Leftover carpet from the Holy Land? That’s what some expected to find behind the storefront window prominently labeled Israel’s Remnant.” But neither my father, Avi Brickner, nor my grandfather, Fred Kendal, were carpet dealers. My grandfather founded Israel’s Remnant—a mission to the Jewish people—in Detroit, Michigan in the late 1940s. My father carried on the ministry in the Boston area, where he opened a storefront center in a suburb called Brookline. People may have thought “remnant” referred to a piece of carpet going in, but they heard about the peace of Messiah by the time they left the center. Some discovered the profound significance of “the remnant,” a biblical term too often overlooked today.
Throughout Scripture God deals with two groups of people: “the remnant” and “the rest.” In the Hebrew Scriptures, the word “remnant” usually describes those among the nation of Israel who survived the calamity of God’s judgment or remained faithful to the Lord.
“The remnant” is the minority of the nation, while “the rest” are the majority. The term “remnant” is often used synonymously with “the elect” of God. God set them aside to not only bless them, but to make them His messengers of grace to the rest of the nation. Regardless of the nation’s disobedience to the Lord and the fearsome judgment that resulted, God always saved and set apart a remnant for His purposes.
The Apostle Paul picks up this theme in the New Testament, when he says, “Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5). Paul is referring to Jewish believers in Jesus—Jewish people who received grace and salvation through faith in the Messiah. Paul was part of that remnant. Later in that same chapter Paul points out that God has taken people from among the nations and grafted them into the rich root of the olive tree (Romans 11:17). In other words, God has established a much broader remnant, those who are elect from every tribe and tongue and nation, called to be His people.
Today’s remnant is made up of Jews and Gentiles who are saved and set apart for God’s purposes. Being part of that remnant is a high and holy calling. Yet, for many Christians the word may not mean much more than a piece of leftover carpet.
If we could recover a true theology of the remnant, it would solve what I think boils down to an identity crisis in the church.
Not too long ago many Christians talked about being the “moral majority.” I don’t know what that is. I don’t doubt that it was moral, but it never was the majority. At best we can aspire to be the holy minority. We Christians need to fight our triumphalistic tendencies. We sometimes sing our marching songs and bang our drums and clang our cymbals, yet fail to look behind us and see how few are actually following in our band.
I’m not saying that we are losing the battle. The battle belongs to the Lord, and if He is for us, who can be against us? The danger is when we think we are winning because we are more or mightier than we truly are. Jesus said, “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14—italics supplied).
If we fool ourselves into thinking we are somehow a majority, we lose the benefits that are peculiar to a minority.
So the first thing a theology of the remnant will help us do is grab hold of our minority position. How often do we behave like “the rest” of the world rather than the remnant? How often do we shun the vulnerability of the remnant to seek the acceptance of the rest? Being the remnant means being different from the rest.
My Jewish people have long recognized our minority status throughout the nations in which we’ve been scattered. That awareness has helped us survive and thrive as Jews in those nations. Christians need a similar awareness to maintain the integrity of our identity in a world that is hostile to our faith. The bigger we think we are, the more we expect those who reject Christ to accept us, the smaller our understanding of who we are will be. God uses the few and the weak to glorify Himself. If we insist on being strong as the world understands strength, we will grow weak in spirit. We will become like “the rest.”
Wanting to remain distinct from the rest does not mean we should hold them in contempt. If we love the rest, we will invite them to come join the minority, the remnant of those who are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. The second part of our identity crisis is how we often treat one another. My greatest disappointments and hurts result from bent and broken relationships with other believers in Jesus. This shouldn’t be—-yet I know from other mission leaders and pastors that my experience is not unique.
Somehow, it seems to me that if we truly embraced the reality of the remnant, the fellowship of the saints would grow sweeter. When we recognize that we are a part of God’s remnant, our relationships within the body of Messiah take on new meaning. Rifts come when we allow ourselves to be self-righteous in our assessments of other believers—when we don’t realize that we are inextricably linked as part of the same minority. If we all recognized how few we are, and that all of us are weak and “in process,” perhaps we would not say the hurtful things that seem to tear our relationships apart. Perhaps we would not keep a tally of the wrongs against us, or seek to elevate ourselves before some members of the body by putting down others.
What if we could all see ourselves as a small band, interdependent upon one another in Christ? Wouldn’t all those things that so often divide us pale and grow insignificant in the light of what God has given us in one another? Arguments that seem to loom so large are indeed petty and unimportant in light of the unity for which Jesus so fervently prayed in John 17.
Finally, much of the church seems to suffer from amnesia when it comes to proclaiming Christ to the unsaved. When we recognize the high privilege and holy calling of the remnant we will recover the proper place of missions and evangelism in the church.
The church today often fails to meet the evangelistic obligation to be salt and light in the world, because she would rather be an insider than an intruder. Salt intrudes to add its flavor. Light intrudes the darkness to show forth the truth. We naturally desire to appeal to the sensibilities of the culture of “the rest.” But when you realize you are the remnant, you stop trying to be popular and you accept the responsibility of being prophetic. Rather than catering to the majority, you become sensitized to the One: the Holy Spirit, and His leading. Prophets were often disliked, but they remained distinctly God’s…and people heard them. Accepting the prophetic responsibility of the remnant can help us to bear the reproach of Christ as a badge of honor. It will bring about a new vigor and zeal, a passion for the lost that many of our churches today are praying to receive, while others, sadly, do not even realize it’s missing.
Like the Apostle Paul, I am grateful to be a part of Israel’s remnant, those physical descendants of Abraham who love and follow Yeshua (Jesus). But I am also glad that God has called each one of us who name the name of Jesus to be part of His remnant, elect from every tribe and tongue and nation.
Every day we have a choice: to behave as befits the remnant, or simply fit in with the rest. A day is coming when “…the LORD of hosts will be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the remnant of His people” (Isaiah 28:5). May we embrace this high and holy calling, and “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).