First blog of 2017 and Tzedakah Ministries already decided to be controversial! Who could have imagined? However, this post is not only necessary but also long past due in being written. So … let’s get started.
What is the Hebrew Roots Movement? This is actually more difficult to define than you might guess but I will attempt to summarize it as succinctly as possible.
First, it is not Messianic Judaism and/or Hebrew Christianity. Messianic Judaism and/or Hebrew Christianity is the historical name for Jewish individuals who have come to recognize the truth that Jesus is the Jewish and Gentile Messiah. Many Jewish believers in Jesus will worship in traditional Christian churches. Many Jewish believers will worship in Messianic congregations. Some will keep Kosher and some will eat a bacon double cheeseburger after Sunday morning services. Some will keep traditional Jewish practices such as Hanukkah and some will throw the most lavish Christmas parties you have ever seen and some some will do both at the same time. Some will seek to marry another Jewish believer to maintain ethnic identity within their family heritage and some will marry someone with the last name of McDougal with absolutely no reservations. In other words, Jewish believers in Jesus represent a cross-section of the Christian story and we are all the better for it.
Second, it is not about adding back the Jewish roots to the Christian Church. The idea of assisting churches and Christians to understand the Jewishness of their faith in order to utilize it as a tool for Jewish evangelism is a key component of what Tzedakah Ministries does. This ministry and myself personally lament the loss of connection between Christian churches and the Jewish roots of our faith. We miss so much by not realizing the connecting points between the testaments. We lose so much texture and richness to our faith in Jesus by not seeing the Jewishness of the story; however, helping churches see the truth of Jesus and Hanukkah in John 10:22-31 is IS NOT WHAT THE HEBREW ROOTS MOVEMENT IS ALL ABOUT IN THE LEAST DEGREE!
So What Is The Hebrew Roots Movement and Why Do I Call It … False and Perhaps Even Heretical?
The Hebrew Roots Movement has been defined by many people and in many different ways. For the sake of time and energy, I will list just a few from across the spectrum:
Stephen Katz (Jews for Jesus) — “various organizations with a common emphasis on recovering the ‘original’ Jewishness of Christianity.” However, and before you think that Katz is pro-HRM, he considers the Hebrew Roots Movement as being comprised of “a growing segment of believers” who have “an excessive interest” in Judaism “which can be harmful to their spiritual health.
Michael Bacon (The Hebrew Roots Movement: An Awakening!) — “contemporary global spiritual awakening in Christianity that advocates the return and adherence to the first century walk of faith in Jesus Christ. HR adherents attempt to walk as Christian obedience to His instructions/His commandments — the Torah.” (Perhaps it is just me but I find it exceptionally ironic that a HRM follower is named Bacon)
Menachem Kaiser (writer for Tablet Magazine – a traditional Jewish magazine) — “a movement of — for lack of a better term — Torah-observant gentiles” … that “follow laws, customs, beliefs, and practices commonly associated with Judaism…” “The movement’s central beliefs is that the Torah is still binding–that God, or Yahweh, or Hashem did not intend for Yeshua’s appearance to render irrelevant the lessons of the Old Testament, who rules and instructions remain valid…” “On some level, these questions are about religious identity: How ‘Jewish’ do they want to be? Or, put another way, how un-Christian?”
Lorena O’Neil (writing on behalf of USA Today, 13 March 2014) — “On the surface, many of its followers might look like Conservative or Orthodox Jews. They keep kosher, observe the Sabbath, celebrate Passover, wear Stars of David and speak Hebrew. Some are circumcised, and have beards and peyos… But their religion centers on Jesus, whom they refer to as Yeshua, his Hebrew name. And they believe that the right path to following Jesus is to live as he did, by observing the Torah. (Hebrew Roots shouldn’t be confused with Jews for Jesus, whose followers consider themselves Jewish, are heavily organized, are known for intense proselytizing.).”
Response from GotQuestions?org — “hold to the teaching that Christ’s death on the cross did not end the Mosaic covenant, but instead renewed it, expanded its message, and wrote it on the heart of his true followers.” Here is a bullet-point of some of their other views according to GotQuestions?
- New Testament can only be understood from a Hebrew perspective
- Teachings of Paul are not taught correctly by Christian pastors today
- The existing Greek New Testament is unreliable and/or corrupted
- Most members of the HRM are Gentiles and not Jewish
- Usage of the name Jesus and God should be rejected as they are not the true names or the ones that are desired — replaced by Yeshua or Yahweh
- Torah is greater than the New Testament
So … what are we supposed to make of these definitions? Can we make anything of these definitions? Yes and no because there are some consistencies that I would like to point out to you:
- Most members of the Hebrew Roots Movements ARE NOT Jewish but Gentiles who seek to live what they perceive to be a Jewish life as “Jesus lived it.”
- There is a strong emphasis on Torah-observance and the Mosaic Covenant over against the idea of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31
- There is a belief that the modern Christian church has abandoned the Jewish roots of the Christian past and present … something I might agree with to a degree but DEFINITELY NOT to the level that the HRM people push
Now I recognize that so far I have given a lot of information that might “rub some people the wrong way” but nothing that might obviously rise to the level of false teachings and/or heresy; however, I would like to take a few more moments to explain why the Hebrew Roots Movements is not only meshugge (Yiddish for senseless) but also reaches the level of false teaching and perhaps even heresy.
We will accomplish this task by briefly examining the following Biblical perspectives: (1) the aspect of conditional and unconditional covenants; (2) Jeremiah 31; (3) Matthew 5:17-20; (4) Acts 15; (5) Hebrews 7 and (6) the absence of Jewish evangelism in the Hebrew roots movement which I believe is one of the strongest indictments against the movement as a whole.
Conditional and Unconditional Covenants:
In Scripture, there are several types of covenants (berith — “bond or fetter, indicating a relationship but not necessarily indicating a relationship of equality”) to be found; however, the focus of this discussion are the covenants between God and man. For the first thing you should recognize on the idea of covenant between God and man is simply that there is no relationship of equality between God and man … God is always superior!
The second thing you should recognize is that the actual number of covenants is subject to debate and argument. Some see seven. Others see five. Some see only two. Here are the ones that I find in Scripture — Adamic (some call it Edenic), Noahic, Abrahamic (which has components to it), Mosaic, Davidic, and the New Covenant (first found in Jeremiah 31 and realized through Jesus).
The third thing is that these covenants are either UNCONDITIONAL meaning that God provides all the promises with no obligations imposed upon humanity (specifically the Chosen People of Israel) or the covenant is CONDITIONAL meaning that the God provides promises for the Jewish people but that some obligations are given to the Chosen People. Imagine or see in Scripture the concept of IF/THEN for the conditional covenant and one should note there is only ONE conditional covenant in all of Scripture and that is the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 27-30).
This is key to understanding to understanding that a perceived need to observe all the Laws of Torah today for believers in Jesus as Messiah is either necessary for salvation or to be a good Christian is not accurate … because of two factors: (1) the covenant was conditional only to the Jewish people and (2) it could be revised and renewed by a better or newer covenant that would be written on the heart…
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord. (KJV — Public Domain)
Jeremiah 31 is the new covenant promised in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and realized in the life, death and resurrection of Messiah Jesus. However, there is so much more to this covenant than simply a replacement for the Mosaic Covenant and the word “replacement” is key to this section. Many will use this passage as an argument to state that the Jewish people have been replaced in the covenantal spectrum of God’s economy; however, look again at the words that I have underlined. There is no replacing the Jewish people as the Chosen People of God and this is not only due to Jeremiah 31 but also due to the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Additionally, the nature of the covenant between God and the Israelites have/will change from a covenant of deeds and ritual sacrifices to one of the heart and one in which their sins will be remembered no more and forgiven forever. However, the question is simply — how will this happen?…
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (KJV – Public Domain)
I have heard individuals in the Hebrew Roots Movement argue this passage as proof that we who are believers in Jesus (i.e., Christians) must follow the Torah down to the letter; however, they never explain how we are to continue with the sacrifices … but that is another story for another day. Sadly, they do not understand the point of the passage and/or what Jesus meant by the phrases that are underlined above.
I was privileged to write a paper on this passage for my seminary class “Theology of Jesus” and I believe this passage and its correlation to the rest of the Sermon on the Mount (and other passages such as Hebrews 7) points out the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Torah Law and he fulfilled the sacrificial and ceremonial laws on the cross. The obligation tied to the idea of not breaking the moral laws of the Torah were not only fulfilled by Jesus as well but our relationship with Him is revealed by our living out those mandates for as Jesus said throughout the rest of Matthew 5-7, “You have heard it said but I say unto you.” Jesus’ fulfillment calls us to a holier life than Torah prescriptions regarding Kashrut and mixing types of cloth — Jesus’ fulfillment of Torah calls us to living the life of heart obedience to Him (cf. Jeremiah 31). This is why the Jerusalem Council saw the need for a better life for both Jewish and Gentiles believers in Jesus…
In Acts 10, Peter was given the command by God to go forth to the Gentiles with the Gospel of Messiah Jesus. By Acts 15, the false word was given by some that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised and live as Jews in order to be saved. James, who my many scholars is believe to be the brother of Jesus, and other leaders of the church hear from all sides of the issue including Peter and Paul on the side of the Gentiles. Peter states this wonderfully insightful verse (v. 10) — “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”
After lots of discussion and evaluation, the decision of what has been called the “Jerusalem Council” was that the Gentiles could live as Gentiles because salvation is by grace alone and that they simply abstain from a few things as a testimony or as a witness of their salvation (v. 29): “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.”
Jewish believers IN JERUSALEM in the first century were encouraged to continue according to the Torah according to the Jerusalem Council but not the Gentile believers. And I would state today that Jewish believers can or cannot live how they choose but Gentile believers are not only expected to not live as Jewish people but it is foolish to do so (see the Epistle of Galatians as well). Therefore, we come to the final passage and this is crucial as it relates to the passage of Hebrews 7…
Hebrews 7 (specifically verses 19-28 and 8:6-10)…
For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as not without an oath he was made priest: (For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: But this man, because he continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself. For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore.
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: (KJV – Public Domain)
In many regards, I would argue that I could allow these verses to stand without comment because they LITERALLY state and stand alone. Jesus came to create a better covenant that is not Mosaic Covenant because it was conditional. Jesus came to complete the Davidic Covenant and He has, does and always will. He is not a priest according to the Mosaic Covenant. He is a priest according to the Oath of Melchizedek. He is a King because He is a Son of David. He brought a better covenant than Mosaic and even the Jewish believers are not bound to the Laws of Moses anymore. They can observe them if they choose out of tradition and heritage but they are not obligated to do so. They are free because of grace just as we are and this is the message of Jeremiah 31 and Matthew 5:17-20 and the words of Jesus on the cross when He proclaimed, “It is Finished/Accomplished!”
Lack of Focus on Jewish Evangelism…
Sadly, and I believe one of the most obvious and false teachings components of the Hebrew Roots Movements is their failure to focus on Jewish Evangelism. Romans 1:16 is clear that the Gospel is “to the Jew first” but you don’t see Jewish evangelism pursued in the Hebrew Roots Movement. Romans 9-11 is a Pauline Mandate for the Gospel to be presented to the Jewish people but you don’t see the Great Commission proclaimed in the Hebrew Roots Movement. Jesus Himself stated that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) but the Hebrew Roots Movement is made up of Gentile individuals — where are the Jewish people in the Hebrew Roots Movements?
Until the Hebrew Roots Movement returns to the Scripture as opposed to the traditions of man … I will continue to their teachings and wonder if we dare call it heresy…?