Church decline related to severing Jewish roots
by Charles Gardner
An interesting thought that has probably not occurred to many (including myself, until now) is that since the Jewish state was born in 1948, the church (in Britain, at least) has witnessed serious decline.
Israel has blossomed into a great and influential nation while church growth has generally come to a staggering halt – certainly among the long-established denominations.
I believe the most significant factor behind this is the largescale severing of links with the Jewish roots of our faith. And I shall explain what I mean in due course.
David Robertson, a leading writer and preacher now based in Sydney, Australia, has lamented the decline of his own Church of Scotland in the September issue of Evangelicals Now, a UK publication, following a visit to his home country this summer. He said it had “fallen off a cliff edge” and that managing this decline was its only growing ministry.
In a damning indictment of its leadership, he writes: “…As Scottish society regresses back to a pre-Christian Greco/Roman paganism, the Church sets up a committee for ‘theological reflection’ and then a few years later meekly follows wherever the culture leads.”
Even evangelicals had failed to seriously challenge “the cancer of progressive theology” eating up the church, he wrote.
I greatly appreciate what he had to say and it particularly grieves me too because of the debt my family owe to Scottish missionaries who came out to South Africa to help shepherd my Dutch-Afrikaner ancestors scattered to the interior by overbearing British rule in Cape Town.
When my orphaned great-grandfather, also Charles, was left alone with his siblings after the untimely death of their father journeying through the veldt, the family were saved from extinction by passing Christians. Charles was brought up in the expansive Dutch Reformed Church parsonage of Rev Andrew Murray Snr, a revivalist and father of world-renowned devotional writer Andrew Murray Jnr.
I agree with David’s three suggestions contributing to the Kirk’s decline – departure from her biblical foundations, lack of realism and evangelical weakness – but I would add a fourth, which relates to the first. Has she too (like her English counterparts) severed her Hebraic roots to the point where Israel and the Jewish people are no longer seen as on God’s agenda? For this is a serious heresy for which many of us need to repent.
God told Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) The second part of this verse is frequently used to explain how the nations have been blessed by the gospel, whereas all too often the first part is ignored. And it plainly states that our relationship with Israel is a matter of life or death.
Robert Murray McCheyne, who I believe once led the Dundee church with which Rev Robertson was linked, discovered the truth of this Scripture way back in the 1830s. He and fellow Scot Andrew Bonar encouraged evangelisation of the Jews and both led missions to Palestine and Jewish communities in Europe. So when a revival broke out in his local parish of Kilsyth, McCheyne took this as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham. Divine favour was on them because they honoured the Jews, the apple of God’s eye. Like many post-Puritan evangelicals, they believed that the salvation of the Jews leads to the restoration of the church.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds the Gentiles of the mixed congregation there: “You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18) He explains that we Gentiles have been grafted into the natural source (i.e. the olive tree representing Israel) and we “now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root” (verse 17).
The implication is clear, that if we cut ourselves off from the Hebraic roots of our faith, as even the Church Fathers who succeeded the Apostles managed to do, we would soon wither and perish and be nothing more than a dead tree.
Witness the millennia of Jewish persecution (often associated with the church) that followed this badly distorted theology. We must surely repent, restore and rebuild our connection with the Jewish people, along with our love and support for them.
We owe them a debt that can perhaps never be fully repaid. But sharing the gospel with those who first brought it to us would be a good start. For, as Paul also said, the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16)
For all his severity, David Robertson ended the aforementioned article on a bright note: “The Church of Scotland may be dying, but the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church of Christ.”
So I will do likewise. In the same edition of Evangelicals Now, it is reported that the President of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, has directly requested that the immensely popular TV series The Chosen be shown to his people in their own language, and the process has already started on national television.
Significantly, I believe, it’s an historical drama based on the life of Jesus very purposefully set in the context of first century Judaism in the land of Israel.