Learning from Judaism
9/10/2002 12:00:00 AM - Marvin Olasky
Press accounts of the Jewish High Holy Days that culminate in
Yom Kippur on September 16 generally emphasize quaint customs and
ceremonies. Stories abound concerning shofars,
rams' horns used as trumpets. Reporters who want to get esoteric can write
about the ritual of kaparot,
during which a person
swings a chicken over his head while chanting a prayer for atonement. The
chicken is then slaughtered and given to the poor. (The twirling and killing
signifies that this should happen to the person as well, unless God is
What churchgoers miss in such accounts and could certainly use
is a sense of how much Christians could learn from Judaism. (I write this as
a person who grew up in Judaism but now believes in Christ and edits a
Christian magazine.) I'd start with the rabbinic emphasis on every-hour
thanksgiving as a key to worship. Carrying out the biblical injunction,
"Thank the Lord for His goodness," Jews traditionally have emphasized short
prayers that punctuate the day, with thanks to be offered on hearing news,
eating food, drinking wine, or taking in fragrant smells or violent weather.
Some 100 berakhot
standard. Many Christians have tried to develop the same consistency in
spiritual consciousness -- Stonewall Jackson trained himself to thank God
every time he took a drink of water. That type of emunah (END
ITAL) (faithfulness, steadfastness) is a mark of belief.
In churches we sing about God, "Great Is Your Faithfulness," yet
we sometimes forget that faithfulness is a communicable attribute of God,
which means that those with faith in Him can be expected to show
faithfulness as well. (For example, Psalm 119:86 and Lamentations 3:23 refer
to God's emunah, Exodus 17:12 and Psalm 119:30 to
Christian testimonies have often emphasized conversion and
shorted faithfulness, even though that is the greater test. (Billy Graham
has observed that three of four new converts at his crusades do not stick.)
Rabbis have traditionally and rightly noted that emunah (END
ITAL) is not the faith of a moment but the faith of a lifetime, and that
inevitably shows itself in the way we live.
That bridge is lost when we talk only about the "moment of
decision." A new emphasis on Christian consistency could help to revitalize
Rabbis have also emphasized that this world is important, and
that the satisfactions of marriage, family and lawful entertainment are part
of God's tender mercies. One of Christianity's famous confessions of faith,
the Westminster Confession of the 1640s, asks what man's chief purposes is,
and then states it: "To glorify God and enjoy Him forever." But a Christian
tendency toward otherworldliness has led many to forget that "forever"
begins right now. Enjoying God now is a mark of trust.
This becomes clearer when we really know the Bible -- which
means the Old as well as the New Testament. Christ met with Moses and
Elijah; often Christians do not. Many churches emphasize so much the
preaching and teaching of one-fourth of the Bible, the New Testament, that
the Old Testament's import is minimized. That practice unconsciously mimics
the heresy of Marcion, who argued in A.D. 138 that Christians should not
treat the Old Testament as authoritative, in part because God in the Old
Testament seemed to him too strict in His law-giving and backing of battles.
Marcion was excommunicated in A.D. 144 and his belief declared
heresy, yet that heresy marches on among those who prefer the supposedly
kinder and gentler God of the New Testament.
But God is not divided: Throughout biblical history, He
mercifully offers deliverers, and Christians who cannot identify Jepthah and
Josiah do not fully understand the import of Jesus. At Yom Kippur synagogue
services on Sept. 16, Orthodox Jews will confess sin throughout the day,
striking their chests with their right fists while reading lists of sins.
Christians who don't understand that sense of the seriousness of sin will
also not grasp the need for a Savior.