Like failing to feed a baby so that it dies of neglect, perhaps the greatest sin apparent among Jewish Yeshua believers and their fellows lies in murdering the past through neglecting to preserve it.
I am greatly distressed by the condition of the Messianic Jewish Movement where i see this neglect all around me. If the preservation of the Jewish past and its treasures is dependent upon the awareness and devoted care of the Messianic Jewish movement, all is lost, or very nearly so.
Let me tell you how I recently reawakened to this horrifying situation.
I recently participated in a ceremony conferring a Jewish name to the daughter of a special friend. While explaining the importance of the ceremony I remarked how we Jews perform such rituals on such occasions because we realize we are a living link between our peoples’ past and their future. I then stated something I had never said before: “In fact, if we do not serve this linking purpose the past died with us.” This chilled me. But it is true. If we will not keep the past alive it will die.
What do we see as we look around us? I see precious few in the Messianic Jewish world who realize and value their place as custodians of a holy past which God has entrusted to our care to be preserved and delivered to coming generations. Paul spoke in related terms to Timothy, saying “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you: (2 Tim 1:14). Could it be that we have lost our sense of being part of a people, entrusted with this people’s story and holy things in the midst of time? It not only could be: I fear that it is.
It seems that our religious life today is footnotes to René Descartes [1596-1650], the 17th century philosopher. He developed the principle of rationalism which turned the pathway of knowledge inward. He taught that the only sure foundation of knowledge and authority was to be found within oneself as the thinking subject. He expressed this idea in his famous “cogito ergo sum” which should best be translated said, “because I think, therefore I know that I am. Certainty about truth begins and ends with me, and the authority to determine truth from falsehood, reality from illusion, is mine.” For him, everything starts with oneself and one’s own life of thought and feeling. Today, in the evangelical world to which so many in the Messianic Jewish movement are related, we are experiencing a full-blown Cartesian revolution religion, “I think/read/pray/repent/believe/accept Yeshua as my personal savior, therefore I am a child of God. All by myself. Certainty about spiritual reality begins and ends in me?” One might say that each such believer instinctively feels him- her-self to be an only child.
It seems we are experiencing the narcissistic infantalization of God-relationship. This kind of spirituality mirrors the pattern of an infant that only knows itself to be the center of all there is, with the world restricted to what the baby itself experiences. In the baby’s worldview the self is the base of reality, and everything else is experienced as a source of threat or discomfort, or pleasure, nurture, love, attention, neglect, relief of discomfort or failure to do so. And at first, the infant does not even realize that anything is exterior to itself: is sees its world as an extension of itself
In evangelical parlance, one can have Jesus as one’s personal savior without feeling intrinsically connected or beholden to anyone else. The idea of being intrinsically responsible to others or for them is for many offensive, intrusive and much to be avoided. And because it is avoidable, that is exactly what happens: we avoid these things or only choose them for a while, preserving for ourselves a huge back door. The reality of our relationship with others in our day and with holy tradition for which God holds us accountable remains avoided, ignored and unnoticed.
Today’s glossary of God-relationship bears witness to this shift in allegiances and perceptions. Nowadays, “religion” as a set of rules, responsibilities, and restraints is definitely out. Tradition is something you tip your hat to, while avoiding spending too much time with it, like a relative in a nursing home whom you seldom if ever visit. "Law," seen as a prescribed and required way of life is out. "Grace" seen as freedom to do as one sees fit within certain generalized boundaries is in. “Spirituality” as a testimony to one’s personal journey is the lingo of the day.
But is what the Bible calls us to? Is this a right understanding of what it is to be in God-relationship? No.
Tomorrow we will take a little peek at the Bible's presuppositions on these matters for the sons and daughters of Jacob.
Meanwhile ask and answer these questions:
You must have been reading my mind! I look forward to your next posting.
Let me attempt an answer to your question #3, "To what factors may we attribute neglect in these areas?"
To the extent that Yeshua-believers, Jewish or gentile, are part of the Evangelical tradition, the main factor is the focus on personal salvation, or more precisely, the reduction of the gospel to individual salvation, with everything that is not immediately necessary to an individual's personal salvation/justification relegated to a secondary place.
As such, these secondary concerns can then easily be ignored, or even actively rejected as a distraction from "the gospel."
N.T.Wright talks about this when he contrasts the comprehensive gospel of the Kingdom of God which he finds in Scripture with the single-focus "soterian" gospel found in much of modern Evangelicalism.
Excellent questions. Gave me a lot to think about.
Thank you for this quite timely piece.
I am preparing a project of teaching our Messianic youth group about the feasts of the Lord. As a gentile who identifies with Messianic Jews, I believe it is my responsibility to help and encourage the preservation of tradition.
We are each responsible for what we know and we are in fact our brothers keepers. It is imperative that we do all we can to preserve and carry on the traditions, not because they are commanded, written, or any other mandate but because they have intrinsic meaning. The depth of these traditions is why I am affiliated with a messianic synagogue. My heart breaks with you if we see this world lost for it will indeed be a great tragedy.
I believe if it goes much further our great-grandchildren will lose the traditions. Because that is the next generation. Logically if our grandchildren do not develop a passion for the riches of the past and an appreciation for the meaning within these traditions, they will be gone.
I agree that because Messianic Judaism is so close to evangelicalism it can be affected by evangelical moods. Although I believe in the relationship of the two bodies, I believe a distinct and dynamic Messianic expression is necessary for our survival. (Speaking here as a supporter- a Godfearer as it were.)
Have we yet established a Shabbat school curriculum? Even one? I cannot say for sure but that is quite a sad commentary when each messianic synagogue is required to create their own shabbat school from scratch - particularly when there is so much at stake in educating our children.
So what? So we might as well go to churches because little by little everything we have worked for in the past 40 years will be gone unless each of us steps up to the responsibility of doing our part for the community of Jewish Yeshua believers.