praying

What I Learned in Church Today: Christianity is Jewish

Get past the title. Get past the title. Just keep reading.

Is Christianity a Judaism? I think most Christians and most Jews would say “no,” but last Sunday morning in church, Pastor Randy said it was. In fact, it was the second Sunday he’s said such a thing.

Christianity is a Judaism?

I was kind of surprised that he said that. He also said that when Jesus returns, it will be as a Jewish King, the Messiah and he will still be Jewish.

You might be thinking “oh duh, of course he’ll be Jewish,” but there are a lot of Christians out there who believe his being Jewish died on the cross with him and that Jesus was resurrected as someone more “generic” in terms of ethnicity.

The last few times when Pastor has spoken with me at church, practically the first words out of his mouth as we’re shaking hands is, “I’ve been reading your blog.” He hasn’t said much else to me lately, so I’ve tended to take that as a message meaning he’s not really happy about what I’ve been writing. But now I wonder.

I’ve certainly been hammering away at the Jewishness of the ekklesia of the Messiah and how the Christian Church, as it exists today, won’t be what the ekklesia will be like in Messianic days.

As I was quickly taking notes on the sermon (Acts 25:23-26:32), I continued to reflect on the implications of Pastor’s words. Although I have no problem with any of the statements he made, I wondered how the rest of the congregation was taking it. No one mentioned it in Sunday school, although we were studying Ephesians 4 rather than Pastor’s message, so there wasn’t a natural opportunity to bring up the subject.

In speaking on Acts 26:4-18, Pastor referred to it as “A Conversion Story” but oddly enough, he defined “conversion” as making a “u-turn,” turning away from darkness and turning to light, to God.

That sounds more like teshuvah than conversion and in any event, as Dr. Larry Hurtado mentioned in a comment to me on his blog:

In any case, Paul didn’t undergo a “conversion” to “Christianity.” He refers to his experience as a prophet-like “calling” (e.g., Gal. 1:13-15), and there was no “Christianity” (as a separate religion) to which he could “convert” as a Jew. We could describe the former “pagans” (gentiles) that formed his churches as “converting” from the worship of their various ancestral deities to the God of the Bible/Israel.

paul-on-the-road-to-damascusSo Dr. Hurtado would call it “A Prophet-Like Calling Story” while using Pastor’s own definition, I could call the Acts 9 event “A Teshuvah Story”.

No, Paul wasn’t repenting of being Jewish or of practicing Judaism. Far from it. However, we could say that he had to make teshuvah relative to his disbelief in Yeshua as the Messiah and opposing God’s plan of using the ekklesia of “the Way” to bring Jews and Gentiles to Hashem and inaugurate the New Covenant in our world.

“So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem; since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion. And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers; the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews. Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?”

Acts 26:4-8 (NASB)

I’m pulling a lot of my interpretation of this section of scripture, not only from D. Thomas Lancaster’s lectures on the New Covenant, but his sermon series The Holy Epistle to the Hebrews.

Paul continues to identify himself as a Pharisee, living in the strictest sense of that stream of Judaism, and that he has the “hope of the promise made by God to” his “fathers”, the hope of the resurrection, of life from the dead. He even asks his Roman audience as well as King Agrippa why they should find it so difficult to believe that the God who created the universe could also raise the dead back to life, thus extending the promise beyond just the Jewish people and making it a hope for all human beings.

Apostle Paul preachingIt may have seemed that Paul was the prisoner, but he appears to have made a captive audience of his jailers and accusers in delivering the message of the Good News.

I did have the opportunity to discuss part of Pastor’s sermon with one young fellow in Sunday school. After class let out, he had some questions about a part of Ephesians he’d been studying and thought for some reason I could help answer his queries.

In the course of our conversation, I realized part of the problem many late second temple period Jewish groups had with accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah.

So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:6-8 (NASB)

Even Yeshua’s disciples believed that the Messiah would first raise Israel as the head of all the nations, defeat her enemies, and ascend the Throne of David, and only afterward reconcile the Gentiles to God. Saying that the Messiah died, was resurrected, and ascended into Heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand and that before he returned to take the throne, the Gentiles would be brought alongside Israel in the worship of Hashem was reversing the expected order of things.

For a lot of Jews, it must have seemed pretty bogus to say that Gentiles could be brought into the ekkelsia, into a Jewish community and worship space, as equal co-participants while the Messiah was not yet physically ruling as King over Israel and over the rest of the world.

Paul knew the truth but he had a special insight. He had received two visions of the Messiah (Acts 9:3-8, Acts 22:17-22) and was caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) and taught inexpressible words that he was not permitted to speak. For those Jews and Gentiles who believed, they did so from a profound sense of faith, since even though Paul could be persuasive, his words were not always convincing to every one who listened.

King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

Acts 26:27-29 (NASB)

When Agrippa said “become a Christian,” the term “Christian” was not used in the same sense as we understand it today, because, as I’ve mentioned on numerous previous occasions, faith in Messiah Yeshua was not a religious stream distinct from Judaism at that point in history. Agrippa might have just as well said “make me a disciple of the Way”. And it was well-known that Agrippa was hardly devout and pious though he doubtless had some education in the traditions of his fathers (for Paul knew Agrippa believed the Prophets).

The Jewish PaulDoes that bring us back to thinking of Christianity as a Judaism, or am I the one getting things reversed?

During his lifetime, Paul obviously considered faith in Yeshua as Messiah King to be the next, natural, logical extension in the development of God’s plan for Israel. Yeshua was and is the beginning of God’s starting to fulfill the New Covenant promises to Israel, but those promises include bringing the Gentiles into worship of Hashem by coming along side Israel and becoming attached to her. Messiah was the doorway for the Gentiles to enter that forward-progressing stream of God’s plan for Israel, not by making Gentiles into Jews through the proselyte rite, but allowing them (us) to remain of the nations and yet, as was prophesied, enjoying the blessings of the spirit and the hope of the resurrection into the age of peace and tranquility.

I’d like to believe that some of the things I’ve written lately have been positively received by Pastor Randy, but that’s probably arrogant presumption on my part. However, his sermon last Sunday did seem to speak to many of the themes I write about on my blog. I not only found myself in general agreement with Pastor’s sermon but found myself learning some things I hadn’t noticed before in my reading of this part of Luke’s “Acts”.

Is Christianity a Judaism? In its current form, we can say that it owes a great deal to its Hebrew or Jewish roots, but there’s a lot about that “Judaism” the Church as left by the wayside. But as Pastor said, the return of Jesus is the return of the Jewish Messiah King to the Throne of David in the City of David.

With Jewish devotees cheering and Gentile disciples alongside them crying out in joyous approval, Messiah will raise Israel up as the most exalted of all nations, rebuild the Temple, return the Jewish exiles to their Land, rule the world with a rod of iron, and bring peace to all peoples.

What will the ekklesia be then? It will be Jewish, but it should be remembered that “every knee shall bow” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11), not just of the Jews but of everyone, the whole world.

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20 thoughts on “What I Learned in Church Today: Christianity is Jewish”

  1. Just as Judaism was not and is not a monolith, so Christianity is not a monolith. It is a stretch to see some forms of Christianity, such as superseccionism, as a legitimate Judaism.

  2. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that the way Christianity is practiced today could in any way be considered a Judaism, Daniel. I was primarily remarking how the Pastor at the church I attend was recognizing the Jewish origins of the Christian faith and more, that Jesus would return as the Jewish Messiah King. The implication is that the ekklesia of Messiah in the days of the Kingdom will look more like a Judaism than a Christianity.

  3. I suggest that the formulation of a deliberately anti-Jewish Christianity at the Council of Nicea, which was continually ratified and reiterated at subsequent similar Councils, eliminated any possible validity from assertions that any version of Christian religious expression could be deemed a Judaism. In saying this, I am excluding Nazarenes and Ebionites from the Christian label (along with other Jewish messianists, of course); and certainly no modern version of Christianity can be so labeled without severe damage to and distortion of the definition of Judaism. The appropriation of the Jewish texts of the Tenakh and the apostolic writings does not qualify their (mis)users as followers of a form of Judaism; and it is only right that some name other than Judaism should be its label. Given its historical characteristics, perhaps the pejorative label “christianos” (or “christianismos” for the religious expression as distinct from its adherents), with its connotations of greasy smarminess, is actually appropriate — though I would think that modern gentile would-be disciples of the Jewish Messiah might wish to distance themselves from such a label. Certainly Paul the Pharisee sidestepped it when Agrippa mistakenly invoked it.

  4. You might want to see my response to Daniel. I’m not seriously saying that Christianity is Judaism. I wrote this blog for two reasons. The first is that the Pastor at the church I attend took a rather surprising turn in emphasizing the Jewishness of the returning King (and Kingdom), and the second was to re-enforce what I’ve said before about how the Church as such will not the representative of the ekklesia of Messiah in the Messianic Age.

  5. And, as I suspect you know already, James, I agree with your expectation that the behavior of the non-Jewish segment of the ecclesia in the messianic era will likely appear more like a Judaism than a Christianity, as probably it did also in the first century. The behavior of the Jewish segment, of course, must be expected beyond any doubt to be consonant with traditional Judaism.

    I do, however, continue to suggest that the “inauguration” of the new/renewed Torah covenant with Jews occurred prior to Rav Yeshua’s final meal with his disciples or the event of his resurrection. Possibly it was as far back as when it was announced to Jeremiah, since no signal event identifies the occurrence, but only that it will be in “the coming days”. Other “coming days” events in that chapter seem to refer to the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian exile. Events in Rav Yeshua’s life or in the subsequent pursuit of ‘the Way” might be considered focal-points of entry for non-Jews into the kingdom of heaven, but as I read Mt.5:20 this sort of covenantal internalization and continual entry into the kingdom of heaven perspective were already available to Jews and were merely being emphasized and clarified by Rav Yeshua to his Jewish audience. This kingdom was already near at hand, immediately accessible to those to whom it belonged, if only they had eyes and hearts to see it; though of course it is understandable if many failed to see it until Rav Yeshua pointed it out to them (hence his reference to the lost sheep of the house of Israel who were his target audience).

  6. James I have really been enjoying your blog.
    Do you think maybe there is a “change in the air” or like a move of the Spirit that is getting people to think differently about Christianity, Judaism and Israel?
    I am a Messianic Gentile, but not a church-goer but this past Sunday I decided to go to a church service held nearby. The Pastor spoke about several scriptures that churches like to take out of context and apply to the United States, when in fact they are about Israel. For example: Psalm 33:12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
    The Pastor basically told people that Israel was God’s chosen and is still God’s inheritance.

    Do you think people are being awakened to the fact that :”the return of Jesus is the return of the Jewish Messiah King to the Throne of David in the City of David.”?

  7. @PL: If the death and resurrection of Yeshua isn’t the inaugurating event of the New Covenant era, then I can only imagine identifying any “starting point” would be pretty difficult. I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea, but I do believe that the birth, life, death, and eternal life of Yeshua was not only part of God’s plan and the next “logical” step in the development of the New Covenant era, but a revolutionary step in that plan, one that dramatically prefigured the coming resurrection of all (dead) people in the coming Kingdom.

    @Kathy: Thank you for your kind words. To answer your question, yes, I think the Spirit is moving and influencing people all the time. We don’t always notice because most people don’t speak from a pulpit, but hearts are being turned away from the supersessionist history of the church and back to God and to the centrality of Israel in the Good News that Messiah brought. We still have a long way to go, however, but I proceed hopefully.

  8. I have no argument, James, against logical or revolutionary steps in a developmental plan. I merely note that Rav Yeshua’s public teachings about accessing the kingdom precede any hint of his martyrdom — and even these veiled hints were heard only by a select few. Hence I don’t consider these events crucial to the implementation of the kingdom teachings by his Jewish audience, since Rav Yeshua himself did not seem to do so. The writer of the Hebrews letter emphasized their symbolic significance to his (her?) Jewish audience, but neither this writer nor Rav Yeshua made them the crux of the kingdom entry process. They do, of course, impact repentance and atonement, which in turn affect attitudes associated with the perspective of the kingdom. All these events are interrelated. But repentance and atonement were already available to Jews prior to Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom, and, of course, prior even to Rav Yeshua’s advent or to Jeremiah’s announcement of the new perspective on the Torah covenant.

    Therefore I suggest that entry into the immediately-accessible kingdom of heaven could be implemented already by right-hearted Jews among Rav Yeshua’s “sermon on the mount” audience, if they heeded his words (not to neglect those of his cousin Yohanan the Immerser who also advocated repentance because of the kingdom at hand). It seems that the enlightenment of the Word that enlightens every man (cif: Jn.1:9) may function somewhat independently of the atonement provided later via trust in the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom. Now, if we consider the resurrection that must precede the establishment of the millennial messianic kingdom, there we may find these elements more crucially interwoven.

  9. This is most encouraging to hear about your pastor. For it is only the Holy Spirit that brings conviction and revelation to those who are truly seeking G-d’s truth to the degree to have His right spirit renewed in them, as it was in the beginning before sin corrupted creation. May you remain encouraged, as it is being confirmed that you are indeed being used to water some gardens that have been in a spirtual drought! Shalom in Yeshua’s name.

  10. At least your pastor reads your blog. Mine never did, except one pro-life article that wouldn’t be controversial or challenging.

    J4J would always use that meme, but like anything reductionist, a lot if left out. Christianity as it is practiced today in its various forms and has been practices historically obviously is rooted in Judaism, but has sought to distance itself from its roots, and not only create distance, but like Oedipus, kill the father.

  11. @Kathy, I am seeing this everywhere. I am seeing it not only in the church, but among academics and atheists. They are willing to explore the assets of Judaism, and I think one reason is they see how a religion, a group of writings and a philosophy of life preserved a people, even if they don’t see any supernatural aspect. Also, Judaism is more approachable, as it offers wisdom and growth without an, “all or nothing,” proposition.

  12. PL said: Therefore I suggest that entry into the immediately-accessible kingdom of heaven could be implemented already by right-hearted Jews among Rav Yeshua’s “sermon on the mount” audience, if they heeded his words…

    I agree and I said as much a little over a week ago.

    Phyllis said: For it is only the Holy Spirit that brings conviction and revelation to those who are truly seeking G-d’s truth…

    I agree as well. No human wisdom can reveal the things of God but only the spirit if we are willing.

    @Chaya: Having Pastor read my blog can be a double-edged sword. I’m always mindful that we will read what I’ve written and have some idea of which blogs he might light and which will cause him to acquire more gray hairs.

  13. @James — As I looked again at your link from last week, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing. You posed a “what if” scenario wherein the physical re-establishment of the kingdom on earth might have been able to begin without waiting two millennia, given proper Jewish response. I was presenting a different scenario of beginning continual repeated existential psycho-spiritual entries into the perspective of the kingdom of heaven, as indicated by the aorist tense of Mt.5:20 regarding the kingdom’s entry requirement for greater diligence than the run-of-the-mill scribe or Pharisee. Entering the kingdom of heaven in this sense is not a one-time event, unlike the future establishment of the physical kingdom centered in Jerusalem. But the effect on the individual, and on communities of like-minded individuals, is also to implement the kingdom of heaven on the earth in a psycho-spiritual and behavioral sense. It is this sense to which the “greatness” (or “least-ness”) cited in the preceding verse 19 applies even more than it will do in the physical realization when Rav Yeshua returns. It is also the pursuit of the perspective supporting this sense that encourages the internalization of Torah which corresponds with the Jer.31 new covenant description. It is in this sense that Rav Yeshua’s own disciples experienced the kingdom of heaven during his lifetime and the remainder of theirs, though it didn’t stop them from asking him (just prior to his ascension) when he would establish the physical kingdom (that was yet to remain delayed).

  14. PL, I always imagine myself to be a reasonably intelligent person until I read your comments, and then I realize that I must be a pretty “average” guy (I’ll allow myself that much).

    Anyway, if I understand you correctly, you’re talking about being able to apprehend the Messianic Kingdom in our current world. I think I have a blog post that speaks to that as well.

  15. BTW, considering the subject of the kingdom of heaven and the establishment of the physical messianic kingdom on earth in Israel, at present and during the past couple of hours a large area of southern Israel has been under heavy bombardment by missiles fired from Gaza. I’ve spent a portion of that time in my home’s concrete-reinforced shelter room. So far, all but a few of these missiles have been intercepted and destroyed by the Iron Dome defense system (Baruch HaShem!). The few that landed have not injured anyone or caused serious damage. They have reached, however, as far as the northern suburbs of Jerusalem, as well as to Tel-Aviv, and the alert sirens have blared from BeerSheva to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. Hamas claims to have fired toward Haifa, but I have not yet seen any reports confirming that their missiles can actually reach that far. Nonetheless, this is a time for intensive prayer for the continued protection of Israeli citizens, and success for the IDF efforts to destroy Hamas’ capabilities to continue waging war against civilian populations in this or any manner.

  16. Yes, it’s been all over social media and I have been praying ever since it started. Baruch Hashem no one has been hurt. Stay safe.

  17. @PL, I believe this protection is divine in nature. What do you think? We know that all the nations will come against Jerusalem and it will become a cup of trembling, and I believe a dividing line between the sheep and the goats.

    @James, I suppose it is part of my tradition and maybe my genetics, but I would appreciate it if my former pastor and other people I knew would even attempt to understand my thoughts, even if they react negatively. I would rather they express that everything I say is crazy and ridiculous than to refuse to even approach it. It seems there is a legacy of fear in the Christian world, and perhaps in the Muslim world too. I know this group I was a part of was even more geared toward avoiding conflict than the typical church due to ethnic background and culture, and sometimes it can be a positive thing.

    I see people interested in exploring Judaism coming from different places: ex-fundamentalists, liberal Christians, liberal and secular Muslims, non-Abrahamic religions ….I’ve been chatting with a grad student who grew up Hindu in India, was preached to by evangelicals and wants to learn about Judaism and the Hebrew bible. Prophecy in action.

  18. I certainly agree about the divine, even miraculous, nature of HaShem’s protection and guardianship over Israel. Regrettably, even though it is in the nature of Islam to be impressed by such obviously “above and beyond the expected norm” protection by G-d, Hamas is immovable from its dedication to continue trying to annihilate Israel. And while the world counsels “restraint” and “proportionate response”, it seems we have little choice but to proceed on a defensive course that must soon relive scenes from psalms and prophecy wherein “a thousand fall at [our] side and ten thousand at [our] right hand”.

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