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The Church's Jewish Roots


There's a movement within the Christian community that wants to return the church to its long forgotten Jewish roots.  Some even promote a return to the Law of Moses, the celebration of Jewish feasts and Sabbaths, and calling God by His Hebrew name. 


The church came into existence in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came into the lives of 120 Jewish believers.  That's partly, but not the whole reason, why the church has Jewish roots.  The Jewish aspect to church began to change when the apostle Peter obeyed God's command and led certain Gentiles to Jesus in Acts 10.  From that point on, the Jewishness of church began to fade, but not without a struggle. 


The apostle Paul took this issue farther than Peter.  He preached Jesus to Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire as the Lord commanded him.  Note that both Peter and Paul were told by the Lord to bring converted Gentiles into the church.  Part of Paul's message to the Gentiles included the fact that there was a righteousness to be found apart from the Law of Moses. (Romans 3:21)  Paul went as far to say that "Christ was the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes", which included Gentiles. (Romans 10:4)  Paul's message was simple.  The Law of Moses could save no one.  Trusting one's life with Jesus could.  This drove the Jewish Christians crazy because they felt the Law of Moses was still to be obeyed, both by Jews and these new Gentile Christians.


In Colossians 2:16 and 17 Paul said, "do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  They are a shadow of the things that were to come. The reality, however, is found in Christ".  Paul taught that the Jewish traditions instituted by God was simply a shadow of the real things found in Jesus.  So it only made sense for Paul to preach the real thing, not a mere shadow of the real thing.    


We all know that God commanded all Israeli men to be  circumcised in the Old Testament.  Paul brought a different slant to circumcision that was only hinted at in the Old Testament.  He believed that circumcision was no longer an issue of the flesh, but of the heart. (Colossians 2:11)  Again, Jewish Christians were furious with Paul over this.  Paul taught such things because God had "cancelled the written code" of the Old Testament by "nailing it to the cross". (Colossians 2:14)  So, it wasn't Peter, Paul, or even Constantine, who forsook the Jewish roots of the church.  It was God Himself.             


Paul's teaching, which led to the influx of Gentiles into the early church, really bugged the Jewish Christians.  They figured all Gentile Christians needed to become Jews and obey the Law of Moses.  Only then could they be part of the church because in their minds, the church was Jewish.  Is this what Jesus thought when He said that He'd build His church?   


In Matthew 16:18, in our English Bibles, Jesus said, "I  will build my church". With the emphasis on the words "my church", I believe Jesus was saying that God, His Father, had His people Israel, but now, He would have His people too, whom we call the church.  This was the case because God was temporarily taking the Kingdom of God away from the Jews and giving it to the church. (Matthew 21:43)  Jesus' church would differ from Israel in both purpose and destiny.  One way in which the church differed from Israel was that it wasn't strictly Jewish. If it was to be strictly Jewish, Jesus would not have told His disciples to evangelize the Gentiles in Acts 1:8 without them first becoming Jews. 


The church does have Jewish roots, but these roots didn't begin with the first Jewish believers.  The church's Jewish roots began when God promised Abraham that salvation would come to the Gentiles through Abraham's seed.  That being said, the New Testament doesn't portray the church as being Jewish.  It also doesn't portray the church as being Gentile.  As there is neither Jew nor Gentile when it comes to salvation, there is neither a Jewish church or a Gentile church.  There's just Jesus' church. 


I understand that we have been grafted into the Jewish olive tree as Paul puts it in Romans 11:23 and 24, but that Jewish olive tree came to have more Gentile branches than Jewish branches, making it a very different looking olive tree.  You really couldn't call this new tree a Jewish tree or a Gentile tree even though it had Jewish roots and a bunch of new Gentile branches.   


The early church reluctantly got this issue settled in Acts 15.  In Acts 15:9 Peter says that God makes no distinction between Jews or Gentiles.  I take that to mean that God makes no distinction between Jews and Gentiles as pertaining to salvation and the church.  Peter goes on to say that Jewish Christians "test God" by forcing the Gentile Christians to obey the Law of Moses.  Those words are crucial to this issue.  Those who want to revert to a Jewish church, and especialy those who teach others to do the same,   should seriously consider what Peter says here.  Testing God is no small matter.     


Even James, a leader of the Jewish Christians, came around on this issue.  In Acts 15:16 he quotes from Amos 9:11 and 12 which says, "after this I will return and rebuild David's fallen tent.  It's ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it "  The words "after this" are important in understanding what James is getting at.  James understood that Israel would be scattered throughout the world by God's judgment.  The church would take Israel's place while she was out of commission as stated by Jesus in Matthew 21:43.  But, "after this", or, after the judgment on Israel was over, and after the last Gentile came to Christ and found his way into the church, then God would restore Israel as promised.  James was simply telling his Jewish brothers not to worry.  God wasn't finished with Israel.  He would eventually restore Israel to what she was meant to be, but not until Jesus was finished building His church with as many Gentiles in it as possible.  When the full number of Gentiles come into the church as Paul says in Romans 11:25, watch out.  At that point Israel will be restored and she will dominate the world.


My conclusion is simple.  Even though the church has strong Jewish roots, it's not Jewish.  It's also not Gentile.  It's distinctly different from both cultures.  It has a culture of its own, and that culture is all about Jesus, not the Law of Moses, not Judaism, and certainly not any Gentile traditions.  Therefore, I believe the culture of any given society can be expressed in church as long as that culture does not oppose the rule of Christ.  If you want to follow Jewish tradition, that's fine for you, but you can't base your salvation on those traditions, and you can't promote a Jewish church as being New Testament teaching.   


One problem the church has today is that it isn't distinctly different from either Judaism or the rest of the world.  We have secularized, paganized, commercialized, and even Gentilized the church away from Jesus' original intention.  In one sense of the word, I can't blame those who want to revert back to Jewish roots, but that's not the answer for the present day condition of the church.  The answer is getting back to Jesus and what the New Testament teaches about the church.  It's that simple.  


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