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Throw Away That Old Coat – Jewish Legalism and Freedom in the Lord
For Rabbi Harold Vallins, coming to know Jesus was a time of great drama. I have written before – here and here – about the dreadful problems he faced. But it was also a time of momentous joy, as he came to experience the blessed freedom of life in the Lord.
Now, active internationally in the Messianic Jewish movement, he is disturbed to find there a growing trend towards legalism. He has written about this in a powerful commentary at his own website (no longer online):
I was more than a little dismayed when at the Messiah 2002 Conference held in Harrisburg Pennsylvania last July, it was stated that when we prayed, we should use the name Yeshua instead of the name Jesus. I personally find such an instruction legalistic. I am being told how I should address my Messiah, how I should pray to Him, what to call Him.
Perhaps my reaction stems from the fact that for many years, I was taught to hate the name Jesus. It was a lesson that I enthusiastically absorbed until it became an innate reaction I felt whenever I heard the name Jesus. Now that I have at last come to recognise my Messiah, and to love Him and exalt in His name, I rejoice that I can now actively love that name above all names. I enjoy calling my Messiah, "Jesus". I marvel at the fact that He could turn me around so completely that from hating that name, I can rejoice in that very same name.
Yes, I also enjoy calling him Yeshua because it reminds me that Jesus is THE Jewish Messiah and thus I rejoice that I can use both Jesus and Yeshua when referring to my Messiah. However, I do not want to be told that I must use either one or the other.
Recently Harold and I had another meal together, and while we watched some favourite Southern Gospel videos – we are both huge fans – he explained a little more:
I guess the feeling is that having gone through that struggle – from a conventional Jewish background, to make this life-changing event to come to the Lord, with all the drama and trauma – I see some people starting to go back to what they fled from. Jesus gives us freedom, and yet we seem to so easily spurn it.
The Messianic movement has made so many bold moves forward. However, there seems to be a tendency to long for what we have left behind. It reminds me of the Israelites who, having just been redeemed from their bondage in Egypt, within weeks, are yearning to return to Egypt. With freedom comes a responsibility to live in faith. When we cast off the chains that bind us to laws and doctrine, it becomes even more onerous to live a life of faith. That is why we often yearn to be told exactly what to do and what not to do. It takes the responsibility from off our shoulders. It takes the decision making away from us.
When rabbis begin to lay down the law by declaring you HAVE to do this, they are showing that they cannot break free of the chains of the law. It’s just a crying shame. If you’ve evinced bravery and courage to come to the Lord – with all the difficulties it brings you – why go back to your legalism? Paul describes this so well in the Book of Galatians. Galatians should be required reading for all Messianic Jews.
So when I find people telling me how you should pray, eat, wear, I agree it’s like putting on an old coat: familiar, comfortable, no anxiety. But it’s a false paradise. It stops us from acknowledging the situation now and confronting it. We need to step out in faith. We must put our faith in the Lord.
Harold’s words concern the Messianic movement. But might they not also apply to parts of the wider church?
February 20th, 2003