If you are new to the discussion of non-Jews who are attracted to things like Passover and Sabbath and dietary law, welcome. You should know that there are two main types of people in this situation. Some are in churches of more traditional or evangelical background and some are in Messianic Jewish groups and congregations.
Many Christians in churches are drawn at one time or another to at least want to understand something like the Sabbath or the Passover origin of communion (or eucharist). Some are drawn even more and want to know the biblical calendar and feasts. This can be a confusing road. Many books are filled with misinformation, like the horrid “biblical diet” books. Apart from faulty logic (“if a food is mentioned in the Bible, it is wholesome, so figs are better than apples”), these books are frequently marketing tools for products and systems (“buy our essential oils based on some verses in Ezekiel 47 which prove our products superior”). And they do not understand the laws they claim to teach you about. I think, for example, of the many people convinced that Christians should give up pork because beef is healthier (not!). If these authors are teachers, they should research Jewish tradition and find out with a minimum of effort that the dietary law has nothing to do with health.
And there are many non-Jews in Messianic Judaism. This is something that has led to arguments and hurt in the past (and present). The paradigms are changing (rightly so) and some people feel left behind (not necessary).
In this series I want to start by affirming something: there is, no doubt, a divine purpose in the drawing of so many from the nations to the Torah and traditions of Israel. Now, let’s get started considering some of the issues . . .
To Begin: Resources for Christians Interested in Torah and Jewish Community
I want to highlight the work of two organizations. One is working on new material and has little to offer yet (but will be a valuable association in the near future) and the other has much material already available to help you grow.
The first is the Union of Messianic Believers (UMB). The UMB has been around for a long time but was recently re-energized by Rabbi John Fischer and now by Bruce Stokes and Rabbi Joshua Brumbach. The UMB is a place for Christians to connect to the Jewish and Messianic Jewish world. You can find it at umjc.org/umb-mainmenu-105
The second is First Fruits of Zion. This is a thriving community and publishing house with material to introduce you to Torah (the HaYesod Program, newly remade and with video shot on location in Israel) and enable you to study it (Torah Club, start with Volume 1). Find them at ffoz.org.
Lessons Learned from Past Mistakes
You should know that many have walked the path before you. And many have found some unhelpful paths and can warn you not to try them.
The major problem many Torah-seeking gentiles have run into is very similar to the problem of shallowness in much evangelical Christianity: individualism run amok.
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIAN SHALLOWNESS = “The gospel is about me and my salvation.” Read some N.T. Wright, like Justification or Surprised by Hope or After You Believe.
TORAH-SEEKING GENTILE SHALLOWNESS = “The Torah is about me and my status with God.” Read some medieval commentators and Jewish theologians, would you? Learn the depth.
A BETTER PATH = Learn slowly and carefully. Think before jumping into things. Consider that God has a plan for the whole world, through Israel, to redeem. How does Torah fit into that? What is your place in God’s plan?
The Path of Respect
Historically, those who have walked this path and who are currently healthy and balanced in theology and lifestyle have found the need to be respectful to the Jewish community, to Jewish communal traditions, and Jewish identity as something that matters to God.
In other words, some people may have begun on a “Torah is about me and my status with God” approach and discovered Jewish interpretation over time. And studying Torah brought them to a realization of the meaning of God’s covenant with Abraham.
And these have rejected certain sad tendencies that have developed among some gentile Torah-seekers: the tendency to deny the significance of the Jewish community and Jewish identity. If Torah is “mine” then who cares that God gave Torah to a specific people with a specific plan in mind?
And, as is the case with a shallow and anemic evangelical Christianity, which is dying on the vine, shallow Torah-seeking has led to bad fruit.
People are angry. They are dealing with an entitlement paradigm and not a blessing paradigm. They are saying things like, “How dare you?” They are not saying things like, “How can I help?”
Mutual Blessing is God’s Plan
You will find that God divides the world into two groups: Israel and the nations. This division is not about superior and inferior. Many Bible texts deal with this fact, including Deuteronomy 7 and Romans 2 and 4.
God’s division of the world is about a plan of mutual blessing. God blesses Israel. God blesses all the families of the earth through Israel. God blesses those who bless Israel. The pattern of mutual blessing spreads and continues into other relationships so that God’s plan is blessing passed from one to another, rinse and repeat. Mutual blessing ends the curse.
Read R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology for a powerful explanation.
Not Jewish and Ready to Connect to Torah Through the People of Israel
I will suggest in this series that this is where you want to be.
Your interest may be at various levels. It is fine to be at any one of these levels. The Torah and the apostles teach that you need not opt for a more involved Torah-observance. You need not live like a Jew to be kosher. God says this over and over again. I won’t defend it here, but I have in numerous articles here at Messianic Jewish Musings. One is listed on the left sidebar, “Acts 15.”
(1) You may be a Christian wanting to know how your faith originated and to experience some of the customs as a way of learning.
(2) You may be a Christian who wants to get more involved, perhaps attend Jewish community events, advocate for the nation of Israel, etc.
(3) You may feel drawn to the Jewish community and want to walk alongside in a Messianic Jewish synagogue.
(4) You may be a long-time member of a Messianic group, perhaps a Jewish one or perhaps one that is less Jewish.
(5) You may be married to a Jewish person, have Jewish kids, and you are neck-deep in this.
Here is what my series on this topic will be about: growing in Torah practice without a vital connection to and service of the people of Israel is counter to the gospel; but growing in Torah practice as a part of God’s plan to heal the world through Israel is a way to serve the gospel.
I will have to elaborate on many of these areas in future posts in this series. This is a general overview of the topic. Here are some questions for discussion that may stimulate you to comment:
a) Have you experienced unwise examples of mixing Torah-practice with Christian faith (such as the “biblical diet” books)? What has been your experience? (Be charitable, don’t gossip about specific people please).
b) Do you think I am overstating the need for a connection to the people of Israel as part of growing on Torah-practice? If so, why?
c) Are you Jewish, Messianic or not? Can you see God’s power at work in so many gentiles being drawn to Torah? What is God up to?
d) Are you non-Jewish? What draws you to Torah? What are some reasons and some blessings you have discovered?
I wasn’t born Jewish, but got involved in the Messianic Jewish movement in 1988. I still think of myself as a new comer to the movement, but I realize that I am.
I am interested in seeing where these postings go. At first I was not pro-Torah per say, but the more I read and listen the more pro-Torah I become. Yes I know we are saved by grace through faith, but somewhere a long the line we need to begin to obey God’s word.
I can say that coming from a varied background it helps to enter any new religious experience with a clean slate. You must be willing to learn new things, confirm anything in your past as truth, and getting rid of old mythological baggage to obtain the truth. You must also be willing, dedicated and committed to go wherever G-d may lead you.
I am a non-Jew who was first drawn to Messianic Judaism when a Messianic ministry gave a service to a church congregation I was a member of around 2003. The Jewish viewpoint of Messiah is what interested me the most.
Some good memories/positive experiences I’ve had in Messianic Judaism are:
Inside the synagogue: Sabbath services, Rosh Chodesh services, Biblical holiday services, a Bar Mitzvah service
Get-togethers outside the synagogue: Bible studies, a field trip, dinners, etc.
Also, one year three local Messianic congregations got together to celebrate one of the Biblical holidays together which I liked very much.
I am still in the wilderness of discovery. After being in a fundamental Baptist church for 20 years, everything I thought I knew about the law being abolished have vaporized. So if the law is still valid as I believe it is, I am struggling with which laws do I follow? THe Acts 15 laws seem too minimal and perhaps the entire Torah is not for observance by gentiles. Two questions come to mind: 1. There are commandments even the church says to obey from the OT, but what about the command before and after it? Why aren’t they to be obeyed. 2. NT scripture says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…just 10? “All scripture is given for instruction, reproof, etc.” The letters were not scripture, the Torah and the rest of the OT were the scriptures. I know I am not under the curse of the law, but I feel I am to obey as much as is practicable out of love. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks for this subject.
I feel the same way – newtothinkism :)
Thanks to all who have shared their experience so far.
Do you mean by “pro-Torah” that the MJ congregation you attend does not encourage its Jewish members to observe Sabbath and dietary law? Does this mean you advocate that Messianic Jews be more Torah-observant? What do you mean by pro-Torah?
Good advice. Yes, people who enter into new religious environments should come as learners. And some mentoring and communal participation over a long period of time helps.
Was that gathering of three congregations where you first met me? Thanks for the perspective.
Your question is very involved. First a simple point: we all need to obey the commandments that are for us. But this does not mean all commandments are for all people. A second simple point: each commandment must be studied individually, its context and application determined carefully, and its intended audience must be considered. I’ve written much on here about the difference between identity markers (or sign commandments or covenantal signs) such as Sabbath, dietary law, fringes, and circumcision and why these are signs of Jewish identity, not universal Torah laws. My book, Paul Didn’t Eat Pork, explains this all quite well and what Paul’s letters and teachings on the law are all about. Feel free to ask more. It’s a huge topic. FFOZ’s Torah Club and HaYesod programs would be great material for you as would membership in the UMB.
The gathering was the second time. The first time I met you was when I went to a Bible study class at the Dunwoody congregation. At the gathering I was talking to someone from your congregation and you were sitting on the steps, talking to a group of people I think.
Thanks for the plug for the UMB!
This is a perfect series…I love it! But, FFOZ encourages gentiles to take on “Torah” in a rabbinicly Jewish manner. This causes identity confusion, since they are taking on the specific Jewish identity markers plus all the cultural trappings of the Jewish community. It is my conviction that we ARE invited to take on the yoke of all of G-d’s Instruction for us, but to do it in a manner consistent with our culture and calling. Not everyone is called to obey the commands in a Jewish manner. Please address this in future postings. Thanks!
Thanks. But what you are saying about FFOZ is outdated. They used to subscribe to a One Law philosophy, but repented of that philosophy some time back. Their materials are very balanced. They had always emphasized grace and their video and audio and print resources for the last few years have promoted a healthy identity for people as Christians, Judaically informed followers of Yeshua, or as Messianic Jews. As for non-Jews keeping Torah, they encourage those who desire to keep it to do so in a way that respects Jewish identity.
Your belief, as you stated, is that non-Jews who believe in Yeshua are to keep the whole instruction (all 613 that can be kept) but in a manner that does not assume Jewish identity. So you would disagree with me (and FFOZ) by saying that Sabbath and dietary law and fringes and circumcision are laws for non-Jews?
Well, if nothing else, I am glad you share a concern to maintain Jewish identity. I hope to persuade you that Torah and the apostles reveal that some commandments are signs of Israel’s covenant and not universal commands. I also hope through dialogue to flesh out and strengthen what you mean by “not everyone is called to obey the commands in Jewish manner.”
They have changed from their One Law stance. However, they still encourage those who accept the Divine Invitation to observe in a Jewish way (unless that has also changed since last summer in Seattle). Has it?
I think I see where you are coming from now.
When I talk about differentiation between Jewish and non-Jewish ways of keeping Torah, I am not talking about non-Jews avoiding traditional prayers (the Siddur) and practices (mezzuzah). It is not that simple or black and white, in my opinion.
There are some prayers that assume the one praying is Jewish, part of the Sinai covenant. This is one area where there should be differentiation. And prayers that suggest the one praying is bound by all 613 require differentiation. Some ceremonies like the b’rit milah and bar/bat mitzvah are about Jewish relationship to God and not gentile relationship, so there should be differentiation.
But the idea of Torah without tradition is a dead-end street. There is no merely-biblical Judaism. It is a ghost, a meaningless abstraction.
And I would not be in favor of self-made traditions for gentile Torah-observance. The idea that Judaically informed Christians who want to keep Torah should avoid rabbinic traditions and create their own is beset with problems. Some modifications intended to communicate identity as gentiles is what I am talking about, not an abandonment of the tradition of Israel altogether.
There is no compelling reason that gentiles need to keep Jewish traditions. But for those who decide to walk Torah with the Jewish community, my view is that this should be done traditionally. So, for example, there is no need for Christians to light candles on Friday night, but if a Christian keeps Sabbath, this is the “right” way to do it. If that Christian were to decide to vary the tradition, especially in a contradictory way, such as changing the start and end time of the Sabbath, this would be harmful and not helpful.
I am glad you have decided to revisit such a touchy issue!. As a non-Jew, drawn to Torah, this is good stuff. I feel led to take this on, but I don’t want to be confused as trying to be Jewish, or step on Jewish toes by acting like Im Jewish.
So I wonder Sabbath is an Identity marker? I get that fringes would be a marker, because that it dress. When I see that, I assume that person is Jewish. But when I hear about someone having Saturday as their Holy day, that doesn’t key the same thought. There are plenty of Christian churches who worship on Saturday already.
Perhaps fringes made differently? Worn in a different place? Like you said, when we start changing things, that can take us to an unhealthy place.
It will be interesting to see where this goes!
Thanks. A few thoughts on Sabbath as an identity marker or sign between Israel and God:
(1) Exod 31:13 “it will be a sign between you and me forever.”
(2) The statements about God ceasing and hallowing the seventh day in Genesis do not result in a commandment.
(3) The first commandment about Sabbath is not until Israel had fled Egypt in Exod 16.
(4) There is a myth that Israel already kept Sabbath. It’s defense goes like this: in Exod 16 God does not have to explain Sabbath; they already know what it is. This clever explanation overlooks a simple fact: the word Sabbath comes from the word for ceasing activity. Of course they knew what “day of rest” meant.
Hope these thoughts help a bit. They should help people see that Paul in Romans 14 is being Torah-faithful Jew when he points out that to gentiles all days are alike and God has no other expectation (but gentiles, he says, should not judge those who have been required to keep Sabbath as this is between them (Israel) and God).
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Very interesting article. I see there is a part 2, part 3 and many comments I have not read, but I would like to comment on the article itself as I just read it and enjoyed the discussion questions.
First off, I truly appreciated the comment: “there is, no doubt, a divine purpose in the drawing of so many from the nations to the Torah and traditions of Israel.”
A) Yes, I’ve seen problems. But probably in a different manner than many. I have seen some bend over backwards to Jewish sensitivities and tradition and yet are unwilling to show a fraction of that sensitivity to Gentiles. This seems at odds with the Apostolic attitude towards Gentiles in Ac 15.
I have witnessed the passage “salvation is of the Jews” used as a blanket statement that Jewish orthodox theology can hardly ever be wrong, to the extreme that any part of the Apostolic writings that seemingly do not agree with Orthodox interpretation of the Torah is either mistranslated or corrupted. This essentially nullifies the authority of the Apostles’s writings and interpretation of the Torah.
I’ve noticed a growing trend among Messianic theologians to view Evangelical Protestantism with disdain, in favor of more historical churches.
B) No, I do not think you overstated the need for a connection to the people of Israel as part of growing in Torah-practice.
My only concern is how critically one views Gentiles growing in Torah in geographical locations void of any Jewish community, similar to some of the concerns expressed by D Lancaster in “Crumbs from the Table,” Messiah Journal 101.
C) “Are you Jewish?” – No.
“Messianic or not?” – Messianic.
“Can you see God’s power at work in so many gentiles being drawn to Torah?” – Oh, yes.
“What is God up to?” – I’m still trying to figure that out :-)
D) “What are some reasons and some blessings you have discovered?”
– The blessings have truly been great:
1) Scripture. The Bible makes way more sense. Yeshua makes way more sense. There is no longer this internal block between the Apostles and the rest of Scripture.
2) Mundane to Holy. My faith now incorporates so much more of my daily life. It used to be – despite my best efforts – that spiritual and secular life were somewhat divorced.
3) Family. Life with my family has been transformed since much more of our faith is brought into everyday life at home. The Torah’s practical focus on the family, children, my elders, etc have been a great help. Faith expressed only in a congregational setting is not family friendly.
4) Love. Love is no longer an abstract feeling, but defined by the Torah.
5) Discipleship. Discipleship has been removed from a christianese term to practical application.
And much more. It feels like an entire piece of pie was missing from my faith, one that I rarely noticed was missing. This piece addresses so many areas that were lacking and difficult to fix without the Torah — on a personal level as well as the entire faith. Of course, it’s not all roses, as you have pointed out in your article.
Yes I’ve seen many Christians come into Messianic faith and bring their Christianese and put the MESSi in Messianic.
What has been been your experience? I’ve seen women seeking to wear Talits, and Kipa’s. Even heard one “prophetess” threshing on Talit, walking on them on praying on them.
It its my conviction that Christians converting to Messianic faith should seek Jewish and Rabbinic sources to learn the Traditional Jewish ways. I believe Gentile believers in Yeshua should freely identify with Israel as adopted Children of Avraham through Yeshua.
I’m not Jewish by birth, maybe by practice or grafting in through Yeshua. I am a gentile I’ve been drawn to a Torah based life, to observe the feasts and become as a Jew in practice, in the light of Yeshua our Messiah. I don’t call myself Messianic though I identify with the Messianic movement. I’ve study the early Natzarim and early “Messianic Jews” I was raised Jehovah’s Witness converted to Christianity, become a part of the Assembly of G-d pentecostal denomination, even went to Southwestern Assemblies of G-d bible school to become a pastor, yet G-d called me out to a torah observant life.
G-d is preparing the way for Messiah to return. As Acts says “Until the restoration of all things.” G-d is bringing the gentiles to fulfill the jot and title of Torah as Yeshua taught His disciples to do to the ends of the earth.
I am non Jewish. The Ruach HaKoddesh and The Word (Torah) have brought me to know The Father, our true Abba, and His Son Yeshua. I’ve experienced healing, deliverance from generational iniquities, more of a spiritual fullness, and emotional completion. I’ve heard HaShems voice and know G-d is leading me and my family. My wife has spoken fondly and appreciative of the fruit we’ve experienced since I’ve lead us to observe Shabbat, the feast and to try to live Kosher among other Torah Observant individuals whether Jewish or Messianic.
Oh yeah I’ve been studying the Hebrew Roots of Christianity since 1997 after which I started to observe festivals from time to time. It wasn’t until 2005 that I started to observe Sabaath, Attend a Messianic Synagogue, and start regularly Observing festivals. In 2006 my fiance at the time we become members of the congregation and had a traditional Jewish in 2007 we also had our son dedicated to the L-rd at our Messianic Congregation. We’ve since moved and been part of a local messianic fellowship here and continued to grow in Torah. Right now we’re learning Hebrew, preparing for our B’nei Mitzvah.
Great article on the ways to jump into the Torah “pool.” My husband and I jumped into the deep end back in August of last year after seven years of YHWH slowly prodding me about the feasts, and we have been so blessed in loving our heavenly Father through obedience to His Word–His Torah. We were previously attending a Christian church and have since found a loving congregation of Messianic believers to encourage us in our walk. We are looking forward to our first Pesach :) this April.
I’m just getting my feet wet really. I am drawn to Torah because I see Jesus in those pages. I want to know Him better. If you love somebody, you should want to know what they think, say, and feel. Otherwise, the emotion would be very shallow. Where will this lead me? I don’t know, but I want to walk more closely to Him. I hope that doesn’t mean I’m being too self-focused, -centered, -obsessed. Jesus gave a summary in the two great commandments, but I feel so ignorant of so much that is important to Him. I’d like to understand the holidays. I’d like to understand a lot that seems left in the dark by some shepherds. So, I’m here. Good article.
a) Have you experienced unwise examples of mixing Torah-practice with Christian faith (such as the “biblical diet” books)? What has been your experience? (Be charitable, don’t gossip about specific people please).
I think I know the biblical diet books you speak of, however, they’ve never been a “definitive guide” to me. I think the biggest thing I’ve seen with Torah/Christian practice has been the dichotomy of keeping “only” the Torah, vs. “All that Jewish extra stuff.” I mentioned to another messianic friend once that I found it hard to have a Shabbat dinner every week, and she kind of went, “oh, *winkwink* we don’t do that, we just rest on Saturday.” I didn’t understand at first, but I sort of deduced that she thought the stuff I was aiming for (prayers, candles, challah) was too Jewish, and “extra”. And it made me feel… weird. Like, maybe I was trying to be something I’m not? Maybe I shouldn’t be having dinner, just “resting”? But what is the harm in having dinner with candles, prayers, and challah on Fridays? I’m not sure if this is what you were getting at, but it’s part of what’s started me on this whole search for more understanding, more meaning.
b) Do you think I am overstating the need for a connection to the people of Israel as part of growing on Torah-practice? If so, why? Not at all. I subscribe to Olive Tree Theology, and I believe that Israel is at the core of my “Christian” faith. You said it better than I could (it’s late, and I’m not so eloquent, but I agree wholeheartedly.)
d) Are you non-Jewish? What draws you to Torah? What are some reasons and some blessings you have discovered? I grew up in a Messianic synagogue, and I also grew up in a Baptist church. When I was older, I left the church to live a totally Messianic lifestyle. What drew me was all these connections that made me goosebumpy when I understood them. I feel like the worship experience I got in the Messianic congregation was more authentic- this comes not only from an emotional standpoint, but a theological one as well- than the one I got in church. I feel that when Jesus came to earth, He was trying to establish something much more like our current Messianic movement than the churches and denominations we have today. My understanding is that Torah is for all believers, not just the Jews (though for the Jews first, as it says, “To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.”) However, it’s not a hard and fast conclusion, which is why I’m here at your blog, reading and commenting. (And feeling a bit vulnerable, as my faith isn’t something I talk about a lot, especially in such a public way.)
(a) If non-Jews are going to follow Torah, your instinct is right, it should be followed with the Jewish people and not according to what a friend calls “silly, self-made Torah observance.” Your friend has not thought deeply about the commandments regarding Sabbath. We are to sanctify it. The Jewish community has decided to sanctify it with candle lighting and blessings. The exception to the general statement that “gentiles who keep Torah should do it the Jewish way” is that occasionally some modifications of prayers and traditions are needed so a gentile is not claiming Jewish identity.
(d) I would like to gently challenge the statement that “Messianic Judaism is more authentic” or “like what Yeshua planned to build when he came.” MJ should not be thought of as a “back to the foundations” movement. It is not about “going back to the first century.” A little humor: first century disciples didn’t have indoor plumbing; will people try to go back to that too. I’ll be brief: MJ is about Jewish people worshipping as Jews and following Messiah and it also includes non-Jews who wish to be part of what God is doing amongst the Jewish people. Let me also say: Jewish covenantal signs are not something the church needs to follow and the churches have no need to follow Jewish customs but are free to develop their own (as they have done).
I’ve enjoyed this article very much and plan on reading the rest in the series. Many thoughts and concerns come to mind about the way my family and I have been practicing Torah. Our Torah walk is not uncommon; like many others in this path, we began looking for a more Biblical life style (including a “Biblical diet”, the no pork and no shrimp deal), and as we found the Hebrew roots of our Christian faith, discovered Torah was not abolished, so we implemented more and more Torah into our lives (including Jewish distinctions), thus separating from the Christian community so much that eventually we found ourselves walking on a very lonely road. Fortunately, today and thanks to FFOZ’s humble shift, we have slowly come to recognize the difference between Jew and Gentile and don’t feel threatened by it or like second class citizens. We are renewing our relationship with the Church and continue to observe as much Torah as it is possible, even the commandments applicable to Jews, but in a discreet and respectful manner.
However, I do not know if it is a matter of conscience or just a matter of having gotten used to this lifestyle, but I do not see myself eating pork or shrimp again.
I’ll keep on reading this series as I said in the beginning and look forward to learning much much more. Thank you for sharing your insights and wealth of knowledge with us.
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