Occasionally I get very interested in the Jewish roots of Christianity. There have even been times in my life when I have thought, "What would it be like to live a Jewish life?" I have never very seriously considered conversion to Judaism, mind you, but I have long been interested in Judaism, both as its own faith tradition and as it relates to the foundations of the Christian faith. Often, as I begin to read about Judaism and how it relates to Christianity, I think about Jesus' statement in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I have not come to destroy them but to fulfill them." (Lexham English Bible) So what does this mean for today's Christian, or for that matter, for Christians over the past twenty centuries? In short, sometimes I wonder, as Christians, why aren't we Torah-observant?
I've heard the usual arguments that are advanced in contemporary Christian tradition: that Jesus "nailed the Law to the cross," that we are saved by grace through faith, the argument of faith vs. works, and some pretty vague talk about ritual vs. moral law. But usually that doesn't get to the heart of the matter: Jesus and his disciples were, as far as I can tell from my reading of the New Testament, fairly Torah-observant 1st century Jews. (Oh sure, there are some little disputes between the early Christian movement and the Jewish establishment...accusations of Jesus and his followers breaking the Sabbath, and that type of thing.) As I understand it, there was never a point when the earliest Apostles stopped being Jewish. But as the Church grew and evolved, we lost Saturday observance of the Sabbath, and gave up on the vast majority of Old Testament law. Of course, I've heard the standard arguments (I've made them myself!): "Well...Jesus basically distilled the Ten Commandments down to the two most important ones--love of God and love of neighbor." Meanwhile, while Christians so often ignore much OT Law in their understanding of grace, there are still Christian groups that push for bringing the Ten Commandments back to the courtrooms, or harping on one or another particular OT law. (Very few Christians ever push for bringing back all 613 mitzvot that Maimonides identified...)
Then there are the various Messianic and "Hebrew roots" sects of Christianity. When I first heard about Jews for Jesus, I thought it was really a cool idea. After all, the earliest Christians were Jewish, so wouldn't a modern movement of Jewish Christians be a neat idea? These days I'm not so sure about that idea: it seems to me that Jews for Jesus is more interested in conversion of Jews, while retaining some of the trappings of "Jewishness" (use of Hebrew/Yiddish, familiar Jewish imagery, Jewish holidays, etc.). Then there's the "Hebrew roots" movement: I've met some of these folks, and they often seem to be fairly typical Christians who have appropriated much of the interesting parts of Jewish culture, without really seeing Judaism as a legitimate religion. (That's admittedly an over-simplification of the Hebrew roots movements, which actually seem to be quite varied in how they approach the similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity.)
But back to my original thought: what does Torah mean for us Christians? Should we follow the Torah to the best of our ability, or should we acknowledge the differences between Christianity and Judaism? Also, is an attempt by Gentiles to be "Torah observant" actually an improper appropriation of Jewish culture, that fails to understand the whole basic foundation of the Jewish faith? I must admit, I don't really know all of the answers to these questions. I've read some pretty compelling arguments in favor of followers of Christ also following his observance of Torah, and I've read some compelling arguments against that stance, as well as several arguments that fall somewhere in the middle.
I suppose the bottom line for me, at least, is to take this interest and use it to more fully explore how I relate to God and my neighbor, in light of what I have learned about the entire history of Christianity, as well as the history of Judaism that came before it, and developed alongside it.
(adj.) wild and frenzied; from Greek κορυβαντες (Korybantes)