A QUESTION OF MESSIANIC
EVANGELICAL IDENTITY I
NCAY and the Body of Messiah
This first NCAY 'state of community' interview was given in 1995 and covers the 'pre-Messianic' phase of NCAY. It is mostly concerned with theology. Though the outer fellowship of NCAY did not officially become Torah-observant until 1999, discussions were already underway about key areas in which there would later come to be doctrinal shifts.
At this time NCAY was very cautiously making known to the public the belief long held by the leadership that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) was female, an emet (truth) known by its founder from even before the organisation of 1987 but little shared because it was felt the Body of Messiah was not yet ready to receive it and that to share it prematurely would have been to create unneccessary controversy detracting from the main message of the Besorah (Gospel).
A discussion on the Elohimhead (Godhead) later on in the interview, which has been left as originally published, is therefore deliberately vague. This was the time when only a minimalist Prototrinitarian doctrine of the Elohimhead (Godhead) was being taught and stressed by NCAY, and which did not seek to positively identify the Ruach (Spirit) as female or even to stress Her personhood.
There have also been changes in organisational structures over the 25 years since this interview was given. As this is not nearly so important historically as theology, we have edited out sections of the interview covering former organisational structures which seem complicated in retrospect because of what NCAY was trying then to achieve. Everything is much simpler today.
Care must therefore be exercised in reading older materials such as these. Though purely doctrinal essays from the earliest times of the ministry have long since been updated to bring them into line with current revelation, some like these are left unchanged to enable the reader to chart our historical development.
Q. People coming to NCAY are very interested to know more about its history and particularly where in the Body of Christ it belongs. Though many articles have been written on the subject I know that people have many questions they would still like to ask. The first question I would like to ask is this: is NCAY a development of Restoration or Protestant Christianity?
A. The New Assemblies of Yahweh -- and I am speaking of the body established in 1992 -- is essentially a development of the Reformation, whereas its predecessor -- the Independent Church of Jesus Christ-- was a development and reformation of the Restoration.
Q. What exactly does that mean? Do you mean that the Independent Church was an outgrowth of the Restoration movement in contradistinction to the New Covenant Assemblies being an outgrowth of the Reformation?
A. Yes. The Independent Church began on the premiss that the Restoration movement was essentially correct in its basics but tried to rectify its deficiencies by borrowing from the Reformation. We discovered that the Restoration, though being right in some areas, was built upon a false premiss, and that no matter how hard we tried to purify it, the end result would be a failure.
Q. And what is that premiss?
A. The Restoration, as exemplified by the LDS and Reorganized Churches, is built on the premiss that there is only one true organizational church upon the earth at any one time and that it alone has the authority to represent Elohim (God). We discovered this to be a legalistic presumption not unlike that of the Catholic Church and without any warranty from the New Testament.
Q. So what is the difference between the New Covenant Assemblies and the Restoration churches?
A. Quite simply that the Latter Day Saint (Restoration) churches took a wrong turn early on and evolved an organisation with scant resemblance to the early Christian/Messianic Community (Church). What we have done is gone back and started again. The Restoration emerged from the Reformation. Instead of emerging from the Restoration, which the Independent Church did, we have gone back not only to our Reformation roots but further back into earliest Christianity.
Q. But don't Mormons claim to have done that too?
A. Yes, indeed, but the reality of their doctrinal and ecclesiastical development is that they are far removed from New Testament Christianity. They started out from the Reformation, adopted some Catholic ideas about authority, and then mixed in some Free Masonry and occultism. They also added some of their own ideas too. Their church has changed so much in one and a half centuries that the present species would not be recognised by its founder.
Q. So would it be true to say that NCAY has completely severed itself from its Restoration roots?
A. Totally, yes, we have done exactly that, but we have taken the good fruits of Restorationism with us and left the rest behind.
Q. Would you then describe the old Independent Church as a 'transition' church? And if so, does it have any historical parallels?
A. Yes, that's just what it was. It could never have survived, save as a quaint Restoration curiosity, though in the beginning we didn't know that. As for historical parallels, that is hard to say. Probably not. You know, we buried the Old Independent Church in one day and started from scratch as virtually Evangelical Protestants.
Q. Virtually evangelical protestants?
A. I use the word 'virtually' advisedly. We have much in common with evangelical protestantism, at least in the elementary principles. We believe that evangelical protestantism is the purest Reformation doctrine and practice but that it doesn't go far enough. It is limited by its own traditions.
Q. So NCAY is a "Restoration Church Mark II"?
A. Absolutely not. The Restoration movement was corrupted from the very beginning with false angel visits and false scriptures and we are never going down that path again. It started as, and still is, an American religion, even though it would protest that vehemently. Whether it likes it or not 19th century American culture perfuses the whole Restoration system.
Q. But isn't evangelical Christianity European-American too?
A. Yes, and that's just where, in part, it has gone wrong. Christianity very early took a wrong turn, adopted European Greek philosophy, and cut itself off from its Hebrew roots. Messianic Evangelicals have started returning to their Hebrew roots.
Q. Like the Seventh Day Adventists and Worldwide Church of God?
A. No, not at all. They have simply blended in parts of the Mosaic Law with European-American Christianity. And the latter -- well, that seems to be a pot pourri of all sorts of things. We are quite different from both of these churches.
Q. Would it be right to say, then, that NCAY is Hebraic evangelical Christianity?
A. That would be closer to the mark but is still deficient. We accept, of course, most of the evangelical propositions about grace, adoption, salvation, eternal security, and the like. But evangelicals are a part of the evolutionary chain that started with Rome. It is descended from its creeds. Though we as Messianic Evangelicals accept the Apostles' Creed (which Restorationists don't, incidentally), we reject all the other creeds that followed.
Q. What about similarities with the Restoration movement?
A. Like Restorationists, we believe there was an apostasy but we do not believe that the Messianic Community or Church of Christ was ever fully removed from the earth. Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself testified that hell would never prevail against His Community (Church) (Matt.16:18), a fact contradicted by Mormon claims. Like Restorationists we believe in an apostolic Assembly -- that is, a Community led by apostles. Unlike them, though, we do not believe it was ever led by institutional nevi'im (prophets). We also believe in the pre-existence of man.
Q. I think you and Mormons are virtually alone in believing this...?
A. I believe so, but there may be others we don't know of. (Others have since revealed a similar belief). It is a most important doctrine and throws much light on the purpose of life which is a deficiency of orthodox Christianity.
Q. What about your doctrine of the Elohimhead (Godhead)? That's the same as Mormonism's, isn't it?
A. Absolutely not. Mormonism's doctrine of the Elohimhead (Godhead) is a mass of confusion. They began as orthodox Trinitarians, then turned into modalistic monarchism....that's the Book of Mormon teaching...
Q. What's "modalistic monarchism"?
A. It's an even more extreme form of Trinitarianism. Trinitarianism says there is one Elohim (God) consisting of three co-equal Persons. Modalistic monarchism says that is one Elohim (God) and one Person who reveals Himself in three different ways (see our article, Water Baptism according to the Word of Truth: A Refutation of the Godhead Doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church).
Q. That doesn't sound like Mormon doctrine at all...
A. No, it was short-lived in the Restoration. The Mormons progressed to believing that there were only two Personages in the Godhead -- the so-called Binitarian 'Kirtland doctrine' -- Elohim (God) the Father being a Spirit, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) being Elohim (God) the Son in resurrected form, and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) being a non-personal force emanating from the Father and Son. Joseph Smith later changed this to a Godhead consisting of Father and Son with the Father possessing a body identical to that of Christ's, and the 'Holy Ghost' being a male spirit Being, and modified his 'First Vision' childhood experience to fit in with this theological nuance. Later they went wild and claimed the Godhead consisted of billions of gods. Mormons believe they will become gods and be a part of the Godhead.
Q. But that is directly contradicted by the Tanakh (Old Testament) which says there is only one Elohim (God), isn't it?
A. That's right. The multiple-God theory (polytheism) is un-biblical and pagan. The post-Brigham Young Mormons reverted to the early version of 'Three Gods' which remains their current position. This we emphatically reject as pagan and heretical.
Q. So what is the Messianic Evangelical doctrine on the Godhead?
A. The same as the Bible's, which is that there is only one Elohim (God) consisting of three Personages.
Q. That's pretty Trinitarian, isn't it?
A. Possibly, but we do differ from Trinitarians in some ways. Like them we affirm the unity of the Elohimhead (Godhead) and the absolute Deity of Yah'shua (Jesus). Without these doctrines Christianity is meaningless. However, the identity of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is rather more hidden in the Biblical record. 'It' is referred to both as a Person as well as an impersonal force, which is why, I suspect Mormons and others (like the Jehovah's Witnesses) have been so confused. The Jehovah's Witnesses speak of 'holy spirit' and view 'it' as a force, 'like electricity'; the Mormons take the opposite extreme, and say that it is a glorified man without a physical or resurrected body.
Q. Isn't it true that you also regard the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) as female?
A. The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is often described in female terms in the Tanakh (Old Testament). We merely assert, in the most general terms, what the Bible says -- that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) exhibits both both male, female, as well as neutral characteristics.
Q. Are you saying, then, that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is an androgenous Person?
A. No. You are confusing categories here. We have never said that and do not believe such a thing. As far as we in NCAY are concerned, the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is a Person whose influence has personal and impersonal, male and female attributes. And we refuse to go any further than that for now.
Q. But doesn't the Holy Order have a very clear pronouncement on who or what the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is?
A. Yes, it does, but is doesn't make it public. We refuse to deal in speculation in public. It simply divides the Body of Messiah and serves no-one's interests. We do not feel obliged to speculate further and so we don't. I know that may be frustrating for people hearing this interview but we must be true to our principles. And as far as NCAY is concerned, our only canonical, authoritative revelation is the Bible, and so we refuse to go any further.
Q. But that doesn't mean the issue is closed to you?
A. By no means. We have very definite ideas as to who the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is. But we do not believe knowing more than is revealed in the Bible is essential to a man's or woman's salvation.
Q. This would seem to distinguish you somewhat from orthodox Trinitarian ideas yet at the same time make you very close to them...
A. We are close to Trinitarian ideas. Orthodox Christians admit the Elohimhead (Godhead) question is a mystery. We believe we know a little more about this mystery than they do but we aren't going to make it an obstacle to our fellowship with them.
Q. So you have no problems fellowshipping with evangelicals on the basis of their beliefs about the Elohimhead (Godhead)?
A. Not really. It isn't a salvational issue for us even if Trinitarianism is for them. If one probes too deep into the early creeds which they accept, then yes, we would have problems. But we are basically united with them about the Incarnation. We believe in the Virgin Birth like them. We reject the Mormon system entirely -- multiple gods and a literal act between the Virgin Mary and God the Father (whom you remember they believe is physical).
Q. But if I am not mistaken, you too believe Elohim (God) is physical, like the Mormons? You don't believe that Elohim (God) is a Spirit?
A. We do not believe that Elohim (God) is an exalted man, as the Mormons do. Elohim (God) is Elohim (God) -- He is unchanging, as is Messiah (Heb.13:8). But we do believe that He has a corporeal form. He must do, since Yah'shua (Jesus) is a resurrected Being! Yah'shua (Jesus) is Elohim (God), and whatever He may have been before the Incarnation, Yah'shua (Jesus) - and therefore Elohim (God) - has a resurrected physical body. Therefore Elohim (God) has a resurrected physical body!
Q. But orthodox Christians maintain that the New Testament teaches that Elohim (God) is a spirit...?
A. Yes, they do, but they're wrong. They've mistranslated the scripture to fit in with their pre-conceived doctrine. You're referring, of course, to the apostle John who says that Elohim (God) is a spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and emet (truth) (John 4:24). But that's not what the Greek says. The original says that Elohim (God) is spiritual and must be worshipped inwardly with our spirits. This passage says nothing about the final composition, size or shape of Elohim (God).
We don't say that Elohim (God) is physical. We do not believe that Elohim (God) is anthropomorphic. Rather, we believe that man is theomorphic, and important difference. We do say that He is tangible enough to be touched. Jacob wrestled with a tangible Being and got his hip dislocated in the process (Gen.32:24ff) though admittedly that could have been a malak (angel) representing Elohim (God) rather than being Elohim (God) himself. The Elohim (God) Moses talked with in the Mount ate physical food. Physical bodies don't pass through walls, but resurrected bodies can and do. We know they do because Yah'shua's (Jesus') did it (Luke 24:36), and yet His talmidim (disciples) touched Him. He told them He was not a "spirit" (v.38-40).
Q. But the implication of such a doctrine is surely that Elohim (God) the Father was resurrected Himself, as Yah'shua (Jesus) was, and was a man once, as Mormons claim.
A. My Bible doesn't say that. You're now interpreting beyond what is revealed. The tangible nature of Elohim (God) the Father's Body can be understood in many ways.
Q. So the Father and the Son have tangible bodies. That means they are two separate personages and therefore two Gods, doesn't it?
A. Who said so? No I, and certainly not the Bible. The Bible says that there is a Father and a Son, and that they are both tangible. It also says that there is only One Echad as opposed to Yachid) Elohim (God). What you're trying to say is that one Person equals one Elohim (God). But that's just your human perception. The Bible says that there is one Elohim (God= and several Persons. This is deep doctrine and far beyond what NCAY currently teaches. Therefore I won't go any further as it is not spiritually edifying.
Q. Mormons say that the Father is called Elohim and that the Son is called Jehovah. What do you say?
A. I say what the Bible says. Both the Father and the Son are called Elohim, and both the Father and the Son are called 'Jehovah', or more accurately, Yahweh. Mormons try to divide the Father and Son up into categories that fit their pre-conceived doctrines. The Jehovah's Witnesses do the same -- they utterly refuse to accept the Scriptures which say the Son is Yahweh ('Jehovah') too. They are both dishonest.
Q. So you are Trinitarian in that respect?
A. The Trinitarians say the same as we do, more or less, as far as the Names of Elohim (God) are concerned. All of them are interchangeable with the Father and the Son...as one would expect if both are Elohim (God). So, yes, they're absolutely right.
Q. We have spent a long time on the Elohimhead (Godhead)...
A. ...and I would say worthwhile time too because our understanding of Elohim (God) defines very clearly what we believe and who we are. For Mormons 'Jesus' was just an 'elder brother'; for us, and evangelical Christians, Yah'shua (Jesus) was always God (John 1:1), whether pre-incarnate or incarnate. He is a 'brother' only in the sense that He became human and identified with us, but He has always been Elohim (God). He is, unlike us and malakim (angels), an uncreated Being.
Q. NCAY seems to be in transition all the time. Where is it heading? How will it differ in the future from what it is now?
A. Yes, we are in dynamic change. Recently we were visited by an ex-member of the Independent Church whom we hadn't seen for several years who, though he hasn't joined any other church, still clings on to much Independent Church thought. We were, I think, surprised by how different we were now. There he was coming out of an LDS mindset and premiss and there we were coming out of an evangelical one. We occupied two totally different worlds. However, the main difference was that we could see and understand his position all too clearly, but ours was incomprehensible to him. Because he had detached himself from the stream of events he could not comprehend us.
Were someone to leave NCAY now and return in three or four years time I suspect he might be quite surprised. We are indeed in transition. Though our doctrines will likely be much the same in a few years' time, we ourselves will certainly change and also what we will be doing.
Q. You are presumably referring to the gathering to Zion?
A. Yes. And it's here that we fundamentally differ from evangelical Christians who believe in adopting the surrounding culture inasmuch as it does not come up against the teachings of the New Testament as they understand them.
For Messianic Evangelicals the Tanakh (Old Testament) is equally as important as the New even if it was set in a now defunct (old) covenant. We do not see the Tanakh (Old Testament) merely as a set of pointers to the Messiah but as containing the blueprint for the ideal theocratic society.
Q. You don't mean that you are going to take the New Covenant back in time to an ancient way of life much as the Moslems in Iran have done?
A. Yes, and no. No, we are not going to abandon science and technology and live as people did in the Middle Ages if that's what you mean, neither are we going to reduce women to chattels as Jewish culture had done by the time Yah'shua (Jesus) was born. We believe in science and progress in the material sphere. But, yes, we are returning to the ancient theocratic system, albeit in a New Covenant setting.
Q. Does that mean you will practice capital punishment and mutilate offenders of the Torah (Law) as fundamentalist Moslem countries practicing Sharia do?
A. Again, you have misunderstood. We are not returning to the Old Covenant. We are New Covenant Christians/Messianics, not Old Covenant ones. The latter is an impossibility. We would have to revert to becoming Mosaic Jews!
Yah'shua (Jesus) reformed the Old Covenant, abolished all the Old Testament ritualistic types that pointed to Him (such as animal sacrifice and circumcision), tightened up the moral law, and taught forgiveness of sins conditional upon true repentance. The "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" mentality went out with the Mosaic dispensation. We have absolutely no intention of chopping off the hands of thieves or stoning murderers and adulterers to death!! Yah forbid! We have left the shadows behind and moved on to the fullness.
Q. I still don't see, then, what it is in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that you intend to adopt, beyond the Moral Law as exemplified by the Ten Commandments...
A. The system of government for one. Most churches are governed by synods or boards which democratically vote and make decisions about their churches' doctrines and practices. We are steered by a system of judges such as characterised the old Tribal Confederacy before Israel became a monarchy who are themselves wholly bound to the Davar Elohim (Word of God).
Q. But isn't the Davidic monarchy viewed as the ideal?
A. With Yah'shua (Jesus) as King, yes, but not as mortal men. We are a monarchy but our Monarch is no longer a mortal. Our King is Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). The government of men in the New Covenant is by judges (or patriarchs) and apostles. Just as Moses was advised by Jethro to delegate authority to judge minor matters to others, so Messiah the King delegates authority on earth in the Messianic Community (Church) to His judges.
The basic unit of government is the family unit with the father-husband as head, judge and law-maker. Collections of family units in a geographical area form branches or the local assemblies of NCAY. Apostles, who represent the Melchizedek Priesthood authority of the Chavurat Bekorot or Holy Order, appoint pastors over these families by revelation. The pastors are then responsible for the prayerful selection of local officers for the smooth running of the local assembly.
Q. Is there no democratic process, then?
A. This is not 'democratic' in the secular sense for Messianic Israel is theocratic. Nevertheless, initial consent is essential for a covenant to have any sort of validity or force. The Chavurat Bekorot or Holy (Melchizedek, Priesthood) Order consists of the apostles and all the regularly ordained Priesthood officers (elders, eldresses, deacons and deaconesses) of NCAY.
So government in the Kingdom of Yahweh is by consent so, yes, once pastors have been selected, the heads of families and thence all the people must give their consent to the selection. The minutae of his this is done is explained in the currenty NCAY Constitution
Q. This sounds remarkably similar to the kind of democracy which steers most evangelical churches, minus the apostles.
A. In some respects, yes, but then we're talking about the outer Assembly here - NCAY. The Holy Order -- the firstborn communities - have quite a different form of government. We call this Patriarchal. This I have explained elsewhere in NCAY publications but will summarise it again. The Holy Order is governed by judges who form two quorums of 12 patriarchs. The Presiding Patriarch is the final executive authority. All decisions must be unanimous.
Q. So all the decision-making is made by these judges?
A. Internationally, yes.
Q. Don't the local congregations have any democratic decision-making powers?
A. Yes, they do. Local assemblies are more or less autonomous. Pastors are selected (or reselcted) by the apostles once a year. The congregation have the right to reject any pastor called. The apostles select elders to assist them, and the Pastor calls various persons to congregational offices. If the Pastor is rejected by a congregation then the local apostle must select a new Pastor.
Q. Do the congregations have any say in the selection of apostles?
A. No. This is done by the Holy Order.
Q. This would then seem very different from evangelical church democracy. Are there any similarities with the Restoration tradition?
A. Very little. In the Mormon church a kind of 'democracy' is present but it is a sham. People are entitled to vote against the selection of a local church officer. In practice if they do they are taken aside and sternly warned that they are failing to sustain the church leaders and are apostate.
The Reorganized (RLDS) Church is much more democratic in that sense -- too democratic in our view. The congregation selects their Pastor themselves...
Q. A bit like evangelicals...
A. Yes. Interestingly, the New Testament teaches that it was the apostles who selected pastors. But since evangelicals don't have apostles they must find alternative selection procedures.
So there are some similarities with the Restoration church system, but those similarities are limited.
Q. Now you have said that there are other aspects of Hebrew culture which NCAY seeks to imitate. What might those be? Would marriages we arranged, for example?
A. Marriages are not decided by parents but parents have the right to give advice and children are expected give serious consideration to that advice. Young adults are, however, expected to make the final decision themselves.
We do not believe in traditional courting either. This I have explained in detail elsewhere. We do not believe in 'going steady' until there is proper spiritual development. As you know, we have three stages in marriage -- dedication, betrothal, and full marriage. We will not marry couples who are not active talmidim (disciples) in the Besorah (Gospel) and who do not truly know each other. I am, of course, talking about Holy Order practices. In a Christian/Messianic community such as the Order is, everyone knows each other pretty well since all work together cooperatively. This is of enormous help in ensuring that the right marriage partners are selected.
Q. If young people refuse to follow the Order's pattern, are they forbidden to marry?
A. Absolutely not! The Bible expressly forbids anyone to forbid marriage! They are free to marry who ever they want and whenever they want, so long as they are of age. If the Holy Order does not approve a marriage then they are free to marry in the outer assembly. If their morality is lacking the NCAY pastor can refuse to marry them too, in which case they are free to be married in another church, assembly or in a civil setting.
Q. Would those who marry outside the Order or NCAY be shunned by the members?
A. They would not be entitled to be members of the Order but would be received by the local assemblies if they wished to attend. Since members of the Order are also members of NCAY it follows that as human beings the couples would be received in ahavah (love). We don't turn our backs on people just because they don't follow our ways! Every soul is precious, every soul is of great worth in the sight of Elohim (God), no matter what their decisions.
Every society has rules, however, religious or secular, and those who don't obey the rules obviously can't enjoy all the privileges of those who do. That's a fact of life everywhere.
Q. So such a couple would be treated like a couple who were already married joining NCAY?
A. Exactly. We have people coming to NCAY who have very difficult marriages indeed. We minister to them. Similarly, someone refusing the follow the Order's marriage pattern who married, say, in a Baptist Church, but who continued to come to NCAY meetings would be received with open arms. Marriage is a binding decision recognised by Elohim (God). We accept all marriages.
Q. Including same-sex ones?
A. No, of course not. There's no such thing in Elohim's (God's) eyes and neither in ours.
Q. Are there any other practices which you have in common with Hebrew culture?
A. Yes, the laws of ownership, for example. In the Holy Order all things are held in common. This was the New Testament practice. Few Christians practice it today. This we call the United Order. I know of no other churches who practice all things in common.
Q. We hear stories in the media of cults that take the money of gullible members - sometimes whole fortunes. When they get disillusioned, they go away penniless. Could such a thing happen in the Holy Order?
A. No, it couldn't. What the cults do is outright robbery. Those who come to the Holy Order and live the United Order by consecrating all their wealth and possessions to the Order are entitled to take what they brought in with them if they choose to leave the Order. Anything else would amount to robbery. An individual or family entering the Order would register their property and wealth when coming into the Order. If they choose to leave it, they have the legal right to take what they brought.
Q. Do you mean they sign legal contracts?
A. Where such laws exist in countries that is the practice. The new members deed all their property and wealth to the Order which it is entitled to dispose of it as it sees fit. The Order, in its turn, covenants to return the same back if the family leaves, in money or in kind, and according to its current value.
Q. Isn't that quite complicated what with inflation, wear-and-tear, and such things?
A. With good will on both sides this can be sorted out. But you know, we are careful in choosing the people who are allowed to join the Order. Not anybody can come along and join. We are seeking for honest, honourable, hard-working, thrifty and decent people. Doubters and the like never gain admission to the Order.
Q. But even if you find perfect, or near-perfect people, you can never know how they're going to turn out?
A. That is true, and that's why we sign contracts with them when they join, guaranteeing them financial security if they leave. Our hope is, after all, that if they leave the Order they will continue to be active in the local NCAY assemblies. They are still a part of the brotherhood -- still cherished family members.
Q. But some may leave the Order and NCAY, mightn't they?
A. They might, but we think that unlikely. Since the NCAY was organised in 1992 we have lost some from the Order but they have continued active and faithful in the local assemblies. If people leave the Order, they usually leave of their own free will. There have rarely been quarrels or unpleasant exchanges of any kind. People understand the rules and accept the consequences of breaking them if they do.
Q. The whole concept of an 'order' -- if I can change the subject for a minute -- is very new to most Christians. It sounds rigid, almost monastical. What is the truth of the matter?
A. The idea of an 'order' or 'discipline' is as Christian or Messianic as Christian or Messianic can be! In the New International Version of the Bible the writer of Hebrews compares the Old Covenant with the New and describes the New Covenant as a "new Order" (Heb.9:10). I realise that in our liberal, democratic world the whole idea of an "order" smacks of totalitarianism or rigid Catholic monasticism. And as a result western Protestant Christianity has become incredibly watered down. Why, the whole concept of the 'New Testament' is incredibly 'orderly', if you will. A 'testament' is a will or a legality made valid by the blood of Messiah. The Tanakh (Old Testament) was sealed or ratified by the Davar Elohim (God's Word), but the New Testament by the Son of Elohim's (God's) blood.
Our liberal world is uncomfortable with the idea of an 'order' or a 'discipline' but that's exactly what the New Covenant is. As John Bunyan so brilliantly illustrated in his book, Pilgrim's Progress, the Heavenly Jerusalem is not simply obtained by accepting the cross of Messiah but by thereafter walking a path or a derech (way). This I have talked about before.
Q. You mean that accepting Messiah as Saviour is just the first step in the path to eternal life?
A. Yes. (See, How Do I Get Eternal Life?) There are many who accept the cross who do not make it because they turn back when difficulties assail them. The cross is indispensable, of course, because it is the cross that releases us from the guilt of our sins -- sins which Messiah paid for. But the carnal man is not overcome with the acceptance of Messiah's free salvation. That salvation has to be applied or put to work.
Q. How does one 'put salvation to work'?
A. Let me give you an illustration. Let's say that I want to go to the moon. I can't get there by wishful thinking or getting my car out the garage. The only way to get to the moon is by spaceship. There is an enormous gulf between the earth and the moon which earth-bound vehicles cannot bridge.
Our human powers are like those earth-bound vehicles - cars, bicycles, trains, etc.. Yah'shua (Jesus) is the spaceship. Accepting the free salvation of Messiah is to receive the bridge that links us to Elohim (God). But I have got to fly that spaceship to the moon. It's no use receiving the spaceship and just sitting there on the launching pad or putting it on display in my garden as so many Christians do. That 'gospel spaceship' has got to be launched into a life of active discipleship and meet hardships, dangers, frustrations, and occasionally failures.
Q. That's a most unusual analogy...
A. Yah'shua (Jesus) illustrated it in a far better way. He said that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a pinch of yeast put into dough (Mt.13:33). If you let the yeast sit in cold dough, nothing happens. The dough has got to be heated up and the yeast allowed to permeate the whole loaf. When we receive Messiah's free gift of salvation, it has still to permeate our whole soul. In the New Testament this principle is called sanctification. Yah'shua (Jesus) chose this illustration deliberately to confound many of the modern notions of 'once saved, always saved.' That's nonsense. If He had wanted to convey such an idea He would have chosen a different parable.
Q. Such as?
A. Perhaps He would have said that the Kingdom of Heaven was like the instant transformation of water into wine...
Q. The miracle at Cana, you mean?
A. Yes, something like that. Things of any value are rarely instant. I can buy my daughter a horse but that won't automatically enable her to ride. Yet without the horse the idea of riding is just a dream. Taking Messiah 'on board', as it were, is an incredible phenomenon. It's like moving a society out of the bronze age into the nuclear age. Considerable re-adjustment needs to take place. There's a lot of relearning that has to be done, a lot of readjusting in our lives, if we are to become perfectly like Messiah, as He has commanded us to be (Matt.5:48; 19:21).
John Bunyan saw clearly that salvation can be lost. There were many who received the cross who later abandoned the Way. They failed to understand that the cross is a Way of Suffering as well as of simcha (joy). And the great majority of Christians don't want that. Why do you think that Yah'shua (Jesus) said that the Way was narrow and hard to find? He said that few would find it (Matt.7:13-14). Yet many have received the cross...
Q. That is quite a sobering thought. It puts quite a different perspective on the Besorah (Gospel)...
A. Throughout the centuries different stresses have been laid on the Christian life. We are still, unfortunately, in that wave of modern, liberalistic thought which says that nothing has to be done to be saved....nothing has to be done to get to heaven save receive Yah'shua (Jesus) in your heart as Saviour. Though many churches are now moving away from this idea, it's still there...it hangs on just like fulfilled parts of the Mosaic Law was hung on to by the Jewish congregations in the early Messianic Community (Christian Church).
I subscribe to a monthly Christian study guide which is generally quite excellent but it does contain some absurd contradictions, such as the one we're talking about. Churches get hung up on man-made doctrines and traditions which they're reluctant to part with. They are too afraid to 'break' with these lest they be seen to be leaving the denomination or 'dividing the Body of Christ'. The irony is that false doctrine divides the Body of Christ anyway.
Q. Do you believe that Christendom will follow NCAY's teachings eventually?
A. Those that are absolutely true, inevitably -- they'll probably discover them for themselves, though I hope we may be a catalyst in that process. The emet (truth) bears witness of itself -- all honest seekers after emet (truth) will eventually stumble upon it.
Q. You said, 'those that are absolutely true' -- do you believe that some of your teachings are untrue?
A. The emet (truth) is always unfolding itself -- as one hymn says, "The Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from Him Word." There are inevitably some wrong things we believe in still which we will discard when we find them, and some of what we teach we only partially understand. We "see through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor.13:12, KJV) -- not all things are clear. And not all things will be revealed in this life. (At the time this interview was given we were observing the wrong sabbath and not following the true Biblical Calendar, for example, because we didn't know about them).
You know, we have spoken much of doctrines this evening but the Besorah (Gospel) is more than just teachings. It is chayim (life) itself -- life in Messiah (John 14:6). And because life is as varied and as wonderful as all the varied personalities that make up the Messianic Community (Church) it will always be in flux.
Q. Do you mean by that that the Besorah (Gospel) can never be fully expressed in doctrines and teachings?
A. Exactly. Think what an anticlimax life would be if, for example, someone could write everything down in one large book. The mystery of life cannot be found in a book. It can only be found in living. We in NCAY have a great deal of literature, far more than any other organisation in relation to our numbers. It's been a great blessing to many, I am sure, but it is not the Besorah (Gospel) itself. NCAY can never be understood by being read about, no more than the Saviour Himself can. Our writings are rather like a photograph album containing glimpses of life. But they are not the life itself.
Q. I have heard some of your people express the opinion that too much has been said and too little done. What do you say to that?
A. Every human being sees life through the lens his own spiritual and experiential expectations, achivements and deficiencies. Everybody's experiences are different. Everybody's needs are slightly different too. We all see different faults in each other and different strong points. No two imperfect people can ever have identical needs or perceive problems in exactly the same way, no matter how united they are in other areas. I also think there's a danger of playing with words. Isn't speaking action? Are we not "saved by the foolishness of preaching" (1 Cor.1:2, KJV)? Isn't teaching one of the great commissions (Matt.28:19)? Doesn't Luke say that Yah'shua (Jesus) both "did" and "preached" (Acts 1:1)? We do see balances differently, and for now we must be satisfied with how our own consciences lead us (2 Cor.4:2; 1 Tim.1:5).
Q. But aren't we supposed to see eye-to-eye?
A. In the essentials, yes, we are. This is a hard question. There is no doubt that Elohim (God) the Father and Messiah are one or echad in everything -- so united are they that Messiah was able to perfectly obey His Father in everything without compromising His individuality.
Q. That is hard for me to understand. Are you saying that the Father and Son are different personalities? If they are, then surely there wouldn't be uniformity in the Creation?
A. One of the arguments of monarchistic modalism that we talked about earlier rests on this sort of question. Elohim (God) is One Person but has different aspects. The early Mormons -- before they abandoned Trinitarianism -- believed that Elohim (God) the Father is the Ruach (Spirit) and that Elohim (God) the Son is the flesh!
Q. So that when Messiah was praying in Gethsemane, it was His flesh talking to His Spirit???
A. Something like that. You know, the orthodox Trinitarians have had the same kinds of problem -- was Yah'shua (Jesus) just talking to Himself? The occultists try to solve the problem by saying that Yah'shua (Jesus) the man and Christ the Deity were two different things. They say that we have a Christ centre and a natural centre and that what we must do is realise the Christ in ourselves -- become Christ indeed, the same way that Yah'shua (Jesus) supposedly did.
Q. But that would make for many christs...!
A. And many gods. The New Agers are panthesists. They believe everyone and everything is 'God' and everyone is 'Christ'. It's a mass of confusion.
Q. Some would say that Christians make the Elohimhead (Godhead) issue needlessly complicated by insisting that Yah'shua (Jesus) was Elohim (God). It would be easier if there was just one Being.
A. If Yah'shua (Jesus) is not Elohim (God), then Christianity is meaningless. If He is not Elohim (God) then we should all become Jews and live under the Old Covenant (1 Cor.15:14). The one great sublime truth of Christianity, which is incomparable with any other religion, is that Elohim (God) entered human flesh by becoming a man in order to reconcile mankind to Himself, and vice versa. The details of this action have been debated for two thousand years and we will probably never understand it in this life.
I have believed many Elohimhead (Godhead) doctrines in my life but none of them has altered my personal relationship with Him. However we may try to conceive Him in pictures or words He will still act on the human heart in basically the same way. Hundreds of thousands have been born anew and experienced the all-transforming power of the living Messiah. It's a fact. Most couldn't explain the mechanism to you and of these most wouldn't want to try. Elohim (God) is so great that I have given up trying to picture Him in my finite mind.
Q. How do you see Him?
A. I can't give you one single picture. I can't sit down and write a credal statement that will perfectly satisfy me. I've tried it, and failed. Elohim (God) is like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I have found many of the pieces and even though I can't get them all to fit yet I know that one day they will.
Q. Can you give an illustration?
A. That's the problem, isn't it? We try to illustrate something that is beyond complete or final expression. Even my best friend couldn't describe the full 'me' to you - we, who are finite mortal beings - are that complex. So how much more complex is Elohim (God)?
I could give you a long list of words. I could cite various doctrinal creeds. I was once attracted to the Mormon idea that Elohim (God) was Three separate individuals - three Gods - because it gave me a mental and visual handle. But I found this fundamentally lacking - an over-simplification. I have to agree basically with the Trinitarians in some matters - God is so absolutely Echad or One that He can't be separated and yet He is three also. Three-in-one. I was repulsed by this doctrine for a long time because my scientific mind couldn't get a grip on it. But I feel more comfortable with it now.
Is He all male? I once thought so but I don't now. The Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) gramatically female in Hebrew and is often represented in female terms in the Bible - it's just undeniable (Prov.1:20-21, etc.). But 'it' is also male when Scripture speaks of the Ruach (Spirit) of Yahweh or the Ruach (Spirit) of the Son. Many Christians insist that Elohim (God) is male but that He 'contains' the fullness of female virtue too. I think there's some emet (truth) in this, but I don't go along with the idea of an androgenous 'Father-Mother God' because the Bible doesn't describe Him as such either. He is male, just as Christ is. Yah'shua (Jesus) was a human male and He still is; and, by His own testimony, He is the exact representation of the Father, just as Abel and Seth were of their father Adam. Yah'shua (Jesus) told Philip that whoever had seen Him had seen the Father too.
But you know we can go around in circles of endless speculation on this subject. The point I am making is that we as Messianic Evangelicals are always open for more light and emet (truth) on the subject which we believe will perfectly harmonise with what the existing Biblical record says.
Q. So you wouldn't ever maintain that Yahweh is a Father and a Mother?
A. Elohim (God) is both a Father and Mother, but Yahweh the Father is not a Mother.
Q. Let's change the subject. The NCAY believes it has a special mission. Do you believe it is the blueprint of the true Messianic Assembly (Christian Church)?
A. If by that do you mean that every kind of personality could thrive among us I would have so answer no. At least not now. Look, I don't know what this Community will be like in 10 or even a 100 years, if it survives that long. It may be unrecognisable. I cannot limit Elohim (God) by dictating what this Fellowship is and what it will become. It's like a river. It's direction can be changed but it can't stop - and I can't make it turn around and go back up the mountain again. No one can.
I suspect that one day we will see just how poor our present vision is. We may well even hang our heads in shame for being so arrogant in our self-certainty. The oldfer you get, the wiser you become; and the wiser you get the less you realise you in fact know. And the wiser you get the more tolerant you become of others' misunderstandings and ignorance. The zeal of spiritual youth can be blinding - young people think they know it all. And even if they're a little humble they still think they know almost all of it.
Q. Sometimes you speak with great certainty on a subject and sometimes with great doubt...?
A. You have to have that tension. That is the only way to grow. I am certain so long as there are no facts or revelation to contradict what I believe. But I also know there is more so I leave plenty of room for healthy doubt. I must never become so smug as to believe I have the whole equation of emet (truth) wrapped up. I haven't. That would be absurd because it would make me Elohim (God) which I am not. If I had it all wrapped up, I would no longer live by emunah (faith) because I wouldn't need it any more, would I? Then I would cease to be justified and my walk in this mortal sphere would be meaningless.
I realise this is of little comfort to those who want everything neatly wrapped in one big doctrinal package. I wanted it that way once. People want certainty. Well, I believe we have all the certainties we need to make this life successful. Once I wanted a prophetic vision of the future. Now I see what a hell it would be to know what was coming and what a hundrance it would be to live. We would simply cringe in fear and never do anything. We would be paralysed by the certitude of our own fallibility and errors-to-come.
This life is a journey, and like all journeys on the horizontal, earthly plane, we can't see further than the horizon. Not until we have reached the heavenly city will the horizon disappear and will we be able to see all things - or at least a lot more. Meanwhile there is much to experience on the Way. It is enough to live, and to live victoriously in the certain knowledge that Elohim (God) Almighty knows everything, has mapped our course, and has made provision for all our mistakes through the blood of Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus).
This is one Messianic Evangelical's view. No doubt other NCAY members will have their own stories to tell.
Continued in Part 2 (2004)
The new Covenant Assemblies of Yahweh (NCAY) were at this time (since 1992 and until 1996) known as the New Covenant Christian Fellowship or NCCF, though it was often abbreviated in English publications using the more commonly used Norwegian equivalent, NPKF (Nye Pakts Kristne Felleskap). In 1996 NCCF was renamed the New Covenant Church of God (NCCG) though congregations could, if they wanted to, use a more Hebraic name, B'rit Chadashah Assembly of Yahweh (BCAY). These two were eventually combined into NCAY. See Bible & Creed for an up-to-date statement on organisation and structure.
This page was created on 18 May 1997
Last updated on 14 February 1998
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