QUESTION: How do you deal with a Jewish person’s fear of loss of ethnic identity in becoming a Christian? Someone in our church just led a Jewish woman to Christ. Although she is now a Christian, she says, I want to keep my Jewish culture and tradition.” What should we say to her?
ANSWER: First you must understand that there is a difference between Christianity, which is one faith, and the variety of ethnic cultures within the body of Christ. Believers often express their faith in various ways according to background and culture, and this is not wrong.
Some elements of Jewish culture, however, do contain a religious dimension. In such a case, if a new Jewish believer chose to practice certain aspects of the rabbinic religion which diminish obedience to Christ and clear New Testament teaching, that would be wrong. Nevertheless, most of the Jewish cultural observances and celebrations are neutral, and some of the Jewish elements of worship can even enhance Christian forms of worship.
Unfortunately, some in the Church who are not familiar with Jewish culture easily misunderstand and respond negatively to the idea of Jewish believers retaining their Jewish heritage. Sadder still, some Christians have even gone so far as to accuse us of heresy if we want to do this.
As Jews for Jesus, we maintain that being a committed believer in Jesus and participating in one’s Jewish heritage, culture and traditions are not mutually exclusive. Otherwise, Peter, Paul, James, John and all the Jewish disciples of Jesus would have been guilty of error.
We advise our fellow Jews that they can remain as “Jewish” as they like as to their form of worship or enjoyment of Jewish holidays and culture, so long as their practices and intentions do not negate the New Testament teaching of grace or diminish the meaning of Calvary.
If God made us Jews by birth, why should we relinquish our Jewishness after coming to faith in Christ? It is sad enough that the Jewish community ostracizes Jewish believers and regards them as no longer being Jewish. For this very reason, Jewish believers need encouragement from fellow Christians to keep on being Jewish. Jewish believers whose personhood and walk of faith are enriched by preservation of their Jewish customs and culture have valuable insights to give to their Gentile Christian friends about the Jewish background of the Christian faith.
The Christian community would do well to encourage Jewish believers to maintain their heritage. In so doing, the Church at large will itself be enriched. The new Jewish believers will enjoy their ethnic identity, as well as their new identity in Christ, and through them the Gentile believers will gain a better understanding of the life and times of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.