Being a Galatian
One of the frustrating things I have learned about life is that you can be sincere in your convictions, and still be wrong. I have also learned that Gods grace will not let us go, even after weve strayed. He is always willing to leave the 99 others, and come get us. When I entered the Hebrew Roots/Torah Observant (HR/TO) movement, I got to experience this first hand.
I had struggled for years with various sicknesses, searching books, articles, and the internet for home remedies and cures, after doctors had not been able to help me. One night I was up watching TV, and a talk show host had a woman on her show promoting the health benefits of the raw food diet. Its not really a diet, but more of a lifestyle of only eating raw fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. Imagine a vegan diet, only all uncooked. It was extreme, but many people had supposedly been cured of various health problems as a result of choosing to only eat raw foods, so it was worth a try. I gave away all of my food that required cooking, and began eating basically only salads, fruit, and nuts.
Looking back, I know that this lasted only 3 weeks, but at the time, I was in the frame of mind that this would be my new lifestyle, and I was in it for the long haul. Naturally my friends and family were concerned, but more so my family. Im already pretty skinny, and my family foresaw that my removing meat and grains from my diet would cause me to lose weight, and be unhealthy in general. They were right. When I have my convictions about something, I can be relentlessly stubborn, until my convictions on the matter genuinely change. I had books and experts who backed up my claims that the raw food diet was not only the healthiest, but also most biblical choice. After all, in the beginning, what did Adam and Eve eat?
A friend of mine from the young adults ministry at my church lovingly challenged me to consider that my viewpoint was on the extreme side, and reminded me of the wisdom in being balanced. She recommended that I consult scripture to see what God actually said about food. If eating cooked food was immoral and unhealthy, surely God would have had something to say about it. So I went through the bible with my concordance to see what it said about food, meat, cooking, and so on. Whatever the bible said, is what I would take as truth. What I found was that, yes, originally Adam and Eve ate only fruits and vegetables, but later God allowed them to eat meat and grains. And of course, they were cooked, as they were forbidden to eat blood. (Its not that I didnt know this beforehand, but its interesting how you can conveniently forget to consult the whole counsel of scripture when trying to prove your point.)
Later on, when Moses gave the law to Israel, God had much more to say about what could and could not be eaten. There is also a promise of good health and the removal of diseases to those that follow Gods law, and a promise of punishment and curse to those who do not. Perhaps this was the key that we had all overlooked. Maybe we were all suffering from various diseases because we werent following all of the law. As believers we do follow a good portion of the law, but we completely ignore Gods commands regarding food. Maybe we were wrong after all. Maybe this was something God cared about.
I sought to research the possibility that there was wisdom in following Gods law in its entirety, including the parts about food. I found myself on Amazon.com looking for books on biblical eating and the law, and discovered a whole genre of books on Torah observance. The two books I found especially helpful in my quest were Holy Cow! Does God Care about What We Eat? and Restoration: Returning the Torah of God to the Disciples of Jesus (which I eventually wrote a review of on Amazon). After reading them, I was thoroughly convinced that, even as new covenant believers, Christians did have a responsibility to observe the law, except for the commandments that were absolutely impossible or inappropriate for us to follow (ie, stoning someone for working on the Sabbath).
Along the way I also became a major fan of websites that were a one-stop-shop for all things Torah Observant, especially First Fruits of Zion. These ministries taught that while salvation is received solely by having faith in Jesus, that a lifestyle of righteousness can only be achieved through obeying the law. After all, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. Of course, their definition of fulfillment was that Jesus was the fullness or embodiment of the law. Therefore, how could we say we loved him, and disobey his commandments? He even said that if you loved him, you would obey his commands. So goes the logic of the Torah observant movement. In my experience, those who teach such things are precious and sincere believers who are simply trying to teach what they believe to be the true and honorable way of righteous living, even though theyre wrong. At the time, their resources were so dear to me, because I felt I was being reconnected with a part of my faith that I had been deceived out of embracing. And I consumed all of the books and website articles fueled by a desire to learn all that could about the law, so that I could put as much of it into practice as possible.
I began to learn that it was necessary for us to understand the Hebrew culture, idioms, and language, in order for us to truly understand scripture, which in turn made me doubt the accuracy of any mainstream Christian interpretations of scripture, and lose faith in our ability to even understand scripture without the aid of those who are experts on the ins and outs of the Hebrew culture and language. (HR/TO proponents argue that the Greek/Western mindset misinterprets scripture, as it doesnt understand its context, which has resulted in most in Christendom turning its back on the Torah.) This led me to trust the teachings of those within the TO movement over others because they sought to interpret scripture from the information they received in their studies of Hebrew culture and language. Little did I know, therein laid the problem. Their sources for this information were unbelieving Jewish rabbis and their teachings.
With my beliefs changing so much, I made the decision to leave the church I had been a part of for almost 5 years, and set out on my own. Around the same time, the biblical holidays began to creep up on the calendar, and I found myself, for the first time in search of a place to celebrate Yom Kippur. Surfing around the internet I found a Christian congregation that met on Saturdays in a church in a nearby town, that was very much into celebrating the Hebrew roots of the Christian faith. So I decided to go and spend the holiday there. Much to my relief, although it was a small congregation, it was definitely multicultural, which I was sincerely thankful for. I was picturing myself, not only standing out as a visitor, but also as being the only black person in a crowd of Messianic Jews. Thankfully God saw fit to spare me from what could have been a very awkward situation. The congregation was made up of a small close-knit family of believers that danced together, sang Messianic songs together, and ate potluck lunch together after service.
I stayed with this congregation for about 2 months, until one Saturday during the after service brunch, I overheard, a family that had recently returned from a trip to Malaysia retelling some of the disappointing discoveries they had made regarding the Messianic congregations they had visited while on their trip. Unfortunately some of the congregations were actually embracing the Torah or Old Testament law, and were sincerely doing everything they could to follow its commandments, and were somehow blinded to the fact that the law of Moses was no longer applicable for believers today. Unfortunately the views of this church just weren't getting it done for me. If I'm going to do something, especially if it involves seeking the Lord, I'm gonna do it all the way. Not half way. It's either all or nothing. And somehow they were able to justify upholding half of the law, but not all of it. So I left, very distraught over having to break fellowship with friends I had just made, but knowing that it was the right thing to do. I hated the idea of being labeled a church hopper, but the gap in our beliefs would not allow me to sincerely fellowship with them without feeling this thick wall of awkwardness between us. Maybe eventually they would come around.
I left, and decided that while I was in between churches I would listen to sermons online. (Along the way I had discovered some Messianic congregations that were made up of Jews and non-Jews (I have always hated the word Gentiles....), that had websites and archives of their sermons. I have to admit that I truly enjoyed Saturdays by this point. It became a day for me to stop everything and spend a whole day reading the Bible if I wanted to and relaxing, which totally beat spending the day doing chores.
As I began to implement various aspects of the law in my life, my family became very concerned. My dad, whos not a Christian, thought I was taking my religious beliefs way too far, and my mother, who is a Christian, thought I had wandered away from genuine Christianity. She often tried to talk sense into me or to get me to break the Sabbath on purpose, because she didnt see the value in it. Both of my parents thought I was trying to be Jewish, and as a joke my dad wrapped my birthday presents in Hanukkah themed giftwrap that year (my birthday is in December, so Hanukkah themed paper was plenty available). I did find it a little funny, but I was also kind of hurt. I have great respect for Jewish people and their heritage, but I really wasnt trying to be Jewish. I was just trying to be a biblical Christian. But no one in my social circle (with the exception of a few mainly non-Christian friends) seemed to really get that.
God eventually did allow some of my mothers words to sink in to help bring me out of the deception I had wandered into, but it was not before I saw the unhealthy side of the TO/HR movement and its effects on Christians.
The Journey Out
Along the way there were certain aspects of the TO/HR movement that bothered me. Initially it seemed that its proponents taught that Christians had an obligation to follow the written law of the bible, just as Jews did, but that we had no responsibility whatsoever to follow them in observing the oral Torah of the Talmud. This was fine by me because I wanted to be free of the extra biblical traditions of men. But then I found that even the TO/HR proponents were evolving in their understanding of what it meant to be a biblical Christian. They began to see non-Messianic rabbis as fathers of the faith whose authority Christians were obligated to come under. They believed that aside from its exclusion of Jesus Christ as savior, that rabbinic Judaism, complete with praying 3 times a day facing Jerusalem, learning and obeying the Talmud, and even delving into mystical practices (Kabbalah) should be an integral part of the Christians faith. I actually was able to be deceived by their teachings on prayer. I remember owning a DVD series produced by First Fruits of Zion called Praying in the Spirit, that took the position that praying pre-written prayers from a prayer book 3 times a day facing Jerusalem was the way one prayed in the spirit and without ceasing. It bothers me now to think about how I used to take mini breaks at work to pray, and actually brought a tiny compass along with me to ensure that I was indeed facing Jerusalem when I did it.
While I was able to be deceived into thinking that praying set prayers according to Jewish tradition was a biblical commandment, I could never buy into the idea that unbelieving Jewish rabbis had a place of spiritual authority over me or other Christians. Wandering into the territory of mystical Judaism and obeying the teachings of the Talmud stood out as being clearly blasphemous to me. What was worse was to hear messages and read articles about how many Christians were beginning to abandon Jesus altogether for Orthodox Judaism, and how we needed to work to prevent this trend from spreading further into the TO Christian community. Somehow people who began studying the Torah and Hebrew idioms and culture out of a sincere love for Jesus, wound up growing farther and farther away from him. One day they were pursuing the Jewishness of Jesus, and the next they decided that Jewishness in and of itself was their savior, and that Jesus was merely a deceiver. Unexpected, but the reality none the less.
I found myself utterly disappointed with the HR/TO movement. Here I was thinking I had finally found rest within a movement that adhered to all of the true teachings of the bible, and instead I found people zealous for the vain and destructive teachings of men (men who didnt even believe that Jesus was their Messiah). I wanted to distance myself from the movement, while holding on to what I felt was true.
While I was having my experience with the HR/TO movement, I was also dealing with another issue that was very frightening and perplexing. I wont go into the details of what was happening, as that would be a book all on its own. I will suffice it to say that it required me to contact believers who worked in deliverance ministries for their assistance, as neither I nor anyone I knew was equipped to handle it.
The first deliverance minister I contacted, I had discovered through a Messianic (HR/TO) congregations website. They had an archive of online sermons you could listen to, and I had heard a few of this brothers messages. While speaking with him about my issues, he explained to me, among other things, that he and his wife were no longer a part of the Messianic Congregation. He no longer believed the things he had been teaching, and thought the ideas of the HR/TO movement were really just false interpretations of Jewish rabbis.
I was completely shocked, and kind of felt like this man was a traitor. I had believed his messages, and now he no longer did. Not only that, but as I explained to him how I was practicing my faith, he kindly suggested that it was not good for me to be without the fellowship of other believers, listening to online sermons in my room. While no church was perfect, he strongly believed that I would be better off in a church, connected to other Christians, however flawed they may be, than I would be going it alone. I left the conversation feeling somewhat betrayed by this mans departure from the HR/TO movement to return to mainstream Christianity, but his words left a mark on me.
The strange disturbances persisted, so I contacted another deliverance minister. This one was also a part of the HR/TO movement, but believed that the writings of Paul were evil and untrustworthy because he advised people not to follow the law of the old covenant. Though I actually began to consider this as a possibility, in the end, God was able to use this individuals perspective to correct my thinking. Up until that time, I had bought into the HR notion that Western interpretations of scripture were unreliable due to their lack of understanding of the Hebrew culture and language. Anything written in the New Testament that seemed to indicate that we were no longer under the law was actually pro-Torah observance. We had just been interpreting those passages incorrectly. Works like The Complete Jewish Bible were able to translate those verses correctly, and restore the proper pro-Torah meaning. But this deliverance minister did not believe those arguments for a second. He thought the anti-law message was quite clear, and that there was no mistake about it. Paul preached an end to the law for Gentiles, and I was beginning to see it.
Because months later the problems continued, I contacted my last deliverance ministry. It was a couple in New Jersey, who prayed with me over the phone. They were just regular Christians, and before getting to the meat of our conversation they wanted to make sure I was a Christian too. They asked me some standard litmus test questions, one of them being How do you know you have salvation? I explained to them that I was confident that I had salvation because I believed that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins and because I obeyed his commandments. That seemed fair enough to them, and having satisfied them with my answer, we moved on. However, there was a major problem. When I said that I obeyed Jesus commandments, I wasnt just talking about righteous living that comes from loving God and loving one another. I was referring to the law. When I heard these words come out of my mouth I realized that my theology was dangerously off course. I now believed I was saved because of Jesus sacrifice on the cross and because I obeyed the Mosaic laws.
Then I realized that I no longer truly understood why I needed Jesus at all. If I had the law, and obeying it made me a righteous person, what was Jesus role? After speaking to this couple, I noticed that I felt very far away from Jesus. I cant say Ive ever felt his presence in a noticeable way, but I certainly felt that there was a distance between us now. How could I, in my desire to love Jesus and obey him, have ended up feeling like we were strangers? Unfortunately my good intentions had not been enough. I found myself, after having been raised in church my whole life, and saved since 6 or 7, now needing to relearn the basics of my faith all over again. Above all, I needed to understand why Jesus came to earth, and why I needed him.
I remember having seen Joseph Prince give messages on his show on Daystar (a Christian TV network). His ministry focused on the grace of God, saved by grace and grace alone, and fully embracing the new covenant. Originally I was against this pastors teachings because he rejected the importance of the law, but now his words were exactly what I needed to hear. I began watching his sermons, and purchased his book Destined to Reign. It sounds like the kind of book that focuses on being the best in life and constantly receiving blessings, so initially I wasnt interested. But it was actually exactly what I needed. It explained the purpose and limitations of the old covenant, why Jesus died on the cross, what he accomplished in doing so, and how the righteous live in the new covenant. This book played an enormous role in correcting my thinking and restoring Jesus to his rightful place in my life, and for that I am extremely thankful.
During this period of relearning my faith I also reread Pauls letter to the Galatians, and all of the sudden it made so much sense. Galatians was written to people just like me, Gentile Christians who had been deceived into believing they had to obey the law of Moses. When you have lived as a Galatian, Pauls words really come alive, and speak so clearly to your situation. I thank God that he preserved his letter for us.
Now that my mindset was changed, my lifestyle began to change as well. I allowed myself to eat my favorite foods, even if they were considered unclean or werent kosher. I no longer felt the need to celebrate biblical holidays, and allowed myself to do whatever I wanted Friday night and all day Saturday (though I still firmly believe that the Sabbath is the 7th day of the week, not Sunday, and that as human beings we do need rest for our physical bodies). I stopped trying to learn about the Jewish mindset on biblical issues, and regained trust in the scholarship behind mainstream bible translations. My Complete Jewish Bible and all those other HR/TO books and resources went in the trash, and I eventually started attending a regular church.
At the end of it all, I had learned many lessons:
I saw that when I strayed, God would leave the 99 other sheep, and come and get me, and bring me back to the truth.
You can either have the law or Jesus. You cannot mix the old and new covenant. Its all or nothing.
No one alive today can keep the law in full. There is no temple, no Levitical priesthood, and most of us dont live in Israel, so we cannot live by the law even if we wanted to.
Beware of the yeast of the Pharisses! The yeast is their teachings. Todays unbelieving Jewish rabbis are the religious descendants of the Pharisees. They believe and teach what the Pharisees taught. Their teachings are hostile to the gospel, and will lead believers away from Jesus Christ, even if they have good intentions.
The heart of our faith is found in Jesus death and resurrection, and faith in him and his message. The gospel is meant to be easily accessible and understood by people of all cultures and languages. Jesus and his blood are the roots of the Christian faith, not his culture or the language he spoke. They may be the backdrop of the events of his life, but they can become a major distraction to God himself, if we let them.
The above is an excerpt from my life as a believer. The events took place during 2007 and 2008. Today I cling solely to the new covenant, and generally feel most comfortable fellowshipping in house church settings (though I believe those too have much room for growth).
Thanks again to GirlLuvs2Read for this testimony.