A brother in a church in my state has been making the use of "Yahweh" (God's name, in Hebrew, in the Old Testament) a matter of salvation. He is now going further in the direction of him being Torah observant, and is influencing others in the same direction. My own thoughts have long been that Jewish Christians in the first century had the option to observe some of their Jewish customs as a matter of custom, but could neither view them as salvation issues themselves or in any way bind them on Gentiles. Further, I've taken Hebrews 8:13 to mean that this allowance by God was for a specified transitionary period which ended when the temple was destroyed. That interpretation cannot be proved, I suppose, but it makes sense to me. My specific question: Do we have any evidence from the Early Church Fathers that Gentiles in fact practiced any form of pursuance of the Torah? -- G.F.
There is indeed a growing movement that proclaims that the path to Christian spirituality is through embracing the Jewishness of the early church. They aim to keep the Sabbath, observe the festivals, use Hebrew and Aramaic terms, call their leaders rabbi, and so forth. They lament that so few believers have studied the Old Testament.
We can applaud them for the emphasis on the OT. All of us must study Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) if we are to grasp the message of the whole Bible (both covenants), view the world through Jesus's eyes, understand prophecy, and so on. And I am not doubting their sincerity. Yet Messianic Judaism is both elitist and legalistic. We shouldn't bind rules on others, whether they are in the Torah or simply part of our church culture. There is no "gospel plus" -- precisely what Paul so vigorously rejects in Galatians.
I too have encountered similar efforts to impress / influence Christians in Europe, Latin America, and North America. A number have left the fellowship, and others will -- unless we're better prepared. I appreciate your taking this seriously. It needs to be. Sorry you're in the thick of it now.
What you say about Jewish Christians remaining Jewish -- well evidenced in the first century -- is how I understand the issue. I don't know that we will be able to figure everything out concerning this cluster of issues, but we can know that it's important enough to try. So much of the NT deals with just this: Gal, Rom, parts of Col, Eph, 1 Tim, and also Heb (and indirectly, Matt).
The Judaizers were strongly opposed by the mainline church in the first century, and IMHO we should adopt a similar stance today. We are saved by the gospel, not "gospel plus." But Paul goes further than we may realize. Not only did he oppose the program of the Judaizers who connected circumcision with baptism (as in Acts 15), but also those who aimed to use Torah as a means to help Christians to "mature." Galatians should be read in this light.
If Christians were more familiar with the OT, they wouldn't be so easily influenced by this movement. To fortify disciples against Judaizing teachings, I've recorded several podcasts with notes, in addition to writing a number of articles. I also had this in mind when I recorded the 26-lesson Romans series (January 2015). I've also done a couple of book reviews on titles that especially promote so-called "Messianic" theology:
- Ray vander Laan's Follow the Rabbi
- Ron Mosely's Yeshua
- Podcasts on Holiness and the Name of God
- The Romans podcast series (26 lessons)
- Several pieces, including a podcast, on Sabbath
- An article on The name of Jesus
Times like this are reminders of our general failure to teach the Bible to our members -- above the level of motivational lessons, devotionals, light sermons, and so on.
As for the Patristic period, I am aware of nothing that sheds light on the topic, apart from the fact that some in the 2nd century found Christ in OT passages that are not obvious to us. I did recall the Ebionites, a Jewish offshoot known to the Church Fathers, yet they did not accept Christ as divine. I checked also with my friend David Bercot, who is an expert on early church history. His reply:
"Outside of the Ebionites, I haven't come across anything in the early church that would be similar to 'Messianic Judaism.' It is truly a novel invention. As you are probably aware, the vast majority of so-called Messianic Jews are actually Gentiles -- which makes the whole movement that much more absurd."