It was good to see in a recent newsletter by Batya Wootten of the Messianic Israel Alliance that she is taking to task the anti-Christian spirit among many messianic/Hebrew Roots believers.
Such a spirit is a plague in the messianic movement. It breeds arrogance among entire congregations and destroys family relationships unnecessarily and separates messianics from the rest of the Body of Christ.
Here are some of the things that Wootten says in the email:
Even so, there is an anti-Christian spirit that runs amok in the Messianic movement – which sin is no more acceptable to the Almighty than is the sin of anti-Semitism. And, it is a sin that is keeping us from being able to properly tell of the whole powerful Passover story.
At this time, many Believers have walked away from the Messianic movement. They would rather walk away than fight to address its mistakes. One of the many reasons for their departure is that, in the hearts of millions of Christians, Easter has nothing to do with “Ishtar.” For them it is about the Resurrection of the Only Begotten Son of God. Moreover, they serve a God who first looks on the thoughts and intent of our hearts (1 Chronicles 29:17; Proverbs 21:2). And, when gentle people are told that their practices are “pagan,” most are afraid to, or do not bother to, speak up. They instead vote with their feet, and thus, our numbers dwindle. …
Therefore, it is time for us, those who supposedly “know better,” to look in the mirror and ask ourselves some serious questions: Has meanness in the Messianic movement driven potential converts away? Has hostility and a condemning attitude toward the Church led to us losing out on an incredible blessing?
The answer, as Wootten says, and I agree, is yes. I’ve even held that attitude myself in the past, but have repented of it.
The problem with Wootten’s letter, though, is that it turns around and continues to commit the same mistakes that she’s speaking against. She ties Easter to the worship of a goddess. No ifs, ands or buts.
In the Messianic/Hebrew Roots world, as we begin to learn about our Israelite heritage, we also learn about the heathen roots of Easter traditions. We learn about the pagan goddess, Ishtar, and about fertility symbols and bunnies and eggs – and we repent. We lay those things aside and move on in our faith.
Even aside from the “Israelite” heritage (a Two-House movement claim) of Gentiles message, there is the assumption that “Easter” is a result of or somehow connected to the worship of “Ishtar.” There is no evidence for that. Toby Janicki of First Fruits of Zion made that clear in his excellent audio teaching What About Paganism? How can that be?
Simple: “Easter” is only used for the celebration of the Resurrection in the English-speaking Western Church. Here’s what Janicki quoted from FFOZ’s Torah Club Volume One, written by D. Thomas Lancaster:
In most languages, Resurrection Sunday is still called Passover. Greek Christians call it Paskha, the Latins call it Pascha, the Italians call it Pasqua, the Spanish call it La Pascua, etc. All of these words are derived from the Hebrew Pesach, which means Passover. In English it is called Easter. …
But it is possible that the first missionaries to the Anglo-Saxons found those peoples celebrating a fertility festival in April that they called Eostre. The name, and perhaps even some of its rites, could have been transferred to Resurrection Sunday after the Christianization of those peoples.
Some believe that there is an etymological relationship between Ishtar and Easter. Ishtar was an ancient Semitic fertility goddess of love, war and motherhood. The claim that the word Easter is derived from Ishtar is a false etymology. It is one of those instances in which two words sound similar, so they are assumed to have the same origin.
Lancaster concludes that the origin of the term “Easter” is likely related to the name of a Germanic month, “Eostre.”
Either way, it’s not clear enough that we can make dogmatic statements about it. (Also see Ralph Woodrow’s “Christmas, Easter and the Cross.”)
But here’s the real problematic part of Wootten’s message: That messianics, especially messianic Gentiles, have a better grasp of the truth than non-messianics.
We suggest that we first try to find a point of agreement with those whom we would like to teach. In that way, even if we can only get the people to take one step closer to the truth, it is, nonetheless, one step closer.
She says these even while telling her readers earlier that they shouldn’t act like they “know better.”
So, while Wootten appears to be chastising messianic believers who trash non-messianic believers, she is actually continuing to encourage messianics to treat non-messianics with condescension. Only more nicely.
This is pretty typical in the messianic Israel movement in my experience: Talk about how many Christians get a lot of things “right” and then proceed to talk down to them about how many things they get wrong or just can’t properly understand because they haven’t been given the light.
But here’s a fact I’ve had to admit over the past several years: There are a lot of non-messianic followers of Christ who can teach Wootten, me and all messianics a lot of things about discipleship and being faithful to the Body of Christ.
To truly turn away from the attitude that we need to teach them, one needs humility and, instead of being so insistent on teaching others, needs to have his or her own teachable attitude.
I much prefer Janicki’s approach:
Those of us that have decided to forgo celebrating both Christmas and Easter must realize what this sounds like to other Christians. When we proudly declare to them that we do not celebrate Christmas and Easter what this tells them is that do not celebrate either Messiah’s birth or his resurrection, and it could even portray, as I have personally experienced, that we do not even believe in Yeshua as the son of God and the Messiah. Therefore it is imperative that we are careful in how we communicate these things.
In a way, Wootten and Janicki are saying the same thing, and both are putting the onus on messianics to be charitable and careful in how they communicate their beliefs. The problem with Wootten’s approach, though, is that she’s still operating from what could be called a “messianic urban legend” about the sources of Easter (we’re not even really sure where Easter eggs came from), and still confident that she’s in full possession of the “truth” about how to properly live out one’s belief in Messiah. (There’s also a problem with a woman teaching all of this, but I’ll deal with that in another post.)
Still, it’s refreshing to see this positive attitude toward non-messianic Christians gain more traction in the messianic movement. I also hope that the Messianic Covenant Community, which has made noise about reconciling with the messianic Jewish community, also begins to take steps to reconcile with the rest of the Body of Christ.