When friends in the church speak of Jewish believers assimilating into
the larger "Christian" culture, they usually mean a "Gentile" culture. For
some 1500 years, the Jewish believer has not been free to celebrate his
dual identity. On the one hand, the Jewish community has branded him a
traitor and excommunicated him, and on the other hand, the church has
demanded the renunciation of all or at least most of his Jewish cultural
practices, denunciation of his national heritage, and often disassociation
from other Jews. For 1900 years the Jewish community has attempted
to marginalize, delegitimize and stigmatize the Israel of God; for 1800
years the church has forced the remnant to renounce their heritage and
denounce their nation and has pronounced anathema on maintenance of
Jewish culture. Jewish believers have not been allowed to retain their
God-given dual identity but have been forced to assimilate into the
culturally Gentile church.
Based on a faulty exegesis of Eph. 2:14-16, it is feared that the retention
of cultural Jewish identity would rebuild a middle wall of partition and lead
to separatism. One can only wonder what the original Jewish apostles
would say. Would some believers actually say to Peter, "Why do you
insist on acting so Jewish?" And would he perhaps respond, "Why do you
insist on acting so Gentile?"
It seems upon even the most casual reading of the New Testament that
the apostles and disciples found no conflict between their national identity
and their faith allegiance. The witness of the book of Acts, in particular,
suggests that for the early church to have considered themselves
anything but part of national Israel, i.e. Jews, would have been absurd
and unthinkable (Acts 1:6; 3:1; 11:18; 15:1-29; Acts 16:3; 21:20-26). Any
imagined identity conflicts arise from deficient theological systems, not
Jewish people have no choice in their Jewishness, by definition; it is
conferred by circumstance of birth. For the majority of Jewish believers,
to ignore this God-given distinction is to disparage the rich heritage God
has bestowed upon us to share with the world. Simply because the
church has historically forced us to do so because of faulty theological
premises does not mean that in more enlightened theological eras the
trend must inevitably continue.
The question arises as to how Jewish believers, fullmembers of both the
Church and Israel, can be both the "wife of the Lord" and the "bride of
Christ". Although these are simply descriptive metaphors for
communicating Biblical truth and cannot be stretched too far, many of us
recoil at the incestuous implications. Obviously, some agree with the old
Yiddish proverb, "With one toches28 you canít dance at two weddings."
On the one hand, the remnant of Israel has been the wife of God from the
time they were chosen at Sinai. On the other hand, all believers are
betrothed to Jesus Christ. Do Jewish believers need to get divorced from
the Lord so that they can become the bride of Christ, and if so, at what
point does this divorce Biblically occur?
The solution to this metaphorical conundrum is that Jewish believers, as
a result of both genealogical heritage and theological beliefs, are Biblically
considered both the wife of God and the bride of Christ. This simply
means that Jewish believers are in attendance at two weddings, one of
which serves kosher!
The Jewish believerís membership in the church does not and cannot
exclude him from membership in Israel. As a Jew, a child of Abraham
through Jacob, and as a follower of the Messiah, the Jewish believer
belongs equally to two camps. Jewish believers, as the contemporary
manifestation of the remnant, the Israel of God, reject the demand to
wear only one hat, to hold only one membership card, to dance at only
one wedding. We refuse, on solid Biblical grounds, to be limited to the
designation of Christian or Jew. Neither is it sufficient to be considered as
half of one and half of another. Jewish believers are one hundred percent
members of Israel and one hundred percent members of the church.
Although there is now no distinction between Jews and Gentiles with
regard to salvation and access to God (Gal 3:28), there are distinctions
between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Unity in Christ does not
absolve the diversity of the components God chose to incorporate into
His church. In other words, "oneness" does not necessarily entail
"sameness." What then is the role of the Jewish believer today?
The distinctions are to be found within the Abrahamic Covenant. Although
Jewish and Gentile believers alike are partaking of the spiritual blessings
of the covenant as Abrahamís spiritual seed, Jewish believers are
Abrahamís physical seed as well, and additional elements of the
covenant apply specifically to them. Elements which still apply to Jewish
believers would be the divine right of possession of the land of Israel, the
reciprocal blessing and cursing on those who bless and curse Israel, and
the sign of circumcision, which, finding its foundation within the
Abrahamic Covenant, is still incumbent upon all Jews, including those
within the believing remnant (Jn. 7:22; Acts 16:3; 21:21-24; Rom. 3:1).
An additional distinction may be found within the Mosaic Covenant. This
covenant has been replaced and rendered inoperative by Christís death
and so is no longer obligatory (Heb. 8:13, Rom. 10:4). However, just
because the Jewish believer is not obligated to practice Torah, it does not
follow that he must not practice certain aspects of Torah. As the revealed
sacred standards of God, Paul confirms that the law is still holy,
righteous and good (Rom. 7:12). Jewish believers have liberty in Christ to
observe certain facets of the Torah as long as those particular customs
do not contradict New Testament revelation (Acts 15; 16:3; 21:21-24).
Yet when the remnant asserts its Jewishness, either culturally,
historically or practically, it seems that sometimes Gentile believers feel
threatened, as did Jewish believers in the first century when the situation
was reversed (Acts 15, 21:20-22). Yet Jews didnít invent these cultural
and historical distinctions. In fact, most of the 4000 year history of Israel
has been spent trying to overcome the seductive yearning to assimilate
into the majority Gentile culture. It is God Who insisted on separation
from the Gentiles. And it is only the separation, not the distinctions, which
has been erased by Christ through membership in His body (Eph.
2:14-16; Gal. 3:28).
Rather than be threatened by the Jewishness of the remnant, the church
should be celebrating the continued existence of the remnant as a
wonderful example of Godís grace and faithfulness. We should revel in
our distinctions, because then our unity is that much more captivating to
an observing world. How interesting is a monochromatic tapestry? Not
very interesting at all. A tapestry of two colors, skillfully and brilliantly
woven together, shows far greater artistry.
Many people have assumed that Jewish believers are trying to have it
both ways, that they want the privileges of dual membership in both Israel
and the church. And the assumed answer is that Jewish believers cannot
have it both ways. They must be one or the other, members of Israel or
members of the church. They have to fit into a nice, neat little theological
box. Yet Jewish believers can and do have it both ways. It is neither
presumptuous nor pretentious to claim what is in actuality ours. Jewish
Christians have an inheritance from two sources, Israel and the Messiah.
By way of illustration, it is as if the believing Gentiles and Jews were two
sons in a blended family. They share the same father yet have different
mothers. Both sons receive an equal inheritance from the father. Yet the
first son will also receive an inheritance from his mother. Should the
second son be jealous because the first son received an additional extra
inheritance? Of course not. The inheritance wasnít from the second
sonís mother; the inheritance didnít belong to him.
Just because the Gentiles only have an inheritance from one source,
Messiah, doesnít mean that God has to make it all "fair" and remove one
source of the Jewish believerís inheritance. Does God treat all his
children equally? When it comes to divine access and salvation, of
course He does. The Bible says there is no favoritism, and that God is no
respecter of persons. Yet the distinctions He has made have not been
erased (Gal.3:28). In point of fact, itís not as if anyone, Jew or Gentile,
actually deserved his or her inheritance. And itís not as if the inheritance
we the church receive is not more than enough for an eternity of
eternities. In this illustration, both sons are Rockefellers.
Considering the above theological reconsiderations and practical
implications, it is proposed that we endeavor to exhibit another of the
three pillars of Dispensationalism, that of the glorification of God,
specifically, by believing Jews and Gentiles seeking to glorify Him through
the common celebration of our God-ordained cultural distinctives. While
there are many and numerous culturally Gentile customs, programs and
celebrations currently practiced within the church, certain additions of
Jewish origin can only prove profitable to the vitality of the body of Christ.
This can be accomplished in a variety of ways, primarily on the local
corporate church level but also on the regional and denominational level.
It is important to note that none of the following suggestions necessarily
leads to the creation of separatism, ethnocentrism or so-called
"judaizing," when executed with correct intent and proper spirit.
Activate programs and creative ideas for Jewish evangelism. The
Jewish community, in America and abroad, is still a largely
unreached people group, despite their historic and cultural
nearness to the gospel. Although Jesus taught that "salvation is
from the Jews" (John 4:22), and Paul taught that the reason
Gentiles are saved is to evangelize Jews (Romans 11:11), the
overwhelming majority of churches exhibit neither interest nor
energy in reaching Jewish people.
Actively pray for the safety and salvation of the Jewish people. The
only recorded prayer for the unsaved in the entire New Testament
is Paulís prayer for the salvation of the Jewish people (Rom. 10:1).
Blessing is promised for those who pray for the peace of
Jerusalem (Ps. 122).
Support Jewish missions and teaching ministries. Although many
churches are located within reasonable distance from Jewish
communities and contain believers who have personal contact with
Jews through family, friends, business, and local services, many
churches are removed from such intimate contact. Regardless of
proximity, all churches can participate in Jewish evangelism by
supporting a Jewish parachurch ministry. Paul not only taught the
priority of Jewish evangelism (Rom. 1:16) but also the obligation of
Gentiles to give generously to the support of Jewish work (Rom.
Plan a church Israel tour. Experiencing the land promised to the
chosen people can greatly enhance a believerís love and concern
for the Jewish people.
Celebrate the messianic fulfillment of a Jewish festival such as
Passover or Tabernacles. These are spiritually profitable (Col.
2:16-17) and often prove an enormous catalyst in exciting believers
about their faith. Invite a Jewish ministry (such as Sojourner
Ministries) to lead or assist in the implementation.
Visit or even financially help support a local messianic
congregation. Be selective here, however, as the messianic
congregational movement is fairly new and there is a great deal of
theological variety between individual congregations, which may or
not correspond to your local churchís orientation.
Invite the worship team from your local messianic congregation to
play in your church one Sunday. It is usually easy to coordinate this
as most messianic congregations worship on Friday or Saturday.
One caveat: only explore this suggestion if your church is prepared
to "rock your world." Messianic music is generally of the energetic
Encourage the Jewish believers in your congregation. Many Jewish
believers who, rather than join a messianic congregation, have
joined a predominantly Gentile church, often feel isolated, lonely
and generally "out of synch" with their Gentile brethren. They are
often a tiny minority of one or only a few and perceive themselves
as being "between two worlds," not fully accepted for who they are
in either arena. Although these Jewish brethren might never
vocalize their isolation, some general encouragement can go a
long way when incorporating any minority members into the church
This, of course, assumes there is at least one Jewish
member of your local body. (And if there isnít, go out and find one!)
Create and implement a circumcision celebration within the
church. This, of course, is only to be done as needed Ė donít
conscript a volunteer! Although this is to be implemented only by
the spiritual and physical seed of Abraham, Jewish believers, it
should be celebrated by the entire church family.
To corporately recognize that God is not yet through with the Jewish people by
publicly implementing the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant is a
powerful testimony to the faithfulness of God. This suggestion
should meet no opposition particularly within churches which
practice the traditional customs of baby dedications or infant
baptisms. As has occasionally been said in support of various
church programs, "If it was good enough for Jesus (or Paul, or
Peter, et al.), it is good enough for me!" (Lk. 2:21; Phil. 3:5). This
slogan is particularly apt regarding circumcision.
Similarly, create and implement a Bar Mitzvah/Bat Mitzvah
celebration within the church for Jewish believing 13-year-olds.
Confirmation catechisms and the like need not substitute for
following the Biblical customs of our ancestors.
Messianic congregations would probably hold less appeal for Jewish
believers if more churches implemented these above suggestions,
allowing Jewish believers to express themselves as Jews instead of
feeling compelled to exchange their customs, their heritage for
post-Biblical Gentile counterparts. The liturgy of most church traditions, of
"high" or "low" orientation, is replete with substitutions, equivalents and
copies of traditional Hebrew customs and ceremonies. If the ancient
Jewish customs are shadows of things to come and all have their
essence in Christ Himself (Col. 2:16-17), their enactment can only be of
benefit to the church (Eph. 4:12-13).
The greatest example of Godís historic and ongoing faithfulness is to be
found in the preservation of a believing remnant. From the times of the
patriarchs through the coming future tribulation, the principal evidence
provided for all believers, Jew and Gentile, to confidently place their trust
in Him to keep His promises and bring His program to completion is His
sovereign and gracious preservation of the remnant (Rom. 9-11). It is the
enduring, organic and growing remnant of Israel, the very Israel of God,
which is the luminous beacon of Godís faithfulness throughout history,
past, present and future.
The purpose of this work has been to demonstrate that a correct
understanding of the concept of the remnant of Israel is essential to
appreciating the Godís faithfulness. The remnant concept has been
traced through both Old and New Testaments. Certain theological
weaknesses inherent to Dispensationalism have been examined. Several
practical implications of that examination have been discussed and
several corrective applications proposed.
This work will conclude by joining with Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his call for
a new entry to be added to our systematic theologies as a necessary
corrective. It is imperative for dispensational studies to offer a
comprehensive theological curriculum. Therefore, the addition of the
category of Israelology would be decidedly strategic.
27. Seif, Jeffrey L. The Evolution of A Revolution. Lanham: University, 1994. p52.
28. Common Yiddish word meaning "posterior".