.  All who were indebted were given a new start. This is an amazing law.  It influenced American law so that one can declare bankruptcy and be released from debt every seventh year.  All who fell into need and debt would have a new start, a clean slate.  Also, the land was to lie fallow and be renewed.  God promised that if Israel acted in faith, the sixth-year harvest and what grew naturally would be so abundant, there would be no lack.  Such a law could only be possible by supernatural provision by faith obedience.  As a principle of agriculture, we know that land renewal is so important and fields must have fallow years.  The Feast of Sukkot therefore would produce much greater rejoicing in the sabbatical year.

The Jubilee Year was much greater than the Sabbatical Year.  Not only was debt canceled.  That happened in the 7th Sabbatical year in the cycle, the 49th year, but the 49th year led to the 50th where land was redistributed.  All who had to sell their land now received it back.  The land returns to the family owners, even if the leader of the family who lost it had died. Since in an agricultural society great wealth is in the Land, the restoration of the Land in this way precluded an ensconced class of the very rich and those who would live on the land as serfs.

Yeshua proclaimed his ministry as a time of Jubilee and his announcement in Luke 4, that his ministry would reverse circumstances for the poor, the sick, the demonized, the grieving, the imprisoned, and the abused, was an amazing announcement. It proclaimed liberty as the announcement on Yom Kippur on the Jubilee year.  “Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land” became the cry of the patriots in the American Revolutionary War and is inscribed on the Liberty Bell.  The goal of the Torah is amazing,  to see that all had provision and a store of wealth.

Alas, we are told in Jeremiah that Israel did not have faith to keep the Jubilee year. This raises other questions about economics.  The Bible allows for rich and poor in society, and gaining wealth in trade, production and more. It is not re-distributed.  But a part of the wealth is, that is the land. The great debate between the most libertarian, the progressive Democrats and the Socialists is a great debate with a huge gap of the divide. For Libertarians, income taxes are a type of stealing.  The Democrats say that the rich need to pay their fair share (which percentage is never defined and then the higher taxes end up being charged to the consumer in higher prices).  The socialists want to level wealth and income.  What a great gulf!  There is a middle ground, that the wealthy would pay for lifting the poor by providing job training, real education, and police protection so that the young would not turn to criminals for their advance.  Rather than the government doing so, I would like to see the incentives for taxes such that the rich have to give a percentage that they choose to private programs that they believe are doing the best job with real results. Corporations can do job training and then hire.  This is more productive than paying for often worthless college experiences.

At any rate, let us rejoice this Sukkot.

Image source bit.ly/2ZcL89H 

The Call to Paid Congregational Leadership 

When I was sixteen years old, I remember a camp speaker who testified of his own calling that the words of the Paul the apostle, whom we call Rav. Shaul, applied to him, “Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.”  This burned in my heart, and I saw myself being called to full-time pastoral ministry.  In my college years, this was derailed.  I was 19 when confusion, doubt, philosophical anxiety, and more became a three-and-a-half-year struggle for this young philosophy student.  How could I make a living and pursue truth questions?  I decided I would become a philosophy professor concentrating in philosophy of religion.  Then when faith returned in the spring of 1970 during my first year of graduate studies in philosophy of religion, that pull to pastoral ministry began to grow.  A year and a half later, during my first year at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, still in philosophy of religion, a conviction for this calling was restored.  My spiritual father from Wheaton College, Chaplain Evan Welsh, helped open the door to my first pastorate, at the First Hebrew Christian Church in June 1972.   However, I traced the desire to high school where we read about great pastoral leaders and missionaries.  They were extolled as models. 

Today, both in the Messianic Jewish world and the larger Church world, far fewer than are needed are receiving the call to full-time ministry.  I appreciate those who are called for a season or a lifetime to do tent-making ministry.  However, I have come to believe that where permitted, full-time leadership is also needed to see the Kingdom of God go forth with power.  Yes, believers are called to involvement and impact in all legitimate vocations.  Discipling them to know biblical principles as they impact the spheres of their calling is crucial. However, if we do not have trained and capable leaders in congregational life, and the five-fold equipping ministry, the impacts on the spheres of life where people find their vocations will be weak and limited. Supplying full-time ministers is foundational to all else.  In the old Catholic days, still common when I was a child, Catholics had large families and hoped that one son would be a priest or a daughter a nun or maybe they could have one of each.  I think we can learn from their model of prioritizing the importance of those callings to ministry.  

For us, it is crucial to emphasize in our preaching, teaching, and modeling, the importance of the high calling to be in full-time congregational ministries.  Those who are in such ministries need to show that it is a joyful, fulfilling life that is compatible with healthy families and even children who want to go into the same work as their parents.  We need to do much more to testify concerning the specialness of the call, the joy of it, the privilege, and the fruitfulness of a life so lived.  In high school, there were times in our congregations, clubs and camps where young people would sense a call and commit themselves to full-time ministry callings.  My dear wife Patty jokes that this was so emphasized in her youth that she committed herself to several different countries as a missionary.   I dearly hope that these ministry-calling vocations are given much more emphasis in both the Messianic Jewish world and the larger Church.  It should be part of regular preaching and teaching.  

Messianic Judaism – Five Foundational Points

Messianic Judaism has to maintain five foundational foundations.  One of the five is a negative point that keeps us from aberrations.  Messianic Judaism is based on these foundations.  The basic points are in bold. 

  1. Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews, as part of the Jewish people. This was the first discovery and foundation of theology in Messianic Judaism.
  2. Living a Jewish life is based on the pattern of life found in the Torah and applied as fitting to the New Covenant.  Rabbinic traditions are embraced when they are in accord with the Spirit and letter of the Bible.  We live a Yeshua-centered life. 
  3. Jewish life in Yeshua requires creating congregations and groupings that socially reinforce Jewish life in Yeshua.  
  4. Gentiles are not called or convenantly responsible to live according to the Biblical Jewish Torah patterns.  Gentiles are called to understand the teaching of the Torah, the Sabbath, the Feasts, circumcision, and the food laws.  They may be led by the Spirit to join with Messianic Jews in celebrations or may have celebrations near to the seasons of Jewish celebration, but this is strictly a matter of the leading of the Spirit. There is no superiority to doing nor not doing such celebrations at the times.  Galatians, Col. 2, and Romans 14 mean what they say.  Those who do not accept Gentile liberty in this regard fall into varieties of One Law Movements which is the major heresy that we struggle against.  Churches confuse this with the Messianic Jews, think they are us and barriers go up.  One law movements tend to be anti-Church traditions and slander their traditions as wrong and pagan. 
  5. Messianic Judaism is pro-Church and recognizes that we are one with all churches that truly confess Yeshua and the authority of the Bible.  We affirm the heritage and practices of the churches to the extent that they cohere with the teaching of the letter and spirit of the Bible.  While there are things that are to be corrected in the church and its history (anti-Semitism, replacement theology) we nevertheless must seek unity for we are one Body (John 17;21)  

Resourcing Israeli Congregations

Over many years my convictions have not changed in regard to the priorities of giving for Christians who want to support Israel.  The greatest support from Christian giving goes to humanitarian causes in the Land through organizations that do not confess Yeshua.  This by far outstrips all other giving.  One organization is the recipient of tens of millions annually.   The second largest share goes to humanitarian aid to non-congregation non-profits that are run by Messianic Jews.  Only after these two is giving to Messianic Jewish Congregations.  Some Messianic Jewish leaders in congregations bemoan this reality and really believe that it is wrong to support Jewish organizations that that are run by non-Messianic Jews.  This is not my view.  When it is known that Christians who love the Jewish people give large sums and sacrificially, it does have an effect on the hearts of people.  They become more open to the Gospel.  This is also the case with humanitarian aid organizations that are led by Messianic Jews, and there are some good ones.  Yet my conviction is still that the lion’s share of giving is best given to the Messianic Jewish Congregations.  Here are some practical reasons. 

  1. Messianic Jewish congregations are directly involved in sharing the Gospel.  The Gospel is the greatest gift we can give to the Jewish people.  Fostering Gospel ministry should be our first priority.   
  2. Yeshua said he would establish his congregation under chosen elders and the gates of Hell would not prevail over his congregation. The first century context shows that this was a network of congregations.  
  3. Many Messianic Jewish Congregations run humanitarian organizations.  Many of our congregations in Tikkun do.  They are solid in their work and could do so much more with greater funds.
  4. Messianic Jewish Congregations with humanitarian aid can have a seamless quality of follow up, getting to know the people, building relationships and then sharing on the love of God.

Some Christians think that supporting congregations is not fitting since congregations should be self-supporting by their members.   There are two arguments that are contrary to this.  First, the humanitarian aid work of congregations goes way beyond the local programs of congregations.  The second concerns the unique situation of Israel.   

I want do draw out this second unique concern.  The reason why congregations in Israel have such difficulty supporting their own work by the tithes and offerings is due to the very unique circumstances of Israel.  In Israel the taxes are double, the salaries are about half, and the cost of living, especially housing are out of sight.  Many work two jobs and husbands and wives work to make ends meet.  The time pressures are enormous.  So, the funds given to congregations for their rent, staff, and necessary equipment are usually a great strain.  Few own their own facilities.  Giving for this would be very helpful. Most are therefore supported from the outside. (Many Jewish religious organizations are as well.)  However, if the leaders spend too much time traveling for funds, they will not be putting their efforts into the work at the level needed.   Many who are the best fund raisers produce little in the land.  The other model that could work is a network of self-supporting house congregations where the leaders are in full time business or professional life.  Some are doing this, and I support these efforts, but I believe we still need congregations that release people to full time ministry.  House congregations cannot do full orbed ministries including humanitarian aid work, counselling, and special programs for youth and children.  I would like to see people called to raise resources for the congregations.  One organization that was started to do just this found resistance to the project and found themselves mostly raising funds for non-congregational ministries.  So sad!

In conclusion I would like to suggest that Christians who give their funds to support Israel give primarily to Congregational ministries in the Land.   I hope that someday at least they would give 50% of such giving to congregations.  If Christians who support Israel would do this, the effect would be dramatic.  Of course, they need to vet the congregation ministry to make sure the leaders are qualified, trustworthy, and that it is a stable and fruitful work. 


Powers Of Light And Darkness

Angels, Demons and Spiritual Warfare, What the Bible Really Says

There are so many practices in spiritual warfare that are practiced by some segments of the Christian and Messianic Jewish Communities.  Some claim Scriptural warrant, but when you look at the texts in context, they do not mean what is being extracted from them.  Some of the interpretations are what we call isagesis, reading in, verses exegesis, explaining what is really in the text.  Some practices claim to be based in the leading of the Spirit.  Our book seeks to understand both what the Bible really says and what can be credibly claimed as being led by the Spirit.

To answer our questions, we have to first survey the Bible and present that it says on angels, demons and spiritual warfare.  Spiritual warfare is important in gaining ground for the Kingdom of God.  What are the most important biblical on angels and demons. What do they do?  What is their power?  How do we best oppose them on the basis of biblical teaching.

In addition, we have the testimony of leaders from various nations that engaged in operations that seemed to have a major effect in rolling back the forces of darkness, including commanding those forces to let go.  I have been in prayer meetings where people addressed the principality over city, sometimes by name.  At other times they have addressed the Prince of Persia or other demonic ruling powers.  Should people be doing this?

We hope that this book is enlightening and brings biblical balance and advance to the issue of spiritual warfare.    

The Triumph Of Early Christianity

I recently finished reading a book by Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement became the Dominant Religious Force in a Few Centuries.  There are important sections with useful information for us all.

I first became acquainted with Rodney Stark in 1968 when I was taking the Sociology of Religion at Wheaton. His book was Religion and Society in Tension, by himself and Charles Glock.  There were many surveys of the people in the denominations. The book was one of the first that showed that churches with classical confessions of faith and high commitment levels do better.  This has continued to be shown in every study of religious organizations since. (Eg. Dean Kelly, What Conservative Churches are Growing) Rodney Stark is now 86 years old. He lived his life as one of our most brilliant sociologists but was exceptional in his appreciation of Christianity.  Most sociologists to not have this appreciation.  Though an agnostic for most of his life, in 2007 he professed Christianity.

There were three important conclusions from his writing.  First, in the first 4 centuries and perhaps even continuing, Christianity was very Jewish in rooting and orientation.  Secondly, that Christianity was the greatest force for the liberation and elevation of women that that world had ever seen.  Lastly, that Christianity overtook paganism not only due to the conditions of pagan society leaving a vacuum of meaning, but that Christianity provided a far superior world view or superior ideas.

The rapid growth of Christianity was in part due to the presence of the synagogues and Jewish populations in the Diaspora.  The Judaism of the Diaspora was more open to Hellenistic ideas than in Israel.  This enabled Jews in the Diaspora to be more a part of the larger society. This more flexible Judaism attracted many Gentile God Fearers.  Both would be able to entertain the new faith in Yeshua.  Yes, there was rejection but enough of a response by both that there was  real progress.  It was not ordinary pagans that were first attracted to Christianity but those who were influenced by the Jewish people.  I would say that the synagogue was the pre-evangelism center for the Yeshua movement.

Secondly Christianity elevated women more than any other religion, far more than paganism and even more than Judaism.  Of course, this is very contrary to the received narrative of today’s feminists that see Christianity as oppressive and patriarchal.  Yes, later Christianity was more restrictive, but not early Christianity.  Let us contrast other cultures. Mao famously said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  In other words, physical force determines rulership.  In almost all cultures worldwide men have ruled and suppressed women.  Sometimes it was very harsh. Men can do so because they are physically stronger and have historically exercised that physical strength as giving them the right to dominate.  I have read on cultures form India, China, Japan, Europe and Africa, and it is mostly the same.  In the Roman Empire this was also the case. Women were treated as the property of the men, who could marry a 12 year old and have sexual relations, could divorce at will, and could live by a double standard for his own sexual promiscuity.  In addition, women were forced to have abortions.  It was a common practice.  Many women died from this. Girl babies were often not desired and were given up in infanticide exposure.  Christianity or we could say the Bible required men to treat women as equally created in the image of God, to give up domination and replace it by love and mutual service. The image in Ephesians 5 of the husband loving and caring for the wife and the other texts exhorting such love are unique for that time.   By requiring marital fidelity and in valuing children as created in the image of God, the Church forbade abortions and infanticide.  This also elevated women. Finally, women were frequently given important leadership roles in the churches as ordained deacons.  Wealthy women were attracted to the faith and were a key to supporting and leading in humanitarian endeavors.  Never in world history were women so valued and elevated. The elevation of the worth of children produced Christian population growth while the population for the large Empire was in decline.

Finally, Christianity taught the most attractive doctrine.  In a world with capricious gods who wanted sacrifices but did not really care about humans, and gods who did evil to one another and to people from time to time, Christianity taught a unique monotheism where the creator God “so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son.”  This was astonishing.  Pagan religion did not teach that the gods cared about human beings.  Christianity taught that we are to love one another and even to love our enemies.  During the great Roman plagues, where some estimate that 1/3 of the Roman population perished (160-260), Christians reached beyond caring for their own to caring for the larger population in nursing and aid.  The response of the pagans was to flee the sick while the Christians served the sick.  And indeed, Christians survived in larger numbers due to this care but also some Romans thought due to supernatural power.  The depth of commitment was a real influence too.  Stark shows that high commitment movements thrive and do not allow for free riders.  This is shown in the amazing witness of martyrdom by the leaders.  Christians in that era knew the teaching of their faith and lived it. They were disciples.

These are important lessons for us as Messianic Jews and Christians if we are to thrive again.

Restoring Jewish Roots to the church

I have been a shepherd in the Messianic Jewish world for 48 1/2 years now.  The primary focus of the Messianic Jewish movement was and should be winning and discipling Jewish people.  However, there is a second and important purpose.  Our existence raises questions that give us an opportunity to restore Jewish roots to the churches.  And what did we mean by that?  First of all, it was to see the churches, first with its leaders, to understand the Bible in its original Jewish context.  This meant that “replacement theology” the doctrine that the Church had replaced Israel and was the new and true Israel would be rejected and secondly that the election of the Jewish people/Israel would be solidly embraced.  This as well would lead to a much better reading of Scripture.  We also intended that the Church would embrace the foundational stand of the Messianic Jewish congregations, that Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews.  The Messianic Jewish movement was not against the Protestant Evangelical heritage but affirmed it.  We wanted to add understanding to it.  Restoring Jewish Roots did not mean destroying the Christian heritage, whether holidays, worship on Sunday, Christmas carols and other Church practices, hymns, liturgy, and holidays which were not contrary to the Bible.   


However, some years later, in the 1980s a Jewish Roots Movement began that was apart from the Messianic Jewish world.  Some teachers were solid, with very good teaching and some took wrong turns that brought us great concern.  At its worst, some promoting Jewish roots taught that Christians, the churches, were responsible to keep the Sabbath and  Jewish Feasts according to the Biblical calendar and more.  This came close to what we dubbed “One Law Movements,” which the Messianic Jewish movement worldwide largely rejected.  What then do we think restoring Jewish roots should entail.  I outline here the first two categories which we desire and then two further categories which we think violates the teaching of Galatians and Colossians 2 and Romans 14.  


  1. We desire that the Bible be understood in its original Jewish/biblical context.  This means that we study the whole Bible.  As part of this, we desire that the churches and its leaders would understand the weekly Sabbath and the Feast of Israel including:  a. their historical meaning in ancient Israel and the historical events connected to them, b. their ancient agricultural meaning, c. how they were brought to fullness in the first coming of Yeshua and finally, d. how they will yet be fulfilled and are prophetic of the last of the last days and the Age to Come.   The patterns of life given in the Bible for Israel have universal meaning that all are called to understand.  
  2. We desire that the Church would understand its own heritage in its connection to Jewish roots.  The Church celebrates Good Friday as the recognition of the death of Yeshua as the atonement for all.  Good Friday is rooted in and participates in Passover meanings and this should be taught and understood by the Church.  It is especially fitting that it be taught on Good Friday to bring out the fullness of Yeshua’s sacrifice.  Also, Pentecost is celebrated as the anniversary of the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2).  The Jewish Feast should be understood as its background and why God chose this Feast for the outpouring with all of its harvest meanings  

These first two points are explained in my books Jewish Roots, and Israel, the church and the Last Days.  We think it is appropriate and fitting for the churches to pray and be led by the Spirit to join with Messianic Jews during the seasons of the Feasts for celebrations near the days of the Feasts. But this has to be by the Spirit and not by any enjoined rule or sense that it would be superior to others that do not so embrace such celebrations. For us the Fall Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) which Zechariah 14 denotes as the international celebration of the Kingdom of God could be a special time together. On the Saturday night during Sukkot week, we used to have a great interchurch celebration.


  1. The third category is that it is better and so much richer if the churches give up their Christian Holy Days, and embrace instead the Biblical Holy Days since they are the Feasts of the Lord.   (On the contrary we believe that embracing such Holy Days is a matter of freedom and the leading of the Spirit.)  Teaching a superior tradition for the churches in our view goes over the line of the clear warnings of Colossians and Galatians.  These days are a shadow, and no one is to judge for the way gentiles embrace these celebrations or do not.  Even the Sabbath is taught as principle (Heb. 4) but is never enjoined as something that should be kept for gentiles during this transitional age. 


  1. The fourth category is a more serious violation of Scripture when some teach that all Christians should keep the Torah in the same way that Jews do.  Hence Jewish Roots is defined as keeping the Feasts, the Sabbath, and the food laws.   Jewish roots is said to be thus restored.  Scripture is explicit that this is wrong and that those who are not Jewish and circumcised are not responsible to keep the whole Law but only universal law.  Of course, the details of this false view are problematic. What days do we keep?  According to the Rabbinic Lunar calendar which we use in Israel?  Most scholars today think that the Biblical calendar was a solar calendar and sometimes the Church Feast Days are closer to the Biblical days than the Jewish calendar.  It is interesting that there is not one New Testament verse that exhorts gentiles to keep the seventh-day sabbath or the Biblical Feasts according to Biblical dating.  


The Jewish Roots movement becomes a source of division rather than enrichment when it goes over the line to #3 and #4.  


ON FAIRY STORIES: A Little Piece for Chanukah and Christmas

During graduate school, I was fascinated by a presentation by the famous apologist, Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories. Tolkien argued that all great fairy stories, and often great literary classics presented a general pattern that fit the Biblical narrative.  Things start well, but then something happens whereby things go terribly wrong with great trials and suffering, but then there is redemption and victory for the good people, and they live happily every after.  This, is, of course referring to the Biblical account where the human beginning is in the paradise of the Garden of Eden, but then things went terribly wrong through the temptation of the Serpent.  Human life often became a trial of suffering.  However, there are harbingers of the ultimate redemption and the great turn around in Israel’s escape from Egypt and entering into the promised land.  Then there is the promise of the coming of the Messiah who will bring final deliverance for Israel and the healing of the nations.  All will live in peace and joy under the rule of the Messiah.  It is the great reversal. The coming of Yeshua began the process that will lead to the completion of redemption and to the “happily ever after.”  So many sense that they are made for the happy ever after end. 

Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, is one of the greatest fairy stories.  Tolkien was firm on his exhortation that we should not see the novel as an allegory of the Gospel.  However, that does not mean that it does not generally participate in a Biblical orientation because all great fairy stories do so.  Only recently was I able to obtain a copy of this essay which I had read over 50 years ago. 

My favorite Christmas Story is It’s a Wonderful Life. In this great classic we find that every good life touches many people, but we don’t often see it.  When one life influences for good, that person touches others who touch others. The great thing about this story is that the lead character does find out that his life has been a wonderful one.  Of course, he lives happily ever after. Now one does not really ever live happy for forever in this present life.  Rather, he lives happy forever only in after the consummation and the return of Yeshua. 

Chanukah is a preparatory story, a fairy tale in real life, real history.  It tells us how Israel was delivered and re-attained their independence as a nation after terrible oppression under the Syrian Greeks.  Without Chanukah there is no coming of Yeshua to a Jewish living nation in the first century. Chanukah tells a proximate fairy tale for the happy forever does not last.  Alas, the descendants of the Maccabees become corrupt.  Then the nation was then conquered by Rome.  Eventually the Romans destroy the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary.  The Christmas story brings the most amazing tale of the incarnation of Yeshua that leads to the amazing victory of the death and resurrection of Yeshua.  But this is not the end of the story.  That ending, the final happy ever after ending, comes about only in his Second Coming.  We are in the middle of this greatest of all fairy stories, spreading the Gospel of the Kingdom, suffering, rejoicing, and onward until the final victory.  That is the ultimate happy ending forever.