Reverse Galatianism

Several things have made me think about this topic in recent weeks. I had an email exchange with a theologian who expressed the idea that Jews who come to faith in Yeshua should join in with existing churches so that there will be unity in the Congregation of Messiah. In other words, he believes the New Testament writers would oppose the idea of Messianic synagogues.

Similarly, Amy Downey at mysterysolvedwithmessiahjesus.wordpress.com posted a question:

What is the “best” place for a Jewish believer to attend for worship of Messiah Jesus? A doctrinally sound Messianic congregation or a doctrinally sound church?

The only response was from a Christian pastor whose answer was no, Jews separating into Messianic Congregations is not the ideal, but may be necessary due to lack of understanding in the church. He made an argument I often hear, “I believe all the churches are wrong for their segregation based on color, creed, or culture.” Messianic Judaism, in other words, is simply racial segregation at work.

I responded with a few arguments and the debate got hot very quickly, with Chris saying, “it seems like your newly found yarmulke has slid over your eyes.”

Whoa! It’s hard to see with this yarmulke over my eyes . . . :-)
………………………………

Galatianism. That is the error which Paul fought against in Asia Minor. Some Jews, whether Messianic Jews or traditional Jews we cannot really say (see Mark Nanos, The Irony of Galatians, for a case that they were traditional Jews). Galatianism is the false belief that non-Jews must become Jews and take on the yoke of Torah in order to be in Messiah or to grow in Messiah.

I am sad to say that the book of Galatians has made little impact on many in the Hebrew Roots and broader Messianic movement. Many would say just what the opponents of Paul in Galatians were saying: that non-Jews must follow Torah to obey Messiah. How do these interpreters get around the message of Galatians? They say that Paul was only arguing against converting to Judaism and not against Gentiles taking on Torah observance. They say that circumcision is required for Christian children but that it must not be understood as a sign of conversion. They say either that Torah observance is required or that it is a matter of spiritual growth with the mature moving out of Gentile ways and into the Torah over time.

Galatianism bothers me. It is one of the reasons the church world looks at “Messianic Judaism,” speaking in the broader sense of the term, and thinks we are ridiculous. It seems we cannot understand the simplest of New Testament teachings.

But if Galatianism bothers me, reverse Galatianism grieves me (and I’d rather be bothered than grieved). Reverse Galatianism is the false belief that Jews must become as non-Jews in order to be in Messiah or in order to grow in Messiah.

That’s right, there is an opposite error to Galatians. But you ask, “Why didn’t Paul address this issue?” My answer would be two-fold:

1. It wasn’t a problem in Paul’s time. No one was telling Jews to quit keeping Sabbath and to stop worshipping at the Temple daily.

2. The ongoing responsibility of Jewish people to God’s covenant with Israel was assumed. Paul would be appalled (pun?) to see the lack of respect for Jewish identity and covenantal responsibility in the church world today.

Let me explain a little more what Reverse Galatianism is and how it affects opinions in the modern church world:

–Why do those Messianic Jews need to be separate? Why don’t they simply join us?

–Why do I, a Jewish believer in Jesus, need to consider a Messianic Congregation when I’ve got this big, happy mega-church with so many more programs and people to meet?

–The New Testament mission called for unity of Jew and Gentile, one new man, and so we must be one new man (and that new man is Gentile, by the way).

–Jewish identity has no more meaning than any other ethnic identity. It is pre-Christian and should be given up for the cause of unity. (Meanwhile, I attend a church whose culture is closest to my own and would hate to see my whitebread church start using Hip-Hop worship or my black church using Southern Gospel or so on and so forth — but I still speak with authority about this shedding pre-Christian ethnic identity thing).

–The Torah is obsolete and I wish Messianic Jews would realize that none of that matters now. (What? Those verses about the Torah remaining until heaven and earth disappear? Well, those are unclear and I prefer to interpret them in light of the much clearer passages that say Torah is obsolete.)

–It’s not healthy for Messianic Jews to separate. It keeps the Congregation of Messiah divided. But the dividing wall of separation is abolished (Eph. 2). We should all come together.

Reverse Galatianism is the error of thinking that while Gentiles must not be forced to become Jews, still it is for the best if Jews in Messiah become Gentiles.

One reply to our call for strong Jewish identity and the need for Messianic Jewish congregations, is to say, “But Jews can remain Jews and worship with everyone else in a one-size-fits-all church.”

I understand that many well-meaning people who love Israel and the Jewish people feel this way. It is the best and kindest rebuttal to Messianic Judaism I have heard. The problem is, this is the response of people who do not know what it means to be Jewish or to live Torah. You often cannot understand another community if you have not lived in their shoes.

Take as an analogy the black community in America. Many black Christians choose to worship in churches targeted to their community. Those who believe Messianic Jews should assimilate into normal church life might be inclined to think the same way about black Christians. But I would ask them, “Have you experienced life as an African-American? Do you know what it is to walk in their shoes? Do you honestly believe that your Anglo church is going to address the needs of this community?”

With Messianic Jews the issues run on another plane. Not only do Jewish people have ethnic issues, history, and pressures to face, but there is also the matter of covenantal obligation to the Torah. And the Torah is not something meant to be kept in isolation. Torah is a community affair. That is precisely what many of our critics do not understand. Torah and Jewish life are meant to be lived together and mutually reinforced. How would that happen in a church setting where no one fasts on Yom Kippur and where Saturday is sometimes a work day for fixing up the church grounds and where ham is on the Wednesday night dinner menu?

So, please do weigh in on this issue. Can you see the need for Messianic Jews to band together? Can Messianic Judaism be in unity with churches without giving up its distinctiveness?

Coming soon: “Co-Heirs: It Means Neither Heir is Eliminated.”

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Reverse Galatianism

  1. ckinbar says:

    Derek,

    I think you hit the nail on the head with this summary:

    “With Messianic Jews the issues run on another plane. Not only do Jewish people have ethnic issues, history, and pressures to face, but there is also the matter of covenantal obligation to the Torah.”

    Looking at this issue on the levels of ethnicity, history and pressure, I am hard-pressed to find any but the most fringe Christian theologians or groups that would demand that ethnic groups give up their identity and history in order to be assimilated into a theoretically trans-ethnic (and therefore trans-cultural church Church. Such a homogenizing theology would anathematize, for example, Korean and Hispanic churches in Korea and Latin America as well as in the U.S. Actually, no such trans-cultural Church exists. The Church is comprised of local, national and regional churches characterized by particular ethicity, culture, language and even theology.

    If my observation above is correct, then it would be outrageous for Jews in particular to be pressed into giving up our culture while everyone else retains theirs.

    That being said, I fully agree that the primary issue is our covenant identities as Jews. It would be naive to think that this identity can be retained in all its dimensions were we as a group to lose ourselves in Christian congregations.

  2. judahgabriel says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for posting your insight on this matter.

    Regarding Galatians, it would seem to be written against the same theology espoused by the Pharisees in Acts 15 — that one had to be circumcised to be saved.

    Regarding Reverse Galatianism, there’s a simple answer: God’s covenant with Israel is eternal, and that covenant includes Torah observance.

    If you believe Jews, at least, must keep Torah in obedience to God, then it prevents us from joining the Church.

    The Church is contrary to the Torah, often times. Joining the church would induce disobedience to God’s eternal covenant with us.

    (Does this raise red flags to anyone else? The Church’s ways often run contrary to Torah.)

  3. judahgabriel says:

    This week’s Torah commentary by First Fruits of Zion touches on this eternal nature of Torah and the ludicrous notion that we can just set it aside (such as in the larger framework of a church!)

    Give it a read:

    All through the book of Deuteronomy, Moses drives home the message: “Keep God’s Torah.” When Israel failed to keep the Torah, God sent prophets warning them to repent and turn back to Torah. When they repented, they were rewarded and blessed. When they did not, they suffered the maledictions threatened in the Torah. God continuously told His people for 1,400 years to walk in His commandments, keep His Torah and His covenant.

    Does it make sense to imagine that after 1,400 years, God suddenly changed His mind? Would it make sense to suppose that after all the pain and suffering of invasion, exile, re-gathering and so on, God would suddenly change the program and announce to His people, “From now on, don’t keep the commandments of the Torah,” and then punish them when they did?

    That could be compared to a father who warned his son not to play ball in the house. Every time the boy played ball in the house, his father would spank him and send him to his room. This went on for three years. Then one day, his father seized him and spanked him. The boy cried out, “Why are you spanking me?” “Because you weren’t playing ball in the house,” the father explained. “From now on, you must play ball in the house, and if you do not, I will beat you.”

    We would call a father like that capricious and deranged. Yet many theologians claim that this is what God has done to Israel. For 1,400 years He punished them when they did not keep the Torah. Then when Jesus came, He cancelled the Torah and henceforth punished them for keeping it.

    Obviously God is not a capricious and deranged father. Rather He is the Unchanging One, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He has not cancelled the words of His Torah. Even today, He longs for His people—all of His people—to repent, turn away from sin and come back to the good and beautiful commandments of His Torah, just as His holy Son, Yeshua, has shown us. In Yeshua His people will find forgiveness for sins, and through His Spirit we find the strength and joy to serve God with gladness.

    For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you would hear His voice. (Psalm 95:7)

  4. bobcharters says:

    In answering your question, “Why didn’t Paul address this issue?” I’m wondering if we could add, perhaps he did make a start on it by warning the Romans (chapter 11, I think), as grafted in branches, not to brag against the natural branches.

    Also, his terminology in Ephesians, that one group is saved “by faith” and the other “through faith”. There seems to be something there that’s assumed, but not explained fully. Maybe worth a study…?

  5. rabbiadam says:

    I’m sure you know what I’m about to say…

    The problem is, Sunday-keeping Churches are NOT doctrinally sound, and Galatians has been roundly misinterpreted ever since Marcion started spreading his anti-Semitic and anomian lies. Galatians is not, and never has been, against non-Jewish Believers keeping Torah. Paul’s teaching in his Responsa to the Nazarene community in Galatia was against them keeping Torah *FOR THE WRONG REASON* (i.e., to merit salvation).

    Once that is understood, the rest falls into place: all Believers should be keeping Torah, including and first of all the Sabbath.

    Now, that being said, there is nothing that says they have to join Messianic synagogues and that their praise, worship, liturgy, etc. must look like a synagogue. If people want to sing “How Great Thou Art” or “Open The Eyes of My Heart” instead of “Melech Ozair” or “Trees of the Field,” for example, there’s no problem with that. If they want to teach the Bible straight through for the year on one of those Christian schedules, rather than a traditional Torah cycle, I could not care less.

    In fact, there are templates for non-Jewish-style Torah-Observant Christian practice: the Churches of God, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Seventh Day Baptists, etc. That’s not to say they have to be like any of those, either.

  6. judahgabriel says:

    Well said, Adam!

  7. Mishkan David says:

    bobcharters :
    Also, his terminology in Ephesians, that one group is saved “by faith” and the other “through faith”. There seems to be something there that’s assumed, but not explained fully. Maybe worth a study…?

    That’s an interesting idea. To which verses are you referring?

    Todah,

    Mishkan David

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