On Being Christian and Jewish || guest blog by Brian Newman

Pastor Brian Newman has written a thoughtful and personal note about being Christian and Jewish.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Thank you for taking the time (and possibly courage) to ask about how I speak regarding being a Christian and Jewish. Words and language matter, and I do not want to leave people confused.

This answer might be longer than you anticipate, but I hope it is helpful.

I grew up in a secular Jewish family on Long Island. We were observant Jews, but functionally we barely believed in God and had no real faith. We religiously went to synagogue on Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, and celebrated Hannukah and Passover and many of the other holidays. We were steeped in all things Jewish – on a cultural and quasi-religious level. It might compare to liberal Protestantism or some forms of Catholicism on a religious level.

I came to faith in Christ when I was 20 years old in a very NON-Jewish context. In fact, I really did not consider what it meant that I came from a Jewish background and now believed in Jesus; that is, that I am a Christian. I believe this was totally God’s grace that I had sort of divorced myself from my Jewish past at that time.

What this has meant is that I have had very little interaction with the messianic movement in the United States or elsewhere. The messianic movement is Jewish people who have come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ (Y’shua in Hebrew). I respect the messianic movement and messianic congregations, but I have never sensed God calling me to it.

I could explain this in much greater detail. However, I would say two things that I struggle with in regard to the messianic movement:

ONE: Some (not all) messianic congregations stress Jewish identity and practice so that it can feel like a return to the Old Testament Law, at least for the Jewish believer in Jesus. For me, this is exactly what Paul is speaking to in Galatians; that is, that we are no longer under the law due to Christ’s death and resurrection.

TWO: Almost all messianic groups that I know are very, very Pro Israel on all social, political, and cultural matters. I think it can be unhealthy to treat Israel in a blindly favorable manner.

So, I am not messianic in this sense of the word, which is how you might hear it in some circles in the United States.

Now about how I identify myself. I was born Jewish and will die Jewish, in the cultural and ethnic sense of the word, just as someone may have been born Italian or Irish. It has taken me many years of wrestling with God and him bringing healing to my past that I can say that part of my identity is as a Jew. It is NOT my primary identity though; my primary allegiance and identity is as a follower and disciple of Jesus – a Christian.

Once in a while someone will ask, “When did you stop being Jewish and become a Christian?” I don’t see it that way. I’m a Christian (most important BY FAR) and I am from a Jewish background.

What does this mean about how I relate to various people?

First, I love relating to Jewish people, almost all of whom are secular and very far from God. We have common ground around our ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is a starting point for me to talk about how I relate to Jesus and how he has fulfilled ALL of our hopes and desires as Jews. I would love for Jews to relate to Christians in healthy ways, and I would love the Church to be a place where Jewish people are welcomed, shown grace, and become integrated.

I also love relating to Christians, on all sorts of levels of course! Many Christians want to grow in their understanding of the Old Testament and feel that their faith in Christ is not connected to those ancient stories. So I try to connect the dots for Christians through some celebrations that are historically Jewish, such as the Passover and Yom Kippur.

All of the things I do with a Jewish flavor is for one reason and one reason alone – to point people to the person of Jesus Christ. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, for Gentile and Jew alike. Jesus is the Savior of the world and my heart aches for people who have not embraced Jesus.

I hope this is helpful. If you have other questions or would like to chat more, I would love that! We can get a great cup of coffee at the South Side Café soon.

Grace and Peace, in Christ,
Pastor Brian Newman