Thursday, March 30, 2006

Living a Prayerful Life

I just updated the Beth HaMashiach blog. Here's the link, if you'd like to read it.


Friday, March 24, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls

I just posted a short piece on grace over at the Beth Hamashiach blog. I hope you like it.

It's been a while since I updated, and for that I apologize. It's been a very hectic couple of weeks. One of the more exciting things that I got a chance to do was see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC. They'll be there through April and May; if you happen to be in the area, you simply have to see them for yourself. It's one thing to read about history or see programs about it on TV--it's quite another to actually look at scrolls, tools, coins, and so on that were actually used by people some 2000 years ago. It makes the past far more real, somehow.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Baptism vs. Mikveh vs. Circumcision

This is one that I've been meaning to post for a while, but hadn't gotten around to.

It is very common in most Christian denominations to regard Baptism as a New Testament replacement for circumcision. And since Israelite children were to be circumcised on the eighth day, this becomes justification for infant baptism.

First of all, the problem as well as the sprinkling vs. immersion issue wouldn't exist if we made it a point to understand baptizo in its original Jewish cultural context: That of the mikveh. A mikveh was a ritual immersion which symbolized cleansing from sin and ritual impurity. When a Gentile became circumcised, they also immersed in the mikveh not only to be ritually purified, but to symbolize dying (being "buried" in the water) to their old, heathen lives and being reborn from the water as from the womb's amniotic fluid to their new lives as Jews.

Yochanan the Immerser, aka John the Baptist, was not creating a new ritual, but was using it in a new way: Instead of only Gentiles "dying" to their old lives and being raised anew as Jews, Jews who had been living in sin were "dying" and being "reborn" in an act of repentence. However, that wouldn't necessarily be the last time they ever ritually immersed. They would immerse if they became ritually unclean, for example, before going to the Temple. Jews also commonly (and still do today) ritually immerse on Yom Kippur as a demonstration of repentence.

It's truly sad that we have so far removed the Gospel from its original context that we get into debates over whether a person who was "baptized" as a child needs to be baptized upon coming into an adult faith. Indeed, during the Reformation wars, the followers of Zwingli were known for drowing the Anabaptists (so called because they insisted on the necessity of being "baptized again" upon receiving Christ).

However, while I believe that ritually immersing need not be restricted to the baptism one receives upon receiving Yeshua in faith, let's concentrate on that particular mikveh for a moment, and call it "baptism" for the sake of a convenient modern term. The question is, does baptism replace circumcision, and should infants therefore be circumcised?

The Biblical answer is clearly no. One has to reject at least one of two clear Biblical teachings in order to hold to infant baptism:
1) That we are not born into the Messiah's Covenant (as one is into the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants), but are re-born into it (Jn. 3).

2) Those who are immersed (baptized) are identifying themselves with the Messiah's death--i.e., dying to self--and are being raised again with Him into a new life in which one is dedicated to God (Col. 2:10-12, Gal. 3:27). An infant hasn't got an "old life" to die to yet.
As we've seen in detail, no covenant in Scripture aborogates a previous one, as we've seen in previous entries, nor does the New Covenant replace the Torah. Indeed, Yeshua affirmed the whole Torah, never once criticized the Torah in any way, and only challenged the man-made traditions which either turned it into a burden or which perverted or aborogated it.

So then, for Messianic Jewish parents to circumcise their child as a mark that he was born into the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants is not only appropriate, but commanded in Scripture. A Jewish child is the natural inheritor of those covenants from birth, while the Christian is only adopted into Abraham's greater family at the time of their Spiritual circumcision, when they personally enter into a covenant with the Messiah. Am I then claiming that a Jew is saved by virtue of being a Jew? Not at all! For those who are born into the Mosaic Covenant are likewise subject to the curses pronounced by the Torah for those who disobey it, and there is no one who keeps the Torah perfectly, no one who is without sin! It was these curses that Yeshua took on Himself at the Cross so that we would not have to suffer them, and the Jew needs that redemption most of all, for they are held to the highest standard of all by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This is why a Jew is both circumcised at birth and receives mikveh at the time of his Spiritual Rebirth--they are the seals of two separate covenants.

For Gentile Christian parents to dedicate their child to the Lord before the congregation is likewise appropriate. Such a dedication declares to all that they will raise the child to love and fear God and follow His commandments, but does not pretend to replace the child's personal re-birth.

What is not appropriate is to "water down" (if you'll pardon the pun) the immersion into the Messiah by sprinkling those who have not yet been born again in the Spirit and have not received the Spirit's circumcision of the heart (the promise of Jeremiah's prophecy) and calling it "baptism."

To summarize: Jews are born, and that is why they are circumcised immediately after birth. However, believers in the Messiah Yeshua, whether we call them Christians or Messianics, are not born but re-born, so to "circumcise" them with infant baptism, years before they are born in the Spirit, would be like trying to circumcise a Jewish child in the womb. The only way one can justify baptizing infants is to claim that they need not be born again in the Spirit to enter the Messiah's Covenant (which would be a complete repudiation of the entire NT) or to claim that even those who are truly "born again" may fall away from the Covenant.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blessing God for Our Troubles

A few hours ago, my father's sister was found dead in her apartment. I don't know for certain the cause, though a heart attack isn't unlikely.

My Aunt Sandy was a kind, but often lonely woman. Most of my memories of her involve family get-togethers during the holidays. Her husband, my Uncle Glenn, passed away some years ago, and they had no children.

I have to admit right now that I'm feeling a bit guilty at having not spent more time with her and gotten to know her better. Even so, I'm going to miss her terribly.

Her death is going to be much harder on my father than me, who was the one who found her after he and Aunt Joyce were unable to reach her by phone. It will be hardest of all on Aunt Joyce, who has built much of her life around caring for Sandy and being there for her. Your prayers for both of them is appreciated.

At the moment, I'm mostly feeling . . . heavy. It's hard to find words beyond that.

This is a rough time of year for everyone at Beth HaMashiach. As we get closer to Pesach, the Passover, which is probably our greatest outreach, things always have a way of going wrong on multiple levels. Much as Job faced the loss of his property and loved ones and health at the hands of the Adversary all at once, we're dealing with multiple issues of our own. The person who offered to watch the rabbi's children so that he and his wife could go to Israel in a few weeks has been hospitalized with a heart condition (fortunately, she should recover), we've had some unusual internal strife among the members, at least one extended unemployment, and now a family death.

Job, facing much worse loss than we have (praise God!), was still able to say, "Blessed be the name of YHVH." In that Spirit, I'd like to "recite" the Mourner's Kaddish for my aunt:
Exalted and sanctified is God's great name in the world which He has created according to His will, and may He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great Name be blessed forever and for all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, elevated and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be great peace from heaven, and life, for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

May she find the peace with the Lord that she was denied in this life.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Thoughts on Lent

This post came out of a short discussion on keeping Lent on FR (see link). Obviously, I won't be keeping the fast, but as you guys know, I have nothing against tradition per se. Just the opposite, in fact. I simply believe, per the Lord's example, that all tradition must be tested against the written Word of God and altered or tossed out where there is the least conflict with the plain meaning of Scripture.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Lent as a tradition. In fact, there's a Jewish corollary on the other side of the sun, where it is traditional to fast for the 40 days leading up to Yom Kippur, a season called T'shuva (repentance). The tradition came out of another tradition which said that those were the 40 days that Moses fasted before the Lord on Israel's behalf after the golden calf incident (Ex. 34:28) and descended on Yom Kippur with the new stone tablets, showing that God had forgiven Israel and restored the covenant.

It is likely that it was during that same period that Yeshua fasted in the wilderness and was tested by the Adversary.

However, my fellow Freeper P-Marlowe is quite right that anyone who fasts on a particular day should avoid boasting of it in any way, nor should he see the fast as an avenue to righteousness in and of itself. Speaking (I believe) of Yom Kippur, Isaiah writes (and here I'll use the old King James, which probably best expresses the poetry),
Wherefore have we fasted, say they,
and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul,
and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate,
and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day,
to make your voice to be heard on high.

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?
a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast,
and an acceptable day to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
to undo the heavy burdens,
and to let the oppressed go free,
and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.
Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke,
the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity,
and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually,
and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden,
and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.

--Isa. 58:3-11
Speaking, I believe, of the same season, Yeshua says,
And when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, of a sad face. For they disfigure their faces so that they may appear to men to fast. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to fast, but to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly. (Mat. 6:16-18)

The same applies to my Catholic friends who fast--that is, give up one or more pleasures--during Lent. There's nothing wrong with the tradition, though I would point out that Yeshua's disciples did not fast leading up to the Passover in which He was Crucified, for,
Yeshua said to them, "Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then they shall fast" (Mat. 9:15).
However, don't fall into the trap of telling each other what you are giving up. First of all, you risk it becoming a matter of pride and one-upping each other, and secondly, Yeshua told us explicitly to do such things in private and before God, not openly before men.