Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Messianic Quintet

Christianity had its origins with a Jewish teacher (Jesus) who some considered to be the long prophesied Jewish Messiah. His first followers were all Jews and for many years their thousands of converts were all Jewish.

Even when the first non-Jews (or gentiles) began to believe in Jesus, they heard about Him from Jewish preachers and they were instructed by Jewish teachers.

Then after time, the balance shifted. Gentiles began to outnumber Jews and the church moved away from its Jewish roots. More detailed thoughts about all of this can be found on my other blog through the links at the end of this article

I’ve called this review/article “A Messianic Quintet” because I recently read five books addressing various aspects of the relationship between the church and Jews. Three of them are autobiographical, dealing with the experiences of Jews turning to faith in their Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Another is written by a Jewish believer about how “Greek thinking” has replaced the original Hebraic understanding of the Bible and how it has affected what the church believes and how it behaves. The last is an overview, written by a non-Jew, of how Jews have been returning to faith in their Messiah since the late 1960s, and where this renewed interest is leading.

In its early years, before the term “Christianity” was coined, belief in Jesus was known as “the Way”. Steve Maltz plays with this phrase in the title of his book How the Church Lost the Way. Maltz shows how Greek Philosophy started to take over from Hebraic thinking as the number of gentile believers overtook the number of Jewish believers. This growing disparity eventually found the Jews being pushed out all together and a new, more Greek way of understanding changed “The Way” significantly. Maltz looks at how and when this all happened, and makes suggestions about reversing the situation.

Stan Telchin’s book Betrayed gives us an example of the effects of the church’s historical changes. Telchin, a Jew, is horrified when his daughter reveals she has turned to faith in Jesus after being convinced that He is the Jewish messiah. Fighting his strong disappointment, he decides to handle the situation calmly and logically. To help convince his daughter of her error, he and his wife undertake their own study of both Jewish and Christian scriptures to find enough evidence to change her mind. Their discoveries lead them in a direction they didn’t expect.

Yohanna Cheronoff writes about her family’s experience as pioneers in Messianic Judaism in Born a Jew...Die a Jew. Her husband Marty grew up in a Jewish family, came to faith in Jesus and set out to share the gospel with other Jews. Through a series of visions over many years, Marty saw that an increasing number of Jews would discover that Jesus is their Messiah. The Chernoffs were concerned that Jews coming to faith in Jesus were usually encouraged to turn away from their cultural heritage, basically losing their distinctive Jewishness. After some time trying to work with traditional Christian groups, it was seen necessary to start something new in which Jews could worship their messiah while still remaining true to their Jewish heritage. This new thing became known as Messianic Judaism, through which more Jews than at any other time in history have come to faith in Yeshua.

The success of this movement began in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Some people see this timing was not coincidental. It started around the same time that the nation of Israel won Jerusalem back during the Six Day war in 1967. This was a victory against impossible odds with most of the Arab world against them. This return of Jerusalem to Jewish control ended almost 2000 years of exile from the city and by some was seen to be the end of the time of the gentiles, a period mentioned in the Bible. In his letter to the church at Rome, the apostle Paul revealed that Israel’s hardening against the gospel of Jesus would last until the “full number of the gentiles has come in” and then “All Israel will be saved.”

The increase in Jews turning to Jesus coinciding with Israel regaining Jerusalem is therefore seen by some as the beginning of prophecy being fulfilled. Don Finto takes this view in God’s Promise and the Future of Israel. This book is a compelling overview of the history of conflict between Jews and the church. While Steve Maltz addresses the effects of changing philosophy upon the church, Finto looks from a more prophetic and political viewpoint.

The last book in my quintet is Ben Israel, Art Katz’s account of his search for meaning, which he finally found through Jesus. At one time a Marxist and an atheist, Katz starts his story at the Dachau death camp. He visited this site of incredible atrocity while serving in the US army after World War II. The book, based on his diaries, moves between different times and places as he tries to find direction and purpose. He comes to understand that his journey has been orchestrated and he is being pointed towards the God of his people and specifically towards Jesus, the Messiah most Jews still failed to recognise.

Katz is by far the most “literary” and intellectual of the quintet authors and his was the only book that didn’t keep me interested all the way through. I persevered with it because of my familiarity with Katz’s later Christian ministry which focused strongly on the continuing role of Israel in God’s purposes.

I could not hope to give each of the books adequate coverage in this one article, but it was not my intention to make any individual book the focus of what I have written. I am more interested in the overall interaction between Jewish experience and the biblical theology of Israel’s relationship to God and the Jewish Messiah. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I have written more about this topic on one of my other blogs. (links below)

Hijacking Messiah.html

Reclaiming Messiah.html

For more on How the Church Lost the Way see here:
How the Church Lost the Way, Steve Maltz/