A name is more than just a name. It represents a commitment, an identity, and a focus. Yes, Messianic Jews are Christians. They believe in the atoning work of Jesus and in the entire biblical revelation including the New Testament.
Why then do I not call myself a “Messianic Jew?” Before Christ came into my life, I had been an ardent Zionist and had lived in Israel for two years with no intention of ever returning to the States. These were my people and Israel was my nation. In the States, I had also experienced a surplus of anti-Semitism and hated everything to do with Christianity.
If anyone should resonate with Paul Liberman’s new book, Don’t Call Me Christian, it should be me! The Jews for Jesus highlights this book in their Issues magazine (Vol. 21-2) and quote Liberman:
- By the early 1970’s, a number of us young Jewish believers… refused to identify ourselves as all as “Christian” or even “Hebrew Christian.” My personal conviction was that to do so would be the same as taking out an ad in the Jerusalem Post: “Paul Liberman is no longer Jewish! He is now a Gentile.” (p. 222-23)
Perplexing? Yes and no! Wouldn’t the term “Hebrew Christian” make it clear that Liberman was not rejecting his Jewish heritage? It should have! However, when you grow up thinking that Christians are your enemies, it becomes hard to identify with the Gentile Church. I had experienced so much anti-Semitism, that, without distinguishing between the true believers in Christ from the nominal, I began to hate all Christians. In fact, my hatred became so deep that I actually felt that Christians had a nauseating odor.
Liberman had “a great aversion to stepping into a church.” I can certainly identify. The idea of walking into a church filled me with nausea. It was opposed to everything with which I identified. Entering a church was like bowing down before my enemy, even like repudiating myself.
In an interview within the same magazine, Liberman helps to clarify his rationale:
- “We’re not just Jews for evangelism; we’re Jewish people because we are glad to have a relationship with the God of Israel. We tell people, ‘Look, it is possible, even today, to have a personal relationship with God the way Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did.’”
While these Patriarchs did have a personal relationship with God, their relationship with God does not rival what we have received through the Messiah:
- How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:14-15)
- Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
While Liberman does well to emphasize our identification with the Patriarchs, he should instead be stressing our identification with Jesus the Christ. Instead, he is placing an unbiblical emphasis upon actively retaining our Jewish identity, something that bypasses our New Testament calling (Gal. 3:28):
- “Inwardly, there is a God-instilled desire to be Jewish no matter what. Now sometimes Jewish people will squelch it and just go off and be in a church and become a classical Christian. But even then, it’s a troubling thing, very often, what to do with this sense of Jewishness. It’s an inner resolve that seems to be implanted there by God.”
Admittedly, I retain a very strong Jewish identity. I cannot watch a documentary about Israel without being reduced to a fit of tears. Even the word “Israel” breaks me up. However, my Jewishness is not anything that I pursue. It’s just something that I am! Consequently, I am not trying to become more Jewish or to retain my Jewish identity. It’s just part of me! Instead, I hunger and thirst after Jesus and to become conformable unto Him, not to the Patriarchs.
Jesus had taught His disciples:
- "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)
I fear that underlying some segments of Messianism is a desire to remain apart from the rest of the Church. Such separatism violates Jesus’ command to “Love one another.” It also divides the Body of Christ against our Savior’s teachings.
Instead, we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit:
- Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:2-6)
There is no theological basis for maintaining a Messianic apartness. Paul explicitly instructs us:
- There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
I therefore advise my Jewish believing friends to not introduce me as a “Messianic Jew.” This is conveying the wrong message. Instead, I refer to myself as a Christian – a follower of Christ. I want to be at one with the entire Body of Christ, as Jesus had prayed:
- "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
Jesus calls upon us to show the world our oneness, our love for one another across racial, ethnic, national, and linguistic lines. It is through this demonstration “that the world may believe” and “know.” Sadly, this has been lacking.
I wasn’t always this way. It required much time and great suffering for the Lord to burn out of me the Jewish pride that I had been trying to retain. It had been a drug that enabled to get up in the morning. I had used it to remind me that I was a member of a great people – a chosen race – that had produced that greatest of the world’s geniuses and 30% of the Nobel Prize winners. The drug had served to compensate for the bad feelings I had carried about myself, and I clung to it with my life. Consequently, I couldn’t consider anything that might sever me from this connection.
Yes, I am still Jewish, but I am now buried with Christ:
- I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
This identity is of surpassing value. In comparison, I consider everything else as manure:
- What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)