Recently, I had the great honor of participating in a Priestly Blessing over a house of worship at which I minister frequently, and I was delighted at the conversation the priest brought up regarding the Hebrew traditions and the Christian faith. It was his belief that until a Christian comes to an understanding of the Hebrew faith and traditions, he/she will lack the fullness of their own Christian understanding.
Is it heresy or truth? Let’s take a look.
Even though some of the Hebrew people rejected Jesus as their Messiah, Christians, meaning those who choose to follow him as “Christ followers,” must never forget that the Messiah came as deliverer to the Hebrew people of Israel. This was and continues to be, and will be until the Last Day, the principle mission of the Mashiach. Even the Gentile inclusion into the Salvation plan was rooted in the beliefs of Judaism. Jesus recognized it himself in the writings of the Prophets like Isaiah, Daniel and the Psalms. There is no refuting this fact for Christians, regardless of whether Jews today agree. As followers of Christ who were given “revelation of the scriptures” as described to the disciples in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 24, verse 45), Jesus is and continues to be a man of Hebrew faith and traditions, having practiced himself all the laws and feasts of the Old Testament and having himself fulfilled the prophesies concerning him. Because of Jesus, we can step into the fullness of the Hebrew Faith without contention and with the understanding now there is no Gentile or Jew but only Christ, who came not to abolish the faith (the Law) but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-20).
What this means is that we can choose to enter into all the blessings that the Law (the Torah) handed down to the Hebrews without having to live under the penalty of the Law if we do not live up to the fullness of its measure. Because Christ became the full measure, those who follow him are always free of the penalty of the Law but we can STILL CHOOSE to follow it in Christ’s Grace and receive it’s blessings!
It’s interesting to note that had it been left up to the Apostle Peter alone, our Christian faith might have mirrored more exactly the Jewish Synagogues of today. Perhaps such a similarity might have made it more challenging for Jews to disregard Jesus as the Messiah. But as it were, the Apostle Paul, who rather ironically was the most educated Jewish man among all the Apostles, was adamant about the inclusion of the Gentile believers and, by the revelation of the Spirit, both Peter and Paul worked tirelessly to find a way to graft the two together. Not since the days of the early church has there been such a movement to find a way to worship together as Jewish and Non-Jewish Believers in Christ. Notice in the book of Acts how the early church continued to meet for the Shabbat dinner and to attend the synagogue for the Sabbath (the 7th Day of the week according to Hebrew custom). It was not until they were no longer welcome in the Synagogues that Paul and the other disciples began to preach more fervently among the Gentile Believers and to meet more frequently on the first day of the week (see Acts 18). As with all things in this world, the fallen nature of man would partner with the diabolical to produce a watered down version of Christ’s Body along with several false duplicates. To this day, there are less than a handful of parts in the body that can claim to hold to only some of the early ecclesial traditions the Apostles Peter and Paul worked so tirelessly to establish. Surely, if there were anyone among the early disciples who could have advocated for the Gentiles to be converted into the Jewish faith without exception to the rules and make for a smoother tradition, it was Paul, the Pharisee; yet he chose instead to advocate for a more united ecclesia, Why?
Anti-Semitism was prevalent in Jesus’ time and continues to be on the rise even today. Could it be that Paul saw the wisdom in uniting Christ-followers, regardless of faith and ethnicity, Hebrew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman, under the precepts of a more inclusive Jewish tradition as a way of combating such divisions?
Christ left the ecclesial church with the image of his body, united under one Messiah. Obviously this meant the body would not remain ridged but would become more fluid, adapting to each of its parts. Paul expands on this in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).
Many Christians will point to Paul’s comments in verses 14-20 as evidence of our diversity in denominations of faith and the reason for excluding Hebrew practices in the modern church:
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many… But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
But if we keep reading, we will come to a more fuller explanation of God’s wisdom at work:
“21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
I believe it is here in verses 24-26 that Paul reveals to us the wisdom behind his zeal for uniting the ecclesial communities of Jews and non-Jews alike into a more fluid structure, that there may be no division in the body, that the members may have the same care for one another.
If we fail to recognize that it is by one Spirit we were all made to drink and in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body then we run the risk of dishonoring God by our divisions.
If each member is composed by God in such a way as to make the body functional then we have no excuse but to honor those in the body who have been given little honor and to suffer with those who suffer and to rejoice with those who are exalted.
It matters not whether we are Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, or non-denominational, Hebrew, Roman, Greek, slave, free, male, female, sinner or saint, what matters is that we are baptized in one Spirit, if one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
We have much we can still learn from each other as members of one Spirit, one body. For their are those Hebrews among us who, having been persecuted for their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, have suffered greatly in being rejected from their synagogues and kept from their traditions in the temple. The Hebrew people are and have always been the people of the Torah. To be separated from it in any form is like a Christian being asked to leave the cross behind. Ever member of the body has come to a sense of itself through its discovery of purpose, Jesus is the blood that circulates a part of himself to every part, and Jesus was a Jew.
Jewish Believers believe the Messiah when he said in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5:17-20 “not one iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” and as people of the Torah, they have continued to suffer greatly at the hands of anti-Semitic spirits at work in the world and in the body of Christ. Such division is like a cancer in the blood.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
These same members of our body and our blood continue to recite the morning and evening prayers each day, as instituted by Moses in the Old Testament. They pray the Psalms daily in monthly cycles according to the promises of King David, which state when he compiled the Psalms, he had in mind himself, every Jew, and every circumstance, now and to the end of the last age. They continue to recognize the feasts and the spiritual laws at work in which they represent. All are customs that Jesus himself would have followed each day of his life on earth.
As followers of the Messiah, we owe it to the other members of his body to consider each part and make room to honor them in our hearts. Can we say that we as an ecclesial community have given honor to those parts of the body we do not understand?
This year the Nation State of Israel will celebrate 70 years of formation. In a world where anti-semitism continues to increase, this milestone is no small feat. Modern-day Zionism as it has become known, is the belief in a sovereign Israeli state in the land of its inheritance. Many wars have been fought over this and continue to be waged against Zionism today. Indeed, this is the hot bed of conflict between current Day Palestinians and Israelis.
Though many Christians today cannot claim a Hebrew genetic connection and may feel disconnected from the Israeli nation state, we are indeed united to the cause of Israel by our unification under the Messiah. If we truly believe Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, then we must also unite our hearts to the Israeli people, regardless of their current understanding of who their Mashiach truly is.
And as Paul charges us in Corinthians, we must do better to enter in to the sufferings and celebrations of the Messiah’s beloved people. Not as those who lack understanding of the scriptures but as people of faith who recognize their fulfillment lies in the body of Christ – the body of Mashiach. Everything about this age is about stepping into the fulfillment – the fullness of Christ’s work.
Therefore, we can enter into the blessings of Israel and pray with them the Psalms each day. We can partake in the first fruits offering each month and celebrate the goodness of Yahweh, we can acknowledge the law of giving and abundance at work in the feasts instituted in the Old Testament. We can give reverence to the holy name of G-d in their presence. We can partake in the counting of the Omer knowing that Jesus is the life source. And we can celebrate Zion’s Presence here on earth today in the land of Israel’s inheritance.
When we stand up as people of faith and honor those among us who are still as yet misunderstood (whether in body, in substance, in theology, or in tradition), we are attaining to that unity of faith that Christ desires from the Father, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21)
If there is any hope for such Union in the Father through the Son, then let us be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to grow us in grace, wisdom and understanding of Christ’s Body. How else does one come home to Love except that he has felt its presence in those where Love has become merciful and understanding?
Let us pray, Father, I ask you to help us become one in you, together, through your Son Jesus Christ. May the power of your Holy Spirit at work in our hearts lead us into the greater depths of understanding your Father heart that we may see and know mercy and compassion, so that we can become it ourselves, and in offering it to others, they may know what is the depth and height of your vast love for them. May the world see Jesus in us and know by our great love for one another, even despite our lack of understanding at times, may the world see your love present in us and know that you have sent your Son to bring us all home to you!
Until the Day Dawns and the Shadows Flee,