A number of denominations and religions that rose out of the Restorationist movement have taken a stance on Judaism that is both heterodox and Anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism is a dangerous position for anyone who claims to be a Christian, not only because Jesus was a Jew, but because 2/3rds of the Christian Canon is composed of the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. Some go so far as to say that Christians, or at least their own sect, have become the new Israel and have replaced the hereditary Jews as the recipients of promises and blessings given to Abraham and the prophets. Paul tells us a very different story in Romans, and there are references that prove that authentic Biblical Judaism, which takes an honest look at the apocalypses of Daniel and Zechariah, and which looks forward to the coming of messiah, was essentially a saving faith in Christ (ROM 11:17-36).
That may sound odd, except that we have this passage in Galatians (Gal 3:6-9) where it is made clear that God revealed to Abraham that a messiah would come from his descendents who would save even the Gentiles. Abraham’s faith in the coming of that messiah and his faith in the Character of God to keep his promises saved Abraham as surely as any penitent kneeling at the prayer bench, confessing and asking to be made a Christian. What’s more Paul shows us that it is belief and not rigid observance that links the descendents of Abraham. This doesn’t precipitate a replacement of the Jewish people but rather an enormous expansion of their ranks.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had in a chicken take away restaurant, recently. This store uses a technique of dry roasting which heats the chicken with hot air. The extreme temperature causes the juices and fat to boil and drip away, leaving behind a heart healthy variation on Southern Fried Chicken. Another patron was complaining about the long wait for service. I made a lame attempt at dry humor, which seemed fitting given the food in question, ‘this way you don’t have to eat the smutz.’
My companion took this as some sort of religious or racial comment and responded, ‘so … you are Jewish.’ He paused for overly melodramatic emphasis then said ‘too?’ It was an odd manner of speech and took me aback for a moment. Many Yiddish words have entered into the common vernacular of America pop-culture. This is only a natural consequence of the ethnic development of America. More than one fifth of the population has a Jewish heritage. The use of the word smutz (aka smaltz), which refers to congealed chicken fat, was no particular reference to the Jewishness of my companion or of myself.
In that vein I spoke cautiously as I answered, ‘I have the heritage but not the religion.’
Since that conversation with Bob, I have had time to mull over my response, even rehearse some alternative and more provocative answers. The fact is, a Jew from a traditional synagogue — whether Sephardic, Hassidic or Reform — would not recognize me as a Jew. With my Teutonic good looks (see the ironic grin when I say that) I’ve been treated like a jack-booted Nazi by my fellow children of Israel. But as a youth in High-School I have faced the swastika toting neo-Nazi skinheads who called me Jew-Boy and worse. I’ve been assaulted for my genetic heritage which for some ‘anti-Semites’ seems to be written across my features as clearly as the tattoo on the arm of those inmates who survived Auswiczm, Berkenau, Dachau even Belsen.
So, while my answer was honest, the true answer is much more complicated. Am I a Jew? In addition to the political and cultural issues, there is this Jesus, who Paul persecuted and whom I serve. His own testimony was that he did not come to destroy the law but fulfill it. Many readers have chosen to remap the term fulfill into a special term that means, ‘complete and therefore conclude.’ This is not honest scholarship. When those same parties are confronted by the phrase, ‘to fulfill one’s potential’ or ‘fulfill your expectations’ or even ‘fulfill the high calling’ they suddenly see the same construction as meaning complete or exceed and therefore validate. The fulfillment validates the structure or rule that is referred to.
In fulfilling the law, Jesus validated every precept, doctrine and commandment contained therein. He did not do away with the law. In fact, we never see him arguing that a Pharisee or Sadducee should reject the law in order to follow him. Instead, he encourages his critics and followers to set aside the Talmud and the proverbial ‘fence’ around the law because the roles have become unreasonably harsh, and even contradictory to the written Law and Prophets. He encouraged them to embrace the unfiltered Torah with the unfettered mind of a child and internalize or hide it in their hearts. This doesn’t sound like a messiah who has come to lead Israel away from Judaism, but to fulfill it.
Jesus taught a brand or sect of Judaism that was more observant and more mystic, but centered squarely on the Tanakh or Old Covenant. This new Judaism rejected the traditions of men and the musings of philosophers, the magick of the five rabbis (qabbala), and the nihilism of the Sadducees. At the same time, it embraced the critical methods and the relationship with God described in the Midrash.
So how does a Christian reconcile this with Peter’s agreement with Paul that new converts of gentile heritage not be required to keep kosher or even be circumcised? How can these men be teaching the same faith Jesus taught, yet reject the most essential tenets of the religion Jesus practiced? Paul even goes so far as to castigate Jewish believers who have left behind the kosher rule as a part of Christian faith, but then returned to the traditional teachings and practices of the Sephardim. Why would returning to a practice of our Lord and savior be so bad? Wouldn’t it honor him to walk like him? The answer is fairly simple. Yes, it would and does honor Jesus to walk like him and to live the faith and practice that he demonstrated in his short life. And no, it would not honor him to do so by using a rule book constructed from the Torah and the prophets! What honors Jesus is to have sufficient faith in him and his teachings that these rules become a part of our being, through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught that the spirit of the Law, the underlying rationale and purpose, must become so much a part of the Christian that the technical wording and possible loop-holes are irrelevant. He taught that by possessing the Spirit of God (ruach elohim) bodily, one would necessarily and habitually live and walk the way he did and perform miracles and signs, where such are needed and will not glorify the individual rather than God. Jesus informed us that these future generations would even exceed his own miraculous ministry. It is unlikely that he meant we would be wizards of God-like power as certain televangelists claim or try to demonstrate.
But through humility and faithful servitude to the God of the Bible, we can all perform the miracle of obedience to the tenets and precepts of the Law and the prophets. And in addition come to understand His character and plan of God for humanity.
The greatest miracle of all is to sing:
Jesus is my savior, I shall not be moved.
In his love and favour, I shall not be moved.
Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters,
Lord, I shall not be moved.
but for that song to be true and factual by virtue of one’s grace, peace, charismata, will and fortitude. Not to be implacable or stoic, but rather to be soft hearted, emotional and immutably trenchant. This is the miracle of God’s grace that one can be stubbornly committed and unshakably intransigent on matters of authentic Biblical faith and practice. Even, as in Rome authentic Believers are thrown to the lions for their belief.
But the question was ‘Am I a Jew’? I believe that the Torah and the prophets and even the writings are the word of God (Dabar Adonai) and that they are the infallible rule of faith and practice. That my early ancestor Abraham was an anointed prophet founding a race of prophets and priests through which God works immanently in human history. I believe that in some miraculous way Jesus is the child of the god Abraham served and that Abraham looked forward to the coming of a child from his own offspring who would bring a means of reconciliation between God and man. I believe that the Apostles, including Paul, were prophets of a new Covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus and allowing all people Hebrew and Gentile to become one people natural and adopted; children of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.
I am a Jew and a follower of the way that was taught by Christ Jesus. I am therefore a Christian, a messianic Jew, because if not a Child of Abraham by faith (GAL 3:7) one cannot be a Christian.