Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reclaiming Messiah

(Continuing my companion piece to “Messianic Quintet” which began with the article “Hijacking Messiah”.)

In his book Betrayed, Stan Telchin describes how horrified he and his wife (both Jewish) were when their daughter revealed she had found faith in Jesus. He writes “To mention the name of Jesus is awkward enough. To consider Him as the Messiah is to betray our people, to join the enemy and to desecrate the memory of all our ancestors over the last two thousand years”. He continues with the reason for this: “…the knights of the Crusades…descended on Jews with a cross in one hand and a sword in the other. They murdered and raped and pillaged, all in the name of Christianity.”
“Then there was the Inquisition in Spain in 1492, when refusing to convert to Christianity would cost a Jew his life…”

The realities of a 2000 year history of persecution are not easily brushed away. And it is not distant history when we recognise how recently 6,000,000 Jews were added to the number of those murdered in previous vendettas of “Christendom” against the Jews. However Telchin didn’t need to look to history, even recent history, to make the point recalling, at the age of 5 or 6, of being labelled a “Christ-killer”.

Yohanna Chernoff in Born a Jew…Die a Jew reveals another reason Jews have found it difficult to accept the gospel: the fear of losing or forfeiting their cultural identity. What other national group have been required to abandon or hide their cultural roots? Do Americans stop being Americans after coming to faith in Jesus?
Jewish believers faced rejection from two sides – from other Jews who see belief in Jesus as betrayal, “Are you going to become like those people who have been persecuting us for two thousand years?” And from gentile believers, who foster barely disguised anti-Semitism in their expectation that Jews give up their Jewish identity.
This has been expressed most clearly in replacement theology which insists that the Jews are a people rejected by God having been replaced in His affections by the church.

Yohanna Chernoff and her husband Marty were among the recent pioneers of a movement among Jewish believers in which they celebrate their Messiah as Jews. They started one of the earliest successful Messianic Congregations in America, with the mission of taking the gospel to Jewish families and bringing them into an expression of Messianic faith that joyfully embraces its Jewish roots. This mission not only brought opposition from more traditional church groups, it attracted massive protests from orthodox Jewish groups. This story is told in the book Born a Jew…Die a Jew.

Prior to the late 1960s/early 1970s, there were few Jews expressing faith in Jesus the Messiah. This was the time of the “Jesus Movement” through which many young people started to find the Christian message appealing. This influx of young people, often from the hippy community, also affected the new Messianic fellowships. The Chernoffs saw this as the fulfilment of a vision received by Marty which referred to a “ragged righteous remnant”. Their Beth Yeshua (House of Salvation) fellowship gave a spiritual home to many young people searching for truth and was the birth place of Lamb and Kol Simcha, two groups of singers/musicians who introduced popular, Jewish influenced music to the wider church.

While many still insist that God has rejected Israel and replaced them with the church –thought of as “new” or “spiritual” Israel - they cannot honestly deny that a wonderful move of God has begun within the Jewish people. The numbers of Messianic Jewish believers has grown significantly over the last 30-40 years. Even so, while acknowledging this fact, many still insist that there is no future for the people of Israel. And in this insistence there is not only a denial of what is happening around them, there is a wilful denial of what the apostle Paul reveals in his letter to the church in Rome. His words should take away ALL doubt. He categorically states that God has not rejected the Jews, and he is equally categorical when he states that ALL Israel will be saved in the same way that gentile believers have been saved. This will happen after an unspecified number of gentiles have come to faith.

Don Finto’s God’s Promise and the Future of Israel brings an overview of what God has been doing among the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It gives a perspective of the history of Israel and the church, and moves on to the future that both will share together, becoming members of the one family of God. He writes of the important part that Israel plays in God’s future purposes, a future in which the Messiah will return to earth to establish the Kingdom promised throughout countless prophecies in scripture.

Finto believes that the coming of this Kingdom is very near. The re-establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent repossession of Jerusalem as its capital in 1967 are seen as major signs of the imminence of the Kingdom. Could these events be fulfilment of the return of Israel foretold by the old testament prophets: a return from ALL the nations (clearly a different event from the return from ONE nation after the exile to Babylon)? Those prophecies also promise that the people returning to the land of their ancestors will never again be uprooted – again the return from the Babylonian exile does not fulfil that condition considering they WERE uprooted again in 70AD.

Is it coincidence that Jerusalem came under Jewish control and an increase in the number of Jews recognising their Messiah started around the same time?

Hijacking Messiah

On my “literary” blog I will be posting an article called “Messianic Quintet”. It will briefly “review” five books with a common theme that I’ve been reading recently.

Three of the books are autobiographical while the other two offer personal observations of influences that have separated Christianity from its Jewish origins. This article is a companion piece, touching on the historical background of the relationship between Christianity and Israel. Following articles will look at the direction ahead.
This is a complex and potentially controversial issue I hope I’m able to address it with a degree of clarity and not merely add to the misunderstanding. Of course there is no way that the whole matter can be addressed in full and I can only touch the surface.

For the first decades of church history, the Christian faith was predominantly Jewish. It was not considered to be a new religion. Its followers recognised Jesus as “the Messiah”, the King of Israel, whose coming had been prophesied for hundreds of years.

Eventually, the message of the Messiah spread to a non-Jewish audience. The original followers of Jesus then had to decide whether it was necessary for the growing number of gentile followers to convert to Judaism, adopting its laws and traditions in order to be accepted by God.

At a conference in Jerusalem it was recognised that God had accepted gentile believers just as they were and conversion to Judaism was unnecessary (Acts 15)

Moving forward a couple of centuries and the nature of the church had changed significantly. The gentile influence had increased, far outweighing that of Jewish believers.

When the council of Nicea met in 325AD (during which some of the basic Christian beliefs were established as recorded in the Nicene Creed) they excluded all Jewish input. No leader from a Jewish background was invited to attend. It wasn’t long before all influence from Jewish believers was rejected.

The early Jewish leadership of the church saw that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without converting to Judaism, but when gentiles became the dominating influence the same liberty was not extended to Jews. They were expected to desert their Jewish culture and adopt gentile behaviour and lifestyle. It was forgotten that the Jesus at the heart of the church was Himself a Jew who had been proclaimed as King of the Jews.

For the most part of the last 2000 years, Jews have suffered at the hands of those professing to be Christians. “Christian” nations have treated them with scorn and violence, from the Spanish Inquisition, to the Russian Pogroms and of course the Holocaust, during which 1/3 of the world’s Jews was murdered by Hitler’s Nazis. These experiences throughout history contributed to the further hardening of the Jews against the Christian message.

During the church’s first years, prior to the coining of the term “Christian”, believers in Jesus called their faith and lifestyle “The Way” and considered themselves followers of The Way.
Steve Maltz has used this name in the title of his book How the Church Lost the Way. Throughout the book Maltz demonstrates how the Hebraic influence of the original followers of Jesus was replaced by the influences of Greek philosophy and how the acceptance of Jews within the church was ended.
I mentioned the council of Nicea earlier. Of this Maltz writes:

“…the first great Council of the Christian Church now takes a sinister turn and validates a policy that is going to result in nothing less than persecution, leading to genocide, of the Jewish people for centuries to come.”

This statement relates to an official letter circulated from the Council by the Emperor (and chairman of the Council) Constantine regarding the distancing of “Easter” celebrations from the original celebration of Passover, when Jesus was crucified according to the Jewish calendar.

“…it seemed to everyone a most unworthy thing that we should follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this most holy solemnity, who, polluted wretches, having stained their hands with a nefarious crime, are justly blinded in their minds…Let us therefore have nothing in common with the most hostile rabble of the Jews.”

Maltz continues, that this was “… the start of a long slide away from the Jewish roots of the faith” and notes that subsequent councils, “threatened excommunication for any Christian celebrating Passover with the Jews…” and “…extended this to all Jewish festivals as well as the Saturday Sabbath”.

In so clearly and categorically rejecting the Jewish origins of faith in the Jewish Messiah, the church did incalculable harm to itself and the integrity of its doctrines and practices. But also it did great harm to the Jew’s relationship with their long awaited King, helping to further harden them against Him and the message He preached.

(see Messianic Quintet

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Believers Without Bibles Prosper!

A few times I have it said that many believers in the world don’t have access to bibles and that they often prosper more in their faith than most who do have bibles. The argument continues with reference to those throughout history who were either illiterate, too poor to obtain a bible, or were denied the right to have one by the authorities of their time.
If scripture is so vital to Christian life, how do (and did) those believers make it?

It is ironic that these arguments are usually raised by those who have easy access to multiple bibles who are not likely to find themselves in a position where they never have one.

If we don't have access to a bible and can't get access to a bible then we can not and will not be held accountable for what we don’t have. And I believe the Lord will provide in some way to make up for the lack.

But if we do have access:
“…from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”. (Luke 12:48)

So why and how do those believers prosper in their faith without easy access to scripture?

They are often living in genuine poverty and/or experiencing genuine persecution and have to genuinely trust in the Lord for day to day survival. But bible ownership (especially multiple copy ownership) often comes with relative wealth and freedom from harsh persecution.

While these "benefits" are appreciated the freedom is usually accompanied by countless distractions. These distractions include a lot of "spiritual benefits" such as Christian books & music, TV, Church attendance, preaching etc., which can become substitutes for searching the scriptures for ourselves. Those resources are often given more influence and authority over our doctrine than scripture is - because they are so convenient and easy to take in.

And when we DO go to scripture, if we come across something we can't understand, we have so many resources to which we can refer for understanding. Unfortunately those resources can become substitutes for trusting the Holy Spirit to teach us.
We often prefer to turn to commentaries because we are impatient for answers and the Spirit doesn't always respond to our impatience as quickly as we would like. Unlike the commentary writers, the Holy Spirit knows the truth of EVERYTHING. He also knows our capacity and readiness to learn so He reveals what we need to understand when we are ready to understand it.

And how many people trust in study bibles to give them understanding? And how many of those people find themselves reading the study notes more than they read the actual biblical text? Those are just some thoughts on this issue. It is not due to the presence or absence of a Bible. It is due to the types of society in which Bible ownership is easy, hard or impossible. And most importantly, it is due to the value we REALLY give to scripture. Do we value it enough to actually take it seriously? Do we take it as seriously as those to whom access to the scriptures is a rare privilege?

Scripture Diminished and Downplayed: a continuing concern

Are there false doctrines and deceivers around today?
Of course there are – but how are they recognised and how do we avoid becoming victim to them?

Our foundational defence is scripture, the word of God. One of the first warning signs given that everything is NOT ok, is often the way scripture is treated. Downplay the scriptures, or pick and choose which bits are really inspired, and we open the gate wide for everyone to determine what is right in their own eyes.
We open the gate wide to every deceiving spirit to come (claiming to be the Holy Spirit), whispering all manner of false revelation into our ears.

Unfortunately the denigration of scripture has become common practice among some professing Christians, and open forums and blogs tend to give them a platform to promote their ideas. Usually they dress their message in very spiritual sounding terms in which the Holy Spirit is presented as superseding His inspired word, making scripture almost unnecessary. Why do we need scripture when we have God Himself inside?

Others will make the claim that JESUS is the Living word of God and we should relate to Him and not words on a page (which by implication or even direct statement are dismissed as NOT being the word of God).

The questioning of the nature of scripture is not uncommon. This is especially true of those who have had their faith shaken at some stage, with the realisation that most things they were taught and took for granted were wrong. If everything else was wrong – what about our understanding of what scripture is? Is it really “the word of God”? Was it really inspired by the Holy Spirit? Weren’t the writers fallible men who could make mistakes?

I’ve seen all of these questions, and in the past I asked some of them myself.

But it is ironic that those who try to question the authority of scripture often do so by referring to PARTS of scripture to defend their viewpoint.
A popular quote used for this purpose is:

John 5:39-40
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

These verses are not diminishing the importance of scripture; they specifically state that the scriptures testify about Jesus! He was NOT criticising the Pharisees for studying the scriptures, He was criticising them for not seeing what was THERE in the scriptures. Like in so many cases today the actual content of scripture was replaced by other things – like tradition and theology.

So often we are too keen to read our doctrines INTO scripture that we blind ourselves to what scripture is actually saying. This practice seems to be ingrained into us, by example, through a lot of preaching within the church. A preacher will base a sermon on a “text”, he will then make several points based around his application of that “text” – and will usually throw in a sampling of other “texts” from around the bible to add extra support for his points.

Most listeners will take it all in without a second thought, with no questions about what has been said. Others will be a little more diligent and will note down the references and check them later for themselves, but in doing so will fail to check the context to see whether the “texts” were being applied correctly. The common attitude is to do nothing more than check whether the references are in scripture or not.
In effect we are not learning what scripture is REALLY saying, we learn what the preacher is telling us that it says. We are also adopting a wrong understanding of how scripture should be handled.

Scripture is NOT a collection of disconnected texts to apply according to personal preference. Scripture is a collection of books that must be addressed according to context to see what those books are saying. No prophecy of scripture is open to private interpretation.
We should be determining what the Spirit was and is saying through the words He inspired men to write?

At one time Jesus said: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”
And that truth remains – people fall into error because they do not know the scriptures.

So often there has been an obsession with “the power of God” at the expense of the Scriptures, and people run here and there whenever rumours of displays of power are heard. If scripture had been given the same importance as “the power” those people may have become more familiar with what Jesus said:

“…if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time.

"So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it.”

Heeding those warnings about the coming end-times should make everyone wary of running here and there in response to reports of “the anointed one” (the Christ) being in a particular place performing great signs and miracles.
But how can those warnings be heeded if the importance and authority of scripture is ignored or dismissed

Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
but who delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on his law* day and night.
They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.
(Psalm 1)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Blasphemy of Angel worship as portrayed by Hollywood

Where does the glorification of angels lead us?

Giving excessive prominence to angels has become a common thing among the false signs and wonders movement. We saw how Todd Bentley’s obsession with angels had (has!) many deceived.

Now another manifestation of angel “worship” has come to my attention.
I heard about a new film called “Legion”. In this story God has “lost faith” in mankind and determined to destroy them. But the archangel Michael rebels against God and comes to mankind’s aid.

This totally blasphemous perversion places mankind’s salvation in the hands of an angel.
Now which angel would like to have himself portrayed as man’s saviour from an allegedly vindictive and hostile God? Which angel will one day lead a literal army of men in a final (vain) attempt to overcome God’s rule on earth?
Such concepts as that being promoted in this movie show how easily men can be made to accept the possibility of overcoming God with the help of another angel – not Michael as in the movie, but Lucifer, now known as Satan or the devil.