Posts Tagged 'Divine Invitation'

Obedience by Choice: A Contradiction in Terms

 

3e69c3664951866f6cd7d23978ea5481It is not easy to make sense of the recent stream of publications flowing from the FFOZ ministry on the subject of their “Divine Invitation” theology. This is probably due to the fact that self-contradictory ideas don’t allow for much clarification. These ideas can only survive through their conceptual vagueness and power of confusion. Clarity is their enemy, because it brings out the incompatibility of their contradictory parts.

The latest slogan to promote the “Divine Invitation” doctrine seems to be “obedience by choice”. That is at least at the heart of Toby Janicki’s article: “We are the God-Fearers” in the just released Spring Issue of Messiah Journal (# 103). This article is such a specimen of vagueness and confusion that one scratches one’s head about where to begin to clear things up. For this reason I’ll limit myself to some purely logical remarks on the two inherent contradictions present in it, both in Janicki’s description of the Gentile position and in his concept of obedience by choice.

Janicki essentially classifies Gentile believers in Messiah as G-d-fearers, and describes their position in relation to Israel as follows (p. 36):

Although the Gentile God-fearers have not been given the Torah in the same manner as the Jews (i.e. they “do not have the law”), they nevertheless choose to obey it”.

At the end of the article we find a more extensive and theologically framed depiction of the Gentile position (p. 38):

God-fearers were not compelled to keep the Jewish aspects of Torah such as circumcision or Sabbath by decree or law. They did so out of a sincere and intense love for God’s Torah and his ways. They saw the light of Israel and sought to draw themselves close to it, so that they might warm themselves in its glow. As Gentile believers today realize that Messiah has spiritually grafted them into the nation of Israel, they feel drawn to the Jewish people and desire to worship alongside God’s chosen as fellow-heirs of the covenants and promises.

One of the curious things is here that Janicki says that the Gentile believers are “fellow-heirs of the covenants and promises”. This implies that he considers them to be members of the covenant. But it is clear without any further burden of proof that the ancient G-d-fearers — and their modern-day Noachide successors — are not considered as covenant members. For exactly this status would make them liable to the covenant obligations found in the Torah. This is the first contradiction of the article. It both includes Gentiles believers in and excludes them from the covenant.

The other contradiction is found in the concept of obedience by choice. Let me first clear up a possible misunderstanding here, by pointing out that, obviously, in a sense all real obedience involves choice. A child has to choose whether or not to obey the instructions of his parents and teachers, and an employee has to choose whether or not to obey the instructions of his employer. In morally normal cases the choice between obedience and disobedience here is the choice between good and bad, or between good and evil. In these normal cases disobedience is not morally permitted. It is simply the possibility of the wrong choice, and deserves punishment.

The position of the G-d-fearer or the Gentile follower of Messiah is not about this type of choice, however, in Janicki’s eyes, at least not for a considerable part. The kind of choice which is prevalent here is the choice to obey the Torah — or at least parts of the Torah — without being under the obligation to do so. The Gentile believer may choose to obey the commandment of the Sabbath, for instance, but he may equally choose not to obey it. He is free to obey or not obey. He may do as suits him, particularly in the domain of the ritual mitzvot.

This whole idea is, however, hopelessly contradictory, in more than one way. First, it is completely unclear, under the hypothesis of this theology, what the Gentile who “obeys” a certain mitzvah, e.g. Shabbat or kashrut, really does. More specifically, one can ask in what sense he is “obeying” these commandments. I’ll elaborate a bit on this.

To get more clarity in this matter let us ask the question whether a Gentile who keeps the Sabbath while supposedly not being legally obligated to do so really keeps the Sabbath. In other words: Is it really the Sabbath which is the thing kept by him? The answer must be negative. Keeping the Sabbath is only possible by obeying the instructions and commandments of the Torah pertaining to it. But obeying a commandment is only possible if the commandment is directed to you. If you are not the intended and proper addressee of a particular commandment or instruction, then it is impossible for you to obey it. It is simply not for you, and even if you “do” it, this is only so in your own imagination but not in reality. If a passer-by accidently hears the instructions given to a group of police officers on the street and decides to carry out these instructions, he’ll soon find out that by doing so he’ll be found a transgressor instead of a doer of the law. The necessary presupposition for the very possibility of obeying a commandment is that this commandment is given to you, directed to you.

This means that no matter what a believing Gentile does to keep the Sabbath, in reality he does not keep the Sabbath if he is not commanded to keep it. He may meticulously “do” all the scriptural commandments pertaining to the Sabbath and even “follow” the Oral Torah laws according to the strictest schools of rabbinic halachah. But no matter whatever he does, or whatever this “doing” may be called, it is not keeping the Sabbath and it is not doing the Sabbath commandments. It is simply not an act of obedience. For it is only logically possible to obey if one has also the possibility to disobey. However, under the presupposition of “Divine Invitation” theology a Gentile may neglect the Sabbath without any disobedience involved. From the perspective of this theology he does not transgress any commandment by not keeping it. Consequently he also doesn’t fulfil or do any commandment by “keeping” the Sabbath. His Sabbath “keeping” can only be called a purely superfluous and fictitious act. It is a “keeping” of the “Sabbath” which in reality is not a keeping of it; nor is it the Sabbath which is being kept by this “keeping”. It is a self-contradictory activity.

“Divine Invitation” theology is thus not compatible with the idea of obedience. Real obedience presuposes obligation and where there are no obligations there is nothing to obey. Moreover, the “obedience by choice” introduced by this theology cannot repair the fundamental logical flaw detected above. Obedience by choice is no real obedience at all. If I have the free choice of obeying a commandment or not, and if I don’t transgress by disobeying it, then my choice of obedience is no real obedience of HaShem. Instead of obeying HaShem I’m obeying myself and my self-styled religion.

This is a concept which may well suit and flatter the modern and the post-modern man of a secular epoch. It is in fundamental conflict, however, with the idea of obedience found in the Torah. In the Torah man is a dependent creature, who simply ought to follow the commandments given by his Father in heaven, whether he feels inclined to them or not, whether he loves them or not. Following the commandments because he feels inclined to do so is not a good reason for obedience. For if the inclination is the decisive criterion, then it is the inclination which is obeyed instead of HaShem. One of the purposes of the commandments of the Torah is to liberate us from own caprices and whims, and to elevate us to a sphere which transcends our own arbitrary self-will. Obedience of self is contradictory because it is not true obedience. It is autonomy. A Gentile who does the commandments because of his own choice ultimately belongs to a completely different religion than the Jew who obeys his heavenly Father because He says so.

Does this mean, then, that love is not a motivating force for doing the commandments? It is, but in another way than is understood by “Divine Invitation” theology. For to sincerely love HaShem’s commandments is to love them because they are commanded, and not consider them to be commanded because they are loved by us. Our love is unreliable and unstable. HaShem’s commandments are firm and reliable. His love is based on engagement. It does not leave us “free” or unobligated. It is a love that binds us to Him and which commands us to a response which is binding and lasting: “Hear O Israel, HaShem, our G-d, HaShem is One. And thou shalt love HaShem thy G-d with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Dt. 6:4). The love of HaShem, and his commandments, is a love which is itself commanded by HaShem.

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“Divine Invitation”, “One Law” and the Case for Intermarriage: Some Nagging Questions Asked From A Generational Perspective

 

The following questionary remarks on intermarriage are meant as a follow-up of the comments on my previous article, “FFOZ’s New Theology of Divine Inviation”. They should be viewed as a contribution to the ongoing discussion between the “One Law”-viewpoint of TorahResource and the new “Invitation Theology” of FFOZ. This is the second in a series of articles devoted to enquiring the recent theological shift at FFOZ.

If we adopt the “One Law” position endorsed by Tim Hegg of the ministry of TorahResource [1], intermarriage heightens the problem — already inherent in this position — that being Jewish loses all practical and legal relevance, at least within the context of the Messianic Community, since both Jew and non-Jew are accountable to the same standards regarding Torah observance. The distinction between Jew and non-Jew evaporates into an empty distinction that only reveals something about a person’s descent. Intermarriage in this theological position has the additional effect of completely wiping out Jewishness. For the question that arises now is: what offspring of a mixed marriage should count as Jewish offspring? Offspring of a Jewish mother? Of at least one Jewish parent? What halachah is to decide this question? What halachah is to be followed in this domain by communities who adopt a “One Law” position?

The inevitable effect of “One Law” — at least as it is currently proposed — is that after a few generations all children that stay within the community will simply enjoy a homogeneous “Israelite” status without any remaining possibility to determine whether they are in fact Jewish or Gentile. The Jew-Gentile distinction is thus not merely made irrelevant, i.e. of no practical importance; it is also made unmanageable, i.e. unfit to be handled at all. It simply can no longer be known, and thus no longer reasonably be asked, who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew, for these names do not make sense any more. Only new members, coming from traditional Judaism could rightly be called Jews in “One Law” communities.

This seems to imply that the “One Law” position, that endorses the full equality between Jew and Gentile within the Body of Messiah, remains dependent on traditional Judaism in referring to persons as Jews or non-Jews. In declaring the equality of Jew and non-Jew in matters of Torah it makes use of the commonplace Jew-Gentile distinction while at the same wiping out its relevance and, for future generations, even its meaning. It uses the names “Jew” and “non-Jew” thus in a parasitic manner, for its communal policy doesn’t allow for the preservation of the distinction referred to by these names.

If we adopt the FFOZ “Invitation theology” perspective, intermarriage itself has problematic aspects. For the Invitation perspective requires a clear distinction between Jewish believers, who are legally obligated to full Torah observance, and Gentile believers, who are not under the same obligation. Now the question is: What actually does happen, legally or halachically, in the case of intermarriage? Does the Gentile partner perhaps become formally obligated to the whole Torah by his or her marriage with a Jewish person? In other words, does he or she become Jewish by the marriage itself, (for being Jewish and being obligated to the entire Torah are one and the same thing, according to FFOZ author Daniel Lancaster in his blogpost: “An Unbearable Yoke”)?[2] If not, how is unity of observance to be preserved in such a marriage?

What halachah is to be followed in this question? And what is the status of the children? Are they Jews or non-Jews? This is a matter of importance here, because if they are Jews they are born within the legal framework of being obligated to the Torah. If they are Gentiles, however, their relation to the Torah is one of invitation. If, for example, a certain male child is considered Jewish, it will make sense to have a Bar-Mitzvah ceremony when he reaches the age of 13 years. This would be superfluous — or non-obligatory at least — in the case of a Gentile male child. One can legitimately ask whether it is recommendable at all to have Jewish and Gentile children to have strong communal ties if the obligations of the one are to be considerably different from the obligations of the other. And how can, in the situation of a mixed marriage,  a Gentile father, who is only invited, not legally obligated to a Torah obedient lifestyle, prepare his presumably Jewish children for a lifestyle of obligatory obedience to the requirements of the Torah in a credible and sustainable way?

If the traditional halachah is followed Invitation theology leads to the consequence that intermarriage between a Gentile man and a Jewish woman causes the children to be Jewish. However, traditional halachah also teaches that such a marriage, although it is valid, is prohibited. Should this traditional halachah be adopted by the Messianic Community? This would lead to a general prohibition of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews within the Body of Messiah. And then the question about the wisdom of having Jews and Gentiles together in one (local) community returns.

Intermarriage and offspring are very interesting topics for investigating the broader and deeper inherent problems and viabilities of the diverse theological positions on Gentile Torah observance. Thus far, however, all proposed solutions — save only perhaps that one that simply keeps intact the since long accepted traditional distinctions and separations between Jews and Gentiles — seem to lead to rather puzzling and confusing consequences. These traditional distinctions and separations, however, although internally consistent, are clearly opposed to the message of the Apostolic Writings. In these writings, and particularly in the letters of Paul, the Body of Messiah is regarded as a community in which Jews and Gentiles worship and live together. And thus the problems surrounding intermarriage in a messianic context remain unsolved for the time being.

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[1] For example in Fellow Heirs: Jews & Gentiles Together in the Family of God, First Fruits of Zion — Littleton, Colorado 2003. And in his article: “Is the Torah Only for Jews?”. The pdf-version of this article can be found at: http://www.google.nl/search?hl=nl&source=hp&q=%22Is+the+Torah+Only+for+Jews%3F%22&btnG=Google+zoeken&meta=&aq=f&oq=

[2] D. Thomas Lancaster, “An Unbearable Yoke”, In: FFOZ Blogs, at: http://ffoz.org/blogs/2009/09/an_unbearable_yoke_acts_1510.html

FFOZ’s New Theology of Divine Invitation

A Preliminary Investigation of a Recent Theological Shift

 

This is the first in a series of articles specifically addressed to the recent theological developments in the messianic ministry of First Fruits of Zion concerning the “One Law” question. These developments touch a number of problems that are subjects of inquiry at Messianic613. A pdf-version of this article is available by the following link: FFOZ’s New Theology of Divine Invitation . A new window opens, and by clicking on the image in it the pdf-version appears.

It is I think the problem of how to determine the theological ‘location’ of the Gentile believers in Yeshua according to the (halachic) categories available in traditional Judaism that has — more than anything else — led FFOZ to adopt the idea of ‘divine invitation’.[1] This ministry has left its earlier position that the commandments of the Torah are equally obligatory and binding for Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua. It is difficult to say whether this new idea of invitation is adequate for Gentiles, because of its inherent vagueness. But let me first, for the sake of coming to terms with the problem, consider it from the traditional Jewish perspective just mentioned.

In our days traditional Judaism acknowledges only two basic categories of people: Jews and Gentiles. These are mutually exclusive, for Gentiles are defined as non-Jews. Gentiles are also often called Noachides, but this name is not exactly to the point for the reason that strictly speaking all people — including Jews — are Noachides. The b’nei Avraham (the Jews) are a special category and thus a sub-division within the all-compassing category of b’nei Noach. The Noachide commandments — as outlined and interpreted by traditional Judaism — thus apply to all humanity, not just to non-Jews. These commandments are considered truly universal and binding for both Jews and Gentiles.

At first sight the categories of first century Judaism seem to be at variance with the current halachic division between Jew and Gentile. The first century is known for its threefold division between Ger Tzedek, Ger Toshav and Gentile. Noachide theology as we know it nowadays had not yet fully taken shape. This was a later development, which was not fixed as part of the halachah before the time of the composition of the Gemara. As was noticed by Tim Hegg, the seven commandments of b’nei Noach seem to be wholly absent from the Mishnah.[2]

The mutually exclusive distinction between Jew and Gentile doesn’t conflict, however, with the earlier distinction between Ger Tzedek, Ger Toshav and Gentile. This threefold division of mankind was not replaced by a later twofold division. The division between Jews and non-Jews is simply a more basic division, and the division between the Ger Toshav and the Gentile tout courti.e. the pagan Gentile — is a subdivision between two categories of non-Jews. The Ger Tzedek is the proselyte Jew. This threefold division is thus not at all obliterating the basic distinction between Jews and non-Jews.

Now the question is to which category the Gentile believers in Yeshua, the Gentile Christians, belong. If we take first the twofold division between Jews and non-Jews, it is clear that these Gentiles belong to the category of the non-Jews, since they are neither Jews by birth nor proselytes. According to the above mentioned threefold division the Gentile Christian is thus either just a plain Gentile (i.e. a pagan), or a Ger Toshav.  By way of reduction it turns out that he is a Ger Toshav, because he cannot be honestly held to be a pagan. According to later terminology this almost equates to classifying the Gentile Christian as an observant Noachide, since he has renounced idolatry. This name would be appropriate at least for Gentile Christians of the first century, or the first two or three Christian centuries — not however for later Catholic Christians, who fell back into idolatrous practices.

Qua religious practice and level of observance the Ger Toshav was in between the pagan Gentile and the Jew. He had left Paganism, but he had not fully entered Judaism. His observance thus could vary between the levels of just avoiding idolatry on the one and full Jewish observance on the other — with the obvious exceptions only of circumcision and/or the mikvah of conversion. This seems to agree with the diverse levels of observance nowadays found among Gentile Christians who are attracted to Messianic Judaism.

On second thought a difficulty appears, however, when we consider the theological terms applied to Gentile believers in the Apostolic Writings. The Gentile believer is called ‘son of Avraham’ (in Gal. 3:29) and is viewed as somehow included in the house of Israel (Eph. 2:11-13, 19; 3:6). Clearly this does not correspond to the status of the Ger Toshav, who definitely is not a son of Avraham and is certainly not included in Israel. The big question that needs to be addressed here is: In exactly what sense is the Gentile believer included in Israel and considered a son of Avraham?

One of the possible theological options to handle this difficult question is to comply with the traditional categories outlined above and to relegate the NT language of ‘son of Avraham’ to the level of ultimate salvation and having a share in the World to Come. According to this scheme no halachic status change whatsoever is implied in the case of a Gentile coming to faith in Messiah Yeshua. This option uses the distinction between this world and the World to Come to make sure that — like all other distinctions, e.g. between man and woman, free and slave  (cf. Gal. 3:28) — the distinction between Jew and Gentile remains intact in this world. Equality between all believers, it says, is strictly reserved to the World to Come. The equality only consists in the status of all believers as belonging to Messiah and as being saved for eternity. Not, however, in an equality qua halachic status between Jews and Gentiles in this world.

It is questionable whether this theological option can fully account for the fact that all believers in Messiah form a strong physical and social unity, which is partly described in the Apostolic Scriptures in Torah-like terms like ‘assembly of God’ (1 Cor. 1:1) and ‘holy nation’ (1 Pe. 2:9), and partly in new terms like ‘body of Messiah’ (1 Cor. 10:17; 12:12-27, Eph. 1:23; 3:6; 4:4; Col. 1:18). The concept of a spiritual unity which leaves intact all the traditional distinctions seems hardly adequate to describe a community which is instructed by Paul to keep the Pesach Seder together (1 Cor. 5:7-8) — both Jews and Gentiles — as an expression of its corporate unity in Messiah, and which is supposed to collectively celebrate the moadim, as appears in Col. 2:16-17.

On the other hand it cannot be said that by their faith the believing Gentiles are now Jews or proselyte Jews. If they were, they would be included in the halachic community of Israel. To my knowledge there are no historical indications that the believing Gentiles were ever considered to be Jews. Not in Paul’s letters, not in the other Apostolic Scriptures and not by the established Jewish authorities of the day. The particular treatment of the commandment of circumcision by Paul also seems to be an indication of a peculiar and exceptional status of the Gentile believers.

Another indication for this peculiar and exceptional status can be found in Paul’s rulings on marriage. It is beyond doubt that Paul permitted intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles, only with the caution that the marriage of a believer should always be “equally yoked” or “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39), i.e. with a partner who shares the faith. This permission of Paul seems to conflict with the halachah of his day, which, as far as I know, only permitted a marriage with a person of Gentile descent after halachic conversion. Thus it seems that Paul draws halachic consequences from the new status of Gentiles “in Messiah”. And this is only natural. It would of be preposterous to unite the Gentile believers with strong social ties to the Jewish believers in one “body of Messiah” and one local community and yet forbid intermarriage. If intermarriage should be discouraged or prohibited the proper measure would be to form separate communities of Jews and Gentiles, as nowadays is advocated by the UMJC.

The question of intermarriage in the Paul’s congregations of course leads us to the broader problem how Jewish-Gentile interaction was viewed upon by the Jewish community at large. For example, was a Gentile who was known as a Ger Toshav included in the Synagogue community in any real and practical sense? It is certain that the Synagogue authorities were involved in getting him exempted from idolatrous religious obligations imposed on him by the Roman Empire. But were they part of the worshipping and learning community and invited to have table fellowship with the Jews? I hardly think so (cf. Acts 10:28), because, inevitably, this would lead to intermarriage, something strongly disapproved by traditional halachah.

All this contributes to the impression that the Gentile believers were in a kind of halachic limbo at that time. They were neither Jews, nor Gentile pagans, and they didn’t fit nicely into the subcategory of the Ger Toshav. It is clear that Paul considers Jewish and Gentile believers equal in Messiah, but to what extend that equality was intended by him to have real effects in this world in removing ancient and established legal distinctions is extremely difficult to figure out. In my view FFOZ’s invitation theology should be considered as a provisional attempt to deal with this difficulty. It remains to be seen whether it is tenable in the long run, for it cannot be excluded that the idea of invitation theology is more fit to smooth or cover up hitherto unsolvable problems and paradoxes in Paul’s letters than it is capable really to address and tackle them.

There are many questions raised by this concept of divine invitation. I only mention two. First, in light of the fact that the validity of the Torah instructions requires to have them set forth in the form of commandments, a theology of invitation seems to undo the very structure of the Torah. Second, it is clear from the outset that not all Torah commandments can be viewed as invitations by Gentiles. There has to be accepted a minimum number of unconditional and unavoidable obligations. It is not clear in the new FFOZ theology what are the minimum observances to be kept by Gentiles and how they are to be derived from Scripture. The whole idea, as it appears now, seems to steeped in inescapable vagueness.


[1] Boaz Michael and D. Thomas Lancaster, ““One Law” and the Messiah Gentile”, in: Messiah Journal #101 2009/5769.

[2] Hegg, p. 7: «Never does the Mishnah mention a body of laws that, if followed, would render a Gentile righteous and therefore fit for the world to come.» Tim Hegg, “Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council” at TorahResource 2008. Downloadable at: http://www.torahresource.com/EnglishArticles/Acts%2015.pdf


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