One Law, Obligation & Distinction

Contrary to much of the propaganda within Hebrew Roots Christianity, the majority position of the Church throughout history has always been that the moral imperatives of God’s Law apply universally to all believers. While Luther produced a movement that introduced a strong dichotomy between Law and Grace, the overwhelming majority of Christians continued to insist that the third and primary use of the Law was to instruct believers in the proper way of living, to aid them in more closely reflecting God’s image. Only since the advent of dispensationalism did the idea that the Law has actually been annulled gain any popular consensus.

Much of the discussion surrounding whether we have an "obligation" to obey the Law focuses on whether we ought to condemn or judge those who strive to keep God’s laws differently than do we. Concerns over whether the law is legitimately split into civil, ceremonial, and moral categories are likewise often misdirected, though some have undoubtedly misused this conversation. The reality today, is that God does not consider those imperatives of the Mosaic Code that can be accurately described as pertaining to civil issues as binding on any secular government. Similarly, without a functioning Temple, without a ritually pure Aaronic priesthood, etc. no ceremonial imperatives regarding the practice of Temple-worship are presently applicable. So if, a Christian asserts, as does the London Baptist Confession of 1689,

The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

we ought to heartily agree with them. They may define the contents of the “moral law” differently than do we, but that is a variance you will find among every believing community everywhere.

In reaction to struggles with the term "obligation" and with faulty human practice, some have recently suggested that while God holds his Jewish children to a standard of obligation regarding His Law, he does not oblige His Gentile children to the same standard of righteousness. While the specific demands of the law clearly vary based on sex, geography, time, sometimes even ethnicity, God’s general demand of obedience to His Law is universal and does not vary based on ethnicity. The Scriptural distinction is one of application not of obligation. When it comes to covenant participation/obligation the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Peter was crystal clear:

“He [God] made no distinction between us and them,” (Acts 15:9a).

For sure, the demands of Torah differ depending on one’s relationship to Messiah, meaning that the “demand” of Torah to someone under the Old Covenant is condemning, while the “demand” of Torah to someone in the New Covenant is enlightening. I read somewhere recently that “Grace is the bridge from Law as mirror to Law as Lamp.” But still that obligation remains, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 15:10; Romans 13:9; 1 John 5:2; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6)

When it comes to an obligation to obey the eternal standard of God’s righteousness (Torah) all are on the hook; either to be condemned (if not in Messiah) or to be guided/instructed (if in Messiah), whether Jew/Gentile, Man/Woman makes no difference here… “all have sinned,” “be holy as I am holy,” these are universal indicators of obligation, reiterated to a mixed audience of Jew and Gentile in the New Testament lest we mistake their universal application.

The only proper distinction is secondary rather than primary. The motivation of the Apostles to mandate a grace-filled approach to law-keeping was practical (and an imitation of God’s approach), “tell the uneducated, new believers to be concerned with x,y,z.” These Acts 15 specifications for immediate observance would have prevented table fellowship, the common denominator of regular, daily life, and soon to be the central observance of the fledgling sect (after the destruction of the Temple).

The distinction the Apostles make between Gentile converts and Jewish believers doesn’t need to be “wrestled” with; it’s obvious. I expect my son to obey me in all things, yet I begin only with high-chair manners, and slowly add to the "burden" of obedience as his understanding progresses. When I say to my 1 year old, “eat your food” that does not mean I don’t also expect him to be kind to his sister as soon as he understands kindness, etc., etc.

Because I have a different standard of obedience for my 2-year-old than I do for my 9-year-old, does not mean that both are not obligated to obey.

To say, “we believe that God’s Law is still the binding and unchanging standard for the Jewish people,” is not scripturally accurate; it makes an unbiblical distinction that cannot be found in the apostolic writings. I believe that God’s Law is the binding and unchanging standard for His people, Jew and Gentile.

Now figuring out how to apply God’s Law in any given geographical or chronological place…that’s the topic of another post.

60 thoughts on “One Law, Obligation & Distinction

  1. The article uses the term “a grace-filled approach to law-keeping” which, of course, I believe to be an oxymoron. It’s the old “Grace gives us the power to keep the law” approach that I personally find unacceptable. The author also states that “Be holy as I AM holy” is a “are universal indicator of obligation.” Again, the implication here is that being in Christ gives me the power work toward holiness, rather than acknowledging that being in Christ IS my holiness. Jesus did not destroy the law, but in Christ, the law is completely and totally fulfilled. Grace, of course, in not fond of sin in any way, but it is through grace, establishing a love relationship with Christ, and allowing Him to be Himself through us, that behavior will be that which is Christ-like; not through trying to keep any law. I see no grace-based approach to law keeping, for grace and law are mutually exclusive.

  2. I’m so thankful for your reply, though I’m not sure I know you personally. I am filled with anticipatory delight as I contemplate the future of your walk with the Father.

    I hear what you are saying loud and clear, but I believe there’s another layer of comprehension awaiting your continued meditation upon the Scriptures. Would you allow me to attempt to point you in that direction?

    While I await your reply, I’ll leave you with one phrase to ponder: “Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort” – Dallas Willard

  3. I would be more than happy to hear your thoughts and insights. I have been an elder, co-pastor, worship leader, etc., etc., so these areas are certainly ones I have looked at for some time. But, life is a journey, not a destination, so I’m sure I can learn from your journey as well.

    I do disagree with the Dallas Willard quote. I believe grace is opposed to effort. Sometimes people think that means I believe a Christian just sits around and does nothing. That could not be further from the truth. I believe the great mystery, “Christ in you,” will produce fruit. But that fruit is not, in my estimation, the result of effort on my part. Whenever my behavior is amiss, if I address the behavior, I am likely to fail in changing it. Wrong behavior is always a symptom of wrong relationship. As I continue to address my relationship with Father, then I will see the desired change.

    I just wanted to give you a little more of where I am coming from, partially so we don’t have to disagree over things we may very well agree on. I look forward to you insights.

  4. Concerning “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” I would say that that is a statement of inevitable consequence. Not a command. The WWJD approach is not the best way to go. With “Christ in you,” the question is not how best to keep commandments. It’s not “what would Jesus do.” It’s “What is Jesus doing.” As I allow Christ to be Himself through me, I need not be concerned about law-keeping.

  5. @ Dan, thanks for waiting so long =)

    @ lifewalkblog

    We agree that WWJD is not the best way to go; if you’re waiting to ask “what would Jesus do?” in the moment…it’s too late. You need to live as Jesus lived/would live, so that responding as he would respond is instinctive.

    The reality is, however, that while Christ work has made it positionally true that we are a new creation, and that “you really are unleavened”, Paul still feels compelled to preface that reality with the injunction, “Cleanse out the old leaven…”

    I drove back from meetings in Indy today to home in Ft. Wayne through blizzard-like conditions; I was surrounded and upheld by grace the entire trip, indeed, I suspect there may even have been angels keeping my wheels on the road from time to time. However, that grace-infused trip was not without considerable effort on my part, and I was guided and protected by the laws of safe driving passed along to me by my father.

    Should I have been a law-breaker, one of the multitude of police that were safe-guarding the highway would have rightfully condemned me, but as someone declared guiltless (in this case by my own action which breaks the analogy, but the overall message is still valid) the law(s) were a great blessing and guide to me.

    J.I. Packer put it this way:

    “the love-or-law antithesis is false, just as the down-grading of law is perverse. Love and law are not opponents but allies, forming together the axis of true morality. Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love (Christian agape as well as sexual eros) is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.”

    (J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 232.

  6. I do not believe that the love-or-law antithesis is false. Yes, To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it, but, again, Christ in me knows how, and I can let my relationship with Him bring forth that fruit. It seems we are, or soon will be, just going back and forth, stating revisions of what we’ve already said. I certainly respect you and your journey. Sometimes we will just plain disagree. And I’m OK with that.

  7. >>and I can let my relationship with Him bring forth that fruit<<

    A multitude of Christians are laying by the wayside after saying the same words……Since "Christ in you" is still telling you "not a lot or a tittle….."

  8. “majority position of the Church throughout history has always been that the moral imperatives of God’s Law apply universally to all believers.”

    Correct, Nate. However, not all of G-d’s Law (Torah) applies equally to all types of believers.

    “I believe that God’s Law is the binding and unchanging standard for His people, Jew and Gentile. ”

    Again correct, but Torah differentiates between different types of people and circumstances, and so must we. It certainly places different obligations on Jews and Gentiles (as it does on men and women, etc). It’s not to say that Gentiles are without G-d’s Law and can do whatever they want. Not at all – many of the commandments in the Torah are universal to all mankind and preceded Mosaic Law (which is obligatory on Jews only).

    “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole Torah.” (Galatians 5:3)

    What is the reverse of that?

    Any man who is NOT circumcised (and we are not talking medical circumcision here) is NOT obligated to obey the whole Torah.

    This was addressed specifically to Gentile followers of Yeshua and not some unbelieving pagans who were just learning about the G-d of Israel and his salvation through his Son. Whether or not the overall context of the text is “salvation through works of the law,” the very fact that Gentiles are discouraged from circumcision (something that Shaul/Paul never would say to a Jewish audience) is a good indication that Gentile obligation to Torah is quite different from that of Jews. Certainly, the scriptures make such distinction.

  9. Nate, I saw this just after you posted it but haven’t had a chance to read it until now. I’m blessed by the thoughts you shared here, thank you.

    Blessings to you and your family ~

  10. The Scriptures do make distinctions, but secondary ones only, not a primary distinction. Primarily speaking, the Scriptures say, “He [God] made no distinction between us and them,” (Acts 15:9a).

    But certainly there are distinctions between men and women, between children and adults, between citizen and foreigner, etc. However, to say that the Mosaic Law is obligatory on Jews only makes too much of the natural specificity of all law codes, and stretches Scripture beyond credulity.

    If you want to use Gal 5:3 in the fashion you do above, then you must also admit that accepting circumcision (non-medical) makes Messiah of no benefit to you (Gal 5:2), and separates you from Messiah (Gal 5:4). I’m confident this is not what you believe, so let’s not twist that passage beyond it’s clear contextual intent.

    If one looks to law-keeping (summarized by “circumcision” here) for justification, then one is obligated to obey the whole Torah for that justification, Messiah is made of no benefit to you, and you are severed from Him.

    Galatians 5:2-4 (ESV)

    “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”

  11. First: Nate, I appreciate your blog, and the irenic spirit in which you conduct conversations. It’s an example to all of us. Now, to my humble comment:

    > “He [God] made no distinction between us and them,” (Acts 15:9a).

    I’m not opposed to prooftexts, but I wonder if you might acknowledge the possibility that you are overgeneralizing this verse? When I read it, I see an immediate context qualifying this statement:

    “And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8-9)

    “He made no distinction between us and them”…with regards to the (recent) giving of the Holy Spirit. If you are applying the “no distinction” more broadly then that, then here’s a question: what’s to prevent the “no distinction” claim in Acts 15:8-9 from expanding to the point of conflicting with the passages in the OT (Ex. 19:5-6, Amos 3:2a) which state emphatically that God made a distinction between Israel and the nations?

  12. Nate wrote:

    > If you want to use Gal 5:3 in the fashion you do above,
    > then you must also admit that accepting circumcision
    > (non-medical) makes Messiah of no benefit to you
    > (Gal 5:2), and separates you from Messiah (Gal 5:4).

    Actually, Nate, I believe Gene’s way of reading Galatians 5 inherently solves this problem. In the interest of helping one person (Nate) understand another person (Gene), I’ll have a go at laying it out:

    If
    (A) there is a Biblical distinction between Israel (circumcised) and the nations (uncircumcised), and
    (B) Paul does maintain this distinction, and
    (C) Paul’s Galatian audience is composed of uncircumcised members,

    then

    (D) it’s possible that Paul’s statements in Galatians 5:2-4 apply to the specific situation of Paul’s (uncircumcised) addressees, and don’t generalize to circumcised people.

    In other words, your statement becomes “accepting circumcision (non-medical) would make Messiah of no benefit to [Paul’s Gentile/uncircumcised addressees], and would separate [them] from Messiah.” Thus, this text doesn’t pose Gene (or the many others who read the passage as he does) a problem.

    I’m trying to show that Gene’s reading isn’t “twisting that passage beyond its clear contextual intent,” but actually is pretty dependent on the passage’s context. Nate, please let me know if this makes things clearer, and Gene, feel free to correct me if I’ve misrepresented your view.

  13. Yahnatan, I think you relayed my view succinctly.

    In Galatians, Shaul makes further statements to his Gentile audience, statements that are totally inconsistent with the One-Law belief that a Gentile follower of Yeshua is to be slowly eased into being Torah observant, or as Nate puts it in his post, “slowly add to the “burden” of obedience as his understanding progresses. ”

    “Tell me, you who want to be under the Torah, are you not aware of what the Torah says?” (Galatians 4:21)

    The above tells me that his Gentile audience was not composed of biblically ignorant, recently-converted pagans who were in need of further Torah education in synagogues (common One-Law interpretation of Acts 15). Quite the opposite, these particular Gentiles were already quite aware of “what the Torah says”.

    At the same time, for Shaul to say the same thing to Jewish believers is not only unthinkable, it would contradicts his own earlier actions when it came to Jewish observance of the Torah. In my mind, it can only be explained by the fact that Jewish and Gentile responsibility to the Torah is not only different, but that Gentiles are even to be discouraged from taking on the distinctly Jewish [Mosaic] covenantal responsibilities (as even the current practice in Judaism).

  14. Yahanatan,

    What does “fellow heirs” (Eph. 3:6) means to you? Some a little more heirs than the others?

  15. Dan Benzvi, you asked:

    > What does “fellow heirs” (Eph. 3:6) means to you?
    > Sare a little more heirs than the others?

    I think you’re asking me if I believe that some (i.e. Jews) are somehow MORE heirs than others (i.e. Gentiles). To that I respond according to what I think is the clear message of Eph. 2-3: ‘Gentiles have indeed been made fellow heirs together with Jews.’

    But to really dig into this, we need to talk about what we’re “fellow heirs” of–i.e. what we’re inheriting together–right? What do you think the heirs of Eph. 3:6 are inheriting, Dan?

  16. Yahnatan,

    The same food from the root of the olive tree? (Rom. 11). Does one kind of branch get more food than the other?

  17. Dan,
    If you’re suggesting that what the “fellow heirs” of Eph. 3:6 inherit is the food from the root of the olive tree, I’d reply that I suspect there’s a more direct answer within the context of Ephesians 3.
    Otherewise, I’m not following you. I’m sorry, but can you remind me what we’re talking about?

  18. Yahnatan,

    So one more time: What does “fellow heirs” mean to you?

    I thought in context that “..The same body and partakers of the promises…” does not leave room for bending the Scriptures…..

  19. Dan,
    Sorry, but I could still use a little more context.

    When you ask “What does ‘fellow heirs’ mean to you?”–are you responding to something specific in my previous posts?

    How do you think I’m bending the Scriptures?

  20. Yahnatan,

    I asked you a question, why is it that you cannot answer?

    Here it is the third time: What does “fellow heris” means to you? Just answer this, will you?

  21. Dan… OK, let’s get into the “heirs” thing. It has absolutely nothing do to with Torah observance, and certainly nothing do to with differences in observance between Jews and Gentiles.

    In 1 Peter 3:7 it also says that husband and wife are “heirs together” (or “fellow heirs”, in many translations).

    Your argue that Jews and Gentiles being fellow heirs means identical Torah obligations. I would venture to guess (although I’ve been surprised by you before) that even you probably would not argue that the fact that husband and wife are called “fellow heirs” gives them identical responsibilities before Torah as well, or would you?

  22. Gene,

    I thought you said that you don’t want to debate me, what change your mind? but if you do, you owe me some answers for many previous challenges you refused to answer. so until you do that brother, I will not jump from blog to blog with you only for you to drop the discussion when you are out of answers, OK?

  23. “…you owe me some answers for many previous challenges you refused to answer. so until you do that brother, I will not jump from blog to blog with you only for you to drop the discussion when you are out of answers, OK?”

    Dan, I’ve answered whatever previous “questions” you may be referring to fully. You not being satisfied with my answers and going around in circles repeating “you didn’t answer my question” (just as you’ve done with Yahnatan above), doesn’t not constitute a non-answer on my part.

    Perhaps my 1 Peter 3:7 “fellow heirs” comparison has you stumped, and that’s the real reason for your hesitancy?

    Whatever the case, may be someone else can evaluate my “heirs” point vs Dan’s claims.

  24. Dan,
    To respect Nate’s request, I would be happy to take our discussion of Ephesians 3:6ff offline. You can direct message me at twitter.com/yahnatan or email me via http://sites.google.com/site/jlasko/.

    Nate, thanks for keeping things on track. I do wonder whether you had any thoughts in response to my posts on the Acts 15:9a, or Gene’s reading of the Galatians passage?

  25. Yahnatan,

    My use of Acts 15:9a would be vulnerable to accusation of “prooftexting” were it not for the significance of the giving of the Holy Spirit.

    How to limit the scope of that lack of distinction? I’m thinking about it…

  26. Nate,
    I agree with you that this verse has to do with the significance of the giving of the Holy Spirit; that is what I believe verse 9a is referring to. In other words: “he made no distinction between us and them…WITH RESPECT TO the giving of the Holy Spirit.” (i.e. “he gave it to us, and he gave it to them.”)
    I don’t read it as “He made it SO THAT THERE IS no distinction between us and them…BY the giving of the Holy Spirit.” Is that perhaps the difference in how we’re reading it?
    (Sorry for the caps…not sure if em-tags work in these comments…test?)

  27. Yahnatan,

    Of course it means that he made no distinction as regards the giving of the Holy Spirit, but the giving of the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers also had significance of its own.

    The giving of the Holy Spirit was an undeniable proof of the full-blown participation of the Gentile believer/former God-fearer in the life of the people of God. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in tongues of flame, a clear signal that this was a sequel to Sinai, when the Lord’s words to Israel were visible in tongues of flame, and when (at least according to tradition, tradition that all present would have been familiar with) the voice of the Lord was heard in all 70 languages.

    The giving of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ house, replete with tongues of flame again, was clear evidence that the God-fearers were included in the Sinai transaction, “we will do and we will hear”, etc.

  28. Yahnatan,

    what’s to prevent the “no distinction” claim in Acts 15:8-9 from expanding to the point of conflicting with the passages in the OT (Ex. 19:5-6, Amos 3:2a) which state emphatically that God made a distinction between Israel and the nations?

    You lost me on that one, my friend. I just don’t get the drive to preserve such a demarcation. It can’t work both ways…the believing from the nations are adopted just as Israel after the flesh was adopted, and now comprise Israel after the Promise.

    Adding to a family by virtue of adoption does not eliminate the uniqueness possessed by the family. To quote St. Paul, “those who believe are the sons of Abraham.” There is no threat of conflict by allowing that God made no distinction between his firstly adopted and secondly adopted children.

  29. Nate:

    You wrote: “The giving of the Holy Spirit at Cornelius’ house, replete with tongues of flame again, was clear evidence that the God-fearers were included in the Sinai transaction, ‘we will do and we will hear,’ etc.”

    I couldn’t find the tongues of flame in Acts 10. Neverthless, this is very informative to me–I’m familiar with the Sinai connection to Acts 2, but I hadn’t heard that expanded to Acts 10 + 15:9a the way you have. Thanks for enlightening me on how you read it.

  30. Indeed, it seems that while they spoke in tongues (which seems to be associated with the visual of tongues of fire) that the tongues of flame were provided by my memory.

    As I contemplated where that memory came from I believe it is actually from the illustration in a children’s bible story book that I read to my kids.

    Still, based on Peter’s words we can assume that it was probably a very similar circumstance to Pentecost:

    “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10:44-47 (ESV)

  31. This subject is one that my wife and I are passionate about and as filmmakers we are working on a documentary/web series about it. We hope that the project will help to bring unity and healing between Jews and Gentiles within the Messianic movement.

    I see a lot of the same players on various Messianic forums as of late debating the issue of whether Gentiles should or shouldn’t observe the Torah.

    My understanding of this issue becomes more cut and dry when I ask this question: What is sin? What is repentance? It helps me rather than trying to figure out who is a Jew and who is a gentile. It lets the Word of God define for me what is required rather than looking at ethnicity.

    For the most part, many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the greater body of Messiah seem to agree that sin is violating all of God’s law. So when I debate the issue cordially with them, I point out the various Scriptures in the New Testament which confirm that.

    So I think the crux of the issue that causes such division in the MEssianic movmenet is that some of our well meaning Messianic brothers and sisters (as well as some in greater Body of Messiah) have thought of Torah as defining Jewish Identity rather than looking at Torah as God’s standard of right and wrong for all mankind and God’s way of defining “Sin”. So I believe it is viewed in that way rather than seeing Jewish identity as an expression of ethnic issues (like foods, music) and traditions.

  32. “Jewish identity as an expression of ethnic issues (like foods, music) and traditions.”

    Tom, it’s funny you should put it this way, because it’s quite ironic and smacks of being disingenuous. Why do I say this?

    Because in your own “Grafted In” video preview (found on your website) the very first thing you do is show a Gentile couple having a “Jewish wedding” in a church! This Gentile couple is shown as emulating the Jewish ethnic [the Ashkenazi variety] wedding traditions, customs, items, and dress, the very things which are suppose to really express the Jewish identity according to you [rather than the supposedly “neutral” Torah commandments and observances, which you claim should not be used to define the Jewish identity, since they are, again according to you, are universal for all, Jews and Gentiles).

    What say you?

  33. Hi Gene,

    I appreciate your thoughts and input and taking the time to watch the preview to my film. You do make some good points and raise some good questions as to what I’m saying here vs what is happening in the preview. I did my best to try to make it as non conflicting as possible because I’m trying to showcase the conflict as peacefully as possible to avoid unnecessary strife.

    The footage of the Gentile couple participating in the Jewish wedding is actually footage of my wife and I in the mid 1990s when we first embraced Messianic Judaism and knew very little of what it means to observe the Torah/God’s Commandments. The footage actually showcases the contrast and confusion of Gentiles starting to act like Jews. So at the time that this footage takes place, it shows how my wife and I began in this movement believing that we were called to Messianic Judiasm as a witness to Jewish people toward receiving Messiah and couldn’t tell the difference between tradition or Torah. We were embracing Judaism and yet we weren’t Jewish. It did create a lot of confusion for us. It was not until after sometime around 2002 or 2003 or even 2004 after moving to North Carolina that we began to look at things from the perspective of an actual differentiation between God’s Law and Traditions In other words I began to realize that sin means to violate Torah and Repentance means to turn to it. And that violating traditions was not a sin. I see no other evidence to support anything else in Scripture. When I began to see things that way, I began to understand better what it means to live right not necessarily to be Jewish.

    So as to where I’m at now. I still see value in participating in some of the Jewish traditions which is especially of great value to my children when teaching them Torah, but these do not give me an identity and nor does violating them mean that I have sinned against God’s commandments. My identity is in Messiah and through Abraham my father. I consider myself MEssianic but try not to call myself Messianic Jewish to others. However I still look like a Jew to many of my friends since I do my best to follow Torah out of love for Messiah and that’s how they see Jewish people. So that creates addiitional identity problems to those who don’t know what’s going on.

    I hope that you understand that my heart is toward unity here and not toward division. My heart is to get Messianics on all sides to lay down their guns and for Jewish Believers to understand what struggles Gentiles are going through when they come into Messianic Judaism. Gentiles are thrown around in a lot of directions because of all the various conflicting theologies. But I also want to showcase why Jewish believers like yourself are struggling and why you are upset about it. I hope you can see that I’m not here to beat you up, my friend.

    Shalom,
    Tom

  34. Tom,

    I understand that you’re seeking unity. That’s good. We as Messianic Jews are also seeking unity with our Gentile brothers and sisters. But I can tell you this one thing: it will not come at the expense of our relationship and unity with a far wider a Body of Messiah found in those Gentile followers of Yeshua who call themselves “Christians.”

    We, as Jewish followers of Messiah (and I think it’s safe for me to freely speak for the great majority of us), reject the theology and ideology that teaches that G-d has obligated Gentiles to follow all the laws and the observances of the Mosaic covenant as given to Israel. We do so because it’s both unscriptural and damaging to true unity of Jews and Gentiles in G-d’s Assembly. I speak of the fruit: wherever the One-Law theology has taken hold (or its Two-House sister), it caused great strife and division not only between Jews and Gentiles, but also between Gentile followers of Yeshua as well.

    Messianic Judaism is a Jewish space first and foremost, a space that exists to minister to the unique spiritual needs of Jewish believers. At the same time, we welcome Gentiles in our midst, because we believe that it’s the right thing to do and they are our brothers and sisters, and Yeshua himself would welcome them. However, many [but certainly not all] Gentiles come into Messianic Judaism for very wrong reasons and it probably would have been best if they remained part of Gentile churches.

    Let me illustrate and I speak as the one with hands-on ongoing experience of running a fairly large Messianic Jewish synagogue. Some come just for the new and exciting worship experience (they like the “Messianic” songs and Pentecostal so called “Davidic” dancing that some MJ congregations promote as Jewish). They do not see the vision of Messianic Judaism and are there for the new worship high. Many non-Jews come because they are former members of World Wide Church of God or the Adventist Church – meaning that have already been indoctrinated with some variant of the One-Law teaching and now they found a place to justify it. Some come because they liked to have the ears tickled and ate up the Two-House doctrine that teaches that most Gentile believers are actual physical “lost tribes of Israel.” Many have been exposed to One-Law teachings through the ministry of FFOZ, an organization that pioneered it (and since repented of it!) Many Gentiles simply assume Jewish identity because they like to be “chosen,” or because they “found” some surname in their family tree that “sounds Jewish”. They adopt Hebrew names, engross themselves in Jewish ritual and are not very forthcoming about their non-Jewish identity but present themselves as “Jews” to everyone (including unbelieving Jews).

    What is the right reason for a Gentile believer to want to be part of Messianic Judaism? First of all, the Gentile believer must share the primary vision [there are secondary ones too, of course) of Messianic Judaism – to proclaim to the Jewish people that their Messiah and His Kingdom has come, through word and deed. Second, for the acute need for Jewish believers to live and worship as Jews as well as for our synagogues to be welcoming and recognizably Jewish spaces for those Jews who do not yet believe in Yeshua. We are to reach out to non-Jews as well, but certainly not with a message of the observance of “Mosaic Law”. It’s a stumbling block and a distraction.

  35. Gene,

    Thanks for sharing. I believe that embracing the Torah as the standard does not mean that we have to cut off the church. Heaven forbid.

    This does speak to my heart what you’ve written:

    “We as Messianic Jews are also seeking unity with our Gentile brothers and sisters. But I can tell you this one thing: it will not come at the expense of our relationship and unity with a far wider a Body of Messiah found in those Gentile followers of Yeshua who call themselves “Christians.”

    It is so true what you’re seeing as some folks who embrace the Torah think that the Church is evil and they are ready to beat up their Christian brothers and sisters with smoking guns. This is especially true for some Gentile believers who come to the Torah.

    Again, I do not believe in cutting off Christian brothers and sisters. I am actually very active in a Christian filmmaking community online and have debated cordially and discussed with many brothers and sisters there my passion for Torah and have respected their positions and passion as well. I work with other Christians and fellowship with them and have good relationships with pastors and other believers. I do not believe in cutting them off from fellowship even when there are disagreements in doctrine over the standard of God’s Law nor do I believe in living on an island. I believe we have a lot more in common and can work together in that truth. I honestly love these folks and many others like them and they minister to me and I am challenged and inspired by them and I believe that they love me equally.

    But that does not mean that we should throw out the baby with the bath water either. The answer for me has been to exercise the grace that has been given to me.

    My love for Torah has not caused me to condemn Christians actually. It has caused me to love them more. I know I was where they are, and I don’t say this in a super spiritual manner. I mean it. My love for Torah means that I fall short all the more as I am just learning and in a lifelong process of repenting (not a one day thing) and thus I extend the grace that the Father gives to me in my shortcomings.

    Because many of my Christian brothers and sisters believe the standard of right and wrong does not include the higher standard of all of the Torah, I have found myself understanding how high the bar really is and thus need more grace, so why should I not extend it to them, if I need that grace myself.

    See all this stuff about condemning the church is all about a grave sin called pride that I have seen all around me in the Messianic movement over the years.

    And truly my wife and I are not going to stop with the Messianic movement in our film. We are also looking to show how the Father is moving in Christian organizations as well and how some are beginning to understand and embrace the Hebrew roots of the faith.

    I see God moving beyond our denomination of Messianic movement. I truly see the Torah going forth from Zion to the world.

  36. Gene,

    I am sorry that you have had to deal with difficult people and situations, but surely the things you have experienced are not the fault of a “theology” or “belief system?” I think the problem lies with human nature, not with any system of belief that anyone has. Indeed, the problem also is spiritual immaturity. The Messianic movement is very young in many respects and has attracted numbers of disgruntled people whose point of reference is negative and that’s what they bring to the movement. I think people need to be properly taught and encouraged in their spiritual growth, but to say that the problems stem from a particular belief system, well then every belief system in this world is wrong and at fault, as each one has people who reflect badly on it.

  37. “…surely the things you have experienced are not the fault of a “theology” or “belief system?” I think the problem lies with human nature, not with any system of belief that anyone has.”

    Lori, no theology (or ideology) can spring out of a vacuum. Belief systems are produced by people who use them to advance whatever their cause happens to be.

    The belief system that I am referring to in this case is called “One-Law”. It was created and propagated by people with theological degrees, individuals that I would not call spiritually immature.

    You can read more about this theology from it’s formerly biggest promoter (and probably even the originator of it’s current form) and about how they realized that they need to get things right, the FFOZ: http://ffoz.org/blogs/2009/09/one_law_in_context.html

  38. Gene, while you disagree with this perspective on Gentiles and the Law, do you believe those that disagree in this issue can still work together on issues that they do have in common in the Messianic Movement or do you believe it is too divisive?

    I want you to know I appreciate your thoughts and sharing your experience as a leader in a congregation and taking the time to share.

    Thanks again and shalom,
    Tom

  39. Tom, again, I appreciate the motivation behind your seeking peace and dialog. I do believe in INTRAfaith (with Yeshua being the common denominator) dialog, especially in the light of FFOZ’s turnaround, which gave me some hope of future much wider clearing up the murky waters.

    However, I want to be upfront with you. The movement that I recognize as ‘Messianic” is the Messianic Jewish Movement. Any “judaism” or “messianic” establishment that is detached from Jewish leadership and opposes the explicit vision of the Jewish leadership is a non-starter in my book.

  40. Gene,

    I agree that no theology or ideology springs from a vacuum, but nevertheless, people who are using their belief system just to promote their cause would be wrong, in my opinion. We should hold to a belief system such as “one law” because we believe it to be true to what God’s Word teaches.

    I am very familiar with “one law” theology and the ministry of FFOZ. I know from firsthand experience with FFOZ that they have never taught the kind of problem attitudes that you are describing above. FFOZ taught “one law” in the past, with grace and room to grow in understanding. The “one law” teachers I know have never taught people to be divisive, argumentative, contentious or any other negative adjective that could be inserted. The message itself is not the problem – it is people who have taken that message and acted in a way that dishonors it.

  41. That One-Law theology has been very divisive is evidenced in facts on the ground, the fruit that it produced (regardless of what some teachers may have intended). Even FFOZ themselves canceled their UMJC membership at one point and severed much of the contact with the mainstream Messianic Jewish world because they didn’t agree with UMJC’s opposition to One-Law theology.

    However, what do you think about the FFOZ’s change of heart regarding One-Law, especially in the light of the fact that they were, if not the very originators, the foremost promoters of the theology and creators of many of its arguments, by their own admission ( http://ffoz.org/blogs/2009/09/the_lone_voice_of_ffoz.html )?

    Why not accept their renewed scholarship now?

  42. Dan, are you’re implying that divisions triggered by theology that teaches that Gentiles are obligated to observe the Mosaic covenant (or any other secondary theology, for that matter) are somehow on the same level as divisions and persecutions [to the point of death] that people have experienced over the upholding the very Messiahship of Yeshua?

  43. “We, as Jewish followers of Messiah (and I think it’s safe for me to freely speak for the great majority of us), reject the theology and ideology that teaches that G-d has obligated Gentiles to follow all the laws and the observances of the Mosaic covenant as given to Israel. We do so because it’s both unscriptural and damaging to true unity of Jews and Gentiles in G-d’s Assembly. I speak of the fruit: wherever the One-Law theology has taken hold (or its Two-House sister), it caused great strife and division not only between Jews and Gentiles, but also between Gentile followers of Yeshua as well.”

    Gene, One Law theology is not unscriptural, it is not damaging to unity.

    As for fruit, this is also simply not true, though certainly many negative instances can be provided – though I only know of them second-hand – I have not found One-Law theology to be divisive and I could introduce you to scores of people for whom this is also true.

    FFOZ has always been right in their approach – divine invitation – but they have mis-stepped in their theological explanation for their approach, and the misstep is evidence of their theological young-ness (said with great love and personal relationship behind it).

    Also, I ought to double-check with Boaz, but if memory serves, it was not FFOZ who severed ties with the UMJC.

    I understand your points about Messianic Judaism…the real question is whether there truly is a place for a Messianic Judaism. I believe there is…so long as it’s made clear that Messianic Judaism is an alternative expression of Christianity, it’s a denomination-like. It is not an alternative to Christianity that also works to get you to heaven, and it’s not “the original.”

    Perhaps you’re freaking out right about now! 😉 I should probably temper that last paragraph with some explanation. The real problem at hand is one of identity.

    So long as Gentiles (or Jews for that matter) consider themselves part of Messianic Judaism, as opposed to part of Christianity, there will continue to be problems with divisiveness, etc. The world needs a place for Jewish people to practice Christianity (i.e., the faith of those who believe in Yeshua as the Messiah of God) according to their cultural/ethnic context.

    However, so long as people (Jew or Gentile) have the attitude that Messianic Judaism is where the correct theology is, or the kind of attitude that presents itself in comments like, “I’m not a Christian, I’m a Messianic.”, we’ll keep having problems.

    Similarly, so long as Messianic Jewish folks believe that God gave them a light to carry into the world that He did not also give to His Gentile children…we’ll keep having problems.

    P.S.

    I am quite aware that historically-speaking Christianity was a Judaism. I am, however, also aware that for approaching 2000 years, “Christianity” has been the word that is used to refer to the faith of those who embrace Yeshua as Messiah, therefore I use it consistent with the time, place, and etymology of where we live. It is profoundly confusing (and I use “profoundly” because it goes beyond mental comprehension to “sub-conscious” influence) for Jew and Gentile to consider themselves part of “Judaism,” for that word also has close to 2000 years of semantic context behind it…and it hasn’t meant “Jesus-followers” for centuries.

    You would probably tell me that it is also very confusing for a Jewish person to think of themselves as a “Christian.” I can believe that–tragically there has been ample reason for this. Thus the need for Hebraic expressions of Christianity, and I can even sympathize with many of the motivations behind calling the movement Messianic Judaism. But, today, it is causing confusion. It’s not One Law theology that is causing the confusion; the confusion is an identity issue.

    However, I will definitely agree with you that many who have embraced One Law theology have brought their various issues and confusion along with them. There is a need for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness…hmm, sounds like a job for torah

  44. “I understand your points about Messianic Judaism…the real question is whether there truly is a place for a Messianic Judaism. I believe there is…so long as it’s made clear that Messianic Judaism is an alternative expression of Christianity, it’s a denomination-like. It is not an alternative to Christianity that also works to get you to heaven, and it’s not “the original.””

    Nate, of course, we already had a fun discussion on the above topic when you posted your “An Open Letter to Jewish Believers in Jesus” a while back:

    https://literaryjoe.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/an-open-letter-to-jewish-believers-in-jesus/

    At that time you said “Judaism refers to the spiritual descendants of those who chose to reconfigure their observance of the Torah WITHOUT Jesus…,” so it’s good to hear you now say “….[is] there truly is a place for a Messianic Judaism[?]. I believe there is…”

    Of course, you may know that the mainstream Messianic Jewish position doesn’t view Messianic Judaism as “better” than Christianity or our synagogues as superior to churches. It has certainly been my belief, as well as those of my colleagues, that Messianic Judaism is simply an expression of Yeshua-faith (a.k.a. The Way) specifically for the Jewish followers of Messiah, in solidarity with our people and continuity of Israel’s historic faith.

    We support Christianity, in it’s many expressions, as a primarily Gentile-developed and led non-Jewish expression of Yeshua faith that has indeed shown much good fruit over the two thousands years [in spite of some of the not so good things that may have been done in its name], and for that reason equally it is just as precious in G-d’s sight, warts and all.

  45. Shalom Gene,

    I hope you’ll permit me to ask you some questions based on your responses on this thread and others:

    What is your doctrinal position regarding these three elements of our faith?:

    a)How do you define The Law/The Torah?
    b) How do you define sin?
    c) How do you define repentance?

    Do you believe that The Torah is only relevant as expressed through Jewish Tradition or do you believe it is a “sin” for Jews to violate the Torah (as it seems is the position of FFOZ at this time and someone can correct me if I’m wrong because I’m not picking on FFOZ)?

    How do you see The Torah in relation to the life of a follower of Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile?

    I think if you help define for us what these things mean to you, it will better help folks to communicate with you on here.

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

    Shalom,
    Tom

  46. Tom, I’d be glad to answer your questions:

    “How do you define The Law/The Torah?”

    I define it as G-d’s instructions, commandments, and general standards for morality and holy living. It could be in a written form with many specific details addressed to a very specific nation and circumstances (as was done by Moses for Israel), or be more general and applicable to all (as given to Adam through Noah, even Abraham and as described in New Testament’s letters to Gentile congregations) and placed by G-d directly into the hearts of every single person on earth (Romans 2:14).

    “How do you define sin?”

    Violation of parts of G-d’s Law/Torah that are applicable to you. For example, according to the Mosaic Law for a Jew to eat meat that was found already dead [meaning there’s no certainty of how the animal was killed] would be sin, where as for a Gentile it would not be sin (nor did this all of a sudden become sin for a Gentile with the coming of Yeshua). (Deuteronomy 14:21).

    “How do you define repentance?”

    Acknowledging that one has violated G-d commandments that are applicable to oneself (sinning) , asking G-d for forgiveness for going against his standard and correcting one’s life so that on could avoid further sin.

    “Do you believe that The Torah is only relevant as expressed through Jewish Tradition or do you believe it is a “sin” for Jews to violate the Torah”

    The Torah that G-d has placed into the heart of every person (Romans 2:14) can be obeyed regardless of any traditions. Gentile believers, however, are free to create various traditions of their own (and they certainly have done just that).

    However, the Torah as given to Israel is a constitution for the nation of Israel and being a constitution it is usually observed through instructions and interpretation of the established Jewish leadership (Matthew 23:3) – without this leadership and it’s guidance there would be chaos, with everyone doing what’s right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). Gentile believers are not held accountable to Israel-specific regulations (they are not required to be circumcised, eat or drink kosher, observe Shabbat, observe Jewish holidays – Colossians 2:16 – but if they want to, they have freedom in those things).

    However, while violating G-d’s moral precepts would be sin, violating a tradition if it happens to violate G-d’s Torah is not a sin. That said, for a Jew living in a specific Jewish community to PURPOSELY and flauntingly violate an established Jewish tradition may indeed be a sin, if only because it causes needless offense to a fellow Jew and breaks an actual and very important commandment: “love your neighbor as yourself”.

    “How do you see The Torah in relation to the life of a follower of Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile?”

    I see G-d’s Torah as an eternal standard for holiness and instruction, but I believe in varying applicability of commandments depending on people and circumstances.

  47. Thanks, Gene for taking the time to answer my questions. So you would then consider yourself mostly in agreement with the current shift in doctrinal position at FFOZ?

  48. “So you would then consider yourself mostly in agreement with the current shift in doctrinal position at FFOZ?”

    Mostly, but not wholly. I appreciate their teaching ministry, but I still have my reservations about their continuing to encourage Gentiles to voluntarily observe the Mosaic Laws and all of the Jewish holy days, since I do not see the Apostles placing the same emphasis on these things for the Gentile believers (if anything, I see quite the opposite, in Acts 15. Galatians and especially in Colossians 2:16). One would think that if G-d really thought that for Gentiles to become Torah observant (Jewish / Mosaic Covenant observant – not the general standards of morality revealed by G-d to all mankind) was necessary or so very good for them, He would have revealed it to them through the Apostles.

  49. Hi Nate,

    Michael Millier here. I could have written this/your post..albeit not as articulately. Thank you for clarifying the matter of how we Gentiles are to obey the Torah. For me. For others. Wholly concur!

    Shalom from Manila,
    –Michael

  50. Hi again Nate. My family and I are still in the Philippines. The plan is (IM YIRTZEH HA-SHEM) to return stateside after my daughter graduates from high school this June. We intend (B’EZRAT HA-SHEM) to return to Athens, GA where I’ll hopefully find work and begin planting Messianic-flavored house churches throughout the American Southeast.

    What about you? How are things going with your family?…with your congregation and all?

    Shalom AKHI,
    –Michael

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