[This blog is a specific response to a question that was fielded by someone beyond MBC, however, it helpfully speaks into a between-the-testaments mini-series I had been publishing in our C2C series]
When I visited Jerusalem a number of years ago, one of the men in my group caught ‘Jewish Fever,’ an unusual fixation with Judaism and the desire to become Jewish. It was the most bizarre thing. He started wearing a kippah (hat), eating Kosher and observing other Jewish rituals. He completely broke off from the group of Christians he had come with for the duration of his stay. What made this all very strange was he professed to be a convert to Christianity and had originally come from a Hindu background in India! Jewish Fever can make people do some strange things.
Yet this ‘Fever’ has another manifestation outside of Israel, among those professing Christians who take a fancy to all things Jewish, as if being Jewish, was a superior form of spirituality and practice to that found in the Christian faith: they come to meet on the Jewish Sabbath rather than the Lord’s Day, begin to observe Jewish customs and festivals and food laws, etc.
I want to contend why, in part, for ethnic Jewish-Christians, a continuation of aspects of their culture is appropriate, and why Jewish Fever is generally misguided and unhelpful for Jewish/Gentile-Christians.
This is founded upon the believer’s new identity in Jesus Christ under the New Covenant, as the fulfilment of past Biblical promises and covenants. The new has come, the old has passed (Mt 9:17; Isa 42:9). The Gospel is for the Jew first and then the Gentile (Ro 1:17). There is now no distinction between [the believing] Jew or Gentile, we’re all one in Jesus Christ (Gal 3:28). In fact, Paul says, a Christian (whether ethnically Jew or Gentile) is a true Jew in a spiritual sense and child of Abraham (Gal 3:7).
The Christian (ethnic Jew/Gentile) is in fact part of the New Covenant community of faith, which fulfils the former visible community of faith (the Jewish nation, see Ro 9–11). The Church is the realization of promises from Jer and Ezk of a New Covenant (Jer 31; Ezk 36).
The Law of Moses was the guardian (Gal 3:24); but Christ has come and it has passed (Mt 5:17–18; Lk 24:27; 2 Cor 1:20; Heb 8:13) and the believer (Jew/Gentile) is now part of a far better Covenant (Heb 8:6). The Old Covenant had certain practices associated with it; these were fulfilled in Christ. Those that were morally universal are now what the NT describes as the Royal Law. As for others, Sabbath gave way to the Lord’s Day; food laws to distinctive holy lifestyle (Col 2:16; Mk 7:19; Acts 15:20–21); covenant signs and festivals to worshipping in Spirit and truth and embracing New Covenant practices and principles and signs (i.e. the Great Commandment; Great Commission; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, etc).
There is of course great continuity between the Covenants (e.g. grace through faith), however, there is great discontinuity (e.g. the essence of the Covenant and its sign—baptism).
In all this it must be remembered that the early Church was: first exclusively Jewish (Acts 11:19); then largely Jewish (Acts 9:20 [Paul’s strategy of synagogue preaching]; Gospel of Matthew, Epistle to the Hebrews, etc); and yet it—in varying degrees of speed—embraced its New Covenant image; it ceased to be religiously or visibly Jewish as it understood Christ.
So, a new identity, a new community and new community markers.
For Ethnic Jews
Now what happens if you are ethnically Jewish and you come to Christ? Do you give up all of your cultural-religious heritage? Religious, yes; but not your cultural, where appropriate.
Consider this. You’re culturally-Canadian and come to Christ. You get to keep your God honouring cultural practices (hockey as a sport) but not those that dishonour Him (hockey as an idol). Or you are a tribal African. You get to keep your love of hunting, but you give up its associations with animism. It is similar to how I would view Judaism, the Jewish-believers keeps those practices that align with the New Covenant/Christ/Christianity and jettison or modify those that do not.
Anything that is retained must be upon cultural grounds and not religious, for now they are in Christ.
What about those who have “Jewish Fever”?
It really is as odd as someone who is Japanese trying to pretend they are German; a Zulu a Russian; an American a Brit!
Jewish Fever, for reasons already mentioned, is religious nostalgia, spiritual backwardness, regressive, counter-productive, misguided. At its worst it can be divisive or elitist (as seen in the NT). It is pretending to be something you are not (if you are a Christian), and placing stock in something that Christ doesn’t commend. The heart of Paul’s letter to the Galatians addressed these matters: we are justified by faith in the Gospel and from the Gospel flows Christian practice. To be obedient to an obsolete law is not Gospel centric, at best it is foolish, at worst it is another Gospel.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.