Shalom, friends. In this post I will begin answering the comments made by Charles which you can read on the “About Derek Leman and His Blog” page here.
I think Charles’ comment is worthy of reply because it is a sincere expression of one Christian’s opinion about Jews, Torah, and the continuing role of Israel. I hope that my response can help Christian readers to begin questioning some cherished assumptions. I hope it can help those in the Messianic Jewish movement understand good reasoning for a Torah-based MJ.
Charles is a self-described Pentecostal Christian. He is bothered when he sees Messianic Jews living out the Torah and tradition of Israel. To Charles, and most other evangelical Christians, these are obsolete practices.
Charles begins with a simple question:
I would like to found a new movement called Judaic Christians. Does this already exist?
I think what Charles means is this: has someone started a movement of Jewish Christianity that is not about Torah and tradition but loosely about Jewish heritage and culture?
The answer, sadly, is yes. A lot of Messianic Judaism would fall within this camp. I call this bagels-and-lox-Messianic-Judaism. It is more about being Jewish and doing a few non-threatening Jewish things to make people feel at home. This is almost exclusively the province of Jewish mission agencies such as Jews for Jesus, who promote a very loose sense of Jewish identity while rendering Torah and tradition obsolete.
Charles then went on to say:
The only reason I say this is that unfortunately I have met those in the Messianic Judaism movement who are SO adamant about following the Torah, kosher diet, and observing everything Jewish while they are gentiles, that it makes me feel that the emphasis is on JUDAISM rather than on Jesus, the Jewish carpenter and teacher.
This is a very important comment and I am glad to have the opportunity to answer it. I think this argument, which comes up frequently, is misleading. First, let me say categorically, there is a kind of immature Messianic Judaism that makes an idol out of Jewish sancta and practices. There are immature groups who seem to worship their shofars and prayer shawls. This is pure silliness and has very little to do with Messianic Judaism proper.
Charles’ idea is that some people emphasize Judaism instead of Jesus. In a Messianic Jewish context, this is untrue if we properly understand what we mean by Judaism. If by “Judaism” we mean obeying God’s commandments and living a life dedicated to God, then it is impossible to pit Judaism against Jesus. Jesus was for Judaism in that sense of the word. Saying we emphasize Judaism instead of Jesus is like saying we emphasize righteousness instead of Jesus. Jesus is the Righteous One. Living a righteous life in the context of faith in Jesus is emphasizing Jesus.
You might as well say, “Evangelical Christians emphasize reading their Bible, witnessing, and worship instead of Jesus.” You might as well say, “Pentecostal Christians emphasize speaking in tongues, spirit-led worship, and reading their Bible instead of Jesus.”
Can you see how unfair and ridiculous that is?
Charles, you are not (yet) persuaded that God expects Jews to obey Torah. You are persuaded that Torah is obsolete. That is why you cannot see the simple fact: for a Messianic Jew, Judaism is THE way to follow Jesus.
Tomorrow we’ll get into Charles’ list of objections. He notes that the New Testament seems rather down on the Torah. He thinks Peter was told in a vision to start eating ham sandwiches (or . . . pigs in a blanket). He simply cannot understand what this Torah-based Messianic Judaism is all about. I hope I can help. I also hope that Charles will respond, and not only him, but others who feel as he does. I will try to respond with civility, but I do intend to argue my case.