Saturday we had a wonderful bris in our home (no, not our baby — we already have 8!). Many things were wonderful about it. First of all, a bris (circumcision ceremony) is always a joyous occasion (oo, maybe that anti-circumcision activist will post a comment again). Second, this was an intermarried family (mostly what we have in our community) and the Christian and Jewish family were present. Third, there was no disharmony between the Jewish family and Christian family. Fourth, I was able to see and enjoy the positive reactions of the Jewish mohel (the one who performs the circumcision and leads the liturgy) and the positive reactions of the Jewish and Christian families.
It was a beautiful thing: Christians and Jews together in harmony.
And the relevance of me bringing it up for this series of posts is simple: the event brought to the fore Christian reactions to Jewish ceremony and tradition. Christians are all over the spectrum on such matters. These were, for the most part, mainstream Christians and not Judeo-Christians. What do I mean by Judeo-Christian? How is it different from the designation Messianic Jew or Messianic Gentile? Should all Christians be Judeo-Christians? What is the phenomenon of Judeo-Christianity all about?
This is a big topic, somewhat like our long series on “Non-Jews and Torah.” If you love to read lots of material and think deeply, you can find the whole “Non-Jews and Torah” series quite easily here.
I started using the term “Judeo-Christian” while writing the “Non-Jews and Torah” series. Perhaps it will become evident over the course of this series why I found the term helpful. If you object to the term please feel free to politely state your reasons. We’ve heard from some that it sounds too much like the politically conservative language of the Christian Right (“Judeo-Christian values”).
A simple way of describing what I mean by Judeo-Christian is to locate Christians on a scale. Scales like this are always somewhat artificial. In this first post on the topic I want to address what a Judeo-Christian is and also discuss the word “Christian” in light of the myth that it is a poor word-choice to designate a follower of Messiah.
Christians in Relation to the Jewish People: A Sliding Scale
I will define some terms after I display this (seriously high-tech) diagram:
…………….. Non-Supersessionist Christians
……………………………… Actively Philo-Semitic Christians
“Supersessionist” – The belief that Christianity supplanted or replaced Judaism and that Christian people have replaced Jewish people as the chosen people of God. It is also known as “replacement theology.” It comes in many levels and shades of meaning. Many Christians are supersessionist in minor ways and the majority throughout history have been supersessionist in major ways. I sometimes get the theological objection, “The Church is holy to God and cannot have been wrong throughout history on such a major issue.” My answer, “Israel was and is also holy to God and the Jewish people have had their national errors and sins published for all the world to read; it is untrue that an elect people will be right about doctrine and practice.”
“Non-Supersessionist” – Some (very few) Christians are completely free of supersessionist thinking. But a fairly large number are “non-supersessionist” at heart. That is, they believe that the Jewish people remain God’s chosen people in various ways. This post is not about quibbling over details. If this issue matters deeply to you, I cannot more highly recommend a book than R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology.
“Actively Philo-Semitic” – These are Christians who have made it part of their mission to repair the centuries of damage and mistrust between Jews and Christians. It is not the duty of all Christians to get involved in this cause or any specific cause, as there are many causes that build the kingdom. Having said that, we Messianic Jews very much appreciate Philo-Semitic Christians. It will become clear how they differ in practice from Judeo-Christians.
“Judeo-Christians” – They exist in churches and Messianic synagogues. What sets them apart is that they incorporate Jewish practice into their life and worship. It would seem a minimum is Sabbath and holidays. Many learn Hebrew. Their practice of Christianity incorporates many Jewish elements. Some see themselves as part of Israel. Others recognize that Jews and gentiles are distinct. Some have identity confusion and some are very clear about who they are (“Not Jewish, but I keep Jewish traditions”).
On the Appropriateness of the Term “Christian”
This is a complicated issue. “Christian” is a word that carries a massive load of pre-conceptions based on history since the time of Jesus.
Some will argue, “Christian is a bad word to Jewish people because of the well-known history of Christian anti-Semitism.” I think Western culture has turned a corner on this. Since WWII, Jewish-Christian relations have been improving. Post-modernity has blurred boundaries and lessened divisions over such things.
When the word “Christian” is properly understood, it applies to Jewish and non-Jewish followers of Jesus. The congregation at Antioch was mixed Jewish and non-Jewish and that is where the term originated (Acts 11:26). That’s right (take note Jewish anti-missionaries as you will love to hear me say this as though it is something to be ashamed of): Messianic Jews are Christian Jews.
If you will lay aside whatever prejudices you may have had against the term “Christian,” you will realize it means precisely the same thing as “Messianic” (of Christ, of Messiah).
In many contexts, people have used the terms ethnically. In discussing, for example, European history, many would refer to all gentiles as Christians.
On the Appropriateness of the Term “Judeo-Christian”
If you are a non-Jew and you observe the Sabbath and holidays, you have, no doubt, had a hard time explaining who you are to people who ask about your practice and beliefs.
No doubt you have used the term “Messianic” only to be asked if your were born Jewish.
But suppose you say to someone, “I am a Judeo-Christian.” Or you might explain a little more, “I am a Christian, but I practice a lot of Jewish customs.”
I would say that people will understand who you are and what you are about far more accurately than if you say, “I am Messianic.”
There are lots more things to discuss. Maybe some of you will give me more angles and questions than I had already thought of. Is there a difference between Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians? Can Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians be together in Messianic synagogues? Can Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians be members of churches? Is it divisive to distinguish between Jews and gentiles, Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians? Will certain sub-groups welcome the term Judeo-Christian or oppose it?
Lots to think about and more to come.