I recently completed reading and reviewing Threads Bible study entitled Feast. Derek Leman is an author, rabbi and Messianic Jew who crafted a worthy introduction to experiencing Old Testament feasts in the context of being a Christ follower. I recommend this study. Personally, I found it solid in biblical perspective and fitting for emphasizing the concept of spiritual disciplines.
The following is an interview with Rabbi Leman.
RKWL: Much of contemporary church of the past 15 years has been a rejection of tradition. I find a healthy pendulum swing the other direction in our Christian liturgy with a desire to capture tradition, while not being tied to it. How does this balance work when becoming a Jewish Christian with so many traditions to learn?
DEREK LEMAN: The balance point for tradition is like a tight rope. Jesus opposed traditions when they contradicted God’s word and when they became a test of someone’s allegiance to God (“What? You don’t have a handwashing ceremony before eating?”).
Tradition should be more positive than coercive. Tradition works best when a whole community follows it together.
In the case of Judaism, we have an ancient tradition followed by millions. It is something bigger than us. It gives us meaning and makes occasions memorable. It joins us with all the rest of Israel.
For churches, I would expect some limited aspects of Jewish tradition to take hold: Passover, praying the Psalms, praying the Lord’s Prayer (a very Jewish prayer), and the Jesus Creed (Deut. 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18). I would also expect different groups to develop their own traditions: Book of Common Prayer, Advent, and so on.
I think it is vital to avoid pagan syncretism when following traditions. Easter is especially one to research and to be careful about adopting certain practices.
RKWL: What is your greatest concern for the American church in regards to our view of tradition in general? DEREK LEMAN: My greatest concern is the limpid, non-material worship that is practically non-worship. The body and soul are joined. God called creation good. So we need to do things like dance, bow, prostrate ourselves, wave palm branches, and have ceremonial meals. John 4 does not mean we are supposed to worship without physical acts to accompany our soul-devotion.
I also regret the love affair evangelicals have with spontaneous prayer. Spontaneous prayer is important, but it is not the sole or even primary understanding of prayer in the Bible. Our spontaneous words are never going to achieve the depth and beauty of scripturally based liturgies or even simply praying scriptures such as the Lord’s Prayer, the Jesus Creed, and the Psalms.
RKWL: How does one keep from legalism to the Law as Paul warns, and still embrace the richness of biblical traditions?
DEREK LEMAN: Legalism in the Pauline epistles is about Gentiles being forced to convert to a Jewish identity in order to be accepted by Messiah. It is also about some Jews seeing the law as an end in itself instead of seeing the law as a gracious way of living for God. Those who felt the law was all they needed, and not Messiah, were legalists. But I think it is important to say that obeying God is not legalism. Gentiles don’t need to start obeying God’s commandments to Jews (Sabbath, restricted diet, circumcision on the 8th day, wearing fringes). But it is right and good for Messianic Jews to obey God’s commandments for Jews. And it is important for Christians to learn and obey all of God’s commandments that apply. That is not legalism, if obedience is understood as part of a relationship with God through Messiah.
RKWL: I greatly enjoyed reading your thoughts about the Feasts and found a freshness in looking at them as lessons beyond the Feasts themselves. What do we lose when we reject the OT so much so that we lack the rich faith vocabulary it offers and does your book hope to encourage a remedy for this?
DEREK LEMAN: The Apostles would be appalled at the lack of OT knowledge. The Torah (Gen-Deut) is the foundation of all scripture. Paul assumes his readers know it well. The idea that you can understand the NT properly without a deep understanding of the OT is preposterous.
Feast offers a step towards that remedy. It introduces people to key concepts like temple worship, sacrifices, physical worship, and the divine calendar. Most Christians, even popular scholars, are weak on their understanding of these areas. The meaning of the sacrifices of Israel, for example, is largely lost on Christian scholarship, much less on pastors and church members. I have another book (A New Look at the Old Testament, only available at my website, derekleman.com) that goes into greater detail. Feast, however, is the best place to start, because it takes these concepts and makes them real in an inspirational and communal setting (as opposed to an academic setting).
RKWL: My readers are made up of a lot of creative people–musicians, worship leaders, and young pastors. What word of advice do you have for this bunch?
DEREK LEMAN: Try to capture that temple worship vibe, at least every now and then. Palm branches really do add to worship. A sense of God’s majesty is underrated in much modern worship. The Bible gives us rich resources for worship language. Active involvement is better than spectator worship.
So my readers, what say you about using palm branches in worship? Or, how about the biblical postures when leading worship.