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Thursday, March 24, 2011

On Salvation and Messianic Jews

This week has been interesting. This Sunday we had a day of retreat/study led by a Messianic Jew, a rabbi named Derek Leman. He is from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a wonderful speaker and drew a large crowd which was universally appreciative of what he said. On Wednesday, I met with a group of clergy from Collierville. As I said, "We had a Messianic Jewish rabbi come..." I was interrupted by a young man who walked in the door. "Another one?" he asked. During the next hour Chad and I got to know one another. That is two rabbis who are Messianic Jews in one week. (Plus Chad likes baseball!) So what is God doing, I wonder.

My faith journey has been different. Born and raised Roman Catholic, I struggled with the role of the Pope and had questions about Marian doctrines. I was often frustrated by the lack of interest or passion which most of my parishioners exhibited. As I watched people come late and leave early for Mass I would sometimes be so sad, and too frequently, so mad. My personal issues were exacerbated by celibacy. I also had a crisis of faith, the result of years or "critical scholarship" and "pushing the boundaries of belief." I left the active ministry. After a couple of years in an emotional and spiritual waste, I found myself confronting Jesus again. Like Peter, I told Him, "where else can I go?" Slowly as I re-established my faith in Him (or as He reworked my faith) I returned to ecclesial participation. After a period in a Disciples of Christ church I landed in the Episcopal Church. Some of my wounds healed and some of my guilt abated, I was now able to worship in a (non-Roman) Catholic way again. For years it was wonderful, until I discovered "the rest of the story" about Episcopal beliefs. As bad as it has been, in many ways it has driven me to more prayer and greater study. I now know much more Scripture at a much deeper level. I have clarity on issues which I avoided thinking about because it was painful. I am not a better person, sadly, but I am more clear on my need for Jesus and I seek Him constantly.

A young man came to talk with me over ten years ago. He was on a journey of faith and said to me, "I don't trust anything written in the last 500 years, I only read the old stuff." He was a new Christian and I am sure his position needs nuance, but I did think he was on to something. I began to read the church Fathers more regularly after that. I use their commentaries in sermon preparation. I read church history as well as original writings. I have found out that there is nothing new going on. The same arguments in 300 are occuring today.

My interest in things ancient has been supplemented by a study of Revelation/Apocalypse some years ago. As I read the commentaries and deeply delved into the text I was shocked to see how much of the book was literally lifted from the OT. Actual quotes, allusions, and ideas all came from the Torah and prophets. I knew I needed to read the OT more deeply, and I have the last few years. Which led me to reading Jewish commentaries on Scripture. It is fun. The Church Fathers find Jesus everywhere in the OT. It's like the kid's book "Where's Waldo?" only sacred. Their capacity for seeing metaphors and typology has made the OT a collage of Christ and His call. Jews on the other hand have a love for the text which few Christians do. There is also no effort to find Jesus, so their interpretations broaden my own. Lastly, sometimes they encounter mysteries which I believe Jesus solves. One rabbi, pondering the promise to Abraham asked, "What is the blessing for the nations?" He though Jewish philosphy of life or the contributions of Jews to science or the arts may be the answer. I knew, however, something he didn't. The blessing is Jesus. Wow! that is exciting and it came to me more powerfully as I heard his questioning.

Needless to say, if one is reading more and more Jewish writing (and I have long done this, Heschels' The Prophets was the most important OT theology I read in seminary and I have read dozens of others as well) it stands to reason that Jews who believe in Jesus must be read. So I have. That is how I met Derek. Now I have met Chad. There is an angle on Jesus and a vision of the faith which Messianic Jews have that enriches my own. Lest I be too Pollyanna here, I was also disturbed by the degree of argument and conflict in their community. My gosh, they sound as bad as we do in our Anglican-Episcopal battles. But as much as I long for peace, I know there is no peace this side of the KINGDOM. As much as I hunger for commuity and love, I know that conflict over truth is necessary, because unity without truth is impossible. So the struggles are real and the battles are needed (although not every one of them). I will continue studying my bible, reading history, being educated by learned church Fathers, Messianic Jews and assorted others. And I will pray, yes Lord, I will pray. I will also hope and wait. Come Lord Jesus!


  1. Thank you so much for this! I will link later today if you don't mind; your journey confirms that I'm not alone in my ponderings and observations.

  2. I suspect many churches invite them before Easter. Many learn about Passover and the Seder meal.

  3. Jeff, I have been spending less and less time on the computer, but I enjoy skimming your posts now and then. It is weird, but I feel like even after 30 years, if we met for lunch, we could be on the same page again right away. I also wonder a lot, why we didn't as a group in high school, talk about our faith more. Anyway, I wanted to say, that Jonathan always says, it is a shame that God calls sinful people to do a holy work in the church, and that is where the tension comes. And I personally am always relieved to know that as long as I have as much faith as a little child, it is enough. I don't have to grasp all that, or understand the answers, or even the questions. Jesus Loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Amen. And, come, Lord Jesus, to the ones who don't know....
    God bless your day, Jeff.