Something very strange happens when people face an imminent threat to life and livelihood. The strange thing is unity such as would never have been possible otherwise. History provides countless examples, such as the defense of New Orleans in January 1815. When a veteran British force attacked the city, an odd assortment of people turned out to defend their home. They included Regular soldiers of the American army under Major General Andrew Jackson, as well as Creole gentlemen and their American merchant rivals, common laborers, farmers, militia men from far away states, black slaves and free men, and even pirates and smugglers affiliated with the infamous Jean Lafitte. Once the threat was past, these disparate segments of society returned to their separate lives and the circumstances that divided them, but for one glorious moment they experienced the joy of being a people united in a common cause.
We might consider as well the example of our Jewish brethren in World War II. Immediately before the war, an Arab revolt in British Palestine compelled His Majesty’s government to issue a White Paper in 1939 which closed the door on Jewish immigration to the Holy Land. This was a political and military necessity for the British; another Arab revolt would threaten their hold on Egypt, their link to India and the Pacific, and the lifeline of the Empire. When faced with war against Hitler’s Germany, Great Britain could not afford to lose that lifeline, and thus European Jews in peril of their lives in the Shoa (Holocaust) lost their last and best chance at escape from the death camps.
One might suppose the Jewish response to the White Paper – particularly among those living in the Land – would be violent rejection and revolt. Some did respond that way, but the most memorable response was by David Ben Gurion, at that time among the most prominent leaders of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish settlers in the Land. He expressed his position this way:
Ben Gurion’s pragmatism was instrumental in establishment of the Jewish Brigade, the only regular military unit of any Allied army in World War II comprised entirely of Jews. The Jewish Brigade served with distinction in the British forces in Egypt, Italy, and Northwest Europe, and it also served as a training ground for Jewish warriors who carried the fight for Israel’s independence after the British Mandate over Palestine ended in 1948.
Why is this important to us? Because the people of YHVH face an imminent threat to our lives and livelihood from those allied with the enemy of our souls. Whether Christians, Jews, or Messianic/Hebrew Roots believers, all face a renewed Shoa in the period known as the End of Days, Great Tribulation, and Time of Jacob’s Trouble. Many, including this author, are persuaded that those troubles are upon us. Like the defenders of New Orleans and the veterans of the Jewish Brigade, we will find ourselves thrown together with people we would not normally call friends or brothers. How interesting to think that Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, Ephraimites, Messianic Jews, Catholics, and probably many others now considered on the fringe of mainstream Judeo-Christian spiritual practice could all be fighting for survival as a single people. What will come of our doctrinal differences at that point? Will we argue semantics while being marched into the concentration camps? Or will we find a way to cooperate and survive? Perhaps if we take the latter course we will learn that our differences – as profound and real as they indeed are – pale in comparison to our identity as the Covenant People of the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The real tragedy is that it usually takes unspeakable disaster to unite people, even (and perhaps especially) the people of YHVH. Too often we are so persuaded of the rightness of our own view of Scripture and God’s ways and of the wrongness of another’s view that we shun the other. Who is hurt by this? Whose cause is helped most by it? I submit that the One Who is hurt is the Almighty Himself as He sees His covenant people hopelessly divided and unable to stand against the enemy of their souls. That enemy, of course, is the one who is most helped by this division.
What is the remedy for this? Humility would be a start. When we begin to understand that none of us have all the answers, then we are in a place that the Holy Spirit can begin to use the viewpoints of others to fill in the gaps and correct the misunderstandings of our own views. The alternative is precisely what Messiah Yeshua warned against:
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5 NASB)
It is quite possible that Yeshua was referring to a common practice among YHVH’s people: finding fault with those who disagree with us. It may be that those who disagree are in error, but it may also be that our own position is flawed as well. In my own Christian upbringing I saw such disagreements at the root of mistrust and division among those who should have been brethren over such matters as the proper form of baptism (sprinkling or immersion), the importance of free will over predestination (or the other way around), and whether it is a sin to drink alcohol. As I have come into Torah observance, I have seen disagreements among brethren on matters such as which calendar to follow, how to pronounce the Sacred Name, how to fellowship with Christians who do not follow Torah, and whether non-Jews are actually part of Israel.
As the B’ney Yosef segment of the Hebrew Roots Movement has developed, a new division has arisen over how to relate to our brethren of Judah. Can we learn anything from Jews who do not acknowledge Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah? Should we fellowship with them at all, or should we find a way to connect on the grounds that we are brethren of the same covenant people? Can they learn anything from us? How should we present ourselves? Is it right to engage in proactive evangelism such as we have learned in the church, or is it sufficient to maintain our steadfast belief in Yeshua’s Messiahship and divinity in the expectation that our Torah walk and our adherence to Messiah Yeshua will generate questions from our Jewish counterparts and open the way for honest discussion?
The answers to these questions will come in time, but only as we establish and build relationships with our brethren both in the church and in Judaism. The wrong answer is to stand so firmly on doctrine that we shut down any possible communication. That is the opposite of humility, and in fact approaches the original meaning of heresy. Frank Houtz, one of the Elders of B’ney Yosef North America, investigates this subject in his recent article, “Heresy in the Hebrew Roots Movement?”. As he explains,
. . . a heretic is not one who believes differently or even follows out those beliefs. It is a person who forces his will upon the others.
In other words, difference of belief – even difference on profound subjects such as the meaning and application of Grace, Law, Salvation, and Redemption – is not necessarily heresy. Heresy comes when someone demands and attempts to force others to accept their belief. That is the conclusion of Ken Rank of United2Restore. In his article on this subject, simply titled “Heresy”, Ken points out a potentially tragic irony:
Hypothetically, what they were sharing could have even been the truth, but because they have taken to the position of trying to manipulate others into accepting their belief or practice, they have crossed the line of heresy.
Force or manipulation is not the way of our Messiah. If we understand that we are all in error, regardless whether we come from or now stand in the Christian, Jewish, or Messianic/Hebrew Roots camps, we should tremble at the prospect of trying to correct a brother or sister by forcing our views on them. Explaining, discussing from Scripture, and even confronting behavior that is blatantly in error is one thing, but cutting off fellowship because of doctrinal disagreements (even doctrinal disagreements rooted in centuries of practice) is the wrong answer. Correction ultimately comes from the Lord alone, as He has said:
O Jacob My servant, do not fear,” declares the Lord, “For I am with you. For I will make a full end of all the nations where I have driven you, yet I will not make a full end of you; but I will correct you properly and by no means leave you unpunished.” (Jeremiah 46:28 NASB)
Until that time, we would do well to emulate the firm, yet gentle, ways of our Messiah. Where is the heresy in His statement to the Apostle John?
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Revelation 3:20 NASB)
In this spirit of open, honest, loving discussion, Elder Johnny Marrs of B’ney Yosef North America has written an exposition on the Articles of Declaration, BYNA’s foundational document. In “Position on the Articles of Declaration”, Johnny examines the thought processes behind the Articles. You may be surprised at what you find. No one associated with BYNA will claim perfect understanding and doctrinal correctness on every issue, but in the spirit of humility this embryonic national movement seeks to reason with all the brethren so that we may learn to walk together and help one another in the perilous times soon to come.
Elder Johnny Marrs
Originally published April 27, 2016, on B’ney Yosef North America
B’ney Yosef is a diverse nation of Torah observant believers who have been alienated from our brother Yehuda for the greater part of two millennia. Coincidental with this alienation, we have been fragmented in our own doctrines and our dispersion among the nations of the world. We should not lose sight of the fact that our dispersion is a direct result of the fallacies of those very doctrines and attempts to impose our misguided beliefs on our brethren. With the understanding that none of us walks in perfection of doctrine or theology, it is necessary for each and every one of us to respect the differences and boundaries of our brethren and trust that our Father in heaven will ultimately carry out the work that He has begun in restoring the whole house of Israel. It is in this context that the B’ney Yosef North America (BYNA) Articles of Declaration are written. For the prodigal sons of Yosef, as we return home and seek unity with our elder brother Yehuda, it will behoove us to understand and remember that all healthy relationships have boundaries. Many of those boundaries are established around our religious belief system. It is imperative that we respect the boundaries of our brethren just as we would desire for our own boundaries to be respected. It will be of great value for all involved if we can learn from the mistakes of our father Yosef. Yosef had revelation from Adonai with regard to his future authority over his father’s household. In his enthusiasm to share the dreams that he had been given, he further alienated his brothers with whom his relationship was already compromised. Because he chose to cross the boundaries of what his brothers were willing or able to hear at that point in their lives, the fire of their animosity toward him was fueled into hatred. His own misguided enthusiasm ultimately brought him into alienation from his entire family and to assimilation into a culture that was in complete contrast with that of his forefathers. It was only through the intervention of Adonai that restoration was brought to the whole house of Israel. We should see that in this day it will not be of our own volition that the kingdom of Israel is restored. Restoration will only come at the hand of our creator.
The Articles of Declaration of B’ney Yosef North America were prepared with much prayer and reflection. Several key points were incorporated with the intent of honoring the boundaries of our brother Yehuda while at the same time protecting our own with the realization that the will of our Father in heaven will ultimately be done in His timing.
It is in the spirit of recognizing our own personal boundaries that we have established in the sixth paragraph of the articles that (emphasis added):
We believe this promised awakening began over the last few decades and that we are not only witnesses to this awakening but participants as well. Being drawn to the Torah, to the Land, and to the people of the Land while retaining the testimony of Yeshua, we believe ourselves to be the “B’ney Yosef”—the “Children of Joseph”—prophetically called “Ephraim,” a people who are being called out of the nations, now and once again part of the Commonwealth of Israel. And as part of this “called-out assembly,” we stand on the promise that God will one day join us to the House of Judah (the Jewish People) to become one united Israel, never again to be divided.
Having recognized the importance of establishing and protecting our own personal boundary in the sixth paragraph of the Articles, it is incumbent on us to provide the same protection to our brethren whether they be of the house of Yehuda, denominational Christianity or our own sister congregation in the next community. It is in the seventh paragraph that we intentionally establish this protection with the following words (emphasis added):
B’ney Yosef North America is a network of North Americans who have heard the call to join together for the common purpose of the restoration and reconstitution of the people of northern Israel—the House of Yosef/Ephraim. We are in awe of the quick work our Lord has done; yet we proceed in tentative optimism because of the divisive nature of our people. Knowing that reconciliation with Judah will not become reality until we stand together as one, we are humbled by the great task ahead of making the necessary personal sacrifices to unify our house. To exist as the nation God intends, and knowing we have a part to play before God completes His work, we pledge this day to promote unity, peace, and harmony among those who belong—and who will belong—to our House and to the House of Judah. In addition to understanding the need for personal sacrifice for the good of the body at large, we accept the following principles in order to establish ourselves as a unified people:
The principles have been established in the spirit of unity and order. Each of us who chooses to identify with BYNA agrees to adhere to the bulleted principles that follow paragraph seven:
We will submit to the will of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and also to those whom God has raised to positions of trust and authority in our local assemblies and within the body of B’ney Yosef North America. We will also commit to lifting these servants up continually in prayer, knowing they face a difficult task.
In the first bullet we acknowledge and support the established authority.
We will remain teachable, humble, accountable, and open to correction while seeking to renew ourselves daily through prayer and commitment to God, His Messiah, His Torah, and one another.
In the second bullet we affirm that we as individuals and as a nation have much to learn and that we should humbly stand accountable and open to correction as we present ourselves as servants of His kingdom.
We will live in a manner that stands opposed to those things that cause division and strife within the body, being mindful that our walk should always reflect the character attributes of the God we serve.
The third bullet is clear with regard to division and strife within the body of BYNA and the whole house of Israel. Those who would cause division and strife within the body will ultimately alienate themselves from BYNA.
We will promote peace, harmony, love, and stability within and between our families, our local assemblies, the communities in which we live, and all of God’s Israel.
The fourth bullet recognizes the requirement for active promotion of peace, harmony, love and stability within the kingdom of Israel beginning with the most basic division as revealed in the family unit. If we choose to focus on our differences at the family level, we should surely recognize that we will never aspire to the unity of a nation.
We will remain aware that knowledge and understanding are gifts from God and that the misuse of these gifts profanes both the gift and the Gift Giver. Therefore, we will refrain from using our knowledge and understanding as a litmus test to determine who does and does not belong to God.
This fifth bullet should humble us all. How often have we brought profanity to fruition through our own misguided enthusiasm with regard to a gift that Adonai has chosen to bestow upon us?
We will acknowledge that currently most Ephraimites are not yet aware of their identity and that until Messiah comes, it is not realistic to expect we will stand in agreement regarding all facets of understanding and practice. We will also acknowledge that the work God is doing is happening over a progression of time. Therefore, we will commit ourselves to showing mutual respect and understanding, being quick to extend grace and slow to criticize, knowing this “last days” call will reach into all nations, cultures, peoples, and tongues in God’s timing and not our own.
It is imperative that each and every one of us personalize this sixth bullet. We are not all in the same place with regard to our understanding or practice. But that does not make us or those around us any less a part of the work that Adonai has begun in His restoration of His kingdom. Failure to recognize and respect the diversity of those being called will serve only to perpetuate the division that has existed for these past millennia.
We will consent to the need to walk before our brother Judah in a manner that builds trust, opens doors of communication, and displays godly character. We will further acknowledge the need to repent for centuries of hostility, unfair treatment, and religious overzealousness directed at Judah in the name of Christianity and the need to seek forgiveness from Judah and our heavenly Father.
For two millennia the sons of Yosef have been building walls of division that we have attempted to justify through isolated perceived victories of evangelization. To date we have only succeeded in following in the footsteps of our father Yoseph by alienating those whom we would desire to have a relationship with. It is recognition of our own error of overzealous attempts to evangelize our brothers to walk in our own footsteps that has necessitated the wording of this seventh bullet.
We will stand ready to give an answer for the hope of our calling, willing to share what we believe with anyone who desires to hear; this is our responsibility. Yet we acknowledge there is a difference between giving answers to questions asked and trying to convert another to our way of understanding and practice. Therefore, B’ney Yosef North America cannot and will not support or defend any attempts to evangelize the Jewish people.
This eighth bullet attests to our willingness and obligation to share the hope and calling of our beliefs with anyone who “desires to hear”. The wording intentionally protects the boundaries of our brethren who may not be at the same point in their walk as we may find ourselves. This eighth bullet recognizes the grievances that have been incurred through our lack of sensitivity to the boundaries of others within the house of Israel. The word “evangelize” is used in the modern and historical sense of the whole of this document and is in no means intended to deter the open and honest dialogue between two consenting parties. However, BYNA is adamant that evangelization in the modern sense of the word, not be carried out in our name.
We will not force Judah or anyone else to accept that we are who we believe ourselves to be. Instead, we will wait patiently on God to do His work. In the interim, we will actively assume the roles of bridge builders, peacemakers, and repairers of the breach; a people who understand why the community at large —the nation to which we belong—is greater than self.
The seventh and eighth bullets are inseparable from this ninth bullet in that the intent of this document is to build bridges of peace, to repair the breach and ultimately restore the community, restore the nation that is greater than the needs or ideals of any individual within it. For this to ever come about, we will first have to put aside our personal doctrines and offenses. When we are finally able to walk as our brother’s servant, we will begin to see reconciliation and healing that will allow us to walk as one stick in the hand of our maker.
It is in the context of paragraph seven and its associated bullets that the last two paragraphs of the Articles of Declaration of BYNA are written with these words (emphasis added for clarity):
As a people who currently remain scattered among the nations, it is imperative that we unite through these declared principles and our deference to God-ordained leadership in order to ensure the tranquility of the House to which we belong. The forming of a civil body of governance will allow us to establish and administer our national affairs and settle disputes that cannot be dealt with on a local level. This will stave off those things that would otherwise create additional division and strife within our House.
Beyond whatever small part we each play in this process, we rest knowing that God will do all He has promised through His everlasting covenant made with Israel. Ultimately God is the one Who will make Judah and Ephraim one stick in His hand; we cannot do His work for Him. Before that time, however, we are to treat the two sticks as though they are already one. Today we unite as one nation, willing servants who seek only to glorify the God of Israel and His Messiah through every word we speak and deed we perform. May His mighty and set apart name be blessed over all the earth. Amen.
May it be that we walk in support of the work that Adonai is doing and not in the continuation of the offense of our forefathers. May it be that we can put behind us the division of doctrines and contention over words that leads to strife and discord. May it be that we will commit ourselves to showing mutual respect and understanding, being quick to extend grace and slow to criticize, knowing this “last days” call will reach into all nations, cultures, peoples, and tongues in God’s timing and not our own. May it be that we walk in a spirit of humility, reconciliation and servitude to His reunification of the two sticks into the whole house of Israel!