Question [greatly condensed]: Although your December 1997 article was sound, one sentence had a faint anti-Semitic flavor that I felt was unnecessary: “The Galatian problem remains (in varying degrees) within some so-called Hebrew-Christian or Messianic congregations today.” You accept your saved brethren in all churches; why are we “so-called”...? I do not have any opposition to your suggestion that there is a Galatian problem. ...[but] are you closing the door to accepting us because of some congregations who go overboard in their zeal to be so Jewish that they can reach their families and community with an acceptable Jewish gospel...? Do Chinese stop using chopsticks because they accept Jesus, or Asians stop cooking curry? Why can’t you allow us to follow the calling and heritage of our ancestors as with other ethnic minorities...? Are you my brother [in the Lord] or just another harsh, unaccepting sibling who won’t even listen to me?
Response: I almost wept when I read your letter, not only because of your own pain which it expressed but because you had so completely misunderstood me. I have a deep love for Israel and for Jewish people and have been involved in seeking to introduce Jews and Israelis to their Messiah for many years—and with some success. The suggestion that I might be even slightly anti-Semitic and unwilling to accept Jewish believers in our Lord Jesus as brethren in Christ is the opposite of the truth and most distressing.
Perhaps the adjective “so-called” was badly chosen on my part. I meant no offense, merely to suggest that “Hebrew-Christian” is neither a biblical expression nor accurately descriptive. Doesn’t it imply that Hebrew-Christians are different from just plain Christians? Why not French-Christians, Swiss-Christians, etc.? The term “Messianic congregation” again seems an improper designation. Don’t all Christians believe in the same Messiah? Isn’t the Messiah of Israel the Savior of the world? That was all I meant. I made no blanket judgment of such groups; in fact, I often speak to and fellowship with them and have never expressed disapproval of such designations. Unfortunately, because we are determined to keep The Berean Call to a readable size, limited space prevented me from explaining myself as well as I should have.
Of course, your analogy of chopsticks for Chinese and curry for Asians doesn’t fit because neither has any religious meaning. But I don’t deny to Jewish believers in Jesus the keeping of religious feasts. I appreciate your desire to retain your Jewish customs not only because it helps to maintain contact with Jewish friends and relatives who accuse you of no longer being Jewish and of even becoming anti-Jewish, but because these customs have a deep meaning for you. Paul did the same. My concern is for the tendency of Gentiles to adopt these things. For them, they could have no such meaning, and therefore they become a religious connection between Jews and Gentiles, whereas we are united only in Christ, as Paul makes abundantly clear in Ephesians 2. Keeping the passover is meaningless for Gentiles.
I had no specific congregation or congregations in mind but was speaking generally. The concerns I expressed were for 1) the false assumption among some such groups that the practice of Jewish customs adds a helpful element to Christianity; 2) the unbiblical adoption of Jewish customs and feasts by Gentile believers as though that makes them more spiritual; and 3) the well-meaning but improper attempts to teach the gospel from extrabiblical traditions such as the Seder. It could hardly be helpful to find certain parts of Jewish tradition which seem to support the gospel when so much contradicts it. I believe we must stick to the Bible.