CRAZY CHRISTIANS! [The New Pharisees]

Our brokenness, an invitation for Divine Mercy – Irish Dominicans

There is a painful pressure in my spirit, as I write from what I believe is a more scriptural point of view, and also because of a deep sense of personal and community loss. I bare my heart because of interrupted fellowship with a few long-standing fellow-pilgrims on ‘the road less traveled’ (Scott Peck). It appears they’ve succumbed to the subtle pharisaism of the Hebrew Roots’ and Sacred Name’ Movements, so prevalent in the US and growing in my own nation (a cultural identity crisis of sorts?) Gradually over a period of years, some of my brothers (I was privileged to introduce one of them to Jesus many years ago) have cut themselves off from me and our house church network in the city. My personal salvation has been questioned, I’ve been accused of being part of the ‘church system’ (cf. ‘About’ at the head of my blog), etc. I used to meet bi-weekly with one brother for a coffee-shop breakfast, who seemed to grow more and more obsessed with the Torah and Jewish ceremonies. The last straw for me was when he, at a bacon-less breakfast, enthused about a booklet on How to Kosher Your Kitchen In Thirty days!’ I respected his views, but seemingly he didn’t mine. In hindsight there seems to be a common thread among these brothers and their families: a ‘laager (enclave) mentality,’ gradual isolation from different-thinking (non-libertine) believers, considering us ‘unteachable,’ a subtle pride and a puzzling materialism. A dear friend from another city told us of an extended family, self-contained and separate from the ‘un-enlightened,’ propagating that Jesus is only the ‘gateway’ into the ‘fuller’ Torah-observant lifestyle (an extreme example, I guess). In all this I pray the Lord to keep me humble and non-judgmental, though discerning. I know it takes time, but please glance at Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 6:16, Phil. 3:3, and Col. 2:11-19 (v. 16-17/RSV, ‘Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance is Christ.’ When you arrive at your journey’s end (Christ), you surely don’t return to celebrate the sign-boards along the way! [1]

Apart from the above there are other legalistic manifestations in the Church today like Christian Zionism, which has replaced the Cross with American and Israeli flags. Mega-church pastors embarassingly beg for ‘seed money’ to sustain their pockets. And so on…

The apostle Paul encountered legalism long ago. He writes to the scattered little groups of Galatia, beset by Judaizers who couldn’t fully free themselves from law-keeping and ceremony-observance. This despite the Good News of Jesus so gloriously proclaimed by the apostle: ‘You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough…’ (Gal. 3:1ff/MSG).

I’m sure we’d all agree that the Gospel = Christ + nothing and – nothing. That applies not only to our ‘justification’ by faith (so individualized by the Reformers) but also our sanctification by faith: ‘For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God/the faith of the Son of God’ (Gal. 2:19-20, cf. NRSV footnote). Research professor of NT and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University, N.T. Wright, favours the latter rendering, and would even translate it by ‘the faithfulness of the Son of God…’ As my Scottish College Principal of old often said to us, ‘Now put that in your pipe and smoke it!’ Space doesn’t allow, but please make the effort to read Gal. 3:10ff, which reinforces Paul’s argument.

We return to Gal. 3:1-9:

  • Gal. 1 & 2 covers Paul’s defense of his apostolic mission and message.
  • Gal. 3 calls out the Galatians’ unfaithfulness to the Gospel as a result of legalists in their midst. Paul declares that their turning away from the Gospel was not only a kind of spiritual treason (1:6) but an act of gross folly. So ‘crazy’ was it that Paul wondered if some sorcerer had ‘bewitched’ them! Note, he uses the singular ‘who?’ – behind this heresy he detects the activity of satan, the deceiving spirit Jesus called ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn. 8:44). John Stott helps us today: ‘Much of our Christian stupidity in grasping and applying the gospel may be due to the spells which he casts.’ [2]
  • The Gospel is not only a general instruction about the Jesus of history, but a specific proclamation of Christ crucified and risen (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2). The force of the perfect tense of the participle estauromenos’ is that Christ’s work was completed on the cross and it’s benefits are forever fresh, valid and available (J. Stott). I emphasize, the ‘crucified Christ’ is all-sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the OT and NT idea of ‘salvation’ including both. The Galatians’ own experience (3:2-5) and the plain teaching of Scripture (3:6-9) expands on this. [3]
  • In summary, ‘the law and the gospel are contrary to one another. They are not two aspects of the same thing, or interpretations of the same Christianity’ (J. Stott).

What a Gospel we have! Paul always exulted in it: “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts in him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.'” (Rom. 1:16-17/MSG).

So where do we go from here, practically speaking? A few pointers…

  • How about reading Galatians and Colossians in one sitting, perhaps from an easy-reading Bible paraphrase?
  • For those of us who struggle with Karl Barth’s voluminous writings, read G.C. Berkouwer’s superb ‘The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth’ (Barth commented that Berkouwer understood him best). Barth is reputed to have said, ‘The answer is Jesus, so what’s the question??’
  • How about a good dose of self-humiliation? I believe human ‘pride’ is a temptation we all succumb to from time to time, especially in our egoist age. As Richard Rohr put it in a recent Easter homily: ‘Grace is always free. Grace is always humiliating to the human ego. We just don’t like getting love for free – and that, beloved is the resurrection!’

[If some of the terminology above is as ‘clear as mud to you’ (lol) and you desire more background to this blog, kindly consult my explanatory notes below]

In conclusion, let’s all pray for soft hearts and open eyes.

Boy meets world: device lets blind see - Winnipeg Free Press

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I think I also have some ‘Hebrew roots!’ I was privileged to study biblical Hebrew for three years and Old Testament for four years towards an honours degree. I’m regularly in touch with a College buddy, a retired professor of Hebrew and Semitics. My wife (who has Jewish blood in her veins) and I were privileged to tour Israel under his expert guidance. Some of my favourite OT books include the prophecies of Isaiah and Amos. One of my favourite theologians is the already-mentioned Prof. Tom Wright, arguably one of the experts in the world on ‘2nd Temple Judaism,’ Jesus and Paul.  In summary, I would never exchange OT shadow for the full light of Christ, our ultimate hermeneutic. We should surely always read the Bible through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s final and climactic word to us all (Heb. 1:1-4; Col. 1:15-23).

[2] When it comes to the occult, Derek Prince is particularly helpful. Google him on YouTube: ‘Witchcraft Within the Church’ and ‘The Marks of Witchcraft.’ He identifies the core of legalism as witchcraft and ‘control.’

3] Some have labelled me and others as espousing ‘replacement theology,’ without ‘hearing’ our considered position. A question: have the HR folk not ‘replaced’ the biblical Jesus with the Torah and OT ceremonies?? This morning my wife shared Heb. 3:1ff (Moses a Servant, Christ a Son) with me: consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than the house himself, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself… Therefore as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the day of rebellion’… Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” I believe (with increasing numbers) that the faithful Jesus, the ‘Light of the World’ has ‘replaced’ unfaithful Israel who failed to be ‘a light to the nations.’ Those who sincerely see things differently, I fully respect. I do of course recognize from Rom. 9-11 the possibility/probability of a near-future Jewish awakening to Christ and the Gospel. The celebrated and godly Prof. F.F. Bruce wrote long ago on Rom. 9-11:

  • Israel’s alienation is not final: Rom. 11:1-16.
  • In OT and Apostolic times, God’s purpose in choosing his people was safeguarded by his reservation of a faithful ‘remnant.’
  • God wants to stir the Jewish people to jealousy, as they see many Gentiles entering our joint-Messiah’s glorious salvation.

[4] Cf. see on YouTube ‘N.T. Wright on Christian Zionism,’ etc.

[5] While in New Zealand I had six weeks to scour the teachings of the many-layered Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name movements, both those proclaiming and questioning it. Here are just a few resources, in no particular order, available on YouTube (NB, I don’t go along with absolutely everything they say, but each has some point to make):

  • Afshin Yaghtin on the ‘Hebrew Roots Heresy.’
  • Dr. Robert Zins. Torah Cult Movement: ‘Responding to Wolves in Old Testament Mosaic Law Clothing.’
  • ‘Another Jesus’ (Part 1) ‘Hebrew Roots Deception.’ Harvest Gleaner.
  • Interview with Sonia Azam//Former Hebrew Roots Member. Sonia is a Muslim convert to Christ, sucked into the HR movement and later abandoning it due to its extreme legalism (which she claimed was worse than Islamic legalism). She also exposes Kabbalistic mysticism and gnosticism in her talks: Sonia Azam7.

 

17 thoughts on “CRAZY CHRISTIANS! [The New Pharisees]

  1. Agreed. Thank-you for an excellent post. I was never an official Hebrew Roots movements supporter, but was searching for Hebraic foundations to New Testamentic understanding. The danger of either Talmudic Lawishness (really the traditions of the elders/sages – known to us as the pharisees) on one hand or a Gnostic Mysticism (something that had to be added on to the Gospel and somehow made you a super-Christian with extra knowledge) on the other, became apparent. I still have a heart for Hebrew, a passion for the Jews and an interest in a Hebraic understanding of the New Testament. But I remain cautious not to fall prey to the pitfalls of either dangers. Shalom.

  2. So sorry to hear of your sad experience with former friends Erroll. I am not a scholar but it is mystifying to me why anyone would return to slavery to the law after discovering Christ. Thankyou for standing for the truth of Who Christ is and what He has done, completely and irrevocably through His Cross and resurrection. I am sorry it has cost you close relationships. God bless you.

  3. Thanks, Cheryl. Not much of a scholar myself, if at all, but then the Bible was written for mostly ‘ordinary’ believers, illumined by the Holy Spirit. Cheery greetings to you!

  4. Thanks Errol, for fighting the good fight in a way that is not only clear and convincing, but edifying. I remember a certain comment by a seminary lecturer, who taught us that truth is firstly known by its “doxological” character, that is, it should make your heart soar before it challenges your grey matter. Your writing has this characteristic. It always fills me with JOY, even when it is polemical in nature. Bless you. A word of encouragement: You are in excellent company; Paul had to contend with the Hebrew Roots thorn in the flesh on a daily basis.

    • Chuckle chuckle – point about Paul! Thanks Tobie, sometimes we need these little encouragements, hey, and you have certainly have encouraged me by the above. Much appreciated. Hope you’re working on your blog series!

  5. I think you might enjoy reading Michael Clark, if you have not already. He blogs at awildernessvoice.wordpress.com and, like you, has a mature understanding of Scripture. Blessings, A.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Anna, and for the recommended site which I will certainly visit.

      I appreciate so much your concern for people, which is obvious in your writings. Grace and peace.

    • Hi Dennis, thanks for your comment. I like the themes you address as well. Towards the end of January we stopped over at Sydney airport on the way back to SA from New Zealand, after visiting with family in Wellington. We were taken aback by so many wearing masks at the airport, now we know better. God bless and guide you on your journey!

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