How Then Shall We Live Together?
One of my teachers by the name of Tim Hegg goes over some good points
in a four part article written for his synagogue newsletter called
"Traditions: Some Thoughts On The Place of Tradition in Torah
Communities." He comes to some conclusions for the development
and place of tradition in a community.
- Whenever traditional halakah would cause us to neglect a command
of scripture, the traditional halakah must be rejected. (Note:
halakah means 'walk' and describes a ruling or application of
- When two commandments or precepts of the Torah (God's
Instructions) come into conflict within a given situation of life,
the commandment which fulfills the obligation to love one's neighbor
must take priority.
- Never equate the traditions of man with having equal or more
authority than the Scriptures.
- Discard any and all traditions which in any way denigrate or
diminish Torah commands or which are at odds with the clear teaching
of God's Word.
- Allow those traditions to remain which are in line with Torah,
and have proven themselves to be valuable in the pursuit of Torah
living, whether on an individual or corporate level.
- Remember that those traditions which we allow to remain are just
that: traditions, something encouraged but not required.
(The parentheses are added for explanation.) I agree with Mr. Hegg
and his conclusions. They form a good starting point for determining
what to include and what to exclude from our traditions. We could
possibly summarize these points into one precept my wife and I have been
trying to live by: If it ain't in There, it's just opinion.
Traditions are not a bad thing, and I am not saying that anybody should
get rid of everything that is not specifically in the Book, either. For
instance, a lot of traditions were developed to help the Jewish people
maintain their identity while dispersed in a Gentile world, and they
apparently accomplished that purpose. Many of the Jewish traditions are
beautiful practices just loaded with meaning, and my family has adopted
a few of them ourselves. Some of the practices help us to remember the
Word, like Scripture set to music. I like how my friend Brad Scott of
Wild Branch ministry puts it: "Traditions are not bad; bad traditions
Judaism and Christianity have a number of traditions
that are good in themselves, or good for identity, but seem to get in
the way when trying to communicate God's Word. There is also an attitude
that traditions are good just because they identify; a sort of superior
mentality that complicates relationships. I am not an anti-Semite (or
anti-Christian) by any stretch of the imagination. I have checked into
moving my family to Israel, but cannot because of the laws. If I could I
would volunteer to serve in the IDF (but they probably wouldn't want an
old guy like me anyway). We continue to serve at a Christian church. We
send money to Israel as often as we can. But I have to wonder if the
Jews (in general) are communicating an anti-Gentile attitude sometimes,
even if it is mostly unintentional (or understandable). Of course, the
Christians have been communicating an anti-Jewish attitude for
"I know we are the chosen people, but once in a
while couldn't you choose someone else?" Tevye, from the movie
'Fiddler on the Roof.'
When developing practices for a community or putting together an
order of service, particularly when the community consists of a mixture
of Jews and Gentiles, perhaps we should consider the purpose of the
tradition. Or, more pointedly, what or who is the tradition for? If the
purpose is to celebrate Jewish heritage, or teach it to your Jewish
children, or reinforce Jewish unity, that is one thing. If Christians
want to promote their version of the Kingdom, that is another thing. If
you are trying to reach Jewish people with the message of the Messiah,
then by all means be as Jewish as you can. But, if the purpose is to
reach the broadest possible audience with the truth of God's Word
including the Law, perhaps 'Jewishness' (or Christianity) is not the
best focus. We might ask ourselves, Do we want to reach others with
God's Word? All things Jewish (and all things Christian) are not
necessarily good (or necessarily bad either). I am aware that there must
be a certain temptation for the Jews to say 'I told you so' and to
emphasize their own perspective as they take the lead (rightfully) in
matters of faith once again. There is an equal temptation for the
Christians to say the same concerning the Messiah. But the temptation to
place 'Jewishness' or 'Christianity' at the forefront needs to be
resisted, and instead the emphasis must be on God's Word.
opinion it is some of these attitudes that have caused other teachings
to spring up such as the Two House doctrine. At least in part these
teachings are a reaction to the 'shutting out' of the Torah observant
person from many communities. This is done overtly by outright hate and
covertly by way of reserving parts of God's Word (specifically the Torah
or Law) for Jews only. Or by the subtle segregation of Jew and Gentile
(Christian) through selective application of tradition.
"A bird may love a fish, but where would they
build a home together?" Tevye, from the movie 'Fiddler on the Roof.'
To accept all of God's Word, including the Law, is not necessarily to
accept Jewishness or Christianity. The Remnant is not Jewish, and it is
not Gentile (or Christian). It has Jewish members, just like it has
Gentile members (and even some Christian members). All people ever
created are under God's rulership even though in rebellion, but not all
people are part of His Remnant or Kingdom (especially not because of
mere genetics). The Kingdom has many subjects from every tribe, nation
and tongue, and no one individual or group is more important or loved
than another. There are no natural children in the Kingdom - every
single one of His kids is adopted. It is God's Word that binds us
together in Kingdom and family, and our collective doctrine and
traditions should reflect it and reinforce it.
Some in the
Messianic movement want to characterize the return to God's Word
(including Torah or the Law) as 'discovering the Jewish roots of
Christianity.' Others teach that we (Gentiles) have been 'grafted in to
a Jewish root.' The problem is, the roots of Christianity might be in
Judaism, but the roots of believers (the Remnant) go much further back
than just to the first century. They go all the way back at least to
Abraham and perhaps even Abel or Adam. Also, the root we have been
grafted into is not 'Jewish' but the eternally existent Messiah (even
though He spent a few years as a Jewish person). I find no 'Jews' (and
certainly no 'Christians') in the first five books of the Bible, either.
Only Israel, which can be defined as all the people of God, those who
follow His Ways. Let us not make Christian or Jewish the focus of our
walk together, let us not fight over whose traditions are better, but
let us rather lift up His Word, the Word in the Flesh and the Word on
With all due respect to my buddy Tevye, it is not just
any traditions that give us stability, but it is the traditions of the
Word of God that stabilize us. Our feet are on firm ground if we take in
His Word and practice His traditions. He is our Rock, our Fortress. His
Word endures forever, and there is no change or shadow of turning in
Him. Traditions can be wonderful things that help us understand His
Word, promote unity, and condition our flesh to obedience, if they come
from our Father. But if they are made up by men, however much they want
to 'help' God by adding to or subtracting from His Word, they can be
heavy burdens that make the Word of God unappealing to those who love
"On the other hand..."
Bruce Scott Bertram