In Part 1, I described seven blessings of non-Jews discovering Judaism, Jewish roots, and the biblical (Hebrew Bible and New Testament) theology of Israel’s unique election and role in the redemption of the world. These blessings have also brought confusion and problems, with people confused about their identity. Does being a follower of Jesus (Yeshua) make someone a de facto Jew? An Israelite? An Ephraimite to be rejoined in the prophetic age to the Jews (the Judeans or Judaites)?
In Part 2, I considered two issues which must have bearing on identity, belonging, and roles. The first of these two issues is individualism versus communal identity. I discussed the problem of extreme individualism which makes it all to easy for people to deny their family and national identity and assume any identity they can get away with. The second, and more burning issue for most people caught up in these matters, is the subjective sense of calling balanced with universal principles. How do we value and listen to our subjective notions that God is calling us to a lifestyle choice?
There are many other issues that remain:
(1) What might the Church have looked like if it had developed without supersessionism (replacement theology) and anti-Semism and anti-nomianism (an over-reaction against law as the way of God)?
(2) How can non-Jews who desire a greater practice of Temple-Torah worship express themselves without becoming part of the problem (the virtual erasing of the remnant of Israel in Yeshua by people who deny any unique election and calling of Jewish people)?
(3) Is there a place in Messianic Judaism for non-Jews and if so, what is it? Within this issue, there is also the matter of existing Messianic Jewish communities in which non-Jews are already an integral part and where covenantal relationships of faith and love are already established.
I remind readers of a caveat I made in Part 2: Who will play God and answer these questions for other people? Not I. I am simply exploring these ideas and do not claim to be God’s authority in your life. Please interact with the ideas presented here and gain from them, without taking them as gospel.
Reimagining a Jewish-Friendly Christianity
Some people think that if the Church had developed with a full appreciation of its Jewish origins that Baptists and Catholics would be tzit-tzit-wearing Hasids.
While that picture may seem a bit silly, think about the un-nuanced, naive depictions of what the Church should be that come up in discussions by zealots for Jewish roots. There is a tendency to call any aspect of church culture which is not Jewish pagan.
Christmas trees are pagan, so they say. Let’s examine this foolish argument. People will say, “Derek, it is obvious that Christmas trees are pagan. Pagans of Germanic tribes and in other cultures worshipped trees. Jeremiah 10 speaks about idols carved from wood. High places of idolatry in the Bible often had cultic trees as mentioned in the narratives and prophets of the Hebrew Bible.”
Well, have you considered the following things, all done by pagans, which are somehow exempt while Christmas trees invite bitter invective:
–Pagans offered animals on altars to their gods.
–Pagans had sanctuaries remarkably like the one God commanded Moses to build.
–Pagans had fall feasts remarkable like Sukkot (Tabernacles) and spring festivals somewhat comparable to Passover.
–God did not completely forbid the use of hills and high places for worship, but demanded that sacrifice only be offered at a central shrine (but even for this he made exceptions such as with Samuel and Elijah).
–Pagans had calendars following the cycle of the moon.
–Pagans considered corpses and death unclean.
Okay, my big point is coming: if God can give his people customs and ways which are modified from pagan customs, how is it then inappropriate for Christians to adapt customs from their various national heritages and use them to glorify God?
Some people look at churches keeping Advent or Lent and shake their heads. Why can’t they just be biblical and follow the seasons of God’s calendar?
When and where does God demand this? Not only does the Pentateuch not demand that gentiles keep Jewish practices, but the New Testament speaks repeatedly of seasons which are not required of non-Jews.
The Church is the expression of the nations of following Yeshua. The Church is and should be based on the cultural expressions of its members directed toward God in worship through Yeshua.
Passover as an Exception
The one Jewish holiday that I think the Church is bound to, and which has been sadly lost, is Passover.
Yeshua passed down through the Last Supper the importance of re-casting Passover as a celebration of the redemption of Israel from Egypt and the redemption of the world through his death and resurrection.
He said, “as often as you do this.” He said, “remember me.”
He never instituted an “ordinance” of wine and bread separate from the larger context of Passover.
There is plenty of evidence, take 1 Corinthians 5 for example, that early Christians kept Passover. This is probably what was behind the Quarto-Deciman controversy between Asian bishops like Polycarp and Papias and other bishops who urged a Judaism-free practice.
But there is also evidence that the Pauline churches did not restrict their observance to once a year (see 1 Corinthians 11).
I think there is much freedom in the development and Passover for churches may look quite different than the modern Jewish customs, but I believe the Church needs to reclaim Passover. Some mainstream Jews will object and say this is “exclusive Jewish territory.” But Judaism has to recognize Christianity as its sister and not its enemy.
Christianity Without anti-Semitism
If we reimagine the Church as a Jewish-friendly institution, we will see many of those seven points I originally made part of church life. I offer a modified list that could be a picture of a Church that recognized from the beginning its Jewish heritage:
(1) The rejection of supersessionism (replacement theology).
(2) The rejection of anti-nomian reactions to God’s commandments.
(3) A discovery of and deep love for Passover.
(4) A much-increased and proper appreciation for the Pentateuch as the foundation of scripture.
(5) A realization and practical devotion to Jesus (Yeshua) as Israel’s Messiah.
(6) An affection for and better relationship with Judaism.
(7) A relationship of mutual blessing with the remnant of Israel in Yeshua, Messianic Judaism.
What Can Be Done If No Such Church Can Be Found?
Many readers have expressed their frustration at not having a Jewish-friendly church to attend. When worshipping with the churches in their area, they are frequently plagued by anti-Jewish statements from the pulpit (caricaturing the Pharisees, for example). They are saddened to see Passover come and go with no recognition.
I am talking right now about Christians who have not already been enculturated by the Gentile-Messianic-Congregation phenomenon. I am talking about philo-Semitic Christians who want a Jewish-friendly church.
I can offer the two following paths as legitimate options:
Remain in the local church, overlook insults, be a good influence, and supplement your education. You have wonderful options for supplementing your education and remaining close to your love for Jewish roots.
I recommend highly that you make use of materials produce by First Fruits of Zion. If you are not already familiar with FFOZ, check out their website at www.ffoz.org. The HaYesod Program is the best place to start, followed by Torah Club. If you have like-minded people in your church or in several churches, start a group together. But remain faithful to your church family. Be gracious and understanding about ingrained prejudices against Jewish things. Patiently stand up for Israel and Judaism. Your calm witness will help repair the world.
You can also join with local Messianic Jews for various holidays. Or join with local Jewish organizations for educational and community events. What will happen when Jewish groups see more and more Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and Pentecostals showing up for the annual Kosher Festival or the Purim Parade?
Or . . .
If you have a group of like-minded people, start a Jewish-friendly congregation. Please don’t call it Messianic. You don’t really have to choose a label. People will get the idea that your church is different without needing some name as a clue. If you must use labels, I suppose Jewish-friendly or philo-Semitic sound a little geeky. Maybe “holistic biblical community.” Okay, geeky too.
Can anyone suggest possible labels?
I’d avoid “Hebraic” and “Zionist” as well, since these have connotations already of unhealthy trends. Sorry, but Christian Zionism is often unbalanced (not denying the positives in these groups, though) and Hebraic is a label that has already been used to erase Jewish distinctions and imply that non-Jews in Messiah are actually Israelites.
Given these two options, do you see more possibilities?
Which option appeals to you and why?
Do you think I have left something out or that I am wrong about something? I will put on my “be-nice-Derek” face and not beat up on people who comment sincerely and with the right tone for a discussion (but if you come on here with unfounded dogmatism and finger-pointing, I make no promises).
NEXT TIME: To what degree is it proper for non-Jews to “take hold” of Jewish practices if they desire it?