We Are Bereans

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Acts 17:10-11

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Ruminations

Rumination #47: Are we to maintain "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity" as separate and distinct in the One Body of Messiah?

There are some in Messianic Judaism who think that this is a prime directive of the Scriptures. Rightfully, they see the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people that resulted in the theft of Israel's identity by the early Christian church. Rightfully, they are concerned about how often times, Gentiles have lead Israel astray. But regarding the need to maintain a separate and distinct identity they are wrong. There is only one identity for the believer and follower of Messiah: In Him, we are One People.

An argument is made from Acts 15, and Acts 21 that Jewish and Gentiles believers are given different standards of righteousness. Of course, this is demonstrably false, but there are some that in an effort to maintain Jewish identity in Messianic Judaism have falsely argued that the Torah is only an invitation to Gentiles, whereas to Jews it is an obligation. Arguing that the Apostles only obliged Gentile believers to some mythical "moral" code plus the four dictates of Acts 15:20; 29; 21:25 misses the entire point. Those that espouse such a theology are focused on the righteous standard at expense of the greater picture: One People in Messiah.

The fact is, there are clear and explicit instructions found within the Scriptures that tell us how Gentiles and Jews are to be identified within the People of G-d - and it isn't to be distinct and separate. Beloved, please remember this: there are no instructions either in the TaNaKh, or in the Apostolic Scriptures that tell us that we must maintain distinct "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity." None. In fact we read of just the opposite:

One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger [ger, Gentile] who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before HaShem.
Numbers 15:15

Therefore remember that you, once [former] Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances [man-made rules of distinction], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to G-d in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

...the mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel.
Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:6

Some time ago a well-known Messianic leader and I were discussing this passage because he was insisting on a cultural distinction between Jew and Gentile. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and is concerned how "Messianic Gentiles" were blurring the "cultural distinctions." Of course, he knew by my surname that my father was Scot-Irish. I asked him, what, in my mind, was a pivotal question: "Are you and I in the same family, the family of Abraham?"  I was surprised by his response. "No we aren't," he said. That is where such a faulty theology leads us: apartheid in the Body of Messiah. G-d forbid. While we may have many distinct cultures within the world-wide Body of Messiah, we have one standard of righteousness. The Torah is not "cultural," as some are purporting.

While some will come up with convoluted and contradictory theologies to explain away our One identity in Messiah, the fact is that their efforts to invite Gentiles and to obligate Jews to the Torah are a dangerous deviation from the biblical instructions we have regarding our single identity in Messiah. In Him, our identity is Israel.

Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah

We Are Messianic Disciples

And Yeshua came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

Matthew 28:18-20 tells us what a faithful disciple of Messiah Yeshua is: someone who makes more disciples of Messiah. Someone who teaches others to do all that Messiah commanded, immersing them into Messiah Yeshua, as His disciples. We recognize that as faithful Jews, Yeshua and His first disciples were blameless in obedience to all of Scripture – even that which later variations of Christianity rejected as the “Old Testament.”

With regard to historical Christianity’s practical abandonment of three fourths of the Bible, we “Messianics” might immediately say that we are not therefore disciples of Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, or any other Christian sect.

However, there is another concern with whom some “Messianics” align themselves. We are not disciples of Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chasidic, Talmudic, or Mishnaic Judaism either.

We are disciples of Yeshua.

We recognize from Matthew 16:19 that Messiah’s first disciples are our Sages. We are not disciples of Hillel, Shammai, Akiva, Meir, Judah the Prince, RASHI, RAMBAN, RAMBAM, the Ba’al Shem Tov, Nachman of Breslov, or Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

We are not Baptists, Catholics, or Lutherans. Nor are we Breslovers, or Lubavitchers.

We are disciples of Yeshua.

While we may admire and even study men and women from various backgrounds, and attempt to emulate them, we are not their disciples.

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The First Slip

Over the years some have complained that I am too “rabbinic” in my teaching. Perhaps some of that is because I have often cited Jewish teachers – many of them, from Hillel to Heschel.

The sages of Israel add deep understanding and context to the Bible - especially the Apostolic Scriptures [New Testament]. The writings of the sages provide an insider’s look into the language and culture of the first disciples of Yeshua. While the Oral Torah contained in the Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta, and Midrashim do not control me, they most certainly inform me. Even later works such as the Zohar, and commentaries from Rashi and Ramban add better understanding to not only the words of the Apostles, but even the Master, Yeshua Himself.

However, to doubt or to ignore the Apostolic Scriptures is the first slip on a slippery slope.

It is actually quite predictable. Read more....

When Fences Become Walls

And HASHEM said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to HASHEM to look and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to HASHEM consecrate themselves, lest HASHEM break out against them.” And Moses said to HASHEM, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.”
Exodus 19:21-23

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for G-d has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him stand.
Romans 14:1-4

“Children want boundaries.” You have heard that, or perhaps you have said it yourself. It is true of course. Human beings seem to almost crave limits to our behavior. No doubt this part of our G-d-given conscience – our sense of “right and wrong.”

Let’s be honest though, our conscience is not the same thing as right and wrong – it simply is our sense of what we think is right and wrong. Sadly, some people seem to have no conscience at all, and it is equally sad when some think everything is wrong.

When Conscience Becomes a Choice

In order for our conscience to be a positive tool in our relationship with HaShem, we need to be careful what choices we make in establishing new (or new to us) “fences” (boundaries put up to protect particular commandments) and how we maintain a distinction between those fences and the written commandments of HaShem. Once a standard is a part of our conscience, it is difficult to undo that without damaging our conscience.

It is common in newly observant communities for individuals to grab hold of standards that are new to them. This can be very good. The danger is when individuals make these fences matters of conscience. This is a matter of choice if the fences are not clearly distinguished from the actual commandments of HaShem. “So, if the standard is upheld, and the individual conscience is not offended, what is the downside?” you might ask. The dangers are:

  • An ever-increasing more-observant-than-thou attitude
  • Adding to your personal “I will be offended if…” list
  • Your children as they grow older may have difficulty distinguishing between HaShem’s commandments and your newly established fence
  • By choice, becoming the “weaker brother”

Safely Embracing Fences

In the case of neighbors with literal fences along a property line, it is easy to understand that one neighbor cannot move the fence without affecting the other. This is also the case of “fences around the Torah.” To best understand how to safely embrace fences, we must remind ourselves what fences are and how they might affect others. A fence is a standard that is beyond of the literal words of HaShem. Notice, that man did not initiate the fence around Mount Sinai in Exodus 19 to keep the people safe. HaShem commanded that it be built. So the Exodus 19 model does not apply to “fences around the Torah” – that is, unless you are also willing to disregard the very sober words in Deuteronomy 4:2:

You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of HaShem your G-d that I command you.
Deuteronomy 4:2

Yeshua alludes to this in His admonition:

And why do you break the commandment of G-d for the sake of your tradition?
Matthew 15:3b

I am very encouraging to people who want to embrace Jewish tradition, making the lifestyle of Judaism, their own. I offer this personal caution however: as you adopt traditional halacha and make it your own, do not make the traditional halacha a matter of conscience. That is truly your choice. Distinguish between the literal commandment, and the traditional “how to” in walking out that commandment. Here are my personal recommendations:

  • Context. Do your best to mirror the community in which you find yourself. If your community does not adhere to your newfound fence, be careful to not promote it as a community standard. Do not broadcast your fence. It is personal, or for your family only. On the other hand, be careful to reflect the community in which you are currently a part. Do not offend your brothers and sisters by what you permit or by what you forbid.
  • If you have children, as they get older, make it clear that your “family rules” are not “more right” than any other families' rules.
  • Be gracious. Recognize that everyone errs in some way. Make sure you do not begin to look down on those who do not share the same fences that you do.
  • Remember Romans 14:4:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the L-rd is able to make him (and you) stand.
Romans 14:1-4

Don’t let your fences become walls. Walls that keep out the blessing of a healthy relationship with HaShem, or walls that make your circle of brothers and sisters ever more small.

Moadim Apps for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

  • I have free apps in the iTunes App Store and the Mac App Store: Moadim for iPhone, for iPad, and for Mac
  • All Scripture passages are displayed in English, in a modified version of the World English Bible (public domain). Compete text of the Torah is included, broken down by weekly parasha. Parashiot follow Ashkenazi Diaspora rules.
  • All Holy days, Sabbaths, New Moons, and fast days are identified, along with the traditional Scripture passages
  • Moadim HD for iPad and Moadim for Mac have full calendar view
  • Includes prayer times (including candle lighting and havdalah) for any date from your location (or lat/long)
  • Direct access to Bereans Online Torah commentary

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The Mideast Update News Site

In 2007, my eldest son moved to Jerusalem working as a journalist and writer. Since then he has done interviews with government officials, academics, and "the man on the street." Joshua maintains a news web site that draws from his contacts in the middle east: the Israeli government, middle eastern universities, and public relations outlets. His reporting, analysis, and insights are unique in reporting on Israel and the middle east.

Check it out: www.themideastupdate.com

Daily Aliyah App for iPhone/iPad

My friend Brock Wright has written an iPhone/iPad app called "Daily Aliyah" that displays the Torah and haftarah portion for the current week, as well as the daily aliyah for the day of the week. Get it for free in the iTunes App Store.

Wise Messages App for iPhone

  • This little app will use your iPhone's notifications to remind you of Scripture, wise sayings, and quotes at set intervals or random times
  • Chose from different sources such as Proverbs, Pirkei Avot, Letter for the Ages, etc.
  • Import your own list of encouraging reminders to display
  • Customizable

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