For the last few years I have been attending Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish congregations. After the church left me wanting, I encountered this movement that told me half the stuff I’d been taught were false, and that God was restoring his people in these last days. Instead of the same three sermons on half of a verse plus an alter call (for the same twenty five people every Sunday) to “get saved,” the Hebrew Roots folks were reading chapters at a time and teaching in depth. Needless to say, I was impressed. Jesus was Jewish, and Hebrew Roots was highlighting this fact. I felt like I was finally getting some education and participation out of my faith.
However, not everything was kosher (see what I did there?). While there was an emphasis on the Old Testament that is wholly lacking in many Protestant churches (at least those I grew up in), there was almost a total lack of anything explicitly Christian in much of the teaching. We started looking at what the Talmud and medieval rabbis had to say concerning the Bible and ignoring anything Christian. Indeed, the Christian religion is widely condemned as “pagan” and of Papal invention. Christmas, Easter, even the name Jesus is frowned upon by many groups. By the way, I’ll be doing separate posts dealing with all three of these issues.
The last place I attended for any length of time changed belief and practice almost by the quarter. When I first attended, we were to use the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) for referring to God. By the time I left, it was HaShem (Hebrew of ‘The Name’) and the guys starting to play dress up as Hasidic Jews. There was almost no mention of Messiah and certainly a de-emphasis of the New Testament. The new practice was to assume the authority of the rabbis and the Talmud. Since the Torah cannot be interpreted without tradition, then we need an authority to do this for us. Moses set up a council of 70 elders in Exodus and that eventually became the Sanhedrin, then when the temple was destroyed that authority passed to the Rabbis and writers of the Talmud. So, as faithful believers in the God of the Bible, we should follow the strictures of Rabbinic law to serve our God. There was also a scant appeal to Matthew 23:2 that this is what followers of Yeshua (Jesus) were supposed to do.
This bothered me greatly. Not only was there almost no mention of the Messiah, now we are following Rabbis who deny that Yeshua is the Messiah and Son of God. In fact, the Talmud states that Yeshua is burning in hell in his own excrement (Gittin 56b-57a). When mentioned, this was usually usually excused by saying that the Jesus they’re talking about is the one invented by the church.
Now I realize that practice and theology vary widely from group to group and that we cannot conflate bad practice to the validity of the theology of Hebrew Roots, but herein lies the problem. There is no coherent theology that unifies the movement. The main points seem to be, keep the commandments of God, Christianity has lied to us and God has restored his Torah in the last days, and most of the time there is an attraction to Jewish styles of worship, practice and biblical interpretation. However, the extent of this varies so much from group to group that it is rather vague assumptions than points of doctrine.
I’m all for searching for the truth and seeing what errors have been propagated in the name of Christianity, but a wholesale rejection of anything Christian I believe is wrong. Many reject the Trinity, or the divinity of Messiah because “these are not Jewish concepts.” Of course they’re not! Rabbinic Judaism developed after Christianity and in reaction to it. It is true that what we find in the New Testament is unique, but there are also parallels in Second Temple Judaism. Indeed there are many things that historical Christianity preserves from Second Temple practice that were suppressed by Rabbinic authority because they were “too Christian.” I’ll link a post to this topic when I finish writing it.
So for the sake of brevity, my main point is that Hebrew Roots has unnecessarily rejected Christian theology for an incoherent set of conflicting doctrines. I think much of this comes from not understanding the doctrines in the first place and when someone comes along giving a convincing explanation of how to approach the Old Testament many reject orthodox Christianity for Hebrew Roots. I’m all for keeping the commandments and pointing out the failures of the church in doing and teaching these things, but to put myself under the false religion of Judaism is too much. One man said to me that Christianity is a religion about Jesus, but he wanted the religion Jesus practiced, then proceeded to follow medieval rabbinic interpretations of the Bible. This cannot be what Jesus meant when he set up his church (dare I use this word?) to bring the Gospel to the nations.
This is my first post and I imagine I’m going to address individually many of these issues I’ve brought up. I’ve titled this Exodus From Hebrew Roots because that is the direction I’m heading. I’ve been studying Second Temple Judaism, The early Christian period, Patristic writings and early Christian theology. In doing so I have found many of the criticisms that Hebrew Roots has for Protestantism (well, I guess low church evangelicals), and many of the things they emphasize can be found in the early church. The interpretations are just a little different. For example, I started on this path by visiting an Orthodox church after attending a synagogue the previous day. I found the style of worship very similar except the obvious emphasis was on Jesus at the church. But what I came to realize is that historical Christian worship is based on the liturgy of the temple. The reason I was attracted to Hebrew Roots was its emphasis on doing what Jesus and his followers did, only to find out that there are churches that have been doing this all along and not looking to Rabbinic Judaism for direction. So I have been asking myself, given that the Holy Spirit leads the followers of Messiah, would there not be correct worship and practice in the church as opposed to Rabbinic Judaism that rejects Jesus as the Messiah?
No matter where I end up on this journey, I doubt I can accept that following precepts from a religion that rejects Jesus as Messiah as correct observance that God actually condones. So for now, I’ll keep the commandments as best I know how and keep studying how other Christians have done it over the centuries.
Be sure to look for more posts in the next couple of weeks!
May God bless you