It is reasonable to assume that the period of relative but still substantial freedom from which the church of Messiah in Israel now enjoys is drawing near to its’ close, and that harder days will return following the dual process of an increase in religious nationalism and the strengthening of the Jewish Orthodox community in our country.
I fear for the church, and not because of the persecution that is apparently to be expected. Persecution never disadvantaged the church. The Body of Christ knew hard days in the past, and overcame them all by the grace of God. We will overcome by the word of our testimony if we do not love life as we love our Lord Jesus the Messiah. Suffering was always accompanied by God’s blessing and, as it was said some 2,000 years ago, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The more we suffer, the more we will grow.
My fear stems, rather, from a certain trend evident among us, evidenced in the effort to find acceptance by our people. We emphasize the strength of our national loyalty, the depth of our Zionistic commitment, our Jewishness. Be we forget the main issue. Paul warned in his time, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Phil. 3:2-9)
We are taken up with (commendable) activity in the social area: we oppose abortion, reach out to the homeless, to refugees and to those abusing drugs and other substances. We endeavor to rescues prostitutes and are troubled by the growing spread of homosexualism, but we are still missing the main issue.
The most important matter with which our churches should be occupied with is the cultivation of a fear a God, morally-motivated humility, vigorous holiness and a spiritual perspective that know how to challenge the society to which we belong by the clarity of it holiness.
Such a life-style never enjoyed popular acclaim, nor did it contribute to the popularity of those who endeavored to conduct themselves by such standards. As the Savior said with regard to a different matter, it is with these above all that we should be busy, without neglecting those other matters. I therefore join Paul’s call and plead with the members of our congregations they we “must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (Eph. 4:17-19)
Regretfully, we tend to be far too much like the world. We dress like the people of the world and conduct ourselves too much like anyone else in the world. We enjoy most of the same things and, apart from the content our services are often more like secular concerts while our sermons are geared more to please, entertain and promote a sense of happiness than to exalt the holiness of God and to call us to repentance.
Thank God, not everything we do is characterized by such tendencies, but such is the growing trend among us. It takes courage to dare be different while frankly belonging to Israeli society. When push comes to shove, “our citizenship is in heaven.” It takes the kind of commitment that involves more than good intentions and sincere enthusiasm to put God – in reality – first in the life of our churches and of our individual lives in such a way that those among whom we live will identify symptoms and the presence of God and of a loving fear of him. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Co. 3:1-3)
Our churches should focus on cultivating a broad, deep, courageous understanding of God’s word, a nuanced ability to apply moral principles in the fear of God, independent thinking subject to the word of God, a willingness to sacrifice that will express itself, among other ways, in willingness to be rejected by our society, constant self-examination that will lead to constant changes and improvements in our lives and those of our churches, liberality toward those with whom we differ.
“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God, and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3: 7-17).
May God be with us to help us as we face the days that are to come.