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Bewitching Believers Through the Hebrew Roots Movement

by

Source: http://www.thebereancall.org/content/january-2014-bewitching-believers-hebrew-roots

 

The old hymn “I Would Be Like Jesus” has a chorus that has the hymn singers assert, “Be like Jesus, this my song, in the home and in the throng; Be like Jesus all day long! I would be like Jesus.”

Many Christians don’t realize that there is a battle being waged between Jewish externals and rituals as a means of spirituality and sanctification and truly biblical means that are internal heart issues. None would argue that being more like Jesus is a very commendable goal. After all, we are to constantly look to Him (Hebrews:12:2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.) and see Him as our ultimate example (1 Peter:2:21For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:). But with every journey in life we must decide how we are going to get there. The larger issue of being like Jesus is: What does it really mean? What does it look like? and Just how is it accomplished?

The late Jewish scholar and researcher of first century life in Israel, David Flusser, said rightly; “Jesus was a Jew in every way” ( Jewish Sources in Early Christianity , Adama Books, New York, 1987, p.7). There is absolutely no denying that Jesus was born a Jew and lived an observant Jewish life. He did this to fulfill completely every demand of the law, He did it for us (Romans:8:1-4 [1] There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
[2] For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
[3] For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
[4] That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
), and He continues to do it in us if we are true believers.

So if we want to be like Jesus, does that mean that we must become observant Jews, as some allege? Is that what being like Jesus really means? Should Gentile believers try to be Messianic Jews? Can they? Should Gentiles don a yarmulke, worship in a synagogue, blow a shofar, wear a prayer shawl, call Jesus Yeshua or Yeshu, keep the Old Testament feasts and dietary laws, and give their pastors the title of Rabbi, even though Matthew:23:8But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. says otherwise? Are Jewish ceremonies and practices efficacious?

Do we need to restore first century or later Jewish practices to really be good Christians? The Pharisees practiced all the ceremonies, but theirs is a cautionary tale since Jesus told them that they did these things in vain (Matthew:15:7-9 [7] Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
[8] This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
[9] But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
, See also Matthew 23).

So, is Jewishness next to godliness? One very modern movement would answer the question with a loud—“yes, more or less!” This growing movement is called the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM). Unfortunately, it lacks a shared, coherent, consistent theology, an internal mechanism of doctrinal control, and it is filled with mavericks who seem to be making it up as they go along in terms of attachment to Jewish accoutrements.

Some in the HRM are way over the edge in their denial of the Trinity and seem to know Jesus only in the flesh. As we will see, this movement is an idea, a view, an attitude, or a philosophy; a shared concept that Jewish traditions and Judaism are far superior for the church, a sure fire way to a deeper sanctification and with some, possibly even salvation.

It’s hard to define the HRM because it is so diverse and made up of so many disparate groups and individuals. It’s a moving target. It’s a vast smorgasbord of everything from scholarship, as in the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, to so-called Third Questers, to individuals practicing subjective pop (make-it-up-as-you-go) Judaism. It can even include the medieval mystical Kabbalah, with its esoteric numerology. More often than not there are no distinctions made between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant or between the Bible and the Talmud. This movement can impose legalism with a vengeance or in some instances may simply suggest Jewish practices that they say will give us deeper insight and understanding as well as make us more “authentic” believers.

Here, then, is a loose definition of the Hebrew Roots Movement. It is a very modern movement that insists that we must resurrect first-century Judaism (our Jewish Roots) and the milieu and lifestyle of first-century Jews and impose them on both Jewish and non-Jewish believers. This is not just an academic study to better understand Scripture and its setting but is rather a movement of restoration that claims that the church has moved off its Jewish foundation and must return to a more Jewish way of life to be authentic.

Although there is great benefit in studying the archaeology, geography, sociology, religion, and customs of the ancient biblical world, it does not follow that we must reinstitute and copy those times, replete with language, customs, and even dress.

It is obvious in much of the HRM that it’s not just the study of the first century for interpretation, information, and illumination that carries the day but keeping the traditions and practices of the Jewish Talmud, which was completed long after Jesus in the years 400-500 ( The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion , Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1965, p. 374). Actually, there are two Talmuds, namely the Babylonian Talmud and the Palestinian Talmud. The Talmuds vary in many of their customs, traditions, and practices.

Jewish believer Stephen Katz expresses his concerns when he says, “Much of the Jewish Roots Movement is actually based on later Jewish/rabbinic tradition. More importantly, the question of whether Gentiles need to add Jewish lifestyle and return to Jewish roots was settled by the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. The remarkable news of the Gospel is that, in Y’shua, Jews and Gentiles have direct access to God” (“The Jewish Roots Movement: Flowers and Thorns,” March 1, 2001).

In practice, many promoters of the HRM draw their content more from Talmudic Judaism than from Old or New Testament Judaism. Acts 15 addresses head-on the relationship of Gentile believers to Judaism. The Apostle James told the Jewish believers that they should not disturb Gentile believers. In verse 19, James strongly commanded, “I judge that we [Jews] should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Then an official letter went out to the Gentiles reaffirming the decision: “Since we heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, ‘you must be circumcised and keep the law’—to whom we gave not such commandment” (v. 24). In other words, “Back off trying to make Gentiles into Jews!”

Messianic Jewish believer Stan Telchin sees the imposition of Jewish law and practice on Gentiles as one of the more troubling aspects of the Messianic Jewish Movement: “I know that the overwhelming majority of Jewish believers do not attend Messianic synagogues. It has been suggested that less than five percent of the Jewish believers in the United States attend them….Many Jewish people who I have brought to such synagogues have told me they felt as though they were looking at a caricature—an imitation and not the real thing” ( Messianic Judaism Is Not Christianity , Chosen Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 2004, p. 83).

If Telchin’s statistics are even close, it means that up to 95 percent of the attendees at Messianic synagogues are Gentiles and only 5 percent are Jews. This tells us that Gentiles are being “converted” to forms of Judaism that even many Jews reject. That turns Acts 15 on its head. The really big question that Hebrew Roots teachers must answer is, “Why are there far more Gentile believers than Jews in Messianic synagogues and Messianic fellowships?”

This imposition of Jewish practice on non-Jewish believers really does constitute a serious issue that promotes elitism, unnecessary division, wide confusion, and unbiblical practices. We can almost understand Jews who convert to Christ who still try to keep some of the cultural aspects and celebrations of their familial heritage. If their intentions and motives are not legalistic, and if these things are not done for salvation or out of religious elitism, there may be some minor benefit. Yet to impose them on Gentiles (as is the case, more often than not) is a direct violation of Paul’s words to the Colossians: “So let no one judge you in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (2:16-17). So Paul tells the Gentiles at Colossi that they are not to let anyone force Judaism on them. Didn’t Paul tell the Ephesians that saved Jews and Gentiles were now one new body and one new man—the church (Ephesians:3:1-8 [1] For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
[2] If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
[3] How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
[4] Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
[5] Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
[6] That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
[7] Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
[8] Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
)?

We have already mentioned the very confusing practice of superimposing the later Talmud and Talmudic traditions on New Testament believers (Jew or Gentile). Isn’t this as serious as any of the extrabiblical books imposed on cult followers? Some of the Talmud has nothing to do with the New Testament and only reflects later Judaism without a land, a temple, a priesthood, or a sacrifice.

The Hebrew Roots Movement is cavalier and does nothing as far as the above cautions. The use of later rabbinical material must be done with much care, that is, sparingly and judiciously. We must be sure that it can be verified and corroborated by earlier or contemporary sources. It is our only safety. If we are unsure of a later source, would it not be dangerous to add it to the Bible (Revelation:22:18-19 [18] For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
[19] And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
)?

One very important and urgent issue that the Hebrew Roots Movement never addresses is—which Judaism? This is the elephant in the room.

It would be more correct to speak of Judaisms. There were different streams of Judaism in the first century. Is it to be the religious Pharisees? And, if so, is it the school of Shammai or Hillel? Or is it the religion of the Sadducees? Why not the Judaism of the Zealots or the Herodians? Is it to be the Judaism of John the Baptist? Better yet, the purists—the separatists called the Essenes. As has been mentioned, any first-century Judaism of any stripe cannot be fully practiced since there is no temple, no priesthood, and no animal sacrifices. Some in the Hebrew Roots Movement seem to be enamored with modern Orthodox Jews. But the large and unanswered question is: which Orthodox group?

In the complex world of Jewish Orthodoxy, there are a myriad of competing groups with different dress and different traditions, all claiming to have their corner on the truth. A few of the somewhat cloistered groups in Jerusalem are the Ger Hassidic Dynasty, the Belz Hassidic Dynasty, the Karlin Stolin Hassidic sect, the Breslav Hassidic Dynasty, the Samar Hassidic Dynasty, the Chabad Hassidic sect, and the Neturi Karta. (For details, differences, and dynamics of these groups, see  The Mysteries of Jerusalem , Adam Ackerman, Multipress, Jerusalem, 2007, pp. 61-77). Which one is right?

There is an almost total ignoring by the Hebrew Roots Movement teachers of two-thirds of the New Testament, namely the Epistles of Paul (as well as the other Epistles). There is some tipping of the hat to selective pieces of Romans that in their view speak of Abraham and also of being grafted into Judaism, or Jewish Roots. It is clear that being grafted into Israel has to do with Abrahamic and Messianic blessings—not cloning or trying to act like Jews. These spiritual privileges are real spiritual and eternal blessings. They do not mean dressing up and pretending to be of some other nationality or religion.

Gentile believers have received the Word of God, the Messiah, and His salvation. Being grafted into Abraham’s blessings is as beautiful and as simple as Gib Martin and Larry Richards explain: “The olive tree…is a familiar and beautiful part of the landscape of Israel. It is a symbol of both strength and blessing. David penned in Psalm:52:8But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.: ‘I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever’….Paul uses the branch of an olive tree to picture what God has done in grafting in the gentiles, the ‘wild olive tree’ (Romans:11:17And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;) into the cultivated olive tree, Israel. In Paul’s metaphor, some of the olive tree’s branches were broken off and wild shoots were grafted into the tree. God was turning the Gentiles into fruit-bearing people….Paul is pointing them to the very source of their lives: God. God is the Keeper of the vineyard, the ultimate Gardener” ( The Book of Romans , Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN, 2007, p. 168).

Ignoring the Epistles is one way to avoid a deluge of material about New Testament church life, church structure, church officers, church practices, and beliefs. It’s no wonder that those in Hebrew Roots have a truncated and skewed message. I say this with sadness.

What we are dealing with is both foundational and fundamental. Is it to be synagogue or church? The Jews had a practice that if anyone professed Christ they were to be thrown out of the synagogue (John:9:22These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.). Yet those in the HRM would try to pretend that synagogues are good places to be—or at least to emulate or push their way back in. Can we merge church and synagogue? Should we? We need to remember that Jesus said clearly, “On this rock I will build my church.” He did not say, “I will build my synagogue.”

Is it to be law or grace? The Book of Galatians deals with that in great detail. However, as I said, the Epistles are neglected and ignored, and Galatians is skipped over. It is interesting to note that Paul told the Galatians that a trip back to Judaism indicated that they had become both “foolish” and “bewitched” (Galatians:3:1O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?). The word “bewitched” is the Greek root  baskano , and it means to be allured and drawn into false doctrine.

Is it Old Covenant or New Covenant? If it was anything but New Covenant, Jesus would have never said at His last supper, “For this is My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew:26:28For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.). This is repeated in Mark:14:24And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. and Luke:22:20Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.. The repetition must be there for a good reason. Jesus must have known that some would ignore much of the New Covenant or get the two covenants confused.

Is it the Passover or the Lord’s Supper? Paul reminded the Corinthians what the Passover stood for and what was really central: “For indeed Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians:5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:). It’s clear that all the Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and feasts were types and shadows pointing to Jesus (Colossians:2:16-23 [16] Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
[17] Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
[18] Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
[19] And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
[20] Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
[21] (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
[22] Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
[23] Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
, Hebrews:10:1-10 [1] For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.
[2] For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins.
[3] But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year.
[4] For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.
[5] Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me:
[6] In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.
[7] Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.
[8] Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law;
[9] Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
[10] By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
).

Is it Saturday or Sunday? Saturday (the seventh day) was clearly attached to the finishing of the Old Creation (Genesis:2:1-3 [1] Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
[2] And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.
[3] And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
). Sunday, the first day of the new week celebrates the Resurrection and the new creation in Christ. Christians are a new creation (2 Corinthians:5:17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.).

Is it Jewish externals and superficial ritual purity or internal cleansing and heart purity? Psalm 51 answers that question clearly: “Sacrifice you did not desire or I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (vv. 16-17).

This brief article is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of the Hebrew Roots Movement. For now we are just asking questions. There are detailed larger articles and a book in production to examine in depth and detail the entire movement. We hope to offer corrections to many aberrant practices and deal more fully with some of the issues raised in this piece. Stay tuned.