Over the years I have had the wonderful privilege of speaking in numerous cross-cultural, cross-denominational churches throughout the region. It has been very encouraging to witness the increasing openness many have to exploring the Jewish roots of biblical faith. Moreover too, it is gratifying to know of a much wider circle of people who desire to pray for the Jewish people and who have a profound love for the State of Israel.
The most commonly asked question I receive has to do with effectively communicating the good news to the Jewish people. How do I speak to my Jewish friend, colleague, or neighbor? Many sound answers can be offered, but let me answer that query with one of my own. “What Does It Mean To Be A Christian”?
As a Messianic Jew, whose parents came to these shores as a result of Anti-Semitism, it’s time to reassess just what it means to be a Christian.
Assumed answers would be; “To be like Jesus”. “To be obedient to G-ds word”. “To be charitable, kind, and loving.” These are all fine answers for these are truly the goals of a spirit filled life. But is there more? Does the bible lay out other responsibilities that are often overlooked, even though they do fall within the framework of defining what it means to be a Christian?
Rabbi Saul of Tarsus relates a sense of indebtedness on the part of Gentile believers in Macedonia. This was a church that understood and respected the sacrificial efforts made on their behalf to bring them the gospel. They understood too that their faith, their salvation, their covenant standing was of the Jews.
“And again he says, rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people. And again Isaiah says, There shall come the root of Jesse, and he who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.” Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things (Rom.15:10, 12,27NASB).
It is readily acknowledged that Saul is commending the Macedonians for their generous giving with the hope of inducing the Romans to follow suit. But the text goes much further. The text brings forth the authors main reason and purpose; specifically that the Gentile believers have shared in the Jewish spiritual things and are therefore indebted to minister to them in material things. They were pleased to demonstrate that they were in fellowship with the Jewish believers. It was a demonstration of their common share in the “commonwealth of Israel” (Eph2:12).
Earlier in Romans 11 this responsibility and indebtedness comes in the form of provoking the Jewish people to jealousy that they may come fully into the embrace of their Messiah. History has borne out that there has been much provoking, but not to jealousy.
Spearheaded by teachings that replace Israel with the Church, the warnings against arrogance have generally gone unheeded. Historically and theologically, Christianity has defined itself in opposition to, or at least in separation from the Jewish people. The apostles, their disciples, and their disciples’ disciples did not see themselves as separate from Israel. They couldn’t. That would have separated them from “the adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the law, and the service of God, the promises, the patriarchs and the Messiah.” (Rom. 9:4-5)
Logic dictates that if Israel (Jewish people) is replaced, or if there is a “New Israel”, then Romans 11 makes no sense. It would make no sense for it would deny the Jewish people of one day being “ grafted into their own olive tree” and at the same time, deny that individual Gentiles who believe are “grafted contrary to nature (Rom.11:17-24). Further, it would deny the “mystery” of the gospel that far-off Gentiles, aliens, can be brought into the commonwealth of Israel.
So, “What does it mean to be a Christian”? Simply, to take on the calling of Ruth. Ruth was an ever so faithful Moabite woman who wholeheartedly embraced the G-d of Israel. Her calling was not to replace Naomi, or to be Naomi, but to come alongside and be a comfort to Naomi. To be a Christian brings with it a redemptive vision to see the day when “all Israel will be saved” (Rom.11:26) that we may experience the soon return of our Messiah, the Holy One of Israel. To be a Christian brings with it an empowered gospel, recognizing that the bible defines the gospel as being “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.” (Rom.1:16)
Rabbi Lowinger was reared in a Conservative Jewish home, the eldest son of a Holocaust survivor. He graduated from Census College in Buffalo, NY with a degree in accounting and marketing. He went on to earn a degree in Ministerial Studies from Berea College in Springfield, Missouri, and has done course work in the Jewish studies program of the State University of New York at Buffalo. Rabbi Lowinger was reared in a Conservative Jewish home, the eldest son of a Holocaust survivor. He graduated from Canisius College in Buffalo, NY with a degree in accounting and marketing. He went on to earn a degree in Ministerial Studies from Berean College in Springfield, Missouri, and has done course work in the Jewish studies program of the State University of New York at Buffalo.