The Natural Branches
When we read about the early church in the book of Acts it is not hard to notice the rapid growth and abundance of miracles that were characteristic of the church then and perhaps lament the absence of those things amongst us now.
Perhaps we also see another distinguishing characteristic of the early church and do not see any obvious connection with those first two characteristics. That characteristic is simply that the early church was predominantly Jewish.
That is not to say that for church today to experience rapid growth and miracles we need to be predominantly Jewish. Nor does it mean that Jewish people do not need to hear and obey the gospel to be saved. What is important is our attitude to Israel and the Jews.
The church has Jewish roots. That is an inescapable historical fact. Jesus IS Jewish. The prophets who foretold his coming were Jewish. The early church leaders were Jewish. All the writers of the Bible were Jewish with the possible exception of Luke. The first Christian weddings would have been distinctively Jewish. The only scriptures used by the early church for more than thirty years were the Jewish Old Testament.
But after a few centuries the church had slid into a state of undisguised, vehement, and even murderous hatred of the Jews.
So what went wrong? There was always tension between the early church and the unbelieving Jewish authorities but there is no evidence that Jews in the early church denied or renounced their Jewishness. Rather, they probably saw themselves as “completed Jews.” The Apostle Paul boldly proclaimed his Jewishness on more than one occasion. (Acts 22:3, Romans11:1)
Briefly, the biggest factor was probably the adoption and adaptation by the church of the pagan practices of the gentiles, particularly after Constantine’s suspect conversion. These practices included things such as the worship of Mary and the saints, steeples, the celebration of Christmas, lent, haloes, confessionals, church conferred salvation, trans-substantiation and others.
And when paganism enters in, hatred of God’s people comes in with it. “God’s people” here can mean either God’s earthly people being Israel or God’s heavenly people being the true church. Down through the centuries the “official” church was the major persecutor of both Jews and Christians. It has constantly blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus as if it was not God’s plan for Jesus to die voluntarily for our sin.
The church in effect was saying to God, “Choose between us and Israel.” God did not comply with that ultimatum but that did not stop the church from believing that God had chosen them and rejected Israel. And the church was very much the poorer for believing that idea.
Lawrence Hirsch in his article “Connecting To Our Jewish Roots” (Celebrate Messiah News Letter, May 2004) provides some classic examples of the church’s attitude that has come down to us.
One example was the Council of Nicea in 325 AD which separated what we now know as Easter from the Jewish Passover, referring to the Jews as “…this odious people.” This was done deliberately as an act of rejection of anything Jewish.
Another example was the describing of the Jews as “poisonous, envenomed worms” by none other than Martin Luther himself. The hatred of the Jews even survived the reformation.
Even the early Bible translators were contaminated to some extent as indicated by their translation of “Passover” as “Easter”, the name of a pagan goddess. (Acts 12:4)
God has never disowned the Jews. Even the New Testament refers to them as “His people”. (Romans 11:1)
It also appears that God does not see the church as complete without the Jews. Ephesians 2:15 tells us that God chose “to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace”. The “twain” (two) here being the Gentiles and the Jews. At the moment there is not a great deal of peace between the Jews and the Gentiles although that could change if Israel were to recognize Jesus as their long sought for Messiah and the church stood with Israel. It was also the Gentiles who were taken from the wild olive tree and grafted into the good olive tree, an obvious reference to Israel. (Rom 11:24)
A hostile attitude to the Jews still occasionally surfaces in corners of the church today. It needs to be repented of. One way it manifests itself is by replacement theology where the church has supposedly replaced Israel. In Romans 10:1, Paul prays for Israel to be saved. If Israel is now the church then those in the church still need saving.
Each one of us could do well to examine ourselves to determine what our individual attitudes to Israel are. Perhaps this little test could help. Imagine that you have just found out that you are part Jewish. How would you react? Would you freely, even gladly tell others or would you rather not mention it to anyone out of fear of ridicule or embarrassment?
So how does a wrong attitude to the Jews retard church growth and miracles?
First, to be anti Jewish is rebellion against God and the rebellious dwell in a dry land. (Psalm 68:6) The church has no mandate from God to reject or hate Israel. He certainly does not. Instead we are told to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” (Psalm 122:6)
God has put His name on Israel. (Deut 28:10) The attitude of a non Jew towards Israel is a reliable indicator of that person’s attitude toward God.
Second, to be anti Jewish brings a curse. God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3 “I will…curse him that curseth thee.” The second word here translated as “curse” is different to the first one used. It can simply mean to “despise” or “be contemptuous of.”
Third, God refers to himself as the Father of Israel. (Isaiah 63:16, 64:8, Jer 31:9, Mal 2:10) When the church disconnected itself from its Jewish heritage it in some way also disconnected itself from the fatherhood of God. The resultant absence of a true concept of the fatherhood of God in turn resulted in a distorted concept of fatherhood within the church. This fatherlessness led it to invent for itself counterfeit father figures such as the Pope.
The word “Pope” is taken from the Latin word “Papa”. He was the head of the popular cult of Mithras which Constantine followed and after which he created his version of the church. The birthday of Mithras was celebrated on the 25 December which was then the northern winter solstice. The cult of Mithras was run from a place called Vatican Hill.
Fatherlessness has been a major problem both in the world and in the church. It is a major cause of many of the youth problems we are seeing.
Fourth, the rejection of anything Jewish includes the rejection of the Jewish mind set. In that situation the Greek mind set usually takes over completely. The Jewish mind set embraces the miraculous but the Greek mind set has an intellectual basis where the miraculous is often scoffed at. (1 Cor 1:22, Acts 17:22))
Fifth, Jesus is the King of the Jews, an office He most willingly accepts. He does not hate or despise His subjects. He is a perfect king. He identifies with His subjects. To reject and despise the Jews therefore is to reject and despise the Jewishness of Jesus and His kingship over Israel. That rejection has a dangerous side effect on the church. It effectively cuts us, the church, off from the headship of Jesus and from all the benefits that brings. The headship of Jesus to the Church and His kingship over Israel are parallel functions. They are not exactly the same but there are similarities.
Jesus being head of His church means Jesus having His way in the Church. Without His headship being expressed the church is vulnerable to entrenched division, false doctrine and even heresies. With Jesus in control of His church we should see more of a landscape depicted by the last verse of the Gospel of Mark.
And they went forth and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The tide is turning. There are now a number of Christian organizations who specialize in ministering to Israel and teaching the church about its Jewish heritage. But there still remains much to be done.
One thing we can do at a local or individual level to identify with our Jewish heritage is not comply with the erroneous Easter decree of the Council of Nicea. Every distinctive about Easter is contrary to scripture. Jesus died on the day of Passover which would have been a Wednesday, not a Friday. Passover is tied to a day of the month. Easter is tied to a day of the week. At Passover red meat and bread made without yeast are eaten. At Easter red meat is banned and fish and buns high in yeast are consumed. This practice honours pagan traditions. The forty days of Lent are taken from the forty days of mourning for a slain pagan god before he is mysteriously “resurrected” each spring. Easter is also observed with eggs and rabbits which are both pagan fertility symbols.
If we were to tell our churches that we would rather observe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in some way at the time of the Passover Feast than at the pagan named Easter, it is probable that we would rock the boat somewhat. The boat needs to be rocked. There is a mind set in the church that the Easter observance is somehow God’s will and is therefore set in concrete and will not change until Jesus returns. It is not. That mind set needs to be challenged. It is territory to be won back. It is a stronghold that needs to be pulled down (2 Cor 10:4)
Whether we succeed or not is not the crucial issue. What is crucial is whether or not God’s people will take a stand for the truth and refuse to be locked into something devised by poisoned minds centuries ago.
The world will not readily change but that is not important. It is the church’s heart attitude that needs to change. That requires radical repentance.
If there are one people on the face of the earth we should not hate, despise or reject but should love and be praying for to accept Jesus, it is the people of Israel. Romans 11:15 tells us this about Israel.
For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead.
Life from the dead speaks clearly of REVIVAL.
Laurence Webb 2004