In Perils Among Brethren
The Church of God in this age is increasingly beset by Invited Intrusions into our Fellowship Sphere by those promoting Doubtful Doctrines. Not since the Smyrnan Era have we seen this particular phenomenon to the present degree. It remains Important that we exercise Caution in who we Fellowship with!
It has been a commendable characteristic of the Church membership, particularly under our present situation, that we continually seek greater understanding. Unlike many denominations who are content with their static doctrines and pat explanations, the Church of God tends to continually seek to draw closer to God in knowledge and obedience. But, the less commendable aspect of this is that we are not always as careful as we should be to evaluate the doctrines and motives of those whom we innocently draw into our fellowship or whose fellowship we seek out.
Among the trials of Christian life, the Apostle Paul lamented the fact that even he, from time to time, found himself “in perils among false brethren”. (1st Cor. 11:26) It’s one thing to be generous in our initial assessment of a ‘brother’ as a brother, and quite another to walk into a crowd knowing they promote questionable doctrines and draw others into what are justifiably referred to as ‘doubtful disputations’ with great regularity. (Rom. 14:1)
In the present era, the Church, apparently wanting of recognizable and substantial scholars, finds itself on a quest for ‘greater understanding’ that reaches out to doubtful sources for ‘growth’ in their relationship to God. In fact, it was that component of our recent history, which de-emphasized the ‘personal relationship’ aspect, partly as a result of it being so often over-emphasized in the typical protestant churches, that helps explain the inner quest to remedy that relationship deficiency.
Trunk of the Tree
We have often used the metaphor of the tree, particularly focusing on “the trunk of the tree”, to define our solid doctrinal areas and to discourage broader studies into areas the leadership of the Church, by their own assessment, hasn’t satisfactorily researched. As a result, there’s been a general negativity toward certain study habits on the part of individuals or small ‘independent’ groups, citing “twiggyness”. As a result, many members’ personal “tree” remains just a trunk, with few if any branches. But a tree with just a trunk is effectively a dead tree after any length of time. A living tree needs major branches, supporting lesser branches, then the twigs attached properly to outer branches to support the leaves which are essential to a developed and healthy tree. Many have noticed that, choosing to search out the branches on their own, rather than have none! Granted, this has proved to be a mixed bag with respect to results, as some ‘branches’ as defined are actually quite dead, while others don’t belong on the particular specie of tree we seek to define.
Seeking Our ‘Roots’
This generation of the Church is warned against a particular type, one not warranting specific re-mention among the Churches since the second era, (Smyrna) as the movement apparently was not as great a factor in the intervening centuries. With the apostasy of the third and fourth centuries, the likely time-frame of the Smyrnan era, Jewish theology and practices were eliminated from the church, with prejudice, a situation that held throughout the middle (dark) ages. Even after the Reformation, a pointed disdain for things ‘Jewish’ remained a component of ‘main stream’ christianity of the times.
But with the establishment of societal ‘freedom of religion’ and the rise of the Church of God to a prominence not seen for centuries, a fascination with Jewish theology and practice, and the lessons it poses began to re-enter the consciousness of many members. The modern Messianic movement, which poses various acceptance levels of the Person and Divinity of Jesus Christ and of His Theology also gained in interest. (To an orthodox Jew, the term ‘Messianic Jew’ presents an oxymoron, as any acceptance of the Divinity of another besides their “One G_D” violates the major tenet of their theology.  But despite that, a certain affinity for these of more Jewish orientation, sharing our Sabbatarian tradition, attained a degree of acceptability among members of the Church of God.)
There is little dispute that Messianic theology evokes a certain didactic fascination, especially among those whose personal theology isn’t poisoned with ‘anti-Jewish bias’ found in many ‘christian’ persuasions. There’s such a rich heritage of understanding drawn from traditions and such fascinating explanations and nuances of Hebrew language and literature that amenable members are disposed to consider them for whatever dimension they can add to ones’ understanding. What is often overlooked is, though absent of the spurious beliefs and customs typically held by the ‘christian’ world, there are non-biblical tenets to be found within Judaic theology as well. This is not a new situation!
We should keep in mind that there were in the first century, and there continues to be, various belief structures within Judaism. At various times in their history, major cultural influences entered, such as happened in the late centuries BC, where Hellenism and even mysticism entered their cultural and religious make-up. Even when relatively ‘untainted’, many long practiced ‘Jewish traditions’ did not in all respects comply with Scriptural intentions. Jesus Himself exposed this obvious (to Him) fact, that their traditions in some cases violated the very commandments of God! It would be healthy for us to remain alert to that situation.
Matt. 15:1 “ Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2: Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3: But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4: For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. 5: But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; (In other words, I don’t owe you anything!) 6: And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7: Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8: This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9: But in vain they do worship me , teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
What we see in this exchange is that the Jews of the day reasoned around the intent of God’s Laws. While being obsessed with trivial performances, such as handwashings, and while sounding good (v.8), their hearts were elsewhere.
Mt. 23:23 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
They loved to do those things that made them feel like they were obedient, even obsessing on the smallest
details, but they overlooked the real point of it all. This characteristic remains embedded deep in the hearts of religious people. We tend to focus on the things we do, especially the things that are easy, but under-focus on the things that effect what we are!
Mt.23:27 “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. 28: Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. 24: Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” A perfect restatement of the above analysis.
In this generation, it is often assumed that the religious Jew is in complete accord with all the tenets of the Old Testament religion: That their religious doctrine has been impeccably preserved thru time, all the while failing to factor-in the assessments of Jesus and even the Apostle Paul. The point is made explicitly clear, that so far as God is concerned, the True Jew in this age is not the ethnic one, nor the religious one, but one whose heart is changed. “ For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” (Rom. 2:28-29)
In addition to that consideration, we have the plain truth that the greater segment (though not all) of the religious Jewish community is veiled under a God-imposed blindness, held in place until the end time, when ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ is accomplished! “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is writ-ten, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” (Rom. 11:25-27)  The point being, that it isn’t entirely their fault that their salvation is deferred to a later era. God has a plan for bringing a much greater percentage to salvation, in an age when long-standing en-trenched theological defects can be factored out!
Firmly held ‘Traditions’ prevent that in this age.
Works without Faith
What we are forced to consider is that the Judaic religions, based on traditional theologies and practices, no matter how focused, are premised on the understanding level allowed them, with that veil held in place as a result of their orientation to a ‘works based’ approach. “But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32: Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law...” (Rom. 9:31-32) “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded 8: (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. 9: And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them: 10: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always. 11: I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12: Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” (Rom. 11:7-12)
So we have those religious disciplinarians which, on account of their natural works-orientation, are ‘self-hindered’ from attaining their intended goal. That being the case, God has oriented them into a state of ‘semi-readiness’ but not to the point of full conversion: That requiring the Faith in and OF Jesus Christ, whom they have not yet accommodated into their theology in His full and correct identity. So long as there is disregard the true identity and divinity of their G_D, the Being that they had been dealing with from ancient times,  (who was their national Father, but not THE Father (Jesus’ Father) that He came to reveal, there remains a barrier to true understanding and a disconnect from the basis of the True Faith! That Jesus Christ, the True Messiah, was the God of the Old Testament! 
It is in this area that true Christians face their most potent danger from such affiliations!
You see, as Romans 9:32 explains, continuing from the quote above, “…For they stumbled at that stumbling-stone; 33: As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling-stone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” The identity of their God is, at present, to them an insurmountable theological conundrum!
But the attitude of self-assurance carries with these who pose danger to the congregations. Like with the illustration of wheat and tares, two similar appearing plants are growing together in the Church’s environment. An element that can’t be completely removed in most cases without risking damage to other maturing seed.  But we are cautioned to be aware of those who say they are Jews and are not! Rev. 2:9 (Smyrna) and Rev. 3:9 (Philadelphia) both refer to this element. Up until the mid third century, and after the nineteenth, this element was a factor to be aware of. In both references, they are also called ‘the synagogue of Satan’!, a reference to their religious orientation, having a special affinity to a ‘Jewish’ theology and worship expression.
It’s interesting that we see these imposters worshipping before the feet of God’s true Saints, (Rev.3:9) and their being made aware that God preferred His Saints above them! In that, we see the Saints deified while these ‘Judaic types’ are yet in the conversion process. Otherwise, why would they be made to worship mere mortals?
It is especially important that we hold a proper regard for this element when within. As Paul describes the situation, they are, “Beloved for the fathers’ sake, but enemies as regards the Gospel’s”. (Rom. 11:26-31) “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. 28: As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes… 31: Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy. 32: For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. God is going to use His (apparently Gentile?) Saints to bring the application of His Mercy to these (current) ‘enemies of the Gospel’ when their opportunity is finally presented!
Despite a commendable devotion to worship, despite a superior zeal for knowledge, the vital realization of the true identity of and the Divinity of their Messiah is pivotal. In 2nd Timothy 3, Paul cautions against that element within, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away… Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (vs 5 & 7) Intelligent, scholarly people are not able to fully fathom the essential truths without it being given them of the Father!
Many issues divide the New Testament Church emanating from the aforementioned ‘synagogue’: Strict
Monotheism, (G_D to them is a single Being), the identity of God, (The God of the Old Testament is to them ‘God the Father), the Divinity of Christ, (He is accepted by some as the Messiah, but not as God!) a Political Messiah, (as opposed to a Spiritual Savior), the compelling ‘need’ for using Sacred Names, in some cases Calendar disputations, identifying the wrong time for Passover, observing the wrong Pentecost, not being aware of the various resurrections and their purposes, promoting Ritual Practices not found in the early Church, and the failure to acknowledge the Changed Priesthood, as described in Hebrews 7. In each of these it is important to be fully convinced of and conversant with Biblical Truth.
We are without excuse, as we aren’t left ignorant of this peril! Ω