I was having a conversation with a man the other day who was Roman Catholic. He was interested in our ministry and in his words, “I’ve got 12 years of Catholic education, but I’ve never heard of anything like Lutherans witnessing to Jewish people about Jesus!” As we further discussed our ministry, what he was really getting at was that he didn’t know that Jews could believe in Jesus. And believe it or not, I get that response often, certainly from Jewish people, but also from many in the Church.
We have had a number of visitors to our congregation this summer. One such couple was traveling through St. Louis on vacation and came to worship here because they were curious. We get that response a lot too! Our LCMS website (LCMS.org) is a wonderful resource for traveling Lutherans who want to worship while on vacation, and though there are many Lutheran churches in St. Louis, there is only one like ours. Very often, our Synodical Cross logo with the Star of David on it causes many to wonder, and while I have said that I trade on cognitive dissonance, I truly had hoped that such dissonance would occur in unbelievers and especially Jewish people, prompting questions that might lead to sharing the Gospel. When I designed our Cross logo, I never dreamed that such dissonance would occur in the Church. And even our LIJE logo, the fish and menorah, while a little more subtle than our cross, causes many in the Church to think “Huh?”
I think the root of such dissonance is that most in the Church have not embraced their Jewish roots and taught that the most Jewish thing you can do is believe in Jesus. We perpetuate the notion that there is a separation between Jews and Christians, and ne’er the twain shall meet. It is sad. I have two Jewish friends who have struggled with believing in Jesus, not because of Jesus, but because of their church. One grew up in an orthodox home in NYC, and has “converted” twice, having been lead back to Judaism in the interim. Another grew up in a reform home in NYC, moved to California, has been baptized, but is now a secular Jew who proudly proclaims that he has tried it and it has failed (“it” meaning being a Christian). I was reading an article recently in HaAretz, an Israeli newspaper. The article was about Jews in Italy rediscovering their roots after having converted during the Spanish Inquisition. The article quotes a Catholic priest who, upon discovering his Jewish roots, left the priesthood, converted to Judaism and became a Reform rabbi. He said, “at a certain point I just knew that I wanted to be called to the Torah.” I don’t understand that draw, trading eternity for community, other than this terrible distinction that continues in and out of some churches, that you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus. I guess we have a lot of work to do still! May God the Holy Spirit go before us.