Hebrew Roots and the Leaven of Works Salvation – Part 2
By McMahon, T.A. and Fisher, G. Richard
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” — Galatians:2:21
There is a great amount of “frustrating the grace of God” by those involved in the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM), primarily due to a lack of understanding regarding the difference between the Covenant of Law and the New Covenant of Grace. We celebrate this difference when we partake of communion. An all-inclusive explanation is beyond the scope of these two articles, but there are clarifying points that can be made in brief. Beginning with Galatians:2:21, we see that righteousness cannot come “by the law,” nor do salvation and sanctification. Just as salvation is the gift of God, so too is righteousness: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans:5:17-18). As H. A. Ironside noted, “We are not only freed from the law as a means of attempting to secure justification, but are also freed from the law as a means of sanctification.”
Matthew:28:20 is clear: as we disciple others, we are to teach them everything that Jesus commanded (a huge responsibility), not everything that Moses commanded. The believer in Christ who looks to the law as a means of righteousness is in serious error. All the righteous requirements of the law are not fulfilled by us but are fulfilled in us by Jesus Christ, who satisfied the requirements of the law for and in every believer (Romans:8:1-4). Christ fully completed every righteous requirement of the Law, and He gives that victory and standing to His followers. Swedish theologian Anders Nygren writes, “They who are ‘in Christ’ are by that very fact righteous, and not by a keeping of the law made possible by that fact. Their righteousness consists in the fact…that they no longer live of themselves but ‘are in Christ.’ Therein, and not through any keeping of the law is the righteousness of the law fulfilled” (Romans:10:4, see also Galatians:3:24-26).
In AD 70, the Temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed. First-century Judaism died. In the fourth century, there was an aborted attempt at rebuilding the temple by Emperor Julian. We know from Scripture that when Jesus was sacrificed on the Cross, He, as the Lamb of God, satisfied the eternal penalty for mankind’s sin, and at that point He rendered the Temple and the priesthood obsolete (Hebrews:8:7-13; 10:1-9; 12:26-29). When Jesus cried, “It is finished,” He meant that not only was redemption complete but, as a result, biblical Judaism had completed that for which it was intended. Jesus alone was the focal point of salvation. The ripping in two of the Temple veil as Christ gave up His spirit (Matthew:27:51) signified that He had accomplished what the Old Testament had prophesied. Christ’s death both fulfilled and ended the function of the biblical practices of Judaism with its temple, sacrifices, and priesthood. The way into the Holy of Holies and the very presence of God was now open and available to all. The Hebrew Roots Movement, however, seems to want to sew the temple veil back together.
To that end, in order for the religion of Judaism to continue without a Temple or a sacrifice or a priesthood, it had to be totally revamped to compensate for its losses. Israel’s way to God no longer existed. A new way had to be cobbled together. Old Testament requirements, additional traditions, modifications, and contributions from leading rabbis, were put together in documents known as the Mishnah (AD 200), the Jerusalem Talmud (AD 400) and the Babylonian Talmud (AD 500). The Talmud, with its more than twenty volumes containing input from hundreds of rabbis, is the book that dictates much of Jewish religious life today. Jewish Midrash consists of paraphrases of Scripture and Rabbinical commentaries. These are an added component in latter-day Judaism. The Talmud, however, is the chief source of its practices and beliefs, and a large portion of Talmudic practice is found within the Hebrew Roots Movement.
A notable exception would be the Jews who are called Karaites. They reject in total the Talmud and ultra-orthodox Judasim (calling it Phariseeism) and use only the Old Testament—period. The brilliant Hebrew Christian Alfred Edersheim said that applying the Talmud to Christianity was a huge mistake and that the Talmud had follies and superstitions of former days that needed to be refuted (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Volume 1, page Vlll).
Many in the HRM claim to be “Torah observant” (living according to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), when what they actually are is Talmud observant. Adherents of the HRM believe that they are following biblical customs when, in fact, they are recreating later practices and even medieval traditions. For example, the wearing of the yarmulke or kippa (a type of skull cap) by Jewish men is a human tradition with no basis in the Law of Moses. Another apparent necessity in the HRM is the wearing of what is called a “prayer shawl,” also called a Tallit, a Hebrew term that is found in the Talmud but nowhere is there evidence of such a practice in the Hebrew Old Testament. The widespread practice of interpreting Talmud content as though it were true to biblical content creates misinformed Jews. Among HRM followers there is a serious lack of searching out the genuine biblical roots of their beliefs and practices, including the aforementioned erroneous belief that the Gospel of Matthew, and perhaps the other three Gospels, were first written in Hebrew. More critical, it seems, is the lack of understanding of the Old Testament versus the New Testament, and the concept of Law versus grace.
The New Testament in every way surpasses the Old Testament, spiritually and functionally. John Reisinger explains: “The whole subject is as clear as crystal the moment we see that Christ established a New Covenant that replaces the Old Covenant, and that the New Covenant brings with it new and higher laws of conduct that are based entirely on grace. These new laws are just as objective as any law under the Old Covenant. These objective commands can demand a kind of behavior that Moses could never demand simply because these new laws are based upon truth and power of grace.” The Old Testament reaches its intended goal in Christ, and that fullness and fulfillment is given to believers by virtue of Christ in them (Galatians:2:20-21). Living it out can take place only by the enablement of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling those who have been born again. As Lewis Sperry Chafer points out, “The law of Moses presents a covenant of works to be wrought in the energy of the flesh; the teachings of grace present a covenant of faith to be wrought in the energy of the Spirit.” In other words, Grace empowers us while the Law condemns us.
Many who participate in the HRM may not realize that in their misplaced zeal to draw nearer to God they are actually moving in the opposite direction. They keep bits and pieces of the law, with neither rhyme nor reason for their choices, as they ignore or avoid the judgments meted out by the law. The law is an entirely unified system much like a seamless garment. One cannot arbitrarily keep what one wants and ignore the rest. That is simply “cafeteria Judaism,” as if the law were a pick-and-choose smorgasbord. James:2:10 is clear: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” The law confronts us with the fact that we need mercy and grace found in Jesus alone.
Sadly, those of the Hebrew Roots Movement understand neither law nor grace, and are unwittingly fulfilling what Hebrews:2:1 warns against: “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” The current slippage includes major doctrinal errors by HRM leaders, e.g., those involved with Dual Covenant salvation.
Dual covenant teaching promotes the belief that Gentiles are saved through Jesus, and Jews are saved without Jesus, presumably under the Mosaic or Abrahamic Covenant as they try to keep the various parts of the Law of Moses. Those who recognize the impossibility of keeping the law respond that nevertheless Jews by birth are automatically and unconditionally saved. If that were the case, why would Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, declare regarding his kinsmen, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Romans:10:1)? Paul is clear that the Gospel is for the Jews (Romans:1:16) first and foremost. Furthermore, John writes, “But as many as received him, to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them who believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John:1:12-13). Scripture is absolutely clear: Jesus is the only way for Jew or Gentile to be saved (John:14:6; Acts:4:12). Grace trumps race.
The drift away from the Word of God—and especially the New Covenant—has become a flood within the HRM. Its affinity for Judaism screams for an answer to the question we brought up earlier—which Judaism? Is it Orthodox, Reform (Progressive), Conservative, New Age, or any of the other sects and subdivisions of Judaism? This question is not being answered in the HRM let alone even being asked. None of these subcultures in Judaism represent biblical Judaism, nor do they come even close. Superstitions, divination, necromancy, and kabbalistic practices abound. Modern Judaism in all of its forms is monotheistic (and in some cases agnostic) and rejects the essential scriptural doctrine of the Trinity.
Where the HRM yearns for legitimate Old Testament practices, it misses the all-important fact that they were only a shadow of things to come. All of the types pointing to those things have been completely accomplished by Jesus. Yet followers are taught that such things are spiritually efficacious and therefore necessary for the Gentile believer today. Not so. “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come…” (Colossians:2:16-17). Notice that verse 16 includes feast days and the Sabbath as insubstantial shadows; how much more then are the non-shadow paraphernalia derived from nonbiblical traditions and customs, e.g., yarmulkes, prayer shawls, modes of dress, twisted payots (side curls), Western Wall prayers, red strings on the wrist, shofars, etc. For the Jew, these things have some supposed spiritual value even though they are not by God’s instruction. According to Scripture, employing unbiblical practices in an attempt to gain spiritual merit opens the practitioner to dire consequences—perhaps not as dramatic as what took place in the lives and “strange fire” deaths of Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus:10:1), but nothing good can come from approaching God by using man’s ways.
Adherents of the Hebrew Roots Movement are attracted to things of the Law and to an obsolete Judaism, both past and present. Some early connections include cultish doctrines such as are found in Seventh-Day Adventism, with its penchant for selective laws, and the Worldwide Church of God (WWCG). Dean Wheelock, who trademarked Hebrew Roots in the mid-1990s and publishes a magazine under that name, was educated at the WWCG’s Ambassador College. He left the WWCG, yet declared, “Most of what I learned from that organization, I still hold to [i.e., laws].” Joe Kovacs is an executive editor for WorldNetDaily (WND), a major promoter of the HRM (WND offers a luxury Alaskan cruise coming this fall featuring Hebrew Roots’ writer Mark Biltz). Kovacs’s writings feature the theology of the late Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God (See TBC article: https://goo.gl/m1zk1C).
In its erroneous endeavors, the HRM has drifted away (if indeed it was ever there) from the Church, the bride and body of Christ which comprises Jews and Gentiles. Galatians:3:28 makes that clear: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Colossians:3:11 confirms that the new believer in Christ is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all, and in all.” Elwood McQuaid reminds us, “Today’s church is a body of twin remnants of Jews and Gentiles. It is not a Gentile institution; and when a Jewish person becomes a believer in Jesus, he or she does not become a Gentile. Nor, for that matter, is it an extension of Judaism. Gentiles are not transformed into Jews, nor do they become a new branch or extension of Judaism. The church is unique.”
The HRM confuses both Jews and those in the church. The movement becomes something of a hybrid that is neither Judaism nor Christianity. It is a charade of both Judaism and Christianity. It has synagogues that are not synagogues, rabbis that are not rabbis, and anachronistically mixes Talmudic traditions with New Testament concepts and words, thus creating a new religious belief system and practice. Both sides are very confused. Its elitism is illusory; its pretended insights and superiority are often imaginary. In summary, the HRM is a form of manmade spirituality and therefore stands in opposition to the Word of God.
How might we minister to those who have become involved with the Hebrew Roots Movement? Although conditions of engagement may be very different at times, involving family members, or friends, or those in leadership who are believers, we must recognize that any change of their hearts can be accomplished only by the Holy Spirit who alone can bring about repentance. Nevertheless, we can be used of the Holy Spirit to explain what the HRM teaches and how it is contrary to Scripture. Paul instructs us regarding biblical correction: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy:2:24-26). We are to be steadfast not strident, gentle, patient, teaching with meekness, and most of all remembering that only God can bring them to “the acknowledging of the truth.” Finally, and most important, our endeavor on their behalf must be supported by unceasing prayer (1 Thessalonians:5:17; Hebrews:4:16).