"Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority ... the Constitution was made to guard against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters." - Noah Webster

"There is no worse tyranny than forcing a man to pay for what he does not want just because you think it would be good for him."
-- Robert A. Heinlein

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why I Am Not A Christian

I became a Christian in the autumn of 1985, had a “born again” kind of experience, but was completely a babe in the woods when it came to this new belief system.  This in spite of the fact that I was in America surrounded by Churches.  This would prove to be the problem.

Truly appreciating real science, I questioned everything.  I especially questioned my new found belief system and had doubts that nearly caused me to abandon it altogether.  But there was the breakthrough, when I found out that God does not fear our toughest inquisitions. Neither of His Word nor His creation.

Before going on, I feel the need to address the various types of readers who might stray here and need some sort of introduction.

If you are a non-believer in the God of the Hebrew Bible, but you have an open mind and simply want to understand why there is so much division among those who claim to be Christian, what follows will likely seem like incredible minutia that will be difficult to wade through. I fully understand that a major reason many people don’t want anything to do with the Bible is because of the people who call themselves Christians. If you are a practicing Jew, it must seem very odd the way the Christians do violence to the Tanakh (Old Testament) in the name of Jesus and then wonder why you don’t accept Him as Messiah.  If you are an atheist who “knows” that there is no God and that all religion is false, you will find what follows to be silly or boring, so why waste your time?  Admittedly, this topic is actually for those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, but sadly do not truly believe His Word, except where it seems to agree with what they want to believe.

For over twenty years, I studied and taught on Biblical apologetics.  That means that I defended the truth of the Bible, revealing the volumes of evidence that demonstrate that the earth and the universe, and real science do not contradict the Bible, but on the contrary, they confirm it.  I was sharing with others the evidence that showed that the Bible could not have been “authored” by mere men.  That through prophecy and other miraculous evidence, the Bible had to have been dictated by an intelligent being far beyond our understanding.

In order for most of what I have to say to make sense and be of the most benefit, you would have to be someone who believes that the Bible in it’s original manuscripts is fully inspired by God.  By that I mean that He actually dictated the words to those who initially penned it.  My apologetics work shows up in other posts and there will be more to come as needed.  That’s not the subject of this post.  Here we proceed from the idea that God Himself wrote the Bible.
The modern western version of Christianity is full of traditions and beliefs based on assumptions, isolated texts, and traditions that crept in over the centuries. Some denominations actually operate on the idea that anything prior to Jesus can now be ignored and have no bearing on being a Christian.  This is bizarre considering a couple of things.

Christians love to cite the words of a certain Rabbi named Paul.  Paul said in his second letter to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:16): “All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; . . .”   At the time Paul wrote that, the New Testament as we know it had not been canonized as Scripture.  So, what was Paul referring to?  The Tanakh.  What Christians today call the Old Testament.  This English name does not do it justice and gives the wrong impression, so I will not use it from here on out.  The “Old” Testament is not antiquated or out of date.  It still contains prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled (subjects for future posts).  From here I will refer to that section of Scripture as the Tanakh.  TaNaK is kind of an acronym for Torah, Neva’im, and Ketuvim.  Meaning the “Law” the Prophets and the Writings.

If you claim to follow Christ, then it would make sense to note that Jesus based everything He said and did on the Tanakh.  Here is what he said in Luke 24:25-27, after he had been resurrected: “. . . ‘Foolish people! So unwilling to put your trust in everything the prophets spoke! Didn’t the Messiah have to die like this before entering his glory?” Then starting with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them the things that can be found throughout the Scriptures concerning himself.”

Stop and consider the full import of this verse.  He was chastising his own followers for not taking seriously all of what the Tanakh had to say about his first coming to earth and the prophecies He had to fulfill. Pay close attention to the phrasing. “Starting with Moses” means he was citing Torah, the first five books of the Bible.  “The Prophets” means every book from Isaiah to Malachi.  How can one reconcile the idea that Jesus came to free us from being concerned with what the Tanakh has to teach in light of that verse?  Now add the quote from Paul that I cited above.

If you are familiar with many study Bibles, you can see that they put little notes in the New Testament to show you where to locate the references are in the Tanakh to what the Gospel or epistle writer is citing. If you have such a Bible, take some time to note how much of what is written in the New Testament is simply quoting from the Tanakh with the understanding that the reader is supposed to be fully knowledgeable about all of what the Tanakh says.

If it isn’t quite enough for you that Jesus (Yeshua ben Yosef) pretty much always cited the Tanakh for His authority on answering questions, how about if we look at His statements which are very direct about the Tanakh.

Matthew’s gospel contains what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount” comprised of chapters 5, 6, and 7. The setting is important because Messiah was teaching before a very large audience, making it clear to as many as possible  what he was all about.  In that sermon we find this statement (Matt. 5:17-19): “Don’t think that I have come to abolish the Torah (Law) or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete (fulfill) Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yod (smallest Hebrew letter) or a stroke will pass from the Torah -- not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

That is a clear and didactic statement.  It’s not a parable. It’s not alluding to anything else. Because the Messiah knows the future as well as He knows the past, He wanted to get it on record in the clearest possible terms, what His disciples should understand about the Tanakh.  In order for Him to be the Messiah, he couldn’t possibly be a violator of Torah.  He was speaking to an audience almost exclusively of Torah observant Jews, who once a year, every year, heard it read in their synagogues, the following (Deuteronomy 13:1-6) “Everything I am commanding you, you are to take care to do. Do not add to it or subtract from it.  If a prophet or someone who gets messages while dreaming arises among you and he gives you a sign or wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about as he predicted when he said, ’Let’s follow other gods, which you have not known; and let us serve them,’ you are not to listen to what that prophet or dreamer says. For Adonai your God is testing you, in order to find out whether you really do love Adonai your God with all your heart and being.  You are to follow Adonai your God, fear him, obey his commandments, listen to what he says, serve him and cling to him; and that prophet or dreamer is to be put to death; because he urged rebellion against Adonai your God, . . .”

For those of you who don’t know, there is this cyclical reading of the Torah every year in synagogues all over the world. Each Sabbath in the synagogue, going back to the time of Moses, the faithful people would gather to hear a lesson, a Parashah section of the Torah read aloud.  The Torah was divided into sections so that in a year’s time the five books of Moses would be read through.  Besides that, in truly Torah observant communities, boys were expected to have memorized the Torah by the time of their Bar Mitzvah at 12 or 13.

There was no football, basketball, or soccer. No television, X-box, Wii, or any other of the myriad of distractions we have in the world today. Life was agrarian. You either farmed or fished or made things for those who did. People who tried to be faithful to Torah (not just Jews) held to the teaching of Deuteronomy 6, which contains the “Sh’mah,” the most well-known and often repeated pieces of Scripture known to all Jews around the world. Also, the verses immediately following that:   “These words, which I command you today, are to be on your heart, and you are to teach them carefully to your children, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)

From the time a child was weaned, boys spent the day with daddy, learning the family business and learning and discussing Torah. Girls did the same with the mother.  There were no government schools.  If a boy began showing promise as a Torah scholar, the family rejoiced, because there was no greater honor in a Jewish community. Torah scholarship was so revered that those recognized as being exceptional at it were excused from some or even much of the labor and other family members compensated the work load.  Everything centered around Torah, and the rest of the Holy Books.

This is the community that Yeshua son of Joseph was born into.  When you read in Luke that Mary (Miriam) and Joseph (Yosef) were righteous, it means that they obeyed the Torah. Because life was all about the Scriptures and heritage and family, they knew that they were of the line of David and that Messiah was due to come from their line, even before the angel showed up to announce it.

It can be hard for us, in this modern technological world, to grasp that towns were tiny, and everybody knew everybody.  Nazareth might have had several hundred families; maybe a thousand families tops.  They were nearly all related going back many generations.  When you weren’t talking about making your living or discussing Torah or the Roman occupation, you talked about family. Everybody knew who Yeshua was.  There are songs and jokes about living in small towns.  There are no secrets, even when you try to hide things. But a Torah observant community is even far more open.  Why is all of this important?

If Yeshua had not been a faithful adherent to Torah, the claims of His disciples and the gospels could have easily been refuted and He would have been proven to be like the other false Messiahs that had come before.  Had he said anything to indicate that He was going to do away with Torah, the community would have rightly stoned Him to death as a false prophet leading a rebellion against God Almighty.

People who have been “churched” in their beliefs via catechism or Protestantism don’t have the same idea of “sinless” as expressed in the Bible.  Torah is the standard for what is and is not sin.  Most Christians in the modern world have some amorphous, liquid, shape-shifting ideas about what is and isn’t sinful.  Somewhere along the line, people took this verse from Matthew 22:40 and twisted it out of shape:
“On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (NASB)  It is fitting that I quote my friend Rabbi Michael Bugg: “A real, kosher Torah scroll is the Word of God written on lambskin, impaled on two shafts of wood (the rollers) which are called the Aytz Chaim (Tree of Life), . . .” (footnote a)  Yeshua was making the point with the Torah teachers that the two commandments were like the most important parts of a tree.  The commandment to love Adonai with all the mind, soul, and strength is like the root, the foundation.  The root is needed to support the trunk which is the second commandment. Without those two parts, a tree cannot produce any fruit.

In the case of the Pharisees and scribes, they were always concerned with the fruit, the visible, tangible stuff that everybody wanted from the tree.  They had lost sight of the very thing, the most important thing that provided for that fruit.
Today Christianity seems to have an almost opposite problem.  The church wants to have a stump in the ground that produces nothing of value and pretend that it has everything.  Is it any wonder that the unsaved world looks at the vast majority of churches and says, “Where’s the fruit?”  Torah is the God-given standard by which we can know that we are in the right relationship with Him and with our neighbor.

This is just the beginning of explaining why I don't use the label "Christian" and instead call myself Messianic.

The next installment in this series is Making A Case.

Note a: see “When The Stars Fall” by Rabbi Michael Bugg, page 226.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't encountered many Messianic Jews, so I'm pretty interested in what you're going to discuss in this series.


Please don't make me disable comments because you couldn't maintain decorum and civil discourse. You can disagree all you want to, just don't get nasty.