While those of us who celebrate Hanukkah were enjoying the holiday last week, the Vatican came out with a very interesting document that was shocking to some, delightful to a few, abhorrent to many, still insignificant to others: they said that "that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews (Section 6, point #40)." The driving reason for this is because the Jews worship the same God as Christians, and because "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (quoting Romans 11:29); and so the very loose implication is that they are (or eventually will be) included in the New Covenant, and so don't need to be targeted for conversion. Not helping the banter that would shortly ensue was a somewhat misleading headline which read, "Vatican Says Jews Don't Need Christ to be Saved." (Following this title is a quote that I did not find anywhere in the original document.)
Instead of launching into a tirade, ripping this apart for what should be some very obvious flaws, I need to stress what a noble thought this was. This document represents an about face to the Catholic Church's position on Judaism; it states that it is a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetate, but even though that document was groundbreaking in its reconciliatory attitude toward Jews, this current document is nothing short of miraculous. Who would have ever thought that the same Church which declared the Jews as 'Christ-killers' and criminals guilty of deicide would suddenly consider them to be partners in the covenant as the people of God to bring light to the world? The sentiment is incredible—and not coincidental.
Earlier this month, Orthodox Rabbis released a similar statement announcing that "...Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations." (You can pick up your jaw from the floor now.) For the past twenty-some-odd years, I have prayed that the LORD would bring reconciliation between all the different denominations of Christianity and Judaism. The reformation is now happening. It may not look like much yet, but God is bringing His people back together.
Now, to be sure, there is a divide happening as well—but it's not necessarily defined along sectarian lines; the fissure is occurring between those who worship YHVH and those who ultimately worship themselves—between false believers and true ones. The true Body of Messiah is made up of people from every tribe and tongue; all denominations, both Jew and Gentile, will be represented in the New Jerusalem in the presence of God. As this reformation unfolds, however, we have to make sure and guide our responses to align with God's Biblical plan. The enemy is continuously seeking to derail what God is doing; of course, he can never ultimately thwart God's plans in the scheme of history, but for individuals, he can delay or even destroy the work of God in their lives, and we must be careful not to aid him by the things we say and do.
...Which brings me to my response. If you've spent time reading anything that I have written, you know that I have a lot of things to say concerning the Romanized Constantinian Church, and particularly with regard to Roman Catholicism. There is a lot of distance that has been traveled between the early first-century faith and what the Catholic Church has become today; most of which was trod from a position of hatred against the Jews—a direct and deliberate rejection of the Jewish Biblical context and subsequent incorporation of pagan holidays, rituals, concepts, language, and doctrines. The varying Orthodox and Protestant divisions of the Church, while perhaps less overtly pagan, have certainly not returned toward a position resembling Biblical practice, and some groups have continued an anti-Jewish or even anti-Semitic stance. But this is not necessarily what I am dissecting here; no, in fact, other than the Vatican's conclusions, I was actually rather impressed with the language of the Catholic document; if you read my book and many of the articles on this website, you'll find that my position is similar in many respects. Furthermore, my criticisms of all branches of the Church—and of post-Second Temple Judaism for that matter—do not equate to a hatred for any of these groups; rather, I love them all and want to see us all cross the finish line in celebration of our relationship with God.
To that end, I have to point out some things:
- If, indeed, "One cannot understand Jesus’ teaching or that of his disciples without situating it within the Jewish horizon in the context of the living tradition of Israel; one would understand his teachings even less so if they were seen in opposition to this tradition," and "…there can only be one history of God’s covenant with mankind, and that consequently Israel is God’s chosen and beloved people of the covenant which has never been repealed or revoked…", then we must understand and insist that not only has the Church not replaced Israel, we have been grafted into it. We are not the new people of God; instead, we have been adopted into God's original family.
- Given this, our charge is to carry on the values of our family. If we cannot understand Jesus' teaching outside of the Jewish context as the Vatican's document proclaims, why would we wish to insert our own? The document—and history—admits that the church departed from the context of Judaism and conformed to Gentile pagan values; if we worship the Jewish Jesus, the revelation of the Jewish God, defined by and lived out through the Jewish people, would it not behoove us to study and retain His Jewish values? Should we not destroy the Asherah poles and put away the Ba'als of our self-worship, instead of continuing to remain where it is comfortable and familiar? I believe I have been tasked to this effect as a voice in the wilderness, calling the Church to return, preparing the way of the LORD. Not just Catholics, but all segments of the Church.
- Because we are one family, Paul declared his anguish over his ethnic brothers: "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh." This was not because they are eternally separated, but because the New Covenant belongs first to the Jew and also to the Gentile—indeed, by the end, Paul's prophecy is that all his brothers will accept Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah. But how will they hear unless we proclaim Him?
- In spite of the language acknowledging these things, and the goodwill that both provide, both the Catholic document and the Rabbinical statement imply that to be Jewish is to be different than Christian. This is not so! Perhaps in our current expression this is the case, but the evidence shows that we have all departed to a degree from God's direction for His people. Understanding that there are two thousand years of history, tradition, and prejudice to overcome, and that change will or cannot be instant, and knowing that variations in belief will always exist, nevertheless, should we not work toward reuniting the family rather than figuring out how we can simply exist and tolerate one another as separate partners?
- The central piece of the discussion—so carefully and ironically avoided, the pink elephant in the room whom no one wants to see, is Jesus. (Well, He's not really a pink elephant… you know what I mean.) If, however, as the Jewish tractate proclaims, that Christianity is indeed the willed divine outcome of God, what if the Christians are right concerning the Messiahship of Jesus? It is proven against all efforts to the contrary that the acceptance of Jesus as the promised Messiah is a very Jewish thing to do (those of us who do accept Him, of course, would say this is the most Jewish thing one can do). Consider Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 9:6-7: "For to us a child is born. To us a son is given; and the government will be on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, on David’s throne, and on his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from that time on, even forever. The zeal of YHVH of Armies will perform this." Also, (Yirmeyahu) Jeremiah 23:5-6: "Behold, the days come, says YHVH, that I will raise to David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely; and this is his name by which he shall be called: YHVH our righteousness." So regardless of any debate over the Christian doctrines of the virgin birth, Trinity or Christology, the Tanakh is clear that Messiah is both a human king of the line of David and YHVH Himself. Despite the well-meaning attempts to respect each other's positions, it is not anti-Jewish by default to believe in a divine Messiah.
- There is no loss of Jewish identity or practice that comes with acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah—the New Covenant is Jewish in nature! (Jeremiah 31:31-34). There is not one Jewish practice that one must quit in order accept Messiah. To echo the quote of Rabbi Jacob Emden in the Rabbinical document, Jesus brought home a corrected and fuller understanding of the Torah that His contemporaries were lacking, which is this—drawing from the Shema itself: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Everything Jesus did was an illustration of how to apply the Torah to the situations of everyday life—objectified in values like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Could it be that Jesus was right in His understanding of the Law, that the most important aspect of our relationship with God is to worship Him by loving others in contrast to engaging in competition over the fulfillment of mitzvot?
Rabbi Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) praised what God had done in breaking down the wall of separation between Gentile and Jew; and he looked forward to the day when we would truly be one in Messiah. He did not advocate for a separation in any way, as the Roman Catholic document implies. When Paul spoke, there was no such thing as 'Christianity'; he believed that worshipping Jesus was as naturally Jewish as Passover. I'd like us to return there.
There were a million different reactions from people to these attestations, both positive and negative—ranging from accusations of a New Age globalist plot to precursor of the Messianic Reign. While I beg to differ with some of the theology and conclusions these documents reach, I choose to believe this is an opportunity—to right some wrongs, to heal some wounds, and to obtain a better perspective.
I would call on my Christian brothers and sisters from all branches of the Church to examine their rituals, traditions, beliefs, and language. Study the history of the Church. Stack these things up against the Bible and see how much of it reflects God's intentions. I almost guarantee that God will be asking us to make some changes. I also would ask that, contrary to the inference in the Catholic document separating Judaism from the physical land of Israel, that we consider the covenants and understand the integral nature of Israel and her earthly inheritance. The two cannot be separated.
One of my dreams would be to see an ecumenical letter of repentance, asking the Jewish people for forgiveness for all of the atrocities that have been committed against them in the name of Christ. There have been many acts of extraordinary kindness and love by Christians toward Jews as well; and our friend Mike Evans has done a wonderful job showcasing these at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem; however, repentance is also needed.
To the Jewish community, I would plead that you accept Christianity as more than a partner in tikkun olam. I boldly, but humbly ask that you recognize Messianic Jews as belonging to the Jewish community, given that there are those even here in America who do not even worship God and yet are accepted as Jews. I also ask that you treat those Christians who love you, who believe that you truly are God's chosen people, who fight for your national existence, and declare the worship of your God as the ger, the permanent resident aliens who have attached themselves to your nation. We are as Ruth, who proclaimed, "Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God." Thirdly, I would invite you to read the B'rit Chadashah (the New Covenant Scriptures). Compare them with the truth of the Tanakh. Make your conclusions on the basis of respectful dialogue, research, and conviction by the Holy Spirit of our heavenly Father, who teaches us all things.
Lastly, to my Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish friends, I would say: the LORD Himself has caused the warming of relations between the members of His family. He has drawn us to Himself and has caused us to explore some areas that we have not seen for 1900 years in some cases. Change does not usually come overnight. Let us remember to fix our focus on the central commands of the Torah—to love our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. As our Messiah taught us, let us beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (and I would add the Ebionites) who would revel in their self-righteousness and pompous attitudes. If we err, may we err on the side of courtesy, forgiveness, and love. It is not our job to break the bruised reed or snuff the smoldering wick, but to welcome our family home. I would encourage the study of Hebrews 7 to counterbalance the misinterpretation of Paul's writings rather than attempting to make him recant things he clearly said, no matter how difficult they seem. Instead, we must interpret them in light of his context and the narrative that he was trying to convey.
It is no coincidence that the entire world is revealing their hatred of the Judeo-Christian family; above all, this should give us a clue that there is something special between us—a commonality that we share. We have an opportunity to fulfill our mandate in response to our God as the Chosen People, the holy priesthood, a royal nation, and light to the rest of the world. I'm ready—let's do it!