Following is an overview of the Hebrew Roots Movement from a New Covenant perspective. The Hebrew Roots Movement is the present-day version of "Law Keepers" that Paul corrected in several letters to Christians in the fledgling Church under his apostolic care.
(Continue reading for information on the Home Schooling connection, "Sacred Name Movement", as well as the "Lost Ten Tribes.")
This article is from a post at the blog, Joyfully Growing in Grace, which is titled there, "About Law Keepers – An Overview". There is a series of posts regarding "Law Keepers", which can be accessed from the Series Page at JGIG. In those posts, I give account of my experience with an online Christian mom’s forum (which has been a tremendous blessing in many ways) that I frequent where there has been a definite, discernible trend toward "Law Keeping", i.e. believers that are Torah observant. Their belief system encompasses observance of the Sabbath, keeping the biblically mandated Feasts, and also keeping all of the dietary laws and even adhering to parts of the Law regarding things like when a woman is considered a "Nidah" .
Discussion on that forum about the Law bubbles up occasionally and over the years has been a progression of "Law vs. Grace" to debates about "what is legalism" to more recently, the subtleties of "keeping God’s commandments because we love Him and want to please Him" and "this is how Jesus lived and worshipped" or "this is how the first century Church actually did things" to those promoting the "keeping of the Instructions". All of that was eventually revealed to mean that some Christians feel commanded to be, and are striving to be, Torah compliant.
Posts on the mom’s forum from those who are Torah observant have always seemed a little "off" to me, doctrinally, but I just couldn’t put my finger on what was bothering me. After all, how can you look at "if you really want to please God" and "if you really love God" and "this is how Jesus worshipped and we’re just doing what Jesus did" and "we are just following the commands of Jesus" as being a bad thing . . .
Still, I saw that what Christ did at the Cross was being minimized. It was like they came to the Cross, got "saved", and then turned around and went back to the Law. For me, I went to the Cross, made Jesus Lord of my life and became a follower of Christ. Instead of turning backwards, I followed Christ beyond the Cross, as a part of the Body of Christ!
There wasn’t really a "light bulb" moment for me when I realized that there was indeed false doctrine being posted at the mom’s forum. It took nearly three years for me to be able to pinpoint some specific things that led me to search for the sources of the doctrine I had seen posted. However, some key elements did come together for me when one mom in particular, whose family keeps the Law, responded to my "The Law – What About the Blood?!" post. At that point I had something I could identify doctrinally and could investigate further.
Being a Grace oriented Christian, I come from the perspective of the completed work of Christ at the Cross. We, as believers, Jews and Gentiles alike, ARE NOT under the Old Covenant, but under the New Covenant.
It is distinctly clear to me from scripture that Jesus did not shed His Blood and give us new life to endorse a mere continuation of Judaism. He came to make the spiritually dead spiritually alive. He came, died, and rose from the dead to restore relationship with God to all tribes and tongues and nations, establishing the Church (Body of Christ), the Body of which all who truly believe the Gospel belong.
One more thing, and this is really important: My purpose with writing this overview is not to put down those who have chosen to keep Torah. Most who have chosen to do so have sincere hearts and truly do want to please God because they love Him. They have received false teaching that is very persuasive and deceptive – even seductive, because it is labeled as "hidden", "forgotten", or "previously mis-translated" truth. They have been subjected to a progressive chipping away at the accuracy of the canon of scripture and told that much of what they believe in Christianity has pagan roots. "Rabbis" in this Torah for Christians movement systematically purpose to establish that Christianity today has its roots in the Catholic church, not the early Church, the Body of Christ. They are told that the "church fathers" (aka the Catholic church) have lied to the Body of Christ for centuries and that now, finally, the truth of the roots of our faith are available to them!
From what I’ve observed thus far, there are the "mainstream" Law Keepers, (keep the Sabbath and observe the Feasts) the "legalists", (they are very serious about keeping as much of Torah as they possibly can, even going to Jerusalem at the appointed times) and the "fringe" Law Keepers (who are also very serious about keeping Torah, promoting a "Yahshua Messiah as Torah incarnate" concept, possibly engaging in more primitive practices such as the slaughtering of a goat for the Passover meal and using its blood for the painting of their doorposts and/or practicing polygamy).
As with any false belief system, the first objective is to cast doubt on what really is truth, then replace that truth with the "truth" of the new belief system. Many precious souls have been led astray, while others have been willingly deceived by what their itching ears want to hear.
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn aside to myths. (2Timothy 4:3-4)
My intent is not to pile a bunch of information on you, rather this is an overview to hit some of the high points, some "red flag" raisers, that I’ve learned about where Christians who are Torah observant are coming from. In the past several months, I’ve done some in-depth research about the doctrine I’ve seen posted on that mom’s forum as well as additional doctrine I’ve come across online.
The movement that teaches Law keeping to Christians is very seductive, persuasive, and wrong. Much of what they say seems to make sense, but if you pay careful attention, when you look for the Gospel in what they teach, it isn’t there. It’s always "Jesus plus something", the Gospel is never permitted to stand on its own. And there are some corners of this movement where I’ve poked around and couldn’t find any hint of the Gospel at all!
Due to the seductive and persuasive nature of Law keeping doctrine, if you haven’t already, please read "A Little Perspective Regarding Future ‘Law Keepers’ Posts".
The following information is just for you to tuck under your hat in the event that you cross paths with a "Law Keeper" or come across websites proselytizing Torah observance for Christians. It’s been my experience that Law keepers will throw lots of information at you, so it’s good to have a few things in mind as they volley stuff your way . . .
1) Law Keepers minimize what Jesus did at the Cross. Many (not all) Law Keepers believe that Jesus died for past sins, not that there is grace for all sin. That’s one reason it’s so important for them to follow "the instructions" about how to live. They fall into the trap of the externals, when Jesus constantly pointed to and stressed the internals.
The Law in effect becomes an idol to them.
Law Keepers rely on the Law for sanctification, having it take the place of the Holy Spirit, Who enables believers to become more and more a reflection of Jesus, being part of the living Body of Christ. Law Keepers see the Holy Spirit as the One Who enables the believer to keep Torah, not as the One Who progressively changes (sanctifies) the believer from the inside out (1 Corinthians 1:2, 1 Corinthians 6:11, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, Hebrews 10:29, 1 Peter 1:2).
Law Keepers consistently say, "This is how Y’shua worshipped!", yet they dismiss the radical change in worship and practice in the New Testament Church (Body of Christ) after Jesus accomplished what He came to do! They do not recognize the Cross as being a definite dividing line in history, delineating the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
It is also important to note that Law Keepers rarely refer to the Epistles, unless they’re trying to discredit them or trying to convince you that they say something that they just don’t, in context, and in view of the Cross, say. Isn’t it interesting that the Epistles are where guidance, instruction, and correction of the fledgling Church occur, as well as the establishing of sound doctrine and warnings against false doctrine? Others in the Law keeping community feel it necessary to throw Paul (the writer of the bulk of the Epistles) under the bus altogether, saying that it was he who established "christianity" (small "c"), not Jesus.
2) A subtle, though sometimes outright denial of the Trinity. There are great ponderings among Law Keepers about how paganism has permeated Christianity throughout history. Some of it is true – some pagan customs have influenced Christian traditions. That topic will be addressed in a future post. In the realm of the existence/non-existence of the Trinity, however, Law Keepers take it a bit far.
Pagan sun worship apparently has its gods in sets of three, and Law Keepers extrapolate from there that the Catholic church applied that pagan concept of God to their doctrine and came up with the Trinity. From the Law Keeper’s view, over the centuries "church tradition" has perpetuated the concept of the Trinity. But thanks to the "new information" uncovered by those in the Hebrew Roots Movement, we can now be aware of our error. How this very serious error has escaped the Church (Body of Christ) for nearly 2000 years is truly amazing!
Actually, Scripture, not the Catholic church, clearly confirms the concept of a Triune God. For example, the doctrine of a Triune God – one God in Three Persons, is a clear concept in the Word. (Matthew 3:15-17 -Triune God present at the baptism of Jesus; Acts 2:32-33 – all 3 persons of God simultaneously present, then the Holy Spirit poured out on the believers at Pentecost; Genesis 1:26-27, Genesis 3:22 -not explicitly triune references, as in the NT, but clearly plural descriptions of the one true God, to give a few examples.)
And if you are willing to throw out the concept of the Trinity, Who loses their deity? God the Father? Jesus the Son? The Holy Spirit? Let’s think about that for a minute:
-If it is Christ who loses His Deity, then the work of the Cross cannot be, as the blood shed there had to be sinless, and if Jesus was not God, then He could not be without sin, and the cross counts for nothing. It would also mean that if Jesus was not without sin, He could not "do" the Law, making His claim to be God, His example to us, AND His commandments to us a big fat lie.
-If it is the Holy Spirit who loses His Deity, then the believer cannot obey the whole Law, as it is the Holy Spirit Who enables the believer to carry out the edicts of the Law (according to HRM doctrine).
-If it is God Who loses His Deity, then everything for everybody falls apart and nothing matters anyway!
This presents quite a dilemma for those adhering to any "Law for Christians" doctrine who also deny the Trinity. In a discussion with a Torah observant Christian, I asked if it had ever occurred to them that "if, in Babylonian sun worship, gods always come in sets of three, that it may mean that the sun worshippers were counterfeiting the three Persons of God and not that the Church was copying the pagans? That’s what the Enemy does – he takes that which IS and perverts it!"
From the link above, regarding pagan god "trinities" at "Let Us Reason":
"Where did the pagans get a concept of three ? Why not two or four ? Where did they get the idea of a God in heaven anyway? What about their belief in a virgin and a son, where did that originate from ? Rom.1:20-25 tells us that man from the beginning knew God."… ‘and their foolish hearts were darkened" vs.25 "they exchanged the truth for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator." When mankind fell into darkness of sin, they still retained some elements of the truth but distorted its meaning and it became lost." (Emphasis mine.)
3) Some Law Keepers deny the deity of Jesus. Some are quite forthcoming with that belief. While others say they believe in the deity of Christ (Yahshua), when you read through their teachings, you find that their writings do not support that belief. There are still others in the Law keeping movement who do believe that Jesus is God, yet when you take their doctrine to its eventual end, they remove the power of God from the Messiah. In their belief system what Jesus did is not enough – it is not complete. They in effect remove the Godly characteristic of omnipotence from Messiah, since their belief system is a "Jesus + Law" equation.
4) Mandatory use of the "Sacred Names". This is almost universal among Law Keepers. Though many Law Keepers would not consider themselves aligned with any movement, there is a Sacred Name Movement that’s been around since the dawn of the 20th century to which they are adhering in practice. The basic idea is that there is one true name for God, and He requires that we use it, or we are in violation of the commandment, "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain."
Just a very few of the variations I’ve seen of the "Sacred Names" are YHWH, YHVH, YaHWeH, Yahweh, Jehovah, Yahuweh, Yahuah, Yah (understood to be sort of an affectionate shortening of the other Yah-whatevers) and G-d . . . those are for God. For Jesus, a few variations I’ve seen are Yeshua, Y’shua, Yahshua, Yahushua, Yahoshua . . . so if getting the names right is so important, which ones are they?! I’ll be exploring this concept further in a future post, along with providing links explaining the movement in detail. (Also see below about the issue of language in Acts 2.)
5) This one is a biggie: In both the Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name movements, there is a tremendous emphasis on the understanding of the scriptures through the lenses of both Hebrew thought and of the Hebrew language. Most adherents believe that the entire Bible was originally written in Hebrew, and that the New Testament was translated into Greek from its original Hebrew. As a result, in the HRM view, ALL New Testament writings were contaminated and corrupted with Hellenistic thought. And since, according to Law Keepers, our accepted canon of scripture (compiled by "corrupt church fathers") and eventual English translations came from a contaminated and corrupted source, they can’t possibly be accurate! While some Law Keepers continue to use their current Bibles, they do so with suspicion, often relying on outside commentary or perspective from the HRM for clarification of their "flawed" texts.
Due to their suspicion of our current Bible, some in the HRM have worked to provide us with new "translations", such as the "Restoration Scriptures", "The Hebraic Roots Version", the "Complete Jewish Bible", and the "Ancient Roots Translinear Bible".
Once the canon of Scripture is put under a shadow of doubt and "new" scriptures are introduced, the door opens wide for great doctrinal deception by leadership and within the laity of the Hebrew Roots Movement. It’s interesting that in this area there is a similarity of the Hebrew Roots Movement with Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness methodology regarding the scriptures, as both cults also have their own "versions" of the Bible, "correcting" the errors in the accepted canon.
It should be noted and understood that the "new" versions of Scripture being peddled by those in the Hebrew Roots Movement are typically works written by individuals. Reliable translations of the canon have been the work of groups of linguistic scholars, providing built-in oversight and accountability within those groups of linguists. However, if one does internet searches on the authors’ names of these "new" versions, their scholarship and methodology come into serious question.
Regarding the issue of the importance of understanding Scripture through the lens of Hebrew thought and the Hebrew language: I have been re-reading the book of Acts because of Law Keepers referring to it a lot in respect to "how the early Church worshipped". Looking through the lens of the Sacred Name and Hebrew Roots streams of thought, Acts 2 really jumped out at me! I must repeat – those streams of thought say that to truly understand the scripture, one has to come to an understanding of Hebrew language and of Hebrew thought.
It would be reasonable to conclude that if it were God’s intent that His Word was to be correctly communicated to the world in Hebrew, that the gathering at Pentecost would have been an ideal time and place to make that clear. Instead, God made provision, by His Holy Spirit, for every person, from every nation, to hear the Gospel in their own tongue. Interesting on even a deeper level, because Acts 2 says that "God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven had come to Jerusalem". If there was ever a crowd gathered that probably knew Hebrew, it was this bunch! When the New Testament says "God fearing Jews" it means the ultra-faithful to Judaism, and they would KNOW their Hebrew. Yet God made sure that the Gospel was available IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGES!
I reach the conclusion that God is not concerned with the language in which the Gospel is communicated, but rather that the Gospel IS communicated! As for the "Sacred Name", for me, God is God. Jesus is Jesus. He knows Who I’m talking to/about. Those are words in our language that represent the essence of Who He is. And based on what God did in Acts 2, I’m pretty sure He’s ok with that.
6) Watch for a doctrine that teaches that if you don’t observe the Sabbath, you are taking on the Mark of the Beast. No, seriously. I know of at least one "Law Keeper" who has written this doctrine to someone who indicated an interest in learning more about observing Old Testament Feasts and about the concept of being Torah observant. This comes from early Seventh Day Adventist doctrine, and has influenced other Law keeping sects, as well. There are streams of thought from many different sources in the HRM, including the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of God (of which there are numerous strains), The Way International, The World Wide Church of God (Armstrongism), British Israelism, Judaism, Jewish sages and their writings, and Kabbalah.
7) Watch for language about information that has been hidden, the rest of the gospel, or that which has been erased. It’s the perfect set up for the same thing that cults do: convince you that what you know cannot possibly be true, or is incomplete, then come in with "fresh revelation" based on previously "hidden" information. The Hebrew Roots Movement is absolutely saturated with the revealing of so-called "hidden" or "forgotten" or "erased" "truths".
8) Some Law Keepers consider themselves to be actual Israel, part of the "Lost Ten Tribes", which they also refer to as the "Diaspora", and label themselves "Ephraim". The Diaspora, or dispersing of Israel, is a real thing, but some who keep the Law have taken a real thing and added to or blatantly twisted it. Many Law Keepers believe one of two things: Either they believe that they are IN REALITY part of the Lost Tribes of Israel (Ephraim) and the Holy Spirit is "calling" them back to their "roots", or they believe that since they are "grafted into Israel", they actually become Israel. Some (self-proclaimed Ephraimites) have actually petitioned the Israeli government for citizenship (Aliyah). Not being able to provide appropriate documentation of their "roots", their applications are summarily denied.
A fundamental misunderstanding of what Christ did at the Cross and of the New Covenant leads to much error! Gentiles don’t become Jews when they become followers of Christ. Likewise, Jews, when they choose to become followers of Christ, don’t become Gentiles! We, in Christ, become one new man! (See Ephesians 2 HERE.) And our "roots" aren’t Hebrew, our Root goes back much further than that! Check this out . . .
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." (Revelation 22:13-16)
9) The Homeschooling Connection There is a prominent homeshcool resource company called Heart of Wisdom Publishing. This is an organization that actively promotes Law keeping from its basic educational philosophy to the materials that it offers. One resource in particular is a "textbook" called "A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays". One mom told me that in the homeschool support group she belongs to, her family is the only family not keeping Torah. The common denominator of those families who are keeping Torah? A study of "A Family Guide to Biblical Holidays". The families that completed the study felt commanded to keep Torah by the time they were done.
To be clear, the HOW curriculum is subtle in it’s Law stance. HOW presents their book on Biblical Holidays as a "textbook" for learning about the OT holidays, with projects, crafts, recipes, games, and songs for celebrating each holiday (sounds like fun, doesn’t it?). But if families start keeping Torah because they feel commanded to after completing the study . . . well there you have it. It’s at that point where it goes from being curriculum to being dogma.
There are some other providers of homeschooling curriculum out there that promote Law keeping, but Heart of Wisdom Publishing seems to be the biggest. Heart of Wisdom also has a website titled "Biblical Holidays", a Hebrew Roots Movement site through and through.
Homeschooling families are independently-minded and open to "out of the box" and "counter-culture" thinking. THAT IS NOT A BAD THING. Without discernment, however, homeschooling families can fall prey to false doctrine in clever packaging.
10) Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement "Buy" Products Let’s take a dip in the pool of cynicism for a moment, shall we? While the great majority of those in the HRM and SNM do what they do with honorable intentions, there are those in the "leadership" who have countless wares, books, and videos available for purchase.
For instance, to truly understand the Word of God, you’re going to need a new Hebrew Roots version of the Bible, right? Perhaps also some commentaries from a Hebrew Roots perspective?
To abide by the commandment in Exodus 20:7, you’re going to need to dump all your old music that contains the names of "Jesus", "God", or "Lord" . . . tapes, CDs, sheet music, hymnals . . . they’ve all got to go! Don’t worry, though, your buddies online with the HRM will fix you up with new music, with the right names, and the right doctrine!
Of course, you’re also going to need to correct your view of history – of the Church in particular. You’re also going to need to brush up on all that is pagan, since so much in Christendom has been contaminated and corrupted by pagan practices and symbolism. You’ll be sure to have your own copies of "Fossilized Customs" by Lew White, "The Two Babylons" by A. Hislop, and "Too Long in the Sun" by Richard Rives, to mention just three. Heck, buy a case of each, so you can pass them out to your friends!
Then there’s all that new doctrine you have to learn . . . sorting out all the Two house, One Stick, House of Ephraim, House of Joseph, Wife of God, Bride of Christ, etc. etc. etc. theology . . . gotta have resources for learning all of that, right? And don’t forget about the Law, itself! How to keep it, the dietary restrictions and stuff like that . . . there must be a few books out there about how to actually keep the Law!
Don’t forget your tzit tzit fringes, (can get expensive at $10-20 a pop if you have a big family – are you allowed to make your own?) prayer shawls, a shofar, head coverings . . . there’s lots of stuff to buy to get you and your household into Torah compliance!
Can you almost hear Paul, perhaps with his hands on either side of his head, while shaking it slightly, saying to the Galatians . . .
"You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" (Galatians 3:1-5)
I know this has been long, and if you’ve stuck with me this far, you either know me =o), have a family member(s) involved with the Hebrew Roots Movement, are interested in the HRM, or have come across the HRM in some form and have been unsure what to make of it. My prayer is that this information will provide insight for prayer for those with family members in the HRM, discernment for those interested in the HRM, and tangible "jumping off" points for further research by those who have come across the HRM and think it’s a little "off" and feel like they should know more.
May God guard your hearts and minds and grant you wisdom and discernment as you consider these things.