Our family practices Torah-Observant Christianity, which is a super confusing topic to a lot of people. This has been a life-changing (or life-giving?) development for us, and, like anyone’s faith journey, is one that is deeply personal and reflects what our family has come to through prayer and study. Hopefully this page clarifies what we believe, but of course I’m always open to answering questions if there’s anything you want to know 🙂
The easiest way to explain what we believe is this: We take a genuinely, 100% sola scriptura approach to our theology. Meaning we believe the entire Bible to be true and inerrant, and that we rely on the doctrine of Christ to be our teacher. We do not look to the theology of others who have read the Bible (although they may help us learn more, we do not look to theologians as our example or to craft our belief system), but instead look to scripture and the example of Jesus as our theology. Most simply: if Jesus did it, we do it, and if He didn’t, we don’t. For the most part. So this means for us that we keep a weekly sabbath on seventh day of the week, where we rest, read scripture together, and enjoy the fruits of our labor without working or asking anyone else to work. We keep the Biblical feasts outlined in Leviticus 23, we follow what Levitical law we can (lots of those pertain to a Temple or to a priesthood, and since those don’t exist, those laws we don’t keep), and we don’t celebrate typical mainstream Christian church holidays like Christmas and Easter. I know. My mother is cringing right now just thinking about this.
So you’re Messianic Jews, then?
Well, no. Because most Messianic Jews also keep some or all rabbinical law (the Talmud). Mark 7 talks about the traditions of the elders, and in Mark 7:8 Jesus rebukes this saying “You disregard the commands of God, instead keeping the traditions of men.” This is honestly what makes it hard for us to qualify our faith as fitting with any denomination or approach- we are committed to keeping God’s commands and abstaining from the traditions of men. And most religion values the traditions of men over the commandments outlined in scripture. We stick to Deuteronomy 12:32 which says “You must be careful to do everything I command you; do not add anything to it and do not take anything away from it.” We don’t keep kosher outside of the dietary laws outlined in the Bible, and we don’t keep additional holidays to those outlined in Leviticus 23.
But don’t you know Jesus completed the law so we’re free from it?
Psalm 119:1-2 says “How happy are those whose ways are blameless, who live according to the Lord’s instruction! Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart!” Honestly the entire chapter of Psalm 119 is a beautiful ode to the joy that comes from keeping God’s commands. Should I be hoping to be free from something that is said to bring joy? Really?
And when we talk about Jesus and the law, people usually tell me this verse, Matthew 5:17, “Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets, for I came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”
But… if you keep reading, here’s the rest of the chapter:
Matthew 5:18-20, “For I assure you, until Heaven and Earth pass away, not one iota or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do the same will be called the least in heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Pretty big words from the Messiah. So we stick to that.
So are you legalists, then? Do you believe keeping the commandments will give you salvation?
Absolutely not. We believe the entirety of the Bible, so we totally get that it’s grace that saves us. But we are called to respond to that grace with actions. 1 John 5:3 says “This is love for God: to obey His commands, and His commands are not burdensome.” Our parents love us unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean we treat them with disrespect just because we know they’ll keep loving us anyway. We respect them because we love them. Our keeping of the commandments comes from a place of seeking to live life according to what God’s word says is pleasing to Him. Not because we’re capable of earning our salvation, but out of love for the One who gives us salvation in spite of ourselves. James 2:18 says “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith from my works.” We believe the way we live our lives reflects the love and admiration we have for the God who made us and saves us.
In addition, if we’re trying ourselves to follow the example of Christ (and that’s our goal- we aren’t trying to emulate Paul, or Martin Luther, or John Calvin, we’re trying to emulate Christ), we see him keeping the law of the Old Testament perfectly, but also clarifying that the heart of it comes from love for God and love for others. So our hearts must be circumcised in the way of following the law out of love and service, not out of a desire to be the greatest among a crowd.
What about Christmas and Easter? Don’t you feel like you should be celebrating Jesus’s birth and His resurrection?
This one is painful, and before I felt God change my heart about it, hearing other people talk about this made me absolutely infuriated. But here goes: Deuteronomy 18:9 says “When you enter the land the Lord your God has given you, do not imitate the detestable customs of those nations.” I could go on, but I’ll just suffice it to say that every single time God calls for the destruction of a group in the Old Testament, it’s because they have become “ensnared” by the customs of peoples who don’t follow His ways. Jeremiah 10:3-4 talks about the customs of people bringing in trees and adorning them with silver and gold being “worthless,” and goes on to call that practice idolatry. In the book of Samuel, we hear God dethrone Saul the King because he (Saul) decided not to obey God’s commands to destroy the Amalekites, but instead decided to take the best of what they had and offer it to God. Saul wanted to sacrifice to God, because he believed that dedicating something to God would be seen by God as worthwhile, because his intentions were good. And here’s what God’s response was: “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices more than obedience to the Lord? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, and to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and ” defiance is like wickedness and idolatry. Because you have rejected the Lord, He has rejected you as king.”
Why do I say all that? I didn’t come to this faith on my own. And I didn’t come to it skipping along happily. I came to it after spending months, maybe even years, begging God to turn my husband’s heart away from this and back to the church. And then one day it hit me. I started asking that if God wanted this for my life, that He would change my heart. And He did. Initially, I came kicking and screaming, certain that celebrating holidays with pagan origins but that were dedicated to God were totally acceptable in His sight, because God knows my heart. And after a ton of prayer and study of scripture, I came to realize that it’s intellectually dishonest of me to say I believe the Bible to be inerrant and everlasting, and at the same time to say half the words I believe to be God-breathed are in fact invalid for me as a person today. I had to come to a place of accepting that if I am going to walk out the faith that I am reading in scripture, and if I am honest about looking to Jesus as my example before all others, I have to change.
So no. We don’t celebrate Christmas. One day I just felt completely overwhelmed by the spirit and I drove all my Christmas decorations to a donation drop-off, and I never looked back. Truthfully the spirit has always been on my heart about this, because the commercialization and secularization of Christmas always bothered me, but now I feel so strongly about not observing those that we don’t even attend Christmas services or gatherings any more.
So you don’t celebrate Jesus? That doesn’t feel right at all.
Whoa whoa whoa. Hold on now. We didn’t say we don’t celebrate Jesus. In fact, the way that we celebrate Jesus now has an amazing, next-level energy about it that I definitely never had when we celebrated Christmas or Easter. Check out the Feasts in Leviticus 23. Here’s a quick lil breakdown:
- Passover: Commemorates God delivering the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Traditionally observed (during Temple times) by sacrificing a flawless lamb to cover sins and mark freedom from enslavement.
- Messiah in Passover: Unbroken perfect lamb, slain for the sins of not just us, but the whole world. (John 19:36)
- First Fruits: Two nights (or three days) after Passover, commands say to wave the first grain of wheat- the best of the early harvest- up before God, that He may bless the harvest and render it acceptable
- Messiah in First Fruits: Jesus is raised three days after His death, and then ascends to Heaven before the Father, rendering us- the harvest- acceptable before the Father. (Do you have chills right now? I have chills.)
- Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks (also called Pentecost): Fifty days after Passover, commemorates God giving Moses the Torah, his written law in its completeness, that all people might know and follow after God’s ways
- Messiah in Shavuot/Pentecost: The Holy Spirit is delivered to God’s people and all the world so that all can come to Him
- The Feast of Trumpets, or Rosh Hashanah: Traditionally celebrated as the Jewish New Year, commemorated with the blowing of the shofar and “joyful shouting”
- Messiah in the Feast of Trumpets: The book of Revelation in chapters 8 and 9 reveals the opening of the seventh seal, with seven trumpets declaring the coming of the Lord and His judgment before His final reign on earth.
- *We believe when Jesus comes again, it will be with the sound of trumpets (as mentioned in Revelation 1), and as God performs His works in cyclical ways (Jesus was crucified at Passover (John 19:14) and raised on First Fruits, and the Holy Spirit came down at Passover), we believe He will fulfill His covenant at the Fall Feasts.
- The Feast of Atonement, or Yom Kippur: A two-day observance of self-denial and fasting in atonement for sins of the previous year, followed by blessing and forgiveness.
- Messiah in the Feast of Atonement: Revelation 20 tells us of the coming judgement and tribulation before Christ reigns on earth. As believers we observe this feast especially as an opportunity to look at our own sin and pray to turn our hearts toward God’s commands, lest we not be ready when He comes again.
- The Feast of Tabernacles: A week long feast that involves sleeping in tents, to commemorate the goodness of God’s provision for the Hebrews in the wilderness.
- Messiah in the Feast of Tabernacles: We believe this feast foreshadows when Christ establishes His 1000 year reign on Earth (Revelation 20), and helps us remember that God has provided for us, even in our struggle to walk in His ways.
So seriously…there is so much Jesus in each of these feasts that we aren’t missing out a bit. And we don’t have to be caught up in turning moments of faith into opportunities for gifts for our children either.
So…do you give presents at these holidays? Or when do you give presents?
Herein lies the beauty of the feasts: we get to teach our children that the appointed times of the Lord have nothing to do with getting material things. This actually resonated the best with me, since I always struggled with how we give gifts and baskets at the same time we’re talking about Jesus. (I know, I know…wise men, frankincense, myrrh.) I just never felt super connected to the idea that we spend the season of advent talking about the beauty of the coming of this Messiah who was promised for centuries, and then we celebrate it by opening flat screen TVs in our matching pajamas. That just has never done it for me.
So we make the feasts about God and Jesus and the beauty of the promises that are ALWAYS fulfilled and the goodness that is to come, and we do presents at birthdays and other celebrations like music recitals and learning to read and first time riding a bike without help. (And sometimes we give them just because!)
What about church? Do you have churches that believe what you believe?
Tricky topic. So… mainstream churches don’t much do it for us anymore, because of everything I’ve already shared. We’re just not doing the liturgical/church-created holidays and that’s pretty non-negotiable for us. I do attend a church with our kids because I love singing hymns and hearing sacred music, but we abstain around holiday time so my little ones don’t get a mixed message from me about what we believe.
There are Messianic synagogues out there, but typically those still practice a dispensationalist theology (the idea that the law is done away with for Gentiles, or that keeping the law for members of the tribe also means observing rabbinical law) and that just doesn’t jive with what we believe. It’s more authentic for us to go to a traditional mainstream church for the community of believers in Jesus, and then explain that we don’t do the holidays for the reasons I mentioned above.
Don’t you feel like you need a pastor to help guide you?
This one is super tricky, because I genuinely believe pastors are so valuable and that the role they play in the lives of their congregants is a very important one. Personally I’ve been ministered to in beautiful ways by pastors at various points in my life. But…Jesus says in Matthew 23:8-10,
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Christ.”
And in keeping with our personal faith commitment that we follow a doctrine of Christ and no other theologians before Him, this is super important to us. So we look to pastors for counseling, but lean heavily on reading scripture to guide our steps.
What about context? Aren’t you concerned about interpreting scripture incorrectly?
We don’t take small excerpts from the Bible and then meditate over those and some Brene Brown quotes. (Although I really do love BB.) We follow a calendar of parashas, or Torah portions, that guide us through reading the Bible in its entirety each year. We read it with our Strong’s concordance, and we use multiple translations to check for more information. We also look to teachings from groups who keep the same “Christ as teacher” theology as us to help clarify when we feel like we need more context. The best ones I can recommend are 119 Ministries and My House Ministries. So I guess, yes, I look to others for guidance, but recognize that there is no better teacher than Messiah and the best way to learn His ways is to read the Bible in its entirety. Psalm 119:11 talks about hiding God’s word in our hearts that we might not sin, and this deep and continuous reading of scripture is the best way to accomplish that, and to model it for our children.
So with no church, how do you observe the Sabbath?
When God establishes the Sabbath, He establishes it as a day of rest in the way that He rested on the seventh day of creation. That’s exactly how we keep the Sabbath. We rest. We don’t work, and we don’t ask others to work. We study scripture and reflect on the week we’ve had and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We visit with friends and enjoy their fellowship. And we keep the commands of caring for widows and orphans by visiting my husband’s grandmother, who has dementia and is in assisted living.
I prepare all our food and do all our chores the days before the Sabbath, so each week our Saturdays are spent enjoying the wonders of God’s creation without the interruption of work.And Jesus showed us that it isn’t a sin to do good on the Sabbath, so we always do acts of kindness to one another or to our community to follow in His ways. This means skipping out on activities like sports or recitals or gatherings in restaurants, etc, on the Sabbath, but it also means being okay with visiting the assisted living home where nurses and aides may be at work helping the tenants who cannot reasonably care for themselves.
Do you…(insert any concerning Old Testament law like stone mediums, or wear blended fabrics…etc)?
Here’s the deal. There are a ton of commands. Lots of them require a priesthood or a judge, and those don’t exist. But at the end of the day I truly believe the words of 1 John 5:3, “This is love for God, to obey His commands, and His commands are not burdensome.” And we take the words of Jesus to heart- I have no desire to sit and point out the sin in any other person’s life until I’ve eradicated all of it in my own, which isn’t happening in spite of my best efforts. All I can do is seek to keep the commands as best as I can, as a love offering to God for all the goodness He has bestowed on me, in spite of my shortcomings. I seek each day to love God and love others, and the commands help me do just that. I am so thankful for this journey and how incredibly real and authentic my faith has come to be, but I know I will never come close to the righteousness to which we are called. This journey is personal for me, and it has been an extraordinary challenge with extraordinary rewards. I don’t have all the answers (or even most of them), but I feel like if I am aspiring to follow and do the things that Jesus did, I’m probably on a good path. Know that the things I’ve shared here are for me and my family, and are certainly no commentary or judgement on you or your faith journey. Faith is deeply personal and between you and your own belief system, and I hope yours is always allowing you to grow in wisdom and truth.
Blessings to you, friends, wherever your faith is leading you.