There are many organizations connected in some way or another to Messianic Judaism and various expressions of Torah and Hebrew roots from a Christian perspective. There are several important areas of diversity in the phenomenon widely known as Messianic Judaism. Keep in mind, I prefer using the term Messianic Judaism only for the Judaism that centers on Yeshua, but the name is used by a diverse assortment of groups. We could really use some greater precision in nomenclature.
In the minds of many people, Messianic Judaism encompasses all of the following: Messianic Jewish congregations, Christian missions to the Jews, the Two-House movement, Christian Zionist organizations, the Sacred Name movement, and various Torah and Hebrew Roots movements. Even when it comes to Messianic Jewish congregations, many who call themselves Messianic Jewish are not (by my standards, Messianic Jewish means a group sees itself as part of Judaism). Some Messianic Jewish congregations, so-called, do not believe in the obligation of Jewish followers of Yeshua to keep Torah and tradition. Some are Christian congregations with Jewish flavor.
It’s a confusing world. I recommend to you three places to find good thinking about what Messianic Judaism is all about: umjc.net (The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations) and ourrabbis.org (The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council) and mjti.org (The Messianic Jewish Theological Institute). I might also mention Lederer, also known as Messianic Jewish Resources, as the largest publisher in the Messianic Jewish movement (publishers of the Complete Jewish Bible, for instance — find Lederer at messianicjewish.com).
All of that was just an introduction.
What I really want to talk about is an initiative by my friends at First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org). First Fruits of Zion is an educational organization. In the past, FFOZ made little distinction between Jews and Gentiles in regard to the Torah. Even then I respected them (especially Daniel Lancaster and Boaz Michael) as true mensches (Yiddish for “good people”) and challenging thinkers.
In the past few years, FFOZ has made changes in their philosophy. Everyone who is honest and open makes changes to their philosophy. Messianic Judaism, especially the branch I belong to, has changed a great deal over the years (for the better). FFOZ has increasingly become aware of the distinction in Torah and in the whole Bible between Jews and Gentiles with regard to Torah.
Now, that is not to say that they have come all the way to where I am on this subject. We still have some disagreement. But, in my opinion, the teaching of FFOZ has become more mature and healthy (I hope mine has too).
And frankly, they are good at what they do.
If you have not seen their publications and you love to study the Torah, where have you been? They are the one of the only organizations (along with Lederer) I know of in the broader world of Messianic Judaism putting out materials with quality layout, style, and content. Their Torah Club notes are excellent (I went through Year 1 and thoroughly enjoyed the research of my friend Daniel Lancaster). They have a magazine that is as excellent in layout as you will find in religious publishing. They have resources that are well-produced and don’t look like the poorly produced materials we often expect in Messianic Judaism.
Recently, they put out a bencher complete with audio CD to help people learn how to say Grace After Meals (Birkat HaMazon). They even translated the English in such a way that you can chant the prayers in English.
But here is what I want to talk about: FFOZ is now reaching out to Christians in churches with the teaching of the Torah. FFOZ has launched a new program to get Torah teaching materials into churches where there are people who want to study it. They have just launched a website at www.torahportions.org.
Now, being a leader in Messianic Judaism, I believe that Torah has identity markers never required of Gentiles in the days of Moses and still not in the days of Peter, James, and Paul. I don’t believe Sabbath, dietary law, circumcision, or fringes, for example, are something Christians must do. I have blogged about this many times (check the Gentiles category for more or get my book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork — or just read Acts 15, Exodus 31:13, and Deuteronomy 14:21 for starters).
But the question is: should we feel it is a good thing that FFOZ is bringing Torah instruction to people in Christian churches who want to learn it?
I think it is a good thing and here are some of my reasons:
1. I learned in my church experience in the late 80’s and early 90’s that the “Old Testament” is sub-par material and should only be handled carefully by interpreting most all of it allegorically or symbolically as something fulfilled in the New Testament. It would be great to get Christians reading the legal texts of the Torah and not just the stories.
2. I learned in my church experience to read the Bible backwards, starting in the New Testament and reading back into the “Old,” so that mostly only those things that could be directly related to the New Testament mattered.
3. I did not know much about what was in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. So it was easy for me to believe the lie that seems so ridiculous to me now: “The Law is a terribly burdensome system that no one could keep.” I had no idea that grace was built into the Torah. I thought those poor Jews had to offer a sacrifice every time they let a four-letter word slip. I thought it was all a burden and a chain. It never occurred to me that the hardest parts of the Law are love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Show me someone who keeps those consistently (much less perfectly) and then I’ll be willing to hear them tell me how burdensome the Law is.
4. It was only when I began reading Genesis through Deuteronomy repeatedly according to the schedule of Torah readings that I learned them well. They have become as familiar to me as my own neighborhood, the streets I drive regularly.
5. It was only when I became thoroughly familiar with the Torah that I began to see how certain things fit in the Bible. I did not understand that the Torah is the foundation on which the Bible is built. I now can follow themes from Genesis to Revelation with ease.
6. I am glad FFOZ will be getting teaching about the Torah into churches, because I want to see Philo-Judaism increase. I don’t desire to turn Christians into Sabbath keepers or pork-abstainers. But I do want to them to know, respect, and love Jewish traditions and especially the Jewish people.
The Apostles assumed that all of Yeshua’s followers would read the teachings of Moses and the prophets. Paul called it God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). They did not envision a time of scriptural ignorance quite like we see in modern evangelicalism. I get no greater joy than when I am speaking in churches and Christians approach me with excitement and understanding because they have been studying these neglected parts of the Bible. May God bless FFOZ and all others who help lovers of God know the instruction of God.