A discussion of the Hebrew roots movement

Due to recent enquiries from the congregation about family/friends who encounter the Hebrew Roots movement, we as elders were requested what our view and standpoint is on this matter.

For the purpose of this discussion, we will use the following approach:
1. Background of the Hebrew roots
2. What they understand and belief
3. What does the Bible say about this
4. Conclusion

The Word of God is clear that we must be on our guard and that “new” teaching or doctrines must be evaluated according to the guidelines in the Bible:

Test if the teachings are according to scripture (Acts 17:11b)
They received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Test the Spirits (1 John 4)
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1. Background of Hebrew Roots Movement (HBR)

The Hebrew/Jewish roots movement has spread widely among the Christian world, especially in the USA.

Although there are many different and diverse Hebrew Roots assemblies with variations in their teachings, they all adhere to a common emphasis on recovering the "original" Jewishness of Christianity. Their assumption is that the Church has lost its Jewish roots and is unaware that Jesus and His disciples were Jews living in obedience to the Torah. The movement maintains that Christianity has been indoctrinated with the culture and beliefs of Greek and Roman philosophy and that ultimately biblical Christianity, taught in churches today, has been corrupted with a pagan imitation of the New Testament gospels.

The Hebrew Roots assemblies are often made up of a majority of Gentiles, including Gentile rabbis. Usually they prefer to be identified as "Messianic Christians." Many have come to the conclusion that God has "called" them to be Jewish and have accepted the theological position that the Torah (Old Testament law) is equally binding on Gentiles and Jews alike

In the next paragraph we will discuss in more detail what they believe and because of their diversity and level of involvement in and commitment to the HBR, they may promote some or even all of the beliefs listed below.

2. What they understand and believe

2.1 Torah

For the most part, those involved advocate the need for every believer to walk a Torah-observant life. This means that the ordinances of the Mosaic Covenant must be a central focus in the lifestyle of believers today as it was with the Old Testament Jews of Israel. Keeping the Torah includes
• keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week (Saturday),
• celebrating the Jewish feasts and festivals (refer Leviticus 23),
• keeping the dietary laws,
• avoiding the "paganism" of Christianity (Christmas, Easter, etc.),
• and learning to understand the Scriptures from a Hebrew mindset.

They teach that Gentile Christians have been grafted into Israel, and this is one reason every born-again believer in Jesus the Messiah is to participate in these observances. It is expressed that doing this is not required out of legalistic bondage, but out of a heart of love and obedience. However, they teach that to live a life that pleases God, this Torah-observant walk must be part of that life.

2.2 Dress code

Men cover themselves with the Yarmulke in Yiddish or Kippa in Hebrew. They also use the Tallit (Prayer Shall) to cover their heads. In extreme form they claim to be descendent of the 10 Northern Tribes and claim land rights in Israel and the right to make "Aliyah" (Law of return to Israel by Jews). They even consider themselves to be as much Israelites as Israel of this age!

2.3 Israel

Some preach that God only looks to us through Israel, which is a great heresy! Our Father in heaven only looks upon us through His beloved Son Jesus, the Anointed one of Nazareth, and our Lord and Savior, in Whom we are accepted. There's also a teaching that all Israel is automatically saved and this without Christ Jesus, which begs the question: is Judas Iscariot saved and is Paul's writing in Romans 9:1-6 false?

Their interpretation that Christianity is automatically grafted into Israel (Rom 11:16-24) is an erroneous interpretation of scripture. Because of the false interpretation they believe that the Law is still rules over us, which is wrong. We are grafted into the cultivated olive tree through faith of which Abraham's faith is the root. Israel is neither the tree nor the root. They are the branches, which grew through the Covenant God made with Abraham and we are grafted into that Abrahamic Covenant through the Seed our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Lord Jesus Christ we are grafted in have become fellow-partakers of the root and the fatness of the cultivated olive tree through faith (verse 17) also see Galatians 3:5-9.

2.4 Names of God

Another offshoot of the Hebrew roots is the Sacred Name of God. They proclaim that we cannot make use of the Names of God as they were translated into national languages. They consider it sacrilege if we fail to use the Names of God in the original language. We cannot use the Name God they claim but must use "Elohim" or “Ha’Shem” meaning the Name. We cannot pray in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth but only in the Name of Jehoshua Ha'Mashiach.

3. What does the Bible say about this?

There are various passages in the Bible to help us in the evaluation of the Hebrew Roots movement. The first two passage (3.1 & 3.2) refers to the “false teaching” to the brethren (Gentile believers) in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia. Passage 3.3 refers to the seed of Abraham, item 3.4 deals with “Another Gospel?” while 3.5 discuss the role of the Law (of Moses).

3.1 The Counsel at Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35)

Acts 15: 1But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved”

Certain false brethren from the church in Jerusalem traveled to Antioch and began preaching in the assembly there. The substance of their message was that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved. It was not enough that they should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; they must also put themselves under the Law of Moses. This, of course, was a frontal attack on the gospel of the grace of God. The true gospel of grace teaches that Christ finished the work necessary for salvation on the cross. All a sinner needs to do is receive Him by faith. The moment human merit or works are introduced; it is no longer of grace. Under grace, all depends on God and not on men. If conditions are attached, then it is no longer a gift but a debt. And salvation is a gift; it is not earned or merited (Believers Bible Commentary).

3.2 The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers (Acts 15:22-29)

The church in Jerusalem’s response:

Acts 15: 22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barnabas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter:
“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and a troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, 25 it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements:
29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols,
and from blood,
and from what has been strangled,
and from sexual immorality.
If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”

It was thus definitely decided that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved and send official notice of this in writing to the church at Antioch.
The substance of the letter is given in verses 23-29. Notice that the false brethren who went from Jerusalem to Antioch originally had never received the authorization or approval of the church in Jerusalem (v. 24b).
When the letter from Jerusalem was read in the church at Antioch, it proved to be a great encouragement. The disciples there now knew that God saved them as Gentiles, and not by their becoming Jews (Believers Bible Commentary).

3.3 Grafted into

Gentile believers are not grafted into the Judaism of the Mosaic Covenant; they are grafted into the seed and faith of Abraham, which preceded the Law and Jewish customs by 430 years (Gal 3:17). They are fellow citizens with the saints (Ephesians 2:19), but they are not Jews. Paul explains this clearly when he tells those who were circumcised (the Jews) "not to seek to be uncircumcised" and those who were uncircumcised (the Gentiles) "not to become circumcised" (1 Corinthians 7:18). There is no need for either group to feel they must become what they are not. Instead, God has made Jews and Gentiles into "one new man" in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:15). This "new man" is referring to the Church, the body of Christ, which is made up of neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:27-29). It's important for Jews and Gentiles to remain authentic in their own identity. In this way a clear picture of the unity of the body of Christ can be seen as Jews and Gentiles are united by one Lord, one faith, one baptism. God never intended Gentiles to become one in Israel, but one in Christ.

3.4 Another gospel?

In the letter to Galatians, the apostle Paul deals with certain issues which is similar to the beliefs and practices of the Hebrew roots movement.

3.4.1 Salutation / greeting (Galatians 1:1-5)

1 Paul, an a apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Believers Bible Commentary on Galatians 1:1-5

In verse 1, the deity of Christ is both stated and implied. It is stated in the expression nor through man, but through Jesus Christ. It is implied by the way in which Paul links together Jesus Christ and God the Father, putting them on equality with one another. Then God the Father is mentioned as the One who raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection was proof of God's complete satisfaction with the work of Christ for our salvation. Apparently, the Galatians were not wholly satisfied with the Saviour’s work, because they were trying to improve on it by adding their own efforts at law-keeping.

Grace and peace are two of the great words of the gospel. Grace is God's undeserved kindness toward ungodly sinners. Instead of asking man to do, it tells what God has done, and invites men to receive salvation as a free gift.
Peace is the result of grace. When a sinner receives the Saviour, he has peace with God. He rests in the knowledge that the penalty for his sins has been paid, that all his sins have been forgiven, and that he will never be condemned.

Paul next reminds his readers of the tremendous cost of their salvation. Note the words: our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins. If He gave Himself to settle the sin question, then it is both unnecessary and impossible for us to add to such a work, or to help atone for our sins by law-keeping. Christ is the sole and sufficient Saviour. Christ died to deliver us from the religious world which mixes rituals and ceremonies with faith in Christ. It was especially timely, therefore, for the Galatians to be reminded that they were going back into the very system from which Christ had died to rescue them! Christ's redemption was according to the will of our God and Father.

According to the gospel of grace, all the glory for man's salvation goes to God the Father and to the Lord Jesus Christ. Man cannot share this glory as a co-saviour by keeping the law.

3.4.2 No Other Gospel

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ

Believers Bible Commentary on Galatians 1:6-10

Paul confronts the Galatians at once on their readiness to accept error. He is amazed that they should so suddenly surrender the truth of the gospel, and he solemnly labels their action as deserting God for a false gospel. God had called them into the grace of Christ; now they were putting themselves under the curse of the law. They had accepted the true gospel; now they were abandoning it for a different gospel which was not good news at all. It was just a perverted message, a mixture of grace and law.

Paul twice pronounces the solemn curse of God on anyone who preaches any other gospel. God has only one message for doomed sinners: He offers salvation by grace through faith, entirely apart from law-keeping. Those who proclaim any other way of salvation must necessarily be doomed. How very serious it is to preach a message that results in the eternal destruction of souls! John Stott warns:

We are not to be dazzled, as many people are, by the person, gifts or office of teachers in the church. They may come to us with great dignity, authority and scholarship. They may be bishops or archbishops, university professors or even the pope himself. But if they bring a gospel other than the gospel preached by the apostles and recorded in the New Testament, they are to be rejected. We judge them by the gospel; we do not judge the gospel by them. As dr. Alan Cole expresses it, “The outward person of the messenger does not validate his message; rather, the nature of the message validates the messenger.”

Notice that the apostle says an angel from heaven, not “an angel from God.” An angel from heaven could conceivably bring a false message, but an angel from God could not. Language could not express more clearly the uniqueness of the gospel. It is the only way of salvation. Self-effort or human merit have no part. The gospel alone offers salvation without money or price. Whereas the law has a curse for those who fail to keep it, the gospel has a curse for those who seek to change it.

3.5 The Law (of Moses)

As the Hebrew Roots relies heavily on the Law of Moses, we must investigate the role of the Law in the New Testament.

3.5.1 What purpose then does the law serve? (Galatians 3:19)

19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator.

3.5.2 Is the law then against the promise of God? (Galatians 3:21- 23)

21 Is the law then against the promise of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. 22 But the Scripture has confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed.

3.5.3 Purpose of the law (Galatians 3:24-29)

24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

3.6 A better and superior covenant

The Old Covenant and Mosaic Law was always meant to be temporary.
Like Paul mentions in Galatians 3:19, the law was only given later because of the sinfulness of man and was to keep watch until the One whom was promised would come. Romans 7:1 - 6 also speaks of this law only being in power until it is nullified through the death of one party that upholds a covenant. The reason Jesus still kept the law of Moses was that He was a Jewish man under the law of Moses until His death that brought an end to this covenant.

The prophet Jeremiah prophesies about this coming New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah in Hebrews 8:7 - 12 and says in verse 13 that He made the old obsolete by giving a New Covenant.

To want to have the Messiah of the New Covenant and grace offers by His sacrifice and still wanting to keep the feasts, laws and practices of the Old, is like putting new wine into old wine skins. Jesus speaks about this in Luke 5:36 - 39, warning that this a futile work that will result in the loss of both.

The Old and New Covenant cannot be mixed.
The Old was only to be a shadow what was to come.
Mixing the Old and the New serves up a deadly cocktail of wanting to accept the Messiah but rejecting the full work of the cross that liberated us from a law that could not reconcile us to God.

4. Conclusion

For generations we find that God was moving mightily in every continent, countries and cities. People, which cannot be numbered, were saved, healed and delivered through the powerful Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has glorified His Son on earth in an extraordinary way. Church history clearly demonstrates the approval of the Holy Trinity upon the zealous Church. Adhering to Hebrew roots was not needed nor required by God. God’s anointing, which rested upon individuals and Churches speaks for itself. This new “spiritual wave” does not carry the witness from heaven.

There is no objection if a believer desires to celebrate the Shabbat or one of the seven Feasts. We do object when they consider it to be a legal requirement for salvation before God and burdening believers through condemnation to follow suit, or a thing which brings God’s favor upon them. The believer in Christ enjoys God’s favor without works.