Letters from the MIA Shepherd's Council
By John Conrad
In 1974, Jamie Buckingham wrote a book about the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service, (JAARS) the aviation arm of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. This group consists of radio technicians, mechanics and pilots who fly small planes into the Amazon rainforests and African jungles. Their precious cargo is translators who master the language of indigenous peoples, painstakingly develop an alphabet for the native language and then gradually create a written language. The next step is to teach the people how to read their own language. After this careful foundation is laid, they translate the Bible into the "new" language and give the people the gift of the Word of God in their own language. Miracles and transformations follow in the native cultures as Godly harvests spring up from the planting of His Word.
Jamie spent two years flying into the jungles--interviewing jungle pilots and witnessing the impact of the written word of God on the local populations. The book displayed all his considerable skill producing a story that inspires and also clearly recognizes the sacrifice and devotion displayed by these spiritual aviation pioneers.
Convinced that the story belonged to the Kingdom, Jamie donated all the royalties. To his dismay, Jamie took a lot of flak from the group from which he least expected it--the Wycliffe translators themselves. They found fault with many aspects of the book, particularly some facts. The smallest detail incorrectly reported provoked scathing responses. Accusations streamed in. He called a "Teak" tree an "ironwood" tree. He incorrectly identified a "tribesman" as an "Indian." He described a chocolate-skinned native as "brown." Jamie drowned in an avalanche of nit-picking and fault-finding.
He snapped. Firing a letter to one of Wycliffe's directors he branded the entire organization "jot and tittle" people who "strain at gnats and swallow camels." This director wrote back to Jamie, thanked him for the book and expressed his approval of Jamie's work with the organization. As a caveat he gently reminded Jamie, "When you are translating the bible, you need 'jot and tittle people.'" After painful reflection, Jamie realized the source of the problem. He wrote the book to tell a powerful story, to show men and women of God braving impossible odds to bring His Word to a lost world. He tried to get the facts right but, for him, exact details paled in importance to communicating the story. Conversely, the translators cared immensely about exact detail. Their craft demanded precision and painstaking care. A letter or sound not exactly correct completely changes the meaning of a word. The development of a written language leaves little room for error. The translators were nit-pickers and hair-splitters because their craft demanded it.
This story speaks to Messianics today. Many who have come to see the eternal truth of Torah, the Hebraic background of scripture and the Jewish identity of Yeshua arrived at these truths through deliberate study and research. Deliverance from an error-saturated church culture demanded an ability to walk alone, even when accompanied by a chorus of boos and cat-calling from the pews. These pioneers learned to depend upon their own ability to think and research. They became suspicious of tradition, groupthink, and anything approaching consensus that seemed to sacrifice truth at the expense of conformity.
An example of this is Hale Harris's experience when he shared his growing conviction based upon scripture that the seventh day Sabbath had not been abolished. The church leader informed of this belief immediately exclaimed, "Careful now, Hale. You are beginning to color outside the lines!" The experience of so many in the burgeoning Messianic movement with this typical tradition based, scripturally ignorant thinking produced a mistrust of leaders. Over time a hardy band of Robinson Crusoes, people on their own little islands, self- sufficient and unaware of the existence of others, developed within the Messianic community.
In large part due to the Robinson Crusoe mentality, efforts to create groups or fellowships were doomed. The very characteristics so necessary to break out of the crowd (Ex 23:2 "Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong") have now become impediments. Annual congregation splits are common. Messianics can't walk together. The originally healthy questioning of church traditions has often grown into an antipathy for the church and a distrust of all leaders. This is a problem for a people called to build a restored nation.
In our zeal to be right we are often not righteous. Yeshua declared the weighty matters of Torah to be "justice, mercy and faithfulness." (Matt 23:23) This would indicate that our observance of Torah must be girded with these qualities. If not, our spiritual house will be in jeopardy. The situation articulated in 1 Cor 3 describes us: Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly-mere infants in the Messiah. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
I praise Yeshua for the extensive scriptural understanding of Messianic men and women and their commitment to the truth. However, perhaps it is time to ask the Ruach for guidance and temperance to learn to walk together. Our Torah obedience would be more believable if we were able to do it together. Also because much of this walk is new to us we are still learning. We occasionally fall down. Just as illustrated in the example with Jamie's book, we need people who can conscientiously ferret out the truth but we also need those who see the big picture. As Paul addresses in the 1 Corinthians 3 text, maturity reveals itself in unity not necessarily "new" Torah truths.
There are many legitimate areas of concern facing us as we walk this restoration pathway. What does it mean not to "kindle a fire on the Sabbath"? What is Aviv Barley? How do we nullify the Torah through our own traditions? The questions go on and on. In addressing these legitimate questions we must avoid the spirit that comes from the enemy-one of finicky attention to details that misses the broad picture. As alluded to earlier, Yeshua rebuked the Pharisees, Matt 23:24 "You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel" It is a wonderful testimony to the Father's faithfulness to see the thousands of faithful believers returning to the truth of Torah and with a zeal for the truth. However, in our zeal to follow Torah and return to the Hebraic nature of our faith we must remember that our walk with our brother is the most reliable outward indicator of our walk with our Creator.
The prophetic word foretelling the joining of the two sticks-the stick of Joseph with the stick of Judah-demands an ability to walk together, to become unified, to submit to one another. The gifts of independence, careful study, meticulous attention must be redeemed to be used by the Father to build his nation in this day. Similarly Paul reminds us of the purpose for the authority YHWH had given him in 2 Corinthians 13:10 "the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down." May all of those in the MIA devote the wonderful gifts the Father has showered upon us to His work in this day of "restoring all things."
© 2006 Messianic Israel Alliance