The Separation of Church & Faith
(Copernicus and the Jews, Volume 1)
Elijah Publishing, 2005, ISBN: 0966925351, p/b
Reviewed by: Dr Daniel C Juster PhD
"Passionate, well written, full of salient points, and sometimes revolutionary in a positive way" describes some parts of Copernicus and the Jews. "Overly black and white, not careful in distinguishing Church doctrines on Israel and the last days, and overly focused on semantics without realizing what people mean when they use words" also describes this text. Though affirming the distinctive callings of Jew and Gentile, the book does not give any clarity concerning the distinctive callings of Gentiles, the legitimate creative work of the Church in history or the legitimate level of contextualization in various cultures in expressing the Gospel. In addition, the author does not seem to recognize the Body of Believers as not just the Israel Commonwealth of Nations, (analogous to the British Commonwealth) but as something unforeseen by the prophets that is of a different order. Lastly, the book is weak on the nature of government in the New Covenant Body - seeming to have an anti-institutional bias - and the present manifestation of the Kingdom of God.
I have not in recent years read a more passionate presentation of the continued covenant of God with Israel; her chosen-ness and her destiny. The coherent marshalling of the texts and the ringing conclusions can not be rejected with integrity. In addition, the presentation on the promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people is passionate and powerful. This leads to the conclusion of a literal millennial age under the rule of the Messiah from Jerusalem. Again, no one I know of in recent times has made a more passionate and persuasive presentation of this truth.
In addition, the book describes the Body of Believes as the commonwealth of Israel. I can not find any points that disagree with my presentation of the same idea in Growing to Maturity which was published in 1982 and continues to be in print for any reader who wishes to pursue my presentation of the argument.
Basically we both argue for the view that when one becomes a follower of Yeshua, through him one becomes connected to Israel. We are currently in an abnormal situation where the nation of Israel as a whole does not embrace the King of the Commonwealth. However, the Body of Messiah is the Commonwealth of Israel never the less and still is connected in a deep way to the nation of Israel even in its unbelief. The situation of Israel's unbelief is temporary. The saved remnant of Israel which continues to live and identify as part of the Jewish people is the organic connection of the two. This is a well argued theme that runs though the book. The Body of the Messiah is not some totally new entity disconnected to Israel. Would that all would see this! This is central in the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations definition of Messianic Judaism which also defines the Church as connected in the way of commonwealth.
The author addresses the nature of translation problems, and in my view, he is mostly right on these issues. The idea of the New Covenant being written in Jewish Greek is correct and affirms the conclusions of Matthew Black which I also affirm in my writings. However, sometimes he is splitting hairs which will be clear in the next section. The New Covenant Scriptures are a fully Jewish compendium which is intended for all people.
The discussion of the Anti-Semitic bias in Biblical interpretation is well done. This is a huge problem to overcome: it is a bias that is amazingly pervasive in the history of the Church.
Finally, his writing concerning the future Kingdom of God as part of the Good News is very important and a corrective to realized eschatology. The latter suggesting that the Kingdom is fully fulfilled now (see for example: C. H. Dodd and Marcellus Kik).
|Weaknesses of the Book|
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 Israel.
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 believe.
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 movement.
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 Pietism).
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.
In summary, one might think that this review shows more of a negative evaluation. That is the nature of correction. However, I do state that I more agree with the book than disagree. However the areas of disagreement are a real cause of concern. Perhaps it is fitting to close on the issue of Copernicus. Is the Sun the center of the Solar System? Perhaps the maths says so. Mathematical relations are relative, however. Einsteinian physics tells us that any point can be chosen as the center of the whole universe! One can travel in a straight line from that point and will return to the same point because space is curved. So not in all ways did Copernicus displace the earth as the center! The earth is not displaced if humanity is the center of God's concern in the universe. So also, not in all points did Gruber provide us with a balanced correction of the Church, and the Church is not illegitimate. Yes, correction, but no to the claim of illegitimacy.
Footnote 1: The reader should note that the term "Commonwealth of Israel" is an interpretive translation of Ephesians 2:12, 19 (RSV). I believe it is a fruitful interpretive idea as long as we recognize several limitations. That in the Age to Come Israel and the nations will be one under the rule of the Messiah expresses the ultimate hope of the prophets. In that Age Israel and the nations will still be distinct, but all will embrace the universal moral law and the Messiah King. Some of the Biblical Feasts are also mentioned as becoming universal (Zech 14:16; Isaiah 66:23). However, this is not a commonwealth of loose association, but is more foreshadowed by Solomon's empire, or the Roman or British Empires because all will be fully under the authority of the King Messiah. This is an idea fully expressed in the prophets. The Body of Believers, in the unity of Jew and Gentile and in connection to Israel, foreshadows the Age to Come. However, in some ways the Body of Believers is more than the "Commonwealth of Israel" concept, for as we note, authority of rule and status is granted to both Jew and Gentile as the Bride of the Messiah. This adds a dimension to the future commonwealth, even a new thing. The fellowship of Yeshua's Bride was not clearly if at all foreseen by Hebrew Scripture prophets.EndMiddle Space(4) RightHandSide EndBody Footer