Simple/organic church

Guest post by Sean Steckbeck: The New Testament church?

Here is another guest post by Sean Steckbeck. Sean lives in Israel and he brings a unique perspective.

Preparations had been made all day, and an intensive time of cleaning the house. The family is expecting the guests to arrive at any moment and the table is set. Finally, a knock on the door welcomes a house filled with guests, mostly family and close friends. The dinner is prepared and is neatly set on the table and at its center piece, the bread and the wine.  The head of the household begins to tell a story from the Bible, uses sensory symbolism, and asks inductive questions especially to the kids sitting at the table. The interaction is electrifying and even sometimes erupts into heated debate.  The bread and wine are taken, and then an enjoyable meal starts as everyone ponders on the story that was told at the table, the questions which were asked, and the discussions that proceeded.

What do you think this event was? Was it a house church in Asia or America? Was it a typical house church meeting? No, this took place in an Orthodox Jewish home in Jerusalem, as well as nearly all the Jewish homes around the world in an event called Passover. Although it has all the elements of a typical house church around the world – eating together, story-telling, inductive learning and discussion, community — taking place in the home.

Oftentimes, when we talk about restoring the New Testament church, we are forgetting that many of the elements we want to see restored are actually concepts from the Old Testament.  We speak of the “temple mentality”, but don’t realize that temple worship for the everyday person in Israel was only three times a year (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). Most historians and archeologists even agree that during the 2nd temple period the synagogue was a multi-purpose community center rather than a religious building. The synagogue becoming the center of weekly religious Jewish life happened around the same time that church buildings became the center of the Christian church’s life.

The central theme to the Jewish people is the Shema, which is mentioned in Deuteronomy  6:4-9:

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”

Impressing the commandments to our children.

Talking about them when sitting at home.

Talking about them when walking along the road.

Does this sound like organic church and simple church?

Are we restoring the New Testament Church, or something God had planned from the beginning?

Photo Credit: Paul Watson via Compfight cc

6 replies on “Guest post by Sean Steckbeck: The New Testament church?”

Yes, he planned it from the beginning. And we can see it from the beginning if only we will open our eyes. It’s there in Genesis 2 as the Mighty One walked in the garden in the cool of the day. He wants to walk with us. How amazing is that!

And right through the entire Bible we see family, friends and strangers made welcome in homes. In the gospels this reaches a pinnacle in the commands to ‘love Yahweh Elohim with all your heart and soul and strength’, ‘love one another as I have loved you’, ‘love your neighbour’ and ‘love your enemies’.

We are made in Father’s image, social creatures. It’s all about eating together, sharing stories, laughing, interacting. And we are to do these things with one another but also with the Lord. He is the Head of the family every bit as much as he is Head of the body.

He wants a people who will be real with one another and with him. Nothing added (religion, tradition, law, musts and must nots). Nothing removed (women, children, denominations, people of other faiths). We are to welcome all as he does. Eat with all as he does. And we are to reveal his nature and his presence in and through it all.

That is how we will make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything he taught us. There never was any other way!

While I agree with the tenor of this post, I am not sure what to make of the following statement:

“We speak of the ‘temple mentality’, but don’t realize that temple worship for the everyday person in Israel was only three times a year (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles).”

Does the word “only” imply that these three trips to Jerusalem were relatively insignificant? If that is true, then we must also weigh the fact that this home meal with the bread and wine only happened once a year.

Do we really want to make a “both/and” into an “either/or” equation? The temple and synagogue were both significant for Israel and the Jewish believers in Acts. But so were the gatherings in their homes.

Nice to see you, I will be in Murfreesboro in a couple of weeks, maybe we could visit each other?
To answer your questions.
The three pilgrimage feasts (sloshet hareglim) were highly significant, but they were three times a year and not on a weekly basis. The synagogue was a multi-purpose building being used for a school, a political center, a community gathering center, a bed and breakfast, and among other things for the public reading of the Word, and for prayer (which with a quarum could be done anywhere). Even the Talmud calls the synagogue during that period a ,בית עם meaning “house of the people”. The idea of the synagogue is not even in the Tanach (Old Testament) at all, we are only introduced in scriptures to the syangogue in the New Testament. Its form, structure, and purpose was borrowed from the Chaldeans during the Babylonian exile when they brought it back with them. In many ways, it replaced the Old Testament concept of the “city gates” where the elders would sit and judge, where often prayer would take place, decisions for the community would be made, and buisness and trade would be booming. In Jewish law then, one could only build a place of worship where “God chose to place His name” (Deuteronomy 12:5-21). This is why both Hezekiah and Josiah destroyed the high places, and as we have found in archeological evidence (in such places as Tel Sheva and Tel Arad), even in places where they worshiped YHVH. God chose that His temple would be built in Jerusalem and nowhere else. So the early Jewish community did not see the synagogue as a religious building, but as a public secular building that some religious activities did take place. The public reading of the Word was instituted by Nehemiah in the public square (like the city gates), and later the synagogue replaced the city gates as the public square and so the public reading of the Word was moved to there. After the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, Judaism was in shambles and this Jewish sect of believers in Jesus was growing. Judaism redefined their ballgame in the Council of Jabnieh (around 90-100 CE) in order to save Judaism. They replaced the sacrifices with prayer and good deeds in order to create a templeless Judaism. They also added the Birkat HaMinim that cursed believers in Yeshua to the Amidah prayer (18 benedictions) in order to rid Jewish believers from the synagogue and Jewish community and prayers. In redifining their ballgame, the Talmud describes an argument that broke out whether the synagogue should be a “Bet Am” or “Mikdash Me’at” (a house of the people or a lesser temple). It was a heated debate, but it was decided that in light of the destruction of the temple and the redifining of Judaism, its identity would be changed to a lesser temple. Thus it went from a secular community center to a religious building of worship. There is still some debate that went on (whether to put a kitchen in the synagogue to differentiate it from the temple, etc.)….but the institutionalization of the synaoguge happened around the same time as the church.

Shalom Sean.

Regarding your above statement: “They also added the Birkat HaMinim that cursed believers in Yeshua to the Amidah prayer (18 benedictions) in order to rid Jewish believers from the synagogue and Jewish community and prayers.”

I would like to clarify the following:
The Council of Jabnieh (the Sanhedrin) had a very big argument and dispute over the so called Birkat Haminim (the enemies of the Jews) Many Rabbis saw the Nazarenes as their Jewish brothers and were against the inclusion of the above amendment in the 18 Benedictions including Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azaria and Rabbi Shmuel. Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai never agreed to pray against his brethren.

Yeshua was from the Pharisees and considered as brother in arms against the Zadokites or Sadducees. They saw this correction in the prayers as very dangerous and they were right. (Judging from history).

Not only that, Rabbi Eliezer acknowledged that the Nazarenes were converting pagans to Monotheism and saw this as a blessing.

The converted pagans have forgotten that there were once upon a time, Pharisees and Sadducees and that Yeshua was a Pharisee and will only remember the Jews. (We know today how true it is.)

Thank you for clarifying that. I would love to see your sources concerning Rabi Yohanon Ben Zakai, that would clarify alot of issues if the Nasi of the Sanhedrin did not agree to Birkat HaMinim. I love the story of how Ben Zakai was brought out of Jerusalem in a coffin and have always been fascinated by his person. I know it was Jonathon the Smaller who authorized the Birkat HaMinim. You know me very well, but you also know my motive was NOT antisemetic in posting the above; but I am rather trying to define historical roles that developed Judaism as we know it today (and also Christianity in many ways). The Council of Jabnieh was a major turning point for both faiths. For Christianity, because it lost (was stripped of) its Jewishness. For Judaism, because it created a templeless redefined Judaism. As you stated, the addition of Birkat HaMinim was unfortunate for both faiths.
Rabi Eliezer is another personality that fascinates me. Some in messianic circles even say when he was excommunicated that he was in touch with believers in Yeshua.
Personally, I see much wisdom in what many of the rabis say and thank you for bringing balance to this conversation. Many Christians and even some messianics concentrate only on the wild things some of the rabis have said and done and not their wisdom. I know at the theological level in many Christian seminaries, rabis wisdom about a certain Old Testament issues are widely used (for instance even in the books of Alfred Edersheim which are used by most evangelical seminary graduates). That being said, there were mistakes. Rabi Akiva, one of the most celebrated rabis in Judaism even today, falsely pronounced and even repented of Bar Kockva being the Messiah. Also the Talmudic injuctions of Jesus being a sorcerer (although I know this is debated whether this is “the Jesus”). My favorite verses in the Talmud about the followers of Jesus is that they had the power to heal the sick! I challenge fellow believers with this all the time (remember our time in tour guide school and the healings and once when I prayed and rebuked the fog on the way to Ashkelon)! You are right in saying Yeshua is a Pharisee, or more correct (in my opionion), the Pharisees started out as a “move of God” and turned to stale religion. Yeshua agreed with the Pharisees on the ressurection and miracles (or more correct the Pharisees agreed with the Tanach). The Saducees also were the party that supported the Hasmoneans which unlawfully took the monarchy as priests/Levites (when it belonged to Judah). Yeshua himself was of Judah, and the son of David!
That being said, what do you think of the rest of the post about the history of the institutionalization of the synagogue?

Shalom Sean
I am very pleased that you are posting information and clarifications for the general public on Judaism and Christianity which are both interconnected.

Should you wish additional information on the Sages & Rabbi Akiva and my sources, I recommend you read the 3 books written about the Sages by our Chief Rabbi David Louw and the Orchard of Akiva written by Yochi Brandes.

You will be surprised what information you will find in these books about the relations between the various factions of the Jews during the second temple time and immediately after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE by Titus.

You will also find information that there was mention of Yeshua in the first century BCE and the trip to Egypt which is a very big puzzle to me considering the fact that Yeshua was born 2013 years ago according to the New Testament.

As for the history of the institutionalization of the synagogue, it is very informative and the above books will better clarify the developments before and since the destruction of the Temple.

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