Vaughn Olhman of The Practical Theonomist blog put an interesting question to me on the Blinded to the Torah thread that I don’t remember addressing before. In response to my statement, “Many Christians are uncomfortable with those of us who reject the Christian label and insist on being called Messianic Jews instead,” he asked:
You may have covered this elsewhere, but this statement makes me uncomfortable, Biblically speaking, because the ‘Christian’ label not only means ‘Christ-like one’; but is actually mentioned in Scripture. While I understand the witness that the term ‘Messianic Jew’ implies, why does it need to come with a literal ‘rejection’ of the ‘Christian’ label?
Good question, and deserving its own post.
“Christian” did not originally mean “Christ-like.” As used (all of three times) in the NT, it’s actually a Greek transliteration of the Latin Christianus. The suffix –ianus means “of the political party of” (like our modern “Republican” or “Libertarian”) making “Christianus” “of the political party of Christus.” If you read Acts 11:59 and 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16 carefully, you’ll see that in all three occasions that it’s used, it is a label applied to the followers of Yeshua by others, not one they applied to themselves–their own names for their group were “the Way” and “the Nazarenes” (ala “the Branches”).
The name “Christian” therefore “constitutes a political statement. It (‘-ianus’) is not used of the followers of a god. It is . . . mildly contemptuous” (E.A. Judge, quoted by John Mauck, The Trial of Paul, p. 97). However, it is the great gift of what we commonly call Christianity to take that which the world means to be shameful and turn it into a badge of honor, ala Paul’s observation that God has chosen the weak and foolish things of the world to overcome the strong and wise (1Co. 1:27). Thus the cross, a symbol of ultimate humiliation and horror to the Romans, was quickly adapted by Christianity as its central symbol, and the name meant to say, “Ha! You’re the political party of a shamed and dead man!” the followers of Yeshua turned around to say, “No, we’re the political party of the Honorable and Living One!”
And if that’s all it meant today, I would happily call myself a Christian.
However, as I’ve spent the last several weeks documenting, starting in the 2nd Century and continuing to even now, Christianity has defined itself as a non-Jewish entity–not just in the sense of defending the rights of Greeks to remain Greeks, but in opposing the right of Jews to continue to be and live as Jews. It has actively persecuted those Jews in its ranks that have tried to remain a part of their own people: That’s why I entitled one of my series, “Judenrein (Jew-Free) Christianity.”
Today, a Christian is not someone who simply follows Christ. He or she is someone who goes to church on Sunday, celebrates Christmas and Easter (or in some cases, no holy days at all) and possibly some other cultural feasts, enjoys pork spare ribs at the church BBQ, and possibly wears a cross as a symbol of their faith. By that definition–and argue it as you might, that’s how Christians have lived for thousands of years–I simply do not qualify. I go to synagogue and rest on the Biblical Sabbath, celebrate the High Holy Days given in the Torah and the feasts and fasts of the Jewish people, keep both Biblical kosher and those aspects of kashrut (Rabbinic kosher) which do not conflict with the New Covenant teachings, and wear a kippah (yarmulke, if you prefer) and tzitzit as the symbols of my faith.
When all Christendom repents of interpreting Paul and even Yeshua in an anti-Jewish, anti-Torah manner, when all Christians say of every Jew they meet, “This is my brother, this is my sister, and whether they ever return the sentiment or not, I will lay down my life for them,” and when every church says to the Jewish Christians within its walls, “You need to be a part of your people, and we will do whatever it takes to help you achieve that, even if it means kashering our own kitchen,” then I will be able to call myself “Messianic” with a Greek accent again. Until then, it would be grossly inappropriate and even misleading for me to do so.
But I do not reject my Sunday-brethren–who I call my brethren in all sincerity. God has used Christianity to spread His Word throughout the world, and I honor that. The fact that there are horrible sins in the past of the Church no more leads me to hate them than the sins of Israel make me hate my own people. But it is because of that love and because of my desire to see a reconciliation between two brothers so long separated by hatred that I must be forthright about Christianity’s sins, both past and present, and call my Sunday-brethren to repent.
- Blinded to the Torah: The Holy One’s Means to Preserve Israel (returnofbenjamin.wordpress.com)
- The Great Messianic Jewish Paradigm Shift (roshpinaproject.com)
- Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Reading the Bible in Flux (mymorningmeditations.com)
- What is Messianic Judaism? (verse4psalm37.wordpress.com)