AN OPEN LETTER TO AMERICAN CHRISTIANS

I subscribe to a magazine called “ZION’s FIRE”. It is of the highest technical quality and the founding editor is a man I highly esteem and respect. I have followed at a distance his mission for a number of years. He is a tireless advocate for Jesus Christ and as a Jewish Christian has zealously promoted a very specific tradition within the Church. I know this tradition well. When I answered God’s call to prepare myself for the ministry, it was the tradition that I initially received my training in. I studied theology initially using Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology as our main text. zionshope

As you perhaps know by now, my passion is to advocate for the UNITY that we have in Christ as Christians, and to insist that we must treat oneanother with love and dignity. I choose to do this by the simple method of letting others tell us in their own words what living and practicing their faith tradition looks like to them. Usually I do not try to debate their position or criticize it. I honestly believe that we have much to learn from oneanother if we will take the pains to listen to what they see from their perspective. Yet,this is perhaps one of the most difficult traditions for me to be faithful to that practice for the simple reason that I am not neutral on so many interpretations of Scripture from this perspective. But I will demonstrate my love for Marv Rosenthal and many other personal friends also from this tradition by withholding any comments. Within the great diversity which is the Body of Christ, this too is a recognizable and definable contributing part. Although I do not consider myself of this tradition, I am convinced we can be greatly strengthened by paying close attention to their emphasis.

I do believe that Rosenthal’s letter, the position within American Christianity that it represents and the political influence on foreign policy that is greatly affecting world peace and the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ, justifies not only calling this to the attention of everyone I know but also highly recommending its reading by as many as possible. Thank you brother Marv for being so transparent.

FROM the HEART of MARV ROSENTHAL (a few excerpts)

During almost two thousand years of dispersion, one thing alone sustained the Jewish people. It was a small candle in a dark place. But it burned brightly in their hearts. They believed above all things that one day their Messiah would come. Who He would be and when He would come, they did not know. But the hope of His coming was an anchor of the soul, so strong that no storm of adversity which Satan could throw against them could make that anchor break.

In May of 1948 the impossible became the possible. What had never happened before in the annals of history came to pass as God had foretold in His Word. After nineteen hundred years of being buried among the nations of the world, Israel was reborn. They are a people with their own land and capital city. They lack only one thing to make their national resurrection complete. Their King, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David, “the seed of the woman”, must return !

OPEN LETTER FROM MARV ROSENTHAL – Take time to get to know the ministry of Zion’s Hope including the beautiful music from the Jewish-Christian tradition. You will not find a more readable and precise statement of the theology that drives much of the “religious right” politics in America.

Hava Nagila Dance

         

ARE THERE TWO GOSPELS in the NEW TESTAMENT?

In understanding the contribution of Saint Paul to the New Testament and to the Christian Faith, one of the questions that gets raised is this very issue. Because it has been raised by so many and so often, it can not be ignored nor dismissed. The truth is, at first glance, what Christ began does seem to take a major change in emphasis with the introduction in the biblical narrative of the ministry of the Apostle to the Gentiles, that even good Bible scholars have been confused. Just one example will hopefully make the point and this among christians who are called “bible believing” conservatives.

One very well defined “system” of interpreting the New Testament and dealing with this perceived difference is that which in essence says, “Jesus proclaimed to Israel the gospel of the Kingdom; when Israel rejected his gospel, it was withdrawn, and with the call of Saint Paul, another gospel, the gospel of grace, was then instituted for the gentiles”.

Did Paul preach another gospel, other than the one Jesus preached?

Well, what does the narrative of Scripture say? A very good example of Jesus’ gospel message which can be chosen as representative, is what John records in his gospel (chapter 6) as the discourse on the Bread of Life or the Bread from Heaven, which Jesus taught the Jews in the syagogue in Capernaum. There is much detail in this message of our Lord that is instructive for us, but in order to keep this brief (and wet your desire to study the text for yourself) I want to only focus on one clear statement.  Near the begining, Jesus exhorts his hearers to “labor not for the food which perishes, but for the food that endures to everlasting life…”. Then in answer to their question, “what shall we do, that we may work the works of God”, Jesus answers them and says, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent”!

I don’t believe there is any danger of mistaking this emphasis of Jesus by saying that this is the single emphasis in what I would call Part I of the gospel in the New Testament. It was the major purpose behind the Apostles, Peter and John, following the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The purpose was to proclaim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah promised by God, the fulfillment of all that had gone before and that he had died on the cross as a necessary part of God’s redemptive purpose for Him, and to set his seal upon his perfect work on the cross, God had raised him as the first-fruits of the Resurrection and poured out His Spirit upon His followers, just as He said He would do. This is the basic message that still confronts every person in the world: it is about what God has done once-for-all in the history of humanity which becomes the decisive event until the end of time. The proclamation of what God has done is always for the purpose of eliciting the one thing God now demands of all, repentance towards God and belief in the Savior announced in the Gospel.

Did Paul preach this gospel? He most certainly did! Check out I CORINTHIANS 15 and the earlier post on his sermon in Athens on Mar’s Hill. As you can see hopefully, these are not isolated texts but are at the heart of Paul’s preaching as well as his pastoral letters. One more example is what he reminded the Roman believers about in chapter 10 of that letter: everything begins with the sinner calling out to God for salvation. It is always “near” or at hand but he does have to know some objective truth about Jesus as the Savior God has sent into the world for the purpose of redeeming lost sinners. Paul asks a very logical question: How are they going to call on Him in whom they have not believed? This calling is not some kind of “magical” formula that you mouth after someone has instructed you to “repeat after Me” as “the sinners prayer” that does the trick every time. The calling out to God is filled with the faith that is produced  by being convinced that Jesus is the only Savior, because of his being sent by the Father and by virtue of his agonizing and perfect atonement for sin worked out on a cross outside Jerusalem. Jesus, as he is proclaimed in the authorized and certified gospel is what must be heard before the sinner can call and Paul was acutely aware of that fact.

So what’s all the confusion about? Well, the truth is that there’s a lot more to the gospel of Jesus Christ than just this first part or emphasis that has the purpose of bringing sinners to Jesus as Savior and reconciliation with His Father. This is where the contribution of the Apostle Paul becomes so central. It is not as though the other Apostles did not know the additional part, there is much in Peter’s letters and those of the Apostle John to indicate otherwise. But Paul by far is the one who more thoroughly works out for believers what the consequences are of Christ saving work, the new creation God has initiated in Him and how His Life as the True Vine now flows into and through the branches joined to Him as His Spirit and His Word constitute this whole new way of living under the New Covenant. Believe me, it is radically different from anything in the old order which for the most part, the first Apostles and Jewish disciples continued to live under as the transition from one order to the other took place.

Paul was adamant in maintaining that this part of the gospel he had personally received directly from  the risen Christ himself, and not from the original Apostles (see the letter to the Galatians). I have called this part II of the gospel simply for reasons of showing that there was a definite difference of emphasis and if we are to fully appreciate the advance of the gospel in the New Testament as represented in the ministry of Paul, its helpful to keep this in mind. A whole list of problems in the churches come as a result of not handling these as they are presented in Scripture. One of the gravest of all is what I call “old testament believers in the new testament church”. Sooner or later I will post about what I mean.

Perhaps it will help to remind you that I am an heir to the “radical” wing of the Reformation. I personally look forward to the special emphasis on St.Paul by the Roman Catholics because of a working “thesis” I have been considering for some time: that the Roman Church has largely been built on the foundation of the first part of the gospel-the Jewish Church, if you please, with Saint Peter as their “main man”. One of the main characteristics of the Reformation churches was the rediscovery of the “other” part of the gospel emphasized by Saint Paul. At least the Roman Church has never suggested (as far as I know) that Paul preached another gospel. Let me know what you think.

2010UPDATE: Related post on Jesus & Paul

 

A lot of folks are asking this and similiar questions about the condition of churches in their neighborhoods after hearing of one more scandal. I certainly don’t want to join in throwing rocks at an already wounded institutional church. But I do want to offer an opinion for you to consider as one of the major weaknesses of local churches I am personally familiar with.

The Chuches have left the Story-line. As it turns out, in almost every case, the bottom lines seems to be that churches have forgotten their charter, their God-given calling.  They seem to be trying their hand at everything under the sun, everything everyone else is now doing, except the very thing they were called into existence to do; live out the life of godliness before the watching world and thus be the instrument of divine healing in the midst of a wicked and rebellious generation. The emphasis here is not on the wickedness of the world, but what God in sending Christ has done to restore his wayward children. The churches are to be local gatherings of the “first-fruits” of those restored to and delighting in the presence and the “shalom”of their heavenly Father while summoning those around them to likewise be converted and join them.

The Testimony of the Father concerning his Son, Jesus Christ, thus becomes the all essential focus of all things in the local church. And this Testimony is found only in the Scriptures-it is a very special Revelation. I found a statement in one of those powerful little books that pretty well sums up what we all need to do in order to recover the spiritual health of the churches:

Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of mankind. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness.

We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, however important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is “external to ourselves.” I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.

(Life Together- Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

AN EXERCISE IN UNDERSTANDING THE FAITH of OTHERS

Today is not like normal Sabbaths for the simple reason that this year Pesach falls on Saturday; at sundown today, Pesach begins.

Of all the Jewish holidays Pesach is the one most commonly observed, even by the otherwise non-observant Jews….(Judaism 101)  http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm

 

Have you ever thought what a quantum leap we could make if we began to really appreciate and respect our neighbors Faith through their own eyes and not through what we’ve heard- even in a “comparative religion” class?

Join me as I observe the Jewish holy day of Pesach.