Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Rise and the Problem of the Jewish Roots Movement

There is a growing trend in the Christian world that is interesting and disturbing at the same time. The trend to which I refer is known as Jewish Roots or Hebrew Roots. Please try to remember that what I say here has nothing to do with traditional Rabbinic Judaism or its current and past practitioners, but rather what certain segments of Christianity think should be used and borrowed  from Judaism.

One of the points of separation between Judaism and Christianity in the Apostolic age (prior to the year 100 A.D.) was a dispute over the role of the Torah. There was a group of Jewish-Christians who said every Christian (especially the Gentiles who were converting) needed to be circumcised and also needed follow the ritual and ceremonial commands of the Torah (the moral code remains, however) in order to attain salvation. This position was thoroughly rejected by the Council of Jerusalem (summarized in Acts, chapter 15) and further dismantled by St. Paul in his epistles to Rome and Galatia. That series of events blew open the door to Gentile conversion and started the inevitable separation between the two faiths.

Keeping those facts in mind, it is interesting that there are people out there today who are ostensibly Christian who advocate a return to principles found in the Torah, such as Sabbath worship and Kosher dietary regulations, as well as celebrating Jewish feast days. The argument is that since Jesus (or "Yeshua", as the Hebrew Roots movement insists on calling him, as they believe the name "Jesus" is of pagan origin)  himself celebrated those feasts and kept those principles, we should as well. The people who advocate this are always some sort of offshoot of Protestant thought and the problems inherent with a ‘return’ to Torah principles are problems that are also inherent to Protestantism itself.

Even a cursory glance at Acts 15 indicates that those Gentiles who are converting to Christianity need not bother with the ceremonial and ritual elements of the Torah. Peter himself gets up and tells the Judaizers (the group that insisted on complete Torah compliance) not to put a yoke on other people that they themselves cannot keep. The Council of Jerusalem answers the question “do we need the Torah to be saved” with a resounding NO. Christians have always maintained that it is through the Grace of God that mankind is saved, not the works of the Torah, as St. Paul put it in his epistle to Rome.

The problems inherent in Protestantism are ones that could have been seen from the very beginning when Luther broke away – Scripture as the only guide and no central authority other than the individual and his Bible. Who is to say what is good and what isn’t? Eventually, as the Protestant ball rolls down the road, you get people who say it is a good idea to bring back the ritual principles of the Torah into Christian living. Who is to say they are wrong? It becomes “he said/he said” in nature.

One last irony to all of this is found in the history of Protestantism – those who led the revolt against the Catholic Church in the 16th century (i.e., Luther and Calvin) felt they were trying to escape an apostate Church who had distorted the Gospel into a salvation of works, and restore a “pure” Christianity that preached salvation by grace and faith. How rich it is to see the spiritual descendants of those very same rebels now preach a salvation not only by works, but works of the Law, no less.

Maybe they need to brush up on their reading of Paul.

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