Towards unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace

Sunrise over the fields in Southern Israel, near the city of Beer Sheva. (Photo: Edi Israel/Flash90)

I returned home on Friday night from one week in Kenya. I was invited to be part of a small team for a diplomatic mission, speaking with church leaders about reconciliation of Gentile Christians — and church “positions” — with Jewish believers in Jesus/Yeshua, with a conference being planned in two years. For my part, my Jewish identity is not conflicted with my faith in Jesus and being also identified as a Christian, along with other believers and followers of the Messiah. But this is also something that might not necessarily have been so just a couple of hundred years ago, and even lingering until today in many quarters.

The return of the Jewish people in the latter days back to the Land of Israel promised by YHVH to the descendants of Jacob has restored and revived the truth that God is not finished with “Jewish” or with Israel, the natural and physical people and land which so much of the Bible centers on. God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ comes through the Jews and looks to the day of the Lord’s return to rule and to reign from Jerusalem in Israel. For those whose world-view dismisses the future and hope of the Jewish people and Israel, Jewish identity and Israel’s existence pose both a challenge and a threat.

Beginning already in the New Testament gospel accounts, we read that there were many Jews who believed in Yeshua but were afraid to say so, for fear of being put out of the synagogue — of being excommunicated. It did not matter how many traditions and commandments they might observe and keep, faith in Yeshua as Messiah and Lord — as the Son of God — rendered them “not kosher”, not acceptable. My religious and political leaders cast Yeshua outside the camp, and that is where we who believe in Him are called to be as well. When the Gentile believers began to far outnumber the Jewish believers (which did not take that long, being that there are far more Gentiles in the world than Jews), their thinking and attitude became skewed into a “doctrine” that the Jews were finished as a people loved by God, despite their rejection of Jesus. God had no more need or use for His Chosen People: their calling was completed when we rejected and crucified the Lord, even though Yeshua asked the Father to forgive all of those involved who did not know what they were really doing, and to Whom.

In Acts 15 we read the historical account of a watershed moment in “Church history”, when the authorized Apostles grappled with the question of whether Gentile believers needed to ‘become Jewish’ in order to be saved and be true believers. The answer was an emphatic “No!”, except for four restrictions which the Holy Spirit gave the Jewish apostles to place upon the new converts, in order to enable some common ground of fellowship and of worship of the one true God. When the church ‘fathers’ began to hold their own councils to deal with establishing some doctrinal orthodoxy for the new life in Christ, they began to also grapple with the question of the Jews, who would not disappear and go away. In 787 AD, at the Second Nicaean Council, the Gentile church leaders asked whether Jewish believers needed to become Gentiles in order to be saved and true followers of Jesus, and they said, “Yes!”. Jewish Christians needed to forget the Jewish part of their identity, and just become a good, for example, Spanish Christian, or a good American Christian, or a good Kenyan Christian, wherever the Jewish persons may be living. The Gentiles could retain their identity, but not the Jews.

God is restoring Jewish identity among believers in Jesus/Yeshua; and, yes, just like many Gentile Christians who retain or take on too much of their own culture and peculiar traditions of their church or spiritual stream into their brand of Christianity, so, too, do some Jews (and, even some Gentile believers who love the God of Israel and His people) take on too much of Judaism and their country’s culture into the faith which calls upon all believers to grapple with the gospel truth that we are all a new creation in Messiah/Christ when we are born-again by the Holy Spirit from Above, and are one new man in Christ/Messiah. There are both Jewish and Gentile aspects which can enrich the Body of Messiah, yet the gospel is neither Jewish nor Gentile.

The Holy Spirit is moving and working throughout the Body in the world across every denomination and ‘non-denomination’ to bring unity — which is forever inherent in YHVH God — among believers wherever and whatever we may be identified. This is towards fulfilling the prayer of the Lord for the divine unity which is His with the Father, and that is to be all of ours with each other and with Him. No one can manufacture this; it is truly a God-thing! It will only be fully realized in the resurrection life, yet however much can be manifested here before then the Holy Spirit will surely do in all those who are the Lord’s.

For me it is not institutional reconciliation, but acceptance and reconciliation — with confession, repentance, and forgiveness having their necessary part for excluding those who do not meet our own or our denominations’ qualifications — with any and all individuals whom the Lord accepts, including me. Praise God! There is still a hope and a future for the Jewish people and for Israel as a nation. The blessing to all the world depends on God’s fulfilling all His covenant promises to Israel, and the sacrificial death and the resurrection of Jesus confirms them. We who know and love our Father and Yeshua are called to share and to preach this good news, and to help one another be reconciled to God.  “…Pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart….”

This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, March 4, 2019, and reposted with permission.