Tom welcomes guest G. Richard (Dick) Fisher to today‘s program as they discuss the real roots of the "Hebrews Roots Movement."
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call with T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael, thanks for joining us. In today’s program, Tom welcomes special guest, retired pastor Pastor G. Richard Fisher. Dick is a longtime contributor to Personal Freedom Outreach Magazine. Now along with his guest, here’s TBC Executive Director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and, if the Lord tarries, next week we’ll be in conversation with G. Richard Fisher. Dick is a retired pastor, coauthor of The Confusing World of Benny Hinn, and a long time contributer to the Personal Freedom Outreach Journal, an excellent, and I mean excellent, apologetics magazine.
Dick, thanks for joining me on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Dick: Thanks for having me on, Tom. I just hope I can add something that’s helpful for someone.
Tom: Well, that’s what we’re here for. The Lord willing, that’s what we’ll do, Dick.
The last time you were on the program we talked about—really the astounding growth of apostasy in our day, and of course apostasy meaning the departure of Christians from the faith, whether it be professing or true believers. And by departure for true believers, I’m not talking about losing their salvation; I’m talking about, as Jesus said, “When the Son of Man cometh,” this is in Luke:8:18, “…when the Son of Man cometh, will he find the faith on the earth?” So we’re seeing some problems that way.
Anyway, the subject for discussion today is the Hebrew Roots Movement, which in many ways is related to the apostasy as it influences growing numbers within Christendom.
Now, Dick, I’ll start with a definition of the Hebrew Roots Movement, which we’ll also refer to as HRM, and then I’ll turn it over to you for your perspective.
So, in very general terms, the Hebrew Roots Movement is a movement involving a myriad of professing and true Christians who are turning to things Jewish to enrich—in their view, it’s enriching their Christian life, and some to grow in their understanding of the Jewish nature of Christianity, or as others to secure their eternal salvation. Now, of the former, no problem with a believer searching out Jewish history, as long as the person is looking in the right places for the right reasons. But of the latter, any thought of drawing closer to God or contributing to one’s salvation—well, that’s absolutely, absolutely contrary to the gospel and all of the teachings of the Bible.
Dick, what would you like to add to that?
Dick: Well, I think what you said is very important: as long as the person is looking in a right place for the right reasons. I taught first century Jewish manners and customs in our evening adult Bible institute. I taught Bible archaeology, I taught Bible geography, and I’m on a search also from the first century, the background of the Bible—but this is nothing new. All throughout church history, good exegetes and commentators--they’ve been searching for the first century background, too, but illumination of the text, to understand the text--to illumine, not imitate, and it’s unfortunate that somehow they feel they have to go back to the first century and somehow become first century Jews for some reason when that’s really not the purpose of studying first century studies at all; it’s to illumine and not imitate. The Old Testament and the apostles, they were the foundation of the church. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3 that Christ was part of that foundation, or was the main building block in that foundation. But the church is the building, he said, so the building is not the foundation; it doesn’t have to look like the foundation. And I think some in the Hebrew Roots Movement are trying to imitate the foundation even to the destruction of the building. So that’s a problem—it’s a fundamental, foundational problem as to why they’re doing what they’re doing…
Dick: …and often they do it to dress up like first century people, and that really isn’t necessary whatsoever. We have a new covenant; we’re not living under the old. And I believe that what is not being discussed at all, much less decided, in the Hebrew Roots Movement, because it’s a movement that’s filled with contradictions and various strands and subcultures, some are legitimate studies and others are just play acting, but the huge question of which Judaism? Which Judaism? In Israel alone, there are 3 percent conservative, 4 percent reformed, 4 percent say they’re both conservative and reformed, and there’s less than 20 percent orthodox, and then the 70 percent that are left are secular! So of the 20 percent orthodox, they might say, “Well, we want to be like the 20 percent orthodox,” but they’re split into a few dozen sects and movements that really don’t get along with one another, that battle one another, that have different traditions, different traditional backgrounds, and unfortunately, what the Hebrew Roots Movement is falling into is not legitimate Old Testament Judaism at all, but Talmudic Judaism, which is nothing but Rabbis’ traditions of centuries after the time of Christ, so that’s what’s unfortunate.
Tom: Right. Dick, you said something about going back to first century Judaism. Now, I’ll give some analogies here, but you know them well. This is a thrust that the—a draw for the Roman Catholic Church. “Well, you need to go back to the church fathers,” okay? Or you have it in the Emergent Church Movement, supposedly legitimate or authentic Christianity is going back to the church fathers, or the Desert Fathers, and so on. But they don’t go back to the New Testament. That’s part of the problem.
Dick: They don’t go back far enough. Exactly right.
Dick: But the HRM, they don’t even go back that far. Talmudic Judaism developed over centuries of time, and it was after the destruction of the temple, long after that the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud was being developed, and it was for centuries that it was developing and even in the Middle Ages it was developing. And the question is, “Well, which Talmud?” Because there’s a Babylonian, much longer one—massive; over 6,000 pages—and there’s a much shorter one, the Palestinian Talmud, so…See, the Hebrew Roots Movement, they don’t agree on anything. There’s no doctrinal control, nobody really speaks for the movement, nobody corrects the movement, there’s mavericks in it—it’s an amazing phenomena, kind of a—it’s like a big smorgasbord, or it’s like a big florist with a lot of some plants that are maybe helpful, some plants that maybe make you sick, and others that might kill you, so…
Tom: But, Dick, this is like what people desire; this is like a buffet, okay? You said smorgasbord…
Dick: Exactly! Exactly.
Tom: …so people growing up Roman Catholic, some of us called ourselves “cafeteria Catholics.” “Well, we’ll take a little of this, and a little of that.” So that’s attractive because it doesn’t involve—although we know that there’s bondage in this, that it can turn to legalism—but it seems like there’s a freedom there. “Oh, no, I’ll have a little of this, and a little of that, this and that.” Now…
Dick: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.
Tom: So let’s start with some very basic aspects related to the Hebrew Roots Movement. Now, for the most part, we’re talking about people who are Jewish, who become Christians, and people who are not Jewish, sometimes referred to as Gentiles, who are Christians, who want to identify more with Jewish religious tradition and culture. Now…
Dick: Well, that’s what’s so interesting, because there are studies [that have] been done, and some estimate that within the Messianic Movement and the Hebrew Roots Movement, that there are more than 90 percent Gentiles. So what is that all about? It’s really not for consumption of the majority of Jewish Messianic believers, but it’s trying to make Gentiles into Jews so they can become better Christians, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
But the other thing, too, is they insist on you must call Jesus “Yeshua,” and it’s almost like you’re sinning if you don’t call Him Yeshua. It’s a mark of fellowship, and it divides, and it’s elitist. But all throughout the Middle East, for instance, the Galilean Jews would not say Yeshua, they would say “Yeshu.” And they would say, “Well, to say the word ‘Jesus’ is from the Greek root, a Greek root, so therefore you can’t do that.” But the thing is my name is Richard. If someone called me Ricardo I’m still the same person, right?
Dick: But what’s inconsistent is they want to call the church a synagogue—“synagogue” is a Greek word! It’s a Greek word! If you want to be technical, to say “synagogue” in Hebrew, you’d have to say “Beit Knesset,” which is the house of meeting. They go, “You know, you’re using a Greek name for Jesus, but we’re using a Greek name for synagogues, so we’re all right.” But I don’t know. Jesus said, “On this rock I’ll build my church.” He didn’t say, “I’ll build my synagogue.”
Tom: Again, there are people, evangelicals, for example, that maybe they’ve gone to seminary and they’ve had three years of Hebrew and so on, or some of them may be, they may be Jewish, yet without getting too hard about this, find me in your Bible, in the New Testament, where you ever find the name Yeshua. You know, my point is that it’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. So why somebody would drift away from that or to try and be more legitimate, more authentic, it’s kind of a problem. It’s not a great issue, but it’s something that’s part and parcel of what we’re talking about here.
Now, Dick, let’s start with this: let’s start with a Jewish person who becomes a Christian. What does that mean in terms of how does that work? In other words, what takes place in a person’s life? Does he become a Gentile, or does he assimilate into Gentile culture? That’s a part of the issues these people are dealing with, right?
Dick: Yeah, I don’t know that he has to assimilate into the Gentile culture, because the Gentile culture by and large is very evil and in no way godly. I don’t know that he has to completely throw off every custom, because he’s in that mix of family and relationships and a lot of other things. But I think there are some guidelines in the Bible. First of all, Ephesians makes clear, in Ephesians 3, that when a Jew comes to Christ, he must and should absorb into the church, because he becomes part of the body of Christ, and the whole mystery that Paul talks about is that Jews and Gentiles become one in Christ. But as far as his family associations and annual feast days and so on, it’s a struggle. I realize it’s a struggle, but there should be some guidelines. In other words, let’s say does he still keep the Passover, even though he feels the Passover was a shadow, and now he has the reality, which is Jesus? Plus the Passover, I mean—they’re not celebrating first century Passover, anyway, because there’s no land there at all, and they don’t have a priesthood, or they don’t have a temple; they don’t have anything in regard to true first century Christianity. This is all much later in terms of some of the traditions that they perform.
But I think the guideline has to be if that Jewish convert is seeing this as meritorious, then he’s really out of bounds. This is what Galatians is all about: that Jewish—any kind of Jewish adherence is not meritorious, so we can’t say it is meritorious. I think also he can’t make it a mark of fellowship; he can’t feel elitist about it. For whatever reason he’s doing it, then maybe sometimes there can be sincere reasons and so on, he can’t violate all these other ideas and principles and directives that are in Scripture as far as, again, it being meritorious, or being a mark of fellowship, or being a divisive issue, or it being elitist. That has to go. But I think that the convert, all through church history until—the Messianic Movement and HRM, by the way, is probably only a couple decades old. Before 1980, this was unheard of, so this is something new. This is a new movement.
Dick: And, I mean, prior to that time, we had missions to Jews, and ministry to Jews, Jews were won to Christ, they became part of the church as best they could, even though they may have been involved in other family things throughout the year and so on, some of the festivals for one reason or another. But the big emphasis was on conversion of Jewish people, and they became part of the church. That’s all I ever knew as a young Christian, you know, surveying the way of the land. But now in the last, what, 20 years or so, we’ve got this whole movement that is really not—it’s not Jewish, it’s not the church, it’s something else. It’s some kind of hybrid.
Tom: Dick, I remember you recommending to me Messianic Judaism Is Not Christianity, written by a Jewish believer, Stan Telchin, who was with Jews for Jesus for quite a while, and that’s what was really an eye-opener, because one of the things that we don’t think about is what percentage of Jews are atheists! I mean, they’re not religious at all! I mean, you gave us some statistics with regard to the different movements in Israel and so on, but here’s the point, or at least the thing I’m thinking about, is if most Jews, ethnic Jews who are atheists, but they come to Christ, they’re not really bringing—you know, they may have some family traditions and so on, but basically, they’re new creatures in Christ. They have entered into the church, and as you’ve said, and we’ll get into this maybe a little bit more, the percentage of those who are looking for fellowship are not looking to a synagogue, they’re not looking back to their roots, they’re looking for their new life in Christ! What would you say about that?
Dick: Well, I would say yes, and for some reason, the HRM is big on the use of prayer shawls. Well, the word “kali,” prayer shawl, is found nowhere in the Bible; it’s nowhere in the Old Testament, it’s nowhere in the New Testament. It’s a late Talmudic edition to Judaism. So they feel they have to wear a prayer shawl; somehow—I mean, they go to the extent of saying it opens up some kind of vortex in heaven, even. And then they have to wear a yarmulke, which is very, very late in the Talmud and comes from some very obscure verses that you and I would not get a yarmulke from those. But you don’t have to put on a prayer shawl and a yarmulke, because you‘ve put on Christ! That’s just what you’re saying, right? You put on Christ. You put on a new identity, and you’re a new creature.
Tom: Right. So, I would guess, because we’ve seen this as, really, a non-Jewish movement, a non-Jewish thrust to get back to the things that Jews who come to Christ would reject! Well, I think in an article I read by you, you give a quote by a man who says that for those who become believers in Christ, then go into a Messianic fellowship, it’s like a caricature. Now, I didn’t say that! This is what this man, who’s Jewish, said going into some of these Messianic fellowships.
Dick: Well yeah, and for some reason, the leader, who formally was a pastor, now has to become a rabbi. But pastors in the New Testament are called pastors, they’re called elders, they’re called teachers. There’s nowhere where they’re called “rabbis.” And whenever Jesus got into the company of rabbis, He just stirred them up and usually, you know, they ended up being part of the group that called for His crucifixion, and Paul would go to a synagogue and confront rabbis with the gospel, and all he ever did with a synagogue and a rabbi was get thrown out! So I don’t understand all the accommodation to these latecomers, these late-in-time traditions from the Talmud like a prayer shawl and a yarmulke and having to call your minister a rabbi. I just don’t quite understand it. It doesn’t square with New Testament teaching.
Tom: You know, Dick, I’m just going to reveal myself here: Thomas Aloysius McMahon. I’m not Jewish, okay? I’m Irish. But I was born in Brooklyn, grew up around many, many Jews, love the Jewish people, but now I’m a believer in Christ, and I have an affinity for the Jewish people. I mean, not just because Jesus is, was, a complete Jew—you can’t get around it. Jesus was Jewish, all right?—but certainly not in a way that—I’m not thinking of this and being condescending at all. It’s just the reality; it’s the truth. So because my Lord and Savior was Jewish, and because I’ve grown up around Jewish people and I have an affinity for them, Dick, where do I need to draw the line in terms of leaning that way, and not assimilating, certainly not, but drawing some of these things out of Judaism? I mean, I’ve got a Yiddish vocabulary, okay? [chuckles] Some of them I wouldn’t use in mixed company, but the point is, that’s my affinity.
Dick: Yeah, of course. The thing is—yeah, by faith, we’re all children of Abraham. But if you go back into Romans, middle of Romans, you’ll find that what happens: we’re grafted into the Jewish root. Paul uses that illustration. But we’re not grafted in to become Jewish. We’re not grafted in to look like Jews. We’re not grafted in to look like and imitate Jewish people and Jewish ways, we’re grafted in for the blessings of Abraham, for the spiritual blessings of what Abraham brought. And I think there’s a confusion there where, somehow, they think being grafted in is being grafted into all the accouterments of Judaism when it really is talking about being grafted into Christ, really, because He’s the ultimate fulfillment of all the Abrahamic promises and so on. I don’t think Jewish people have to feel obligated to really involve themselves in anything Jewish. But I’m sure they struggle. I’m sure they struggle, and they have a lot of difficulty relating to family members and so on, and I’m sure there are certain compromises that are made with a justified or unjustifiable…to try to keep a bridge open of witness to the Jewish relatives. But you know, they’re not making Jews happy. Jews are very unhappy with the Hebrew Roots Movement.
Tom: Of course.
Dick: They really are, because they know they’re just faking. They’re not Jews. They’re playing Jews. It’s a Halloween, it’s a costume, it’s not really Judaism, and it really ticks—if they think they’re making bridges to orthodox Judaism, they are totally wrong.
Tom: Yeah, well, along that line, Dick, you know, whether it be Stan Telchin or others who have written about this subject, they’ve taken a lot of heat, a lot of grief, even to the point of being accused of being anti-Semitic. Can you imagine?
Dick: I know!
Tom: Actually, we know there are Jews who are, in fact, anti-Semitic…
Dick: Yeah, yeah, but how could you accuse a guy like Stan Telchin of being anti-Semitic? He loves the Jewish people. He is a Jew, he witnesses to Jews, he wins Jews—that’s the furthest accuse him of. It’s just an old thing that comes up. I don’t think I can be accused of being anti-Semitic. I’ve taken groups to Israel every year for almost forty years. We’ve taken 32 trips there, and I have even have citation from the Israeli army for loving Israel and bringing so many people, introducing them to Israel. So I don’t think I could be called anti-Semitic.
Tom: Okay, now it’s time for me to defend The Berean Call, us. You know, maybe some of our supporters, listeners to this program don’t know this: The Berean Call is actually named after Jews! You see, Paul, Acts:17:11, what did he do? As was his way, he went into the synagogue of the Jews, right? And why was he there? Well, he was there to tell them, explain to them, show them from the Scriptures that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. But these Jews in the synagogue of the Greek city of Berea, Luke says that they were “more fair-minded, more noble-minded than those from Thessalonica, because…” why? Because they listened to what the Apostle Paul had to say, but here’s the commendation: “They searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” They searched the Tanakh, that’s what they had at the time, and so on. So, again, The Berean Call, the Bereans were Jews, folks. So…
Dick: And the Apostle Paul was a Jew as well.
Tom: Of course. So, the point is, you know, any throwing at whether this program or the stuff we write, I would tell our listeners that we have in our January newsletter, Dick, we have an article in there by you. I think it’s terrific. “Bewitching Believers Through the Hebrew Roots Movement,” and it’s just the beginning of—well, you’ve written also on this subject for Personal Freedom Outreach. But, the Lord willing, we may even have a book out of this. But we’ll see how that goes.
Dick: Mm-hmm. Well, in all fairness, there are some legitimate and helpful segments within the Hebrew Roots Movement. I think a more legitimate expression of this would be the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, which is filled with contributors that are scholarly—we would call it part of what’s called the “Third Quest.” The Third Quest is a legitimate, scholarly discipline. It’s filled with archaeologists and first century students who want to understand the first century. So, interestingly, they all don’t agree with one another, but they do make contributions of articles. It’s not really a school like a building that you go to, but it’s just this consortium of scholars that study first century roots of the church, and in most cases, it’s legitimate and helpful if it’s not taken too far.
But then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have all kinds of wild extremes of things going on that are so bizarre and so crazy. And, for instance, there was a Youtube video that I saw sometime back, this word-faith guy named Eddie Long, if you remember his name. And he’s had a lot of moral scandals and so on. But after the latest moral scandal, there was a Rabbi Messer, he called himself. He came to Eddie Long’s church, and he wrapped Eddie Long in a scroll, a Hebrew scroll that he said he had purchased from one of the death camps, which I question. But anyway, this is unthinkable, to take a scroll—the Jewish people, the orthodox Jews, they don’t even touch a scroll. They have a yad; it’s a silver hand with a finger. They touch the scroll itself with that finger of that yad. They don’t touch these scrolls. It was shocking to see that, that he wraps Eddie Long up in a scroll and then when he unwraps him, he said—he calls him a king!
Tom: [chuckling] Right.
Dick: But he has elevated Eddie Long to be a king, whatever that means. So this is one of the most bizarre, crazy out-workings of Hebrew Roots, and nobody corrects them! Who corrects them?
Tom: Well, hopefully, Dick, some of the information that we’re presenting will have a corrective value to it. But we’re out of time for this segment. Next week, the Lord willing, we’re going to get into some of the details regarding the problems, specific problems, found within the Hebrew Roots Movement. So, Dick, thanks for being with me today, and we look forward to next week’s program.
Dick: Okay, thank you.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 featuring T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at P.O. Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800.937.6638. Or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael, we’re glad you could tune in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.