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, the 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 merciful.)
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 (blessings) are 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 (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 man's.)
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 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 churches.
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.Marvin Olasky is Editor of WORLD magazine, a TownHall.com member group.
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