Have You Ever Wondered...
WHY ARE THERE
SO MANY CHRISTIAN CHURCHES?
A Look at Modern Christianity and
The Messianic Evangelical Movement
Second Edition (2011)
So Many Churches...
Have you ever wondered why there are so many different Christian and Messianic traditions, so many different ways of worshipping, and so many different interpretations of the Bible? Is it true that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) intended His Messianic Community or Church to be a kaleidoscope of different doctrines and worship patterns? There are many who believe that the glory of Christianity lies in its diversity of forms. Others believe that God has allowed the birth of different Church denominations and Messianic assemblies to suit different human temprements. Some believe that when Christianity is planted in a country it should combine with the indigenous culture and create something wholly new.
There is no doubt that the creativity of man has led to some very interesting Christian denominations indeed. Most are usually the expressions of the personalities of their founders, and of their particular beliefs and experiences. Some denominations focus on one particular aspect of the Gospel of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and name themselves after that aspect: the Baptists after water baptism, the Penetecostals after the endowment of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) at the Day of Pentecost, the Charismatics after charisma, the Jehovah's Witnesses after their belief in the supreme importance of the Name of God, the Seventh Day Adventists after their belief in the importance of the Saturday Sabbath, the Mormons after their belief in the need for modern Old Testament-like prophets, revelation, and an exclusively true organisation; the Church of God of Prophecy, to cater for the needs of American and West Indian blacks; the Church of Israel, to cater for the racism of American whites who wanted a negro-free Church, and so on.
Then there are the churches which are the products of political events: the Church of England, which was formed because the Roman Catholic Pope would not grant King Henry VIII a divorce; the Greek Orthodox Church, which was formed because of a doctrinal dispute with Rome over the nature of the Trinity; the Roman Catholic Church, which came into existence because a semi-pagan emperor, Constantine, wanted the Christian Church to be an instrument of state policy, namely, that of the Roman Empire.
Some, such as New Agers, even say the blending of Christianity with other religions is a positive thing that will eventually lead to one World Religion combining the best of all religions.
As we consider the plethora of different Christian churches and Messianic assemblies -- and there are literally thousands of denominations nowadays, with no sign that they will stop multiplying -- we must ask ourselves the question: is Yahweh, our Heavenly Father, the author of such chaos?
Several Christian groups would say that He is not and have sought to resolve this contradiction by making some very special claims. Some, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, maintain they are God's only true organisation on the earth and that they alone possess the correct doctrine and practice. Unfortunately they are not alone in maintaining such a belief and this has tended to compound the problem. The Restoration Movement, which spawned the Mormons, Reorganized Latter Day Saints (now renamed Community of Christ), and over a hundred other denominations, maintains that it also (that is, each of the hundred or so denominations) is the "one and only true church upon the face of the earth" with the original apostolic tradition. The problem of doctrinal confusion, they maintain, is solved by the addition of more scripture than the Bible, and most of these groups present the Book of Mormon and a collection of the revelations of their founder, Joseph Smith (who claimed to be a prophet), called the Doctrine & Covenants, to resolve theological and organisational problems. And yet the Restoration Movement, in spite of its many scriptures, continues to schismatise like Protestantism. Likewise, the Seventh-Day Adventist claim they have resolved this problem thanks to their founder (who claimed to be a prophetess).
Whenever a new Christian movement arises it tends to break up into smaller groups. The original group invariably maintains the position that it is the original repository of truth and that the break-offs are all "apostate" or "heretic". The orginal group, moreover, will often maintain that it is the right one on the basis of its size and growth as though the number of members were some sort of indication of truthfulness. If we are to use that yardstick then we must conclude that the Roman Catholic Church is the "one and only true Church" since it is by far the largest in the world, and the Pentecostals are the truest Protestants since they are the largest denomination of the Reformation.
And so the various Christian groups argue and bicker as to who has the correct Christian tradition and therefore the authority to represent the Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Lord Jesus Christ). Sceptics and unbelievers have exploited such divisions, moreover, to cynically maintain that there never was an original Christian "church", or even a God for that matter, and that what we see in the Christian world is simply the same process of evolution at work in secular philosophy, of man seeking to interpret life in the light of his existential experiences and adapt himself according to his outer circumstances.
The trouble with these theories is that there is a grain of truth in them all. Churches do arise and then breakup because of conflicts in personality, Churches do evolve with time because of social pressure, Churches are influenced by the cultures in which they operate, and so on. And not only Churches and their doctrines and practices, but political and philosophical ideas, standards of moral and ethical behaviour too -- all seem to be in continuous flux.
Man, on the other hand, confronted with the difficulties and complexities of life, does not like open-ended answers such as this. He desires an orderly universe to give him personal security, a framework of belief and practice upon which he can build his life. Many a genius, confronted by life's apparent contradictions, has come to the fateful conclusion that there is no God at all, that man is just the product of blind chance, and that life is, ultimately, purposeless. Many great intellectuals, like scientist and philospher Arthur Koestler, unable to face the horrific consequences of such a world-view have, in utter desperation, committed suicide. Others pretend that the problem of life's purpose does not exist at all and choose to ignore it, and simply use life to get the best for themselves and those nearest them. They rarely find lasting happiness.
Despite the enormous differences and divergences in Christendom, and often the utter hypocrisy of Christians who use Christianity for their own selfish ends, there are nevertheless many hundreds of thousands of people who would boldly stand up and say that they have supernaturally met the resurrected Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Lord Jesus Christ). Their lives have been changed in an astonishing manner, so much so that in the light of their inner spiritual revolution, doctrines and practices have become a secondary matter to them. There are many Christians who therefore maintain that personal experience is more important than doctrines and credes. 'What is the use of a set of dogmatic beliefs if the life of the believer is not improved for the better', they would with considerable justififcation maintain?
Some say they have met Christ in the complex rituals of the Greek or Russian Orthodox Church, or in the simple organisation of a charismatic Protestant Church, or in a Mormon Temple. All would bear their testimony that something greater than themselves has entered into their lives for the better, making them happier and more fulfilled people. Such testimonies cannot be dismissed because they are very much the private property of the individual. Even so, many groups, who believe they are God's exclusive pets, will respond to such testimonies with disbelief and even hostility, attributing demonic influences instead, because such testimonies or experiences contradict their claim to exclusive authority and truthfulness.
We therefore find in Christendom two essential groups of Christian: those who maintain that it doesn't matter what Church you belong to or what belief you embrace so long as you experience Christ for yourself and are made the better for it (Christian Existentialism); and those who maintain that there is only one true doctrine and therefore only one true Church (Ecclesiastical Absolutism). These, then, are the two poles of Christian thought, and between them is a baffling and often contradictory spectrum of disjunctive doctrines and practices.
Each new group that has appeared on the scene has usually claimed to have solved this problem of diversity, and each has tried to live out their particular vision. Many groups have disappeared; others, like the Roman Catholics, Greek and Russian Orthodox, and Lutherans, have survived either because they have had a combination of beliefs robust and internally consistent enough or (more likely) because these religions have been imposed and guarded by political force. Old traditions die hard, and the older they are, the more resilliant to change they tend to become. There is a certain fleshy mystique that surrounds things that are old. Ask many people why they belong to a Christian denomination and they will tell you that they were "born" into it. It is familiar to them -- Mum and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and countless generations believed in it, so it must be alright. People don't like to change, so they stick with what they know. Others, with more of an adventurous spirit, reach out in search of more light and truth in other places. Some are so smitten by adventurism that they end up settling nowhere, becoming spiritual gypsies as they move from one group to another in search of the perfect Church or Messianic assembly.
Every human being needs stability in life and a sense of meaning. It is the belief of Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) that there is an absolute truth and that therefore there is a perfect Messianic Community or Church. But we do not believe that this perfect Community can be built in a day; in other words, we do not believe that it can fall out of heaven ready made. And the reason we don't believe this is because we do not believe there are ready-made perfect people anywhere.
The Messianic Community or Church is defined in the Bible as the ekklésia, or body of believers. It is not an organisation per se but a living organism. Inasmuch as the Bible also teaches that no one is (yet) perfect, it follows that no Messianic Assembly or Church is (yet) perfect either. This, however, should not be taken as a licence to forget about seeking for perfection, for Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) gives the commandment to all those who claim to believe in Him to seek perfection - not as deity but as completed human beings in Him (Matthew 5:48).
If the Messianic Community or Church, then, is a living organism, a family of imperfect people seeking perfection, it logically follows that as there are people in various stages of perfection we should expect to find congregations of people, assemblies or churches, in different stages of perfection also. Since people are constantly changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse, we should expect the same of ecclesiastical organisations and of individual congregations. Everything and everyone in this mortal sphere is in a state of flux.
If a man sets out to build a house and his options are limited, he will build the house with whatever materials are at hand. The same is true of human beings. Yahweh creates Christian congregations out of what is available and builds His spiritual house, the Messianic Community or Church, with the raw materials of humanity. Like the man building an actual house, he may modify it later and even tear it down if it is worn out or if better materials come his way. Many congregations have begun full of life and energy. They have possessed a transforming power which has enabled men and women to overcome personal problems and find a new and meaningful direction in life. Over a period of time this life energy has ebbed away and the living congregation has begun to fossilise into merely an organisation or a system. Whereas in the period of life and energy the church organisation served the people, upon its disappearance, the rôles become switched and the people end up serving a dead organisation. The organisation survives on the memory of the past, of the heroic deeds and spiritual dynamism of the congregational founders, but lacks the same dynamism itself. It effectively dies, leaving only an institution and a collection of popularised myths.
Occasionally some individual will come along to try and re-ignite its spiritual fire. Sometimes he may succeed but more often than not he faces a wall of resistance and is thrown out by the institution as a trouble-maker. Such men of the Christian past include Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, the Wesley brothers, Knox, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, and many others. They attempted to reform the dead (and sometimes corrupt) institutions in which they were raised, were cast out, and began movements of their own. Over a period of time their movements fossilised also. Were these men to return from the dead today to the churches or organisations they established, they would probably find themselves thrown out. For they would find that what they had originally created has become so changed in spirit and/or in form, that it is unrecognisable from what it once was. What is important here is not these men and their particular beliefs and practices (containing admixtures of truth and falsehood) but the fact that the churches they created became subject to the inevitable impact of time and the march of change.
There can be little doubt that when Yah'shua (Jesus) established the first community of Messianic/Christian believers that He had a doctrine and a code of practice (John 7:16). As you read the New Testament you quickly see that whereas some things were fundamental, such as moral ethics and doctrine (as is summarised today in what Christians call the "Apostles' Creed"), other things were to be quite flexible (such as whether a man should be a vegetarian or not -- Romans 14), a matter of personal conscience. Moreover, some Bible practices were clearly the result of local conditions whereas others were to be instituted by Christians in all ages.
One thing that Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) take for granted is that being a Christian, or follower of Christ, means to obey everything that Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself taught. There are many Christians who do not do this, however, and believe that they have the right to reinterpret or change Christ's message in the light of contemporary circumstances. Here we must here say that we do not agree with them and one of the first things a new Christian must choose is whether he is going to follow the teachings of Christ as it laid down by those who personally knew Him or whether he is going to compromise these teachings with the teachings and traditions of men.
Christians who follow absolutely what Christ taught sometimes call themselves fundamentalists as they believe that this is fundamental to being a true Christian. We must be careful, though, with this word "fundamental" which is also used by some to indicate their commitment to their religious tradition in general, whether it is Biblical or not. Thus a Catholic fundamentalist is one who follows the teachings of the church fathers as well as the living Pope irrespective of whether these teachings are in harmony with the teachings of Yah'shua (Jesus) in the Bible or not. Similarly a Mormon fundamentalist is one who subscribes to the original teachings of Joseph Smith and perhaps some of his immediate successors like Brigham Young unlike modern Mormons who follow the current doctrine and practice of their church even if this is disjunctive with the doctrine and practice of their church's founders.
In saying that they are fundamentalists, Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) make one important assumption, namely that the New Testament is the most authentic and reliable source of the teachings of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). All Christians make certain assumptions and it is important that we clarify what these assumptions are so that there is no misunderstanding. Many Christians, who are sometimes called "liberal" or "progressive" (there are many labels to describe different kinds of people), do not assume that the Bible is a reliable historical record and maintain that it has considerably changed over the millennia. Whilst Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) acknowledghe that there have been minor changes and/or additions to the Bible by copyists, editors and redactors, they basically consider themselves to be "orthodox", viz. that the Bible is accurate enough to be trustworthy. They base their position on the considerable scholarly work that has been done over the centuries.
It is really quite impossible for different people to enter into meaningful dialogue -- and this is especially true of Christians and Messianics -- unless they honestly state their assumptions. It is important to get to the roots of a person's faith when there is disagreement and not get sidetracked by the rustling leaves of conflicting doctrine in the highest branches of an individual's theological tree. Another important condition that Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) insist on, because it is consistent with the ethical teachings of Christ, is that the parties are honest. No one single person is going to be right 100% of the time. Honesty is regarded as one of the highest virtues in the Bible and one we rank especially highly as we explore life in search of more light and truth. It was once said by a well-known public figure many years ago that if a man does not change at least one opinion a year then his openness and honesty are questionable.
One question we always ask those whom we meet is this: IF WHAT YOU BELIEVED WERE NOT TRUE, WOULD YOU WANT TO KNOW IT? If the answer is a sincere "yes" then you have an honest, open person. If the answer is "no" then you either have a bigot or someone who is afraid of failure and rejection. The former has a totally closed mind and heart and any discussion is pointless. The latter is usually so personally insecure that a rejection of his belief system is usually interpreted by him as a rejection of his personal identity and purpose in life. It is important the two are distinguished. And so we, as Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians), lay this challenge to our readers: If what you believe in were not true, would you want to know it? If you don't want to know, but are willing to take the risk that you believe in a lie, then don't read any further. If you do want to know, then read on, for this is the position Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) take also. We are willing to hear all points-of-view and to reconsider whether or not we are right. Obviously we are convinced that we are right otherwise we wouldn't be Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians), just as no doubt you believe that you are right. That is acceptable. What is not acceptable to us is a refusal to admit that you might be wrong, no matter how sincere you may be.
If all Christians took this position then possibly many hundreds of denominations would disappear over night. Many denominations are in reality cults, meaning that their members are following a persuasive, charismatic cult figure (dead or alive) rather than a religious truth. All truth must stand independently of those who bring it forth. It should therefore be possible to challenge a teaching without mortally offending the one who brought it forth, or those who believe in him (or her). Unfortunately this is not often the case and an attack on a doctrine is often interpreted as a general attack on a person or on a church tradition as a whole. The truth must always be about principles, not personalities.
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) believe that there is truth in all Christian churches and Messianic assemblies to differing degrees and that Yahweh works through these bodies of believers as their members allow Him. They may teach wrong doctrines and perform wrong practices but Yahweh will still reach out to righteous hearts and make them instruments in His hands provided their ignorance of the truth is because of a lack of education and not deliberate. Yahweh, the Bible says, "winks" (or looks by) at those who are ignorant of the truth, but when they hear the truth they have no excuse but must repent (Acts 17:30).
Even though a denominational body of believers may be in thick darkness there is usually a spark of light somewhere either in certain individuals or collectively amongst the membership. We therefore refuse to make a blanket condemnation of any church, denomination or messianic assembly unless they are propagating blatant evil. Often churches are in darkness because of the bondage of priestcraft, or the unrighteous control of certain leaders. That such exist cannot be denied for we even find one such leader mentioned in the New Testament called Diotrephes, a wayward pastor who turned away the apostles because of his love of position and power (3 John 1:9). Yah'shua (Jesus) criticised the leaders of His day but was meticulously faithful to the Torah (Law) which they claimed to authoritatively represent until such a time as they were formally rejected by Yahweh.
It is therefore important that any group or church allows itself to be judged apart from its leaders who quite often maintain an iron grip over their people. Yah'shua (Jesus) commanded us to "judge righteous judgment" by judging sin rather than sinners (John 7:24). Yahweh judges sinners but His talmidim or disciples are to be in the forefront of judging whether teachings are of the Master or not. Many are not willing to do this, however, because it is considerably easier to attack a person than a doctrine. Some refuse to judge at all because they wish to maintain the peace even if it is at the cost of the emet or truth, misusing the scripture which says that we are not to judge others lest we be judged also (Luke 6:37). But in this we claim they err for there is, as I have said, a difference between judging a person and judging a doctrine.
It is important, then, that a distinction is made between a church tradition or teaching, the members of that church, and the leaders of that church. Yah'shua (Jesus) did so in His ministry and this example Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) try to emulate. It is natural and right that people who belong to a particular denomination should regard the teaching, members, and leaders as a whole once they are satisfied that they are in the place where Yahweh wants them to be, even if it only a transit place in their further quest for all truth. When a person embraces a teaching then he naturally becomes an incarnation of that teaching. In a perfect world there should never be a need to challenge this essential harmony or oneness between teaching, members, and leadership. But in our imperfect sphere there is usually a time when such should be done, provided it is done in a spirit of love and understanding.
No Christian who believes he has a higher light has the right to turn a man's heart against any moral principle taught by Christ. All too often groups come along, convince other Christians of their teaching, and then encourage them to hate their former leaders or church family. This is done as a means of reinforcing belief in the new group or church. Such behaviour is regarded by us as being utterly immoral and whilst we would certainly teach our people to stand up against false doctrine we would never teach them to regard any follower of Christ (or anyone else, for that matter), however misguided and hostile they might be, as being anything other than a Christian or a person made by Elohim (God), and one to be loved and won to the fullness of the Gospel. To encourage anything else is, in our opinion, destructive sectarianism which has caused, and is causing, far too much intolerance, social disharmony, war and strife in the world.
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) do not, therefore, regard themselves as "the only Christians" or "only Messianics" but a part of the wider "Body of Christ". Our identification with other Christians and Messianics and, hopefully, their identifcation with us (even if they disagree with us), is, we believe, the essence of Christ's work wherein He identified Himself with all men and women everywhere that per chance, through faith and repentance, they might accept Him as the Master (Lord) and be saved from their fallen, carnal natures. That Christians and Messianics are divided cannot possibly be right in the light of the apostollic teaching that there is only "one Master (Lord), one doctrine, and one faith" (Ephesians 4:5), that all Christians and Messianics should be agreed (John 17:11) and love one another (John 13:34; 15:12,17; Romans 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11,23; 4:7,11; 2 John 1:5). Nevertheless it is a reality that there isn't unity in Christendom or Messianicdom and that is something all honest Christians and Messianics must accept by striving to work with other believers and not, as some do, by declaring blind warfare on them.
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) do not believe that they constitute the "one and only true church upon the face of the earth" as some believe but they do believe they have the truest doctrine and practice. Few would subscribe to a philosophy or political doctrine which they didn't think was the best. Likewise we do not feel we are arrogant in proclaiming that we have the best but that does not mean we are saying that as people we are superior. We know we aren't. As people we know we are sinners in need of daily repentance. We accept that maybe something better will come and that we may have to revise our position, in which case we will embrace it joyfully. We have done this consistenly over the years and indeed we are radically different today than when we first started in the 1980's. We are determined never to fossilise into an institution and therefore work hard to resist the crystalising tendencies of human nature. We continue to learn from, and adapt, to all new truth, wherever it may come from.
We would now like to explain who we are and why we believe we have such an important message for you.
The Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians)
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) belong to a very young and small pioneer group so if you're only interested in exploring the beliefs of a big, established church, don't bother to read on. But consider that it is often in the smallest and youngest things that the greatest revelations of truth can be found.
To begin with, Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) believe that the Bible (Protestant Canon) is the Word of Elohim (God). It is the only canonised book of scriptures accepted by us. This does not mean, however, that we believe it to be the only book containing Yahweh's written Word. We believe that anything that is spoken through the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and subsequently written down is Scripture. We would not wish to limit Elohim (God) to one book for He nowhere says that His Word is to be found in only one set of scriptures. Unlike some who acknowledge additional books of scripture, however, we do believe that the Bible is the final standard or authority and it is therefore the only primary book of scripture used by us in public ministry. We therefore uncompromisingly reject any doctrine or teaching that blatantly contradicts it. We do have a secondary canon of scripture consisting of some sub-apostolic works and our own revelations (see The Olive Branch) but this is strictly subject to the Bible in authority. If required to do so, we would continue without the latter.
Many prophecies and revelations are received by our people but we rarely circulate these except amongst ourselves unless, for example, there is a specific commission to deliver a prophetic warning to a person or a group of people somewhere in the world. Many are given for our own upbuilding, such as prophecies to individuals in the fellowship or on world events to come: we were told, for example about the reunification of Germany, the splitting up of the Soviet Union, and the end of Yugoslavia well before they occurred. Prophecies may be for individuals in our fellowship. Sometimes revelatory keys are given to explain mystifying or apparenrly disjunctive scriptural passages. This is a great blessing in enhancing our study and use of the Bible. We believe in all the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament and have experienced, and continue to experience, most of them on a more or less consistent basis as a fellowship.
Whilst we are of course seeking like-minded souls to join our fellowship we do not exclusively witness with this in mind but direct souls who come to Christ to other churches and assemblies if we feel they would be better prospered elsewhere. We recognise that all souls are in different stages of spiritual progress or sanctification, and whilst we provide ministry on all levels of the Gospel, from the simple milk truths to the deeper meatier doctrines of Christ (Hebrews 5:12), sometimes we feel that certain souls would receive better ministry in other denominations. Thus perhaps a drug addict who comes to Christ would probably be referred by us to, for example, a Pentecostal Church with experience in such ministry and facilities for looking after him. Obviously as our experience in different aspects of the ministry and our size grows we would handle cases which presently we feel unable to for lack of resources. We are therefore willing to coooperate with other churches and messianic assemblies in evangelism where there are no conflicts of interest involved. We have, for example, served alongside Baptists in the Ukraine, witnessed on TV and radio for Evangelical Christians in Norway, and have worked with the Church of Christ (Campbellite) in India with whom we cooperated in the running of an orphanage for Sri Lankan civil war victims for many years. Many of our members campaign with other Christian groups in trying to right what we believe to be moral wrongs in society such as abortion, pornography, conscription, smoking in public places, tax laws which force mothers to work, education in school that promotes immorality, etc..
In the beginning of this article I mentioned the problem of harmonising the Christian faith with the prevailing cultures. Where we as Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) focus our energies differently from most other Christians is our belief in the importance of restoring a Biblically-based communal society, or culture, which, though only a subculture now, will prevail in the Millennium when Christ returns. Obviously we work and interact in the several cultures in which we live but at the same time we are preparing ourselves, through communal living and gathering together as often as possible, for the New Society which will replace the existing cultural systems. This we call 'Messianic Israel' or 'Zion' (not to be confused with Zionism), a biblical term not only for the land of Israel but also for the perfect society of heaven.
We believe that the root of most of Christendom's problems has been the conflict between the "Gospel Society", if I may call it that, and the societies in which Christianity has been planted. More often than not there has been a blending of the two leading to Christian principles being contradicted and compromised. Each new cultural trend in society seems to influence the Christian churches in some way as, for example, the decline in moral standards in the late 20th century. Unisexuality, abberent sexuality, abortion, evolution, occultism, syncretism with oriental religions, sexual promiscuity in general, feminism, materialism, existentialism, and a whole host of other "-ism's" seem to have eroded the collective Christian Body. Of course, sometimes the secular society has a positive influence on the churches but by and large we consider it to have been negative.
Each century has seen the birth of new ideas and these have not infrequently permeated Christian/Messianic thought and conduct, usually to its detriment. The decline generally in moral standards, the upsurge in atheism, the organised tendency to degrade and revolt, has all led to the weakening of the Christian churches and Messianic assemblies, even those who most vigorously fight against these pernicious trends.
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) are not the first to attempt communal living nor are they unaware of the dangers. But they are probably one of the first to claim to have the blueprint for the perfect Theocratic Society that will obtain in the Millennium. We are trying to create small social islands in and around the world where such a society can survive without being totally overwhelmed or swamped by the prevailing culture. These are usually built in the countryside where members can retreat from city life and enjoy an alternative Christian/Messianic cultural environment.
Though there is no communal church or group with whom we could directly compare ourselves with we do have some sympathy with some of the ideas and practices of the Mennonites, Amish, and others like them. Yet it would be misleading to make too direct a comparison for theirs is essentially a crystalisation of life from a bygone century and a specific culture. Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) are not anti-technology as many rural-based groups are and are not interested in returning to mediaeval conditions of living though are prepared to if forced to do so because of some apocalyptic cataclysm hitting the earth. Whilst our colonies are indeed isolated from the rest of the world in last days, usually deep in the countryside, our people are not, and we freely enter towns and cities to live and witness over longer or shorter periods of time before returning to the colonies. We follow the teaching of Yah'shua (Jesus) to be a part of the world but not of it, though additionally we are preparing for an end time when colonies of refuge will be very important for survival.
At the heart of New Covenant philosophy in a belief in the inseparableness and essential harmony of the principles of love, discipline, and true doctrine. The Christianity of the Middle Ages exerted a harsh control over its believers through strict, sometimes cruel, discipline, and showed little in the way of true Christian love. Our own century has seen a swing in the opposite direction to an emphasis on a kind of "love" but de-emphasis on discipline and order. Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) always define ahavah (love) in the context of discipline, and vice versa.
Thus the reaction of society to the stringencies of the Victorian age, for example, has resulted in the mushrooming of the so called "free love" movements with disasterous consequences for society. Indeed we see prophecies of lawlessness in the last days made in the New Testament fulfilled in our modern rebellious world. With society frequently bankrupt of any real or substantial moral virtue we see the consequences in crime, juvenile delinquency, and other social evils. The effects of authoriatianism without love are all too in evidence in the remains of the former Soviet Union where anarchy has rapidly taken hold and people are yearning for the old dictatorship which provided food, housing and security, if not freedom. Democracy, stripped of morality, has always opened the way for dictatorships, whether fascist or communist, which exploit the chaos caused by a decline in values.
The Messianic Evangelical (New Covenant Christian) way of life is very strict but not authoritarian. The moral and social law is precisely defined according to the Bible teaching to preclude the rise of the evil which has so infested our secular societies. Proper respect for parents and elders is taught and obedience to the Torah (Law) is required. At the same time this is balanced out with an overflowing love, without which there would be authoritarianism, priestcraft and cultism. Order and discipline are taught from an early age, the importance of working hard, building a beautiful environment, self-sufficiency, moral integrity, and the central rôle of the nuclear family.
One of the greatest factors in the disintegration of western "Chrisitian" civilisation has been the erosion of the nuclear family. Divorce is epidemic and broken homes the norm. Many millions of children do not know what it is like to have two parents. Even fewer know what it is like to live in a truly happy family. It is in the home that emotional security is learned. Millions of youths today are psychological wrecks -- unwhole, unbalanced, lacking a personal identity, restless and sometimes explosively angry. They are growing up, and have grown up, into an adult generation with these same qualities. We see this manifested on a macro-level in the disintegration of so many nation-states and the resurgence of violent nationalism, which has ever been the last refuge of scoundrels.
Central to Messianic Evanhgelical (New Covenant) theology is the central position of married life and the family. But like the ancient nation of Israel, this family is not only a biological one, but an extended spiritual one. All the members of Messianic Evangelical (New Covenant Christian) Fellowships therefore regard themselves as a spiritual family, tribe or micro-nation. In New Covenant communities or colonies both children and adults are taught the importance of developing a communal consciousness. The crystalisation of a personal identity and ego is regarded as important and necessary for healthy psychological and spiritual development. Everyone is important. Unlike many oriental religions which teach that the ego or personality should be sacrificed for a mystical absorption into an unknown "god" (which often leads to brainwashing), Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) believe that the personality of every individual should be developed until it has reached its full potential. At the same time, though, this should be in the context of developing a group or social identity and consciousness. Through this expanded awareness people learn to be less selfish and more considerate of others. Thus community members are taught the essence of giving and sharing within a closely knit spiritual family.
Just as the father is designated as the head of each biological family, this being the way Yahweh has ordained it to be so in the scriptures (1 Corinthians 11:3), so Messianic Evangelical (New Covenant Christian) communities are run along patriarchal lines. The word "patriarchal" is not used here in the usual colloquial sense, which is always negative in our liberal world (usually meaning "male oppression" or "suppression of women"), but to describe a divine pattern or order of responsibility. Men and women are regarded by us as being equally created and of equal worth but endowed differently biologically as well as temprementally. Whilst our women are encouraged to develop as many skills as possible in areas of personal interest they are also given to understand that the rearing of children is their first priority. Equally, our men are taught not to neglect their fatherly duties but to be actively involved in family life as head of the family as well as its servant. Men and women both hold priestly offices in New Covenant communities. Unlike in the liberal Protestant and Reorganized Latter Day Saint churches where there is no difference between male and female priesthood, there are different divisions of labour despite there being considerable overlap. The pattern is a little different in the city congregations or fellowships.
Communal living, where domestic, professional, and other responsibilties are shared, presents men and women with enormous possibilities for realising many personal interests and developing many kinds of skills not otherwise possible in a conventional, secular family arrangement. Boredom and disconent, caused by monotonous and repetitive labour, is therefore reduced to a minimum because it is shared by all according to their personal interests and abilities. The children benefit enormously from being in an environment where they can experience not only the influence of their own biological parents but that of other parents too. There are also many children of their own age group with the same belief system and discipline with whom they can constructively interact and spiritually grow. Thus child rearing, though the primary responsibility of the biological parents, also becomes a communal concern. Such an environment makes for robust, healthy social development in children, enriching their personalities and giving them a perspective of life far wider than they would obtain in a secular arrangement.
In fully organised communities the cooperative system is followed as described in the Book of Acts in the New Testament. There is a single communal economy where all things are held in common by the community members. This we consider essential in developing a true spirit of community care and in countering the competitive system followed in the world which encourages greed and selfishness. These communities should not be regarded as "communistic", however, for whilst a community is a single spiritual family there are clear boundaries between biological families who live in their own homes. There is also personal property in addition to stewardships. We do not follow the kibbutz system that obtains in the secular state of Israel where children sleep in large dormitories, for example. Whilst communal eating is encouraged whenever practical, biological families remain as single nuclear units. Neither should we be regarded as "socialistic" for this, like "communistic", is a misleading term. In many areas we are "socialist" but in others very much "conservative". Whilst our economic basis may be said to be socialistic, our family life and moral ethics may said to be "conservative" for we believe in such things as no sex outside marriage (i.e. strict chastity), the holiness of the married condition, and the sanctitiy of life. Immorality of any kind is punished severely and explusion may take place from the fellowship permanently. We look upon adultery as second only in its seriousness to murder.
Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) neither smoke, drink alcohol nor take drugs. Clean, healthy living is encouraged with good food and regular exercise. Neo-vegetarianism is held to be the ideal but is not required provided our people do not eat meat excessively. Moderation and self-discipline in all things is the key concept in all that we do. In communities religious study and worship take place daily as also in the homes of those members who do not live in communities. As a missionary-orientated group, witnessing teams are sent out often both in local areas as well as abroad. Self-sufficiency is a long-term goal to which we are presently working. Members are therefore encouraged to acquire professional skills in carpentry, plumbing, farming, information technology, teaching, medicine, nursing, construction, and so on. A high value is placed on education, both secular as well as religious.
Theologically and socially, Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) follow the teaching of the New Testament, or New Covenant, from which we obtain our name. This has two very important aspects:
This does not mean that we follow Law of Moses as recorded in the Old Testament but the reformed and completed version of the Torah (Law) established by Yah'shua (Jesus) which we call New Covenant Torah. Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) believe, as Yah'shua (Jesus) taught, that the Law or Torah is eternal in its essential core. We believe that Yah'shua (Jesus) came to elevate it to its rightful position in the New Covenant, not to destroy or abolish it as many Christians teach. He therefore reformed the Old Covenant, which served as a shadow or schoolmaster of the more perfect New Covenant. This He did by abolishing animal sacrifices, circumcision of the flesh, the ease of divorce, Talmudic 'oral' traditions, and other ordinances which were added in and after the days of Moses both to serve as a pointer to the advent and atonement of Christ as well as being given as a punishment for rebelliousness and carnality.
(1) Firstly, we are a covenant people. By this is meant that members of the fellowships and communities enter into covenants or obligations with each other and with Yahweh to walk in all the ways of the Gospel. This is the standard by which the people measure their individual holiness and inter-personal relationships. This aspect of the Gospel is largely absent from most Christian denominations.
(2) Secondly, we follow the Torah (Law) and the Prophets, as Yah'shua (Jesus) taught, when He said that His mission was "not to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to complete them...not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved. Therefore, the man who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).
Thus every moral principle contained in the Old Testament, the laws governing financial conduct, marriage, filial piety, theocratic government, diet, moedim or appointments (festivals), and all those laws regarded as essential to a theocratic society, remain in force but are on a far higher moral plane. Hating and killing are now no longer permissable -- we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Divorcing a wife on the slightest pretext is forbidden save in the case of adultery (Matthew 5:31-32). Indeed we see that Yah'shua's (Jesus') reforms of the old Law of Moses were, in some respects, the restoration of the old Patriarchal Society which Paul in the New Testament said was in almost every respect identical to that of the new Christian society. Christians, indeed, are the new "chilldren of (the patriarch) Abraham" (Galatians 3:7) and are commanded to imitate all that he did (John 8:39), particularly in the area of faithfulness (Romans 4).
There are many who suppose that the teachings of Paul and Yah'shua (Jesus) are at loggerheads, saying that Yah'shua (Jesus) taught obedience to the Torah (Law) whilst Paul taught it was abolished. They erroneously suppose that the whole Law of Moses, every jot and tittle, was abolished and that Christians are now to live by faith apart from Torah (Law). Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) agree with many evangelical Christians that salvation is by faith but emphasise with equal weight the importance of Torah-obedience and good works in general which we say are the natural fruits of a life lived in emunah (faith/trusting). Much controversy has ensued in the Christian world over the relationship between faith and deeds (works) which would not have occurred had the true place of the Torah (Law) been understood and accepted, as Yah'shua (Jesus) taught, in the first place, namely that the Torah (Law) was reformed and completed ('filled up') by Him and placed on a higher moral plane.
Without question, ahavah (love) is the crowning quality of the Christian life. It includes all the well-understood qualities such as kindness, patience, tolerance, long-suffering, sensitivity, warmth of feelings, virtue, and holiness (1 Corinthians 13). But Yah'shua (Jesus) also made it very clear that ahavah (love) was more than this, namely obedience to Elohim (God) and His mitzvot (commandments) (John 14:15,21; 10:15; 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 1:6). He did not negate the Old Testamant emphasis on obedience to the Torah (Law) but instead lifted it to a higher moral plane. Thus when one analyses the relationship between faith and works in the scriptures they are, in truth, seen to be inseparable (James 2:20,26). Paul is, alas, misinterpreted in his discourses on faith and works which address a particular situation and time, namely first century Palestine, where the Jews placed an over-emphasis on works as a condition of salvation.
Many Christian denominations are slowly coming around to this position (especially Messianics), we are pleased to say, but often there are other non-Biblical doctrines, entrenched by centuries of tradition, to be overcome.
Had the Christian church followed the New Covenant Torah (Law) instead of adopting the ways of the pagans (such as embracing Greek neo-Platonic philosophical ideas and pagan festivals) Christianity might have turned out very differently.
After years of suppression by a conservative Catholic institution, the École Biblique which looked after the Dead Sea Scrolls, light on the early Messianic Community/Christian Church is now being shed following the public release of the Scrolls in 1991. Many "orthodox" doctrinal assumptions are being challenged by their contents, which was why the Roman Catholic Church suppressed them for more than 40 years. Perhaps, as more early Christian and Jewish documents are released after centuries of suppression the truth of the early Messianic Community or Church will finally be known. In the meantime, Messianic Evangelicals (New Covenant Christians) present to Christendom and the world in general a fresh revelation from heaven which is even now being vindicated by archaeological and scholastic finds.
We hope that this short introduction to Messianic Evangelicism or New Covenant Christianity has been enlightening to you and that it goes some way to explaining why Christianity is so factionalised today. We believe that this state of division will eventually come to an end after a great purging takes place throughout all Christian churches and Messianic assemblies: all that which is not properly built on Messiah will fall, and all that which is properly established will stand. The Bible frequently speaks of a "remnant" (a small amount or number) that will be living and teaching true Christianity in the last days (Romans 9:27; 11:5; Revelation 11:13, etc.). Obviously, by definition, a "remnant" people or denomination is not a large institutional Church.
Clearly, if the New Testament teaching that there is only "one Master, one faith, and one baptism" is true, there can ultimately only be one Messianic Community (Christian Church). For now it is fragmented and in disarray, though parts of it are beginning to cooperate in various areas of ministry. If you would like to know more about this little end-time remnant community, which we believe will one day become the universal Millennial Messianic Community (Church), and would like to play a meaningful part in its restoration and propagation, you are invited to contact us to get to know of the "marvelous work and a wonder" (Isaiah 29:14) that is being done amongst us. Though a small seed now, the New Covenant Movement will eventually blossom and have an impact on Christianity and the world that cannot at present be fully appreciated. You could be a part of that exciting development
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This page was created on 30 December 1997
Updated on 23 December 2016
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