Power to the [lay]people!

Yes, it's a joke. Lighten up. Stuffiness is not a prerequisite for being religious. You're not a puritan.Last week I had a hard time writing blog posts. Not out of a lack of content, mind you – I’m a veritable fountain of near-useless information that I’m all too ready to deploy on the unsuspecting world. Rather, I had one little thing on my mind that I didn’t really want to write. This one little thing was totally blocking my other thoughts and creativity, preventing me from writing anything half-interesting.

Hoping this one little thing would pass, I managed to squeeze out 2 blog posts. Ok, I’m lying. I didn’t actually write those 2 posts. My older brother Jesse wrote last week’s post on Passover & Easter. And thanks to my younger brother Aaron for this beautiful song. So really I wrote 0 posts. But I still managed to satisfy the demand for ultimate blogging success and stuck to my schedule of 2 blog posts per week. All in the name of Blog the Great.

But here we are a week later and I still have that one little thing on my mind. Like a stubborn kidney stone, it just won’t pass! Only way to make it pass is write it here and off the chest it goes, I hope, freeing my mind and skillful fingers to write fanciful prose not seen since the days of Shakespeare. Or just the usual junk I write. Either-or.

Let me tell you what that one little thing was.

Weeks ago I was talking theology with 2 leaders in the Messianic movement. Oh yeah, I’m sly like that. The theology was about things that don’t matter much in the long run: the calendar, and the exact timing of Yeshua’s death and resurrection. Even though these things don’t matter that much long-term, there was some heated, fierce debate. (We religion-people like to do that a lot, turn little nothings into big somethings.)


The Jewish Calendar

J.K. McKee, a Messianic apologist (perhaps the Messianic apologist?) and academic, a guy I have a whole boatload of respect for, wrote a post on the Jewish calendar. Now the calendar issue is a silly one: To compress a volume into a sentence, the issue is that the current Jewish calendar, created in the 4th century CE, is not the same one defined in the Torah. [Duh.] Some follow the Jewish calendar (like McKee) and others (like me) follow an agriculture calendar we hope is more faithful to the Scripture.

Yeah. It’s a trivial thing to argue about. You’d think we’d have something better to do with our time than argue about calendars. But religion can make you dumb like that.

J.K. McKee’s post angered me, but, armed with my newfound wisdom of a pragmatic faith, knowing full well the world is not impressed with our silly arguments about calendars, my response was gentle and gracious:

As you know, JK, I’m an agricultural calendar guy.

[big, wordy response goes here…]

In the end, I think we shouldn’t be dogmatic about calendar issues. There are way more important things to tackle, greater things to concern ourselves with.

Ta-dum! Situation resolved peacefully. But, alas, it didn’t remain so. I’ll explain in a moment.


The timing of the Messiah’s death and rising

I switched gears and totally forgot about McKee’s post.

A day or so later, I went over to the blog of another guy I have a lot of respect for: Derek Leman. Derek’s a Messianic gentile who really has a heart for the Jewish people and Judaism. I love his well-researched studies. He’s very grounded and very real, something uncommon to encounter in a sea of airy spiritual people. So I like him. I respect him.

Derek wrote a post about the timing of Messiah’s death and resurrection. Which day of the week did Messiah die? Which day of the week did he rise? That kind of thing. Fun to debate about, silly to get dogmatic about. Derek posted a well-researched belief: Jesus was crucified on Friday. I disagreed and said so in the comments.

Armed again with the dual-wielding pistols of pragmatic faith and knowledge of the silliness of certain dogmatic arguments, I spoke graciously:

I’ve done a boat-load of study on this stuff. Seriously, a boat-load. :-) Here’s my current understanding:

[long-winded, stuffy details here]

Ok? So that’s my best understanding. I’ve done a lot of research to arrive at this conclusion. There are probably holes in it and things not quite right. But that’s my best Scriptural understanding I’ve come to at this point.

Oh boy, what a mistake it was to post that!

Things started getting heated. Derek started sweating profusely as I sliced him apart with my cunning theological arguments. Ok, I’m lying again. Derek tore me a new theological hole, ripping apart everything I hold dear. No, that’s not the truth either. Basically, we went back in forth in the comments, starting off graciously, but each comment getting more heated than the last, passive-aggressively getting on each other’s nerves.

In an off-the-record email, Derek said to me,

Your starting point must be Torah, the way the festival works, and the data from the gospels.

Ummm. Yeah, Derek. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

Derek Leman's alter-ego?

I wanted to say, “Thanks for dismissing my views as if I never once glanced at the Torah nor took a gander at the gospels in the last 5 years. Thanks.”

Thankfully, I held my tongue again, my response containing only a reassurance to Derek that I am indeed using data from the Torah and gospels as my foundation.

But things raged on, as J.K. McKee chimed in the comments, saying:

It is insufficient for any reader to examine the English of Leviticus 23 and then start making conclusions…

Oh, so first I wasn’t studying the Torah or gospels, and now I’m just looking at Leviticus 23 and pulling theology out of my magic theology hat! Woohoo! Isn’t this fun?!

This is apparently where I get my theology from. VOILA!

Finally, Derek said something that sent me over the edge into a violent fit of internet argument rage! Grrr! Hulk ANGRY! Derek said something that really frustrated me. Really. He said:

Please think and study before making such statements that further confuse the issue.

Oh, man! What a mean, sneaky rabbi! My first thought, thank God I didn’t post it, was, “I’ve studied this stuff for 5 years now. Who the hell are you to talk to me like that!” It was as if Derek was the old, wise, bearded man of the mountain, and I’m just some youthful traveler foolish enough to contradict him. “Please think before posting.” My butt.

Thankfully, I didn’t post anything nasty. Twice now I’d been angered, despite trying my best to be gracious and loving, but praise God, I had some patience and longsuffering, something I’ve learned from certain Messianic leadership. I stepped away from the computer. I let it cool down. Coming back later, I told Derek,

Whew, this is getting a little heated. I didn’t want this to become a spiteful debate about things that, in the long run, don’t really matter that much.

Derek, I’ll respond after I’ve had time to study more on the objections you raised, and after things have cooled down a little. :-)

Shalom, guys.

I might have been lying; I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to talk about it anymore. (I still haven’t responded 2 weeks removed.) If it’s just gonna turn ugly, gosh, forget that crap, I don’t want any of it.

(There were a million + 1 other passive-aggressive statements uttered, but they’re uninteresting and I fear I’ll lose your valuable and ever-short attention span, dear blog reader, if I recite each one.)

Oh, if only it ended there. I always regret my acts of disgrace, and ungracious I was soon to be…


Back to the calendar

Remember McKee’s post about the calendar? Well, some folks at our Bible study sent it around to each other and started discussing it. As the discussion of it progressed, I realized that McKee’s post was too dismissive and spoke from a lofty, high ground of educated understanding. Like that old man perched up on the mountain, speaking down to us mere mortals, so was McKee on his blog. It was clear to me his post contained conjecture and subjective musings, not the real gold-plated truth some painted it to be. “A bunch of crap!” I thought to myself.

I was tired of being belittled. I have been gracious on calendar and dating issues, yet in a single week I was twice insulted and belittled.

I decided it was time to let it all hang out.

Dismiss all my appointments. Cancel my meetings. Turn off the Old Tyme radio, Marge, SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET.


I wrote a crisp, short, cutting response to McKee. I really told him what’s what. I told him in what was now my 2nd comment, one which didn’t make it past blog comment moderation:

John, we’re trying to follow the Torah the best we can. I can’t speak for everybody else, but we follow the agricultural calendar because that’s the message we get from the Torah, not because of some scary apocalyptic timeline.

You might say we’re dumb — most of us lack higher theological education, we don’t have the necessary astronomical, historical, and contextual knowledge to make sound judgments. We don’t have the background in Greek and Hebrew to get the word straight from the horse’s mouth, so our judgments are off.

Maybe that’s all true, but damn it, we’re following God best we can. And the best we can do, when it comes to the calendar — interpreting the Scriptures best we can — leads us to something other than the Hillel II Jewish calendar created in the 4th century.

Thus, I wrote my first ungracious comment in 2009. :blows celebratory horn:

Gah. Old friend J.K. didn’t take too kindly to this comment, pointing out my use of profanity. I apologized for being ungracious, but told him I’m not ashamed of the comment. J.K. was kind enough to see past my spurt of ungraciousness. He forgave my ungraciousness. We haven’t talked since. :cries:

I was ungracious, overwhelmed by zealous emotion, for which I apologized. But there is something legitimate there I was trying to communicate, poorly as usual. And now that I’m 2 weeks removed from that blinding zeal, I think I can communicate it properly…


Power to the laypeople!

I’m a lay person by all means. That means I’m not part of the educated clergy. I’m just a dude in a congregation. That’s ok. I have a short college education at a tiny community college in Joliet, Illinois. I can’t even remember the name of my college’s sports team. More importantly, I’m not privy on the newest theologies, not well-informed of the latest doctrines! I don’t have a theological degree, unlike Derek Leman and John McKee.

But I’m not stupid, either. At least, I play a smart guy on the intarweb blogging scene. That counts, right?

What I wanted to communicate is in 2 parts. I’m going to communicate them now. Ready? They’re simple, so you don’t have to think very hard to understand them.

The first part is that laypeople like me should respect and value the theology of the highly educated in our movement. They’ve spent great personal fortunes, undoubtedly depleting said fortunes, in an effort to become learned. They’ve succeeded. All other things being equal, we laypeople ought to value their opinions, conjecture, and theologies higher than that of laity.

The second part is that our educated leadership should not dismiss views of laypeople on the sole count that we’re laypeople. That’s the feeling I got when talking to Leman and McKee. “Please study and think before talking…”, “You can’t just read 1 chapter and pull theology out of it…” “You need to understand 2nd Temple Judaism before you can have any understanding in the area…” And so on. Thanks for assuming I’m a dumb redneck with no education, no context, no study. Because that’s the message my educated leadership was sending me. Don’t do that, dear educated leadership. Not all of us are dumb.

(Hmm, maybe I should copyright that sentence. Not All of Us Are Dumb®. There. )



I love the educated leadership in the Messianic movement. I regularly give money to them whenever I can afford it. I routinely hold up their words as examples when talking to people about Messianic Judaism. I value them more than they know. I wish I could write a hundred paragraphs about them, if only it would not bore you fine blog readers. If we in Messianic Judaism lost this irreplaceable generation of educated leadership to Christianity or Orthodox Judaism or agnosticism, inexplicably worse off our movement would be.

I only ask that our educated leadership would value our contribution, the contribution of the laypeople. By all means, pick apart our arguments, show us where our theology is wrong. But don’t dismiss us while you stand on that steep lofty mountain of higher education, dismissing us just because we’re laity. And don’t assume we’re all dumb. That’s insulting.

We can learn from the Methodists. John Wesley sent out laypeople as preachers, lay-preachers – an unthinkable and widely criticized act at the time. These men weren’t ordained by the Church of England, yet religion took a turn for the better because of them, despite these men not always having the proper ordination or higher education. God can use us dumb people.

Likewise, even though many uneducated leaders in Messianic Judaism have occasionally hurt the movement, on the whole, the faith is better with us in it. Really. We can make it better through our faith and servitude, even though our academic knowledge pales in comparison to the great, educated leaders going before us.

And now that that’s off my chest, a load has been lifted. It’s smokin’ to high heaven, like incense on the altar.  

Thanks for listening to this rant. We now return you to our regular scheduled programming.


  1. I'm on Spring vacation so my Internet time is a little limited. I read your blog and I found it amuzing.

    I still love ya! ;)

  2. Oh you lucky dog! Enjoy the vacation, J.K. :-)

  3. The disciples were laypeople and look what they accomplished with the help of Holy Spirit.

    Enough said...

  4. Enjoyed this post. It made me think of times past wherein religious leaders of the day did not even want their lay people to read Scripture, or see the necessity for it to be in their own language.

    I am thankful that is not where we are at today. I think it is much better to respect the time, study and prayer that those who make faith their full time vocation, as well as those leaders respecting and even encouraging their lay people to read, understand and compare what they say to what Scripture says.

    It is wonderful that you (and I) can have these types of conversations and even disagreements with those that study theology in much greater detail than we can afford to.

    We have a great deal to learn from our leaders, and it is great that they are willing to listen to us and respond to us and even encourage us to study more. In other times we might have been told to not speak at all and not given the chance to continue in studying.

    I know for myself, I can recall times thinking some great Scripture or concept to bring to the Rabbi that will just tear down something he just said. More often than not, it seemed the Rabbi had already heard that argument and stood ready to swat it down like a little pesky fly.

    Now, I more often approach my leaders with a greater level of respect and still bring up my points, but less in the manner of this must be wrong, because I know what is right and more in the manner of this part of Scripture confuses me, so how do you reconcile what you are teaching with this Scripture? Doing so has helped me to learn more, and maybe occasionally helped me score some points with the Rabbi.

  5. Lou,

    Yes, good point. Paul would not be a layperson, interestingly. But I think all 12 disciples would have been.

  6. Bryan,

    It's true, we've come a long way. We have the Scripture interpreted in our langauge. We have the Scripture easily available for all to read. We have the ability to question our leaders.

    These are things not possible for laity in past generations.

    We have made progress. Power to the laypeople. :-)

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  7. Judah,

    I'm not trying to stir anything up here, but just where in the world did the concept of "lay people" come from?

    I know that the "church" came up with a plan to establish their own earthly priesthood in order to subjugate the "lay people", but it is not something I have found in scripture as a construct of the kingdom of YHVH.

    In fact, Yeshua spoke directly against this type of relationship between believers.

    Sure there are those who by reason of anointing and effort have been given places of authority within the congregation of Israel. But it is not to steer the boat. Only to improve and maintain the condition of the sailors (His people).

    Consider the reaction of the religious leaders at the time of Yeshua on earth when confronted with a mere citizen of no great learning in Torah in regards to the working of YHVH among His people.

    They were both indignant and disdainful toward the individual who had just had his eyes healed by the Messiah of Israel.

    My point being that those religious folks who had spent years of their lives studying Torah, and were confident in their knowledge and understanding of the ways of YHVH, were at the same time unwilling to listen and learn from a common man. Regardless of the great miracle which had taken place.

    While I do appreciate those who are fluent in the Greek and Hebrew languages and their contributions to our understanding of scripture, were I given a choice between a scholar who knew several languages and had studied extensively and someone who hadn't, but had the faith to bring healing to my child who was suffering from cancer, I know to which one I would make the call.

    Both have a place. But since the latter of the two is less common, we tend to lift up the former to places they shouldn't be occupying.

    My two cents.



  8. Efrayim

    I think you're quite right. But I don't think Judah is wrong, either.

    Your view of the "layperson" concept belying the proper fellowship relationship is probably entirely biblical (I haven't really studied it).

    Judah's speaks from the view that there is a perceived heirachy of those with PhD's, theology degrees and purple frocks. It has cast a spell which we all get caught under sometimes.

    But his conclusion is that no, indeed, "laypeople" can learn and impart much like the more "formally" studied, if they immerse themselves in the word and keep themselves spiritually fit.

    Most churches, including the one I'm in, will preach a pastor and deacon structure is biblical as per Acts. Again, I haven't studied it in depth so I can't comment. But I listen to them preach safe in the knowledge that they're not necessarily right or know more than me, it's just that they're up there and I'm not.

    One thing I have noticed on this, is with my work with Australian Christians Supporting Israel (www.acsisrael.org). We bombard Christian publications with letters and op-eds where Christian leaders have vilified Israel from their "human rights" platforms. The reactions are becoming increasingly hostile.

    I think one of the reasons they get hostile is that they're losing control. Individuals in congregations are learning the Bible for themselves. They're discovering, for example, that the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional, which means we have a gentile obligation to support the Jewish people's regathering. People are discovering for the first time the early church's anti-semitism, and that it has carried over to today. The leaders are becoming scared of the "laypeople", which I think relates to this post.

    Shalom ben Elohim

  9. Well written, Judah! Your gentle spirit and sense of humor shine through...and your point is well taken. I can relate to what you are communicating.

    Yeshua hates the doctrine and deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2). Some say this refers to “lording over the laity” based on the etymology of the word itself.

    There are various opinions, but I tend to agree with this definition:

    "Nicolaitans" "refers to the earliest form of the notion of a priestly order, or 'clergy,' which later divided an equal brotherhood into 'priests' and 'laity.'"

    We are all brothers and sisters, and while there should be congregational leaders, there should not be a hierarchy or elitism. We should respect one another and esteem those highly who labor in the Word and doctrine. We should also be Bereans and check teachings out according to Scripture for ourselves, rather than blindly follow a leader into a ditch.

    Sharing various viewpoints helps us all clarify what we believe and consider new information. We can travel a path together without walking in rigid conformity of thought.

    Shalom, Tandi

  10. Efrayim,

    I don't know where "lay people" came from.

    You said,

    "My point being that those religious folks who had spent years of their lives studying Torah, and were confident in their knowledge and understanding of the ways of YHVH, were at the same time unwilling to listen and learn from a common man. Regardless of the great miracle which had taken place."

    Excellent! This highlights that the educated are more susceptible to a kind of elitism that dismisses moves of God. Their noses too buried in study to see what God's doing in the real world.

    Derek and J.K. are not like this, I'd say, praise God.

    Interesting sidenote: the Chabad sect of Judaism was founded in part because Judaism was becoming too academic and less practical for the common man who could not dedicate his life to study of the Scriptures. Chabad Judaism reached out to these common Jews and this is undoubtedly part of Chabad's success in the realm of Judaism.

  11. P.H.

    Thanks for posting. I always enjoy reading your comments, honestly.

    It's probably not popular to say, but it's what I believe right now: With all other things being equal, we should value the opinion of the educated more than the lesser educated. Often times, though, not all other things are equal. Some laypersons having a prophetic spirit or other annointing from the Lord that is often lacking in the academic folks.

    Academic folks often dismiss or ignore these qualities in the lesser educated, which contributes to the elitism that Efrayim mentioned, blinding them to works of God in the world.

  12. Tandi,

    Thanks! I'm glad *somebody* has a sense of humor. I was beginning to wonder if I offended people with some of the humor. Religious people are too easily offendable and too stuffy. As the Proverb goes, "A merry heart does good like a medicine." :-)

    I haven't heard of that teaching before, the one about the Nicolatians theology meaning a hierarchical system. I'll look into that. I'm skeptical because Paul says some things that seem to suggest a hierarchal system. (Haven't studied this deeply, so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt.) I'll look into it.

    You said,

    "We can travel a path together without walking in rigid conformity of thought."

    Yes! Well said.


  13. "Thanks! I'm glad *somebody* has a sense of humor. I was beginning to wonder if I offended people with some of the humor. Religious people are too easily offendable and too stuffy."

    It was obvious from this post of the post that you have a rather unique sense of humor from a lot of religious people. I do believe that this is the first time I've seen xkcd embedded in a messianic blog. :)

  14. "I do believe that this is the first time I've seen xkcd embedded in a messianic blog."

    Hahah! Glad somebody recognized it. :-) I'm the pioneer of utilizing XKCD in a Messianic blog. First for everything. Wahooo! :-)

  15. Tasty!

    People ask me how I know what (little ;o)) I know about the Scriptures...(I'm a Reformed Heathen and Recovering Legalist, ya see) and I tell 'em 'I go to Mary Seminary'...At the feet of Jesus!

    Sha'ul said twice to both Timothy and Titus 'don't let anyone look down you' [on the contrary, set the believers an example in your speech, behavior, love, trust and purity.-1Tim.4:12/Titus 2:15].

    I suppose that's what we do best as mere humans...look down our noses at one another for whatever reasons.

    But, ya know, there's never been a time in my life that I wasn't looked down upon and ADONAI didn't use it to build me up and conform me to the image of His Blessed Son.

    "For it is to this that you have been called, so that you may receive a blessing." 1 Peter 3:9 (a smooth WORN OUT chapter in my CJB)

    shalom aleichem!
    fun blog!

  16. Thanks, Carmen, glad you enjoyed it.

    God's done something similar with me, helping me to grow up through these things.

    Hope ya stick around!

  17. Judah, it appears Captain Obvious has some sort of star-and-crescent symbol on his chest. Perhaps he was instructing you to look in the Quran?

  18. Aaron,

    I let out an audible "ha-HAH!" as I read that. :)

  19. Shalom Judah, sorry about the late post but I have been away from the blog scene for a while. I enjoyed your rant tremendously. I too am quite educated in nontheological areas. In fact, part of my education happened in a small college in Romeoville by your Joliet. My theology training came when I discovered the Sabbath and had 8-10 hours to fill. I know many of the leaders and have had many of the same discussions you have had. Regarding the calendar, I always ask: If I am trying to convince my Christian brother of the need to keep Torah because the bible says so, then how can I say that I do not follow the biblical calendar out of solidarity with the Jews? That is like keeping Easter out of solidarity with the Christians and after all, who do we have the most in common with? We must first be consistant with our walk. Shalom, Jeff

  20. Philippians 2:12,13
    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

    2 Timothy 2:15
    Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

    Sounds to me like the "lay-person" shouldn't rely on the learned to tell him what to do. He should find out for himself. When it all comes down to it, the Pope, Rick Warren, or some other famous preacher isn't going to save me, only Jesus will.

  21. I have read all the comments on higher education, and to be quiet honest, sounds like a few are swimming in jealousy. I'm a jew, and believe me, I have seen MORE JUNK put out by the so called "Messianic/Hebraic/Jewish Roots" teachers than I care to talk about. I'm so thankful that there are very educated scholars to help us "Lay people" not to put out false teachings. We need to gather facts and orgins before we put together books and CD's and SELL THEM. I SEE THIS ALL THE TIME. I know the blog wasn't as serious as what I'm talking about, but believe me, there alot of false teaching's put out by "Lay people".....everyone should have a say, but not everyone will be correct, we need to be careful of what we teach.....teachers are held to a higher accountablity.