Archive for August, 2011

Bilateral Ecclesiology’s Crypto-Dispensationalism

 

by Geert ter Horst

Classical Dispensationalism is a theological framework which is characterized by a strict separation between the nation of Israel and the Christian Church. According to dispensationalist criteria all believers in Yeshua between the Pentecost of Acts ch. II and the future national restoration of Israel, whether they be Jews or non-Jews, essentially belong to the Church and are “free from the Law”. While during the dispensation of the Law Gentiles had to become Jewish proselytes to be included in the people of G-d, nowadays Jews have to join the predominantly Gentile Church for the same purpose.

The recent theology of “Bilateral Ecclesiology” — a term coined by Mark Kinzer [1] — changes important aspects of this schedule from a successive temporal order into a static order of simultaneity. Israel and the Church are now perceived as co-temporal divine institutions, and Messianic Jews exist alongside Gentile Christians. Gentile Christians belong to the Church, Messianic Jews belong to Israel and are the believing remnant of the Jewish nation. Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are spiritually united by their faith in Yeshua and together they are the Assembly or Body of Messiah, yet they are bodily or physically separated. Their unity cannot be a practical or physical unity because according to Bilateral Ecclesiology the Gentile believers are not part of Israel. Essentially the Gentiles have the status of Noachides and this status is not changed by their faith in Yeshua.

At first sight the theology of Bilateral Ecclesiology seems to be a justified and much needed correction to traditional Christian Supersessionism or Replacement Theology. Instead of making the Church the successor and rightful inheritor of the position of the Jewish nation as G-d’s people, it makes it the Noachide part of the Assembly of Messiah. The other part of this Assembly is the faithful remnant of Israel, the Messianic Jews. Taken together, these parts are perceived as center and periphery. The relation between Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians in the messianic community is essentially of the same nature as the relation between Jews and Noachides in the non-messianic world.

After due consideration, however, it appears that this theological model is deeply flawed. One of its most blatant internal contradictions is that it accepts the current Christian Church and its standards of practice and worship, without recognizing that the Church and her standards are the resultants of a historical process which itself has deep roots in Replacement Theology. This Church would not be what it is without its anti-Jewish (and some pagan) roots: Sunday observance, the Christian holy days, the observance of the seasons of Advent and Lent, the Gregorian Calendar, Child Baptism, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation, the teaching that we are destined for an eternal existence in heaven, and numerous other theoretical and practical aspects of Church culture, shared by Catholicism and Protestantism alike, are the direct or indirect consequences of the pernicious basic premise of Supersessionism. [2]

The proponents of a Bilateral Ecclesiology accept the results of this problematic historical development without accepting its anti-Jewish premise, and they simply try to limit the terrible damage Replacement Theology has done by what could be called a theological containment policy. The containment here consists in declaring that the practice and doctrine of the Church are sound and acceptable for Gentile Christians but not for Messianic Jews. Messianic Jews should commit themselves to the Torah and Jewish culture and should therefore keep a healthy distance from the culture of the Church. They should build their own congregations and institutions. Although they spiritually share common ground with Gentile Christians through their faith in Yeshua, this common faith doesn’t lead to a lifestyle and culture shared by all. The Jewish members of the Assembly of Messiah have a special calling and responsibility for the Torah, a calling and responsibility in which Gentiles are unable to share.

Unwittingly, thus a stunning aspect of a Bilateralist Ecclesiology reveals itself: Faith in Messiah Yeshua is presumably powerless to establish a real and practical sense of community. According to this ecclesiology the Assembly of Messiah is not a strong corporate unity and for that reason it can hardly be called “One Body”. As Jamie Cowen has remarked: “A corporate unity with separate organizations or congregations is a myth. Real unity is expressed in intimate relationships, which can only occur within one community. Pauls admonitions in both Romans and Galatians reflect this fact”. [3]

The division created by Bilateralism in fact amounts to the re-introduction of the dispensationalist divide between Israel and the Church within the very Body of Messiah. This divide is now sharpened, through its introduction on a simulteneous basis, into a practical schism within the One Body, in conflict with Paul’s admonition that there should be no such thing (I Cor. 12:25). From Paul’s letters it is abundantly clear that Jews and Gentiles should participate in one and the same local congregation and that their union reflects the unity created by Messiah’s death, by which both are reconciled unto G-d in One Body (Eph. 2:16). The unity of the One Body is a universal unity without internal divisions, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of the apostles and prophets. Jew and Gentile are made effectively and practically equal in position:

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of G-d; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Yeshua HaMashiach himself being the chief cornerstone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of G-d through the Spirit.

(Eph. 2:19-22).

This is not a “spiritual” unity in an ethereal or Platonic sense. The Holy Spirit is the power of G-d giving life to the Body of Messiah, and its effect is a bodily, corporate, physical unity, the “one new man” (Eph. 2:15).

Bilateralism often seeks to soften its divise message by admitting (some) Gentiles to Messianic Jewish congregations for communal worship and by alowing them to take on a level of Torah observance. It is clear that by so doing it compromises its own principle of separation between Jews and non-Jews and opens the door for mixed marriages and other “unwanted” effects of communion.

But, more importantly, the basic reproach to any Bilateralist Ecclesiology should be that it says that Jewish believers should follow HaShem’s instructions as laid down in the Torah, and that Gentile believers are good enough to live under instructions and traditions that stem from an anti-Jewish, anti-Torah bias, and even from pagan roots.  This type of ecclesiology is devastating for the unity of the Body and a dishonour to Messiah’s prayer: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21). Moreover, in its condoning of the culture of the traditional Church the new Bilateralism comes into conflict with its own Noachidic fundamentals. For according to Noachidism a Gentile is not permitted to create his own religion, or to introduce additional religious observances, above those revealed in the Noachide laws.

Gentile believers are not Noachides, they are called Abraham’s seed by Paul, because of their inclusion in Messiah: “If ye be of Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). For that reason the lifestyle of Gentile believers should be kept in that framework in which the promise is preserved and cultivated: the Torah. Bilateralist attempts to interpret the so-called “new perspective” on Paul in a crypto-dispensationalist fashion are not helpful for drawing the real consequences of Paul’s ecclesiology.

________________

[1] Cf. Kinzer, Mark S., Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People, Brazos Press — Grand Rapids 2005. A Synopsis of this work, by Jonathan Kaplan, can be consulted at: http://www.kesherjournal.com/pdf/Features/A-Synopsis-of-Mark-Kinzer-s-Post-Missionary-Messianic-Judaism.pdf

[2] Kinzer’s approach to these issues, including the authority of Scripture, seems to tend to a certain ecumenical pragmatism, at least on the trinitarian question. He writes: “The Christian Church, which is our partner, is a nicene Church. Bilateral ecclesiology calls us to a corporate commitment to this Church” (emph. mine). [Kinzer, Mark S., “Finding our Way Through Nicaea: The Deity of Yeshua, Bilateral ecclesiology, and redemptive encounter with the living God” In: Kesher Journal, Issue 24 (Summer 2010).] Kinzer’s pragmatism was also noticed by Tim Hegg: “It is clear that Mark Kinzer, for example, has accepted a hermeneutic of pragmatic contextualization in which certain texts are given privilige over others, depending upon what suits the current need. In short, when Paul’s “pastoral strategy” (of a multi-national ekklesia) seems out of step with the current desire to be accepted within the traditional Jewish community, it may be disregarded in favor of a more propitious alternative. It seems a very slippery slope indeed when, for the sake of a desired outcome, one engages in selective approbation of the Scriptures. I recognize that such a viewpoint may not be espoused by all who are opting for the new definition of Messianic Judaism. But it is at least honest of Kinzer to admit that the path forward for Messianic Judaism, at least as he sees it, cannot be reconciled with some of Paul’s teachings. It remains to be seen, therefore, how others will approach the Scriptures as they seek to achieve the same goal”. [Hegg, T., “One Law Movements. A Response to Russ Resnik & Daniel Juster, TorahResource May 2005, (pp. 29-30) at: http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/OLMResponse.pdf ]

[3] J. Cowen, “A Response to Dr. Mark Kinzer”, In: Kesher Journal 12, Winter 2001, p. 116.