The following dialogue is a sort of response to Geoff Robinson, who commented on my last blog post about the myth of being pro-Jewish while remaining anti-Judaism:
You are confusing ordained means with something good in and of itself. Islam may be the ordained means for keeping certain ethnic groups together in order to receive blessings from God. I’m still not too keen on Islam. Rabbinic Judaism is anti-Messiah. Period.
Gerald does not exist but is a fictional character who thinks along the lines indicated in Geoff’s comment.
Gerald is a worker in a Christian mission to the Jews. For several years he has been a mentor to Dan and Cindy, an intermarried couple. Dan is Jewish and Cindy came from a Southern Baptist background. Gerald and his mission have helped Dan and Cindy make a firm commitment to faith in Jesus and have provided mentoring both in person and through a regular publication which Dan and Cindy receive. The message to Dan and Cindy is, “Your family is Jewish because of Dan’s ethnic heritage. Be committed to Christ as a Jew and maintain your Jewish identity in the home while being an example in your Baptist church of Jewishness and faith in Jesus.” Jewish identity to Gerald’s organization is an ethnic and cultural heritage to be maintained in the family separated in most ways from the rest of the Jewish community.
Derek is a Messianic congregational leader who has been a mentor to intermarried couples as well. Derek provides an environment for Jewish life that encourages being part of the Jewish community. Derek’s congregation believes that Jewish identity is more than culture or ethnic heritage. Jewish identity is a covenantal family relationship to God through the Torah and the people of Israel. Derek does not encourage Jewish followers of Jesus to belong to churches. This is not due to any disrespect for churches, but a feeling that Jews fulfill covenantal obligation to God together in community and not in isolation from the Jewish people.
Derek and Gerald are having coffee because Gerald has a concern about Derek and his congregation. Gerald thinks Derek is detracting from a Christ-centered focus by emphasizing Jewish life and especially for teaching about rabbinic literature and interpretation.
Derek: Gerald, without rabbinic Judaism, there would be no Jewish community today. God has used rabbinic Judaism to preserve his people. There is no ongoing Jewish identity for people who withdraw from Judaism and make up their own traditions.
Gerald: You are confusing ordained means with something good in and of itself. Islam may be the ordained means for keeping certain ethnic groups together in order to receive blessings from God. I’m still not too keen on Islam. Rabbinic Judaism is anti-Messiah. Period.
Derek: I see what you are saying. But you are mistaking my meaning. I don’t mean to say that my argument is, in itself, sufficient proof that rabbinic Judaism is the right path for Messianic Jews to follow. If the argument from history was all I had, I would have to throw in the towel and admit you had defeated me.
Gerald: So, you like my argument. [smiles] Why don’t you just admit that rabbinic Judaism is anti-Messiah and encourage your people to find their identity in a local church?
Derek: I don’t just have the history of the past twenty centuries behind me, but I have contemporary experience as well. Isolation from the Jewish community leads to loss of Jewish identity, usually in one generation or in two at most. There will be exceptions, but studies bear me out on this. The people you are locating in churches primarily identify with their churches. A few Jewish observances in the home are not enough for them to maintain their Jewishness long-term. Their children will marry people from the church or denomination. Their grandchildren will have little or no idea that grandma and grandpa were Jewish. Your method makes Jesus the end of Jewish identity.
Gerald: You place so much value on Jewish identity. Believing in Christ matters so much more. Paul said that was all rubbish compared to faith in Jesus.
Derek: Even if I were talking about Irish identity or Japanese identity or any cultural heritage you like, I would say you are undervaluing it. Christ is not a destroyer of culture and heritage. Why should we encourage people to disassociate from their customs and ethnic people to follow Jesus? That sounds like the paternalism in the Christian missions movement that associated the Christian message with a certain kind of music or clothing. That attitude led to islanders wearing three-piece suits and singing 19th century European music.
Gerald: We’re not pushing any kind of culture on people.
Derek: Oh, but you are. You are encouraging Jews to assimilate into the cultures of the local churches. You are encouraging isolation from Jewish life and enculturation usually in an evangelical Christian setting.
Gerald: But that is the way of Christ. Evangelical church life is the place where God is most at work.
Derek: I don’t deny that God is at work in the lively faith and communal worship of evangelical churches, but one size does not fit all. Jesus isn’t Walmart. And the culture of evangelicalism is not the right place for Jews. It is not even the right place for all Christians. And besides all that, Jewish life is in a different category than ethnic heritage. Jewishness goes deeper for Jews than Irishness goes for Irish men and women.
Gerald: I know that you are going to say . . .
Derek: But it has to be said. Jewish faithfulness to God’s Torah is a command, not just a culture. Jewish life continues through circumcision and involvement in the Jewish community and following God’s ways in the Sabbath and feasts and holy days of Israel.
Gerald: We encourage our people to keep Passover and Sukkot . . .
Derek: But not in the way of Judaism and not in relationship with the Jewish community. You encourage people to do these things in their home while identifying primarily with evangelical Christian life.
Gerald: I still say your argument that rabbinic Judaism is a God-ordained tradition for Jewish believers in Jesus is illogical and harmful.
Derek: That is not really where our disagreement lies. If that were our only disagreement, we’d be a lot closer.
Gerald: It’s the disagreement we’re talking about at this moment, isn’t it?
Derek: Not really. Our disagreement comes prior to the discussion of rabbinic tradition and Jewish faith in Jesus. Before we ever had this discussion we came from different points of view that are incompatible. You don’t believe that God continues to command Jewish life. You don’t believe the Torah continues, but that it has been eradicated in Jesus . . .
Gerald: Not eradicated, fulfilled . . .
Derek: But by “fulfilled” you mean “eradicated,” whereas I think Jesus had something else in mind when he said, “Do not think I have come to eradicate the Torah.”
Gerald: Well, you’re not going to get me to agree on that point.
Derek: Exactly. So as long as you believe that Jewish identity is nothing more than a cultural heritage, you will follow your practice and I will follow mine. But you have a contradiction in your belief that you should find troubling. [pauses expectantly]
Gerald: Which is . . . ?
Derek: You believe it is God’s will that Israel should remain until the time of Jesus’ return and yet you work against that very belief. Apart from Torah, Israel will disappear.
Gerald: Even if I agreed with that, we are talking about rabbinic Judaism, not the Torah itself. People can keep Torah without the rabbinic traditions.
Derek: I’d like to see you try.