Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hebrew Roots

A great article, by a Jewish writer, on the so-called "Hebrew Roots Movement."
These are non-Jews who have no intention of converting to Judaism yet follow laws, customs, beliefs, and practices commonly associated with Judaism. And while they do believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the messiah—though in these circles he goes exclusively by his Hebrew name, Yeshua—they are emphatically not Christian. They do not celebrate Christmas or Easter. They do celebrate Passover and Sukkot. They do not display, either in their homes or as jewelry, crosses or other traditional Christian symbols.
Some of these people might be more accurately described under the label "Armstrong Roots Movement", tallit-wearing William Dankenbring, a former Plain Truth writer, being just one example. Dankenbring claims:
Those who ridicules [sic] and ignore God’s commandment of wearing “tassels” on one’s clothing, and using the “prayer shawl,” may think they are clever and righteous in God’s sight, believing this commandment was ONLY for Israel, and has been superceded by the “New Covenant.” But alas, they are sadly mistaken. The New Covenant does not abolish God’s Law. Rather, it writes these precepts into our very HEARTS and minds, so that we will NEVER forget them (Heb.8:10).
There are clear historical linkages between the Adventists, WCG and the Sacred Names Movement. While some like to emphasise the differences between the HRM and similar groups (such as Messianic Judaism), it's intriguing that these movements seem to find their American heartland in many of the same places COG sects thrive. That's got to be more than a coincidence.
While the majority of Christian denominations subscribe to some version of replacement theology—that the church has replaced Israel, that the New Covenant has replaced the Old—a few have embraced certain aspects of the Torah. More than two centuries ago, a group of Russians who came to be known as the Subbotniks began observing the Torah, switching their weekly day of prayer to Saturday and adopting various Jewish practices like circumcision; some members of the group, whose descendants still live in the former Soviet Union, converted. A number of contemporary Christian sects observe the Sabbath, most notably Seventh-day Adventists, who also do not eat pork, shellfish, or other foods proscribed by the Bible, and do not observe Christmas, Easter, or other “pagan” holidays. The Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert Armstrong in 1934, was a radio ministry whose followers observed Saturday Sabbaths, most of the Jewish festivals, and many of the laws of kashrut. (It was later known as Grace Communion International.) Followers of the Sacred Name Movement, a Seventh-day break-off, call God “Yahweh,” and Jesus “Yeshua.”
Which isn't to say that the vast majority of Church of God believers and alumni would find an event like that described at the Dallas Sheraton anything but downright weird. As, obviously, do real Jews.


  1. Menachem Kaiser's article is well-written and informative, and his perspective on this movement as someone who is well-versed in Judaism is invaluable. From the perspective of my own experiences in the Worldwide Church of God, I have never regretted the enhanced exposure to the Old Testament that was a part of my participation in that group. In fact, I still believe that things like festival observance and adherence to the dietary restrictions (even though I no longer believe that it is necessary for a Christian to observe them) have provided spiritual insights that many Christians have never had the opportunity to learn/experience/absorb.
    However, while I think that a greater knowledge/understanding of the Jewish religion can enhance the Christian experience, I think that a majority of the folks in the Hebrew Roots Movement have fallen into the same legalistic trap that many of us in the Worldwide Church of God succumbed to years ago. I believe that Jesus Christ fulfilled/filled to the full the requirements of the Mosaic Law for us. Moreover, I believe that his teachings (along with those of Paul) explained the spiritual principles behind the dos and don'ts. Christ and Paul said that the law could be summarized as an obligation to LOVE. While Christians are expected to adhere to this principle - to practice LOVE, the dos and don'ts of the Torah were completely fulfilled for us by Jesus Christ. The observance of the Ten Commandments (including the Sabbath), circumcision, dietary laws, festivals, etc. WILL NOT SAVE ANYONE - IT WILL NOT EARN GOD'S FAVOR, A PLACE IN THE KINGDOM OR ETERNAL LIFE. For Christians, all of that comes through Jesus Christ.
    It's not that anything was done away with or abandoned - it was simply and finally fulfilled, as it had never been fulfilled by anyone else in the history of mankind. From the evidence of the Hebrew Scriptures, it is clear that no Jew/Israelite had ever observed all of it perfectly. Do any of the Jews of 2015 observe it perfectly (if they could even agree what perfection means)? It's an old argument, but I've come to believe that Catholics and Protestants had a better understanding of what GRACE means than we (WCG) did (although I'm quite aware that the position I've just outlined is not in complete agreement with theirs either). Of course, if you're not a believer, this entire discussion is irrelevant anyway.

  2. This sacred names thing can be interesting and educational from a standpoint of knowing the depth of meanings inherent in the names of the deity. But, the way these folks apply it amounts to nothing more than gnosticism, or belief that you are saved based on having some secret, or unknowable information.

    To me, when we speak of the two great commandments of the Lord, love for God, and love for man, as being the fulfillment of the law, we are acknowledging that love is the law behind the law, or school teacher as the law has been called. Paradoxically, human nature ends up actually hurting others in attempts to legalistically keep the elements of the Old Covenant dispensation. We have some today who relish the re-establishment of stonings in their various places of "safety". Clearly, it isn't the legalism you would want written in your heart, it's the love!


  3. An puzzling phenomenon I have encountered among a few Armstrongites is Judeophilia. Just as there are people who want to a dress up like cowboys and go to dude ranches, there are people who want to be faux Jews. I recall people who were non-Jewish Armstrongites wearing the star of David on a necklace. I do not believe these people understand the extraordinary burden that has been placed on the Jews. Being "Jewish" is their superficial hobby. And, of course, British-Israelism encourages this. While I have no insight into the psychological motivations, I speculate that it is kind of an ego trip for some people to appropriate this "Jewish" distinctiveness or some distinctiveness of some kind. I think if there were an all out persecution of the Jews, they would quickly revert to gentile status.

    -- Neotherm

  4. The whole Hebraic Roots Movement is a misplaced desire to be more like Jesus. Even Christian authors such as the authors of "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus" have allowed their desire to learn from Jesus in his environment to become a love affair with Judaism.
    Rather than this, the value of the Festivals is in their foretelling of salvation in Christ and how Jesus used these events to reveal who He is!