A Jewish follower of Yeshua wrote a comment today saying that he came to following Yeshua late in life and is now experiencing an appreciation for some of the Jewish practices of his pre-Yeshua days. In other words, his story went something like this:
— A life without Yeshua but with some Jewish practices and beliefs.
— A decision later in life to follow Yeshua leading to joining a church and setting aside Jewish practices.
— A realization after some time that the Jewish practices of his earlier life had some value.
That all sounds good. But in his short note he included some language that saddens me:
(1) “. . . it is belief in Jesus and trying to live be his moral teachings . . . that keeps me on the right course, not a steady adherence to the ritualism of the Old Scripture law.”
(2) “. . . which I of course couldn’t totally adhere to even if I tried.”
(3) “But the Old Scripture law is also the foundation of the moral message of the Gospel, and should never be looked upon as something that is totally irrelevant now.”
(4) “But never forget that the Old Scriptures were the foundation that pointed the way to that salvation!”
My Assessment of These Statements
(1) There is an implication here that the Old Scriptures are ritual and ceremonial and the teaching of Jesus is moral. Now, to be fair, he said the Ten Commandments sum up Jesus’ teaching quite well. But still, there is a sense that the Old is about ceremony and the New is about moral truth. I find a few things interesting to note here:
–(a) Many Christians think that their pattern of worship is non-ritual or ceremonial. If you think about it, this is a funny and implausible belief. Even the most tradtionless Protestant worship has tons of rituals: standing, clapping, lifting hands, bowing heads, repeated phrases such as “in Jesus’ name,” and so on.
–(b) No Christian who actually via time machine could witness a service in the Temple in the days of old would come back speaking of the “dead ceremonialism” of the “Old Scriptures.” They would come back hungry for more of that kind of powerful, integrated, physical and spiritual worship in the life of the church.
–(c) None of the teaching of Jesus is completely new. It is all based on the Hebrew Bible (what the commenter called the “Old Scriptures”). If you think something Jesus said was new and not based on the Hebrew Bible, suggest it in a comment and I will attempt to show you where it comes from in the Hebrew Bible.
(2) The idea that the laws of the “Old Scriptures” are burdensome or difficult to keep makes no sense, especially when the implied meaning is the way of life in the “New Scriptures” is somehow easier. The hardest part of Torah is . . . wait for it . . . love God and neighbor. Hmm, seems these are also the way of life in the New Testament. So what exactly in the “Old Scriptures” is too hard? Is it hard for Jews to abstain from eating pork? It’s not hard to me or my friends. Who is it hard for? Was it difficult to bring God animals as sacrifices in the days of the Temple? No, it was an occasion for joyous worship and celebratory feasting (read Deuteronomy 14:26 if you want to understand the festive nature of the tithe and sacrificial laws). Paul said, “As to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:6).
(3) The wording on this one makes me laugh. I know the commenter meant well. It’s kind of like saying to your wife, “No, honey, those pants don’t make you look totally fat!” Is the law partially irrelevant? Should you tell your wife she is partially fat? Also, the idea that the Torah is the foundation of the moral message of Jesus sounds, in the way the commenter worded it, as if the complete spiritual and moral message was lacking until Jesus supplied it. But if you read the gospels carefully, you will see Jesus is teaching the spirit of the Torah itself and not adding something new.
(4) I suppose we should be flattered when we are told by Christians that our way of life was a stepping stone on the way to a deeper understanding of salvation. Sorry. I’m not flattered. Suppose I said to the average church-goer in my area, “Your rudimentary understanding of the gospel is a good first step in finding the deeper way of life God has for you”? Are we to understand that salvation was not in the Torah? Was salvation something new in Jesus? Hardly. God was saving people from death, sin, and suffering long before Jesus came. Check the New Testament on this. I am not saying anything new. The idea that the Hebrew Bible is filled with ritual demands and condemnation while grace waited for the New Testament can only be believed by people who do not seriously read the Hebrew Bible.
A Better Way for Christians
Do you want to understand Jesus better? You would do well to make the study of the first five books of the Bible a regular habit.
Many Christians are ill-equipped to do this because many pastors are ill-equipped to understand the Old Testament and when teaching the Old Testament stay with the safe and nearly useless policy of preaching Messianic prophecies, typology, and character studies.
I recommend a few different ways for Christians to learn Genesis through Deuteronomy as simple steps for busy people:
–I have a book called A New Look at the Old Testament and you can get it here on my website or here on amazon. It’s a good starting point.
–Jeff Feinberg has written an excellent devotional with daily readings in Torah that follow the Jewish cycle of reading through the Torah every year. You can get The Walk Series here on my site or here on amazon.
–First Fruits of Zion has a Torah Foundations video class you can use for your small group called HaYesod and also has a Torah Club which follows the Jewish cycle of reading Torah through the year. You can get to these resources here.
A Better Way for Jewish Christians in Churches
To some degree, by making the choice to be a Jewish follower of Jesus in a church, you are handicapping yourself. I’m not saying your choice to be in the church is necessarily a bad one. You may not have a Messianic synagogue worth its salt in your town. Or you may have friendships in the church that are too precious to give up. Or you may be intermarried and this is what your family needs from you.
But you will not find your desire to find meaning in your Jewish identity reinforced in church. Oh sure, your friends want to learn from you and think Jewish is cool. But its only cool when you readily give it up and compromise to fit in. You will be thought less of for passing on the ham at the church supper. More importantly, you will not be encouraged in your observance of Torah and Jewish life. You have no communal support. When it is time for Passover, instead of enjoying the worship of the season, you may either find you have to teach the basics over and over again to your Christian friends or that no one cares and you are on your own.
If you could be in a community of Messianic Jews, you would find reinforcement and communal support. You would find the gospel seen through the lens of Torah (as it should be). You would see your life integrated and not bifurcated.
But, supposing you will ignore this advice and perhaps with good reason, what can you do?
It is incumbent on you to live and study Torah even if no one in your church community understands.
But, a funny thing will happen. As you make Torah living and study a habit, over time, your Christian friends will start respecting and supporting your choice.
When someone implies you are deficient in some way for passing on the ham, you will have increased confidence in explaining your reasons. They will either be intimidated by their ignorance or accept your reason at face value most of the time. And you will start seeing correlations between Torah living and Jesus faith all over the place. You will wonder why you waited so long to try it.