Messianic Legalism, Christian Liberalism or something else?

legalism vs grace Christianity

NB: This is quite a long post so, please excuse me as I process some thoughts.  This post also links to earlier ones on Grave verses the Law here and here.  There are also some interesting links at the end of the post.  Shalom x

I’m spending Shabbat (Sabbath) at home today, as I have done off and on since January 2014. I was on a journey and knew I was being called to sit at the feet of Yeshua.  My beliefs were slowly diverging from that of the congregation I was in, as they were moving ever deeper into a place of legalism I was seeking and needing to experience a different truth and intimacy with YHWH. The thing that I really miss about that congregation was the love and sense of community there, there is a definite hunger for the people to have a deep knowing of who YHWH is however the enemy is at work there also.  Just before I left YHWH used Eke and I to preach on several occasions, messages of the love, grace and restorative power of YHWH over the man-made doctrines and legalistic rituals found in many Messianic and mainstream churches. However, when it was time to leave I left but with that congregation still holding a piece of my heart.

I recently heard that a ‘law’ had been passed in the church, I have no idea whether it’s true or not. The law is that they should not say God, Adonai (I think) or amen. I was asked if I wanted to go back there to visit, my answer of late has been no – I don’t want church politics, or ambitious striving to be seen/heard, my Sabbaths are waaaaaayyyy too precious to me – to blink and ask myself where the day has gone to. So today, I’m at home again and I’ve been reading God’s Word and reflecting about the struggle of grace vs the law within the Messianic church and the wider Body of Messiah.

legalism vs grace ChristianityIt seems ridiculous that somebody else can force another person to do or not to do anything, how can someone tell you not to say God or Adonai? My psychology background tells me that human behaviour can often be the result of complex needs and desires, too complex to be understood. Reading Ezekiel today, I am reminded that the greatest idolatry is found within the church, often within leadership for example I was on Facebook and read a notice about a pastor who had been filmed/photographed naked by a woman and the image was then circulated. Whilst the remarks of some people were ‘there are Jezebel’s and Delilah’s in the church’ and that pastors should ‘mind who they keep company with’, my thoughts were like “how did he get himself in that situation in the first place?” Yes, I know we are all human, and we all make mistakes etc. but surely several lines had to be crossed in order for him to end up naked in front of a woman with a camera!

The notice then went on to say that the said pastor had lost a number of speaking engagements and then, since he was quite popular he would be able to live it down!  As, I said I know that people can make mistakes, I have a degree in psychology and a counselling certificate so I have been dealing with a lot of mess both my own and others – but this is again where I need to think deeply about what is happening in the church. Why is there still so much mess in the church, when God’s Word is supposed to be healing, restorative and redemptive? Is the problem Him or us? If this pastor isn’t picked up on his actions (which I strongly feel he should be) then what happens to those who look up to him as Shepherd, who would blame them for acting out of order and who could correct them without being hypocritical?

A friend left the Messianic church recently because she said it was like a cult, at first I couldn’t see where she was coming from but on reflection I began to see some of what she was saying. For example, I saw a photo of a Hebrew roots female (black lady not yet in her 30s) wearing what seemed to be a full hijab. When I commented on this to another friend, her reply was “that’s what we are supposed to be doing?” Really, who said so? God or man or (should I say) the men who think they are God? I’ve seen and been in Messianic groups on Facebook that seem to be all about who can be the most Holiest and righteous person, who can seem the most self-sacrificing, who can sprinkle their posts with the most Hebrew, and who can with authority make all your efforts of worship seem worthless and in total opposition to God’s Word – they are not nice places, as people have said there is no love there. The problem that is often found especially in ‘Gentiles’ who strive to find the Truth is that they end up being more Jewish than Jewish people themselves.

So we have an issue. The over-magnification of Grace in Christian circles, which wants to forgive everyone of everything and act as if nothing has happened vs. the Heavy-handed legalism of Messianic churches which really do make it impossible to have a relationship with God because you’re so busy trying to follow all the 613 Mitvot. Yes, I know that this is an over-generalisation, but:

  1. I’m just processing my thoughts and
  2. Although exceptions towards the other side exist they are few and far between

So today, I decided to Google Messianic fellowships under Grace, not much came back in the narrow path that I was looking for. What I mean by the narrow path, is a messianic congregation who believes in Yahushua, who strives to be obedient to the Word of God whilst recognising that salvation is not about works but by Grace through faith. Some websites comes close to this statement, but there was something about their tone which leant towards legalism, for example they’d say that because of Grace we are free to keep the Torah of God, or that all believers should keep the Commandments because Yahushua did.

Now before I go on, I want to say that the church definitely has a negative impression about the word Torah. The Greek translates nomos as Law in place of Torah in the Hebrew scriptures. Torah has a softer meaning of instruction of a parent to a child in order to find their way home whereas Law has a more forceful and hard meaning of punishment and disobedience. Yet, even with this difference in mind – it’s hard for us to see God’s Torah as anything but legalistic when that is the way it is being used and preached. In the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) there are numerous references to legalistic perversion of Torah – this illustrates that yes indeed God’s instruction can be perverted. When we think about the purpose of the Torah, which was to point us to the need of Salvation and a Saviour it makes no sense us having found Him to not be changed by this truth.

You see, my problem with legalistic perversion of Torah (instruction designed to guide me home) is that I know that I can’t ever fully keep it. I’m so fallible it’s unbelievable, Grace, Holy Spirit-filled and all – I’m better, but I’m not perfect. There are times when I’m on fire and operating in the Spirit and days when I’m as carnal as a dead ox. On those days when I should be better I berate myself for it, and then feel bad because I’m not showing myself enough Grace. Or those days when I’m so on fire, that I need to take a step back lest I think too highly of myself and fall back into carnality. And the truth is that I know I’m not alone, many Believer’s I have spoken to echo this cycle of desiring to be Christ-like and then falling back into the ways of the flesh – it can be really hard work. That’s the point, it’s all work. And it seems that those in the Messianic movement want to add to the work load by saying that we have to stick to 613 mitzvot (commandments) given to Israel at Mount Sinai into the fray – when I know that I struggle with obeying even just a handful of those fully each and every day. I’m still finding my way home, still trying to decipher the map and stay on the narrow path.

Whilst I was teaching Psychology, one of the evaluation pointers would be ‘breadth vs, depth’. What this meant was that they could either go wide or go deep, going wide always provided a varied but superficial argument whilst going deep gave a more narrow and thorough analysis. In the context of this, breadth is the 613 commandments – there is a lot to cover and a lot to do, you could be writing that essay for ages and never really have much to show for it. The depth stands for the Ruach (Holy Spirit) and striving to be obedient to what God is personally showing to you, doing in you and where He is leading you in the now. In my opinion this creates the most change because one thing at a time is being worked on thus having a ripple effect on the rest.

As a messianic Believer there are things which I subscribe to that my fellow Messianic brothers and sisters do too, for example, the Shabbat, the Biblical feasts and Kosher eating. However, the way I live out these things may be very different to them. I follow a morning-to-morning day, instead of evening-to-evening which most Jews/Messianics do, I follow the sighted moon to mark my feast days over the calculated calendar, I don’t indiscriminately eat Kosher food as I care more about the ingredients in it (plastic has been found in some food products) and buy organic/grass fed meats over kosher meat. To me, I’m living out my faith as God has revealed to me and not by the dictates and standards of a religious group.

The Bible says that we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, again that word ‘work’ we can’t run away from it. There is an aspect of being aware that you don’t get led astray by either the things of the world or the doctrines of man flying you here or there. To me the most important thing isn’t whether you call yourself a Christian or a Messianic, but how you live out your relationship with God in the here and now. How are you measuring up to the ruler or plumbline that He has placed in front of you? Are you looking at Messiah as your Shepherd or are you being distracted by other colourful sights. This is what makes the life of a Believer a constant experience of renewal and growth, learning and change – when we focus on the 613 commandments we focus on the external things which have no power to heal the inner man of their love affair with sin.

Every day, I need a new touch of Grace to save me from myself both in thought and deed.   Every day, I need a new touch of Grace to draw me closer to my King and God in love and not because I have to be or do. Every day, I am in awe of the mercy, kindness and love YHWH extends to me despite my obvious failings – this is what causes me to want to work more, and try more to conform to the pattern of His image – not because it’s what I need to do to belong to some community. As a Messianic Believer, I’ve tasted the love, grace, mercy and faithfulness of YHWH God outside of trying to achieve the 613 mitzvot and I believe that it has helped me see God in a new way. I pray that all my brothers and sisters would look deep inside themselves and see on which side of the scale they fall liberal or legalistic – both can’t be right can they? – so it must be the middle –narrow road. Let’s walk it together.

Interesting Websites

  1. A thorough discussion on Law vs. Grace from a Messianic perspective – fairly liberal but still points towards (full, I believe) Torah observance.
  2. The Law of Christ/Torah of Messiah – a Messianic perspective on how the Law of Christ is different  to and supercedes the law of Moses.
  3. It’s all About Messiah – I think it says it for itself.

Please note that I do not necessarily agree with everything said in these links, I may not even agree with everything I say tomorrow, but I include them in case you are interested in finding out more about this topic.

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One thought on “Messianic Legalism, Christian Liberalism or something else?

  1. Florence, these are such important issues you are raising and thinking about. How to distinguish between someone who is truly spiritual (living in their spirit, increasing their spirit and diminishing their ego) and someone who is a spiritual egoist (aggrandizing their ego with spiritual trappings, to the detriment of their true spirit)? So many religions start with reverence and love for a great spiritual teacher, but with time the great spiritual teachings are eroded by the ego and power driven beliefs and practices imposed by succeeding generations of very human church leaders. Jesus respected women, and in the early Christian church women were respected and often took leadership positions. This changed over time, as did many other church policies and practices. I think it is so important that each individual person maintain a direct and personal relationship with the spiritual source, and not allow themselves to be distracted by church politics or dictated to about what their beliefs and place in the hierarchy should be.

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