“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13 (NASB95)
The lies and half-truths of the devil are insidious and sneaky. Just as the serpent beguiled Eve in the Garden, so he still desires to do so today. One way his deception gains traction is when it is given a platform of popularity manifested in groups of religious movements known as cults. One such platform that has gained popularity enabling the devil’s half-truths is commonly called the Hebrew Roots movement. This group of pseudo-Jews, who claim an identity to the Hebrew roots of the Law and the sacred name of God, hold to many unbiblical doctrines manifested in a legion of error. The primary fallacy wrapped up in this movement is that a person’s righteousness and justification is earned through the works of the Mosaic Law. This stands in direct opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture. For example:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB95).
Instead of seeing the plain word of truth, this group’s blind assertion for salvation is built on a works-based system which is dependent upon one’s ability to keep the holy Law of God perfectly, at all times and in all ways. In this serious error, their teaching arrogantly goes beyond the humanly impossible high-standard of the Law to add to it even more requirements of law, which are not biblical but man-made. For example, the use of the sacred names of God must be pronounced in Hebrew. This ensures that the proper blessing of the Lord will be experienced and also serves to quickly identify its members, even though often their etymological standards with such names are often distorted.
Another example of their distortion of the truth of Scripture is a militant assimilation to the Jewish culture. No doubt this also is meant to add to a works-based righteousness, but instead reeks of idolatry. Another mark which goes hand-in-hand with Jewish assimilation involves their end-time view of a restoration of the old covenant sacrificial system manifested in a rebuilt temple. Their predictive assertion is that a future temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem so that God can then re-establish the Levitical priesthood enabling the animal sacrifices which took place under the Law. Their belief being that it will allow true worship to take place once again through a sacrificial system of the slaughter of animals by Levitical priests throughout eternity. In fact, many believe in this rebuilt temple so fiercely that they are even willing to financially support organizations who are poised to begin its construction in our modern time.
One may ask, what is the big deal if these people want to pretend they are Jewish and pat themselves on the back for thinking they are actually keeping every jot and tittle of the Law? The problem is this: These brief examples of pseudo-spirituality, along with many others which could be given, serve to point out a very fundamental error, whereby its adherents are dragged down a dead-end road, namely, the denial of the primacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. This cult is built upon the monumental failure to recognize the sufficiency of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who alone provides our propitiation and substitutionary atonement once and for all. Instead of recognizing the clear teaching of Scripture which dictates that it is through Christ alone by which we are enabled to be true worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth, they promote a return to the works of the Law which crucifies to themselves again the Son of God, making Him of no effect.
Obviously, there is a serious misunderstanding of the fundamental purpose of God’s Law. Even a basic understanding of Scripture is all it takes to recognize the deep error of the Hebrew Roots’ understanding of the Law and Gospel. While those who argue for a return to the works of the Law, the Bible speaks to us differently. For instance:
“For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” Romans 7:5-6 (NASB95)
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:23-26 (NASB95)
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” Galatians 5:1-2 (NASB95)
While the false teachings of the Hebrew Roots are so numerous and so complicated, like a swamp of tangled, twisted mangrove roots, making it difficult and incredibly time consuming to unravel all of its tendrils, there are a few primary marks which set those involved in this cult apart and need to be addressed systematically, yet briefly. After many discussions with those in the Hebrew Roots movement over the years (ad infinitum ad nauseam), it seems they basically get it wrong on these three fundamental principles:
- The Lordship of Jesus Christ, including His sin atoning sacrifice along with the new covenant in His blood; believing that:
- Jesus merely provided us an example of how to observe the Law and was not the fulfillment of the Law
- Christmas and Resurrection Sunday celebrations should be rejected because they have pagan roots
- The doctrine of the Trinity is false, including the Sonship of Christ (though not all adhere to this)
- The place and purpose of the Law in the scope of God’s plan of redemption; believing that:
- Strict observance of the Torah, including dietary laws, is mandatory and achievable; although upon closer examination many of the jot and tittle aspects of the Law seem to be neglected
- An emphasis on observing the Sabbath day, Old Testament feasts, and Jewish holidays is imperative to pleasing God and obtaining His blessing
- The identity and purpose of national Israel; believing that:
- True followers of the Law receive identity with national Israel despite one’s true genealogy; this is practiced to the point of idolatry
- Hebrew is the chosen language of God therefore He is honored only when His name is pronounced in Hebrew, although much of the names used are etymologically distorted
- The Bible is not God’s revelation to mankind about Himself but instead is a revelation of Israel from cover to cover; Israel is Lord and God is its servant
- There was a conspiracy to corrupt the Jewish people by the Hellenization (converting to Greek) of the Hebrew culture over 2000 years ago which God was unable to stop; this contributes to their rejection of much of the Greek New Testament, especially the writings of Paul who is believed to be the most corrupted by the Greek culture, and is the main reason why the modern Church has become Babylon
While these are deep and troubling distortions of Scripture and the orthodox teaching of the Church, it only scratches the surface of how twisted and tangled their thinking is. A person can seriously grow weary of the endless heresy, empty doctrine, and false teaching of this growing movement.
Furthermore, apart from its foundation of false doctrine, this movement is particularly dangerous for another reason. Their assumption is that the modern Church has been so corrupted beyond redemption that it will be judged as the great harlot city, Babylon, spoken about in Revelation (though many deny this book as canonical, except of course when it supports their argument). Therefore, since many of them hold to the belief that they alone have the pure teaching of Scripture and observe the right, pure practice of it, they believe it is their prerogative to draw people out of the modern Church and into their warped form of pseudo-Judaism before the judgment of God comes.
Surprisingly, this is a growing faction and brings to mind the words of Paul to the Galatians, saying:
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7 (NASB95)
Often their agenda is successful on two counts. First, I have noticed they tend to prey on those who are young in their faith and understanding of Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Secondly, it seems as though they are especially successful with those who have experienced hurt or disappointments by the Church. In these two categories, the wolves seem to find an easy meal. Pastors must protect their flock from these treacherous imposters at all cost.
Personally, in my experience in dealing with advocates of the Hebrew Roots teaching of a false gospel, I have adopted a zero tolerance attitude, which is the same as that adopted by Paul against the Judaizers of his day.
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Galatians 1:8 (NASB95)
While this may seem harsh and overly judgmental, in light of the destruction I have witnessed them cause to churches and families; shipwrecking the faith of the vulnerable, I assure you it is the only proper response. Furthermore, in dealing with this dangerous cult which blatantly denies the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, arrogantly distorts the Law, and unashamedly idolizes Israel, Titus is helpful:
“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning being self condemned.” Titus 3:4-11 (NASB95)
- God saved us through His kindness and His love which has been manifested in Jesus Christ, not on the basis of our deeds (including using the Hebrew names of God and observing days, weeks, and festivals) but because of His mercy. Period. End of discussion.
- Those who have accepted this salvation are obtaining this salvation through the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit, not through our works done in righteousness and certainly not through our attempts at washings of the Law.
- God’s entire creation has the opportunity to become His heirs (not merely those who are national Israel or those who falsely claim to be) and once again, this justification is by grace pointing to the hope of eternal life to the glory of God.
- These are trustworthy statements for those who believe and are the basis for any and all good deeds to be engaged in.
- For those who reject these trustworthy statements in order to argue about foolish controversies (such as the conspiracy theories concerning the birth of Christ or the Hellenization of Israel), genealogies, strife and disputes about the Law, it is good to contend with them for a first and second warning after which they are to be rejected as factious, perverted, sinning, and self-condemned. Only the Holy Spirit through His word can renew that person by opening the eyes of the blind, melting the hearts of the rebellious, and converting the unregenerate who falsely base their righteousness through the works of the Law and assimilation into Jewish culture.
And one final remark and warning regarding the pursuit of the works of the Law for righteousness instead of by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone:
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.”