Continuing my personal story of moving from a ‘normal, nondenominational’ Christianity to something called Messianic Judaism. Part one covered my Christian upbringing, conversion, and beginning of real disciplship…
Needless to say, those years at Medical Lake Community Church with Jack and the youth group were life-altering. I wanted to go to church now. I wanted to know what else the Bible said. The things I learned didn’t end up as “Oh, that’s neat” notes on a page, they got inside me and told me, “Change the way you’re living.” I wanted to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
One of Jack’s last lessons—it may even have been his last—was about Rosh HaShanah. Which is Hebrew for head of the year, and is the traditional name for what the bible calls Yom Teruah (the day of the trumpet blast or shout). It’s not actually the head of the year, biblically, but that’s a rabbi trail.
Get it? Rabbi! HAHAHAHAHA!
The subject was the prophetic meaning. For example, when Jesus says he returns at a day when ‘no man knows’, I’d always been taught that meant no one knows the day. Duh! But it turns out to actually be a Hebrew idiom for the beginning of a month.
The Hebraic calendar month begins at new moon, but without advanced calculation, you’re not sure if the month will be twenty-nine days long or thirty. You have to watch for it, which should conjure to mind all the ‘watching’ that Jesus told his disciples to do. Also, Jesus and Paul talk about the Jesus’s return being preceded by a ‘trumpet’ and a ‘shout.’ Well, it just so happens that Yom Teruah (the day of the trumpet shout) falls on . . . guess what? The New Moon, or the day that no man knows. In fact, because of Joel and others, the Rabbis have long associated the day of the LORD with trumpets. Jesus and Paul weren’t merely talking in riddles, they were confirming what the sages had already taught. They wouldn’t know exactly when Mashiach would return, but it would happen in proximity to the feast of Trumpets.
I suddenly learned that there was a body of Jewish understanding that I as a Christian was entirely unaware of. How many other phrases and things had I missed? Why had I never heard this? I and others in the youth group were hungry for more, but Jack was gone abruptly thereafter. He’d become unwelcome after being involved in bringing an accusation against someone in a position of leadership.
I didn’t see Jack, or really hear from him much after that, and the church went through some new youth leadership that served to confirm that the way Jack believed high schoolers could actually apply themselves to scripture was apparently unique. We were presented with teaching that was obviously phoning it in, and I promptly challenged it.
In fairness, though the teaching was weak (and I believe in error), I will admit that I was too eager to challenge. Too hot-headed over the fact that a better teacher had been replaced with others trying to teach us what Bonhoeffer would have called cheap grace. I freely confess, that my manner was wrong, but it did serve God’s purpose to show me, I needed to look elsewhere, and in essence kicked the training wheels out from under me. I was under eighteen at this time, so I continued to attend, and make too much trouble. I have since asked forgiveness from others involved.
Meanwhile, my sense of what scripture actually said was not discouraged—and for context, my parents agreed with the church so now I was out of step with them as well. And on the Hebrew/Jewish side, those of us who had been closest to Jack started trying to keep the feasts. An important point at this juncture is to understand that I did not approach the feasts or anything Hebraic as being required for anything. I and others had merely seen that there were these hidden meanings that deepened and expounded upon the teachings of Jesus.
But the innocuous search for more knowledge, brought the seed of a dilemma. Studying the feasts lead to Hebraic Roots (a hermeneutical belief that the Bible, being written and preserved by the Hebrew people, must be approached from that perspective; you can’t understand someone else’s mail without taking into account the person intended to read it). Even regular Christian pastors do this to a degree. How many times have you heard someone say, “The word in the text is (insert Greek or Hebrew), and it means ____. But in the first century that meant something different (insert explanation)”? Any good student recognizes these little nuggets, but what is neglected is the way of thinking surrounding the nuggets, and that is Hebraic Roots.
Hebraic roots leads to actually studying Torah (the law) and the Old Testament, because you begin to understand that the concepts and stories of the Old Testament provides the lexicon for the new. So of course, I read some of the ‘law.’ There wasn’t anything too surprising there; even my non-Messianic Dad understood Sunday was not the Sabbath. And I could count, every calendar has Saturday as the seventh, and Sunday as the first. If Sunday was not the first, then Jesus couldn’t rise on Sunday. Pork was unclean, but who didn’t know that?
The dilemma came in that I started to ask, “Why did God give these commandments?” There must have been some ‘spiritual’ reason just like Rosh HaShanah. After all, Paul says, that the holy days are (present tense) shadows of things to come. So why did God establish a specific-day Sabbath? Everything was supposed to point to Christ, so how does not eating pig point to Christ?
I started researching and found that pig, along with other unclean meats, are nutritionally less beneficial. Christians will say that has to do with improper cooking. But that didn’t make sense. Jesus didn’t give any new ‘cooking instructions’ that would explain how pig suddenly went from unfit for consumption to fit for consumption. Was fire a lot different before 33 AD? In fact, salmonella which can be carried by chickens dies at a higher temperature than trichinosis which is often given as the reason pigs were deemed unfit. And if that were the reason, then it would still be unclean today, if prepared incorrectly on a barbeque, and I’ve never heard a Christian teaching on improper cooking.
But actually, my research showed me things beyond the common sense. For example, both pig and shellfish leave uric acid in your system after metabolism. Uric acid according to Oxford is “of, pertaining to, or derived from urine.” It’s a waste product left in your system, and it can build crystalline deposits in your joints that give you . . . gout. Meet someone with gout and start asking about their diet. Diverticulitus can also be traced to diets heavy with unclean foods in them. Shellfish are also bottomfeeders, and secular scientists will say that because they are bottom feeders they are higher in toxins such as mercury among the creatures of the sea. None of these things have anything to do with how you cook it. In fact, seas being more polluted now, make shellfish more harmful than before Jesus’s day. I could give many more examples of this today.
The demanding “why” grew more insistent, when a sister named Leigh came to visit my future sister-in-law. She was some version of Messianic, and explained how Torah was good (though we didn’t get very far in the subject). And I listened, and thought it was interesting, but I among others drew the line to say, “Yes, but it’s not required. We don’t have to abide by the law as commandment.” That’s right, I argued against Torah!
But I couldn’t escape what I was saying: “I can objectively see that the commands of the law are good . . . but I’m arguing we don’t have to do them. I am arguing for the liberty to be self-destructive.”
I Give Up
Some in the former youth group had decided to go and visit Jack, and have kind of a jam-packed teaching get away. My brother and I did get consent from our parents, though it was reluctantly given (I was very blessed that my older brother and some of my closest friends from the youth group were also walking this walk together). So we went. I can’t remember what the main subjects were, but we recounted the recent exchange with Leigh, and Jack flatly told us, that in fact Torah was still authoritative.
Now, this will seem like complete hypocrisy—but as soon as Jack said it, all my opposition melted away. Yeah, yeah, I hear what you’re saying and know how that looks.
“Cult leader!” My mom would protest.
And that’s fair, but let me point out some mitigating factors:
1) I was walking down a road of perversity when Jack spoke scripture into my life that turned me around.
2) I’d yet to see Jack take a stand that he couldn’t readily back with scripture.
3) Jack method of instruction, challenged us to read and interpret for ourselves. He told us, “Don’t believe me. Check the scriptures!”
4) Apart from Jack, I had already found myself in the dilemma of arguing against what I knew was objectively good.
So if I held Jack’s opinion higher than most bible teachers I’d met, or some Messianic girl that I’d met only once—I think that’s understandable.
The Early Years
Returning from Ohio, I slid into being Messianic. You can blame it on Jack, but I’ve seen Jack maybe three times since then, a span of almost 20 years. We don’t even talk regularly, so as I understand a real cult-relationship, I should have to worship him or at least stay in constant contact and probably move near him, and marry one of his daughters or sisters—maybe even more than one. If in 20 years, I haven’t changed in my convictions (though deepened), I think that I have credibility to say that the reason I switch mindsets so easily was not Jack’s excessive influence.
God had already prepared my by giving me a Dad and Mom who valued scripture over human opinions or church doctrines. And Jack reinforced that scripture-first, study-for-yourself mentality, and he’d taught me from scripture that I owed it to God to actually apply myself and seek to use my talent so that I could be a good and faithful servant. So deciding to follow Torah was not difficult for me—except when friends or family made it difficult. I’m saying, there was little inner struggle over whether I should do Torah—even though it was in opposition to a great portion of what I had always believed.
How come after nine years of believing the law was dead and obedience was nearly irrelevant (not counting my earliest childhood), I so easily turned my back on that entire way of thinking and actually moved towards a lifestyle that was rather alien to me? What did I know of the feasts? I had no family traditions in that direction. What did I know of kosher? My favorite foods were unkosher. I loved bacon! I loved Zips’ Belly Buster Burger which had beef and two forms of pork on it! I loved the Diablo pizza that had sausage and jalapeno. I liked to be able to work or do whatever I wanted on Sabbath. The point is, choosing to follow Torah came with a personal external cost in giving up things I liked and opposing the doctrines I had grown up with and considered ‘normal.’ I did not want to be weird. In fact, even some of the people from the old youth group who agreed on obedience, disagreed on Torah, so this even meant a potential rift with my peeps. The first consistent friends I’d had in my life!
Yet, none of that translated to reasonable doubt about what scripture actually taught.
So, I and others from the ‘core group’ looked for a different congregation to worship at, while practicing the feasts and holding little bible studies as best we understood. Somehow, we found a Messianic Jewish Congregation (which later became Kehilat HaMashiach, Congregation of the Messiah). In many ways it was what we needed, but also had many shortfalls. The teaching didn’t live up to Jack; I often fought sleep during the sermons, and didn’t feel like I learned much. However, there was a sense of community, and everyone there was motivated, by that I mean I didn’t see anyone on autopilot. And worship included dancing.
Dancing may seem like a small thing, especially since in most churches dancing is spectator’s worship. But dancing in a messianic fellowship involves people getting out of their seats and coming forward to dance. Not a specific team, anyone could join. And I’ll tell you worship became much more invigorating and community building when there was dance. I mean, why has worship in church come to mean using your voice and maybe you hands, but not the rest of your body? Since then, worship in churches feels to me like holding back. People not wanting to embarrass themselves. Maybe sway, but don’t move your feet. Lift a hand, but not too high. Sing, but not full-throated. I know I felt that reservation the first time someone else ‘dragged’ me into a dance. I’d been afraid to be a fool for God.
We were there for a couple of years, but . . . there were also problems in the congregation. The leadership was unbalanced, bottle-necked through a single individual who seemed unable to be accountable or share leadership with others. There’s more nuance to that, but it’s not terribly important. I think it was right for a group of us to challenge the leadership, but not as we ended up doing. Some people were seemingly chased out of the congregation, myself included, when we had a differences of vision. Also, the congregation was very pro-Jew, and gentiles like myself were kind of second-class.
Eventually things came to a head with about fifteen people trying to force a congregational meeting to address grievances. I think the cause was just, but we went about it wrongly. It was like we all went in to do surgery on each other, but had no plans beyond cutting the other person open. I have since tried to make amends with the congregational leader there.
So myself and others left, feeling burned. I know it particularly sunk in when I was compared to a ‘leper’ even before the big blow up, merely because I didn’t have an emotional love for the Jewish people, and didn’t feel I should abandon all of my gentile heritage. Afterwards, we tried a home fellowship and another kind of Messianic/Hebraic congregation. Neither worked out. So the shrinking ‘we’, a few from the original youth group and a few from Kehilat, kind of wandered. Somewhat disenfranchised with the messianic thing…
To be continued…