Attacks Against Religion
Recently there has been a spate of books attacking religion and belief in God as a dangerous deception. Other books have been written to refute this thesis. Those who make the case against Christianity in particular do not examine all the facts but select only the evidence that supports their perspective. Parallel to these philosophical attacks on our faith is the popular view that religious people are hypocrites, condemning, prejudiced and narrow. Both of these attacks miss the real criteria for determining ethical behavior. The real test is twofold: first, what does God desire and, second, what are the long term results of the behaviors in question? Based on these criteria, biblical ethics are outstanding. As a philosophy student and professor, I soon learned that one of the greatest shortcomings of those presenting any thesis is a lack of attention to all of the relevant evidence. When one submits the biblical model to a comprehensive examination, we find that our faith has generally contributed to a more humane world and has extended compassion throughout the world.
The Primary Role Models of a Religion
One of the keys to understanding a religion is to examine the best examples of that religion. I think our perception of good role models has been refined over the centuries. In dialogue with one detractor, my wife Patty argued that not all people of faith are hypocrites, but ‘there are yet seven thousand that have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ In other words, there are sterling examples of our faith that have lived their lives consistently within the biblical ethic. Many have sought to debunk such evidence, but it is there for all to see.
When one asks, ‘Who are the role models of a religion?’ we can readily see the great differences between religions. Is the role model a great military conqueror as in Islam? Mohammed killed many and began a process of spreading Islam by the sword. Or is the role model one who can attain perfect control of mind and body as in Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism and Hinduism have role models that show compassion. Sometimes this is in contradiction to the underlying philosophy, such as the Buddhist doctrine that there is no real self or I.
Role Models in Judaism and Christianity
In classical Judaism and even more in New Covenant faith, the role models demonstrate great souls or humanity. The best Rabbis are known not only for their study and scholarship, models of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Who are the greatest saints in the Christian world? Among Catholics, I think of St. Francis of Assisi or Mother Theresa. They were people of extraordinary compassion. Compassion did not mean in either case a sloppy indulgence of sin, but for love’s sake, was honest about the nature and consequences of sin. Who can forget Mother Theresa speaking up against abortion when she met with President Clinton?
When I think of Protestant saints, I think of great souls who were true biblical humanitarians, people of great exploits. I think especially of Count Von Zinzendorf and the community of love in Hernhutt and the great missionary movement that he brought to birth. I think of George Mueller who had great faith and built several orphanages. He took hardly any material gain for himself. I think of Hudson Taylor who identified in great love for the Chinese people. He revolutionized missions with the concept of indigenous identification with the culture. I think of John Wesley and his great Methodist movement. The recent film, ‘Amazing Grace’ is another account of a great man, William Wilberforce, who was the key figure in eliminating slavery in the British Empire and in making great strides against child labor. He also promoted compassion for animals.
Great Believers and Great Humanitarians
It is interesting that great humanitarians are often great believers. People do not extol Lenin or Stalin. Mao no doubt will be seen in later history as a murderer and a violent and evil man. Those who were not great role models are terribly tarnished and not remembered with favor. Who fondly remembers Torquemada the grand inquisitor during the Inquisition? Luther’s reputation is tarnished because of his anti-Semitism and his call for violence against the peasants who revolted. I am quite sure that none of today’s preachers proclaiming the right to opulent living will be remembered in the future as great role models. Those we hold up as role-models are remembered usually for one great characteristic: they gave up their lives for others.
Messianic Jewish Role Models
Do we have great Messianic Jewish role models? I think we do, but we are too young a movement to extol them at this time.
I lost my father before I was nine years old. How was I to develop in a positive way? I am thankful that I had great role models of people of faith. Yes, some in our fellowship were not good models, but some were outstanding. There were Sunday school teachers, professors and many more that showed loving kindness. They were all great role models. Two especially stand out: The godly elder, Larry Carroll of my teen years. He showed me the way of faith. On one occasion he came to my home after midnight to pray for a then desperate 17 year old to be filled with the Spirit. There was also Chaplain Dr. Evan Welsh of Wheaton College and his dear wife Olena May. He opened his home to this troubled philosophy student and said that his home was mine, anytime, night or day. His godly compassion was unparalleled in my experience. Leanne Payne, a great woman and healer of souls, noted in a recent autobiography that Chaplain Welsh was like a true 19th century saint. I often said the same. He was loved by thousands, but for some reason gave special attention to me and then Patty when we courted. His example and encouragement helped me through the door into Jewish ministry.
Great Role Models Base Their Lives on THE Great Role Model
The great saints of our faith never took the glory for themselves. They would claim that their way of being and life came from identification with the death and resurrection of Yeshua. He is the one who transforms us from self-centered and hypocritical beings, to loving and compassionate beings who lay down our lives for others. When I was a young and confused philosophy student, Chaplain Welsh was a proof of God’s existence. How could such a person exist in the world if there was no God? I began to see Yeshua in him.
Of course, Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world is THE Role Model. In Him, great souls find their ultimate ground of meaning and the source of their greatness. The Devil seeks to blind people to these great individuals and especially to blind them to Yeshua. However, it is really quite simple. The way of faith is shown by these role models and by Yeshua Himself who gives us the power to be like Him. Our desire is to reveal Him to those to whom we are primarily called, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, for all are lost until they see Him and know Him who is eternal life.