Halito & Welcome!
According to various polls a great many Americans consider themselves more spiritual than religious, and more than a few are disenchanted with organized religion and do not hold clerics in especially high esteem. If you belong to this fraternity you have landed on the right doorstep. Like many of you I started out in one religious tradition and wound up embracing many others. My quest is one which you may intimately identify: Namely, to zero in on the body of beliefs and practices shared by the earliest followers of Rabbi Yehoshua (Jesus). In some ways this has proved to be the genuine never-ending story having now spanned over forty-seven years and counting (Age 10 to present). And while I have no formal theological training, I have used logic and the sound findings and reasoning of many imminent scholars, historians and others to arrive at what one might characterize as a body of "sturdy planks" you are invited to explore and use as you see fit.
Messianic God-fearers (Ger-Nilvim) aka Messianic Gentiles
As a boy I spent a lot of time on my maternal grandparent’s farm in Hale County north of Plainview, Texas. Up until 1965 they lived in a 2 story wood framed home with a detached 2 car garage, a barn and a storm shelter (concrete bunker) nearby (Click to access photo). There was also an open cesspool off to the side of the gravel entrance driveway that not unexpectedly sported lots of lush wild plant life and more than a few Texas-sized bull and leopard frogs (which I made a habit of catching and trying to domesticate much to chagrin of both my mother and grandmother).
You would naturally think that open cesspool had to stink to high Heaven. Perhaps it did but I do not recall reeling from any sort of stench. I did, however, pick up the occasional “whiff of Jiff” whenever I was away from the farm and returned.
Why dwell on an open cesspool and its smell? Well, one can analogize from this experience to some aspects of American culture. For one thing the America I grew up in – especially the South (Texas and Louisiana) – did not sanction much in the way of sexually suggestive language or imagery. This changed across time as things like Playboy became a staple on local drug store shelves and eventually gave way to Penthouse, Hustler and such. TV and movies too became increasingly “revealing” and explicit. This wasn’t some overnight transformation but a somewhat slow, gradual osmotic influx of ideas, language and images that seem to infer that fleshly pleasures were not to be missed, no matter how much they ran contrary to the religious and cultural traditions of heartland America (Somehow boundaries went out the window in many instances with predictable results). This was helped along my own generation’s rejection of authority and general angst and rebelliousness, something helped along by the Vietnam War, political corruption including Watergate, and a lot of rocks that got kicked or turned over to reveal all manner of hypocrisy.
Somehow, though, in the rush to better days it seemed as though we’d dug an open cesspool and just got use to an ever increasing stench caused by more and more muck flowing into it.
Perhaps this has never posed a problem to some; that is, those who have no issue with objectifying or in some ways marginalizing women and who either never encountered or else dismissed or rationalized the disparity between this as well as other behavior and pursuits and the faith and standards of their ancestors – or at least that of the pillars of their various faith traditions. However, I suspect a great many found themselves troubled by having a foot in the world of faith and one in the cesspool but could not find or muster the wherewithal to extricate themselves from the latter and then stay away from it over the long haul (The cry from those almost addicted to various vices one can readily found on all kinds of blogs especially those devoted to these issues, both religious and secular).
Judging from ecclesial history especially recent chapters, the religious world especially most organized churches or congregations have enacted or sanctioned fixes for this spiritual tug-of-war that is more often-than-not predicated on a mix of platitudes, emotion, pop psychology and positive or even wishful thinking. In some ways this reflects an ever increasing cultural fixation with zeroing in on quick answers, a natural and logical outgrowth of a culture and a world that has thrived thanks to many wondrous push button type solutions to technical and medical challenges and obstacles. If we can vaccinate against polio, why could there not be an ethical analog to rid us of sinful predilections and pursuits? This is very appealing but like many such notions, if there were an easy or ready solution it would have been discovered or uncovered long ago. And yet, for those who bothered to big deeply into the historic record, there were writings by or about men and women of faith who seemed to have (shall we say) “shaken off the world” without resort to becoming total hermits or resorting to extreme measures such as self-flagellation or “mortification of the flesh” or such to resist the pull of illicit temptations and pleasures. Many of them were among the earliest members of the “Jesus Movement” (~30 to 300 CE) and at least one, Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus’ own brother and the first leader or bishop of this branch of Judaism (Nazarene or more accurately Netzarim), Yaakov (“James the Just”), achieved such a level of purity that he was called “HaTzadik” or “The Just” and was acclaimed for this by most of his contemporaries, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
Well, OK, we have James the Just as an example but then, again, does not the religious history contain accounts of others who likewise lived exemplary ethical and spiritual lives? Why not look to their example and emulate it? This is fine except for one thing: Perhaps their success was not an outgrowth of the body of beliefs and practices they were taught and inculcated in, but rather something they achieved despite having their feet planted on a structure that poorly resembled that of the original follows of Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus.
But so what? If something works, it works and is thus worthy of adherence, right? Many have lived and died clinging to beliefs and practices that bear no resemblance to that of the earliest devotees of Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus and were content with this. Some probably figured we can’t know what these are for sure or we do and by virtue of this are on solid ground to believe St. Peter was the first Pope and Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua (Hellenized spin being “Jesus”) was the first Christian. But for those have dug into this deeply, this body of dogmas and doctrines and such breaks down in the light of what has come to light in the past few centuries and especially since the middle of the twentieth century. Many who have bothered to examine the faith they inherited or embraced juxtaposed with that of the original followers of Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus – who peeled away layers of supposition, extrapolation, interpolation, pious fraud, claims based on expediency, bias, the cherry-picking of data and evidence -- found a Jewish rabbi who kept the Torah (though he differed on interpretation with his contemporaries), lived and died as a pious Jew (most likely a Pharisee), left his sayings and claims in the hands of fellow devout Jews, and designated his brother Yaakov (James) as his successor. Above all, he certainly never intended to launch or found a new religion, especially one that in any way endorsed altering or rewriting Torah much less tossing it on the rubbish heap.
Now, if you happen to belong to that fraternity of religionists especially Christians who have been searching for a way out of or away from the cesspool – tried this or that and had it fail – then where to turn? Well, it just makes sense that one look to someone who succeeded in achieving a high level of spiritual and ethical purity – which is exactly what James the Just and many of his contemporaries did. And what could bring us closer to what Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus believed and taught than those teachings and historic documents that were either written by James or by those who knew him or inherited such things?
If you feel a pull towards learning more about the Hebraic roots of your faith tradition and a love for Judaism and the Jewish people and for keeping the commandments, I can provide you with a great selection of books that will help satisfy this yearning plus links to a website or two bearing very informative articles that will enrich your faith walk and help extricate you from whatever faith-eroding cesspool is smelling up your life.
Now, at this point you might be thinking “Is conversion to Judaism essential to my spiritual growth and the best way to insure a place in olam-ha-ba (The world to come)?” In-a-word, conversion isn’t required at all and, in fact, few non-Jews are suited to take on all the requirements laid out in Torah for Jews. This was actually an issue that faced James the Just and the Jesus movement during its formative early days, as scores of non-Jews were flocking to “the fold”; that is, huge numbers of non-Jews had repented of their sinful, often idolatrous ways, laid hold by faith on Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for missteps in keeping the Torah, and had begun attending synagogue to learn more about how to live out their faith (Obedience & corresponding actions). The big question was did they need to convert and become Jews? In-a-word, James the Just and other leaders of the Jesus movement wisely decided that non-Jews not led by God to convert should simply repent of their sins and unsavory ways, embrace Yeshua as Messiah and lay claim to his atoning sacrifice, and then learn and put into action what is found in the ten commandments. This policy was consistent with a very old and venerable practice in Israel: Namely, recognizing non-Jewish people who met certain requirements (but who did not wish to convert) as “God-fearers” or resident aliens of Israel (Ger Toshav or as it sometimes called, Ger Nilvim).
As Biblical scholar and professor James D. Tabor, Ph.D., put in on page 33 of his superb 2012 book Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
“James declares that converting to Judaism was not necessary for non-Jews in order to have a right relationship to God. James here echoed the position of the Pharisees toward the non-Jewish world. So long as one had shunned the worship of “idols” giving allegiance to the God of Israel alone, and was following the minimum ethical standards expected of all humankind, one could have the status of a “righteous Gentile” or “God-fearer”. As the rabbis later put things, “the righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come”
And on page 99:
“There is a place for Gentiles in this prophetic view of the age of the Messiah, not as replacements for the Jewish people, but as God-fearers who stand in partnership with Israel. The vision is that God’s house will be a “house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56:6-7)”
If in light of what you have read so far you find that your beliefs conform to that of a messianic God-fearer, you may be wondering how to go about linking up with like-minded believers. Some in this boat find the spiritual nourishment/growth and biblical grounding & discipline they need among evangelicals, Charismatics, Pentecostals, Messianic Jews and similar groups. I know a few who joined home churches or congregations which are messianic God-fearer in their thinking, teaching and orientation.
In my own case, I found a handful of Celtic Christian fellowships and other faith communities (ekklesia) and organizations whose expression of the Christian faith includes honoring the Jewish (Saturday) Shabbat, keeping the commandments, and also incorporating at least some of the essential beliefs and practices handed down by James the Just and the first congregation of believers (as opposed to the Pauline ones that came later and largely eclipsed these). And, wanting to take my own monastic leanings and convictions to a more formal level, namely becoming a monk, I applied to and was ordained a postulant monk in the transdemoninational Knights of Prayer Monastic Order in 2015. I was made a full monk by the KofPMO in 2017 (I chose as my monastic name "Brother Anthony of the Resurrection", also in 2017).
For those who'd like to shore up their messianic God-fearer convictions with both learned works and "spiritual meat" I recommend these books:
MESSIANIC GOD-FEARERS 101
Heaven or Hell? What's at stake
Torah Rediscovered: 4th Edition by Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz
The Way of Life (Didache: A New Translation and Messianic Jewish Commentary) by Toby Janicki
The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity by Rev. Jeffrey J. Bϋtz
James the Brother of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls I: The Historical James, Paul the Enemy, and Jesus' Brothers as Apostles by Dr. Robert Eisenman
James the Brother of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls II: The Historical James, Paul the Enemy, and Jesus' Brothers as Apostles by Dr. Robert Eisenman
The Rainbow Covenant: Torah and the Seven Universal Laws by Michael Ellias Dallen, Esq.
SPIRITUAL EMPOWERMENT ESSENTIALS
Start with the top three:
The Real Jesus by Rev. Bert M. Farias
Torah Rediscovered: 4th Edition by Ariel and D'vorah Berkowitz
The Way of Life (Didache: A New Translation and Messianic Jewish Commentary) by Toby Janicki
Ekklesia: Rediscovering God’s Instrument for Global Transformation by Dr. Ed Silvoso
Finding Sanctuary (Monastic Steps for Everyday Life) by Abbot Christopher Jamison
Breakthrough Faith: Living a Life Where Anything is Possible by Larry Sparks
Go and Sin No More: A Call to Holiness by Dr. Michael L. Brown
Good or God? by John Bevere
Take note: A lot of Christian theology and beliefs (including portions of the books above) draw on the letters (epistles) of Paul (Saul of Tarsus). These two free, online resources will help you critically explore Paul and his writings & legacy:
Jesus’ Words Only (Second Edition 2007) (Free online in its entirety) by Douglas J. Del Tondo, Esq.
About Summer Cloud
Summer Cloud's Medicine Bag
"Summer Cloud" is my American Indian moniker or handle. In many instances First Nation children are named for the first thing their mothers see following their birth. In others the child grows to adulthood before choosing a name he or she favors. I took my time -- decades actually -- not because a name cannot be changed (they can) -- but mainly because I wanted my name to resonate with my inner man fully. "Summer Cloud" fit because it linked my fondest childhood memories to my ancestors and the land they came from (southern Oklahoma and north Texas).
I am a BIA (CDIB card carrying) certified American Indian and tribal member of the Choctaw National of Oklahoma. You can read more about me and access my various web & blog sites by going to https://biotheorist.wordpress.com/.
Recommended Books by fellow American Indians
Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman, M.D.)
Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman, MD) was a 19th century Santee Sioux whose writings beautifully captured the American Indian world he came from in contrast to the often racist, hypocritical one that characterized the white society of his time. He pulled no punches when it came to pointing out the profound disparity between the body of spiritual and ethical beliefs and practices of the Santee Sioux and the often conflicted, hypocrisy-drenched, nature & people abusing beliefs and behavior of the non-Indians he found himself surrounded by.
I suspect if Ohiyesa were alive today he would find much in the faith and practices of the original followers of Rabbi Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus and especially the God-fearers attractive.
Visitors to this website are encouraged to obtain and read The Essential Charles Eastman (Ohiyesa): Light on the Indian World
I also highly recommend fellow Choctaw tribal member Rainbow Eagle's heartwarming and insightful book, "The Ancient Roots of Christianity: A Native American's Look Through Christianity"
This is from Amazon.com's description:
"Okla-Choctaw Native American author, Rainbow Eagle, shares his journey to seek out his Native American Roots and to discover the most accurate teaching of the early Christian movement. He contrasts the beliefs of Native spirituality and Christianity and explores the changes that have occurred within Christianity during and after the first century"
A "must browse" website for all seekers
A "must browse website: Scott Nelson's Yahshua (Jesus) and Judaism versus Paul and Christianity at http://bit.ly/1357r8N
Articles by Summer Cloud (Business moniker: "Choctaw Doc")
Values, boundaries & reason are part of the God-fearer's life walk
The Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh)
The Jewish Values Network
Noahide World Center (Jerusalem)
The Jewish Roman World of Jesus
Dr. Gail Dines (Pornland: How pornography has hijacked our sexuality)
Cyrus the Great: The Jewish people's Only Gentile Messiah
Xenophon's Cyrus the Great: The Arts of Leadership and War
FROM THE BOOK DESCRIPTION POSTED ON AMAZON.COM: In 1906, a stilted English translation of Xenophon of Athens' story about Cyrus the Great's military campaigns was published. Now, a century later, a much more accessible edition of one of history's most extraordinary and successful leaders is emerging. Among his many achievements, this great leader of wisdom and virtue founded and extended the Persian Empire; conquered Babylon; freed 40,000 Jews from captivity; wrote mankind's first human rights charter; and ruled over those he had conquered with respect and benevolence.
A Must Read Book for Messianic God-fearers
FROM THE GENESIS 2000 PRESS DESCRIPTION:
Restoring Abrahamic Faith attempts to set forth in a clear and engaging style an exposition of the ancient Hebrew Faith as revealed in the Hebrew Bible, with a particular emphasis on Abraham, Moses, the Torah, and the Prophets. Restoring Abrahamic Faith offers a compelling proposal for the 21st century, namely a return to the “ancient paths” of the Hebrew faith with Abraham, the first Hebrew, as a prime model.
Content on this website written by Summer Cloud is © 2013 by Dr. Anthony G. Payne. All rights reserved.