A book I read recently hit a nerve. Frankly, I didn’t realize it was such a sore spot until that moment.
More than a few times in the last couple months, I have run into a theological debate/discussion about ecclesiology. Specifically, Bilateral Ecclesiology. Now, before you run for the exit, let me explain what the words mean and why it is important to understand.
In theological terms, the study of the ‘church,’ is called ‘ecclesiology, from the Greek word ‘ekklesia.’ ‘Bilateral,’ of course, means ‘two parts, two sides, two parties…’ So, Bilateral Ecclesiology is the coined term for those who believe the ‘ekklesia,’ in this use meaning the ‘Bride/Body of Messiah,’ has two parts.
The place this has really sprung to the forefront is in Messianic circles and the discussion/debate over who fits where. While we should be investing time on more important issues and studies, we are busy wrestling with turf boundaries. Let me explain.
Rav Shaul, the apostle Paul, wrote in Ephesians 2,
…in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off [a]have been brought near [b]by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the [c]barrier of the dividing wall, 15 [d]by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might [e]make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, [f]by it having put to death the enmity. (Ephesians 2:13-16)
He articulates that in Messiah Yeshua, the barrier dividing ‘those who were far off’ and those who were near has been broken down! Messiah’s plan, purpose and desire is ONE new man, ONE body!!
Soon after the death of the apostles, both Jew and Gentile set out to rebuild this wall. Judaism went this way and Christianity went that way… Rabbis and theologians were intentional in driving wedges between the two groups. Jews defined themselves by who they did NOT believe in… Yeshu, and Christians, by a “torahless” Messiah.
Much error and sin resulted on both parts with Churchianity being the major sinner in persecutions and pogroms against brother Judah. Oh, haSatan must be delighted!
What was it the Mashiach said about a ‘house dived against itself…?’
Fast forward to today and we get to reap the bitter waters of our fathers.
The last couple decades, particularly with the advent of the internet and the ease of communication and access to information, has led to a growing movement of believers who have recognized that Scripture calls for a faith in Messiah that leads to obedience to all of His commandments. This group, composed of Torahkeeping Jews who have found Yeshua and Messiah-loving Gentiles who have found Torah, have become an affront to that wall of separation!!
Interestingly, Christianity is so large, that this movement of some adherents toward keeping the feasts and worshiping on the Sabbath, according to the commandments, has not really rocked the boat until very recently.
On the other hand, parts of the much much smaller Judaism group have been threatened for some time by this move toward the ‘middle’ by both Jews and Gentiles,
who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Rev. 12:17 & 14:12)
So, about ten years ago, particularly among some Messianic Jews, those who are of Jewish decent and ‘practice’ who believe in Messiah, a theological position began to be asserted called ‘Bilateral Ecclesiology,’ or BE, for short. The main assertion was/is that Gentile believers in Yeshua don’t have to keep Torah… In fact, they prefer we NOT keep Torah… “That was just for the Jews,” they say. Sometimes, the really bold proponents will say, “we are the chosen people and (implying the listener) the Gentile will live in the nations around Israel and come pay homage and taxes from year to year (to us)….” Ouch!
Of course, all of this BE ‘position’ is couched in Scripture references that support the case, while ignoring clear passages that disassemble it.
Now, lest I be misunderstood, let me be crystal clear!! Israel, and thus Judah, has NOT been replaced, superseded, forgotten, abandoned or anything of the like. God’s promises are without repentance! The Jews are STILL and always will be God’s people… But, those purchased by the blood of Mashiach are grafted in and are members of the commonwealth of Israel and also recipients, by faith, of the promises to the fathers.
The whole BE theological position leads to more division, and as blogger Judah Gabriel Himango says, “exclusion, racism and feelings of inferiority.” (I love his treatment of Bilateral Ecclesiology. Revealing, from a brother who is of Judah!)
Because the primary proponents of BE are Jews and their message sounds, according to Himango, exclusionary and racist, it has the effect of fostering and engendering reverse antisemitism!! It again tries to rebuild the wall that was torn down in Messiah and is again being demolished by brothers coming together to worship the God of Avraham, Itzaak and Ya’acov!
Oh that the jealousies and harassing of brothers would cease and we would all just focus on the Mashiach and His instructions!
Beware of theologies that would divide the Body of Messiah, contrary to clear teaching in Scripture.
Are there some things very special about Judah that we need to acknowledge? Absolutely!! Have the Christian followers of Messiah accomplished some things that Judah only dreamed of? Yes! Was it the plan of Mashiach to divide the bride for a time to safely convey her to her destination? I believe so. (See Ya’acov’s return to the land.)
As the Father brings the family back together, those in Messiah and keeping Torah, both Jew AND Gentile, need to be especially vigilant and willing to read Scripture and admit to generations of error. We must guard against those fallacies the adversary would use to divide or break apart the one new man. Love and acknowledge each for his contributions to the whole picture and be thankful that we have been given eyes to see beyond those of our fathers.
Let us not protect turfs, but seek common ground in shalom.