And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s extra meditation, the theme of last Sunday’s sermon and Sunday school teaching, based on the above-quoted scripture, was evangelism; the declaring of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world around us. This is a significant mission among most churches and is carried out to one degree or another by Christians around the world. Not every Christian stands on a street corner with a Bible in one hand and a bunch of leaflets in another preaching to everyone who passes by, but based on the Master’s initial directive in Matthew 28:18-20, all believers understand that we have a mandate to, in one way or another, announce the Gospel to people in our world.
As I mentioned, this is a significant mission among the church, but there are bodies of believers where this mission isn’t apparently being enacted.
If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I separate Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots (One Law, Two House, Sacred Name) as distinctly different religious traditions, although they have some superficial areas of overlap. And yet, these two movements seem to talk to each other quite a lot, if the blogosphere is any evidence, while all but ignoring (with certain exceptions I’ll explain in a moment) the much larger body of believers that exist on the earth today: Christians.
Beyond this, (although there may also be exceptions) there is another large population of human beings both of these movements fail to engage: everybody else.
I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts an article written by Tsvi Sadan for Messiah Journal called “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty.” In his write up, Sadan provides a small history of how Israeli Jews have come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah through the Evangelical church. That process is changing and more recently, other Messianic Jews are spreading the message of the Messiah to their fellow Jews in the Land, but these Jews continue to operate largely from an “evangelical” mindset. This has resulted in what we see described in a recent news article for the Atlantic as “Messianic Jews…assiduously attempting to, essentially, redeem Israel from its Jewishness.”
The “good news” of Jesus Christ is being preached to the Jews but with the Jewishness of their faith omitted or significantly watered down.
Fortunately, Sadan offers an alternative as I recently mentioned but that doesn’t address the issue of Gentiles. Then again, in today’s age, are Messianic Jews obligated to spread the “good news” to the nations as a duty with which they were charged in ancient days?
I asked that question, perhaps as long as two years ago, and received an answer that, in terms of the dynamics of the different believing communities today, the most reasonable response is “no.” Given Sadan’s article, I can see that it might be a better idea to allow actual Messianic Jews who live a completely halakhic, ethnic, and religious Jewish lifestyle to employ keruv as the method of bringing Jews near to the Moshiach. Does that mean only the church speaks to the Gentile unbelievers?
I mentioned Hebrew Roots before, which is primarily a Christian/Gentile owned and operated movement within larger Christianity (although many Hebrew Roots congregations refuse to claim the church as their own and prefer to bill themselves as “Messianic Judaism,” though most of their groups cannot be defined as “Jewish” by any reasonable halakhic standard). Who do they talk to? Besides the inevitable debates between Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots rarely if ever engages in what we would typically think of as “evangelism.”
This was a source of frustration to me when I was involved in the One Law movement, but the whole system of One Law seems to be designed to approach people who are already Christians and who are, in one way or another, disillusioned with their churches. Once accessed, One Law proceeds to convince these Christians that they must take on board the total mitzvot of Torah and redefine themselves as “Messianic.” If anything, One Law, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on, are dedicated to “evangelizing” Christians to “convert” to their particular variation of “Christianity,” rather than performing the task Jesus commissioned his Jewish disciples with in Matthew 28:18-20 and doing what the Jewish disciples were doing in Acts 8:4-8.
It’s not like this hasn’t occurred to me before and it’s not like this topic hasn’t been discussed in the blogosphere before, so why am I bringing it up now?
In my Sunday school class, we talked about the general reluctance of Christians to fulfill the evangelical mission in their (our) personal lives. Sure, not all of us are going to go into the “foreign mission field” and preach the Gospel in places like the Congo, but we all live in the world, and the world is filled with people who, while they’ve heard of Jesus Christ, do not honor God and have no real awareness of His Presence. A traditional Christian might say, the world is full of “unsaved” people, but to me, salvation is just the beginning of the journey, not the whole point of existence.
If I can accept that Messianic Jews have a specific mission to address Jewish people and not the general population, and if I can accept that the church has a specific mission to address the general population, what mission does Hebrew Roots have? Do they just “feed” their own internal desires and consume their own theology and doctrine, or should they be reaching out as well? I don’t mean necessarily reaching out to take traditional Christians and recreate them in their own image, but to actually try to communicate the core message of the Gospel (Torah or non-Torah observance aside), and to “make souls for the Kingdom,” so to speak (if you can excuse the “churchy” language here).
As much as many Hebrew Roots groups denigrate and disdain the church, they seem to have left it to the church to do the “heavy lifting” of spreading the Gospel message. After all, how many One Law or Two House groups send missionaries into the Congo, to Tonga, to the Philippines, or anywhere else? How many Hebrew Roots congregations and organizations sent relief teams to Haiti after their devastating earthquake?
OK, I understand that Hebrew Roots groups are rather small and resources are limited. For that matter, the same can be said for Messianic Jewish groups. The traditional church as a whole is much larger, more organized, and better designed to render the sorts of assistance I’m talking about. I’m sure you must also be aware that Israel traditionally renders aid to other nations when disasters occur and Jewish groups provide tzedakah as a matter of course.
But rather than pick on any one religious group (as I have been up until now), I’d like to suggest that whoever you are reading this and whatever sort of context you worship in, what are you actually doing for people, both in the area of giving aid and charity, and in sharing your faith with those who have no faith and hope in the world? The church sends the members of its body to visit the sick, provide clothing, medical supplies, and food to the needy and the suffering, and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth. Are your groups and your people doing that too? If not, why not?
Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of Slobodka would sometimes sit near the window of his house and quietly bestow blessings and prayers on all those who passed by.
Once when Rabbi Finkel was walking down the street, he turned toward a house and said, “Good morning.” Rabbi Finkel explained: “Most people only wish someone a good morning when they see them face to face. But even when we do not see them, we should still develop good will toward them.”
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #663, Bless Others”
I’ve mentioned many times before that I believe we Christians have a specific responsibility to bless the Jewish people. However, I also believe that all of us are duty and honor bound to bless the world.
Bless others. Bless someone today.