What are Hebrew Values?
Jesus implied that traditions can be more powerful than God’s Word (Matthew 15:6). How can that be? Simple—because we interpret (mostly subconsciously) God’s Word by our inherited traditions. We view God’s Word through “coloured” spectacles. If I wore red-tinted glasses my vision of the world about me would be “tainted” red. Likewise (yet far more ominously), our worldview—inherited traditions or life philosophy or default disposition—taints our view of God and His ways. So, what’s this then about Hebrew values?
Western-world Christianity (and its pervasive influence into much of the rest of the world) is unquestionably built on a Greek view of life. While we may have much to thank the Greeks for—God reveals Himself in and through most cultures—the ancient Greek worldview is at fundamental odds with Hebrew thinking on many substantial lines. And the phrase “Hebrew values” captures the worldview God downloaded into His people from the start.
Unless we grasp a Hebrew mindset, we view God and His ways with glasses tainted with Greek philosophy. In other words, we’ll remain entrenched in a Big Fat Greek Mentality. And thus, our picture of “church” and “leadership”—among other things—will be distinctly out of focus.
Continue reading as we look at why Christianity slid off a Hebrew foundation, swallowing Greek philosophy hook, line and sinker. We also look at core distinctions between Greek and Hebrew thinking in an attempt to help us refocus on God’s values and ways.
So, what are Hebrew Values?
Hebrew thinking is, in essence, the way God thinks.
You may recall that God chose a pagan named Abram, calling him out of his heathen way of life. He made covenant with this man, downloading His heart into him. In this way, God birthed the Hebrew people.
This is an important thought.
God did not just randomly choose a group of people somewhere on the Sinai Peninsula and attempt to indoctrinate them with His Law. Rather He birthed the Hebrew people in His ways through His covenant with Abram. And while not everything Hebraic is “of God”—like all cultures, the Hebrew culture has devolved, of course—the essence of what God birthed into the Hebrew people reflects the way He feels, the way He thinks, the way He views and perceives things … God’s heart and mind.
Bob Mumford reminded us that though the New Testament was written in the Greek language, it was written in Hebrew thought. All of the New Testament authors were Hebrews, except Luke (who was deeply influenced by his Hebrew brothers), and their worldview and related values were Hebrew, not Greek.
Why is this important?
The Importance of Worldview
Well, our worldview determines the way we feel, the way we think … and ultimately the way we live.
While it is mind-boggling to consider the extent to which Greek philosophy has shaped our modern world, it is not difficult to understand why.
During the 400 years God seemed silent (between the last prophetic word through the mouth of Malachi to the birth of Christ), a prevailing philosophy was uploaded from the minds of men. It was during this 400-year period that Socrates, Plato and Aristotle came onto the scene with great force and sway.
By the time the Gospel breached the gap between the Jewish and Gentile world, the Greek centres of learning—formed by Socrates, Plato and Aristotle—were well established and Greek philosophy was deeply entrenched in the known world. And because Greek was the predominant language of the age, it was a powerful medium to impart a Big Fat Greek Mentality to mankind. The Gospel, and the Hebrew-values that gave it context, was always going to come into face-to-face conflict with widespread Greek philosophy.
The reasons Greek philosophy began to usurp Hebrew values were at least two-fold. On the one hand, many early church fathers attempted to reconcile the Gospel with their own Greek bias. While this is an important exercise (and an extremely difficult task) as any missiologist will tell you, it seems to me that rather than renewing their Greek minds to Hebrew values, the opposite transpired. Certainly this was also in keeping with the tragic slide away from an apostolic Kingdom-shaped church towards a Constantine empire-shaped aberration.
Let me carefully pick on one godly, early church father. Augustine was an outstanding follower of Christ and his writings continue to inspire us today. However, he was a disciple of Plato before he was a follower of Christ and by his own admission attempted to reconcile the Gospel with his own ingrained Greek philosophy. This is in no way meant to discredit his ministry and influence, only to show how Greek philosophy undermined the Hebrew values that should have given the Gospel context.
On the other hand, the prevailing anti-Semitism that sadly plagued the church through the centuries was another reason we lost connection with Hebrew values. During the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth century, many of the theologians in the German-speaking world, from which many of our systematic theologies originated, were undoubtedly anti-Semitic and reinforced a Greek worldview in interpreting Scripture. This shaped both our soteriology (doctrine of salvation) and our ecclesiology (doctrine of the church).
A Big Fat Greek Mindset
For these reasons, and I’m sure there are many others, our modern world is entrenched in a Big Fat Greek Mindset1. I am fully persuaded that as long as we wear Greek-shaped glasses2, we will give birth to that which is of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle … that which is birthed “of man”. Only by fully engaging with a Hebrew mindset will we birth that which is “of God”. We certainly see things not as they are, but as we are. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
It is beyond the scope of this article to wade through the many important distinctions between Greek and Hebrew thinking, as critical as that exercise is3. What I feel we must do here is compare the different ways each worldview perceives “community” and “leadership”. In my mind, this comparison seeds one of the most vital foundations upon which we grasp a Kingdom-shaped church as opposed to a church-shrunk kingdom.
To a Greek worldview, community is first and foremost viewed as a legal body: an institution. Hence, leadership consists of those who are the lawmakers and law-keepers of such a legal body: the directors and managers of the institution.
Wearing these glasses, we have witnessed the church first turn into a religious institution that squashed its organic apostolic origins, spawning denominationalism; and then, turn into a business enterprise, fomenting franchise-driven ministries the world over.
Wearing these glasses, we have observed leadership first turn into clerical offices that subjugated the laity, crushing the priesthood of all believers; and then, turn into CEO-celebrity personalities, succumbing to the consumerist spirit of the age.
A Hebrew Worldview
In stark contrast, the Hebrew worldview understands community as essentially family and leadership as parenthood. Think about this for a moment. Consider just how radically different this simple but revolutionary change in worldview ought to shape our experience of church.
If we reason from the basis that church is essentially a family (and not an institution) and leadership is essentially parenthood (not directorship), how different would we answer these kinds of questions:
How should a church make decisions?
From a Greek perspective, decisions are made by those on top of the pile and their orders must be carried out by those at the bottom. The clergy-laity divide is a direct fruit off the vine of Greek dualism.
But from a Hebrew perspective, the question becomes: How does a healthy family make decisions? The words “inclusive,” “involved,” “listening” and “sharing” are integral as a family attempts to discern God’s heart and mind in finding an answer. Every voice is heard as His will is sought. Spiritual parents help immature members of the family work through their fears and possible juvenile tendencies to interpret the will of God so that the spiritual community can say, “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
How should a church resolve conflict?
From a Greek perspective, conflict is to be avoided and “rebels” (defined as those who are anti the organisation) must either be dealt with swiftly, and often times mercilessly, or denied and shunned—so as to avoid corrupting the image or interrupting the progress of the organisation.
But from a Hebrew perspective, the question becomes: How does a loving family resolve conflict? In a family, conflict is not an interruption to life; it is very much part of life. It is through conflict that much growth occurs in the individuals concerned and in the family as a whole. In a family, deliberately resolving conflict is valued over tragically dissolving relationships.
How should a church multiply?
From a Greek perspective, church multiplication is often a misnomer. The point for most organisations is to get bigger and bigger as if more bums in the seats and bucks in the plate equal success. For those who do grasp the concept of multiplication, an inbuilt Greek mentality leads one to conclude that division is the answer. Much of the contemporary cell-based church emphasis revolves around dividing a group in two, intending both groups to grow and repeat the exercise. In fact, it has become a precise work of science. (And you’re not allowed to call it division, by the way).
In a family however, division is called “divorce” and if you’ve been part of a cell group that has divided a couple of times, you know that it starts to feel like a divorce after a while. From a Hebrew perspective, the question becomes: How does a family multiply? In a family, parents raise their children into mature adults who can become parents in their own right. In a spiritual family, multiplication happens as “children” become mature “sons,” encouraged to be “parents” in their own right.
In like manner, we should ask these questions: How does a family meet? How does a family care for each other? How does a family serve together?
As we keep asking, “How does a family…?” we keep ‘church’ in the context of Hebrew values.
It is my deep conviction, highlighted by the above three questions, that wearing glasses stained by Greek philosophy is one of the juggernaut sinkholes in the church today and results in otherwise wonderful people, bearers of the greatest message in the universe, coming across as arrogant, judgemental and archaic Bible-bashers in an age craving both the message we proclaim and the love-community we offer4.
Allow me to clarify the differences again in this table:
Community Family Institution/Business
Leadership Parenthood Clerical/Directorship
It is perhaps obvious that many negative aspects that plague the church today stem from this wrong reference point. Let me just point out two.
In Greek thinking, structures (and their related systems) are the primary element to make the institution or business function; relationships are at best secondary, and at worst, completely subservient to the enterprise. The result? People are secondary to productivity and are often mere collateral damage if they do not fit in to suit the institution’s aims or the business’ objectives.
In Hebrew thinking, relationships are primary; structures are secondary5—and only valid to the degree that they serve our relationships. Our structures ought to be descriptive of our relational life rather than prescriptive of it. People are primary and we are to discern the will of God together in a Spirit-led unity, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2, 3).
The development of an institutional construct and its power-based leadership structure has, in my opinion, brought about many of the worst atrocities in the history of the church. Even in its simplistic form, it appeals to our ego-driven need for power, seducing many to clutch and strive after a positional place in the system. The statement “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is disheartening yet true—and our institutional church system plays to our base motivations. Enough said6.
While the desire to be a spiritual parent can also be abused, with no institutional ladder to climb, a Hebrew mindset of family and parenthood conveys more the idea of responsibility and godly duty than power and indulged privilege. A fear of the Lord and a spirit of selflessness underscore the notion of spiritual parenthood; the temptation towards self-promotion and self-advancement dissipates in the context of spiritual family.
Renewing our minds to the Hebrew value of spiritual family and parenthood, effectively putting the pin into our Big Fat Greek Mentality, gives birth to a context for life-giving authority and missional community. Without this overhaul of heart and mind, we’ll continue to fly the flag of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Empire-building, top-down leadership and self-serving, ingrown community will be all we’re capable of.
1 The modern world (not just the modern church) has a Big Fat Greek Mentality. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle have deeply influenced our modern world; from politics, to our education systems, to business models. In this article, I have narrowed my thoughts to the reasons Christianity has been so deeply entrenched in Greek philosophy.
2 I am certainly not suggesting that we become anti-Greek; that would be just moronic. There is much beauty in Greek culture, as in every culture. Here I am obviously addressing a prevailing philosophy that is anti-Christ (contrary to the King and His Kingdom come), not decrying a specific culture.
3 Here are a few more comparisons between a Greek and Hebrew worldview for interested readers.
Greek vs. Hebraic
Worldview Dualistic vs. Holistic
Emphasis Nouns vs. Verbs
Language Prose and outlines vs. Poetry and imagery
Thinking Abstract, ideas, logic vs. Concrete, pictures, stories
Success Knowledge vs. Wisdom
Ethics Individual rights vs. Community responsibilities
Community Legal body (organisation) vs. Family
Leadership Directors/Managers vs. Parenthood
Ministry Centralised vs. Cooperative
4 According to a survey in America, the number one perception that the average non-Christian American has of the Christian church is that we’re judgemental, specifically that we “hate gays”. This reveals the frightening disparity between the message we think we preach and the message we actually do communicate.
On a lighter—yet still sobering—note, in one episode of The Simpsons, Homer’s Christian neighbour arrives back from church camp. Homer asks him how the camp went; he replies: “It was great! We learnt how to be judgemental!”
5 Structures are not merely a “necessary evil”. Structures are very important yet distinctly secondary. For example, without my skeletal structure I’d be a useless blob on the floor. However, if you actually saw my skeletal structure jutting through my skin, you’d be horrified and I’d be … well, dead. A skeletal structure exists to serve the growing body; thus, it’s secondary and must be flexible, not rigid. Structures that arise out of the primacy of relationship should likewise remain secondary and flexible, able to change to suit the growth of our relationships.
6 Please see the article, What is wrong with hierarchical leadership? <Absolute Power>