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A Difficult Conversation

by Tim O'Hearn

I was following a thread on Facebook about a young Jewish man who had recently come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah. Like many young people in the faith, he was having second thoughts. One of those working with him commented that “he is having a difficult time believing Judaism is false.” My immediate reaction was, no wonder the young man is having second thoughts. Such an attitude has driven away many new converts.

There are times, perhaps, that someone needs to hear that they are wrong. There are times to point out those areas in which they or their parents have strayed from the Way of God. Generally, though, when a person is in the “buyer’s remorse” period is not a good time for such things. If there is a time to beat someone up with their wrongness, it is between the initial trust-building stage and the I-believe stage. Better yet, it may come in the “now that you are established in your faith, let’s study in more depth” period of his walk with God. In Acts 8, a man named Philip met up with a believer in Judaism, who happened to be reading his Bible. As they went along, Philip taught this person about Jesus. He did not say, “Judaism is false. Believe in Jesus.” (Perhaps this was because Philip was himself Jewish, and a believer.) Rather, the scripture says he began at that point and taught about Jesus. He took this individual from prepared-to-believe to baptism, apparently without ever accusing him of believing a lie. Back in the 1950’s the Church of Christ was infamous for believing they were right and everyone else was wrong. I believe the church suffered greatly from that attitude. The ones that succeeded in converting others were the ones who would take them beginning where they were and build on commonalities, not differences.

There is a real danger in calling Judaism “false” outright. It is true that most Jews (speaking religiously not ethnically) do not believe Jesus is Messiah. It is further true, as was pointed out in the conversation to which I first referred, that Judaism today is different than what was practiced in the first century. However, allowing for differences because of the destruction of the Temple, it is not significantly different. Furthermore, Christianity is nothing without its Jewish foundations. (Read Romans 9-11) To call Judaism false is to say that our faith is based on a falsehood. I don’t believe this; nor, I suspect, does the one who said it.

The truth is that for over ten years it was not even suspected that one could not be both Jewish and Christian. Even when the question came up (in Acts 15) about whether gentiles should become Jews to become Christians, it was never debated whether or not a Jew could remain so and still be a believer. In fact, many years later Paul would found his defense in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome on the fact that he remained true to the hope of the Jewish people. Late in his preaching career he maintained that he was still a Pharisee. (Acts 23:6)

Some incorrectly maintain that Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to keep Christians from going “back into” Judaism. Most of the Galatian Christians, though, had never been Jewish. Paul’s whole argument in the book is that those who never were under the Law should not be made to rely on the Law. He does not address those who had been under the Law, except to say that their reliance should be on the Messiah rather than keeping the Law perfectly. Mostly he teaches those who were gentiles that they did not have to become keepers of a law to which they had never been subject in order to be saved. When Paul told the Colossians, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath,” (Col 2:16) that cut both ways. Jewish Christians were not to judge gentiles who did not keep sabbath, and gentiles were not to judge the Jewish Christians who did.

Better it would be to teach this young man that he can live as he has been living, with the difference that he now knows the Messiah he had hoped for. He can keep kosher if he so chooses. He can pray as he has been. As time goes on he may want to change some things. We who are gentiles have no monopoly on the gospel. When we act like we do we drive away those Jews who are sharers in that gospel.