Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Distinct Israel

Stuart Dauermann wrote yesterday in his blog an essay that included a list of scriptural verses about how Israel is a people God has made distinct from other peoples, and which God still wants to be a distinct people.

His essay's point is that some cultures can be presented with a "vanilla gospel" that as much as possible lacks cultural context and only speaks about issues such as love, being children of God, and being helped by God's Spirit being allowed to dwell within us -- but the Jewish people cannot be effectively addressed by any gospel that ignores their special scriptural status and role, and their special history of thousands of years of relationship with God.

Harold Kushner makes a related comment in his book To Life! While discussing the Sinai/Moav covenant, he links the concept of being distinct with the concept of being observant:
And what is in it for us, the Jewish people? Our reward will be the sense of God's presence...When the prophets want to threaten the Israelite people with the worst punishment they can imagine, they warn them that God will remove His presence from their midst and turn them back into an ordinary people again...

Not only the second half of Exodus, but the rest of the Bible and virtually everything that has been written about Judaism since biblical times [is] an attempt to answer the question: How do you hold on to the feeling of standing before God at Sinai?...Exodus's answer, Judaism's answer, is that you do it with special deeds and with sacred times and places. Three thousand years of scholarship and history are commentary on that notion.

This is the core of why being a distinct people in God's eyes is a cultural issue. Not only are the Jewish people set apart by God, but they are set apart by God in certain ways that have become a culture of "sacred times and places".

This is why a Messianic Jewish congregation is not -- and cannot be -- simply a church that does Shabbat instead of Sunday, and the Jewish holidays instead of Christmas and Easter. You cannot take a Christian culture and plug into it the Jewish "sacred times and places" and create the cultural dynamic of being "the descendants of Jacob whom God has set apart and been interacting with for thousands of years". (There are some groups that try this! But they tend to have no Jewish members, because the attempt fails so miserably at being anything like an actual Jewish culture.)