Today during lunch I came across Kevin Fiske’s blog, specifically a post called “Killing Moralism.” It’s a good overall post on the subject, but I found it intriguing that his take on the commandments of God is very close to what you would find coming from a Messianic perspective. In particular, the following paragraphs were very close to what D. Thomas Lancaster wrote in Restoration:
God’s laws are not arbitrary, but stem from who he is. And, because we are made in his image and for his glory, he gives us commands that reflect his character. So, when holding out the commands of God we must point beyond the command to the God who gives it.
For example, God commands us to be holy, because he is holy. He commands us to speak the truth and not bear false witness against our neighbor, because he is a God of truth who cannot lie. He commands us to be faithful, for he trustworthy and keeps his word. He calls us to love, because he is love. Naked commands, separated from the character of God, lack both weight and compelling beauty. Showing the God of the command moves us from preaching moralism to unpacking theology. It moves us beyond the command to the God who gives it.
I went through Fisk’s Beliefs page and it was fairly standard Protestant Christian theology. It never even mentions the word “law” or “Torah.” Not having read very far into the blog as yet, I therefore have to assume that Fisk has devalued the Torah in a typically Christian fashion. And yet he himself acknowledges that we find the nature of the Holy One revealed in His mitzvot (commandments).
One of the frustrations we Messianics sometimes have with our Sunday Brethren is this unnecessary tension that they bring into their theology. On the one hand, true Christians will readily acknolwedge that there are commandments for the disciples of Christ to follow even though we are saved by Grace. On the other hand, as soon as they hit a “Jewish” commandment, they recoil and start trying to explain why, for example, resting on the Sabbath is “a burden too heavy to bear,” a “yoke of slavery” that Jesus came to remove from our shoulders (though He Himself said, “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” Mark 2:27), but the commandment to never, ever look at a woman with lust in the heart isn’t.
Frankly, I find keeping from working on the Sabbath and enjoying the Feasts Hashem has graciously given us to be far easier than never lusting, never being angry with my brother, and never speaking a wrong word.
But on the other hand, we have to acknowledge that there is legalism in the Messianic movement. What do I mean by legalism? Not the desire to keep Hashem’s commandments ourselves, but the desire to judge others by an arbitrary line that somehow we always manage to draw just behind whatever point we’re at in our walk. Those who worship on the Sabbath but otherwise treat it as an ordinary day judge those who worship on Sunday, while they in turn are judged by those who won’t even ignite a spark on the seventh day. Those who separate their meat and dairy judge those who only avoid pork and shellfish, who in turn judge those who don’t keep kosher at all.
That’s not to say that Messianic Judaism is inherantly more legalistic than Christianity–if it were, then Christian authors like Fisk wouldn’t be dealing with the same tightrope between legalism and libertinism that we do–but we have to acknowledge that it is a problem. In fact, it seems to be a regular phase in new Messianics who first discover the joy of Passover, for example. They want to share that joy with others and when they don’t get the response they expect, they become frustrated. Out of that frustration (and sometimes outright rejection from their nominal Christian family and friends) a spark of pride is born. “They’ve rejected the Scriptures!” Pride says. “Only I am keeping the Word of God correctly! They’re all blind–but I see!”
Fiske’s remedy–to show the Grace behind the command and to show the Good News that is above (and, I would add, within) the command–is a much-needed tonic in the Messianic movement, and a much better one, I think, than of trying to cut the One New Man of Ephesians chapter 2 in half again. I would add that those who are frustrated with others not seeing the whole Torah in the same light that they have been given need to be gently shown all of the ways that they themselves still fall short so that they too can embrace the Grace the Holy One gives us as we grow.
A final kudo: Fiske gets the real first commandment of the Ten correct. Good on him! I’m looking forward to archive-binging in his blog.
- For Shavuot: On Minyans, Synagogues, and Home Fellowships (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)
- Scripture and The Messianic Movement- Part Five (savoringscripture.wordpress.com)