I was troubled by the sometimes arrogant tone of the book and its
black and white statements about the Church. This also appears
in the strong rejection of the word "Church." Many languages do not
use the word church at all so the argument against the term tends to
be an argument against those who have used the Germanic term as it
has come into English and its use in English translation. Gruber
again and again states that there is no Church in the New Covenant
Scriptures. This depends on what the person means by the
Church. It can be the building, it can be the universal people
of God or it can be used for a local assembly. However, all
theologians who use the word primarily define it as either an
assembly or the "ecclesia" or the "qahal" of Yeshua.
Though in some ways the use of the word "church" is unfortunate, do
we really want to fight this battle in this way? Or is it a better
strategy to see the Church defined as the congregation of Yeshua
which is the Commonwealth of Israel that is inseparable from
relationship to ethnic Israel. Using the right terms alone will not
answer the problem because classical replacement theology used the
phrase "Commonwealth of Israel", but intended it in a replacement way
to refer to the New Israel and to exclude the ethnic nation of
The book presents us with a caricature of Christian theology
today. One would never know from reading Gruber that many
Christian theologians today affirm that ethnic Israel is still
chosen, that the Church is connected to this nation, and that the
Church is the Commonwealth of Israel, but in a foreshadowing way.
There are no references to these Christian theologians; Peter Tomson,
Douglas Harrink, R. Kendall Soulen, Krister Stendhal and many more.
No group is more attacked in the book than the Roman Catholic Church.
Would it not be good to find out what the Roman Catholic Church says
specifically on these issues? If Gruber has missed it here, has he
not made a serious overstatement? Some Church bodies are exactly off
in the way that Gruber describes, especially some of the Arab
Christian Churches, but note the words form the Catholic Catechism
which put forth the official doctrine of what all Catholics must
Israel is the priestly people of God, "called by the name of the
LORD," and "the first to hear the word of God," the people of the
"elder brethren" in the faith of Abraham. P 63
Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the
People of God in various ways.
The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she
delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God, in
the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish people, "the
first to hear the Word of God." The Jewish faith, unlike other
non-Christian religions, is already a response to God's
revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jew "belong the sonship,
the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and
the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race,
according to the flesh, is the Christ", "for the gifts and call
of God are irrevocable" P. 839
The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of
history until his recognition by "all Israel," for "a hardening
has come upon part of Israel" in their "unbelief" toward Jesus.
St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost, "Repent
therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out,
that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,
and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom
heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God
spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old." St. Paul
echoes him, "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of
the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?"
The "full inclusion" of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in
the wake of the "full number of the Gentiles" will enable the
People of God to achieve "the measure of the stature of the
fullness of Christ," in which "God may be all in all."
One would never learn that the Roman Catholic Church absolutely
repudiated replacement theology in Nostre Atate
embraced by the Second Vatican Council in 1968.
We will not learn from Gruber of some of the Puritans who saw the
Church as the Commonwealth of Israel and believed in the restoration
of ethnic Israel. Nor will we learn that this was the consensus of
British theology in the mid-19th century
and was the reason why Britain worked for a hundred years for the
restoration of the nation of Israel until a Pharaoh arose in the
1920s "who knew not Joseph."
As Monsignor Peter Hocken says, the history of the Church shows glory
and shame. Gruber seems to see very little but the shame. His quotes
and presentation of the shame is correct and devastating, but there
is also the glory which is much greater than represented. I fear
that the imbalance of the presentation will make Messianic Jews
anti-Church or anti-Christian. This would be very bad for our
The book affirms over and over again that Gentiles are not called
to become Jews when they enter the Commonwealth of Israel. God
has a purpose for the nations. Good! Gruber also affirms that the
Sabbath and the Feasts of the Lord will be universal in the
Millennium, and though not required, are appropriately celebrated by
all people. In theory I do not disagree with this, but the devil is
in the details. I found myself longing for some statements of
clarification, especially in the light of false theologies that have
arisen in response to the Messianic Jewish Movement. These can be
understood under the term of "One Law Movements" which teach that
Jews and Gentiles are called to keep the same Law. The Ephraimite
heresy is a worse version of "One Law" which teaches that true
Christians are the lost tribes of Israel and thus keep the same law.
Would that Gruber gave one page or two to these pressing issues.
Yes, all believers are to connect to the meaning of the
Feasts, but they are not responsible to keep them as Sabbath days.
Beyond that, without the support of civil law for these days as
holidays, though much of history this would have been impossible for
most peoples in most cultures. Wisely did Acts 15 free Gentiles from
this responsibility. In addition, when Gentiles keep these feasts,
they often do so by embracing Jewish traditions which are post
Biblical rather than finding ways of connection in their own culture.
It should also be noted that First Fruits and Shavuot
(Pentecost) are part of the Christian Calendar. So things are again
more complex than we might be led to believe. How is it that for
most, Gentiles and Jews are to live culturally distinctive lives? We
find little help here.
This leads to another problem I call "Church bashing." Not only
is it said that the Church is not in the Bible, but it is said that
Christianity added nothing important to us. I am amazed at the
lack of perception here. This is a failure to recognize that the
Spirit was at work in the good creative developments of the Church.
The classic and beautiful liturgy, reverence in approaching
communion, the Church year focusing on the life of Yeshua, depth of
meditation and understanding of his suffering on the cross, the
Calvinist understanding of culture and our responsibility as
believers for culture formation, the amazing hymns of Bach and later
the Wesleys, the prayer meetings of Ludwig Von Zinzendorf and the
Moravians that launched Protestant world missions add so very much.
The latter were the first to create a Messianic Jewish congregation
in the 1740s in Amsterdam. In addition are the Christian Zionist
efforts to found the State of Israel. Would there be an Israel
without Hertzl's Christian supporters or without Orde Wingate who
trained the Israel Defense Force before World War Two? I could write
a book on all this; indeed I have two (One People, Many
Tribes and The Jewish People and Evangelical
This leads to another problem that is unrecognized. It is the
importance of contextualization in preaching the Gospel and in the
expression of the Body of the Messiah in different cultures.
Yes, the Jewish Scriptures with Jewish Greek are always the original
for testing translation. However, each translation has to find
analogies and metaphors in the culture of translation and as Eugene
Nida notes, every culture adds new and positive dimensions of
understanding. These new enrichments have to be tested as in accord
to the original. Contextualization to culture is a thorny issue of
great note and controversy in world missions today. There are no
easy answers. However, if Yeshua rose from the dead on the first day
of the week, and the Roman Empire observed the first day at the end
of the first century, was it not legitimate to embrace the first day
as a celebration of the Resurrection as a way of contextualization?
The error of the Church was replacement theology, well rooted a
century and a half before Constantine. The wrong interpretation of
the destruction of Jerusalem was a central error. The Church could
have affirmed the legitimacy of Sabbath for Jews including Jewish
believers in Yeshua while yet embracing Sunday. There is great
liberty given by Acts 15 for contextualization.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the book is a failure to
understand the new reality constituted by the Body of Believers.
Yes, it is the Commonwealth of Israel. Yet is so in a way not
anticipated clearly by the Hebrew Scriptures. Gruber certainly is
aware of this but passes over it with an emphasis that the Body of
Messiah in the New Covenant is just that reality described by the
prophets that includes the nations in the Commonwealth. However, it
is much more and distinct. This is what Paul means by the revelation
of the mystery, previously hidden but now revealed. This was not
clearly revealed before.
Some forms of Jewish theology in the first century well understood
that the nations would come into the Commonwealth of Israel. This is
not new or revolutionary. In addition, the New Covenant is a
covenant with Israel that will lead to Israel's fulfilling its
destiny to be a light to the nations. Again, nothing revolutionary
here. What is new is the present fellowship of Jew and Gentile in
the Messiah taking place before the full reign of the Messiah
from Jerusalem, before Israel fully inherits the Land of
Israel, and before she is delivered from all her enemies, even
before the last wars. New Covenant reality is fleshed out in
an unanticipated way. In this fellowship the Gentiles become: equal
heirs with the Jews, a priesthood, part of the Bride of Messiah,
destined for reigning with him in resurrected or translated bodies
while there is still an Israel and the nations subject to death
though after living a long and prosperous life. To fully work this
out strains our imagination indeed! It is such a strain that some
deny the literal millennial reign of Yeshua. These texts are
important in showing a new realty beyond what was anticipated that is
brought into being after the death and resurrection of Yeshua.
I believe that this is tied to the theology of the Kingdom in
Gruber as being overly futuristic. I agree with just about
everything he says on the future dimension of the Kingdom. However,
he does not say nearly enough about the present reality of the
Kingdom. It is that the Kingdom has broken into this Age. The
Gospel is not just about the announcement of the future coming
Kingdom but the present Kingdom and the invitation to enter into it
and live from it in the present. The fellowship of Jew and Gentile
is a manifestation of the fact that the future Kingdom has broken in
and is experienced in the present time. The power of the Spirit is
another of these manifestations of the Kingdom as is the Body of
Believers. Scholars call this the "already not yet" aspects
of the Kingdom in the Gospels. Those who live in the context of the
presence of the Kingdom and are truly committed to obedience, get the
privilege of sharing rule with Israel in resurrected bodies in the
Age to Come. In this resurrected Bride, I believe that Jews will
still be Jews and Gentiles will be Gentiles.
Lastly, the book is weak on the nature of government in the New
Covenant Body and seems to have an anti-institutional bias. Yes,
it is true that terms like bishop, archbishop and cardinal do have an
aura found nowhere in the New Covenant Scriptures. Yet the New
Covenant presents us with an institutional government. First we see
the authority of the Apostles. They appointed the elders of
congregations in city after city. The pattern of Paul is clear. Yet
despite the appointment of elders, apostles still exercised
authority. This is clear in the Pauline letters and the description
of the book of Acts. What about after the age of the first Apostles?
S.G.F. Brandon called the period of 70-90 A.D. the tunnel period of
New Testament History. There is so little information. In the book
of Revelation we find one Body of Believers in every city where the
Gospel became rooted. The letters to the congregations of Asia Minor
address a messenger. This is probably not a heavenly angel, but a
leader of the regional city congregation to whom John was to send the
letter. Since the Body of Believers was governed by elders, and
since we have the example of the council of Acts 15, and since in any
group of leaders one will usually arise as the first among equals,
the meaning of a bishop is not such a stretch. The New Covenant
Scriptural term bishop probably is a synonym for elder, but by the
early second century the term was applied to the first among the
elders, who led the elders. For a regional apostle to come into
existence, after congregations in cities numbered in the thousands
with scores of meetings, is a natural development. The problem was
in investing this "bishop" with monarchial power. J.N.D. Kelly
provides the reasons for this in the stand against Gnosticism, but
this is not a natural development of the New Covenant teaching.
At any rate, one will look in vein for a balanced presentation of
some of the issues highlighted in the paragraph on government above.
Matthew 16, 18 and 21 clearly develop a view of a government that
supercedes the Sanhedrin so that Kingdom Authority is now invested in
the Body the Messiah which submits to the authority of the designed
Apostles of Yeshua, some of whom gave us the New Covenant Scriptures.
This does imply that the true leaders of the Body of the Messiah have
a higher Kingdom authority than the Rabbinic authority of Ethnic
Israel though Israel is still chosen and all of the things Gruber has
said about this are true.