Just a few days later, during our Beit Midrash ("House of Study," i.e., a Bible study), a dear friend in the congregation got upset when I re-stated my belief that simply following Yeshua HaMashiach and keeping Torah did not by default make those of us born to a Gentile heritage (most definitely including myself) Jews.
Let me deal with both of these errors.
First, it is significant that nowhere in the New Testament, the B'rit Chadasha, does any Apostle call the Gentile believers and members of the Ekklesia, the Church, Jews. There are numerous passages where the Ekklesia as a whole is described in the terms that God used originally of Israel (cf. 1 Pt. 2:9 and Exo. 19:6), and certainly it is the centerpiece of Sha'ul's (Paul's) teaching that Jew and Gentile had been made into one Body, one Congregation, with no division between them, by the blood and Spirit of the Messiah. Many quote the following passage:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Messiah Yeshua.Amen! However, many miss the real point of this passage, claiming that this means that Jewish believers should no longer be distinctly Jewish. Oh really? So, men and women should not longer recognize the differences in the sexes? Homosexuality is now okay, since there is neither male nor female? Of course not! So clearly we recognize distinctions between each of the above groups--Sha'ul's point is that all who are in the Messiah, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or economic status, are equally God's children by virtue of their faith. Elsewhere, he writes,
What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.What does he mean by that? I think he means that the Jews were the original recipients of the sacred Scriptures in their own language, idioms, and culture, and therefore have a natural advantage in understanding them. Certainly, we in the Messianic movement have found that when we read the NT with "Jewish eyes," as it were, we find troublesome passages opening up to us. Certainly, a Gentile can learn to do so as well, but we have to make a cultural transition.
But even acknowledging this distinction and advantage, Sha'ul continually championed the rights of Gentile believers to full inclusion into the community without becoming circumcised--that is, formally giving up their Gentile nationality and heritage and becoming fully Jewish. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Co. 7:19), he writes. That is, Jewishness is nothing and Gentileness is nothing--it's whether a person keeps the commandments of God that counts.
This is where I grow frustrated with many Messianics. Messianic Jews--that is, those born and raised Jewish--sometimes look at those of us who are Gentile as outsiders. Now, I understand that many Messianic Jewish synagogues exclude Gentiles to create an atmosphere where non-believing Jews can feel at home. I think that they are wrong to return to the error of the first century which the Apostles struggled to overcome, but I understand their reasoning. By the same token, if Rav Sha'ul writes that keeping the commandments of God is for Jew and Gentile alike, by what reasoning do Jewish believers exclude Gentile believers from Torah-observant congregations? "You have thousands upon thousands of Sunday churches," they say. "Let us have our few synagogues." Sure, but what if I am convicted that I should keep the command of God to observe Shabbat? Should I be excluded from doing so for the sake of putting back up the middle wall of partition between us?
Others of my Messianic brethren, often reacting to the above, become obsessed with proving that they really are Jewish. They delve into genealogies, trying to find some trace of Jewish blood. "I must be Jewish," they say. "Why else would I be drawn to worship in a Jewish manner and keep the Torah?"
Gee, I dunno. Maybe because you are immersed into a Jewish Messiah and grafted into the root of Israel?
I make no pretensions to being Jewish. I was born to Gentile parents. As far as I can tell, neither side of the family has any significant Jewish blood. But I will still keep Torah, because I am saved, and I want to be like my (Jewish) Savior in every way. And if the Apostles were willing to undergo persecution for the sake of the Gentiles, and called them Gentiles without insult, who am I to deny my Gentile heritage?
I am a man of two heritages. I am an American, a descendant of John and Priscilla Alden, who came over on the Mayflower so that they could worship God according to their understanding of the Scriptures. My ancestors based Thanksgiving on Sukkot. They fought a war of independence against Britain. I come from a long line of teachers. But I am also grafted into Israel. Their history is my history, their King my King, their God my God. And though they do not yet see me the same way, I regard all Jews as my brothers and sisters by my adoption by the Messiah of Israel.
And therefore I will defend their honor and persons against all attackers as if that were my own--even when, especially when those attacking them do so from under the Christian banner.
In my next article, I'll deal with some of the objections raised by those who want to claim that the Church is not "the true Israel." Until then,
Next: The True Jew