These words were spoken as a mild rebuke by a pastor friend some years ago. Since that time, I have not spoken of Christians from the nations as non-Jews.

What was his point? He explained. "My identity is a positive one, made up of ethnic roots, biblical roots and American influences. I am not a 'non' something but a positive something." So why do Messianic Jews and Gentiles continue to use the term non-Jew? It is because they have been told by some Gentiles that they are offended by being called Gentiles. They consider the word to mean pagan. Despite this, I would like to issue a plea that we continue to use the word "Gentile."

Gentile Can be a Positive Word

The Bible itself uses the term Gentile as a positive word in the most important passage dealing with the relationship of Jew and Gentile in the Messiah. Paul says to fellow believers, "I am talking to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles." He then explains the awesome priestly role of Gentile believers to make Jews jealous. This means that Jews would desire the reality of life in the Messiah that they see among the Gentile Yeshua/believers. This should be coupled with the Acts 15 decision that relieves Gentiles from responsibility of living a Jewish lifestyle according to the whole Torah. In context, the meaning of the word "Gentiles" is simply those from the nations or from the different ethnic groups that populate the world.

Ethnic Identity is Significant to God

This leads to an important question. Is it important and significant to be part of a nation or ethnic identity other than Jewish identity? In the past, the idea of homogenized Christianity dominated the West. Yet even so, historic churches maintain ethnic rite churches with special practices and liturgies. There are many other more recent varieties of ethnic churches. In Acts 17:26 we read, "From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places that they should live." In Revelation 21, we read that the "nations will walk by its light (the New Jerusalem) and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it." In this picture, nations are still in existence in the everlasting age. Every nation, tribe and people are represented as being before the throne in Revelation 7. Indeed, the promise to Abraham is that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed, not eliminated and homogenized. Israel is elect for the sake of the nations.

Thoughts like these have led our friend John Dawson, president of Youth with a Mission, to teach that God is seeking to redeem cultures. Each has special beauties, insights and distinctives. This is part of the richness of the human family. R. Kendall Soulen, in his monumental book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, argues that the distinction of Jew and Gentile is paradigmatic. It opens to us the truth that distinction in unity is willed by God. This is reflected in the variety of nations.

Further reflection will prove to any objective thinker that ethnic and national identities form part of the identity of individuals. We need to think less individualistically, as important as the individual is, and recognize that there can be no personality without dimensions of ethnicity, which include language and cultural ways of being. In the Genesis creation account God shows that He loves variety. He creates persons, no two of whom are the same. As part of this, He creates corporate ethnic identities. Every language has its unique angle on reality. Every culture produces its unique art and so much more. Eugene Nida, the dean of Bible translation, says that every language adds enriching perspectives for understanding Biblical truth.

Ethnic Expressions of Biblical Faith are Enriching

Biblical faith, when allowed to develop naturally, is creatively expressed in many cultural varieties. How exciting to appreciate these varieties! The great liturgy of the historic churches is wonderful in depth and beauty. It powerfully puts forth the meaning of the sacrifice of Yeshua and the meaning of our participation in the Messiah's communion. The great European expressions of faith in choral music including Gregorian chants, the classical pieces of Bach, and later Romantic era compositions are special beyond words. They are not specifically and culturally Jewish, but in biblical content and depth they are unparalleled. Who could deny that there are wonderful expressions of faith in the soul music and rhythm of American Black churches? In Africa, some native compositions are wonderful and deeply moving. We also enjoy contemporary worship styles that reflect today's rhythms and instrumentation. In visits to Korea and Japan we took note that they sang western songs in Korean and Japanese. Some universal expression is good. However, their own written material, especially with Japanese and Korean musical qualities, had special anointing. Jewish worship in a New Covenant context is wonderfully enriching too. However, it is not the only worthy expression.

Gentile Calling to Messianic Congregations

Some Gentiles have joined Messianic Jewish groups because they think Messianic Judaism is the ideal form of the Body of Believers. It is good that Gentiles understand the Bible in its original Jewish context. That they would enjoy the Feasts and even Jewish cultural practices is also good. Indeed, this is not a new phenomenon but is well documented even in the first century. God-fearers adopted Jewish cultural practices.

However,the reason for participation in Messianic congregations by Gentiles is not that this is the ideal against which other expressions are lesser. A person who is ignorant of the richness of Christian expressions and practices is likely to unfairly and negatively judge the churches. Some church practices are more rooted in Jewish biblical meanings than many perceive. This includes church furnishings and the liturgy itself. (There are things to be corrected in the churches, but in Judaism as well.) It is important that we bring balance in understanding to Messianic Congregations. We need to teach on the value of the worthy and creative practices of the churches that are in accord with the Spirit of the Bible. It is important for Gentiles to appreciate their own parentage and ethnic heritage where it is good. This especially includes ancestry connected to Christianity. This will help Gentiles to connect to Messianic Congregations as a matter of special calling to our people instead of being motivated by the arrogance of thinking that Messianic Judaism is the superior form of New Covenant faith which should replace other forms of Christianity. (A new replacement theology in reverse?) We in Messianic Congregations have an important roots perspective to contribute.

Jew and Gentile in the Messiah should first emphasize their unity as created in the image of God and born again through Yeshua, having a new heart or spirit. We are together his Bride. This is our deep unity of identity in the Messiah. This will prevent the wrong kind of ethnic pride while enabling humble thanksgiving for the grace of God given to every distinct culture. The enriching variety of Jew and Gentile and multiple ethnicities will forever fascinate us in God's eternal ages. "Gentile" is shorthand for those from the nations. It includes Russian, Chinese, Korean, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Zulu, Mayan, Indian, Assyrian, and so on! My friend was right. He is not a non-Jew, but a distinctive personality who is part of an ethnicity uniquely valued by God.

By Daniel Juster


Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

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Comments:
12:45 07Dec05 Sharon M Yount -
I understand about being a different nationalty: I am Polish by birth and adopted and I have no clue who my natural mom and dad are. My heart spiritualy is drawn to my new spiritual church family who are Jewish, that where Hashem has taken me deeper - how can I put this - I care about my new family because when I pray at night I see their faces and I pray for all of them. It's time for that ingathering of Jew and Gentile, that coming together as the bride to be ready. We can learn one from another. In my heart I pray that all religious walls come down. Why? When I was growing up in Detroit, Michigan, I never understood why people made fun of me, I wasn't sure if it was because I was Polish and a only child, one aunt called me a streetwalker because I was adopted and my mom and dad were not married - they were only 16 at that time. That's how I can relate to the Jewish people and how the world rejected or made fun etc. It's time to show the love of Yeshua to the hurting body of Messiah.

12:57 07Dec05 Cheryl Lacy -
Interesting perspective

15:18 07Dec05 Rena -
Thank you for this article. I have several friends who no longer go to church because they consider it an anti-Jewish place. They seem to want to be Jewish.

15:36 07Dec05 Diane Whitlock -
This is a very excellent article written with the understanding of Father God's heart. I remember discussing(quite vigorously)this great mystery, which to some is and to those who have the revelation - not so mysterious beauty of the Bride of Christ, with some precious S. Babtists who had replacement theology thinking. Again,my thanks -shalom and blessings to all!

16:03 07Dec05 Donna Diorio -
Good for Dan for pointing out the potential offensive that using the term "non-Jew" can convey to Christians. Our identity is an important issue but we seem to veer from one extreme to the other regarding these identity issues.
As far as Christian offense over the term "Gentile," it is because we suspect we are being "dissed" as 'the heathen.' Dan is right that the term "Gentile" is a scriptural term, but if most Christians suspect they are being dissed when referred to as "gentiles/goyim" then why not just call us "Christians," a term that is not at all offensive to us?
As someone who has been a member of a Messianic congregation for over a decade, I have always resisted identifying myself or being identified as a "Messianic Gentile." My identity as a Christian did not change when I followed God's leading into a stronger support of my Jewish brothers and sisters in the Lord by connection with the Messianic community. I am a Christian devoted to the Messianic Jewish community.
When these identity issues get resolved according to revelation that the apostle Shaul taught--of two being made one in Messiah, like husbands and wives are made one in marriage (that is, without either losing their distinctive identities or callings), then we will no longer be swinging from one extreme to the other. We will be settled at last in the center of God's will.

16:06 07Dec05 anonymous -
Thanks so much for this article!! I was getting into replacement theology in reverse, thinking only the Messianic congregations were "it". Thanks for straightening me outand that yes, nations will be before the throne of God.

16:44 07Dec05 Howard Jones -
Where can I obtain a map of the land God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in relation to the land possessed to day by other nations?

12:33 08Dec05 Patrizia Cannavacciuolo -
Dear Brothers, my heart overflows with joy in reading your articles. Every time you take the name of our Messiah, Yeshua, my spirit leaps inside me and I gratefully glorify the Lord for the wonderful work He's fulfilling in His Land. I sincerely believe that His blessing is over you, His love is over you, His grace is over you! Thank you for sharing your beatiful faith with us. We sincerely love all of you and your Land and we hope to be able, some day, to meet you and join with you to be a part of "the amazing things are happening in the Land of Israel". Shalom b'Shem Yeshua HaMashiach

03:32 09Dec05 Gillian Thirkell -
Thankyou so much for this teaching it is so important to grasp hold of. The Lord has been teaching me much about worshipping Him through our individual cultural expression, He did make us all different and I love to hear this expressed in worship. We have come so far and yet have so far to go. Let us be who He made us to be and to be able to be together and accept who each one of us is and celebrate it, not to judge because we may express our worship in a different way than the other person.

11:21 13Dec05 Maureen Grupper -
When I was 5 years old(1947),and as Irish-Catholic as could be, God gave me a heart for Jews as I watched their troubles on our new invention - a tv set. That love has grown and now I have been married to a Jew since 1972. He always kids me about being Irish. He says I am his Jewish riblet, because I was made from his missing rib. I have a deep love for Israel, for the Word, for Messiah Yeshua. I believe that it is Jewish blood pumping thru my heart. I got that transfusion at the foot of Calvary. I am no longer goyim, an alien outsider without hope. By the grace of G-d I am accepted, called, beloved, redeemed. By faith, by divine grace, I accept this gift of wonder and light daily.

19:45 15Dec05 Andre Tavares -
Thanks R. Dan for this excellent article. I have thought about this issue, and have taken conversations with some friends that are "non-Jewish". Most of them belong to Reformed churches. They read Kuyper, Dooyeweerd, Lewis, Lloyd-Jones... well, they know very well the Protestant heritage. And it is deep, rich and to speak about this requires respect. Whether Jews want respect for their cultural expressions, it begins respecting the others. I don't know, but someone can feel bad with this designation. It's complicated. Most Christians think that the Jew self-affirmation is a kind of depreciation of theirs... It is necessary to think and practice treatments that assure the affirmation of both. It is possible.

11:03 18Dec05 Igor Miguel -
In your - great - article has a error of reference, you cited "Acts 14:26" when it must be "Acts 17:26". I'm translating it to Portuguese: in Brazil the Messianic movement need a lot of an explanation about "gentiles" expression and its theological implications. Very great article! Congratulations! Igor Miguel - Teaching From Zion Ministry - Brasil

11:37 18Dec05 Ephraim -
Yes, This so true! All is true. The implications and ramifications are exhaustive. For, example in the New Jerusalem, Jesus Christ will be Jewish. Nation of Israel will Still be Jewish! And the Apostles will sit and rule with Christ the 12 tribe of Israel: Matthew 19:27-28! Ethnicity is never lost! In Heaven Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles. They are united and kept together in Christ Jesus our Lord as one Big Galaxy with deferrent planet united to glorify God the Father for ever and ever, Amen!

13:57 23Dec05 Pedro -
As far as I can tell, there is no reference to Gentiles in the New Testament that does not refer to a people group that is outside the covenant family of God. This is why Paul was sent to them, to bring the good news that they had been received into the family through the Messiah. After coming to faith, they become a part of Israel, grafted in to the root with a new ethnic identity in harmony with the people of God.

10:32 29Dec05 Dina Grant -
By word of mouth I learned I am of Irish-Jewish descent, and for years I coveted that part of my multi-national heritage above all, having succumbed to the concept that to be a fully recognized Jew was Tops! Your article "I Am Not a Non-Jew" has set me wonderfully free from that bias, and I am happy to know that my Irish-Scottish-British ethnic roots are just as valuable in God's sight and have a special purpose. I love Israel, too, and have done a study out of Scripture on God's purpose in order to refute my church's Replacement Theology stand (I am Reformed Presbyterian by denomination, very Calvinist). I don't expect results, but my voice is heard. Your article Nov. 2005 on this subject "How Can We Agree on the Place of Israel?" has much added to my understanding. Also there is a great article on this in Friends of Israel's Nov/Dec 2005 magazine Israel My Glory. What a fight we have when even some strong Christians are against us! Shalom, dear sir! I do not have E-mail and am using a Library computer.

15:45 28Mar06 Tom -
Why does Paul address the believers in Ephesus as "formerly gentiles?" Is not the main emphasis in the New Testament on the "New Creation?"