Becoming Messianic Gentiles

by Robert Heidler

All over the world today, Christians are fasting and praying for a revival of the Church. Our hearts cry out for the brand of Christianity the apostles knew -- a Christianity with the power to heal the sick, win the lost and set the captives free. That's the Christianity the early Church had. It was a force no pagan ideology or philosophy could stand against.

Over the last century, as believers have prayed and sought the LORD, God has graciously restored much that the early Church possessed. Sadly, however, the Church today remains very different from the churches the apostles established.

When did the Church lose the power and effectiveness that characterized its beginnings? As one studies Church history, it is evident that most of this change took place between the fourth and the seventh century. During this time period, a conscious effort was made by the institutional hierarchy to change the very nature of what the Church was.

Prior to the fourth century, the Church was a very "Jewish" institution. Its teachings were based on the Old Testament understanding of God. Its cornerstone was the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua. For most of the first century, its Bible was the Tanach, the Jewish "Old Testament." The worship of the Church was based on the Psalms, with much singing, dancing and celebration. Churches regularly celebrated the Old Testament feasts, even as Yeshua and the apostles had.

The early believers in fact, viewed themselves as "Messianic Gentiles" (the word Christian literally means "Messianic" -- a follower of the Jewish Messiah). They viewed themselves not as separate from Israel, and not as replacing Israel, but as branches grafted into the root of Israel through the blood of Yeshua. They, who at one time had been "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" were now brought near and made fellow citizens (Eph. 2:11-19). This colored their whole understanding of what Christianity was, and of how they related to Gd.

Beginning in the fourth century, however, Church leaders, enamored with the pagan Greek philosophy of the day, attempted to purge the Church of its Jewish roots. Repeatedly, councils condemned the observances of the Biblical feasts. In their place they substituted "Christianized" versions of pagan Greek feasts. For example, instead of celebrating Messiah's death and resurrection in the context of the Passover as the apostles had, they used the feast of the pagan fertility goddess, Ishtar -- thus the origination of the name Easter.

The asceticism of the pagan philosophers killed the joyful exuberance of Davidic worship and established in its place monasticism and the solemn rituals of medieval Christian worship. In the process of these changes, the Church abandoned its Old Testament foundation, and was rebuilt on the foundation of Greek philosophy and culture.

I believe the Church will never be fully restored until we see Christianity in its Jewish context as the New Testament Church did. Now, I am not talking here about Judaizing. Judaizing was a rejection of God's grace in favor of the legalism of the Old Testament system. We must stand in the grace and freedom our Messiah purchased for us!

The truths and pictures inherent in the Jewish roots of Christianity are not some foreign elements imported from a different religion. These elements were given by God for our benefit. They were designed by God to give us a better understanding of our relationship with Him. Anyone who has studied the Bible knows that we cannot understand the New Testament apart from the Old. When John the baptist announced, "Behold the Lamb of God," he was speaking in the context of the Jewish sacrificial system. We cannot understand John's statement, or indeed, the work of Yeshua, apart from that Old Testament revelation. Likewise, we can't fully understand the events in Acts 2 without understanding the work of the Spirit described in passages such as Numbers 11 or Joel 2.

As we learn about the Jewish roots of our faith, we find passage after passage coming into clearer focus, with long-hidden significance revealed. Passages that made little sense suddenly spring to life. We gain a deeper understanding of our Covenant rights, and of how God desires to relate to us.

Jews who come to know their Messiah are sometimes referred to as "completed" Jews. That's a good description. But I believe it's also true that when a Gentile Christian comes to know the Jewish heritage of his faith, he becomes a "completed" Gentile!

Yeshua is not only the Savior of the world, but the Messiah of Israel -- and our Messiah. By His grace, we have been made fellow citizens in that commonwealth. The more we know of that heritage, the richer and more complete we will be.

-- Robert Heidler