Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles Of Ancient Jewish Christianity, by D. Thomas Lancaster
By chance, I came across a note from one of my Facebook friends showing a period where this book could be obtained for free from its publisher (without any requirement to review, as is common for my reading), and being fond of free books, I readily accepted the offer to look at this particular volume, given that I am always very interested in reading statements of beliefs from people I do not know but who profess similar views to those which I have been raised in from birth. My main concern, given the context of this work, would be that it would be a bit too heavy on formal Hebrew language, but I did not find that to be the case. Even better, I found this book to be a very strong and straightforwardly worded defense of a worldview that is very similar to my own, and would be of interest to many others as well.
This particular book seeks to address the lamentable problem that believers in the Messiah in the contemporary age lack a firm foundation in Christian belief because of centuries of antinomian corruption. The author correctly identifies the gnostic belief system common to many who consider themselves Christians , and also comments frequently and at length against the Sadduceean spirit of looking only to this life as being the place where judgment and blessings are to be found, a spirit that has found itself represented in the so-called Prosperity Gospel and in the belief that those who suffer do so because of their own sins, the theology of Job’s friends (the book, it should be noted, does not use exactly those terms, but it is relentless critical of that attitude among the Sadducees, even though they are long gone as a formal sect of Judaism). By and large, this book appears to be very favorable to the view of the Pharisees, to the point of quoting approvingly a wide variety of Jewish traditions, and I thought that at times this book went too far in the direction of adopting the worldview and approach of the Pharisees in areas that the Bible does not mention (including the tradition, for example, that everyone’s name is written in one of three books—the Book of Life, the Book of Death, and the Intermediate Book, which determine one’s place in the Final Judgment).
These minor flaws aside, the book is composed out of a set of several sermons that the author (a Messianic Jew from an Evangelical background) gave on expounding the six fundamental doctrines of Hebrews 6:1-2. Having heard a sermon from my own local pastor on this very subject not too long ago, I was intrigued to see what this particular author had to say, and what he had to say was very strongly worded and also strongly biblical, pointing out that early Christians assumed that those who entered into a faith in Jesus would have done so with a firm knowledge of and practice of Jewish ways, including such essential matters as Sabbath observance, clean and unclean meats, Holy Days, sexual morality, and the like, which all demonstrate the truth that the Torah represents the unchanging way of God that is to be modeled in the behavior of believers. These basics, alas, are not so basic, and therefore the author believes it necessary and proper that churches should engage in some practices to educate believers on basic doctrinal fundamentals, including a probationary period of study and repentance and counseling before baptism, fasting before adult full immersion baptism, and practice the laying on of hands for the giving of the Holy Spirit after baptism as well as for ordination. This would involve the development of a doctrine similar to the early Christian Didache. Most of these, of course, are familiar practice to many believers I know personally. A less familiar practice, but one also of interest, is the author’s participation in burial societies and in the construction of mikvahs (that is, places for ritual cleansing) so that the bathing practices of biblical believers can be more common today, something I see as a matter worth serious investigation.
The book itself is arranged around the instruction of the following basic doctrines: repentance from sin, faith towards God, instructions about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. The author has strong words to say about the state of doctrinal ignorance among many believers, points to the need for faith to be accompanied by godly works (even if the author appears to have a bias in favor of the Jewish view of earning merit as opposed to giving the honor and glory to God for those good works we are able to do as a result of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit), and makes a very blunt plea for the greater knowledge and instruction of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead as opposed to an unbliblical belief of a vague existence in heaven. Despite the presence of some minor flaws, mainly resulting from the fact that this author appears to veer too far in favor of the accretions of traditional Judaism in response to the tendency of many to cut themselves off from the biblical and Second Temple roots of Christianity, this is a book that is a very worthwhile read from someone who I consider, on the main, to be a kindred believer, albeit one with a different background from my own and a different journey to very similar beliefs. Needless to say, I am sufficiently impressed and intrigued by what this author has to say to desire to read more from him another time and to praise his integrity in seeking the narrow way of biblical belief and practice as opposed to the wide way that leads to destruction in which many walk through a departure from the faith once delivered to the prophets and Apostles .
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