Dear Gentile Christians

You are my brothers and sisters in the faith, and I love you as brothers and sisters in the Messiah. I just want you to understand that sometimes you hurt me unintentionally, because you’re not aware of what it’s like to be in the place where I am.

I will not hold it against you, as we are commanded to forgive those who hurt us, plus mostly it is totally unintentional.

I just want to try and say something here that might help you understand. Because I assume you don’t want to keep hurting me. I assume that you love me in the same way that I love you. We are called to be united as one body, but if one part of the body is often ignored then that’s not such a great display of unity, is it…

I am part of a minority within this body, a minority that is often ignored, forgotten, misunderstood.

When I’ve mentioned this before, as I did recently in a post about a particular situation where this was relevant, I felt the reactions all told me that this point was missed, that I wasn’t really heard – not about that aspect. I got understanding responses about other angles, but I didn’t feel anyone really got what I was saying about the painful place I’m in, being part of this often-ignored minority within the body. (This is just how it felt to me. Please forgive me if you did actually get it and I just didn’t get that you got it.)

I can’t blame any of you personally. There is a long history behind this, and lots of wrong or incomplete teaching passed down the generations. And you probably haven’t met many of us – these strange people who are Jewish and are followers of Jesus. What do you even call us? I met a pastor once who was surprised when I talked about the terminology issue, when I said that I personally don’t mind answering to either “Messianic Jew” or “Jewish Christian” but I know others who aren’t comfortable with the second – “why not just say ‘Christian’?” he asked, not getting why my Jewishness was something I needed to mention in this context.

The same guy also made an insensitive comment about some people being “fussy” when, at a church-related lunch, I asked what was in the quiche and on learning that it had bacon in it, went for a tuna sandwich instead.

Yes, I am commanded to forgive.

I’d just like you to know that there is a lot of insensitivity I come across, I’d like you to maybe begin to understand what it feels like to be where I am. I’d like you to at least hear me.

I’d like you at least to register that we exist and that it’s not all that straightforward, being a Jew within the church.

Living in Israel was a lot easier for me – being in a Messianic fellowship there, led by a Jewish pastor, functioning not just in my language but in the context of my culture. But when Jesus died and rose again, he died to atone for the sins of all mankind and he opened the doors for everyone – through him, you have been adopted into God’s family, and you are equal sons within this family, so I have a whole load of brothers and sisters from all sorts of different nationalities, and somehow we’re meant to be lovingly united. So, living in England, I am a member of a local fellowship which is made up mostly of Gentiles, because I live within a mainly-Gentile culture. And this works fine most of the time – but there are those moments…

There are those occasions that involve food, where I have a choice between either being seen as making a fuss (not a done thing in English culture), or looking at the food and trying to judge which items look safe for me to eat, or having something at home before coming out so that I won’t be too hungry.

Actually, I don’t really want to sit here listing all sorts of difficult moments. I don’t want to turn this post into some kind of grumble list. What’s important for me is that you might begin to appreciate that there are issues for me, as a Jew who believes in Jesus, issues that are unique to us. We are not just like any other ethnic/cultural/national minority within the church.

Why? because our identity as Jews is something that has special meaning to God – he created the Jewish nation and set it apart, we are his chosen people, his treasured possession, the apple of his eye. I never understood that until I was born again – my identity as a Jew didn’t matter to me, I didn’t see any significance in it whatsoever. I happily ate bacon and totally ignored the Jewish calendar, immersing myself in the culture around me, until God started showing me that being Jewish is actually something that matters to him.

And being a Jew who believes in Jesus means I have to wrestle with questions as to how to live out this identity – how much Jewishness should I/can I realistically incorporate in my lifestyle? Part of Jewishness is based on God’s original commands – how much of that should I be keeping? [not to obtain salvation, but out of a desire to obey God and please him] Part of Jewishness is man-made tradition, but as long as it doesn’t go against God’s ways I see no reason why I should throw it all out; on the other hand, I don’t feel obliged to keep these man-made customs; and on the other other hand, I choose to keep some of them simply out of a desire to show solidarity with my people. But even with the things that are based on God’s commands, I don’t feel I’ve totally got it all sorted in my mind. I keep going back and forth with… with stuff that you, my Gentile brothers and sisters, have never needed to even think about. That’s part of what I’d like you to understand.

Add into the mix the fact that within my own people, the attitude has traditionally been that if a Jewish person comes to faith in Jesus then they are cut off from their people, regarded as dead to their families and to the community – thankfully my own family have not reacted in this way, and the same goes for plenty other Jewish people I’ve met, but I do know Messianic Jews who were not so fortunate, and personally I have had the experience of someone, when I’d introduced myself and stated my faith, simply looking through me and walking away. And this attitude is part of why I feel the need to keep some Jewish customs, in order to show in a tangible way that no, I have not stopped being Jewish.

Add into the mix the sad history of Jews being actually persecuted by the church; forced conversions; Jews being wrongly taught that if they become Christians they must put aside everything Jewish – I read a historical novel about the times of the Spanish Inquisition and was horrified at the descriptions of how Jews who had gone through these forced conversions were then spied on to see if they were lighting Shabbat candles! that gave me one more reason to light the candles myself – to celebrate my freedom to do so!

And it’s this horrible history that makes it hard for some of us to accept the term “Christian” – we’ve been persecuted in the name of Christianity. That’s part of why some of us don’t call ourselves Christians, not even Jewish Christians, but insist on using terms like Messianic Jew, or Jewish Believer in Yeshua, or Completed Jew – the word “Christian” has too many negative connotations for us.

Similarly but even more so regarding the term “conversion” – there is the horrifying history of people forcing Jews to “convert” on pain of death; but my discomfort with this term when applied to Jews is not just because of this history, my discomfort is because conversion implies changing from one thing to another, as though we stop being Jewish and become Christians. This sort of terminology would make sense for people coming from other religious backgrounds – someone who is Moslem, or Buddhist, for example, would, when putting their faith in Jesus, turn their back on their previous faith. You can be a Christian ex-Moslem, or, in other words, a convert from Islam to Christianity, but there’s no such thing as an ex-Jew. Because being Jewish does not mean being part of some different religion that is incompatible with the Christian faith – the Christian faith is a belief in the Jewish Messiah, who came as promised in the Jewish Scriptures, promised by the God of Israel through the Jewish prophets! And this wonderful New Covenant you have been grafted into – it is God’s New Covenant which he promised to make with the house of Israel!

I think I’d better stop now. Hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. At the very least, I hope you will walk away understanding that being a Jewish believer in Jesus is uniquely complicated.

(Obviously this is just my own perspective – I’m not pretending to represent this hugely diverse group of people, each with their own journeys.)

P.S. Please do not attempt to answer the questions I mentioned that I wrestle with. That is not what this post is for. Thanks.

12 thoughts on “Dear Gentile Christians

  1. An hour ago I didn’t know Messianic Jews even existed. Maybe I’d heard the term, but it hadn’t connected. I’ve followed you for months on G+ and seen you post about Judaism and Christianity. My perception of you was as a “halfie” like my 50% German 50% Korean girlfriend, one person with your feet in two worlds. It seems like your Christian questions are more broad and philosophical where your Jewish questions are more specifically calibrated to some exact point. I figured in England you do Christian stuff and in Israel you do Jewish stuff.

    I feel pretty stupid/ignorant that I never realized you could actively practice both at the same time. My bad.

    It seems like being confronted by this sort of information causes many people to react badly. They see a conflict and since they can’t resolve it with their own sense of reality they grab the nearest comfortable thing, which may be the stick they then use to beat you with (emotionally in this case, probably literally in others). I don’t really understand this behavior in humans, doubly so since most religion says not to hit each other with the sticks of ignorant hate.

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    • Oh no, Max, please don’t feel stupid/ignorant for not knowing something that most people aren’t aware of. Seriously, most people assume that being Christian and being Jewish are two totally separate things. It annoys me a lot, and I keep trying in all sorts of ways to yell and get people to see… so I’m glad my post has helped at least one person to realise, this makes it worth yelling.

      As for hitting each other with sticks – I’d say the reason God bothers to tell us not to is precisely because it’s something we humans tend to do…

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  2. Hello! Stumbled across your blog here after starting up my own, and I got sucked into this post. I just wanted to applaud you for bringing up this topic. There was a family in my dads church who were also messianic Jews. I loved learning from them, and coming to understand a little better some of the things your brought up in this post.

    Your thoughts really helped me to think over some of these things in more detail. Thanks for being willing to share.

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    • Thank you for reading and for your encouraging comment! I love how God gets us to stumble across posts that help us, and am really glad my post helped you to think things through a bit more. (and hope all goes well for you with your own blog! I feel WordPress is a great place for blogging.)

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  3. i’m glad someone took the time to express this sentiment in the proper spirit…bearing forth the fruit of His Spirit. know that you speak for many others. as for me…i encourage you on this path of struggle (israel…he who struggles with God)…as i too struggle. i do not know you personally…but know that i support you wholeheartedly in this struggle. i love you as a brother in the Way…and if there is ever anything i can do to help, please let me know.

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  4. OK – my first thought on reading this was that it’s me that was one of the ones offending you by my ignorance on topics related to the Sabbath – since we did start talking about the differences between following the Sabbath for Jews and Gentiles – something that never occurred to me!

    If it IS true that I’m one of the people causing your pain, then I’m truly the stereotypical white American – here to admire your garden – while unwittingly stomping on your flowers with my big ole Texan cowboy boots! In other words – if it’s me, you’ll need to tell me about the flowers I’ve just crushed a little more clearly so I can move my big feet off of them without smashing some more in the process…

    dkjesp at gmail dot com if you want to do it privately, but I’ll take my lickings in public if it will help others.

    Once at our camp we noticed that the African-American students weren’t coming to the cookouts if it looked like rain. They would skip a meal rather than go out in the rain. We thought they were wimps and afraid of a little weather. It turned out that some of the women had had their hair cornrowed specially just for their week at camp – a $200 investment for some of them – and a little rain would ruin the hair – and there isn’t anyone in rural northern Michigan who knows how to ‘do’ Black hair properly!

    I had NO idea. I had never conceived of spending $200 on hair – then again, as a white person, I can just hop in the shower and shampoo every day and I’m good to go – no frizzy hair, no hopeless snarls, no dried-out skin. I’m ashamed to say that the thought of hair being a reason not to go to a cookout never occurred to me – I didn’t even know WHAT I was supposed to ask – I didn’t know why the cookouts were so unloved. I made some wrong assumptions and couldn’t get past them. I’m SO glad that someone (an African-American staff worker) finally sat us down for the ignorant fools we were, and set us straight. We have cook-ins now when it looks like it could rain; it’s no longer worth it to try and “expose” the students to weather – now that we understand!

    I’m not trying to compare your issues with us Gentiles misunderstanding what it means to be a Jew and a Christian both – simply illustrating the vast scope of my own ignorance as a way of trying to give you permission to tell me anything you need to say, privately or publicly, even if you need to spell it out letter by letter.

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    • Right now I just want you to know I love you so much. I love you for your honesty and your openness and your total humility. I love that you are able to listen, and that you have such a real willingness to be challenged. You seem so chilled about it, so lacking in chips-on-shoulder, so non-defensive – I could hug you.

      that stuff about the Sabbath – I struggled to figure out what was bugging me there exactly, there was a discomfort but it took me a while to put my finger on it, and in the end I felt this was an issue that I needed to address in a separate post because it’s not just about this specific detail or that specific example, it’s about something that happens a lot and so many people don’t realise, and as I think you said somewhere else, how can you know without being told, as you’re not a mind reader.

      Thank you for giving me your email address, I’ll bear in mind your offer to talk details privately. Right now I’m too half-alseep to think about that, but that’s a whole nother story… (it’s early here, and I don’t do mornings, but I’ve got something on today. and yes, it’s Shabbat and… oh, life’s complicated…)

      P.S. I wouldn’t have guessed about the hair either, even though I have African friends and know how lengthy and expensive it is to do those hair styles. I’ve just never heard any of them mention anything about being worried about being out in the rain.

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