worship

Is Messianic Judaism Biblical?

My first encounter with Messianic Judaism (MJ) was in 1992 soon after I became a believer. A man was a special speaker at our church and he was introducing MJ to us. Whether or not he was Jewish, I do not know. He was a nice man and I enjoyed some moments of interaction with him. He wore a shawl when he prayed and sang in Hebrew. It was moving and had a touch of historicity which lent itself to its attraction. I was a brand new believer and had no idea that there was any such thing as a distinctly Jewish “Christianity.” I felt that what he was doing was odd, but interesting. Either way, I really did not think much of it. However, I bought one of his music CD’s and still have the songs in my head.

But, 20 years removed from that time, I can now safely ask, “Was this man participating in a more authentic Christianity than us Gentiles?” Is the MJ movement truly closer to the mark than what a predominantly Gentile church experiences each Sunday? This bears the need for examination especially as this movement appears to be taking hold on many.

One website for Messianic Judaism is MJAROI (“Messianic Jewish Alliance for the Restoration of Israel). Their website indicates that there may be as many as 1.2 million Messianic Jews and “Messianic synagogues are springing up in almost every major city across the U.S., and Messianic Judaism is quickly growing in other nations throughout North and South America, Europe, Oceania, and the former Soviet republics” (http://www.mjaa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=n_messianic_movement_messianic_judaism, site accessed 1/29/2013). With a growing trend toward this ideology, I think that it is fair to take a moment and examine, in sum, its tenants and compare them against Scripture.

According to the directory of the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (http://www.iamcs.org/), there are no Messianic Synagogues in Montana, where I live. Other directories from another MJ service indicate there are three (http://www.man-na.com/Messianic_Congregations_in_Montana.htm). The narrative I began this post with occurred in Bozeman, Montana. I live in Northwest Montana. I am aware of some in this area who believe MJ to be a viable, biblical, even right, expression of true biblical worship and practice over and against a more Gentile expression of worship and practice. Their reasoning goes like this.

Since Jesus was Jewish, followed Hebrew Scriptures, studied and spoke in the Synagogues, and taught his followers to do the same, so must we. The need, therefore, is to return to this expression, as defined by the evidence compiled by MJ, in our modern expression of following “Yeshua.” What does that look like? It looks like a return to the feasts, or biblical holidays. It is a call to worship in Hebrew. It is a call to dance during the services, much like David did (2 Samuel 6:12-23). It would include a return to dietary restrictions and keeping of the Sabbath. These expressions of authentic discipleship find their establishment in the MJ movement. The movement is a call for Jews who believe in Jesus Christ to gather into their Jewish Congregations, Messianic Synagogues, for worship replete with the above-mentioned items. Although they would demand that these things are simply because they, as Jews, do not want to lost their distinctiveness as Jews, I would think that more than that is going on (particularly since many in the MJ movement are Gentiles!).

Is this really what defines a biblical perspective? Does the Bible teach these doctrines of a return to the “Jewishness” of following Jesus? No. The Bible does not teach these things. The Scriptures do not call Jews and Gentiles to redefine worship in these terms. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles, in fact, have been removed in Christ (Galatians 3:28; cf. Rom 3:22; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 3:11). To attempt a distinction, at the very least, is an assault upon the church Jesus is actually building, culture notwithstanding. If those who follow Jesus Christ must embrace the “right” style of worship, i.e. Messianic Judaism, then we have, in effect,

1.Denied the establishment of the church.

2.Denied the eschatological truth of the restoration of Israel.

3.Elevated Jewishness above Christ.

Denied the establishment of the church:

Israel refused to repent. God had called over and over again for their repentance (2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Matthew 21:22-41; 23:34-35). The result was

Matthew 21:42–46

42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,

‘The stone which the builders rejected,

This became the chief corner stone;

This came about from the Lord,

And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.

44 “And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them.

46 When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. (underline mine)

The Jews, as representative of the entire nation, refused to repent. Moses had written that unless and until Israel repents, confessing their sins and the sins of their fathers, the promise of Abraham cannot come (Leviticus 26:40-42). Since, Israel refused to repent, Jesus then turns to the Gentiles and gives to them the kingdom rightly belonging to Israel (Romans 11:11-24; cf. Matthew 21:43). This does not mean that Israel will never inherit the kingdom promised them through David. It means that they have judged themselves unworthy of such a high honor when Messiah arrived; they have been neglected by God for a time, as God calls Gentiles to Himself. The restoration of Israel is to come, all twelve tribes, in Jerusalem, as promised, with David’s Son reigning over them and the world. However, alongside the Messiah will be the twelve apostles, and the church, ruling over Israel (Matthew 19:27-30; cf. Revelation 20:4). By the way, this is not a cause for arrogance, but deep humiliation for God to extend this grace to us without any covenant or promise to Gentiles (except the reference to some kind of Gentile blessing through the descendants of Abraham [Genesis 12:3]) is unfathomable! We were without God in the world, and apart from the commonwealth of Israel [Ephesians 2:11-12; cf. Romans 11:17-21]. Now, during our current time, it is the age of the Gentiles (Luke 21:12-24; Romans 11:25). Thus, the church, the assembly of regenerated, Spirit-filled, and baptized (by the same Spirit into Christ-Romans 6:3-7) people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are distinct from Israel and we are those who will reign with Christ over the world during the Millennial reign of Christ. If a person says that we must regain the former Jewish distinctions of Judaism and amalgamate them into Christ and His body, the church, we have then confessed a desire to return to the “generation” who refused to repent. It would be like Israel wanting to return to Egypt. You can’t go back. In Christ, the distinctions are done away with. In Christ, not even our gender aids in our merit with Christ (Galatians 3:28). We are clothed with Christ, not Abraham (Galatians 3:27). And if Abraham were here, he would expect the same (John 8:39, 56-59).

Denied Of The Eschatological Truth Concerning The Restoration of Israel

One tenant of MJ is the desire to restore Jerusalem.

We believe in God’s end-time plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. A central part of Messianic Judaism is the belief in the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel, as taught in the Scriptures. The greatest miracle of our day has been the re-establishment or rebirth of the State of Israel according to prophecy (Ezekiel 34:11-31; 36-39; Hosea 3; Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 12-14; Isaiah 11; 43; 54; 60-62; 66; Romans 11:1-34). (http://www.mjaa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=n_about_us_statement_of_faith).

Unfortunately, the above-mentioned statement of MJ indicates an ignorance of God’s program for Israel. The establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 does not fulfill the return of Israel to the land. The passages used to support that it does are misapplied and misinterpreted.

Ezekiel 34:11ff. refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ as to when Israel will be restored to the land. We know this because the sheep and goat judgment referred to in the rest of the chapter is taught by our Lord in Matthew 25:32ff. The context of which being His return to the earth for judgment and Millennial rulership.

Hosea 4 is a little chapter of wonderful promise for Israel’s return to the God with Whom they played the harlot. They will personally return to David their King (the Son of David, Jesus) with fear and trembling in the last days. Until Jesus is personally resident in Jerusalem, Israel will not return.

Amos 9:11-15 refer to the blessed time when Israel is restored to their land and the land will be characterized by peace and productivity. There will be a stop placed upon the curse of the ground (Genesis 3:17-18) and the ground will, once again, produce bountifully.

Zechariah 12-14 will only occur when Israel “looks upon Him whom they have pierced” (12:10). Their repentance will be known and evident. Jesus will reign from Jerusalem, there will be geographical changes to benefit Jerusalem, and Christ will rule over the nations. None of which have occurred to date.

Isaiah 11, 43, 54, 60-62 all indicate events that have not occurred. Israel is not safe. The nations surrounding Israel have not been judged. The new heavens and earth have not been created. Although these passages teach the restoration of Israel, it has not occurred yet.

Romans 11:1-34 is Paul’s teaching, from the teaching of our Lord, that Israel will be returned God and to the land in fulfillment of His promise. That has not occurred. As stated above, Israel has been hardened partially until the times of the Gentiles has been accomplished (Romans 11:25-26). Then, after the times of the Gentiles (which ends at the Rapture of the church before the Tribulation), at the end of the prophesied Seventieth-Week of Daniel, Israel will be rescued and will have their veil lifted to see Christ.

It is important to understand that these passages do not teach that these things happen progressively. The restoration of Israel will only happen when they see Christ, the One Whom they have pierced; when they repent, which will happen when the Spirit is poured out upon the house of David, and will result in a submission to the Son of David as King and they will enjoy fellowship in the land. None of this started in 1948. Therefore, we cannot see 1948 as any kind of fulfillment of a Scripture passage related to the restoration of Israel. Is 1948 significant? Yes. Is 1948 prophetic? No. Eschatologically, Israel will repent through the provision of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ. God will give to them that covenant which will regenerate the entire nation at that time (just like He did with Nineveh through Jonah), and they will mourn for Christ and for their sins and they will, at that time, return to the land having been called out from the other nations around the world. The Bible teaches that that will occur only at the end of the Tribulation, at the beginning of the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ. Until then, Israel is hardened.

Elevated Jewishness Above Christ

If we believe that Jesus Christ came to restore “Jewishness” to worship, we have failed to understand Christ. He is the Last Adam, not the last Abraham. He did not come because God inaugurated Jewish worship in the garden and He planned to restore it. He came to fulfill His promise to His people Israel, which, in turn, would bring Edenic-like blessing to the world (Genesis 12:3), and reconcile the world to Himself so as to make us all (those who believe) sons of God, with Christ as our eldest brother (Romans 8:28ff.). Although these things were divulged to Israel (except for the mystery of the church), that does not make these things submissive to Israel or Jewishness. Paul wrote

Colossians 2:16–17

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—

17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

The fact is, food, drink, festival, new moon (observance), and Sabbath-day keeping are shadows. The substance that casts the shadow is Christ. I would much rather have what bears the shadow than the shadow. These functions were never meant to be observed eternally. We know this because the heart of all of this was the sacrificial system demanding the temple in which animals were slain. We have no temple now in which to offer sacrifice. Those who espouse MJ have contracted a twisted understanding of Moses’ Law concerning the festivals and Sabbaths. These things cannot commend you to God any more than the blood of bulls and goats could actually atone for sins (Hebrews 10:4). To dance like David simply feeds an already established sense of self-righteousness, but is not the indication of true righteousness. David danced, embarrassingly to some degree, because of the re-entry of the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). We do not have such a condition. The church continued in the apostle’s doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42). The antics of MJ are conspicuously absent in the NT. Not to say that being absent makes them impossible. It simply means that being absent is consistent with the teaching of Christ and the apostles that a greater than the Temple is here (Matthew 12:6, 41, 42).

I am afraid that the establishment of MJ into the church will accomplish what Paul warned long ago:

Colossians 2:18–19

18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind,

19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Further,

Colossians 2:20–23

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,

21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”

22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

The self-abasement and appearance of wisdom in self-made religion cannot help you overcome the flesh. You might believe in these things and promote these things. But that is not the issue. We cannot share the glory of Christ with anyone or anything. He is Lord. In fact, He is Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11). Follow Christ! Reject man-made commandments and teachings. Learn of Him. Follow Him. Serve Him. Love Him, with your whole heart, and in this way you will fulfill the whole Law of Moses and the Prophets (i.e. Tanakh):

Matthew 22:34–40

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together.

35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him,

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

37 And He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

38 “This is the great and foremost commandment.

39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

The Biblical (and Unbiblical) Doctrine of Women’s Head Coverings

Yesterday, I began a little series on what it means to follow Jesus Christ. This issue is such a foundational, serious, nature, that time must be given to it as often as necessary. According to Paul, the heart of the issue of what it means to follow Christ is that you submit to His righteousness. We see this in Romans 10:3,

For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

 

Paul summarizes here the problem with the Jews during Jesus Christ’s ministry-they would not let go of their own, personal, righteousness. In the previous verses, Paul indicates that they are unsaved since they have a zealous ignorance about God’s righteousness. They thought they were righteous. However, the reality is, the righteousness they thought they had, which they believed would commend them to God, did not commend them to God. Rather, it confirmed their own condemnation. This is the heart of ministry. This is the heart of the conflict in ministry. A faithful pastor must confront people as to where they believe they derive their righteousness. Further, he must expose those “crutches” that people use in order to feel, or believe, that they have attained a kind of righteousness that they think God is pleased with. However, the fact of the matter is, God is never pleased with our righteousness. He is only pleased with His own through His Son, Jesus Christ. We are required to submit to His righteousness by believing Him (Romans 10:4). He, then, produces in us His own righteousness by His own working in us and this righteousness is summarized by:

Galatians 5:22–23

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

One such “crutch” that many lean on is a woman’s use of head coverings during worship. I have personally seen the devastation it produces in the hearts of women when they believe that their holiness is all wrapped up in their head covering. In an effort to demonstrate the fallacy of that kind of thinking, and hopefully to liberate women from a false righteousness, I will be examining Paul’s teaching, in summary, on the issue from 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, which says:

1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.

2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.

3 But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.

5 But every woman who has her head uncovered while praying or prophesying disgraces her head, for she is one and the same as the woman whose head is shaved.

6 For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head.

7 For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.

8 For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man;

9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake.

10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.

11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him,

15 but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

16 But if one is inclined to be contentious, we have no other practice, nor have the churches of God.

Much could be said from this passage; more than can be said here in this post. However, what needs to be said will be. Remember, the church in Corinth was not an exemplary church. To see what an exemplary church looks like, look to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1-2). Paul wrote all 4 letters (2 of them we do not have) to the Corinthian believers because of the multitude of sins resident in that fellowship, many of which were caused by false apostles and false brethren. With all of this, the issue of head covering became an important thing.

This is a fascinating section of Scripture. Paul instructs the church in Corinth concerning the use of physical head coverings during worship, i.e. preaching and praying (vv.4-5). He writes to them about this because they had questions about it (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1). In fact, the issue was producing schisms in the church, just as it does today (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). There were some who held to the “custom” of wearing a physical head-covering of some kind during their worship services, which were already full of confusion (cf. vv.17-34). This practice, in the immature church at Corinth (3:1-4), was causing major division and strife. The factious nature of this kind of thinking is evident by the divisions that were produced by those who believed they are more holy and godly than others. The reality is, Paul is debunking the practice of a physical head-covering in 1 Corinthians 11, not establishing it. Let’s look at God’s Word.

First, notice Paul’s theme in this section (11:1-16). It is found in the indicative statement of v.3-

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.

This is a subordinate clause to vv.1-2 in which Paul praises the church for imitating him, to the degree that they are doing it, and that they, in all their confusion, still hold to the teaching that Paul gave to them. However, he begins v.3 with an adversative conjunction which indicates a contrary statement to v.2. Translating it as “but” is good. It could also be translated, “Yet,” “However,” or, “In spite of this.” The idea is that in spite of the commendable fact that they are still on his side, there are things that he needs to correct in their thinking, behavior, and worship. And he proceeds to do that (and so should every pastor). So, from the start, we see that Paul is correcting a practice that is produced from improperly understanding headship, thus the main theme of vv. 3-16. Paul says that he wants them to really understand something. He wants them to grasp a teaching. This is apostolic authority at work in the church-it is dealing with speculations that have infiltrated the mind of these people and he needs to correct them (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) because it was devastating the unity of the church. The focus of this error is the question, “From where does headship come?” And, “Is it important?” The second answer first-Yes! Headship is important. Why? Because a kind of headship exists in the godhead. God is the head of Christ. That is our pattern. Christ is not inferior to God (John 10:30). However, God is the head of Christ and thus headship is defined by that. Further, that pattern is established in creation-man is the head of a woman. You cannot reverse that. Adam was created before Eve (see vv.7-9; 1 Timothy 2:13). Thus, he is her head. This is not limited to a husband over a wife, although that is a particular headship that a man has over a particular woman (Ephesians 5:23). The language in 1 Corinthians 11 does not refer to marriage anywhere. Rather, it refers to general creation and general worship. Thus, by virtue of creation, and thus responsibility, a man has headship over a woman. Some women will balk at that. However, that is only because they are rebellious against the truth stated here. Paul is clear. I have also seen some parents teach that their daughters will not submit to anyone but their husbands. However, what that creates in the heart of that depraved child is a “sanctified rebellion” that exhibits itself in every relationship she has. She destroys God’s glory when she does that.

The point that Paul proceeds to make is not that her hat or doily is her head-man is. That is where her headship comes from. She us under men, her husband in particular. Man, not her hat, is the head of a woman. She, then, is to have a submissive, gentle, spirit which God considers precious (1 Peter 3:4). She lives her life rejoicing in God’s design! Some will say, “Does that mean that she is to obey every command given to her by men other than her husband?” No. But it does mean that in every man she meets, a godly woman appreciates, and admits to the created responsibility that man has over her. Obviously, if he is wicked and godless, she should not be in that relationship to begin with. But hypothetical situations do not interpret Scripture.

Further, every man who wears a head-covering disgraces his Head (vv.4-5). A man who conducts worship while wearing a hat disgraces his Head, who is Jesus Christ. A cranium can’t be disgraced. However, Paul already gave us the information we need to interpret what he means. It is a disgrace to Jesus Christ, who is on display in the man (v.7), to cover Him by wearing a hat at that very time when He is to be displayed. His leadership should be on display, not covered up.

However, a woman, who is made from the man, is not the image and glory of God in the same way that a man is. She is the image and glory of God through the man. Case in point, woman originates from the man and she is for the man (vv.7-9; see Genesis 2:18-24). This does not denigrate the woman any more than Christ is denigrated by having God as His Head.

A woman who has her head uncovered might as well also have her head shaved, Paul says (v.6). This is sarcasm, which Paul uses often in these letters. In their custom of head-coverings, which Paul is attempting to correct, Paul is demonstrating that if a woman, in their thinking, is to remove her hat during praying and prophesying, then let her also remove her real covering, her hair (v.15). Further, if she is disgraced by having her hair cut off, let her wear a hat. A man, though, should not have his head covered since he is the image and glory of God. The woman is not the direct image and glory of God, but of the man (v.7). So, a woman who insists upon wearing a hat during praying and prophesying must do so, according to their own custom. To remove it is to be like one who has just shaved her head.

And that is the issue. In saying this, Paul is not saying that the true covering for the woman is the hat, doily, or shawl. The real covering for the woman is her hair. That is the comparison that Paul is making. Notice how he relates their custom to the reality of the hair. It is true that a woman needs a demonstration of headship over her because of angels, who are looking into these things (v.10; cf. 1 Peter 1:12). However, her true head is not the doily, nor is it her hair. Her true head is the man, particularly, if she is married, her husband. Again, that is Paul’s point. The submissive heart of a woman will recognize that and maintain her long, beautiful hair for that reason so that the angels will glorify God on her behalf.

In vv. 13-15, we have Paul’s teaching on the matter. Even nature tells us (see Romans 1:20) that a woman should have long hair for a covering. She should not pray to God “uncovered” (v.13). She should have a covering on her physical head. Alternatively, a man, because he is the direct image and glory of God and the head of woman, should rise up to that responsibility for all to see and not have long hair (v.14). It is disgraceful, naturally, for a man to have long hair (there were provisions for the Nazirite vow of the OT [Numbers 6]. However, that vow was a time of consecration and self-abasement to which a man, or woman, would commit themselves for dedication to God and His service. It was a time of humiliation and social distinction and only for a time-period promised by the one making the vow. Afterwards, they would return to “normal”-see Acts 18:18]).

Paul’s statement at the end of v.15 is important to what Paul has been thinking all along.

…For her hair is given to her for a covering.

Literally, Paul says, “[nature teaches that on the one hand it is disgraceful for a man to wear long hair; but a woman with long hair, on the other hand, is a glory to herself [by means of herself-i.e. she is an instrument of glory to her head, man/husband] because long hair was given in place of/as an equivalent to something to throw over the head.

ὅτι ἡ κόμη ἀντὶ περιβολαίου δέδοται 

The Greek sentence you see above is 1 Corinthians 11:15b. I will break it down for you and give you the meaning and implications of each word:

ὅτι  = this conjunction is causal in nature. That is, it says that the previous verses of 14-15a are true because

ἡ κόμη  = “long hair.” The verb form of this word means “to wear long hair; let one’s hair grow long.” (κομάω –Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 234).

ἀντὶ  = preposition that means “in place of,” or “equivalent to” something. That is to say that long hair is the equivalent of a head covering.

περιβολαίου  = a noun referring to something that is draped over something else. It is a compound word literally meaning, “to throw/cast upon” something.

δέδοται  = this verb is in the Perfect tense. In Greek that is a strong verb that indicates a permanent action. The verb means “to give/commit.” It is a passive verb which means that the action of the verb was not done by the subject or the object of the verb. The action of the verb was done by someone or something outside of the subject or object. It was done for the subject or object by someone else. Thus, long hair was given to the woman (since it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair by creation) by God, since Paul is dealing with creation in the context.

Paul is saying, no matter what one believes about head-coverings, “At creation, long hair was given to the woman as a head covering.

To drive it home, with a warning, Paul says, “If anyone is inclined (seems to be/appears) contentious about this custom of yours, realize that we (the apostles), nor the churches of God (see 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17) have such a custom (as wearing head coverings).” In essence, Paul is saying that those contentious people who insist that women should wear a hat, doily, or otherwise are under extreme pressure to prove why they do it. The apostles don’t do it. The other churches in the known world don’t do it. If the apostles supported such a practice as this, don’t you think that they would teach it to the other churches as they did Paul’s ways confirmed by Timothy (4:17), and remaining in the responsibilities of life in which you were when you became a believer (7:17)? But here, he says that this little, divisive, group in the Corinthian church is the only group in any of the known churches which the authoritative apostles have established who have this custom of wearing a physical head-covering. The burden of proof is upon them. Meanwhile, other women in the church need to follow the teaching of the apostles and the example of the other churches established by Paul (it is interesting to me that Paul never wrote about head-coverings in any of his other letters, although he had occasion to do so-see Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 2:9-11; 5:9-16; Titus 2:3-5; see also 1 Peter 3:1-7), and not the example established by contentious women who cause division.

It is amazing how people love to have the last word. People who are characterized by this group of head-covering-wearers seem to desire to not submit to the righteousness of God in Christ. Many of them appear outwardly religious (after all, who can argue with the apparent piety of a woman who wears a head-covering), yet their hearts defy the very thing the head-covering is supposed to symbolize-submission.

Children in the Worship Service-Do They Belong?

Introduction

As anyone in Children’s Ministries in a local church knows, there is a plethora of opinions when it comes to how to occupy the children while the parents attend worship. Some would advocate a Sunday School approach where the children learn Bible lessons. Some would take advantage of the time to teach a new Bible-centered craft. Some may even simply try to keep the children occupied by games or singing until Mom and Dad come to pick them up.

However, all of these scenarios lack the Scriptural backing for their approach to occupying children during worship because Scripture indicates that children are not supposed to be separated from the parents during worship, but rather are to attend the worship service with their parents. I hope to show that the presence of children in worship service was the normal expectation for families in Israel. Further, it is also the same expectation for the church of Jesus Christ as well.

What Is Worship?

First of all, I want to define worship as used in this essay, as those times where the local church body meets corporately in order to pray, sing, preach, and otherwise fulfill the obligations of corporate worship. It is true that worship is primarily a personal thing in that worship is to be done from a heart that is sincere and pure (Mark 7.6-7). Exterior occupations do not make up the heart of worship. However, because the issue that is being developed deals primarily with corporate meeting of the church, that is the way that the concept of worship will be used in this essay.

Children and Their Inclusion in Israel’s Worship

I will review a number of passages from the Old Testament that illustrate an presence of children in the corporate worship of Israel.

There are a host of key texts that give indication, of the presence of children in the activity of worship within the nation of Israel. This may be explicitly stating that children are present, or by assuming they are present by what the children say.

The night before Israel was released from Egypt, the first Passover was held in obedience to the instructions given to Moses by God (Exodus 12). The Passover[1] would become a vivid reminder and illustration of the time of Israel’s stay in Egypt and the final of the ten plagues that came upon the Egyptians. This was a significant time in the life of the nation. It was the beginning of their existence as a nation, as indicated by the declaration that that very day marks the first day of their national calendar (Exodus 12.2). Further, the rite of the Passover was to be a perpetual ceremony meaning that the nation would celebrate it as the long as she exists (vv.14, 17). This ritual would be a memorial meant to call to mind the deliverance of Israel by the hand of God (v.17). However, what is significant for our study is that God concerned Himself with the children. In vv. 23-27, God foretells of the time when, upon returning home from the Passover feast as Israel is in the land God promised, the son would ask his father about what just happened. The sights and sounds of the slain lamb, the fire (Leviticus 23.8), the unleavened bread, and the overall solemn tone of the “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23.2-4) would all be a curious sight to a child (see also Joshua 4.6-7, 21-24). God gives instruction to Moses to pass on to the fathers. The fathers were not to tell their son to be quiet and keep walking, as fathers sometimes can do. Rather, the father is to take the opportunity to teach the son about the rite and the significance of it. Why? First, it was to teach the child about the Lord and His works (v.27). Second, it would lay the spiritual foundation necessary for the next generation of Israelites. As we will see later, this is critical to the spiritual health of the nation. Therefore, the fathers of Israel were to use the natural curiosity of the children as an opportunity to teach them. In fact, God even gave them the exact words to use.[2] Thus, we see that this corporate activity of worship of the highest order also included concern for the children as well.

In Deuteronomy 31, Moses assembled the priests, the Levites and the elders of the nation for a final exhortation from the book of the Law. He commanded them to make sure that at the end of seven years, during the Feast of Booths, the elders will assemble the people for worship (v.11-“comes to appear before the Lord your God”). That is a significant event. The whole book of the Law, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, is to be read aloud and heard by all. Notice that everyone within the nation is to be there; men, women, children, and foreigners. All are commanded to be there in order to hear the Law read. However, this is not just an exercise in oratory. This is to be the culmination of that holy convocation, the Feast of Booths. This is the highpoint of the worship of God for the nation. This is a solemn assembly. This is approaching God to hear His word. This is instruction from the Sovereign to His subjects. It is nothing to trifle with. It is significant, I believe, that the children are told to be there. Everyone who comes is called to be there in order to learn to fear YHWH (Dt. 31.12). However, there actually is a special emphasis placed upon the role of the children. In v.13, Moses says, “Their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.” As mentioned earlier, it is assumed that the children are also there during the Passover, which is also held during that week of worship. In addition, the culmination of that week-long worship service is the reading of the Law of God. The impact of that entire time including the reading from the word of God is that the children would then learn to fear YHWH. That is significant for Proverbs 1.7 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And wisdom is a prized possession and is the one thing that will protect a child from the consequences of foolishness (Proverbs 2.10ff.). The conclusion of this passage as well is that children were included even the most holy of times. The greatest times of worship included the children so that they too would be ministered to by the word of God.

These two passages seem to be the foundation passages for the rest of the Old Testament. We see the inclusion of children in times of worship for Israel in a number of other passages as well.

In 2 Chronicles 20.5-19 King Jehoshaphat is faced with the impending invasion of the Moabites, Ammonites along with some Meunites. They were coming via the sea (v.2) and were going to invade from the south in Engedi. They were bent on taking Judah captive. Jehoshaphat hears of it and holds a worship service, really a prayer meeting of a large scale. The whole of Judah (v.4) gathered to seek the Lord in order that He might not allow them to be invaded. Jehoshaphat prays a very profound prayer which indicates his understanding about who YHWH is (vv. 5-13). What is interesting is that included in this assembly were infants and children. What does that mean? It demonstrated complete consecration on behalf of Judah. The petition of the Lord was not simply an exercise that the heads of the household did, although that is a valid thing to do for them. However, because of the impending invasion and the dire need of the moment, there needed to be a demonstration of the unity and solidarity of Judah in their dependence upon YHWH. No doubt the infants behaved as infants do. No doubt the children behaved as children do. No doubt there was some bustling in the audience as Jehoshaphat prayed. Nonetheless, the seriousness of the times called for worship from the whole family.

A similar assembly of petition is also seen in Ezra 10. Upon realizing the level of their unfaithfulness to YHWH, i.e. mixed marriages with foreign women, Ezra was surrounded by “a very large assembly” (v.1). In that assembly were men, women, and children. This is a serious time, as indicated by the decision to divorce from the foreign wives with whom the Israel men, including priests (v.10.18), had married. And yet the children were all there watching. Again, no doubt, they would ask what all this meant. This would be an opportunity to teach them concerning the holiness of God and the complete obedience that He deserves.

There is an interesting example of children actually adding to the worship of God’s people in Nehemiah 12.43. In this wonderful time of rejoicing at the completion of the wall and the restoration of the Temple for worship, the people gathered to give worship and glory to God (v.45). In addition, when the choirs had sung and the sacrifices were made, the rejoicing gained momentum as the people of Jerusalem were heard in praise to God. Many were in the assembly that wonderful day. God gave them joy. God instilled in their hearts the joy of the Lord (Nehemiah 8.10). The women and their children were also among those rejoicing for what God has done in restoring the wall and Jerusalem. Apparently, God had given them joy as well! I believe that it is significant that the children are there as well as the women. God receives their worship. It is same as the praise of the children when Jesus entered Jerusalem on His triumphal entry (Matthew 21.15-16).

The normal inclusion of children in times of worship for the nation of Israel seems to have been the standard. There was a critical element to their inclusion in the worship of YHWH. The existence of the nation as a “holy nation” and a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19.6) actually depended upon the appropriate training of the children. This was not only training in the home from the Law, but the worship service itself became a teaching tool for the children as well. Psalm 78.5-8 captures it well. God has done what He did in Israel (“established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a Law in Israel” v. 5), in order to have the fathers teach the children. Why? “That the generation to come might know.” (v. 6a). It was critical to the nation of Israel that the upcoming generation, even the generation to come after them as well (v.6)[3], know who God is and what He has done in Israel.

By way of illustration, a case can be made that the failure of Israel in the land stems from a lack of proper instruction of the children in spiritual matters of the Law, which, as we have seen, was introduced and reinforced as children were exposed to worship events.

Joshua has taken over Moses’ position a leader of the nation of Israel. They have entered the land of which God has promised them. The commentary of the condition of the generation after Joshua is that they were faithful (v.7). However, there is one area that they apparently lacked faithfulness and that was the teaching of the children in the truths of YHWH. After Joshua and the generation after him, there arose another generation after them “who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.” (v.10). Why didn’t they know the Lord and His works? Didn’t their fathers tell them? How can there be a wholesale abandonment of the Lord by an entire nation? It seems the answer is that there was a failure to pass on to the children, who became the nation who did not know the Lord and soon after served Baals (v.11), the two critical elements that Moses had instructed Israel to teach to the their children: 1) who God is and 2) what He has done (see Exodus 12.23-27). These are the very areas that this generation seemed to fail to learn. A hint is given in the narrative in v.7 where it is said of the generation after Joshua that they had seen the great work of the Lord. It would seem that they had seen the work, but failed to describe it to their children. Before Judges 2.10, there seems to be a positive tone, even though there was evident disobedience (2.1-5). However, 2.10 seems to be the hinge pin that swings the door wide open for the evil and confusion that follows. What is obvious, but possibly needs to be remembered, is that children grow up to be the next generation. This generation of Israelites were not taught properly in the things of God and may indicate a lack of proper instruction stemming from not witnessing worship. This should serve as a reminder, and a frightening one at that, that God’s people are always one generation away from defection, if not instructed properly.

Children and Their Inclusion in the Church’s Worship

The previous Old Testament passages certainly do tell us that the normal pattern in worship gatherings for Israel included the children of the families of Israel. However, can that be said to be the norm for the church as well? Do we also, as the church of Jesus Christ, distinct from national Israel, have the same expectation as we have seen in the Old Testament? My answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’.

The original proposition of this essay which I have been attempting to support is, “the presence of children in the worship service was the normal expectation for families in Israel. Further, it is also the same expectation for the church of Jesus Christ as well.” Therefore, since we have seen the presence of children in many passages in the Old Testament, the fairest question to ask is, “What passages in the New Testament also attest to the expectation of children present in the worship service of the church?”

The reader of the New Testament will not find a hard and fast passage indicating the presence of children in the New Testament worship service. However, you will find children present in the life and ministry Jesus Christ following Him and even ascribing worship to Him. We need to examine a few key verses in the gospels and the epistles to demonstrate this fact.

The earliest passage that deals with children in the worship service is actually concerning Jesus Himself. Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover (Luke 2.41). Obviously, they would bring their children with them. There is no reason to assume that the children were dropped off somewhere while Joseph and Mary went on to observe the Feast. In fact, there seems to be the expectation that even at twelve, Jesus would have some part to play in the Passover observance. Alfred Edersheim wrote, ““Rabbi Jehudah, the son of Tema, says: “At five years of age, reading of the Bible; at ten years, learning the Mishnah; at thirteen years bound to the commandments; at fifteen years, the study of the Talmud; at eighteen years, marriage; at twenty, the pursuit of trade or business (active life); at thirty years, full vigour; at forty, maturity of reason; at fifty, for counsel; at sixty, commencement of agedness; at seventy, grey age; at eighty, advanced old age; at ninety, bowed down; at a hundred, as if he were dead and gone, and taken from the world.””[4]

The child of Israel would not be left to himself or others to look after him while the parents went to worship. As the child grew, he or she was expected to understand and keep up with the activities surrounding the worship event.

Still this does not illustrate the presence of children in the worship of the New Testament church. However, it does illustrate a very important principle that should be recognized. It is safe to say that where the New Testament is silent, and other doctrines of the New Testament do not contradict, the church can and should adopt those practices of Israel within the worship service. The continuation of worship practices into the ministry of Jesus Christ which were not abrogated by His death and resurrection, may very well fill in the “white spaces” of the particulars of New Testament corporate worship.

Jesus Himself received the worship of children. The importance of this fact is found in that the worship service is not for our convenience and accommodation. It is strictly for the praise and adoration of the Almighty God and His Son Jesus Christ from those who recognize who He is and remember what He has done.

Matthew has a wonderful picture of children ascribing praise to Jesus Christ and Jesus receiving their praise. Jesus has just entered the city of Jerusalem riding on a colt. Upon driving out the money-changers and healing the lame, the priests and scribes become furious and indignant at Jesus. However, they specifically mention another segment of society who is praising Jesus, children. They were proclaiming the praise of God for bringing the Son of David finally to Israel (v.15). Had Jesus been indifferent or even outside of the praise of children, he would have had a perfect opportunity to say so at that time. However, just as He taught in Mark 10.13-16, do not forbid the children from coming to Me, so He here welcomes their praise! How the heart of God is open wide for children (Mark. 10.14) and their praise. Although this is not an example of a formal worship service and the inclusion of children in it, we can see, however, the heart of Jesus Christ toward children’s worship.

Further, Peter makes an interesting remark in his exhortation of the Jews in Acts 2.39. There he had just completed preaching to the Jews that were responsible for the murder of Jesus Christ and they were convicted by Peter’s preaching. They pleaded to Peter and he tells them to repent and align yourself with Jesus Christ, which is illustrated in baptism. Their sins, and they were great, would be forgiven and they would also receive the promised Holy Spirit. Then Peter makes a very interesting statement regarding to whom the promise of the Holy Spirit is given. The intended audience of this promise is “you and your children and for all who are afar off.” There are 3 categories of people here. There are the Jews to whom Peter is speaking. There are the Gentiles, who are characterized by being “afar off”. And then there are the children of the Jews. Again, it seems, God is concerned that the children are also able to learn of Him and receive His Spirit.[5] This reference to “children” in Acts 2.39 cannot simply refer to a future generation only, as those who would be able to be saved sometime in the future after they have grown to adulthood.[6] If that were the case, we would also have to add some condition on the other 2 categories of people as well. It is more consistent with a literal hermeneutic to understand this reference as “children” who are children at the time that they hear the gospel. Besides, salvation is a spiritual work of God primarily and He will “call” whom He will.

Further, the Apostle Paul may be making direct commands to the children of the congregations of Ephesus and Colossae when he commands them to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3; Colossian 3.20). It is fair to assume that just as Paul is addressing the parents who are present in the assembly as well as the masters and slaves who are there in the assembly, it stands to reason that there are also children present in the assembly. Again, a continuation of Old Testament practices.

Beyond these references, there is not clear indication that children were present in the worship services of the early church.

Does This Have Significance for Today’s Church?

Given the information concerning the presence of children in the worship services of Israel, i.e. Passover, and the seeming inclusion of children in the New Testament worship service, and the fact that God has great endearment toward children and receiving their praise, it seems important that the role of children in the worship service of the church be addressed. A number of books written on this subject are from the perspective of a liturgical approach to worship and they endeavor to include the children in the liturgy so that they can learn about God in that fashion. However, these usually end up being nothing more than arts and crafts opportunities built upon the assumption that the children are not capable of understanding the truths of Scripture or sit still in the sanctuary long enough not to be a distraction to others around. Still, others have written of the presence of children in the worship service almost making them the focus of the service.[7] They have Christianized the New Age perspective of making the child the example to the adults of what the adults are supposed to be like-curious, innocent and carefree. However, that is far from the biblical norm for children who are supposed to be sober-minded, obedient, and wise.

The information in the Bible seems to indicate that children are capable of understanding biblical truth, they are capable of being attentive to the worship service being conducted, and most important of all, they are capable of giving worship and praise to God. Again, as stated above, that is really the main point.

If I were to address the issue of how to “reintroduce” children back into the worship service of the church, I would have to address how the child is trained at home. Is he taught the meaning of worship? Is he taught the importance of being quiet? Is he taught that God is holy and awesome and deserves worship from His people and that is why we are there? Do the parents take this seriously?

Conclusion

The families in ancient Israel worshiped together. The children were next to their parents observing and, sometimes, participating in worship. The opportunities for teaching the children as a result of worshiping together are crucial to the understanding that child gains of God, Jesus Christ and His church. It is my observation that the families of church of Jesus Christ are failing to train their children in the matters of the word of God and spiritual truth. The fascination with the separation of families into segregated age groups not only disturbs a family’s opportunity to worship as a unit before God, but it also tends to not allow for proper instruction in the things of God in the context that children are built to learn best-the family.

Based upon this study, it seems that our churches need to bring the children back to worship. Families need to worship together. Accommodations in church buildings need to reflect the importance of parents and children worshiping together.

To the degree that we fail to train up the children via the worship of the church, it is to that degree that the church will, most likely, reflect Israel who “did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2.10).


[1] A very good overview of the meaning and the history of the Passover is given in Alfred Edersheim The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), 208-248.

[2] I would understand this as the starting point of the conversation. A faithful father would develop other truths of God and His works, but the significance of the Passover rite is encapsulated in the passage of v. 27.

[3] This is really a way to indicate the perpetual nature of the instruction. The current generation teaches the next generation who is able to teach the generation which comes after them as well. Paul clearly had that in mind in 2 Timothy 2.2 as a pattern in the church. This appears to be a typical Jewish, or better biblical, pattern for learning and its roots are in the family.

[4]Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2003), 105.

[5] See Charles Spurgeon, Come Ye Children (Bibliolife: unknown, 2008), 21 for a convincing argument for the application of this passage in light of children.

[6] John B Polhill. Vol. 26, Acts. electronic ed. Logos Library System; The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 1992. There the author understands “their children” as simply referring to a “future generation”. I Howard Marshall does not attempt to deal with the question, but rather refers to this as a false reference to infant baptism [Acts Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Intervarsity, 1980), 81-82. It seems the more popular perspective is that ‘children’ refers to the son and daughters prophesying in Acts 2.17. However, again, that seems inconsistent with the categorical reference to those who would be called by God.

[7] See John T. Carroll, ‘Children in the Bible’ Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology: April 2001, Vol.55(2), pp. 121-134.

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