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Shavua Tov

Only six days until Shabbat!

  • Daniel Botkin

The Blessing and the Curse of Independent Thinking

Several years ago I saw a book that was a compilation of testimonies of Jewish people who had come to the conclusion that Yeshua of Nazareth was the Jewish Messiah. The title of the book was They Thought For Themselves. These Jewish seekers did not just take the word of the rabbis who said that Jesus could not have been the Messiah. They read the Messianic prophecies for themselves, they read the New Testament Scriptures for themselves, and they thought for themselves. As a result, they saw that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah promised by Moses and the Prophets. A lot of independent-thinking Jews came to Yeshua in the 1960s and 1970s, and the modern Messianic Jewish movement was launched.

Those of us in the Messianic movement who are from a non-Jewish Christian background also thought for ourselves. We thought for ourselves about the Sabbath, about the Torah, about Israel. We did not just take the word of the preachers and pastors who said that the Old Testament Law was done away when the new covenant was inaugurated. We read the Bible for ourselves and we thought for ourselves. As a result, we saw that our faith in Israel's Messiah makes us a part of Israel, and therefore Israel's Sabbath and Israel's Torah are for us. We thought for ourselves, and our lives have been greatly blessed.

The blessing of independent thinking is that it makes it possible for a person to see spiritual truths which are not seen by people who do not think for themselves. Most people who are in the Messianic movement, whether they are Jews who saw the Messiah or non-Jews who saw the Torah, are in the Messianic movement because they are independent thinkers. So, independent thinking is always good, right? Or is it?

The danger and the curse of independent thinking lies in the fact that some people take it much too far. Independent thinking can and often does lead to hyper­-independence. Messianic people can be very opinionated. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Two Jews, three opinions. But I say unto you, two Messianics, ten opinions.

Independent thinking often leads to hyper-independence, and hyper-independence leads to division, divisiveness, discord, and splintering. It makes brothers unwilling to work together, or even to fellowship together, with people whose views differ from theirs even on non-essential matters.

The Messianic movement is growing in numbers, but we are not growing very much in love and unity. In June of 2007 I went on a one-month speaking tour. My family and I visited fourteen different Messianic congregations. At most of the places we visited, I heard sad reports of dissension, disunity, division, and splintering, usually over trivial matters. I heard things like the following:

"A few months ago our congregation was two or three times bigger, but a bunch of people got mad and left."

"There are more Messianic people in this area who should have been here, but they won't come to an event if it's held in a church building. Or if it's sponsored by another congregation. Or if they think individuals they don't get along with might be here."

"The last time we had a guest speaker, there were about four times as many people."

"We started our congregation with about twenty-five people, but those people all left and scattered because of minor doctrinal differences."

The strife and division that exists in the Messianic movement is evidence of spiritual immaturity and carnality. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Messiah. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (1 Cor. 3:1-3).

From Paul's words we can conclude that if envy, strife, and division are present, then spiritual immaturity and carnality are also present. The manner in which Paul words his rhetorical question at the end of this passage clearly shows that where there is envy, strife, and division, there's spiritual immaturity and carnality.

Among Messianics, it is often the spiritual immaturity and carnality of the hyper-independent that leads to envy, strife, and division. It's true that division is sometimes necessary. There are indeed some non-negotiable essentials in doctrine and practice. Sometimes people have differences so deep that it truly is better to separate on friendly terms and work separately. But most strife and division in the Messianic movement is over trivial and non-essential things.

A few examples: If you want to leave your congregation and break fellowship with your brothers because they meet in a rented church building, you are spiritually immature and carnal. Or if you want to leave because the praise and worship music is too loud (or not loud enough), you are spiritually immature and carnal. Or if you want to leave your congregation because they don't use the Hebrew Sacred Names (or maybe because they do use the Hebrew Names, and you think they shouldn't), you are spiritually immature and carnal. Or if you want to leave your congregation because you disagree about the disputable, debatable details of the dietary laws, you are spiritually immature and carnal. Or if you want to leave because the children in the congregation don't behave as well as you think they should; or because your view of prophecy differs from everyone else's; or because someone said something that hurt your feelings--you are spiritually immature and carnal. Or if you want to leave your congregation because of disagreements about the Biblical calendar, you are spiritually immature and carnal.

Disagreements about the appointed times on the Biblical calendar cause a lot of strife and division. We need to realize two things about the calendar. One, ambiguities do exist. (If you doubt this, consider Shavuot/Pentecost. Serious, God-fearing, Hebrew-speaking Jews who lived 2,000 years closer to the time of Moses than we do could not agree on the correct date for Shavuot. Six groups came up with four different dates. See Gates Of Eden bimonthly newsletter 11-4.) Two, there is currently no internationally-recognized body of Messianic leaders who have the authority to resolve these ambiguities and proclaim the appointed times for all Messianic congregations. So until such a body exists, I say this: Let your local leadership proclaim the dates for your local fellowship to assemble to celebrate the Feasts.

If you have convictions that are so strong that you feel you absolutely must celebrate a feast day on a different date in order to have a clear conscience, go ahead and do it on your own with your family. But join in the celebration with your congregation when they do it, too. And if you do celebrate it on a different date, be sure that you do not sow discord among brethren. He who sows discord among brethren is, according to Proverbs 6:19, one of the six things Yahweh hates, yea, seven are an abomination to Him. If you sow discord among brethren, you are not only spiritually immature and carnal, you are also an abomination to Yahweh according to Proverbs 6:19.

In John 17 Yeshua prayed that we all may be one. In verse 22 He said, "I have given them the glory, that they may be one." The glory is the glue that knits and holds our hearts together. As we each focus on the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the image of Yeshua from glory to glory. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18.) As we each behold the glory of Yeshua, we become more and more like Him. As we each become more and more like Him, we automatically become more and more like each other in character, in integrity, in unity.

To be transformed, we must behold the glory of the Lord. But instead of beholding the glory of the Lord, some of you are beholding the mote that is in your brother's eyes, and behold, a beam of hyper-independence is in thine own eye. Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam of hyper-independence out of thine own eye. Grow up, and love one another. Amen.

| DB



Image: The Dual Nature of Man by Daniel Botkin from his Busy Being Born Gallery. See more art pieces by Daniel on his art website:

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