Torah for Today?

Mark.and.Judy Thoughts and Musings, Torah Life

Introduction

As a Messianic community, one of our bedrock beliefs is the validity and importance of the Torah today, for all people. We believe that the entire Bible is valid and valuable for all people throughout history. We believe that the Torah is the literal Word of God, given verbatim by HaShem to Moses. The rest of Scripture is built on the foundation of the Torah.

People encountering Messianic belief for the first time are sometimes okay with it for those who are ethnically Jewish, but struggle with it for those who are Gentile. The Messianic movement has a large number of Gentiles who have felt called by God to this lifestyle and walking out of Scripture. Therefore, we must discuss what that relationship looks like.

At Kehilat Yeshua, our approach is one of walking out Scripture out of our deep love for the Lord, including Torah. We honor His Word because we love Him. We keep the Sabbath, the Feasts, and even kosher dietary standards because we see them as an extension of God’s own self and His ideal standard for the lives of His people. Yeshua Himself said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)

Those unfamiliar with this approach often see it as “legalism.” Legalism (within the arena of faith) is roughly defined as the attempting to earn one’s salvation or good standing via works. At Kehilat Yeshua, and throughout the established Messianic Jewish community, we do not do good works to earn our salvation. We do them because we love the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who graciously bestowed His salvation upon us. Pastor Mark often says, “A dog doesn’t bark to try to prove he’s a dog. He barks because he is a dog.” We keep God’s commands because we are His children and we love Him.

Obligation to Torah?

There is an ongoing discussion in the greater Messianic community regarding the obligation of Torah to the Jewish people or even to Gentiles. This topic can be a difficult issue for communities of Yeshua-followers to navigate and can be very divisive.

There are two main areas of thought within the Messianic world regarding the obligation to Torah. These are usually labeled as “One Law” and “Divine Invitation.”

Here is a brief definition of “One-Law”:

One-Law: A theology that believes faith in Messiah erases all distinction between Jews and Gentiles. According to One-Law theology, Jews and Gentile believers in Yeshua are both obligated to the full yoke of the Torah and all of its commandments in an identical manner. Many One-Law adherents attempt to observe Torah without reference to traditional Jewish interpretation and practice in an attempt to be more “biblical” in Torah observance. The term “One-Law” is based on passages in the Torah that speak of “one law for the native and for the stranger” (e.g. Exodus 12:49). 

And here is a brief definition of “Divine Invitation”:

Divine Invitation: A theology that believes that Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua are still covenantally-obligated to keep the entire Torah as a continuation of the Sinai covenant and as the kingdom of priests that God has created them to be. Gentiles, on the other hand, are invited to participate in the entire Torah in a way that doesn’t blur the distinction between Jew and Gentile. However, Gentiles are not covenantally-obligated to the entire Torah, especially the commands that are traditionally viewed as Jewish identifiers (such as the wearing of tzitzit). This is based partly on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and their decision to only bind new Gentile believers to a handful of laws mostly tied to idol-worship (and ostensibly also the Noachide laws which were assumed for anyone following the God of Abraham throughout history).

Greater Messianic Judaism

Over the past decade, there has been an ongoing conversation in Messianic Judaism as to the relationship of Gentiles to Torah. Most Messianic teaching ministries have taken a stance somewhere on the spectrum, with Torah Resource being one of the strongest on the One-Law position and First Fruits of Zion being one of the strongest on the Divine-Invitation position. (As an aside, we have met the leaders of both ministries and have a deep respect for them both.)

Kehilat Yeshua is a part of the IAMCS/MJAA (Messianic Jewish Alliance of America), which is the oldest Messianic Jewish organization in the world. It, along with the UMJC (Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations), do not adhere strictly to one of those labels, but believe that based on Scripture Gentiles are not covenantally-bound to the entire Torah. If you’d like to better understand their position, we recommend this paper from the MJAA: One Law, Two Sticks. It is a longer read, but very informative.

Our Personal Journey

When we (Mark and Judy) started down this road in 2004, we were so passionate about the Torah and its power and application for today. As Gentiles, we found ourselves more aligned with the One-Law mindset. 

It gave us an easy answer to the question, “What does God expect from us?” It seemed fairly obvious what God expects of a Jewish believer. After all, it’s written right there in black and white. But we struggled with understanding what, exactly, God’s expectations were for us as Gentiles. The One Law approach resolved this question: God’s expectations of us and our Jewish counterparts seemed to be exactly the same. But we soon realized that it had some weaknesses.

We realized that believing our friends/family are supposed to keep Torah caused a tremendous amount of tension in our families and friends. It can be a very divisive way to look at the Scriptures because, by default, we were also saying that they were living in sin by not doing so. This gave us a check in our spirits.

It also goes beyond what Scripture plainly says, and doesn’t explain the decision by Yeshua’s disciples at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. 

In 2009, First Fruits of Zion released a paper explaining why they no longer believed that the One Law doctrine was biblically accurate. (You can read this paper here: One Law and the Messianic Gentile.) Over the next couple of years, we continued to seek God’s direction on this issue and found ourselves settling into our faith in a healthy way that allowed us to keep good relationships with our families and friends who we didn’t see eye-to-eye with, without feeling the need to always be proved right, all while still maintaining healthy Torah observance. We found walking in love is so much stronger than wielding a good argument (regardless of how right you think you are). And we found that our faith and love for the Lord and others grew stronger.

Our Approach to the Torah at Kehilat Yeshua

As we said in the introduction, at Kehilat Yeshua, our approach to the Torah is one of trying to walk out God’s Word out of our deep love for Him. We honor His Word because we love Him, including the Torah. We keep the Sabbath, the Feasts, and kosher dietary standards because they are God’s precious words to His people, His holy design for godly life.

At Kehilat Yeshua, it is important to us that we do not practice a form of “Messianic replacement theology,” which happens when Gentiles assume the same identity as Jews. While the Gentiles who are part of Kehilat have a deep love for the Jewish people and the land of Israel, they do not take on a Jewish identity. We all recognize that God’s plan for humanity requires both Jew and Gentile walking in the roles that God has given to them. (Genesis 12:1-3, Ephesians 2:11-22, etc.) We also do not believe that this creates “first- and second-class citizens,” any more than we believe that the differences between men & women make women second-class citizens. (Definitely a topic for another article!)

In Scripture we see Gentile believers in Yeshua are grafted into the olive tree of Israel and they have become partakers of the covenants of promise. They enjoy the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as God’s down payment towards the Messianic Era, just as their Jewish brothers and sisters do. God promises blessing to Gentiles who keep the Torah, as we see in Isaiah 56 regarding Shabbat. We believe that demonstrates God’s heart.

Our heart here is that we seek God and do our best to honor Him with our lives. We are each on a unique journey and we are each responsible to God for how we obey His Word in our lives. Our question is not, “How much do I have to do?” but rather, “How can I best love God with my life?” By keeping our eyes on Him and approaching Scripture this way, we maintain unity in our community. We don’t believe that this topic should be divisive, but rather unifying as we all seek to build each other up with a foundation of love for God and respect for one another.