This is a challenging article as to why we do and think the way we do. What does it mean to be a servant or follower of the God of Israel? Skip Moen has many unique perspectives. Whether you embrace all he says, is not the point. Some people find that others who possess perspectives, opinions or beliefs different than their own is actually a strength. But on the flip side, far too many of us find opposing thoughts about any given idea, doctrine, philosophy or theology a threat because we cannot tolerate a dissenting view that does not reinforce our own perspective. This betrays an insecurity of mind, heart and faith.
By Skip Moen D. Phil.
The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. Acts 3:13 NASB
The God of – What God do you serve? Perhaps this is really the most important question of all. Don’t be too quick to answer. Consider the antiquity of Peter’s declaration before you jump to respond. Peter claims that Yeshua is the servant of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” If you do the research, you will find the same connection with Moses (Exodus 3:6) and with Yeshua Himself (Matthew 22:32). Of course, you will also discover the same identification in the prophets and the writings. The God of the Way is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But what does this mean? Does it simply mean that there is a common name? Does it mean that all those who claim to follow YHWH are followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? Are Catholics and Protestants who claim to be followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob like Jews who make this claim? Ah, but now you see that it isn’t quite so clean. Jews claim to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When they make this claim, they are saying that the God who revealed Himself to these patriarchs is the same God that they worship. How do we know this? Because they live according to the instructions given by this God to His servant Moses. Since Hebrew thought focuses on actions rather than words, to be a follower of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob means to do what Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did. And for Jews, this means to express their faith in the way that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob instructed them to do so through His servant Moses (who, by the way, served the same God).
This raises an interesting question. Yeshua claims to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Peter claims that Yeshua did so. Peter claims to serve the same God (as does Paul). In Jewish thought, this means that these men act according to the revelation that this God gave to Moses. The chain is unbroken. They do not claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because they know His name. Knowing what to call Him means nothing unless you do what He says. The identification is determined by practice, not documents or doctrines. If the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob names you as His child, then He is your authority and you do what He says. That’s how I know I follow Him.
But something very odd happened after the first century. When Christianity speaks about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, it doesn’t mean following the same unbroken chain. It claims that because of Yeshua’s death, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not the same God who revealed Himself to Moses or to the patriarchs. Oh, the name is the same, but everything about the practice is different. In other words, the definition of the term has changed. Now the concept of identification through action has changed to identification through declaration. I serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because I say so, regardless of whether my behavior is aligned with His revelation through the prophets. In fact, if I actually follow what the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob said to the patriarchs and the prophets, I am not a true believer according to Christianity. I am a legalist, an incomplete Jew, a heretic. A true believer is one who recognizes that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob isn’t the old God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is now a God that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob might not even recognize. He is now the God of the Church.
Running to the Scriptures to resolve this odd conclusion will not help much. The reason it won’t help is because the issue isn’t about the text. It is about the paradigm that converts action into declaration. It is about the difference between definition in behavior versus definition in statement. The Scriptures can be made to fit either point of view. The question really is about what the author meant by the terms he used. So, let’s go back to Peter. When Peter said that Yeshua is the servant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, what do you think he meant? Did he mean that Yeshua identified this God according to His name, or did he mean that Yeshua followed the same revelation given by this God to the patriarchs? Was Yeshua a card-carrying member of the Church, or was He a follower of Jewish practices? It seems rather obvious when we put it like this. He practiced the faith of the Fathers. So did Peter.
So when did these men change their minds and decide that they could serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but not do what this God asked of their ancestors? In other words, who is a true believer, the one who claims the name but ignores the actions or the one who acts according to the revelation but doesn’t claim the name of “Jesus”?
The God of – [What does this mean for Christians?] We are immediately faced with a dilemma. Christianity, as a religion, is basically anti-Semitic (see the extensive explanation of the work of John Gager, et. al.). In other words, it defines itself in terms that oppose Judaism. It re-interprets the symbols of the faith by converting Jewish events and practices into Christian ones (e.g., Passover – Easter, circumcision – baptism). In the process of this self-identification, Christianity reinterprets the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the God of Paul, a God who (according to the Church) no longer demands or expects any of the practices required of His past (Old Testament) servants. This implies that Paul converted to the new religion of Christianity, a claim that no longer seems viable (again, see Gager, Eisenbaum, Young, Sanders, etc.). But history and linguistics have little to do with theological self-identification. The Church simply re-wrote the history and changed the meanings of the terms to fit its own need to be not Jewish.
Here’s the dilemma. If all of this is true (and it’s pretty hard to deny the historical record), then most Christians really don’t serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They actually serve a God whose identification has been reconstructed by the Church. And the problem is that most Christians don’t even know this!
Most Christian are God-fearing, good hearted, devoted and sincere people who want to follow God. They have had real, legitimate experiences with God. They love Jesus. They want to do what is right. Their faith is based on these experiences. They are not mistaken about what God did for them and with them. But they interpret all of these true experiences according to the teachings of the Church. So when someone suggests that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God who gave Moses the Torah, they react with the doctrines of the Church, doctrines that are avowedly anti-Semitic, because this is all that they have ever known. They haven’t investigated the origin of their own doctrines. They have trusted the preacher, who, by the way, was educated in a seminary that taught the same anti-Semitic point of view. They believe. They just don’t know why they believe. And in a lot of cases, when they are faced with the possibility that the interpretation of their experiences with God might be incompatible with Scripture, they are afraid because their faith is tied to the doctrines, not to God. If the doctrines fall apart, they are afraid that their faith will fall apart because in the Greek-based paradigm of this culture (and the Church), you must have the right answer in order to have faith. They think that if the answers they have repeated all their lives are not correct, then their faith is mistaken. They do not see that the answers are the result of a theological paradigm but their experiences are the result of God’s hand in their lives. God’s hand does not depend on having all the right answers. Faith is not theology. Faith is trusting Him and living accordingly. Theology is just making sense of it all. Theology can change with new information and more learning, but that doesn’t mean your trust falters – unless of course your faith was really a faith in the answers rather than in the God behind all the answers.
This is why it is so difficult to conduct investigations like the ones found in Today’s Word. If your faith depends on having a firm grip on all the answers, you won’t be able to look behind those answers without feeling as though you are losing your faith. As one woman said to me years ago, “I just can’t continue. I feel like I am losing my faith in Jesus.” Her answers were being challenged and she needed those answers in order to believe.
Let me be as clear as I can about this.
I am not trying to challenge your TRUST in God or in His son, Yeshua. If anything, I want to encourage you to trust Him more. I came to this place just like you, through the Church, through the “born again” experience. I have years and years (and plenty of degrees) of education in the Church paradigm. I know that God’s hand is absolutely real in the lives of many Christians. That is undeniable! What I am trying to do is to understand why we think the way we do, where those ideas come from and how they affect our behavior. I want the truth! That’s all. That’s it. And I will go wherever I need to in order to find it.
The true believer trusts God in crisis – and sometimes that crisis challenges nearly everything."