Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Off-Track for 2000 Years????? Oi Vey!

There are some things that haven't been adding up for me.

Let me go back a bit. I was raised in the home of a Baptist minister – a wonderful home in many ways – not perfect, but filled with wonderful memories.  The one thing that made less and less sense as I matured, was the total devotion to a God who didn't seem to do anything anymore. He seemed to be taking a 2000 year vacation after all that healing, delivering and miracle making. Involvement of Him in one's life seemed to me to be akin to building one's life around history lessons. Not a lot of fun.

A high-spirited girl, I went as far away from home as I could (in Canada) to university. Leaving not only my home, but the history lessons behind, I broke free and lived life as it came for 15 years - no rules, no accountability, no sense of being part of any great, cosmic 'plan,' I did my thing. By the time 15 years had rolled away, the fun was gone. I was tangled in a marriage that wasn't working and my life was spiraling downward. Mired in depression, I gave up, thinking that if this was all there was to life, I didn't want it.

Unbeknown to me, by that time, my mother and Aunt Jessie had been praying and fasting for me for about four months. They were concerned about my situation and believed that God could restore me. Without a word from them, I began to develop a hunger for purpose in my life. I began to read the Bible, and had a strong sense of knowing that it contained the answers I sought. The problem was that I needed a God who was bigger than me - a God who was still alive and could still do miracles. I wasn't willing to go back into boring history lessons.

I asked my mom what was the difference between Aunt Jessie (a lively, happy Christian) and so many I had seen who didn't seem to have any life of God in them at all. She said it was the "baptism in the Holy Spirit." I'd never heard of it before and so set upon a quest of discovery. What I found was that God had not changed. It was the church that had changed. He was still alive and still did miracles (which I began to experience) in people who really believed!

Typically, I immersed myself in study, thrilled with discovery! The depression was replaced with bubbling joy. I discovered that there was a huge move of God happening in the world that had started at Azuza St. in California at the turn of the century. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit were becoming evident on earth once again, after having disappeared in the Dark Ages.  Blind people were seeing again, crippled people were walking and thousands of people, all over the world, were being filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, prophesying and being delivered from things like depression. Wow! I asked around and discovered a group of these new "believers" right in my home town.

So - that was 33 years ago. Very interesting, because I was 33 years old when I was "born again" and now here it is, 33 years later, and I feel I've made an equally important discovery now!

Here's the thing... For the past 2000 years, ever since Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion in Rome, Christianity and Judaism have appeared to be two separate religions. However, it always seemed strange to me that Jesus was a Jew and I didn't see any place in the Bible where it said Judaism stopped and Christianity took over as the new approved-by-God religion. As a matter of fact, it seemed to me that the early Christians were still doing all the 'Jewish' things (except sacrificing animals) to get right with God. Of course they no longer had to do that because Jesus had laid His life down and was sacrificed as the "once-and-for-all" sacrifice for all who would believe.

Over the past year, all things Jewish seem to have been coming to my attention. Recently, I began to do some research. What I found, I believe, reveals the astounding truth that we've been totally, sadly off track for 2000 years!

The early Christian church was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, all of whom continued to observe the Feasts that God had ordained for them to celebrate. While the life of the Holy Spirit in each one had dissolved the need for the legalism of the Law, things like observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest were still central aspects of their faith. They rested on Saturdays because it was a healthy thing to do and then met together on Sundays to worship together. They were full of dance and joy and celebration. The very idea that their worship could ever become a matter of sitting silently in a stiff-backed pew was unthinkable!

Then along came good old Constantine, the Roman ruler who made Christianity the state religion. While I had assumed that he was some kind of hero for ending the persecution of Christians, I discovered something quite different. What appeared initially to be a great blessing in terms of his acceptance of Christianity, in fact rang the death-knell for the genuine Christian church. It was probably engineered by Satan himself - that sly destroyer. Here's what happened:

In A.D. 312, the Roman Empire was in great turmoil. Constantine and Maxentius were contending for the throne. Afraid that Maxentius could have an edge because he was known to be a master of magical arts, Constantine prayed to the "Supreme God" for victory. As far as he knew, he was praying to Mithras, the Persian sun god who he assumed was the supreme god. When he prayed, he apparently saw a flaming cross in the sky, with the words, "Conquor by this!" So - recognizing Jesus as associated with the cross, Constantine was victorious in battle and took the throne with the proclamation that he was now a follower of Jesus.

You can imagine the shock of the Christians who, until then, had been suffering dreadful persecution! For 18 years, they had been living under the brutal rule of Diocletian when many were tortured and killed. There must have been HUGE celebrations in the homes! Fear was vanquished! They must have seen it as an enormous answer to prayer.

Christian leaders were now honoured! It became financially advantageous to become a convert. Rest on Sundays became obligatory. Fabulous churches were built and pagan temples were either destroyed or turned into places to worship God.

The only problem was that Constantine didn't really know Jesus. He mistakenly understood Him to be the manifestation of the sun-god, Mithras – so – while he claimed to be a Christ-follower, he mixed pagan worship into the pot. He kept the image of Mithras on his coins and set up a statue of him in Constantinople (bearing Constantine's own features!).

While the enfolding of Christianity appeared to be wonderful at the outset, the changes proved disastrous. At the Council of Nicea, the first general council of the church in 325, Constantine detailed his un-Jewish design for the church. He declared that it was "improper" for the church to follow the customs of the Jews and identified them as "adversaries" of Rome. In eliminating Passover as an integral part of Christianity, he determined to have nothing in common with the "detestable" Jews. The church leaders apparently didn't object because they were so grateful for his support. A few checks in the spirit appealed more to them than martyrdom!

While the early church had been built on the model of the home church, Constantine abolished "houses of prayer" in favour of the great basilicas he built where crowds would assemble to "hear" the Bishop speak from his prominent throne at the front. Celebrations and dance were no more. Participation in celebratory worship was forbidden. The Bible was chained to the throne so that no one could take it and read it - a far cry from the early church teaching the Torah to children, line upon line. The air in the basilicas was stuffy and rigid. No one was allowed to hold church anywhere but in a Catholic Church building. (The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomon, Book Two, Ch. 32). The essence of the family of believers became lost when the 'Church' became a building.

(As an aside, this is in no way a rant against Catholic believers. I have dear friends who are Catholics, who I know to be genuine Christians.)

The intimate, Spirit-led worship of the early church was replaced by solemn rituals and liturgy - to Constantine, with his Roman mind-set, the richest expression of dedication. The burning of incense and the use of candles, both part of the pagan worship he had known, came into widespread use. The new solemnity or the church mirrored the ceremonies of the Roman imperial court.

In 321, Constantine declared the Christian day of worship to be a Roman holiday. He called it "the venerable day of the sun." That's where we get Sunday! By the fifth century, worshipers entering St. Peter's Basilica were expected to turn at the door and bow down to worship the rising sun!

Biblical feasts were replaced by pagan holidays. While the early church never celebrated Christ's birth, under Constantine they began to observe December 25th, the birthday of Mithras - a favorite pagan holiday characterized by merriness and gift-giving. Now that Jesus was thought to be a manifestation of Mithras, it was declared a Christian holiday! The spring celebration to honour the goddess of fertility (Asherah, Aestarte, Ishtar or, in England, Eastre) became the 'Christian' Easter, to salve the concern of Constantine that Christ's death and resurrection was celebrated on Passover, a Jewish holiday. Because the original pagan celebration of fertility was symbolized by the egg, pagans and Christians alike, decorated eggs and gave them as gifts to celebrate. Oi vey! They didn't even bother to change the name! We now say we're celebrating Easter - the name of a pagan goddess.

Worshipers of Isis (an Egyptian goddess revered as the mother of god and the great virgin) and Artemis (Diana) began calling their goddesses by the name "Mary," so that they could continue their idolatry. Not much wonder the church became full of superstition and idols! While it might have become powerful and respected on many levels in the world, it had no room for the supernatural power of God.

According to legend, when Francis of Assisi had an audience with Pope Innocent III, the Pope, showing off the wealth of the church, said, "Do you see, Francis, the church can no longer say, as Peter once did, 'silver and gold have I none.'" Francis replied, "Yes your Holiness, but neither can the church say 'In the Name of Jesus, rise up and walk'" (from The Messianic Church Arising by Dr. Robert Heidler).

Basically, Constantine's legacy is that he chopped off the Jewish roots and grafted in Greek paganism and Roman imperialism to the extent that what we have seen to be the church is a distorted misrepresentation of what it was meant to be! I am appalled that one man in power could have changed the entire course of humanity!!!!!! So sad!

By the beginning of the fourth century, Christianity was a mixed-up hodge podge in terms of how it was lived. In the cities, it incorporated aspects of paganism and Greek philosophy, while rural areas still exhibited much of the Jewish roots as taught by the apostles. There, the Torah was still taught in homes and Jews and Gentiles celebrated together as "one new man." People walked in the freedom of the New Covenant while still benefiting from the richness of their Jewish heritage.

History records Constantine's hatred for the Jewish people. It was a Roman mind-set and had been for centuries. Frustrated by the diversity, he was determined to standardize Christian worship according to his own paganized style and so commanded every church in the Roman empire to conform to his standard, which eliminated every vestige of Jewish roots. Non-conformity resulted in severe persecution and death. Anyone who followed Jewish practices (as the early church had done for over a hundred years following the death of Christ) was to be declared "anathema" (cut off or accursed) and killed.

Despite Constantine's ruthless changes, the evolving (evilving) Christian church found it necessary to follow the Nicean decrees with Council after Council where they attempted to reinforce the stamping out of Jewish roots. Right up to A.D. 787 at the second Council of Nicea,, it was decreed, "Those who openly or secretly keep the Sabbath and follow other practices in the manner of the Jews are not to be received into communion, nor into prayer, nor into the church" (Canon VIII).

The question begs to be asked – if Jewish elements of Christianity were simply unnecessary adjuncts, why was the the Roman church hierarchy still working so hard to stamp them out over 700 years later?

Sadly, even though people who didn't know Jesus were now called, "Christians," they were still pagans and all manner of atrocities were perpetuated through the Dark Ages in the name of Christianity. How often have I heard people ask, "How can you be part of something that caused such horrors in the world during the Holy wars?" They don't understand that those wars had NOTHING to do with Jesus!!!!

My point of all this is that the original Messianic church was all but snuffed out as a result of Constantine's injection into history. The Dark Ages were dark because the Light of the World had been dimmed by man's efforts to design Christianity his own way.

It's true that there has been a remnant of believers all through the ages carrying the true light of the Gospel, (such as the Culdees of Iona and the Waldensians). They have, however, enjoyed only brief periods of popularity.

Now, just as there was a great move of God at the turn of the century, restoring the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church, I believe another great move of God is restoring the Church to what He meant it to be. While Jews who come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah are known as "completed Jews," I believe Dr. Heidler is right on, in contending that Gentiles who celebrate Christianity within the context of its Jewish roots should be called, "completed Gentiles!"

I am aware that there are many readers who will say, "Diane - we all knew this. You just needed to apprise yourself of the details of church history." That may be true. I may be one of the few who had not understood the full impact of Constantine's edicts – but I have to ask, "If y'all knew all of this, why are we not doing church the way the first and second century Christians – the ones closest to the purest form of Christianity – did it? While my own pastor has been key in my rising interest, with his fascinating teachings regarding the world of Hebrew and his unfolding of our Jewish underpinnings, not every Christian leader stirs their flock to understanding as he does.

I was discussing all this with a friend the other day and her response was, "For us to go back and start celebrating the Biblical Feasts would be like slapping Christ in the face! His work is finished. We don't need to do any of that anymore! We're not into legalism anymore. We're under the New Covenant. We're not under the Law!"

If that's the case, I have to ask, "Why did the first and second century Christians slap Christ in the face by observing the Feasts and enjoying their Jewish roots?"

I believe that God's timing is everything. Although most scholars have been aware of all this for many years, as we draw closer to the end of time as we know it, God is unveiling things that have, until now, been cloaked in misunderstanding, apathy, hesitancy to move too quickly, false teaching or whatever. He is bringing deeper understanding to the world of His ways.

It seems to me that freedom in Christ means being free to enjoy the fullness of what God has given us - including some of the customs that foreshadowed and gave depth of understanding to His amazing plan.

Last night I had a vivid dream. I don't often remember dreams, but this one is staying with me. I was moving from my home. It was all about changing location. How interesting. I don't believe it meant that I am moving from Uxbridge - just that I'm moving to a different understanding.

Shalom - by design!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Ladder

I had a very interesting insight into the workings of God this morning.

The past two weeks have been particularly difficult, not only prior to my healing from macular degeneration, but with some unexpected challenges. A few nights ago, my friend Jane Anne (who some of you are getting to know through reading this blog!) was praying. After asking God for wisdom, she distinctly heard Him say, "Intercede for thy sister." (Although she and I have different parents, we are very close and feel we are spiritually related through the blood of Jesus. Like sisters, we have a lot of fun together and call each other "Sisti." :)

Anyway, Jane Anne went on her face before the Lord, asked Him to forgive her for anything that would separate her from Him and asked that He would open the portals of Heaven to her, as is her custom. Then she simply waited to hear Him speak a word pertaining to her Sisti. Amid all the human thoughts that went through her mind, the voice of the Lord eventually sounded unmistakably. He said, "Open" and then "the ladder."

Jane Anne remembered the story of Jacob and how he had a dream one night, where a ladder came down from heaven and angels ascended and descended upon it. She then prayed that God would open the ladder for me.

Without understanding why, I have been very happy for the past few days - even bubbly - in sharp contrast to the depression that has been trying to overtake me.

A few weeks prior to this, JA and her mom and I had gone to a Jewish synagogue in observance of the Day of Atonement. (I have begun to have a deeper desire to understand the Jewish roots of Christianity in order to understand my faith more deeply.) There we were greeted by a woman by the name of Joan who, in later conversation with JA, told her about the importance of the Body of Christ reading portions of the Torah in the same period of time, so that God can address particular issues in peoples lives at the same time. It was very interesting. Joan then directed her to www.torahportions.org, whereupon JA went to the site when she got home and printed out the prescribed Torah portions for us. (I encourage you to go to the site and print them out for your own use.)

Interestingly, Elaine Zimora, who connected with me re my legacy work, has been speaking to me regarding the importance of the Torah portions. I had never heard of this prior to these two introductions.

Today, I decided to begin the Torah readings for the first time. There was a reading from Genesis, one from the Prophets and another from the New Testament. As I began to read the Genesis portion in Chapter 28, I was stunned to read, "And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place and put them for his pillows and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it..."

With all the places in the Bible I could have read today - what are the chances...? Have my happy feelings been the result of angels running up and down the ladder, ministering to me? What a delightful thought. It is so important to pray for each other!! God hears us - by design!

P.S. After reading this blog, JA called me and said Gid had had a further word for me. It was, "Hold tight to the rungs!" That's a word that important for all of us. Our journey through this life to the next is lived just one rung at a time, but we must hold tight to the Sure Support. :)