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Your Prayer Shawl Scares Me

"So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality." - Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT)

The efficacy of Judaism, as a theological system, is dead.  This was the message of Jesus of Nazareth and, for that message, the Jewish leaders sought to kill Him.  The Law of Moses, having served its purpose, was to be nailed to the cross along with the Lamb of God who was taking away the sins of the world (Colossians 2:14).  The Law's ultimate purpose was as a teacher to bring men to Christ and, once an individual is in Christ, the authority of the Law ceases to exist (Galatians 3:19-25).  It is by true faith leading to the New Birth that one is "circumcised" in the means that God now recognizes (Romans 2:25-29; Colossians 2:8-13).  Thus, the one who would cling to any of the traditions of the Law does so in great peril making Christ of absolutely no value (Galatians 5:1-6).

This very bold introduction is because of the gravity of the proposition.  A Christian attempting to keep the traditions of the Law is described in the New Testament as "entangled," under a "yoke of bondage" who is "obligated to keep the entire Law" and "fallen from grace" and "under a curse."  Given that fact, it is not a subject which should be dealt with softly nor can there be sufficient emphasis on the Biblical mandate to follow the Perfect Law of Liberty instead of the Law of Sin and Death.  The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).  But what about those who keep portions of the Law but do not do so as a matter of justification?

At this point, the matter gets a little blurry.

For Christians there is something fascinating about Judaism.  This is not altogether unmerited.  After all, Christianity is, by nature, the wild olive branch grafted onto the natural (Romans 11:11-31).  The Jewish root of the Church is undeniable.  We are, by faith, children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 29).  We are those "Jews" which are ones inwardly through the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29).  The Church is that entity which, in Christ, fulfills the Law (Romans 3:29-31).  Christ has torn down the middle wall which divides Jew and Gentile making them one new man in Him (Ephesians 2:14-16).  The Christian is a resident of God's Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26), has come to Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22), a citizen of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) and part of the Body which has now become the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Again, the Jewish root of the Church is undeniable.  But the Law and the Prophets, the ordinances of the Law, the Sabbaths, feasts, festivals, sacrifices and the like, are only shadows.  They are Christ's shadow (Colossians 2:16-17), shadowy examples of Divine things in Christ (Hebrews 8:5-6), figures of the future sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:1-10, 10:1-18) with the overarching message that the actual substance, the thing to attain and cling to, is Christ; not the shadow.

It is not altogether unusual to see Christians keeping traditions of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this issue quite thoroughly in Romans 14.  In that passage, which should serve as a model for Christian liberty and conviction, Paul confronts the issue of Christians clinging to certain dietary aspects of the Law.  His conclusion was simple:  if you wish to carry a dietary restriction because of your conscience, do so understanding that it doesn't make you a better person, closer to God, more spiritual, a stronger Christian or more justified in the eyes of God.  Don't command others to do it.  Don't look down on others who don't do what you do.  Keep it to yourself and be happy about it (Romans 14:22-23).  But if you're doing it because you are keeping some trapping of the Law (dietary restrictions, prayer shawls, Sabbaths, feasts, etc.) because you think it pleases God for you to do so, you're wrong.  It might satisfy your conscience in some way, but, in doing so, you prove yourself to be weak (1 Corinthians 8:11-13).

This is one of the reasons there is the potential to completely fall from grace in keeping the traditions of the Law  (Galatians 5:4).  The Christian who does so is revealing a personal spiritual weakness.  Trying to hold to a shadow when the substance stands before you can be a great sign of distance from God.  The light shines from Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).  The shadow is cast before Him.  You cannot embrace the shadow without, to some degree, turning your back on Christ.  This is what is so frightening about seeing Christians keeping these aspects of the Law.

Furthermore, it is one thing to have an appreciation and curiosity in regard to Biblical Judaism.  But the facets of Judaism most often embraced by Christians are not necessarily Biblical.  It must be remembered that Judaism, as it appears today, has not been Judaism according to the Biblical form in many centuries.  When a Christian wears a "Jewish" prayer shawl (tallit) or the skullcap (kippah), they are not fulfilling Numbers 15:38-40 or any other point of the Law.  They are dressing in garments which developed much later than the Old Testament period and perpetuating extra-Biblical Talmudic Judaism.  Be mindful that this is the same form of Judaism which claims Jesus of Nazareth was the illegitimate son of an adulteress who was, Himself, an attempted adulterer, sorcerer and idolater.  These are they which call Him "son of Pantera" to emphasize a supposed relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier or political official who was the real father of Jesus.  It is the same Talmudic Judaism which insists that Jesus of Nazareth is held in eternal punishment writhing in "boiling excrement" and who, hopefully, will have His name and memory completely blotted out.

How can a Christian hold hands in any form of identification with this?

Returning to Romans 14, we must agree with the Holy Spirit as He spoke through the Apostle Paul.  If a Christian holds a personal conviction in regard to anything, inasmuch as it doesn't violate the Word of God, let it be so and let that individual hold that conviction to himself before God without mandating such upon any other Believer.  This applies to both Saint and Minister.  The Pastor, Evangelist, Teacher or Minister who teaches others they must do these things is violating the Word of God in doing so.  If you have a conviction, keep it to yourself before God.  Those who lead their congregations into Sabbath worship, keeping of feasts and other matters does so in contradiction to and rebellion against the Word of God.  Holding to it yourself is fine; insisting others must do so is not.

That an individual Christian returns to embrace portions of the traditions of the Law is a frightening thing.  It would appear that it begins with a small point and, most often, evolves into feelings of superiority or, akin to it, feelings that other Christians who do not observe such things are inferior, rebellious, in fellowship with the "harlot church" or, in some way, shape or form, displeasing to God.  It is frightening because it is, most often, a slippery slope.  The Law is a dangerous thing to play with once an individual experiences grace.  It will bring you into bondage and rob you of the gift of grace.  Sadly, those who walk this road most often do so in the name of drawing nearer to and pleasing God.

But let it be understood now just as it was in the days of the Apostles and as it has been stated before, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).  Let us strive not to be, as the Holy Spirit addressed our Brethren of old, "foolish Galatians."


1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

And to these things we can only say, "Amen and Amen."


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