As you read this we will have just finished the cycle of the fall feasts – a season of great enrichment in Israel and for the Messianic Jewish community worldwide. We began on Rosh Hashanah by blowing the Shofar, the sound that harkens back to Sinai and looks forward to the Second coming. Ten days later, Yom Kippur signified all of the meanings of the work of Yeshua our Great High Priest (Hebrews 8-10). We concluded with the joyful celebration of Sukkot, recalling the wilderness wanderings and dwelling in tents to the ultimate fulfillment of the coming world wide Kingdom. We hope that Christians incorporate teaching and recognition of the fall feasts into their heritage. Some in the Body of Messiah find connecting to Israel’s heritage so enriching that in comparison they have little regard for the Christian heritage. However, many aspects of Christian heritage are also wonderfully enriching.
I cannot describe with any depth the fullness of one Christian heritage, for there are many streams. My goal is to put forth a general approach to Christian heritages, especially for those who have embraced Messianic Judaism and who are interested in recovering the Jewish roots of their Christian faith. There are many things I could criticize, but this article focuses on the positive features of the Christian heritage.
Responding to a False Theology of Jewish Roots
First I want to firmly counter a false theology that has grown up, mostly among Gentile Yeshua believers who believe that the recovery of Jewish roots requires that they embrace the Jewish dimensions of calling rooted in the Torah and reject Christian tradition. They attack the Church because they worship on Sunday and celebrate the resurrection on the “wrong” day of the year. As I argued in a past article (see, Calendar Confusion, March 2009), finding the exact right day for celebration was much harder than most suspected, even within ancient Judaism. The point here is that while God has ordained specific days of rest and celebration for the Jewish people, He has not required any specific days of rest for the nations: neither the seventh day Sabbath nor the Feast days. Gentiles are called to respect and understand biblically rooted Jewish practices and are invited to join us. We do enjoy seasonal celebrations with the Church during the times of the Feasts as part of the recovery of Jewish roots. However, many people who attack the Church as pagan need, as our teens used to say, to “Get a life.” They need to understand that a tradition or a ritual is to be understood according to the meaning given to it by the practicing community. It is no more and no less. Sunday worship, whatever the reasons it began in the first century, is now universally understood as the celebration commemorating Yeshua’s Resurrection on the first day of the week. Many Gentiles, who think they are discovering the implications of Jewish roots and then criticize the Church, simply have no deep understanding of the heritage of the Church. Indeed, sometimes the issue of properly restoring Jewish roots should begin by raising consciousness of the Jewish roots maintained by the Church already. Here are a few of the features of great richness from Christian heritages.
The Liturgy and Hymnology of the Churches
The liturgy of the liturgical churches is amazingly deep and enriching. It centers on the person of Yeshua and His birth, life, death and resurrection. These liturgies wonderfully cover the bases including Psalms of praise, confessions for sin, the doctrinal confession of faith, the proclamation of God’s holiness (exactly parallel to the Kadusah in the Amida of the Synagogue) and much more. In addition, the liturgy of the ancient churches centers around the renewal of our participation in our co-death and resurrection with Yeshua (Romans 6). It is a renewal of the meaning of baptism. In addition, like the Synagogue, Scripture reading with blessings before and after is central.
The hymns of the Church have remarkable depth and meaning. The Wesleyan hymnbook, had such great majesty and theological insight that those who regularly attended services learned the full theology of Methodism just by singing through the hymnal. They praised God for all the dimensions of truth.
The Nature of Space when the Congregation is Gathered
Church architecture provides the setting for worship. Though I prefer sitting in the round so as to give orientation to the people as priests and a feeling of community, nevertheless there is great enrichment in recognizing the Jewish roots of Church architecture. In the ancient churches, the front represents the most holy place of the sanctuary, parallel to the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle-Temple. In the Eastern tradition there is still a most holy place where only the officiate goes. He returns as if from the Most Holy Place in heaven with the elements of the bread and wine that will renew the spiritual life of the worshippers by participating in the meaning of Yeshua’s death and resurrection.
The building is modeled on the ancient Temple or the Tabernacle with the outer court (Narthex) the Inner Court (the Sanctuary of the People) and the Inner Court on the platform. The architecture conveys the meaning of New Covenant fulfillment through the symbols and types of the Mosaic revelation. Thus we see the table for communion (showbread), the eternal light (ner tamid), the seven branched lamp stand and even an ark for the Scriptures in some traditions. So though a church superficially looks very different than a synagogue, we see similar symbols. Even the less traditional churches maintain something of this architectural design.
The Lord’s Supper or Communion
Without arguing over the exact interpretation of the elements of the bread and wine, I want to assert that participation in the Lord’s Supper in faith is really the renewal of our life. The churches have wonderful liturgy to make this special and real. The passages of the Bible are read, the “Holy, Holy, Holy” is said or sung, and praise to Yeshua who takes away the sin of the world is proclaimed. This provides a deep renewal for those who partake in faith. As a celebration of the Church, it is to be done under the oversight of elders.
The Christian Year
The calendar of the churches varies in the East and West, but both are based on Jewish roots. The center of the Church year is Passover-Resurrection. Is it the wrong date? Perhaps or perhaps not. Before Nicea (325CE) the Church was split over whether to celebrate the resurrection on the Jewish date of Passover or according to the Roman church tradition, which ensured the celebration always occurred on a Sunday. The crucial remaining fact is that Yeshua was crucified at Passover. This is the reason for the deep identification with his death before the resurrection day of First-fruits. The Church calendar is intended to help believers meditate on Yeshua’s suffering and crucifixion. This only heightens the glad words of the following Sunday: “He is risen!”
The next great day is Pentecost, also a Jewish Feast day and I think more likely the correct day most years than the rabbinic calendar. It is the time to celebrate the giving of the Spirit and the first harvest of souls at Shavuot as the symbolic 3,000 added to the church mirrors and repairs those lost to Israel during the incident of the Golden Calf.
The Church also creatively establishes a calendar year that centers on the life of Yeshua. The events of His life and His teaching are sources for weekly meditation. Christmas provides a feast for His birth (probably the time of his conception at Chanukah and not the actual date of his birth). However, the meaning is right; it is the great celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God, our Messiah.
The churches also have governmental experience. There is sufficient variety to instruct us as Messianic Jews, and we can gain wisdom from this heritage, whether from the oversight patterns of the ancient churches, the importance of elders in Reformed traditions and the Baptist value of ensuring freedom in local congregations.
We could go on and on … My point is that many Christians today are cut off from their Christian heritage and therefore think that by becoming Jewish they have entered superior territory. By not having an appreciation for their own heritage, they do not have the necessary balance when they seek to appreciate our Jewish heritage. Such an imbalance can lead to a misapplication of how Jewish roots are to be integrated.
The Messianic Jewish movement seeks to bring understanding of Jewish roots to the Church. However, we can only attain the oneness of Yeshua’s prayer (John 17:21) if we mutually appreciate each other’s heritage. This cannot be done if Christians deprecate and criticize their own heritage and do not appreciate the depth of Christian heritages and the Jewish roots that are already there!