A few days ago we examined the question, “What kind of Jesus are we talking about?”  Today I want to visit another question: What kind of Peopel of God are we talking about? In both cases, our beginning point is Yeshua’s conversation with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in John, Chapter Four.  The earlier discussion and this one are both excerpted and adapted from my forthcoming book, tentatively titled, “Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians, and the Misison of God.”

R. Kendall Soulen summarizes the gospel in this manner: “The God of Israel has worked in Jesus Christ for the sake of all.” The Church must remember that the God the claim is the One who is Israel’s Faithful One. I would amend his statement to read to read this way:  “The God of Israel has worked in Jesus Christ for the sake of Israel and the nations.” This God is faithful not only to the Church, but first to Israel. Again, Soulen is helpful here, referring to “the grammar of the Christian story.”

Unknown-1Christians should recover the biblical habit of seeing the world as peopled, not by Christians and Jews, but by Jews and gentiles, by Israel and the nations. I am convinced that one reason Christians have a difficult time “inhabiting” the biblical world is that this important biblical distinction has become strange to them. Christians (who are mostly gentiles) tend to think of the distinction as outmoded, un-Christian, and even dangerous. In other words, they think of the distinction as superseded. In contrast, the Bible, including the Apostolic Witness, presents the distinction as an enduring mark of the one human family, still visible in the church and even in the consummated reign of God.[1]

It is only when and as we correct the grammar of Christian thinking, speaking, and imagining, that Jesus returns to his rightful identity, and the Jewish people to their rightful place in the purposes of God.

In our text we find the Samaritan woman, Yeshua, and the people of the village all in agreement, identifying Yeshua as the Messiah [“Come see a man who told me all that I ever did!  Can this be the Messiah?”] and also as Savior of the world [“We have heard from myself and believe that he is the Savior of the world”].   Although related, the terms “Messiah” and “Savior” reflect the Messiah’s two-fold ministry first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and then to that other fold, the other nations, the Gentiles.

We should not forget that the Messiah is first of all the King of Israel.  The Messiah is not simply the King of all nations, but rather he is the King of Israel and the nations.   Once we think of this, we begin to see evidence for it all over the Bible.

He is the one of whom it stands written in Isaiah. “It is too small a thing that you should be my chosen one to raise up the outcasts of Israel.  I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the furthest ends of the earth” [Isa 49:6].   He is the one whom Righteous Simeon called “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”  He is the one of whom it was said, “unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Messiah the Lord.”  He is the one whose coming is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.  I fear that too many Christians think of the gospel as the power of God for salvation for the Gentiles, and, in rare and celebrated cases, also for some Jews.  Something is wrong here.

Yeshua is the King of Israel. That means he is the one who is the personal guarantee of the fulfillment of God’s promises to His covenant nation.  It is only as he is first and foremost the King of Israel that he can also be “the Savior of the world” [John 4:42].

We must return to the apostolic understanding of the Jewish people as the foundational people of God. The ekklesia presented in Scripture is one in which Gentiles become co-heirs with Jews of Jewish promises, not replacement heirs who bump the Jews off the stage of salvation history and then redefine both the Christ and His people.  It is not the Gentiles instead of the Jews, but the Gentiles because of the Jews and together with the Jews—for the blessings that come to the nations come from the hand of God to the people of Israel and through Israel to the nations.

It is just here that we need to listen to Mark Kinzer concerning the bi-lateral nature of the ekklesia.  Providing insights into Paul’s teaching in the second chapter of Ephesians concerning the One New Man, Kinzer contends that the ekklesia is composed both of Torah-faithful Messianic Jews and people from the other nations . Such Torah-faithful Messianic Jews form the living link whereby the Church from among the nations is joined to the Commonwealth of Israel, and serve the Church by helping her reconceive of her identity and vocation as rooted in that of Israel. 

The One New Man of Ephesians names a unity of two distinct communal realities living together not in uniformity, but rather in love and mutual blessing. These two distinct realities are the Yeshua believers in Israel living as Yeshua’s people in Torah-based Jewish piety, and the Church from among the nations, serving Him in their own contexts, apart from the requirements of Jewish piety. Rather than superseding the Jewish people, the Church instead joins with them as part of the Commonwealth of Israel. Only in this way can the “dividing wall of hostility” – which supersessionism maintains – be removed, with Israel and the Church living in the peace Yeshua established rather than in competitive enmity.

When the ekklesia is understood in this manner, the Jewish people are not merely included—they are foundational.  This is a different gospel than the Church usually preaches.

 The Ecclesiology of the Borg 

Many Christians are uncomfortable with this kind of talk.  This is in large measure because Christian thinking leans toward the Ecclesiology of the Borg.

images-4“The Borg” is that planet-sized entity floating through space which has become part of the Star Trek saga. All who become members of the Borg become cyborgs, part machine, part human. In the process of being incorporated, their individuality is dissolved.  What they once were is of no importance; their origins are immaterial.  All that matters is that they are now part of the Borg, a multi-individual, multi-species organization/organism that functions with maximum efficiency as each part does its work.  It is known as “The Collective” and collective consciousness is the name of the game.  Whenever the Borg encounters a new civilization, the message is beamed out “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to that of our own. Resistance is Futile.” And that is exactly what happens.  Individuality, ethnicity, origins, all are subsumed under the greater good of absorption and full function within the Borg.

You don’t have to read long or hard in Christian theology to discover that the prevailing assumptions about the people of God are more Borg than Bible.  Indeed, the Ecclesiology of the Borg is the prevailing paradigm.

There is no shortage of evidence for the prevalence of the Ecclesiology of the Borg. For example, George Beasley-Murray describes the redeemed community in these terms: “The death of the Lamb of God, coupled with his resurrection, brought to men emancipation from sin’s slavery, that they might become members in the race drawn from all nations, a company of kings and priests to God in the new age.[2]   In his imagining, all of humanity is destined to be subsumed into a new race: ethnicity is no longer significant.  Once you were a Jew, once you were a Swede, once you were a proud Ibo, or Hausa, or Dongo, a Tutsi, a Cubana, a Salvadoreña, once you were a Korean, Japanese, or Chinese.  But none of that is important now.  Now you are a Christian, and that is all that really matters.

Whether this sits well with other ethnic groups, I cannot say,  But these assumptions are most troubling to me as a Jew.  If giving up my identity as part of that people whom God chose for himself, to declare His praise (Isaiah 43:21), that people quarried from the bowels of Abraham our father and the womb of Sarah who bore us (Isaiah 51:2), is the price of redemption in Christ, and if I really believed what most Christian theologizing says about the Jews, I would either have to be a self-hating Jew to embrace Jesus as Messiah, or I would have to renounce faith in him in order to maintain my allegiance to the Jewish people and our holy covenants.  The only way I can be both a Jew and a believer in Jesus is to adopt a hermeneutics of deep suspicion concerning the theological tradition of the West, or what might be called, The Ecclesiology of the Borg.

On the basis of the evidence in Scripture, I imagine many of you agree.

Shalom.


[1] R. Kendall Soulen. “The Grammar of the Christian Story.” The Institute. Volume 10, Autumn 2000. Found on line, December 4, 2006, at http://www.icjs.org/news/vol10/soulenrevised.html

[2] George Raymond Beasley-Murray.  The Book of Revelation.  London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1974:127-128, emphasis added].