Most of us who, for any length of time, have been involved in Messianic Judaism, know there are serious divisions within the Messianic Jewish movement. A meeting of Messianic Jewish leaders which recently took place in New York, exposed some of these divisions. I think one of the purposes of the Borough Park Symposium was to help unify the movement by the exchange of ideas. Various people presented papers which were followed by discussion. After starting to read some of those papers, my conclusion is that the symposium will not bring greater unity to our fractured movement. But, it did help clarify the reasons for some of our divisions, and it’s a positive outcome when serious error is exposed so that it can be corrected and those who are teaching it can be removed from places of influence.
This response is limited to Stuart Dauermann’s paper because Stuart remains an influential leader in our movement, and because his ideas represent those of others. For this symposium Stuart was asked to present a paper on the topic, “What is the Gospel?” (This paper is available online at www.boroughparksymposium.com.) It is a simple, direct question that deserved a simple, direct answer. Why? The Good News reveals much about who God is. The Good News is central to what God is doing and what we are to be about. We must know what the Good News is.
What is the Good News? It is the simple message that the Seed of the Woman, the long-expected Redeemer, the One who is truly called Immanuel, who is fully God and fully man, came to save mankind which is dead in trespasses and sins! By means of His incarnation, sinless life, death, burial and resurrection, He has made salvation possible for Jews and Gentiles who hear this Good News and believe it. This is the simple Gospel. Every one of our children should know this before they become a Bar Mitzvah. When a rabbi no longer is able to articulate this, but instead minimizes it, confuses it, undermines it, or adds to it, something is seriously wrong.
In answer to this simple question Stuart presented a 48-page paper which revealed some of the reasons for the serious divisions within our movement. I would like to comment on Stuart’s paper and then make some recommendations.
Stuart refuses to give a clear simple definition of the Good News. In fact, he advises us against having a simple definition of the Gospel. He claims that most of us are confused about the Gospel, particularly the Evangelical Church and Jewish Missions. “Conditioned by evangelicalism and Post-Enlightenment conceits, we may at first think that defining the gospel is a straightforward matter, and simple, really … I advise against this approach! The gospel should not and cannot really be defined in the same manner as other terms” (p. 22). In fact, he claims that “it is and always will be more than we can grasp and define” (p. 23). When describing the Gospel, he says it is “fundamentally a report we have received and which we pass on, an authoritative, empowered, but always fragmentary report concerning God’s saving intervention in Jesus Christ” (pp. 22-23; emphasis mine).
Stuart distorted the Gospel in other ways. He claims that we can’t know who will be saved and who will be lost (p. 38). Pleading humility and agnosticism on the issue of the salvation status of Yeshua-rejecting Jews, Stuart writes: “I must demur, especially in the case of God’s chosen people, whom he hardened for his purpose, but who remain beloved for the sake of the fathers. The full outworking of the drama of the Jews and the Holy One is obscured from our view. A cloud of incense obscures our view of the mercy seat – by divine design” (p. 37). Why does Stuart want this ambiguity where none should be tolerated? Being able to determine who is saved and who is lost is possible for us to know and is not complicated. John gave us some simple tests to determine if someone is saved or lost, Heaven-bound or Hell-bound (see 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 4:14-15; 1 John 5:9-12). According to these clear and simple tests, the various non-Messianic Judaisms and their adherents fail.
He distorted the Gospel by minimizing the need for “individual soul salvation” (p. 10) and a “one-by-one gospel” (p. 9). He minimizes the need for individuals to hear and then accept the Good News for salvation (see Romans 10:8-16). He claims that the Good News must be good news for all Israel (the collective), and if it isn’t, it somehow isn’t valid or worthy or properly understood. He makes the absurd statement that unless the Good News is good news for all of Israel, it can’t be good news. This ignores the truths that not all Israel is Israel, and that God has always worked through the elect, the chosen ones among the chosen people, the faithful remnant (see Romans 9:6-7).
He claims that Gospel-rejecting Judaism is in a different category from other non-Christian religions – implying that it is significantly different regarding salvation than those religions (p. 11).
He minimizes/ignores that the Good News is predicated on bad news. He says that the news that Jews who reject Yeshua are lost is “unwelcome” and “oppressive” (p. 42). But the Good News is based on the truth that the whole world, including the Jewish people, is perishing. Those who refuse to acknowledge the bad news of our lostness, can no longer clearly declare the good news of the salvation provided by Yeshua (see below, 1 in the Notes – “The Bad News and the Good News”).
He minimizes the reality that people are going to Hell. He claims that the proclamation about Hell was not part of the apostolic message. But that is a word-game and false. The Messiah’s emissaries may not have always used the word “Hell”, but they always operated with the knowledge that the world was estranged, alienated from God and eternal life. If they didn’t specifically use the word “Hell”, they used other synonymous concepts for the same reality – being lost, being in need of salvation, being in need of a Savior, being dead in trespasses and sins, the Second Death, the Lake of Fire, etc.
He maximizes the benefits of the good things that God put within Judaism, minimizing the rejection/disobedience/punishment aspects for failure/rejection/unbelief. He states that “along with Mark Kinzer, I believe Judaism to be (sic) a house still inhabited by Yeshua even though he is yet to be recognized and explicitly honored by the majority of those living there” (p. 12, footnote). Stuart is guilty of trying to justify a Gospel-rejecting Judaism, a Yeshua-rejecting righteousness that does not submit to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3). This deadly theological mixture of truth and error will not save our people. It will only falsely assure our people that they are OK, and keep them away from faith in the Messiah who alone can save them.
He challenges those who declare the emptiness and inadequacy of Jewish religious practice and faith (p. 28), who proclaim the “futility, vacuity and impotence of the Jewish way of life” (p. 29). He challenges those who believe that those Jewish people who reject the Messiah, who refuse to love Him and follow Him, are not fundamentally spiritually lost (p. 8). He accuses those of us who are trying to declare the truths about the inadequacies of non-Messianic Judaism of being hostile to our people. “Most of us are well practiced in bashing Jews and Judaism”. But, those of us who tell our people that non-Messianic faith is inadequate to attain that which is most important – salvation – should not be criticized any more than the prophets and Messiah and apostles who loved our people enough to tell us the truth. It is the false prophets who didn’t tell us the truth about our sinful condition, but told us pleasant lies – that all was well with us when things were not well.
He maximizes his desire to be accepted by the non-believing majority and minimizes the inherent offense of the Gospel. He doesn’t want to offend the majority of our people with the message that the One who is despised and rejected must be loved and accepted in order for us to be saved. There is no encouragement for us to pick up our cross and boldly proclaim the truth, shouting from the housetops to our people the truths that Messiah has whispered to us. He does not encourage us to have the willingness to go outside the camp bearing Messiah’s reproach.
He calls us back to covenant faithfulness to the Sinai Covenant, not acknowledging that it is a broken covenant. He considers the Sinai covenant as being fully in force (p. 41). He calls us to covenant-faithfulness based on Torah-observance (“Torah obedience of all Israel”, p. 45) while ignoring the reality that the Sinai Covenant is a broken covenant. This is legalism.
What is Stuart trying to accomplish?
What is his agenda?
Stuart is minimizing the Gospel and maximizing the good that can come from Yeshua-forsaking Judaism to open the theological door to the “Wider Hope” – the teaching that people are saved apart from personal acceptance of the Gospel. He is trying to create another Gospel by which the religious Yeshua-rejecting majority of our people are partakers of the benefits of salvation.
He wants the Messianic Jewish community, and Jewish Believers, and the Jewish Missions community to be committed to Messianic congregations and a Torah-centric life. This is a goal that I am sympathetic to. I want to see Messianic Jews relate to the Torah and the Sinai Covenant – broken though it is (see below, 2 in the Notes – “Being Pro-Torah”) – but Stuart is going about it by embracing the false teaching of legalism.
Stuart wants the non-Messianic Jewish community to perceive us as being supportive of our people. This is a goal I agree with. There are many areas of cooperation and commonality and there are many ways we can affirm and support our people – but without compromising the integrity of the Gospel. We should commend our people when we can and for what we can, and we should stand by our people – but not at the expense of minimizing/toning down/compromising the Gospel and giving a message of false hope that non-Messianic Judaism will save, or atone from sin, or bring justification, righteousness, etc.
So What Do We Do About Those Who Are Teaching Serious Error?
I hope that all who love the Word of God and sound doctrine will recognize that these are very serious errors. There are important theological boundaries we must stay within. Stuart has transgressed some of those boundaries .
It is essential to our movement’s well-being that we not tolerate error or those who teach serious error. Sound teaching is one of the most valuable things in the world because it brings good. One of the most dangerous things is false teaching, because it is so terribly destructive to human life. Those who minimize the Gospel, make it complicated or unclear, water it down, substitute another gospel, or add other things to the Good News do a disservice to God, distort the truth, dishonor God and His Word, confuse the lost, and harm Messiah’s community. Those who do these things are seriously confused and may even be lost. They are certainly not fit to be teachers who are in the position to influence others.
Rabbi Paul tells us to judge ourselves – to discern if we are staying within theological and moral bounds and if not, take the appropriate action. We must not be like the rest of our society – overly permissive, with low standards, afraid to confront, willing to tolerate that which should not be tolerated, slowly decaying, slowly being cooked like the frog in the increasingly hot water that never jumps out of the pot. We must embrace sound doctrine and reject false teaching and teachers! No more tolerance for that which must not be tolerated!
The conveners of the Borough Park Symposium should not have remained silent when Stuart taught his errors. Something should have been said at the Symposium to correct those errors; otherwise, by their silence, they will be perceived as supporting his errors. But better late than never. I ask the conveners of the Borough Park Symposium, because they gave Stuart a public platform which he abused, to publicly disavow Stuart’s errors.
I ask other leaders to no longer give Stuart and those who share his errors a platform to influence others and spread further confusion within our movement .
If our movement is to be restored to health, so that we can be all that the Lord wants our precious movement to be, and enjoy the blessing of God, we need to cling to sound doctrine – good, wholesome, solid, reliable, faithful teaching – and reject that which is bad.
1. The Bad News and the Good News
We need to realize that apart from the redemption and salvation provided by God – by having faith in God, and offering the appropriate sacrifice, first a temporary atonement provided by the sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, and then the ultimate atonement provided through Messiah Yeshua – the whole world is going to Hell. And here’s why: at the very beginning of human history, our first parents rebelled against God. After being warned not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, our first parents rebelled against God. They sinned and ate from the Forbidden Tree.
They believed the Father of Lies more than they trusted the word of the Heavenly Father. They sided with the god of this world rather than the God of Heaven. By doing so, they joined forces with Satan in his rebellion. This one sinful rebellious act enabled Satan, sin, and death to take control of humanity. The whole world came under the Devil’s authority. John tells us that the whole world lies in the power of the wicked one (1 John 5:19). Human beings in their natural condition are under the authority of the domain of darkness, that powerful, evil, demonic kingdom that is in rebellion against God, and filled with lies, deception, deceit, chaos, rebellion, and death. They share Satan’s doom in the Lake of Fire that was prepared for him and the fallen angels that rebelled with him.
From the moment that Adam and Eve rebelled against our wonderful Creator, everything changed. Their sin and rebellion affected every aspect of their nature. Their body, their soul, their will, their mind, and their spirit, had become corrupted. Their orientation toward God, who is HaMakor – the Source of Life – changed for the worse. Instead of drawing nearer to God, Adam and Eve ran away from Him. They were alienated from Him. Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, and forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life. They were headed toward death – the First Death and the Second Death – Hell.
The results of what our first parents did were passed on to all of their descendants like a deadly virus. That corruption of body, soul, and spirit was passed on like a horrible degenerative disease to all of their billions of sons and daughters. Here is the human condition according to King David: The Lord has looked down from Heaven (thoroughly searching with His all-seeing eyes) upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand (they don’t), and who seek after God (they don’t seek Him sufficiently). They have all turned aside (and missed God and salvation). Together they have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.
Human beings are “sons of disobedience” – disobedient children. By our very nature, by inherent predisposition, we are disobedient to God. We live according to this sinful world’s corrupt values, satanically empowered, indulging the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the mind – physical sins and mental sins – and are by nature children of wrath, deserving of the righteous wrath and punishment of an infinitely holy God. Humans beings who are only born once in this world are mere human beings – flesh – not spirit. They are of this world, not of the next. They are perishable – not imperishable. The entire world of human beings (Jews and Gentiles) is perishing, decaying, and headed for destruction like a rotten piece of fruit (John 3:16).
These Truths Apply to the Whole World – Jews and Gentiles
In Adam, all die. In Messiah, all are made alive. Just as the Fall affected all men and all men died, all human beings – Jews and Gentiles – need the God-sent Savior. All are saved the same way – through the proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel. The apostle to the Gentiles affirmed that the Gentiles are completely lost. They are excluded from the commonwealth of Israel. They are strangers to the covenants that contain the promises of salvation and reconciliation. They have no hope and they are without God.
The Jewish people are not exempt from the need to embrace these realities . In fact, the opposite is true. We are more responsible to believe these Torah-truths – not less responsible. To whom much is given, much is required. The more one knows, the more is expected of him, and the greater the punishment for failure. We are entrusted with the Oracles of God, which contain the Messianic prophecies and all the symbols and signs and principles that point us to King Messiah. In our Torah, we were specifically warned not to reject the great Prophet who would come, who would be like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19); if we did, God would hold us responsible and would severely punish us. When Messiah came, He came to us. He was one of us. He did His great miracles and gave His exalted teachings to us!
The Son of God, who is always right and can’t be wrong, said to Jewish people who were immersed in Judaism that, now that He had come into the world, He was the Way – which means that there is no other way. Non-Messianic Judaism is not the way. Can Islam provide the Way? Buddhism? Being a good person? The answer is, categorically, no! Yeshua, who cannot lie, said that He is the Truth – which means that there is not enough truth to save you anywhere else. Having a zeal for God, but not having the knowledge of the truth about Yeshua, and the righteousness that believing in Him provides, is not enough. It leads to Hell. Israel has pursued righteousness the wrong way, and stumbled over the Stumbling Stone, by not placing their faith in Messiah (Romans 9:31-33). Yeshua, who is never wrong, said that He is the Life, which means that apart from Him you will not live forever with God. Yeshua, who is infallible, said that apart from placing faith in Him, no man could get to the Father (John 14:6).
Yeshua said to a group of Jewish leaders (men who believed in God, who knew the Torah, who went to the Temple in Jerusalem and offered sacrifices), “Unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). And if the Chosen People who reject Yeshua are lost, where does that leave followers of the non-Bible-based religions like the Buddhists, Muslims, or Hindus; those who have embraced erroneous ideologies like secular humanism?
Simon Peter stood before the Sanhedrin and declared to the leading priests, scholars, and rabbis of Israel that there is salvation nowhere and in no one other than Yeshua of Nazareth (Acts 4:12). It doesn’t get much clearer than that! Judaism apart from Yeshua can’t save anyone.
Paul, perhaps the greatest theologian of all time (apart from Messiah Yeshua), made it crystal clear that if during our earthly life we personally confess with our mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we will be saved. But, the inverse truth is equally clear: if during the earthly phase of our life we don’t confess with our mouth and believe in our heart, we will be lost. The rabbi from Tarsus had great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart, because he knew the lost state of his beloved Jewish people who didn’t believe in the Messiah that God sent and commands us to believe in.
Non-Messianic Jewish people are lost. The Jewish people are without Temple, without sacrifice, basing their religion on a broken covenant that cannot save. Non-Messianic Jews have been broken off from the Olive Tree of Salvation and Blessing.
We Can’t Save Ourselves from Hell
Not only is the whole world alienated from God, utterly lost, unsaved, unrighteous, under the authority of Satan, without hope, and headed to Hell, but we are completely incapable of changing this situation on our own. Just as we are incapable of saving ourselves from the First Death, we are totally incapable of saving ourselves from the Second Death. Sin has so alienated us from God, and so corrupted our nature, that we are in a state of spiritual death. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead people are incapable of giving themselves life!
Salvation cannot come from anything having to do with human effort or how good a person one is. We can never be good enough, or righteous enough, or religious enough. There are not enough good things that we can do, not enough money we can give, not enough mitzahs we can fulfill, nor merit that we can earn that will enable us to avoid the Lake of Fire. Salvation from sin, death, Satan, and Hell, and restoration to God and life cannot be accomplished by man. All human efforts will prove inadequate. We can’t redeem ourselves. We can’t restore ourselves to God, no matter how hard we try.
Only God Can Save Us
But what we are utterly incapable of doing, God is completely capable of accomplishing! God had a plan to make salvation from Hell possible. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, the Lord provided a substitute, an innocent animal whose life was sacrificed and whose blood was shed. Those who had faith in the one true God, and offered a sacrifice, could be forgiven. Centuries later, the Lord made covenants with Israel. If we placed our faith in God and obeyed His Word, and offered the korbanot – the sacrifices that enabled us draw close to God – we could be forgiven. But those sacrifices were temporary, and were effective only when accompanied by faith, and only until the Final and Perfect Sacrifice came – the Lamb of God, the sacrificed Messiah, who is able to fully take away the sins of Israel and the entire world.
God the Father sent the eternal, self-existing Son of God, who was with the Father, from Heaven to Earth, and He became a man. He allowed Himself to be whipped, beaten, spit on, humiliated, stripped naked and crucified! By dying in our place, by bearing our sins on the cross, by satisfying all the claims which a holy God had against us, by taking on Himself the curse for breaking God’s laws, by becoming the ultimate sin-offering, He has dealt with the problem of sin fully and eternally.
Because of the Son of God’s ultimate sacrifice and the perfect atonement He accomplished on the cross, God’s ability to forgive all of our sins is infinite and perfectly complete. Because of His one, perfect, final, and complete sacrifice, whoever believes in Yeshua has forgiveness for all his sins. Not one of our rebellious acts is left that will be held against us, that will drag us down to Hell!
When we draw near to God by drawing near to Yeshua, we are delivered from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the Kingdom of His beloved Son. We are delivered from these dark, demonic, deceiving powers. We are removed from under the authority of the god of this world, and given a new citizenship, in a new kingdom, under a new authority. We no longer share the Devil’s final destination.
When we draw near to God by drawing near to Yeshua, our old sinful, willful, God-independent nature, predisposed to rebel, starts losing its power. We are no longer dominated by the old human nature that was hostile to God, but we are in the Spirit – led to do the will and the deeds of God’s Holy Spirit.
When we are born again, we are given new life, a new heart, and a new mind that are compatible with a holy God, and a new nature that wants to serve Him, and not rebel against Him. Instead of being children of wrath, children of disobedience, we become the children of God – the Almighty’s very own beloved sons and daughters! Without being born again, we can’t enter the Kingdom of God; we will wind up in Hell. But with Messiah’s spiritual rebirth, we will experience eternal life in God’s Kingdom.
We draw near to God by coming to know that Yeshua is the Son of God, the Savior, who came into this world, and died, and rose again. When we consciously place our faith in Him, and believe in Him, and trust in Him, we identify with Him. We are immersed into Him. We become bone of Messiah’s bone, flesh of Messiah’s flesh. We are in Messiah, and Messiah is in us, and God the Father is in Messiah Yeshua. We are in the heart of Yeshua, who is in the heart of the Father. We have the incredible privilege of being joined to Him in whom dwells all the fullness of God! The Father sees us joined to Messiah and sees His dearly beloved Son! The Father sees us joined to Messiah, and behold, we are whiter than snow! The Father sees us joined to Messiah and He sees all the beauty and grace and righteousness of the Lord Yeshua. The Father sees us joined to Messiah and declares that we are righteous.
The various Non-Messianic Judaisms cannot accomplish these good things connected to salvation; only a Judaism that embraces personal faith in the Messiah can .
2. Being Pro-Torah
While it is clear that nobody (Jewish or otherwise) can be saved by the works of the Law, and that the Covenant upon which much of the Torah is based is a broken covenant (there is no Temple and therefore no sacrifices by which we may draw near to God and obtain eternal life), nevertheless the Older Covenant mediated by Moses and its laws are extremely valuable. The Torah guides the life of the Jewish people. It teaches us the right things to do and gives us a good way to live. It helps us live an authentic Jewish lifestyle. It keeps us from assimilation and helps us remain part of the Holy People. In fact, Paul commands Messianic Jews to not become uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18), which means not to seek assimilation into the prevailing Gentile culture, but to continue their Jewish way of life. The early Messianic Jews had a favorable view of the Law, and many were zealous to live in accordance with it (see Acts 21:20-26). We know from history that Messianic Jews continued to live a distinctly Jewish, Torah-based lifestyle for centuries after the time of Yeshua. Assimilation is a major problem for Messianic Jews, and history reveals that Messianic Jewish families who don’t live a Jewish lifestyle will almost always assimilate and lose their Jewish identity within a few generations.
There is no incompatibility between being “zealous for the Torah” and being a Messianic Jew . I am pro-Torah, while recognizing that the Covenant made at Sinai is a broken covenant. I am pro-Torah, since all Scripture is “Torah” (literally, “teaching” or “instruction”). I am pro-Torah, recognizing that all Believers are in some sense to fulfill the Law (Romans 8:4), but not all of us are obligated to fulfill the same requirements of the Law (for example, Gentiles need not be circumcised). I am pro-Torah, recognizing that Messiah returned us to the Torah’s original intent regarding issues such as a man being married to only one woman. I am pro-Torah, accepting the fact that Messianic Jews who choose not to keep every aspect of the Law, particularly the ceremonial laws, will not lose their salvation. My personal experience is that I have become more observant over time, but it was a process for me that took years. Therefore I encourage Messianic Jews to identify with and embrace their Jewish heritage, which in large part is based on the Torah; and I encourage Messianic Jews to be gracious to each other regarding others’ level of Torah observance.