Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cultural Christianity

So, last week a Rabbi from a local Jewish synagogue came to our church, a non-denominational evangelical church, to share with us the general beliefs of modern-day Judaism. I don't know why it's taken me so long to write about it because it has been on my heart continuously since that day. Truly, it fascinates me to no end, and on some level, I think that it should fascinate all of us as followers of Christ, because they were, and still are, God's chosen people first.

Now, before you blast me for that last comment, yes, I totally agree that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). But Scripture also says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16)."

Paul goes on in Romans 9:1-5 to say,
"I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen."
Amen, indeed! There is no denying that Israel was God's chosen nation first. In my heart, it makes it more special, then, that I can be a part of that chosen nation, not by birthright, as one born of the Jewish family, but by the adoption of my Heavenly Father into that glorious family! Paul continues on in that same chapter to say,
"It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.' In other words, it not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring."
Um, yeah, so that would be us, those who call on the name of Jesus, those who have believed the promise of the Messiah in Jesus Christ. We are regarded as Abraham's offspring! As my dear uncle would say, If that don't set you on fire, your wood must be wet! Seriously, that lights up my heart to know that I am regarded as a child of Abraham, as part of the lineage of Jesus Christ, to be a part of the people of the patriarchs, and the covenant and the temple worship! This is all very exciting stuff!

But, I digress. This rabbi was telling us about what it means to be a "cultural Jew." There was a question asked of him by a lady in the audience, stating that she plays cards with a handful of Jewish ladies on a regular basis. The Jewish ladies were saying that they do not regularly go to the synagogue, but that they are more "cultural Jews." So the question was to simply understand what it means to be a "cultural Jew."

So the rabbi began to share with us that, for the most part, Jews are known for being people of deed and not creed, saying that they are not heavy into theology, but more try to live out what it is to be a Jew. He was saying that it was not burdensome to live out the 613 laws that are in place for the Jewish people, because it is simply what they know of life. They don't know any other way of living other than to follow the Jewish law. Now, while this has some very difficult implications, such as trying to earn your way into Heaven, it also has some incredibly beautiful implications. Hang with me for a moment while I try to unravel these thoughts.

From birth, a Jew is taught that he/she is a Jew, part of God's chosen nation, called to be set apart and live life differently than the rest of the world. Daughters are taught by mothers how to live a life that brings honor to their God; sons are taught by fathers what it means to be a man who follows the commands of God. They learn from the earliest age that they are to do this and not do that because they are called to be different. They learn from the very beginning that they are to live lives that are set apart, visibly different from the surrounding world. To me, this is fascinating, and quite inspiring. They live the way that they live because it was taught to them by those whom have gone before them. This is how we live as a people. If they walk away from Judaism, they walk away from everything they know of life. It is that ingrained in their minds and hearts. There is no separating the two. They are not Jews for Saturday services, and then live "normal" lives the rest of the week. It defines everything that they do, how they think, how they eat, how they speak. To walk away from that would be to walk away from life altogether.

What if we, as followers of Christ, as those living in the promise, were defined in such a way? What if we were so distinct in our thoughts, speech, dress, how we eat, how we interact with others? What if we were cultural Christians? And truly, if we were living that out, turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, walking the extra mile, giving our cloak and tunic, we would be creating Kingdom culture.

See, it's not about living up to the 613 laws of the Book of the Law, or earning our way into Heaven. This much we know. We've got that down. But sometimes I can't help but wonder if we are just a bit too comfortable with the grace that has been so freely offered to us, to the point of being irreverent. Where we have so shaken off tradition and ritual for the sake of speaking and living freely from the heart, I just wonder if we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

If we are a people who dress like the rest of the world for the sake of keeping up with the latest fashion trends, are we truly set apart? Are we clothed in strength and dignity, or are we a stumbling block to our brothers' eyes because we want to feel beautiful? If we are a people who speak like the world around us, are we truly set apart? Are you engaging in the trash-talk of candidates, gossiping about others around you, or are you keeping the words of your mouth wholesome and edifying? If we are spending money like the world around us, gathering more gadgets or keeping up with the latest just for the sake of having it all, or are we taking care of each other so that none has too much or too little?

Don't you think it's time that we redefine ourselves and how the world sees us? While we as a body are fantastic (sometimes too good) at pointing out what is wrong with this world, we are rarely part of the solution for the world. Let us, as a people united, strive to redefine our culture. By "our culture," I mean the culture of the body of Christ, living as the Holy Nation that God has invited us to be a part of, living as a people who are set apart from those around us. And I don't mean in a superior, we've got it all figured out, sort of hierarchy way. But more of a humble, servant sort of way. Like the Way of Jesus. Let us be defined by that, teaching our children from the earliest of ages that they do or don't do certain things because we are called be different, set apart, children of the Most High King.

This may require some reevaluating of current living, and that can be a very good thing. Why do you do the things that you do? Where did you learn to do such things? Who laid your foundation? How could you create more of Kingdom culture in your life? Are you now living such a compelling life, entrenched in the Way of Christ, that if you walked away from it, you would lose everything? Or would you simply lose a Sunday service and everything else would be the same? I don't mean to step on toes. Well, maybe I do, but oh so gently, and with the utmost of love for you. I just think that we can do this better.

In all things, friends, there is Grace and peace.

1 comment:

  1. I'm just now getting around to catching up on your blog. I love this post. As I mentioned the other day I've been thinking about how we live in our culture as it has been compared to a modern day Babylon.

    In your description of a "cultural Jew" I was struck by the idea of living lives that are "set apart, visibly different from the surrounding world." I recently made some similar observations when I heard the story of a Catholic Nun and her habit. Here's a link to my blog about it...


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