Tag Archive | Torah

More thoughts on the SCOTUS ruling

Following on from my earlier post which looked at the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage from a liberty / legal / government / democracy point of view, I said I would post again looking at the ruling from a religious / moral perspective.

I haven’t waded into the debate on homosexuality previously, because I feel inherently out of my depth and ill-equipped to make a coherent argument that is both loving and faithful.

I think that this has been the church’s own trouble in this issue – the inability to disagree in a loving way.

I have seen some very ‘black and white’ comments (in contrast to the shades of grey, or rainbow if you prefer) using words like, ‘sin’, ‘righteousness’, ‘wickedness’, ‘abomination’ and suchlike. These are Biblical words of course, but they’re not terribly helpful here.

Sin is a word loaded with baggage of years of oppressive church imposition of morality by way of guilt and shame, which actually are in a way antithetical to New Testament Christianity which is supposed to be all about a heart-change and love.

So what does it mean? The Westminster catechism defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God”.

So why would the law of God, who defines himself as unchangeably and fundamentally good, as Love incarnate, legislate against homosexuality?

The tendency recently has been to view homosexuality and gay marriage as a question of love. How can you possibly legislate against an emotion, a thought, and how can love ever be morally wrong? Of course it would be a nonsense. Israel’s King David loved his friend Jonathan, and Jewish tradition has it that it was exactly the kind of love that we’re talking about here.

But I don’t think that love is the real issue. David’s love for Jonathan was never depicted as a sin, because it was a feeling, an emotion. As passionate as it may have been, there was never any suggestion of lust or a physical or sexual consumation of that love.

So the law is not against love, but the physical, sexual act of love in a relationship that is outside of the boundaries of what is considered appropriate (or what you might say is outside of the design for sex and sexuality, which is ultimately reproduction.) And of course, there is a long list of which relationships are deemed inappropriate for sexual acts.

As I have mentioned before, Biblical law, the Torah, is traditionally divided into three in Christianity – civil, ceremonial and moral, and laws on sexual behaviour are considered part of the moral law which was traditionally considered binding on Christians, while the rest was rejected.

More recently, in the last century particularly, the moral law has begun to be thrown off as well. I won’t go into the theological reasons for this shift, but suffice to say only the more conservative denominations have rejected this abandonment of traditional morals (although, somewhat inconsistently I would say).

At the same time, the idea of God designing sex, people and the world as part of creation has also been eroded, so the idea that there are boundaries to sexual activity inherent in the design of creation no longer holds much sway even with most Christians.

So it could be said that the two most basic Christian arguments against homosexuality are no longer considered valid, either by the world or the church. That is certainly the logical position we find ourselves in.

Now, although I would tend to be very conservative in some respects – accepting the two premises above which are now generally rejected, I do however realise that gender, sex and sexuality are complex and complicated, and a lot less ‘black and white’ than the Bible and conservative Christians seem to portray them.

From a liberty perspective, I’m very uncomfortable allowing the government to be the arbiter of rights and liberties and prioritise the liberties of one group or individual over another’s. Where it is an adult, consensual relationship, I can’t see the government’s intrusion as legitimate.

From a religious perspective though, the government’s role would legitimately be to limit the ‘sin’ of the nation by legislating according to the moral law… But of course, we don’t have a Christian government.

I saw a post which said something along the lines of “banning my gay marriage because it’s against your religion is like banning my chocolate cake because you’re on a diet” in other words, it’s none of your business, get off my liberty! Well, yes.

In a post-Christian world, there is no obvious reason that would make Christians imposing their morality on others and limiting their morality legitimate.

So on most levels, I have no problem with loving, monogamous, consensual homosexuality, and I have no real problem with gay marriage, providing nobody forces anybody else to do, say or think anything they don’t want to.

But on a spiritual level, I can’t help wondering if there is more to it than what we see on the surface. If God is real, if God really created man and woman with a design, plan and purpose, and determined that there should be limitations on our sexual activity, are we wounding our spirits when we cross those boundaries? (And that wouldn’t apply only to homosexuality but to any kind of sexual activity outside the design – pre-marital, extra-marital, whatever.) Again, that’s not going to carry any weight of argument for anybody who has a different religious or spiritual perspective. But it gives me pause.

I have seen a few people saying that this ruling ‘has crossed the line’, leading America into some kind of gross immorality which will remove God’s blessing and protection on her. Personally, I think that line was crossed a long time ago with the Roe v Wade ruling. But that’s just me.

The Kingdom Divided

I have been quite shocked and disappointed this week to (re-)discover two things:

Firstly that anti-semitism is alive and kicking in the churches, particularly down here in Cornwall.

Secondly, that there are many groups and individuals who believe that gentile believers are not part of Israel proper, only on the fringe as part of the ‘commonwealth’, and that Torah is only for Jews (and beyond that, that we need the “oral Torah” to properly understand and obey Torah).

To my understanding of the scriptures, such a view and practice of exclusion is falsely resurrecting the partition wall that Yeshua tore down. It is a little bit like saying that gentiles aren’t really part of the Kingdom, which is after all what “Israel” is meant to be – the Kingdom where God reigns.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free”

We are meant to be equal and “one”, united in Messiah. As I have said many times, we seem to be yet very far from that ideal. There is still racism, sexism and class and cultural differences which separate us. But certainly we should not be perpetuating such division.

I am supremely grateful that this was not my experience in the Messianic fellowship I attended, which was run by a very lovely, humble Jewish man, who seemed to be quite ‘colour-blind’ when it came to Jew and gentile, whereas I had been turned away from certain other groups that I won’t shame by naming here for not being Jewish! How heartbreaking and divisive!

My conversion, which was what you might call a ‘Ruth-ite’ conversion, a simple declaration as the Biblical Ruth made that “Your people will be my people, and your God my God” is not generally recognised by Jewish or Messianic groups. I find myself in the position of being ‘not quite Jewish enough’ for some Messianic groups, and ‘too Jewish’ for some church groups!

Since there is no official Messianic conversion process in the UK, there is a temptation – even perhaps a push by groups who exclude gentile believers in this way – to convert via Reform or Orthodox means. (In a conversation just this week I was told that if a gentile wants to keep Torah, they must convert to Judaism!)

Since such conversion involves either hiding or denying your affiliation to Yeshua Jesus, that is totally unacceptable in my view, but it is an inevitable result when gentile believers feel particularly called to Israel and the Jewish people and to Torah, and both these things are denied to them as gentiles.

The crux really of this matter rests on what the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 meant when it ruled on gentile believers coming into the Kingdom:

It was being suggested by “a certain sect of the Pharisees who believed” that gentiles could not become part of the Kingdom unless they were first circumcised and kept the whole law, but Paul and Barnabus show that God had shown his inclusion of gentiles by imparting the Holy Spirit, and by many signs and miracles among them.

“And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; *And put no difference between us and them*, purifying their hearts by faith.”
Verses 8 and 9, my emphasis.

In verse 20, the ruling is that Gentile believers must only do the following:
“that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” verse 20

This is really a minimum standard, but even this has been generally ignored by the church because it seems to contradict their understanding that anything at all is permissable to eat. (That’s another discussion for another day!)

But then in verse 21, James goes on to say, “For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”

Again, this verse is generally either ignored or misunderstood. What does James mean? Well, the early believers were meeting in the synagogue, reading the weekly Torah portions.

In other words, they were learning Torah gradually. There is an implicit suggestion there that the gentile believers will gradually conform their lives to Torah, and so it is not necessary to lay the whole law on them at the outset, and certainly not as a condition for salvation.

But wait, you say! Paul says the following in verse 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?”

What does he mean by that? Of course, it has been taken to mean that the “yoke” refers to Torah itself. But is that really the case? Is God’s own law a burden and a bondage from which we must flee and escape?

In Leviticus 26:13, God says:

“I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and *I have broken the bands of your yoke*, and made you go upright.”
(My emphasis)

This is in the context of the giving of the Torah. No, the “yoke” is not Torah itself – God did not rescue the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt only to lay another bondage on them – but rather, the “yoke” is all the additional rules and regulations, what is commonly referred to as the “Oral Torah” put in place as a “hedge around Torah”. The clue is in the word “Pharisee”.

What does Jesus say about those additional Pharisaical rules?

Matthew 15:3 “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” He goes on to give examples of how they are doing that, and then in verse 7: “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”

So Jesus regards the Torah as the commandment of God, holy and good, whereas the ‘Oral Torah’ is no such thing. Indeed, it can be quite the opposite when it contradicts Torah.

The scriptures, especially the psalms are replete with the idea that the law of God is good. Even Paul acknowledges in many places that the law is good, for example in Romans 7:7 he says:

“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid!”

In conclusion, although I realise this is a massive subject and we could argue back and forth on the subject of the law and to what extent Christians should observe it, there is no suggestion whatsoever that Torah is for Jews only and not for gentiles.

In as far as gentiles are grafted into the Olive Tree through faith in Messiah, we are meant to be “one new man”, part of the same body. That is not to say that you cannot retain your identity as Jewish or gentile as a believer, but the wall between us has been broken down. Don’t build it up again.

Heart of Torah

Messianic for me has been a long, hard and lonely journey. When we lived in the city we had a small (20 people) fortnightly fellowship that wasn’t Torah observant and had no understanding of the concept. Here in the country there is not even a Jewish community for miles. I just can’t do it anymore. I am now worshipping in a tiny little village church of England. (As well as The Salvation Army when I can get there) I don’t agree with everything by far, but I need real-life fellowship.

At this point in my walk as well, I feel as though I have had enough pursuing Truth – I have been doing it relentlessly for 20 years, it has been the essence of my Christianity – and now I want to start pursuing the One who is Truth (if that makes sense).

My experience with conservative Christianity and maybe Messianic even more so, has been that its emphasis has become intellectual and belief-oriented rather than heart and hand-oriented. That’s probably a caricature but I feel as though I have got as far as I can go with the pursuit of Truth.

You *can* only go so far with Truth. The idea that we can have the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is an illusion. The Truth is bigger than our minds’ ability to perceive it, and we can only ever see it from a limited, human perspective.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not hardcore Messianic anymore.

I’ve been exploring Celtic Christianity lately, and in some respects it gels beautifully with Messianic beliefs – there’s even some evidence that St Patrick and the early Celtic saints kept the Jewish sabbath and Passover before they came into contact with the Roman church.

But the Celtic believers were much more grounded and earth-bound than their more intellectual Roman (and even Jewish) cousins. Celtic Christianity was egalitarian, at one with nature, un-oppressive and much more concerned with being and doing than thinking and believing.

So often, Messianic believers discover the beauty of the Hebraic Roots of the faith, but then get stuck in the Feasts thinking that they are the heart of Torah. They’re not. The heart of Torah is love, grace, mercy, justice, lovingkindness. I’m ready for a bit more of that now.

Torah Portions and general thoughts on evangelism and fellowship

I have a question: when you study the weekly Torah portion, are you studying a week in advance or not (ie do you study the portion for shabbat in the days running up to shabbat, or start looking at it on shabbat and study it in the days afterwards)?

I’m assuming that the former is the norm rather than the latter. Not being in fellowship anymore, I have never really got into the habit of studying the portions regularly. Actually, when I did have a Messianic fellowship it wasn’t a particularly observant one anyway, so I never did have anybody to study with so it was always a challenge.

So I’m still in the wilderness – another kind of wilderness now, and I wonder whether I have the strength to carry on swimming upstream. I keep coming back to the conviction that Judaism, even Messianic Judaism (and perhaps especially so) cannot be lived out properly except in the context of community.

I am trying to connect more and more with Christians (like the Roman Catholic church, I view them as ‘separated brethren’). I do keep coming back as well to the question of where to draw the line – when and at what point must we ‘come out and be separate’? To what extent can we have fellowship? Is there anything on which we can agree, or are the two ultimately irreconcilable?

I encountered a Messianic Jewish lady this week, who appears to have moved from Orthodox Judaism straight into mainstream Christianity without a ‘Messianic’ step inbetween. Actually it would be interesting to know how many Jewish people end up in mainstream Christianity having been part of the Messianic movement. I would think the number and percentage would be very low, given the Messianic emphasis on Torah and rejection of anything even slightly reminiscent of paganism.  I am noticing, however, that my friend’s perspective on Torah as an Orthodox Jew is very different from mine as a Messianic (non-Jewish) believer, and she didn’t want to get drawn into a discussion about what constitutes paganism.

I am realising more and more as well that the Messianic movement is almost as broad a ‘church’ as mainstream Christianity. It really does vary from something approaching Orthodox Judaism on the one hand and almost Roman Catholic High Church on the other. My experience is probably different again, because I discovered the Messianic movement in parallel with the Sacred Names movement which tends to be scathing of paganism in Christianity and Judaism in equal measure.

I keep wondering about how to live out the Great Commission as part of living out Torah, and wondering whether it is possible without making use of existing structures. I am feeling particularly isolated and useless. Being Messianic surely isn’t all about living to ourselves in a holy Torah huddle while the rest of humanity is drowning.

My friend advised me that it is unwise to criticsise traditional, established church tradition. She also advised me to play down my Jewish connection if I want to have any connection or involvement with other Christians (this was in the context of Mission). I can see where she’s coming from. Even though I am not actually Jewish, I have experienced a fair amount of anti-semitism from within the church. But is keeping quiet and putting my head down really the best response, or even the right one? I have to say I feel profoundly uncomfortable about that.