How Ancient Biblical Judaism Keeps Us on Track
by Ed Vasicek
American history reflects a variety of alliances over the years. We allied with the English to fight the French and Indians, then we fought England for our independence. In more recent years, we joined forces with Stalin's Russia and then engaged in years of a Cold War with the same. Some of our current allies are totalitarian Arab states. But not all strange alliances are in the military realm. For example, if your theological views are like mine, then you may have also noticed some strange alliances in the religious realm.
Being an evangelical Christian who takes the Bible seriously gives me some odd bedfellows. When it comes to some of the moral issues, like abortion, I find myself more closely aligned with the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon Church, and Orthodox Judaism than I do with liberal (mainline) Protestants. When it comes to some matters of theology and practice, I find my views closer to those of Orthodox Judaism than I do Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. And when it comes to a perspective about how believers mature, I consider myself more closely aligned to the views of Old Testament Judaism than I do to the views of evangelicalism's fastest growing wings.
Up until about 75 AD the majority of believers were Jewish. They had tremendous Old Testament backgrounds and were a biblically-literate bunch. They were serious about "meditating day and night" in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1). The Scriptures were studied (not just "used" but studied) at home and prayers were recited daily. That is one reason why so many Jews accepted Christ on the Day of Pentecost: they had been primed with the Scriptures over a lifetime. They memorized, they studied, and they practiced.
As the gospel spread to the gentiles, non-Jews became the majority and the church began to change. Rather than combating problems of legalism, such as we see in Galatians or Romans, the gentile congregations struggled with a host of moral and theological confusion. (See Corinthians and Colossians.)
As Christianity moved away from its Jewish roots, it strayed proportionately. For example, a Jewish believer would never have bowed down to a statue or icon; the second commandment was considered serious stuff. Dead saints would not have been called upon in prayer. Omnipresence belongs to God alone, and giving another such an attribute is indeed an act of worship. Only God is to be worshipped, and if prayer isn't worship, what is?
The Lord's Supper can best be understood in the context of the Passover Seder from which it was taken. The meaning and mode of baptism is based upon its Jewish origin, a ritual immersion that cannot cleanse the soul but is the formalization of repentance (or conversion).
Indeed, Christ dying as our Passover Lamb on the Feast of Passover, rising on the Feast of First Fruits, and sending His Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost cannot be fully appreciated without understanding these Old Testament holidays.
Only a few New Testament passages rival the clarity of Isaiah 53:3-12 when addressing the nature of Christ's atoning work on the cross. Jews understood the concept of "leaning into" a sacrifice; the priest would press his weight into the animal to signify a transfer of sin and the creation of the substitute. What did Christ do on the cross? Our sins were transferred to him and he served as our substitute.
God ruled in the Old Testament through his Law. It was clear that Scripture was to be judge and jury of all: the priests, the prophets, even the judges and kings—no one was above the Law. In the New Testament, we see the same set-up: everyone, church leaders included, is held accountable to the Word of God. The Law of God was above Israel; the Law of God is above the Church. And this same emphasis—constant attention to the Scripture—is still what makes healthy Christians and God-honoring churches.
Where am I going with all this? Well, here it is. When the church hovers close to her Jewish roots, when she takes her place as humbly drawing life from the rootstock of Israel, she remains more closely aligned to the truth. It was when Christianity lost its Old Testament moorings that it slid into error. The church of even 250 AD was probably far removed from the church of 75 AD, much like the United States of 2000 is very different from the USA of 1825.
One reason I appreciate the Messianic Jewish movement is that this group helps remind the rest of us about our spiritual roots. The church needs to humbly acknowledge that what Christ said still stands, "Salvation is of the Jews." Our Jewish Savior and his Jewish apostles called out both Jew and gentile to become this "sect of the Jews" that we call the church.
No, God does not demand we gentiles eat kosher, keep the feasts, nor observe Mosaic rituals. (See Acts 15.). But I do think He want us to appreciate our spiritual roots and draw from them. As Romans 11:18b reads, "You do not support the root, but the root supports you."
So I tip my hat to groups like the Messianic congregation, Ahavat Yeshua, and our own Jewish roots advocate, Sam Stevens. And I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to read books like Yeshua, A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church and Jesus, the Jewish Theologian.
I also want to acknowledge the support and enthusiasm of our Board of Elders and this congregation, year after year. At our recent Passover Seder carry-in dinner, over one hundred of you participated, despite having to prepare food from a different culture. As I looked over your faces, I thought to myself, "What a wonderful bunch of people we have here." And we do. There are many churches in our area, and frankly some of them have a better "this" or are better at doing "that," but few, if any, do a better job of connecting Christians to our Old Testament roots. And it is your enthusiastic support, your quest to understand the Word of God, and your open-mindedness that helps us lead the way. I take my hat off to you. Shalom Elechem (peace to you).