With some interest, I recently watched the short clip from Michael Brown about, “Are Gentile Christians Spiritual Jews?” Far too frequently in theological discussion, the statements of Romans 2:28-29 are read from a supersessionist vantage point—where non-Jewish, Christian people, as “spiritual Jews,” are considered part of “the Church” construed as the “New Israel.” Yet at the same time, even among those in our Messianic movement, are those who would conclude that non-Jewish Believers in Israel Messiah are to be regarded as not just “are fellow citizens with the holy ones, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19, PME) within the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), but should be regarded as spiritual Jews.
You can technically affirm a non-Jewish Believer in Israel’s Messiah as a “spiritual Jew,” without holding to replacement theology. Yet, given some of the complexities of Paul’s letter to the Romans, does Romans 2:28-29 speak to non-Jewish Believers being “spiritual Jews”—or does it instead speak to how a Jewish Believer in Yeshua, may truly be regarded as Jewish, precisely because of a circumcised heart resultant of Messiah faith? Many people in today’s Messianic Jewish movement would regard Jewish Believers in Yeshua as Completed Jews.
There are parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans, addressed to the Jewish Believers in Rome, and other parts addressed to the Greek and Roman Believers, and yet other parts addressed to all of the Believers. This is where I think that Romans 2:28-29 is addressed to the Jewish Believers in Rome. Brown is correct to conclude that Romans 2:28-29, especially when read without chapter breaks through the opening of Romans 3, is limited to ethnic Jewish people.
In my publication Are Non-Jewish Believers Really a Part of Israel? (2013), I explore some of today’s debates over ecclesiology in the Messianic movement. It does affirm that non-Jewish Believers are grafted-in (Romans 11:16-17) to Israel’s olive tree, and are co-members with Jewish Believers in the Commonwealth of Israel. But it also affirms that this needs to be approached very carefully, particularly with the need for non-Jewish Believers to be ever mindful of being vessels of God’s grace and mercy to their Jewish neighbors (Romans 11:31)!
The composition of the people of God, as broad and deep as this sector of theology is, is a definite place where some important, imperative, and critical thinking and reflection are surely needed by today’s Messianic Believers. Ecclesiology is not an area of theology that enough Messiah followers adequately understand or appreciate the importance of. To far too many, it is just a big word without a great deal of significance. Yet, given what many of today’s Messianic Believers, Jewish and non-Jewish, are convicted of, have read in Scripture, and have had the witness of the Holy Spirit regarding the likely future of the still-emerging and still-developing Messianic movement, ecclesiology is something very important.
Ecclesiology widely affects a person’s eschatology, or approach to end-time events that are supposed to occur prior to and subsequent to the Messiah’s return. For today’s Messianic movement, ecclesiology affects how Jewish and non-Jewish Believers read the Bible, and the instructions that God wants us to follow. Ecclesiology undeniably affects the unity of Jewish Believers and Believers from the nations as one in the Body of Messiah.
What does this mean in terms of the ekklēsia? Is the ekklēsia an actual separate entity known as “the Church”? Or, is ekklēsia no different than the assembly of Israel itself—which takes Bible readers back to the mixed multitude of physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the welcomed persons from the nations, who received His Ten Words and Instruction at the base of Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 12:38)? Did Yeshua the Messiah come to found a separate group of elect called “the Church,” or did He come to rebuild and restore His Father’s assembly of righteous ones (cf. Matthew 16:18; Jeremiah 33:7, LXX), restoring the Kingdom to Israel (cf. Acts 1:6)?
Regardless of where you stand on Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in the Kingdom of God, a wide range of changes are approaching our Messianic faith community—which are going to leave a demonstrable impact on all of us, as we approach the final stages of time before the Messiah’s return. The basic choices of ecclesiology we have are stark: either God (1) has two groups of elect, or sub-peoples: Israel and “the Church”; or God (2) recognizes us all as a part of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel. How are we to approach non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement, and things like the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), or being grafted-in (Romans 11:16-18)? Will the Messianic movement emerge into something that tends to be exclusive or inclusive? There is much that we need to be considering from the text of Scripture, and what many have said and are likely to say, as we evaluate what our future beholds.
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