Several years ago, my wife and two young friends spent an afternoon together in Lake Placid, New York. I’ll call them Ruth and Sarah. Both young ladies are very gifted Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus). Passing a storefront that was displaying handcrafted Christmas decorations, Noemi stopped to look through the window, pointing things out to her two companions. That was when she heard a whisper… “How Goy!” This is the Hebrew word for “Nation.”
What they were saying was “How Gentile!” There was no harm intended. It was meant as a private joke. But, for my wife who continues to experience the awe and wonder of the birth of Jesus every year at Christmas time, their very Jewish reaction provided a bit of culture shock.
Having grown up in the home of believing Jewish parents, Ruth and Sarah have watched their Gentile friends and neighbors get caught up in the annual frenzy associated with many of the Gentile “Christian” holidays, holidays that Jewish people don’t generally celebrate. To them all the decorations, music, gift giving, special foods and other aspects of our annual celebrations are somewhat alien.
While Jewish and gentile believers love, follow and serve the same Person, how they do these things can be very different.
Here is a chart of terminologies and practices germane to the faith expression of both Jewish and gentile believers that demonstrates what I’m talking about. While these differences have some exceptions, they hold true most of the time.
Jewish BelieversGentile Believers
Tanak Old Testament
Brit Chadashah New Testament
I have a number of Jewish friends in ministry. As I was collecting my thoughts for this blog, I called one of them for some additional insight. My friend told me that he had recently spoken in a Gentile church that has been a long-term financial supporter of his evangelism and discipling ministry. The church’s pastor had recently retired and a new man is in his place. The congregation that the new man shepherds was well taught by the previous pastor. As a Jewish believer, my friend used terms like some of those listed above. These are the terms he is most comfortable with. More importantly, these are the terms that create less resistance from the unsaved Jewish people he works with.
Afterwards, the new pastor expressed some concerns for his use of “believer” instead of “Christian” and “Yeshua” as opposed to “Jesus.” He could not understand why a Jewish believer may not want to use the terms that he was more familiar with.
What I have been sharing here represents just the tip of the iceberg concerning the significant differences between how Jewish and Gentile believers live out and communicate their faith. Having my own deep convictions concerning the need for more intentional effort in the area of Jewish evangelism within the Church, I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect on the situation these cultural and historical issues repesent. Here is what I have concluded.
Tounbelievers,it must appear
that Jewish and Gentile believers have very little in common.
As unbelievers watch us from the outside, what they see is likely very confusing. I have concluded that both Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua have frequently allowed their differences to be used by Satan to undermine God’s purposes for history and rob Him of the glory that He alone is due.
There are no simple answers to the questions raised by this blog. These are questions that have existed since Cornelius and his family became the first Gentile believers in Yeshua about 2,000 years ago.
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote: Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands, remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity (Ephesians 2:11-16).
Following Pentecost in Acts 2, during the earliest years of the Church, there were no Gentile believers. Some estimate that it may have been as long as ten years before Peter went to Cornelius’ home and introduced the Roman centurion’s family to his Jewish Messiah. During the ensuing years, as the numbers of Gentile believers increased, it was not unusual to find Gentile and Jewish believers worshiping together as the “one new man” identified by Paul in Ephesians.
So what has happened to this idea of the “one new man” ? How are we doing in leading others to our common faith in Messiah Jesus?
It is not unusual to find a large number of Gentiles worshiping in Messianic Jewish congregations. Many attracted to the messianic movement are there because they sensed something lacking in the churches and fellowships they once attended. Some of their reasons are valid. Other? Not so much. Typically, they enthusiastically embrace what they perceive to be a more authentic 1st Century Jewish style of worship and faith practice. Unfortunately, many times they do so without much thinking or exercising discernment.
Jewish believers carry with them a collective memory of almost 4,000 years of Jewish persecution at the hands of the goyim (Gentiles). Much of this occurred through the blessing and encouragement of Gentile “church” leadership. Godless armies were commissioned to conquer people and capture land for the sake of religion. These armies had crosses emblazoned on their banners and shields.
Is it any wonder that Satan, the common enemy of all believers, has effectively used Jewish world experience to keep Jewish and Gentile believers separated? This inhibits the kind of witness God desires!
In my own reading of Scripture it is clear that God intends for the mutual respect, love, and unified ministry of Jews and Gentiles to be a powerful argument that confirms the supernatural transformation He completes in everyone at the moment of their salvation. Jews and Gentiles who believe solely in the death, burial, and resurrection of Messiah Jesus are adopted into one family, with one Father.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
As believers in Messiah, I would like to ask you to participate in a constructive conversation on this topic. We need to recognize that there are very valid cultural and historical issues that Satan utilizes to make it difficult for Jewish and Gentile believers to present a unified “one new man” witness in the world.
Knowing this, what are some things that both Jewish and gentile believers could begin doing together to win more Jews and Gentiles to Messiah Jesus during the coming holidays of the fall and winter?