By the time the First Century following the birth of Jesus Christ had ended, the movement which His earthly ministry, death, burial and Resurrection had given rise to had already spread all over the known world.
But it had also already begun to fracture, with the most severe breach being between followers of “the Way” as it was simply known back then, who were Jewish and non-Jewish.
By the time what became “the Church” was firmly established and the New Testament canonized in the middle of the Fourth Century, a Wall of Distinction between Gentile Christians and Jews had also been firmly established (it must be mentioned that Jewish religious leaders had done more than their own fair share to build this Wall as well, and their antecedents have been hard at work maintaining and re-enforcing it ever since.)
The process by which this all happened was very messy. Many mistakes were made and many things were thrown out which didn’t need to be thrown out while various traditions that was never part of the original program handed down by God were added. Some of these traditions were benign, many others were not.
In the ensuing centuries, the flaws in the Church became more and more pronounced, leading to several more fractures and reforms, including the two largest schisms in 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox Church split from the Roman Catholic Church (later fracturing into many smaller churches, mostly along national lines in various countries throughout the Middle East and Eastern Europe) and again in 1517 with what would come to be called the Protestant Reformation.
However, even as these groups drifted father and farther apart from each other over the centuries, the Wall of Distinction between Christians of all stripes and the Jews/Israel remained, for the most part, intact.
Now here we are at the beginning of the 21st Century AD and we watch in amazement as this Wall, which has stood for over 1800 years, has begun to come crashing down as the Church has begun to re-discover its Hebrew Roots while the Jewish People are discovering that Evangelical Protestant Christians are their best friends in this world while many are also embracing their Messiah.
As wonderful as it is to see this, there is also the undeniable reality that this process is almost as messy as the process of splitting up and building the Wall of Distinction was 1,800 years ago.
There are many aspects to the messiness, but what I want to focus on is the part where many Christians who have begun to discover and embrace their Hebrew Roots have, at the same time, been infused with a zealous desire to cleanse the Church of anything that wouldn’t have been there back in the First Century.
These people will go into a congregation (or even a whole denomination) that is trundling along, imperfect but basically healthy and functional, serving the people, sharing the Gospel and otherwise carrying out the work of the Kingdom, and they will disrupt, divide and upend it by starting petty disputes, making an issue out of minor points of Doctrine and, in general, sowing seeds of doubt and division.
At the heart of this process is a narrative whereby EVERY aspect of Church life that doesn’t conform to a (usually very subjective) standard of “Torah Observant” is, by definition, “pagan” and/or “Roman” (meaning Catholic, even if it’s taking place in a Protestant church or denomination) and thus it must be done away with or the entire community is illegitimate.
The end result is often a fractured and broken community where many of the congregants either leave (starting a process which often leads to them leaving the Faith entirely) or they develop the habit of questioning everything the pastor tries to teach, encouraging others to join them in arguing every single point with the pastor and other congregants. Thus, all the time and energy of the pastor and elders is taken up with these arguments, leaving little for anything else.
A metaphor I think is appropriate is that it’s like trying to remove a cancerous tumor from a patient by using a chain saw. You’ll probably get the tumor out that way, but you’ll kill the patient and defeat the purpose of performing surgery in the first place.
This is not to even mention the fact that while Believers are having this massive internal dispute, the forces of Secular Humanism, Islam and Eastern Mysticism are battering down the gates of the Church from the outside.
I’m not a Theologian. I’m not even a pastor or an elder in my own congregation. I’m just a guy who has been around for awhile and seen some things and this is how it looks to me.
The Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement is a vitally important part of the End Times Restoration of the Church as Jesus Christ prepares to return to this Earth. The part that it has played in building connections between Christians and Israel has been absolutely vital.
Also, it is undeniable that the Church is sick and in need of serious reform, repair and rehabilitation. The way things have been done for most of the last 500 years since the Reformation clearly aren’t adequate to address the challenges facing the Church, and indeed the entire Human Race, in this season of history we’re currently in.
But what many in the Hebrew Roots Movement are doing to try and remove the un-Biblical elements from the life of the Church is the equivalent of performing surgery with a chain saw.
They do this, as I said before, out of an admirable zeal for righteousness, but also out of a misplaced feeling that we need to get this process of purifying the Church done RIGHT NOW(!) or it won’t be ready in time for it to fulfill its role as the Bride of Christ upon His return to this earth.
To my brothers and sisters who are acting out of this feeling, I beg to point out that this is precisely what moved Sarah to tell Abraham to sleep with her maidservant Hagar, and the unhappy results of that effort to “help God out” are with us to this day.
It is extremely unhelpful to be so worried about the imperfections of the Church that you take a chainsaw to it in order to get rid of them.
We need to find an approach that more closely resembles surgery with a scalpel that allows us to remove the flaws while keeping the good things and avoiding killing the patient outright.
I think the first step in the process should be that pastors, elders, lay leaders and ordinary members of local church congregations all over the world really need to dedicate themselves to serious, methodical, daily study of the Bible.
The controversies and conflicts which are causing havoc and division in the Church in this season where the Wall of Division is coming down are, in most cases, the exact same controversies and conflicts that were happening in the First Century when that Wall was being built. So if the Church was as familiar with the teachings of the Bible as we should be, the disagreements we’re having over these points could be settled quickly with minimal collateral damage.
In my next blog I’ll discuss what happens after over-zealous Hebrew Roots proponents have finished carving a destructive swath through all the congregations in their immediate area without producing any good fruit for the Kingdom and decide that what God REALLY wants them to do is go to Jerusalem and start doing the same thing there.