God’s Holy Days

It is worthwhile to ponder why God created set times for offering worship, appointed times for meeting together, regular appointments to celebrate, remember and anticipate His redemptive action in history. I suspect it has a lot to do with a strange turn of words in Exodus 24:3. The people of Israel stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, where Moses has gone up to meet with God, and now returns to share with the people God’s instructions for living, and they reply, “We will do and we will hear.”

“Practice is to Judaism what belief is to Christianity. That is not to say that Judaism doesn’t have dogma or doctrine. It is rather to say that for Jews, the essence of the thing is a doing, an action. Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver. (Indeed, Judiasm suggests that the repeating of the practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter’s faith will return.) This is perhaps best explained by a midrash (a rabbinic commentary on a biblical text). This midrash explains a curious turn of phrase in the Book of Exodus: “Na’aseh v’nishma,” which means “we will do and we will hear” or “we will do and we will understand,” a phrase drawn from Exodus 24, in which the people of Israel proclaim “All the words that God has spoken, we will do and we will hear.” The word order, the rabbis have observed, doesn’t seem to make any sense: How can a person obey God’s commandment before they hear it? But the counterintuitive lesson, the midrash continues, is precisely that one acts out God’s commands, one does things unto God, and eventually, through the doing, one will come to hear and understand and believe. In this midrash, the rabbis have offered an apology for spiritual practice, for doing.”[1]

One of the reasons liturgy, prayerbooks, and appointed times are so important to us is that they shepherd us through the ups and downs of a life filled with unknowns, with difficulties, with times that don’t make sense to us from our limited perspective. Not only do they root us in the practices that will envelop, guide and protect us, which will eventually shed light on precisely those things that perplex us, but they also work to remove from us the individuality so prevalent in North American Christianity.

When your doing is rooted in community—everyone I know and love is praying these prayers with me, my ancestors (spiritual and/or literal), my friends, my descendants will practice these same disciplines—it reminds that you are a part of something bigger than yourself and your obsessions. There are times when you benefit from the faith of those around you, even when you might not be sure if you could muster it up yourself. Indeed, Mark 2:5 tells us that it was due to the faith of his friends that Jesus healed the paralytic lowered down through the roof.

The Fall Festivals are upon us. To many Christians this is an unfamiliar phrase, yet what we often consider the Jewish holidays are never so called in Scripture. Rather, God declares: “These are My appointed times, the times of the LORD that you will proclaim as sacred assemblies” (Leviticus 23:2 HCSB). If, indeed, as Paul wrote in the letter to the believers in Ephesus we, “are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household” then it is fitting for us as “children of Abraham”[2] to join Israel in showing up for the appointments God has set.

No, we cannot completely fulfill these festivals, for each included sacrifices and offerings that were to be given at the Temple, yet we can observe and remember them, seeking to find in them the truths God intended for His people to recall and to inhabit.


[1] Lauren Winner. Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2003. pp. ix-x.

[2] Galatians 3:6-9

Nehemiah or Noah?

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Our country is burning; we ought to have this degree of urgency: the home (country) you live in is burning—not smoldering, burning.

If you don’t think so, read this article from the New York Times: Bigotry, the Bible and the Lessons of Indiana.  Note these frightening words, “…church leaders must be made to take homosexuality off the sin list.”  Did you catch that? Not ‘must be persuaded,’ but “must be made.” Compelled. Forced. Your children are already being labeled bigots; not will be some day—are now being ostracized and the society prepared to marginalize and eradicate them in the near future.

And it’s not as if this article is alone, nor even rare…this is the growing consensus—even amongst a rapidly growing number of Christians (and so-called Christians).

What must we do? First, we must recognize where we are, and just as importantly, how we got here. To that end, please read this article by Douglas Wilson: “Our Transgressive Daisy Chain.”

That article is a desperately needed call to clarity and to action. So what do we do?  I believe the best plan of action I’ve yet seen can be digested in the following series of articles (also a book) by Joel McDurmon: “Restoring American One County at a Time.”

The above should coalesce all faithful believers around this common cause. Listen! God will raise up either a Nehemiah or a Noah. Would you not rather see the walls rebuilt than the place destroyed?

Finally, note these words from the NYT article, “Then there’s the 2014 book “God and the Gay Christian” [sic] by Matthew Vines, who has garnered significant attention and drawn large audiences for his eloquent take on what the New Testament —which is what evangelicals draw on and point to — really communicates.”

Did you catch that? What is the real origin of the Church’s failure? The bifurcation of the Bible, and only by Recovering the Unity of the Bible will we be able to lay a foundation capable of bearing the load of the walls in such desperate need of repair.

How did the repair of Jerusalem’s walls begin? Nehemiah received a message similar to the one you’ve just read. “The remnant…is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

May we respond like Nehemiah:

“As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying…”O LORD GOD of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments… let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Nehemiah wept, mourned, prayed, and then took action. I have shown you a mirror, do not walk away and forget what you saw, but be a doer of the Word, not a hearer only.

Quiet mid-western town's girl's golf and softball coach tweets.

Identification With Messiah – Part 2: Sanctification of the Mundane

Delivered to the 2013 New England Messianic Conference

Did you realize your imagination is the seat of meditation? Yes, a sanctified imagination is the godly opposite of the practice of lust.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.”

Ephesians 5:1 (NIV84)

The picture that burns in my imagination and has become my favorite meditation on Ephesians 5:1 is this:

I first found the photo flipping through old albums of yellowing, rounded corner, 1970s pictures. And there was a photo of my dad and me. I must have been 3, perhaps 4, and there I was standing on the toilet seat, my Dad and I peering into a foggy mirror, our faces lathered with Barbasol, and in my hand an empty razor—one of the old-school disposable ones, with the twist up doors into which you place a new blade—and with which I was diligently scraping foam from my downy face, in imitation of my loving father, who was preparing for work, but took the time to empty his spare razor, to answer my questions, to lather my face, and to lift his son up next to him.

If Invitation to Imitation is the name of God’s discipleship program, then Sanctification of the Mundane is the title of His curriculum.

Thus far we’ve been talking about the big picture, the how we understand. What I would like to discuss now is more like the lacing up your shoes. It’s the effect that adopting an Invitation to Imitation viewpoint has and how (and why) it has it. I want to talk about why chicken wings and dish washing, lunch with a friend and prayer after meals can change the very course of your life.

I hope you’ll come away understanding the remarkable reality that God produces story-inspiring events from the seeming drudgery of day-to-day life.

Dallas Willard wrote, “I know of no current denomination or local congregation that has a concrete plan for teaching people to do “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”[1]

Spiritual formation (disciple-making, sanctification) is at the heart of the Church’s whole purpose for existence. “Our charge, given by Jesus himself, is to make disciples, baptize them, and teach these new disciples to obey his commands (Matt. 28:19-20).”[2]

We’ve declared that God’s purpose for all His people might accurately be called Invitation to Imitation. The pressing question now in need of attention is, how do we become faithful imitators?

The Lesson of the Desert Fathers

Let’s begin by considering the so-called “Desert Fathers.” Why would we consider them? Mostly because they lived in a time eerily similar to ours. Christians and the government had become confusingly intertwined. The state of the world they were brought up in was insanely anti-Christian, pagans resented the power of the Christian “voting block,” many Christians were so in name only, immorality was rampant, the state controlled people’s lives and more and more people depended on the state for their livelihood. Sound familiar? Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove describes the scenario well:

The desert monastics of the third and fourth centuries were not sure how to live faithfully as both citizens of heaven and citizens of the Roman Empire, but they knew they could not find their way by running from the root of temptation, which they located in their own hearts. Led by Abba Antony, they went into their cells and stayed for the purpose of doing battle with the demons of their day.[3]

The Desert monastics saw the practice of a righteous life as a cosmic struggle. Rejecting the constant temptations of the culturally “advanced” Roman society, the allure of “more,” the easy mobility of the Roman roads, the chasing of significance in the accumulation of stuff, power, friends, position, or pleasure the desert monastics moved to the borders of society in an effort to hear God’s voice and practice His ways.

After having been in his isolated place for some time St. Antony faced a barrage of despairing thoughts, accusing him of purposelessness, powerlessness and futility. He was overwhelmed by the seeming monotony of a simple life and cried out, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone. What shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?”

Perceiving no answer St. Antony was tempted to believe his prayers had gone unheard, when outside his hut Abba Antony saw a monk making rope, getting up to pray, sitting down to work again, then getting up again to pray. Then Antony heard the word of the Lord in his heart, and understood that he was watching an angel, sent in answer to his prayer. Turning to face St. Antony, the angel spoke, “Do this and you will be saved.”

Antony’s biographer, Athanasius, records another story of struggle, relating how when the holy man was viciously attacked by an aggressive demon Abba Anthony called on the name of Jesus and his attacker vanished. The story is compelling in its record of God’s intervening and powerful action on his beloved’s behalf, but also strikingly different from the previous anecdote. In the previous story God does not directly intervene but instead sends a very down-to-earth angel to offer an example. “Some battles, it seems, are ours to fight.”[4]

What are we to understand from these two stories? There are two ways in which God helps us: direct intervention and the practice of His prescribed rhythms. We often long for, and perhaps clamor for, a quick fix, and God responds by giving us work to do. A rhythm of prayer and labor that saves our souls; rarely like a SWAT team, though God does have one—even they can be delayed:

Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.

The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me…. Again one having the appearance of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly loved, fear not, peace be with you; be strong and of good courage.” And as he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me. Daniel 10:12-19 (ESV)

Conversion is a process, we are re-made as we work out the salvation we’re given “with fear and trembling.”

The argument of my previous session was essentially that all believers, by basis of their very acceptance of the Gospel, share the same unchanging standard, primary identity, and corporate mission. The following quote from Dr. Elmer Martens summarizes this point well:

The gift of the promise was received in faith (Gen 15:6) and issued in righteousness. Similarly, the Torah, God’s grace gift, when embraced by faith issued in righteousness (Rom 9:30-31). Clearly Jesus Christ, when received as God’s gift through faith, brings righteousness (Gal 3:26; Rom 10:9-10). The principle of faith-response to God (namely, orienting oneself totally to God via his gift) remains unchanged. The faith-response is essentially an embrace of God; more specifically, it is an embrace of his gifts, be they promise, Torah, or Christ. To embrace the Torah is also to embrace the promise; to embrace Christ is to embrace the preceding gifts of promise and Torah. It is this recognition that gives to law an abiding ethical claim on the believer.[5]

I also mentioned that Anglicanism’s via media was a major attraction for me, due to its insistence on keeping the main things the main thing.

Focus on the Primary Issues First

Listen, I’m not a dispensationalist but I sure do appreciate how they prioritize the place of Israel in God’s redemptive plan. I’m not an Arminian, but I dig their emphasis on personal holiness. I’m not a pacifist but I’m thankful for their reminder that peace is integral to the Kingdom of God. I’m not a Calvinist, but I rely upon the pre-suppositional apologetics that was their gift to Christian thinking. I’m not a liberal but they are correct that God cares about the deprived and the marginalized, and so should we. I’m not a fundamentalist, but I sure do admire how unashamed they are to be different from the world.

We all share a strong desire to be part of the group that has it right, don’t we? It would be so reassuring to find oneself part of the universal group that has it all figured out and whose theology is completely biblical. I must report to you, however, that I’ve been on a sort of life-long tour of Christian groups and while I’ve found something to appreciate everywhere I’ve been, no one had it completely right.

Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, is too often dismissed for its simplicity, but I’ll never forget at least one thing he wrote:

“Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is evidence of immaturity. On the other hand, settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency. Maturity is living with the tension.”[6]

Come back to that…it’s worth chewing on. I think it’s a normal part of human nature to want to resolve tension. We don’t want to live in some in-between-No-Man’s Land, so in our efforts to figure things out we tend to fall into one of two different mistakes. We either try to bring about now what God intends for the future, or we throw up our hands because we know it won’t be perfect till Messiah returns, and we do nothing (or give only token efforts).

When one considers all the various Christian groups it seems that God has managed to have all of His personality on display somewhere, in some corner of Christianity. On the other hand, each and every group seems to have at least one detail misapprehended. I’m increasingly suspicious that God has done this intentionally.

It often seems as if those who are willing to take radical action to correct real errors or to balance real disparity are driven by a theological anomaly that goes too far, bases its claim to legitimacy upon an errant idea, or follows some charismatic cult leader. Wouldn’t it be nice if for once radical action could be taken by those committed not to a date for the end of the world or some strange ethnic theology but by ordinary believers committed to nothing more complicated than the “thy kingdom come, thy will be done” and the Gospel message, the Lord’s invitation and the Father’s instructions?

Granted, there will have to be something extraordinary about this group or else they would be no different than the majority of those who call themselves Christians, and who have continued on buying, selling, marrying and giving in marriage while the salt became useless and the light on the hill became indistinguishable from the multitude of encroaching suburbs.

Could this group live differently but stay in relationship with their mainstream brothers and sisters in Christ?

Unity is of Paramount Importance (Despite its abuse by liberals)

Why would they need to remain in relationship? Well, if it’s true that all of us get something wrong, then we need others with a different perspective to hold us accountable when our thinking focuses too heavily on one particular topic. Remember one of my favorite scholar’s claim that 20% of what he would teach would likely be wrong, but he just didn’t know which part it was? My dad used to suggest that we are most likely to be wrong about the things that make us most unique. That’s a sobering thought.

How do we determine where to draw the line between those who will compromise us and those who will healthily counter-balance us?

First, we must acknowledge, I think, that the proper correction to abuse is not disuse but correct use. Woah, I’m about to dive in the deep end!

Listen, it is clear from Scripture that God thinks of his children as a family or household. Let’s let Scripture affirm this reality for us:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:19)

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian (Χριστιανός), let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God (οἴκου τοῦ θεοῦ); and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:16-17)

And look at the contents of God’s law…it seems very household-oriented, very day-to-day focused:

“When you build a new house…” Deut 22:8

“When you see your brother’s donkey…” Deut 22:4

“If any man takes a wife… Deut 22:13

“If there is an engaged woman…” Deut 22:23

“If a husband is jealous…” Num 5:14

“…rejoice in the wife of your youth,” Prov 5:18

“…come and be healed by dunking in this river…” 2 Kings 5

“…if something falls into an earthenware vessel…” Lev 11:33

“…when you harvest your crops…” Lev 23:22

“…every athlete exercises self-control…so I discipline my body…” 1 Cor 9:25-27

Could these words be any more mundane? “Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us by his Son and sanctifies us with his commandments.”[7]

There are boundaries in life and we ought not to resent them but to embrace them. The culture surrounding us has rejected any sort of boundary, defining them as the opposite of freedom; this is a lie from the pit of hell. Freedom is found by living within the walls constructed by Him who loved us.

“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls.[8]

God’s plan is that we might be sanctified by practicing normal life in an extra-normal way. This is the “divine program” I referenced previously. All that remains is for us to import God’s grand design into the 21st century…and that will be some hard work, but it will be for our benefit, and we are swimming in the grace that will be required to do it!

The amazing thing is how brilliant God’s plan is! It automatically challenges the American Way. But in order to apply it we must categorize and principilize it. I know, I just said two “bad words” in the Messianic movement. I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to grapple with this reality. Remember, the proper correction to abuse is not disuse but correct use. I told you I was diving into the deep end of the pool. I’m now under water holding my breath; I pray you will extend me your hand and listen carefully for a bit longer.

Sometimes ambition, sometimes discontent, perhaps boredom, tempts us to abandon the practice of life where we are currently at for the sake of new vistas, new growth opportunities, or different experiences. We are so easily dissatisfied with the ordinary, longing for that elusive feeling of excitement that comes with a new task, new people to meet, new challenges to face. The repetition of the daily grind wears on us, luring us into thinking that nothing will ever change unless we break out of the fetters of routine and forge a “new” life. The demon of covetousness whispers, “Maybe this isn’t what you were meant for. I know your star could shine brighter somewhere else.”

How does the Psalmist describe the blessed person?

[T]hey are like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Psalm 1:3 (ESV)

What am I saying to you? Regardless of whether it is pain and hurt, greed and ambition, or pride and privacy, the patterns of this world prevent us from embracing the Way of God. Where, we are tempted to ask, is my best life now? “I’m so tired of doing the same thing over and over; every day seems the same.” “I don’t really need more teaching, I just need to socialize.” “Why does it seem like life is so hard?” “I just can’t do this anymore.” “This is not what I’m created for.” “This job doesn’t play to my strengths.” “This doesn’t feel like my calling.”

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)

In contradistinction to the siren songs of our culture, God’s grand plan for our formation into the image of His Son is the sanctification of the seemingly mundane stuff of life.

I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a friend, I’m a pastor—I hear the private cries of my wife, my children, my friends, my parishioners, and of many who respond to the call of God on my life without having a regular place in my community. I hear firsthand the brokenness that the evening news tells us is everywhere, but more importantly is in your life and in my life. The greatest grief I bear is the broken-heartedness of many Christians close to me.

The shattered nature of our souls indicates the presence of a grave problem at the very foundation of our understanding and practice of the Gospel. Many of us sense this—otherwise you might not be in this room. We cry out against the injustice of working for a far off benefactor who doesn’t seem to care about us as people; we ache for community, we pine for divisions to somehow be reconciled, we lament our own addictions (don’t pretend: you have them too, as do I—we just practice the “Christian” ones, or hide those too “bad” to acknowledge), and keep on putting one foot in front of another, because what other choice do we have? We are slaves to our lenders, to grocery stores that provide foods nowhere close to in season, to clothes sold to us cheaply, made by the hands of destitute Bangladeshi children now resting in concrete graves.

God’s commandments prescribe a way of life that protests and prevents the practices of secular humanism. Had we heeded its wisdom we could have prevented the insidious infiltration of greed and godlessness into our lives.

The practice of real community, of normalcy, of stability—of the stuff of life itself—of fences and chickens, clothes and vehicles, nesting birds, vindictive women and jealous husbands, fabric, homeschool curriculum and particular prayers—is the means by which where we live becomes a sanctuary of God’s presence. Without the gift of God’s presence holiness is only a pipe-dream to which humans aspire. But God’s presence must be acknowledged and cherished. Without recognizing, naming and giving thanks for His presence the place where we are at will seem barren. The birthplace of holiness is God’s grace lived out in personal commitment by broken individuals in the process of being healed.

The primary crucible for transformation is life with other people who are every bit as broken and messed up as we are. We learn to dwell with God and to imitate Him by learning the practices of hospitality, listening, diligence, forgiveness, responsibility, rootedness, and reconciliation—the daily drudgery of life with other people. But sometimes we recite those lofty character traits and forget that they are practiced in the context of fixing lunch, doing taxes, mopping floors, wiping bottoms, shaving, sweeping, driving, eating, rising early, and praying often. Life in Messiah is designed to be a pattern of positive habits or intentional routines engaged in for God’s glory.

We have Skype, smartphones, and Facebook—all designed to keep us in constant contact. We have forums, chat rooms, blogs and Twitter accounts all designed to form virtual community, yet most of us still feel disconnected and lonely. We’re estranged from our neighbors, unsure of where we really belong. Not sure if we’re part of Messianic Judaism, the Church, Israel, this denomination or that one; are we patriots, conservatives, or libertarians? Where will we send our kids to college? Who will our children marry?

Though we long for community, we actually practice largely disconnected and isolated lives. Mostly gone are the days when everyone in the village knew everyone else’s business—of course this was annoying at times, but it provided a built-in accountability that was healthy for the individuals who made up the community. Suburban homes are next to each other, but cut off; we drive into our 2 or 3 car garages, shut the door with the push of a button, enter our home through an interior door and often go weeks—perhaps even months—without even waving to our neighbors, let alone talking to them.

Consequently, within the walls of our well-insulated homes we practice an individualized spirituality that “works” for us, or so we imagine. We clamber to establish a personal sense of tranquility all the while ignoring God’s preferred plan for spiritual formation—life in community, transparency of action and motive. This must partially explain why books on spirituality are racing up the best seller list even as church attendance is dropping like the thermometer in January. Choosing a personal path seems so much easier than learning to actually know and understand the people who show up next to me in the pew. After all, we think, my life is complicated enough as it is!

“Community is always a risk,” Wilson-Hartgrove writes, “We cannot know beforehand who will stay and who will leave. But each decision to stay—every prayer lifted up from our half-born condition—can be seen as an act of faith that our God will give us what we need.”[9]

How does this apply to our life? How shall we advance in imitating Christ? First, let us embrace, indeed not just embrace, but commit to community one with each other. Secondly, let’s determine to practice the sanctification of our day-to-day normality because this is where Christ shows up. Let’s stop imagining the far off, the grandiose, the heroic as that which will help or fix us. St. Paul wrote,

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)

Og Mandino writes:

As a child I was slave to my impulses; now I am slave to my habits, as are all grown men. I have surrendered my free will to the years of accumulated habits and the past deeds of my life have already marked out a path which threatens to imprison my future. My actions are ruled by appetite, passion, prejudice, greed, love, fear, environment, habit, and the worst of these tyrants is habit. Therefore, if I must be a slave to habit let me be a slave to good habits. My bad habits must be destroyed and new furrows prepared for good seed. I will form good habits and become their slave.[10]

What was it that St. Paul said? I am a bond-servant of Christ. “[P]resent yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life!” … just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness … so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Romans 1:1; 6:13, 19)

You haven’t been a part of my local congregation, but hopefully you can understand why I so often belabor the point of kavannah—the purposeful directing of one’s heart in the application of intentional, personal meaning to pre-crafted words. If we cannot learn to embrace the mundane regularity of liturgy as a tool for worship (and transformation) then we will not learn to see Messiah in the acts of scolding children, washing dishes, pounding nails, or completing paperwork; we will miss the opportunity pregnant in the need to repent of unkind words, or in the repetition of rising yet again to a job you don’t necessarily appreciate. We must capture the ability, through practice, of embracing these tools of day-to-day life because God intended them for our sanctification. It is His preferred, indeed, His most common method for transforming us into Christ’s image.

We urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.[11]

Now do you see why I emphasize the critical need to acknowledge first and foremost that all of God’s children are expected to fashion their lives in comparison to His eternal standard of holiness? We are bleeding for lack of it, brothers! We cannot heal the world, because we are broken and compromised. I care not for secondary discussions when the primary need is being largely ignored.

Primary vs. Secondary Distinctions

Contrary to much propaganda 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 how we relate to God’s Law focuses on who has an obligation and whether we are part of the same group or not. May I settle this once and for all? We are all obligated to keep God’s Law perfectly. We all fail; therefore Yeshua kept it perfectly for us. On the other side of our acceptance of that truth, we are all charged to imitate Him…He kept God’s law. End of discussion. Now that we’re all in agreement, let’s move on to how.

Concerns over whether the law can be legitimately split into civil, ceremonial, and moral categories are likewise often misdirected, though some have undoubtedly misused this conversation. Today’s reality 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 demanded. 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.[12]

in my opinion, we ought to heartily agree with them, not condemn them for faulty theology. 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.

While the specific demands of the law clearly vary based on sex, geography, time, ethnicity, and role, 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 New 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)

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. These are differences in application not in obligation. The primary question is does God Law apply to the redeemed? The answer is a resounding, Yes. The secondary question is how do we apply it in a particular time and place, to a particular person or persons?

…and that’s a complicated issue we shall try to tackle in the following minutes.

The Daunting Challenge of Application

Perhaps starting with a real life example would be the best thing. I received this letter a couple of years ago.

Nate,

At what point is the OT obsolete?

I just got done reading Lev 19….my son (against my wishes, as my wife is an unbeliever) is in public school.  There are several classes that are making totem poles.  Now, you may think I am crazy, but it clearly says in Ex 20:4:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image–any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”

You may think I am tripping, but I will not allow this….he is my firstborn, first born unto God….this will not be tolerated! …..anyway, so I was just browsing around Leviticus this morning and thought to myself…what the heck?

Where do you take it (OT)? (to what point)

Regards,

Frustrated

My reply was as follows:

Dear Frustrated,

Well, you have a legitimate dilemma on your hands.  The first thing I would answer is that the traditional, historic position of the Church-universal is that the Old Testament never becomes obsolete. In fact, a famous 14th century philosopher (and monk) named William of Ockham (you may have heard of Ockham’s Razor – entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem – which basically means the simplest answer is likely to be the accurate one) suggested that stealing was evil simply because God said that it was, which sounds good so far, right? But what Ockham meant is that God could have decided the opposite; He could have decided stealing was ethical, and it would have been. The Church rejected this as heresy and said that no, the law of God was an expression of God’s very nature and could no more change than could God. Therefore, since God is immutable, His law is immutable (not subject to change).  Since no one questions whether God is immutable, I guess that much is decided.

The big question is, since some things in Scripture obviously change (for example, Adam and Eve could only eat fruits, vegetables, and seeds; but after Noah everyone was allowed to eat meat) what is part of God’s eternal law and what is not?

A majority of the Church throughout history has answered that God’s moral law is eternal. The Anglican Church expressed it this way in the 39 Articles of Religion (written over a 30 year period and finalized in 1571):

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.[13]

So now we have yet another question: which commandments are the moral ones? I have never run across, nor do I have, a bullet-proof answer to that question, which is why at St. Patrick’s-by-the-Rivers we’ve developed the following guideline:

We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation.

We see a precedent for this in the Gospels, where Jesus declares to the disciples that in the context of a council of elders they can count on His guidance (via the Holy Spirit) and actually have the authority to determine what will be a permitted way of walking out God’s Law (compare Matthew 18:18-20 and John 20:21-23).

This is why the church has often said that the three pillars of decision making should be Scripture, Reason, & Tradition. They understood that as godly elders made community rulings throughout history, they formed what we know as Tradition, and it should be one factor we take into consideration as we try to figure out how to live out God’s laws in this place and time.

Soo…so much for introduction to the problem itself. Now let’s consider the specific scenario at hand. Clearly God said in the 10 commandments (which everyone considers part of the moral law – except for those who exempt the Sabbath from that category) that we are not to make for ourselves a carved image. HOWEVER, what does that mean–does this prohibit all statues or sculpture? Does this prohibit all art and photography? I don’t think so; why not? From analyzing the language of the passage and keeping verse 4 in the context that includes verse 5, it becomes apparent that God is prohibiting the making of a carved image for purposes of worshiping it. Clearly this is not a blanket prohibition on sculpture.

However, the Indians made totems for idols. Or did they; the evidence seems to indicate that they did not, although culturally ignorant missionaries tended to view the totem poles as idols, that wasn’t what they were to the Indians.

Furthermore, are the school kids carving the totems for idolatry? I doubt it. Since it seems that there is not a black and white, hard and fast, no-questions- asked commandment against making totems, I begin to ask myself further questions. Questions like, “How will my wife perceive this if I deny my son from participating?” “Will it seem to represent a God of grace and mercy to her, or seem more like a tyrannical, dictatorial God that I am using/abusing to bolster my quest for male power and dominance?”  Of course, I don’t suggest that is true, only that it could be misperceived in that fashion.

Clearly, there are lines that cannot be crossed; if the school is teaching that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle alternative than I will have no choice but to exempt my son from that class, and it would be preferred to remove him from that school. But the situation with totem poles is not one of those black and white issues.

Soo…I cannot tell you what the right decision is in this scenario, but I can tell you that from an outside-the-situation analysis it seems to me that I would probably allow my son to participate, depending of course, on what is being said about the totem poles.

For the Father – In Messiah – By the Spirit,

Nate

Now I don’t know what you think about my “halachic” decision—which I also nicely evaded at the end there, don’t you think? This man is not a part of my community, by the way, which also played a part in my thoughts to him, but the main point is the real life difficulties involved in making decisions about how to apply God’s law.

Certainly no directly literal application is going to fly. For one thing we are not living in the Land, we are not under a theocratic government, we are living in Exile, we have no Temple, there are no Torah courts with jurisdiction, and in many cases God was giving enduring principles with specific application to 13th century BC.

Some insist that a literal application is necessary. To them I ask what the parapet around the roof of their house looks like.

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it. [14]

So let’s analyze this command. If we are expected to imitate God’s character along the lines of what this specific command teaches us, what is our obligation in 21st century New England or Indiana?

My understanding is that at the time the Torah was given, they commonly used the roof of their homes the way we use our porch or deck. So you might invite the neighbor over for some barbecue beef and a beer and enraptured with the taste of your brew and your wife’s marinade, after a couple plates and couple mugs, he might tip backwards and fall off the roof, and if you didn’t have a railing, well, you were guilty of manslaughter.

Well, there is no access to the roof of my two-story home, and the pitch of the roof is too steep to enjoy any time up there anyway, so my specific application is that when it snows I shovel and salt my sidewalk. If I had a deck instead of a patio, I suppose I would make sure to put a railing around it. If I had a pool, I would fence it in too—that tends to be a municipal law anyway.

Conclusion

Gracious, we have covered a lot of ground. What am I trying to convey?

“… the law may be viewed from three perspectives: theologically, anthropologically, and soteriologically. Theologically, the law is an expression of the will of God…. Anthropologically the law bonds a community…. Soteriologically, the OT asserts the life-brining function of the law. The NT concurs, emphasizing that this conclusion is warranted only when the law is embraced in faith….”[15]

Our primary identity must be in Messiah. In Messiah we are called to imitate his character. The commandments of God found throughout Scripture, lived out in perfect example in the pages of the four Gospels, and amplified in the commentary of the Apostles to their fledgling congregations, are to be our constant guidelines and the standard to which we compare ourselves.

We cannot live in perfect harmony with every branch of God’s Body, but we can focus on that which we hold in common, and intentionally associate with the broadest possible group that does not compromise our convictions, even if that means we will have distinctive congregations within that larger body. Furthermore, we ought to acknowledge that God often gives a prophetic call to a particular person or group within His body that is not our call, but we should be slow to condemn and quick to look for the fruit of the Spirit.

Our call is not to wild fantasies of fantastic, herculean effort but to quiet, faithful living. In the midst of the crises of normal discipleship we will see God performing wondrous miracles—they will always be to His glory not ours. God divinely anticipated our every need and devised a way of living that will often, perhaps will always, force us to form counter-cultural communities. Our communities are to be colonies of heaven in the midst of a culture of despair. As we sanctify the daily drudgery of mundane life the Kingdom of God will break out amongst us.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think–according to the power that works in you– to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:14-21 (HCSB)

Part One here.


[1]Dallas Willard. “Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What it is and How it Might be Done,” Journal of Psychology and Theology 28, no 4 (2000): 256.

[2]James C. Wilhoit. Spiritual Formation As if the Church Mattered: Growing in Christ through Community. Baker

[3] Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (2010-09-01). The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (p. 35). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Ibid. 109-110. (refers not just to the ending exact quote but the preceding two paragraphs)

[5] Elmer A. Martens. “Embracing the Law: A Biblical Theological Perspective,” in Jon Isaak, ed. The Old Testament in the Life of God’s People. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009. 25.

[6] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. p 162

[7] Nathan A. Long. The Offerings of Our Lips: Daily Prayers for In(habit)ing Communities. Fort Wayne, IN: In(form) Press, 2012.

[8] Luke 11:17

[9] Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (2010-09-01). The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (p. 25). Paraclete Press. Kindle Edition.

[10] Og Mandino. The Greatest Salesman in the World. p. 53.

[11] 1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 (NASB)

[12] http://www.1689.com/confession.html#Ch.%2019

[13] VII. Of the Old Testament. “Articles of Religion.” The Book of Common Prayer. New York: The Church Pension Fund, 1929. 604

[14] Deuteronomy 22:8

[15] Elmer A. Martens. “Embracing the Law: A Biblical Theological Perspective,” in Jon Isaak, ed. The Old Testament in the Life of God’s People. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009. 26-27. I could not say what Dr. Marten did any better, so I’ve used his words, but it is important to note that by leaving out what I did, I’ve significantly altered the primary thrust of his quote.

Identification With Messiah – Part 1: Invitation to Imitation

Delivered to the 2013 New England Messianic Conference

We live in an age when far too many people have experienced either a bent and sugary love devoid of boundaries, or a stern and legalistic law divorced from grace. Too often these extremes are practiced by those who most vigorously proclaim their exclusive possession of “The Truth.” Not only is the world largely unimpressed with our faulty display of God’s nature, but our pews are increasingly abandoned by disillusioned and disappointed seekers and hearers. I can’t imagine a time when it is more important for these indivisible aspects of God’s character to be experienced together.

Undoubtedly the recovery of the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith has been a move of the Spirit for our era, but like most times when the Spirit blows, there are many divisive, confusing and competing spirits striving to distract, discourage, and destroy the legitimate work of God. In times like these a sure and steady course can be set by relying upon the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to bring to our aid the tri-fold tools of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition (properly used in that order of priority).

I think Paul of Tarsus, John the Beloved, Polycarp of Smyrna, Irenaeus of Lyon, and American Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie are examples we might look to for imitable patterns of the exercise of God’s love and law.

In these pages I hope to outline three points upon which I believe the Church must agree in order to be effective in honoring God, and creating disciples of Messiah. Though I don’t believe a robust unity requires absolute uniformity, it seems there must be some sort of foundation upon which to base our common labors. I believe we need, 1) an unchanging standard, 2) a primary identity, and 3) a corporate mission.

I shall take the late Bishop J.C. Ryle as my model in this endeavor, who, noticing the deplorable lack of sanctification that characterized the late 19th century English Church, worked to “[restore] biblical breadth and depth to evangelical minds that had been swept away by fashionable holiness teaching that was actually extreme, shallow, biblically incorrect, and a hindrance to growth in grace. Ryle’s response was not to cross swords with its exponents, but to lay out afresh, biblically, systematically, and in practical terms, the true fundamentals of Christian sanctity, with constant appeal to…others…who had trodden this path before him.”[1]

I will assume that this audience exists precisely because we have recognized the necessity of an unchanging standard. Therefore, I will first attempt to establish a primary identity to which we can all subscribe and which, I believe, must be in place before subsequent conversations can take place in a constructive manner. Pertaining to a corporate mission, I hope to evidence that the Great Commission is phase two of God’s original purpose: an expansion of God’s phase one mission for Israel.

If you will allow, despite our agreement on the necessity of an unchanging standard, perhaps a slight excursus on the topic would be appropriate. We need to be careful that our language does not leave people puzzled. In my experience, 80% of Americans to whom I say “law” actually hear “legalism.”  This is a problem. Regardless of what I mean, regardless of how diligently we have labored to point out that law and grace are allies not opponents, if our audience hears “bears” when we say “pears” then we are left anticipating and they are left distressed!

Now you and I realize when we speak of the law as God’s unchanging standard that love is intrinsic to God’s law. But it may be wise on our part to speak of God’s character as the unchanging standard.

God is completely loving and entirely lawful. He cannot be otherwise, for His personality is the definition of both love and law. If we embrace God’s love without embracing his law, we end up redefining love in our image rather than in his and are therefore robbed of true love. If we embrace God’s law without embracing his love, we pervert his law into something burdensome instead of life-giving, and are robbed of the full experience of His character.

God’s character, as expressed in love and described by law, outlines the only form of conduct that fully satisfies human nature. So we, being made as we are, in His image, only find fulfillment in the full embrace of the twin legs of God’s indivisible character: His law and His love. This is what we were both made and redeemed for.[2]

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 … 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.[3]

If love emphasizes people and law emphasizes principles, without the dynamic interplay of both aspects of God’s character, we get an unhealthy (i.e., sinful) imbalance. Therefore, if it is lawful, “so far as it depends on you,” to “live peaceably with all,” then it seems it would be loving to use language that puts, “no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”[4]

So I suggest that we might helpfully speak about the unchanging standard as being God’s character, which is equal parts loving and lawful.

God’s love gave us the law just as his love gave us the gospel, and as there is no spiritual life for us save through the gospel, which points us to Jesus Christ the Savior, so there is no spiritual health for us save as we seek in Christ’s strength to keep the law, and practice the love of God and neighbor for which it calls.[5]

So where shall we begin? Let’s start by noting the environment in which we find ourselves.

The Western Church is Severely Compromised

All men of the modern world exist in a continual and flagrant antagonism between their consciences and their way of life.”[6]

It may come as no surprise to you were I to declare that there are significant forces arrayed against the Church in North America. And, indeed, that the integrity of the Church in the western hemisphere has been severely damaged. We are vulnerable to both internal and external forces. The evangelical church is hemorrhaging 2.6 million people per decade. We’re not winning converts fast enough to keep pace with the population growth, and earnest evangelicals are increasingly defined by what they are against. Conversely, many of the so-called “neo-evangelicals” are rapidly compromising

Internal:

  • Our movement is hemorrhaging 2.6 million people per decade.
  • We’re not winning converts fast enough to keep pace with the population growth
  • Earnest evangelicals are increasingly defined by what they are against, conversely, many, the so-called “neo-evangelicals”, are increasingly compromising on issues like the atonement, the inerrancy of Scripture, and sexual morality. This is the same old fundamentalist/liberal divide.

External:

  • The external climate is turning rapidly and vigorously against evangelicals. The fastest growing subcultures in the US express a militant antagonism against Christians who take the Bible seriously (law enforcement example, Exodus International).
  • The remaining smaller, shrinking, strapped church is splintering and splitting itself over politics, theology, strategy, daily practice, and postmodern views.[7]

Journalist turned pastor, John S. Dickerson writes, “The decline of evangelical Christianity is not just that we’re failing at evangelism or just that we’re failing to keep our own kids or just that we’ll lose 70 percent of our funding in the next thirty years. It’s all those factors (and more) combined and gaining speed simultaneously.”[8]

“It is clear that the church faces many threats to its faithfulness,” writes Professor Jonathan Wilson. “Words are important here. The gospel is never threatened by changing circumstances; God’s purpose in Jesus Christ is being accomplished and nothing can hinder that. All authority has been given to Jesus Christ. However, what may be compromised is the church’s faithfulness to the gospel.”[9]

It is tempting for folks like you and I, people who have been engaged in extended efforts to intentionally transform our lives by the renewing of our minds according to God’s word, to imagine that we have somehow escaped from the clutches of the world and are now among those who see straight. But I believe this is a very dangerous notion to entertain. I know I have been surprised again in the last twelve months as God brought to my eyes after ten years of fervent, intentional labors to disentangle from the ways and the thinking of the world, just how compromised our family remains.  I am increasingly convinced that the real power of being convicted of the ongoing necessity of God’s law as a normative part of the sanctification of the redeemed is that this great, eternal standard of God’s character keeps any of us who are honest and earnest on our knees, overwhelmed by the impossibility of keeping His precepts perfectly, and undone again in how completely dependent we are upon the crashing waves of His grace, suffusing, indeed enabling, our continued existence.

Radical Action May be Required

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.”

Proverbs 27:23-24 (NIV84)

We have great examples to draw from in both ancient and recent history.  We can draw both practices to imitate and patterns to avoid from these examples. The fundamentalist/liberal controversy of the 1950s is a recent example we ought to examine. There is much to be appreciated as well as many mistakes to be grappled with in this history, and I would contend that our closest cousins were the evangelicals who chose an intentional path right between Fundamentalism and Liberalism. Men like Billy Graham, Harold Ockenga, and Vernon Grounds. Men who have been followed by the likes of Walter Kaiser, Jr., Dwight Pryor, and Robert Webber.

These men and so many others gave us an example of prizing the inerrant truth of scripture, but of staying in relationship with one’s brethren in Messiah. Ultimately, the results of their efforts are waning. It seems that all powerful movements of God, no matter how necessary at the time of origin, no matter how fervent in their reforming zeal, always sputter and eventually distort into something that would have turned the stomach of their founder. One wonders what Cotton Mather would think of Harvard now? One imagines the heights of eloquent exhortation John Wesley might climb to, were he present at a Methodist General Conference today.

The great Thomas Cranmer recanted the very beliefs he held most dear after years of alternating imprisonment and flattery at the hands of Bloody Queen Mary’s henchman. Having publicly declared the documents he had previously signed to be false, and chained now to a stake, Cranmer stretched out his right hand, and held it unshrinking in the fire until it was burnt to a cinder, even before his body was injured, frequently exclaiming, “This unworthy right hand.” What might this mighty martyr think were he to stumble into the General Convention of today’s Episcopal Church?

Unity Without Uniformity

Indeed it seems that God must intentionally use errant movements in His grand scheme. One thinks of how dispensationalism corrected the 19th century church’s ambivalence toward Israel after the flesh. I think, however, that God calls us to learn from history, and in evaluating the efforts of our evangelical forebears, I suspect we can identify a few key missing components of their efforts. As their descendants, it would behoove us to see if we can preserve something of the legacy they left us, while still improving upon what we’ve been given.

And, indeed, they did leave us a legacy. A couple years ago I wrote an article titled “Considering Dispensationalism”[10] in which I attempted to outline the tenets of dispensationalism and why I had moved from there to a place in the greater Reformed stream. As part of that process I re-read Charles Ryrie’s classic book Dispensationalism Today. In the closing chapters of the updated edition, now titled simply Dispensationalism, Ryrie writes:

It may help to be reminded of some of the important doctrines to which dispensationalists subscribe wholeheartedly. After all, dispensationalists are conservatives and affirm complete allegiance to the doctrines of verbal, plenary inspiration, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, eternal salvation by grace through faith, the importance of godly living and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the future coming of Christ, and the eternal damnation of the lost…. As already noted, some doctrines are more important than others, so it particularly behooves us not to cut off our fellowship from those who share similar views about these important doctrines. There are few enough these days who believe in the fundamentals of the faith, and to ignore those who have declared themselves on the side of the truth of God is unwise. Something is wrong with our circles of fellowship, sense of priority, or doctrine of unity when conservatives view fellow conservatives as the opposition party and then find their theological friends among those who are teaching and promoting error.[11]

I remember sitting next to Charles Ryrie at the dinner table while he was a visiting professor at Word of Life Bible Institute. He was there teaching a class on 1 and 2 Corinthians, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

It was his humility that really struck me. I suppose this was partially due to the visiting professor Ryrie was being contrasted with, a KJV-only guy who had memorized the New Testament but left a really bad impression with me. Now you have to understand, this was “Charles Ryrie.” My Opa (my grandfather on my mother’s side) gave me a copy of Ryrie’s Balancing the Christian Life before I went off to Bible School, telling me that it had been the most influential book in his Christian life. I grew up with the Ryrie Study Bible, my grandfather on my Dad’s side also spoke regularly about Ryrie’s views on this and on that. So, when Ryrie himself came to the verses on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7—paused, and told us that he would be happy to share his view on this passage, but that other believers whom he respected disagreed over this passage and that we would be held accountable by the Holy Spirit to determine for ourselves what we believed God was saying in these verses—I was captured by his humility.

I started this anecdote at the dinner table, and you may be wondering why…never fear, we are returning. You see Dr. Ryrie’s humility was maintained in the face of ridiculous scenarios like the one I witnessed in 1993. I was fortunate to be the RA on duty at the head table that evening, so myself and seven or eight other students sat around soaking up everything the great Charles Ryrie had to say, some were even taking notes. Dr. Ryrie asked if someone would pass the salt, and one fellow looked up from his notebook long enough to say,

“Oh that’s great! Yes, we’re supposed to be the salt of the earth!”

You could hear several other affirming murmurs around the table. Dr. Ryrie, glanced at the young man, and replied,

“No, no, I mean would you please pass the salt.” and made no more fuss about it.

So later that year, when I began to question the Dispensationalism upon which I had been practically breast-fed, I was forced to wrestle with the fact that while I no longer agreed with Dr. Ryrie’s interpretation of Scripture, a young man would not go wrong in patterning their life after what I knew of his character. In the formation of my faith, this was a sign-post along the way.

This was a wonderful dilemma to face. I thought of it again when, upon reading Book V, Chapter 24 of Eusebeius’ Ecclesiastical History for the umpteenth time (3 years or so after the first time I read through that primary account of the Quartodeciman Controversy), I finally noticed a phrase that struck me for the first time. Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna had traveled to Italy to meet with Anicetus, the bishop of Rome, and while neither man was able to convince the other of the necessity of their viewpoint, Eusebius records  that they “parted in peace” after Anicetus honored Polycarp by asking him to preside at the communion table. I was thunderstruck; prior to that moment I had been thinking of Anicetus as the “bad guy” who first instilled paganism into the Church’s celebration of the Passover.

Awakening to the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith is an incredibly invigorating experience. For myself, a faith that had basically gone into pause mode as I waited for the Lord to make Himself known was revived and impassioned. For the first time in over ten years the Bible suddenly made sense and the desire to consume the Scriptures came roaring back to life.

However, it can also open a significant “can of worms.” Suddenly one becomes aware of truths that seem to have been suppressed by the very Church who nurtured you. Relationships with parents and friends can become strained as with the fervor and excitement of the recently enlightened, you seek to convey the “new” truths the Lord has revealed to you.

Similarly, an entirely new set of questions springs up to plague you. If the Torah is good, and for our benefit, what does that mean for our day-to-day lives? Should we still go to church on Sunday or is that evil? What about communion? Is that a Roman Catholic, pagan, mystical innovation, meant to displace the Passover? Oh my goodness, what about Easter, the pinnacle celebration of the church year? Doesn’t the pastor realize that a Sunrise Service is continuing the worship of Sol Invictus – the Indomitable Sun!?

The great pastor Irenaeus of Lyon writes of a story his mentor, Polycarp, passed on about the Apostle John.

John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, ‘A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.’(Titus 3:10)[12]

We can easily relate with that sort of action. Remain unstained by the world! Let us refresh our memories as to what sort of man Polycarp was, reading again from the pen of Irenaeus, who grew up in the church of Smyrna:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church. … Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.[13]

And this is the very man, a contemporary of John the Beloved for some twenty years, who went to Rome to discuss the Passover or Quartodeciman controversy with Anicetus, bishop of Rome, and “parted in peace.” I was brought up short because I could not imagine that St. Polycarp would have parted in peace with someone who was infiltrating the Body of Messiah with paganism. I was forced to reevaluate my thoughts on who I should separate from and who I should embrace as a brother.

Irenaeus records the parting of Polycarp and Anicetus:

And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not.

So we have on the one hand, St. John running out of a bathhouse and on the other hand, Polycarp making peace with a church that waited to observe the Passover feast till the following Sunday, rather than specifically on the 14th of Nisan. What shall we make of this? I think we can find a principle consistent with that of the evangelicals of the 1950s and 60s, though we may also discover that which was missing from their platform.

Who Are We?

There is something going on in evangelicalism where everyone is always reacting against whatever error they encountered in childhood. A lot of people who grew up in legalist, performance-based churches are over-reacting with an antinomian, repentance-lacking gospel.”

“The problem biblically is: legalism sends people to hell and antinomianism sends people to hell.”[14]

How interesting is it that the Evangelicals of the 1950s seemed to have a primary identity and a common mission, but lacked an unchanging standard (or firmly held to its unchanging nature, but heeded only a portion of it), while too many within the re-awakening of the Church to our Hebrew Roots seem to have a sort of kaleidoscopic grasp on some combination of our three main points.  Some it seems have regained an unchanging standard, only to get crosswise regarding our primary identity. Others have our primary identity and an unchanging standard locked in well, but begin to claim a unique mission. It seems some new permutation pops up on a blog, a forum, or in some book every other month.

In the following minutes I hope to convince you that we might most accurately identify ourselves as those who were created to imitate, commune with, and glorify God; as those who having fallen from our purpose, have accepted the offer of His strong right Hand extended in salvation, and have been subsequently re-joined to the family of those who are invited and enabled to imitate Messiah, in order that all who are willing from the watching world might also come to know Him for Who He Is—the Good News of God: All-Holy, All-Loving: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”[15]

“My word,” you might say, “that sounds like the Gospel.” Indeed? Ought it not! I cannot think of an identity more fitting than one with the fragrance of the Good News; one that in its very name speaks of He upon whom all my hopes rest.

Who is the Family of God?

God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem

Gen 9:27a

So, perhaps I’ve been carried away in the passion of my point, but it is necessary to be clear on this matter. We need to ask, “Who is the Body of Messiah?” And I need to speak carefully and clearly here.

First, the Body of Christ is all who believe regardless of what era they have or will live in, and regardless of their ethnicity (Gal. 3:6-9).  In other words, when it comes to the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:15-16) and the “Church”, these are one and the same; a testifying body of those who have been made new in Messiah (2 Cor. 5:16-17). At least so far as primary identity.

There is a valid secondary difference, or theological distinction which should be made. For example, while on the macro level the “Israel of God” and the “Church” are the same edah/ekklesia (witnessing body)[16], on the micro level one should accurately distinguish between Israel, the body to whom, “belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises,” and the Church, that portion of Israel (and her descendants) upon whom the Holy Spirit descended with an anointing to expand the household of God beyond Israel after the flesh, to in fact, carry news of God and his promises to every nation.

Israel, then, received that precursor to the Great Commission so well summarized in Jeremiah 7:23, “But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you,’” and to which we might append, that “all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD” (Ex 34:10b).

It was the Church, on the other hand, who—empowered by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost with a new emphasis (the spreading rather than simply the keeping of God’s Way)—inherited from the disciples our revitalized mission: “Going, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.”[17]

In other words, the New Covenant—God’s plan to accomplish His original goal—was first revealed near the beginning of the world. It was hinted at in that promise made to the serpent, “The seed of the woman shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” It was more plainly spoken to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And thus we see that it has always been evangelistic—witness-oriented—and that it was a mission intended for all nations to participate in.

Genesis 12:3 has always contained the seed of God’s singular mission: “a divine program to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all on planet earth.”[18] This primary mission was expressed at times in secondary strategies. The time-bound focal point of God’s commission to Israel after the flesh (though the eternal plan of universal inclusion was foreshadowed even then in individuals like Rahab, Ruth and Caleb, and in the message of prophets like Isaiah, Jonah and Obadiah) was for the world to marvel at the revelation of God as He worked on behalf of Israel, and to witness God’s character incarnated in the lives of His law-abiding people, in the midst of a land He would give them:

Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Observe (shamar) what I command you this day. … Take care (shamar), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.

… for the LORD, whose name is El Qanna (Jealous), is a jealous God, lest you…whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.”[19]

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?[20]

What is our purpose? Why were we created in His image? Because He designed no other image-bearers! If we confound the reflection of His loving and lawful nature, how is this world to believe in Him they have never seen accurately?

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”[21]

Note that Paul, intriguingly, starts out his plea to spread the Gospel with a declaration that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile; this in the midst of a passage that conflates the Gospel message itself with Deuteronomy 30: a description of the New Covenant declared to Israel, long before Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37.

Israel and the Church Share a Common Mission

“And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.”

Mark 13:10

Israel is given a mission: in the Land that I will give you, witness of me, guard and faithfully observe my commandments that the world might know me. The Church is given the same mission in an expanded fashion: you are the heirs of an unfaithful family that has experienced judgment; as you, therefore, wander outside the Land I will once again restore to your family, make faithful observers of all peoples, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

How will your light shine? Same passage, next verse:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17

In other words, this shared mission of imitating and proclaiming our Father requires a common and unchanging standard. Otherwise, the people of God will not be identifiable by the watching world. Of necessity, those who aspire to the same goal will adopt a mutual primary identity.

What Plagued Israel and the Evangelicals?

Two errors hampered Israel in the time of Christ and the Evangelicals of the 1950s.

In the context of community, traditions enable the living out, or the inhabiting, of the Gospel.

Appropriate traditions will enable us to live out God’s commands in this time and place. Tradition often gets a bad rap in today’s world, but without it we could not function. What’s more, without a collection of consistent practices we will be unable to successfully reflect God’s image to the watching world, because we don’t reflect as individuals so much as we reflect as a Body.

Everywhere and always, wherever there have been believers, tradition has been a part of the three-legged stool that supports the lives, decisions, and practices of God-followers.

As we have mentioned, the three legs of that stool are Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. All three are used under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit to form the basis of our decision-making. The Scriptures are the words of God, written by the pens of men as they were carried along by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Throughout time the community of the faithful has continually recognized and affirmed the inspired nature of these words, and they came to be known to us as Scripture—the inerrant and reliable words of God to us His children.

These words, however, were written to different cultures than our own, between 2000 and 3000 years ago, to people who spoke different languages, and lived in a different part of the world under very different conditions than our own. As a result, in the process of wrestling with the meaning and significance of these very words of God, we consult the way that believers who went before us understood and applied them. The practices of those who have gone before us are known as Tradition.

Tradition, by its very nature, is a flexible, changing collection of practices. Traditions exist to aid in the honoring and observing of God’s way, and they vary from location to location, from time to time, and from society to society. Consequently, we must use our Reason to contemplate the words of Scripture and the history of Tradition in seeking to ensure that our practices continue to serve the same purpose for which they were created.

It must be remembered that Tradition is a tool that exists to serve the principle that is obedience to our Father, God. Whenever we begin to keep traditions for tradition’s sake, we have allowed that which exists to serve to become that which we serve, and a sense of bondage inevitably results—a new law is created.

This is what had happened to Israel at the time of Christ. Because their identity was more, “we are Israel” than “we are those rescued by God,” they grew proud in the accumulation of their efforts to be godly. Prompting Yeshua to rebuke them vigorously, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”[22]

Similarly, having largely abandoned the idea that God’s law, as the description of His character, serves as our eternal standard, the Evangelicals of the 50’s ended up accumulating a collection of practices that helped them remain distinctive from the world, but in the absence of God’s law, their traditional applications became the engine of a new legalism. We are created to be law-abiders; if we forsake God’s law, we will fashion our own.

The Evangelicals were further destabilized in the process of interpreting God’s Word, by a failure to understand themselves as late-coming inheritors of Israel’s promises, but rather saw themselves as new and distinct from Israel, an interpolating entity, designed to propagate God’s message of repentance and salvation to the Gentiles, while God held Israel in abeyance, blinded and judged for their failure to recognize the Messiah.

In other words, while both Israel in the 1st century and the Evangelicals in the 20th century identified with at least a portion of a common mission—Israel emphasizing the call to obey, and the Evangelicals emphasizing the call to go and witness—they were each shaky as it pertains to God’s law and their primary identity.

I suspect that if we can maintain a balanced and biblical perspective on these three presuppositional ideas, then this movement may burn brightly for longer than the historic norm, or even, by God’s grace, usher in the longed for olam haba (world to come).

Conclusion

“My strong conviction is that the Lord is restoring the Hebraic foundations of the Church so that together we all can move forward in greater faithfulness and maturity in the service of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Toward that end we should be Father-focused, Christ-centered and Spirit-saturated. We should stand with and pray for Israel. Our teaching should strive to be biblically balanced and theologically sound.” – Dwight A. Pryor

The unchanging standard of God’s character, expressed in love and described by law, condemns all those alienated from Messiah, and instructs all those brought near to Him by grace through faith. Resting in thorough assurance of Christ having fulfilled the requirement of matching God’s character on our behalf, and subsequently planting His nature within us, we enthusiastically aspire to imitate Him ever more faithfully, as those declared brand new, set apart for God’s purposes, empowered and released to the process of transformation, and entrusted with ambassadorial responsibility—God making His appeal through us.

While the Church has many parts with different tasks and varying emphases, it is a single body, with a coalescing identity and mutual purpose: to imitate and share the good news of God, his existence and his nature. This universal congregation is to be formed by the immutable character of our shared Savior, and empowered by the Holy Spirit to a common mission, envisioned by God from the beginning and progressively revealed through the pages of Scripture.

While the Body of Christ is comprised of both natural-born and adopted children, it is crucial for us to commonly maintain our deepest identity as those re-born in Messiah. Ethnic variation is good and should be cherished, but in the economy of God it is a secondary identity that gives benefit to the whole Body only as it recognizes its subsidiary place. The inappropriate emphasis of Jewish or Gentile identity will inevitably result in aberrant theologies.

On the other hand, it is imperative for Gentiles to remember that we share an existing purpose. That we former strangers to the covenants join an old history, are adopted into an ancient family, and participate in promises made to Israel. May we never forget that in Messiah we are brought near to a continuing commonwealth, and that we never replace her, but rather, are blessed along with Israel, and anticipate her full restoration.

The Scriptures describe our corporate mission variously, but it may be accurately and succinctly expressed as an invitation to imitate Messiah, in order that His character will be reflected to those who do not yet know Him, and that His name may be exalted by the observation of His actions on behalf of His beloved people, Israel. We must, therefore, be singularly identifiable, compared to a common standard, and pursuing the same purpose. We are invited in order to invite, redeemed in order to redeem, and healed in order to heal.

In Part II, let’s explore God’s plan for how to bring about the reflection of His character in the lives of His children. I like to call the divine plan the Sanctification of the Mundane.


[1] J.I. Packer. Faithfulness and Holiness: The Witness of J.C. Ryle. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002) 10.

[2] This is my re-working of comments made by J.I. Packer; c.f., Growing in Christ, 232.

[3]  J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994. 232.

[4] 2 Corinthians 6:3. Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from the ESV®,  © 2001 Crossway.

[5] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1996, 1994. 222.

[6] Leo Tolstoy. The Kingdom of God Is Within You. Trans. Aylmer Maude (London: Oxford University Press 1936). 136[2], in Kenneth O. Gangel and Jim Wilhoit. The Christian Educator’s Handbook on Spiritual Formation. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1994. (chapter 18 by Dallas Willard, “The Spirit is Willing: The Body As a Tool for Spiritual Formation”)

[7] John S. Dickerson. The Great Evangelical Recession. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013. 22.

[8] Ibid. (for a synopsis of the book see the interview at:  http://bit.ly/WDaCzm)

[9] Jonathan R. Wilson. Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World. Eugene: OR, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007. 3.

[11] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Dispensationalism, Revised and expanded. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 246.

[12] Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus Against Heresies” (Adv. Haer. 3.3-4), in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume I: The Apostolic Fathers With Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 416.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, http://bit.ly/NvtmjX, accessed 06/25/13 at 19:46

[15] Exodus 34:6 (ESV)

[16] It should not be missed that עֵדָה (edah – congregation) and עֵדוּת (edut – testimony) share the same root, עֵד (ed – witness).

[17] Matthew 28:19-20 (author’s rendering)

[18] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. xix.

[19] Exodus 34:10-16 (ESV)

[20] Deuteronomy 4:5-8 (ESV)

[21] Romans 10:12-15 (ESV)

[22] Mark 7:8

The Faith of Jesus vs. Faith in Jesus

I recently read an essay by David Flusser that I had not previously been familiar with; perhaps I had read it before, but for some reason it never struck me till now. Flusser writes,

“This scholarly digression has been necessary in order for us to arrive at an understanding of the dual nature of the Christian religion, which comprises both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus. The first aspect, that of Jesus’ faith, consists of the tenets of Christian love and ethics. These were a special development of the new Jewish ethical sensitivity that developed in the period of the Second Commonwealth, and while this aspect of Christian behavior and feeling stems primarily from Jesus’ own preaching, it was also influenced by contemporary Jewish ethics and theology. The latter aspect of the Christian religion centers around what is known as the charisma of Christ. The primary motifs of Christian messianism and Christology are also derived mainly from Judaism, and I would venture that their point of departure lay in the acute self-awareness of Jesus himself. As already stated, this latter belief in the metahistorical drama of Christ and especially in the idea of redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian religious experience and until very recently was a kind of conditio sine qua non for calling oneself a Christian.”[1]

I agree with Flusser that both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus derive from (and indeed, remain) Jewish thought. I also believe, however, that it is a unique requirement of post-Yavneh Judaism to view Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus as separate, and that Christian thought is correct in viewing them as rightly composite. Similarly, healthy Christian thought ought to view both the faith of and faith in Jesus as being essentially Jewish in nature. It is the truth, however, that redemption is through Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is a cornerstone of True Religion that at this point, Christianity uniquely holds vis-à-vis contemporary Judaism.

As Flusser rightly concludes:

“By its very nature, moreover, Christianity cannot really renounce offering its salvation to all [Jew as well as Gentile].”[2]

This observation follows faithfully in the footsteps of the Apostles, who felt it urgent to inform their Jewish brethren regarding the identity and the redemptive action of Yeshua mi Natzeret.

Flusser also rightly observes, though this is MUCH more difficult to digest and to parse without falling off the precipice of supersessionism: “The authentic Christian interpretation of itself is that it is the true religion of Israel and that without faith in Christ no one can be redeemed….” (65). Of course, this conclusion is further complicated by Christianity’s large scale rejection of Torah (and in many circles of Israel herself). But we must wrestle with two equal and polar truths: theologically speaking (emphasizing its focus on Christology) Christianity is true, while theonomically[3] speaking Judaism is true.

Said another way, while we cannot conclude that God has two paths to salvation, we may truly state that Christianity can authentically declare to all, “You need the Savior,” while Judaism might with equal authenticity declare to all, “You need the Torah (way of life).”

It is these two parallel truths that grip me much more powerfully than any emphasis on distinction within the utilization of Torah, precisely because they are of primary importance. In other words, it is part of accepting Yeshua as Messiah to acknowledge that He is fully God and fully man, while it is also part of accepting Torah as prescriptive to acknowledge that the Torah contains within it distinctive commands relative to gender, ethnicity, time and place.

There are two great propositional battles in our day (there may be more, but these two have captured my attention), one within Christianity and one within Judaism. We must articulate a cogent reading of Scripture that at the same time acknowledges the Redemptive nature and necessity of Jesus Christ, and avoids supersessionism and anti-nomianism. Stereotypical Judaism denies the divine nature and requisite redemptive action of Messiah, while too much of Christianity denies the requisite relevance of Israel in the on-going redemptive plan of God and ignores the continuing necessity of God’s law in the process of sanctification.

It is clear that in our time the Holy Spirit is placing these two concerns upon the hearts of many believers. Unfortunately, to date the believers so energized have often split into various camps frequently equally critical of one another. All seem aware of both propositional battles, but emphasize varying approaches.

I wish that we could all begin by acknowledging our unity: we are one Body in Messiah, and He is both fully God and fully man. Furthermore, He did not come to replace God’s Law as delivered from Sinai, but to explain, apply, and fulfill its righteous demand. God’s Law then, remains prescriptive for all God’s children and in fine Jewish tradition, let’s allow it to be interpreted and applied variously across time, place, denominational and ethnic lines as the Holy Spirit seems to permit.

I’m sure, we will variously disagree on the manner of its application, but if we can agree on the divine identity and redemptive necessity of Messiah, as well as on the continuing necessity of the Law for the progressive sanctification of the believer, as being pivotal truths, I believe we will observe a wave of unity that will push before it a consistency in character and application not seen among the Body of Messiah since the first century of this era, which will in turn result in a similarly unprecedented lifting of the partial hardening that has been upon God’s Chosen People since the days of the Apostles.

My argument is this: unitatem in necessariis; in non necessariis libertatem; in omnibus caritatem – in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.[4] In other words, unity and peace require an agreement upon Truth, but secondary things like halakah (way of walking out God’s commands), can be left in the hands of the local inheritors of the authority of the Apostles to bind and loose, so long as the essentials are maintained.

I believe that any de-emphasis of the need of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile to:

  1. believe in the divine nature and redemptive action of Jesus of Nazareth, and
  2. obey God’s law since it continues to be “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness”

will unnecessarily sacrifice essentials for sake of non-essentials and obstruct the Unity of the Body of Messiah.


[1] David Flusser. “Christianity,” in 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009), 61 (this quote from p. 63).

[2] Ibid. 65.

[3] For deeper discussion of theology vs. theonomy see http://jcstudies.com/resourceDetailFree.cfm?productId=570

[4] Often mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Richard Baxter (who widely distributed it among English-speakers), or Philip Melanchthon, this phrase is first found in the writings of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), Archbishop of Split, in book 4, chapter 8 (p. 676 of the first volume) of his De republica ecclesiastica libri X (London, 1617).

The Process of Discipleship: Invitation to Imitation

I was praying this morning asking God to show me His divine design for discipleship from Scripture. In other words, “Lord what is your process for discipleship?”

Here’s what I heard: Invitation to Imitation.

Where do we see Invitation?

Psalm 34:8a, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”

Zechariah 3:10 “In that day, declares the LORD of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”

Matthew 22:2, 9 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, … Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.”

Matthew 4:19 “And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'”

Matthew 9:9 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

John 1:35-39 “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.‘”

John 1:43 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.'”

Where do we see Imitation?

John 12:26 “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

1 Corinthians 4:15-16 “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Ephesians 5:1 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

2 Timothy 1:13 “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 6:11-12 “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

Hebrews 13:7 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

What should we understand from the concept of Invitation?

In order to invite someone, there must be already in existence something to join. There must be a place, or a group, or a way to which you are inviting.

And what should we understand from the concept of Imitation?

One only imitates that which works. The patterns we teach and which we exemplify must be made of “sound words,” it must be patterned after those who have inherited the promises. “Consider the outcome of their way of life…”

Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

Psalm 78:4-8 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

Images: Reflections

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I believe that God is good. I believe He has claimed a people for His own. I believe it is His desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. I believe that God wants to be close to us; in fact, He seems consumed with it. God came down and fashioned the world, He came down and walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden. He came down and had dinner with Abraham. He spoke to Moses as one does with a friend, He wanted to be so close to Israel that He walked in front of them with one leg of fire and one leg of cloud, and St. Paul tells us that He was the rock that followed them through the wilderness. He couldn’t get close enough to them! So He made His earthly abode smack dab in the center of His people’s encampment. He invited 70 of their elders to dinner with a mountain-top view, and He said let’s eat together often – here’s a “Fellowship Offering” it will be good for your soul!

He assured Joshua of victory, while Joshua grabbed his sandal. He tolerated a doubting Gideon’s multiple fleeces. Because His people were suffering and His heart ached for them, He made a donkey’s jawbone a weapon of mass destruction. I wish I could really convey to you the love this God has for you!

He came down upon His people in Solomon’s Temple, and His presence was so heavy no one was left standing. He washed out Isaiah’s mouth, and gave Him a sneak peak of His throne room. Oh God, open our eyes that we may see!

He couldn’t stand it any longer when His people didn’t listen to His prophets, so He sent His only Son, to walk and talk among us for 33 years. That wasn’t enough so He caught Paul up into the third heaven; and some folks found Paul hard to understand so He met with John on the island of Patmos and promised to come back. Indeed, to send His Son back to make the world right, and if that wasn’t enough to then bring down His entire city upon Earth, because He just can’t get enough of us . . . but really because we can’t get enough of Him!

In fact, it wouldn’t be right, if I didn’t tell you that God just can’t stop talking about being with you. It rings from one end of His love letter to us to the other.

You see, God is quite obsessed, not with taking us up and out of here, but with coming down and being near.

IMAGES

Images evoke and invite; they are windows into which we can gaze. Images provoke and incite; they are doors through which we can walk. They expand our understanding of the multidimensional mysteries of the work of God and His Spirit.

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” said John the Baptizer, bringing to the mind’s eye for his hearers images they knew intimately and saw regularly, to teach them about a person they did not yet know.

Often times we try to describe God and God’s work in theories, the theory of substitutionary atonement, the theory of penal satisfaction; does God give us theories or images in Scripture? Theories circumscribe the limits of what is true. Can we define the limits of what God has done? No, images are better and images are what God uses. Ransom, Redemption, Deliverance from Egypt, Adoption as sons, lambs to the slaughter, face to face like one speaks to a friend, these are all images that cause us to see and understand, but not to define.

Indeed, we ourselves were created in God’s image. Have you ever wondered why?

God is jealous. Have you ever wondered why?

(Exodus 34:10)

And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Note what comes next:

“Observe (shamar) what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Take care (shamar), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst.

You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is El Qanna (Jealous), is a jealous God,

lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

What is our purpose? Why were we created in His image?

Matthew 5:14-19

(14) “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.

(15) Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

How will your light shine?

(16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

How will we know how to do “good works”? Well, “good works” was a 1st Century synonym for God’s commandments. Surprised? Doubtful? Where does Jesus go next?

(17) “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

I said to you a couple weeks ago that the Law of God describes His character. We were made in His image so that we could reflect His character. What is the Good News? Paul says it is the Gospel of God.

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.  (Revelation 3:15-16)

Why? Because lukewarmness is confusing. You’re not hot; you don’t look like me, but you claim my name. You’re not cold; you’re not pagans, but you don’t look like me. Pthoah! I spit you out; you confuse my children!

Matt 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“I desire that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

Jer. 7:23 But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I instruct you, that it may be well with you.’

… what was the lesson of the first six books of the Bible? Disobedience Hurts. What is the warning to us, not only will disobedience prevent you from fulfilling your purpose here on Earth, but it will cause you harm; you will suffer for it.

Let me paraphrase Deut 30 for you:

Listen, my child, I made you for a purpose, and I’ve given you the instructions on how to live so as to accomplish it. Furthermore, I’ve empowered you by my Spirit so that you can do what I’ve described, “It’s not too difficult for you, it is within your grasp. It is not up in heaven, that you should say, “who could ascend there, and make this earthly so we could actually do these things?” It is not across the sea, that you might ask, “who could journey that far and bring these to us that we might do them?” No, my message is very close it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it.

“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death. I have enjoined you today to love the LORD your God and to keep his principles, his statutes, and instructions by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and become a great people, and the LORD your God will bless you and your living place.

But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in your homeland! (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

Where was the Tabernacle of God? At the center of their city. It was that which all their life revolved around.

Who or what are you reflecting? We reflect what we look at.

Let me wrap up by telling you this story: this past winter I drove back from meetings in Indy 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.

Grace is opposed to earning; not to effort! Too many of us think that law and grace are opposed; they’re not, their inseparable companions!

Listen to J.I. Packer:

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 … 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.

Finally, I leave you with the words of John Wesley:

I am afraid this great and important truth is little understood, not only by the world, but even by many whom God hath taken out of the world, who are real children of God by faith. Many of these lay it down as an unquestioned truth, that when we come to Christ, we have done with the law; and that, in this sense, “Christ is the end of the law to every one that believeth.” “The end of the law:” so he is, “for righteousness,” for justification, “to every one that believeth.” Herein the law is at an end. It justifies none, but only brings them to Christ; who is also, in another respect, the end or scope of the law, — the point at which it continually aims. But when it has brought us to him it has yet a farther office, namely, to keep us with him. For it is continually exciting all believers, the more they see of its height, and depth, and length, and breadth, to exhort one another so much the more, —

Closer and closer let us cleave
To his beloved Embrace;
Expect his fullness to receive,
And grace to answer grace.

The Great Commandments (Mt. 22:37-40; Mk. 12:29-31) are the summary of that great description of God’s character which Jesus perfectly embodied—the Law of God—condensed even further by St. Paul, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not… and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Romans 13:9). Still at the feet of St. Paul we read in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Which prompts us to ask, “To what purpose the “therefore”? Leading us back to chapter 4: that we no longer walk as the Gentiles do, but put off our old selves, and, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24).

Why is God so jealous for us to accurately reflect His character? Because He has no other Body, but us; it is we whom He tasked to reflect His nature to the world. The mission of God—to which we are adjoined by virtue of being baptized with Christ in his death, and raised with Him in His resurrection—is that phrase which echoes from Genesis to Revelation, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people, and I will dwell among you.” (Ex 6:7; 29:45-46; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; Ezek. 36:28; Rev. 21:3).

In whose Image were you created?

Whose image are you reflecting?

Who or what do you spend most of your time looking at?