As you are doubtless aware, the reason England is currently a protestant country is primarily because King Henry VIII was miffed (one might go so far as to say “peeved”) by the Roman Catholic Church in 1532 (see also England Raises Security Level from Miffed to Peeved). Interestingly enough, since Henry’s motives were political in nature and not motivated by religious differences, many of the doctrines and customs of the resulting Church of England (colloquially referred to as the “C of E”) are similar to those of the Catholic Church.
In a liturgical context, the C of E is what some would call “High Church” with regard to using a number of ritual practices associated in the popular mind with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. When attending services at Holy Trinity (our local C of E establishment) as a boy scout, for example, I remember being enraptured by the awesome sound of the pipe organ (reminiscent of the instrument in Cathedral Pictures by Animusic) whilst watching the head Vicar and his cohorts festooned with robes and ribbons ambling down the central aisle preceded by a gaggle of altar boys flaunting candles and pendants and suchlike, one of whom was wielding a thurible on the end of a chain with manic glee and reckless abandon.
“Well, you don’t see that every day,” I remember thinking to myself as I ducked under the whirling thurible on my first visit to that well-appointed basilica. This was because I was raised as a Wesleyan Methodist, and John Wesley (1703-1791) was not known as being a big fan of pomp and circumstance. As a result, we Wesleyan Methodists tend to be a humble bunch (we pride ourselves on our humility — you’d have to travel a long way to find a group of people humbler than us).
But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about…
At the time of this writing, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world. Of these, around 1.2 billion march under the Roman Catholic banner.
Meanwhile, there are about 1.9 billion followers of Islam (a.k.a. Muslims), of which the largest denomination is Sunni, the second largest is Shia, and there are several smaller sects. Also, there are approximately 1.2 billion Hindus, 500 million Buddhist, and smaller numbers of adherents to other beliefs.
How many people of the Jewish faith would you guess there are in the world? Considering the amount of anti-Semitism that has festered throughout history, you might be tempted to be overly enthusiastic in your estimation. In reality, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, there are currently only around 15 million Jews scattered across the globe. To put this another way, Jewish people represent only around 0.2% of the world’s population. Based on this, I simply cannot wrap my brain around why hostility and prejudice against them is so rife.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about…
As I pen these words, there are 350,000 Messianic Jews in the world, give or take. These are people who were brought up in the Jewish tradition, but who also believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and New Testament are the authoritative Scriptures, and that salvation can be achieved only through acceptance of Jesus as one’s savior.
The way I think of things, a Messianic church is one whose congregation is formed from a mixture of Messianic Jews and folks who were brought up in one of the factions of the regular Christian faith.
In Hebrew, Messianic Jews refer to themselves as maaminim (“believers”), not converts, and yehudim (“Jews”), not notzrim (“Christians”). Unfortunately, Jewish theology rejects the idea that the Messiah, or any human being, is a divinity, and belief in the Trinity is considered idolatrous by most rabbinic authorities.
So, what we have here is 15 million Jews scattered around the world with an unfortunately large number of the rest of the world’s population casting slanders, slights, slurs, calumnies, and aspersions. Of these 15 million, around 350,000 class themselves as Messianic, thereby opening themselves up to ridicule and derision by the other 14,650,000.
Taking all of the above into account, would you care to hazard a guess as to which type of congregation I currently count myself as a member?
The funny thing is that I’m not actually a believer in spiritual matters. Having said this, my Rabbi says that he prefers to think of me as a “pre-believer.” And, on the bright side of things, being a member of a Messianic congregation does mean that I can drop things like, “My Rabbi says…” into the conversation.
Best of all, I get to celebrate a lot of holidays. In addition to Christmas, Easter, and New Year’s Eve, there’s Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights), Purim (the Festival of Lots), and Pesach (Passover), to name but a few.
In the Bible, Passover marks the Exodus of the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery, when God “passed over” the houses of the Israelites during the last of the ten plagues. As fate would have it, Passover 2021 begins tomorrow in the evening of Saturday, 27 March, ending in the evening of Sunday, 4 April. The Passover Seder is a ritual feast that marks the beginning of the holiday, and the Haggadah — which includes a narrative of the Exodus — is the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of Passover. Suffice it to say that a full-up Haggadah takes a lot of reciting.
For several years prior to the pandemic, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) and I enjoyed Passover Seders with the other members of our congregation (we’re talking about a scrumptious meal shared with hundreds of people and a cornucopia of kids held in a huge hall with lots of singing and good cheer). Sad to relate, this get-together had to be cancelled last year and is not being held this year; we can but hope that things return to “normal” next year. In the meantime, my palindromic friend Bob in the next office just shared something he called The Two-Minute Haggadah with me.
I just had a quick Google while no one was looking to discover that this Two-Minute Haggadah was crafted by Michael Rubiner in 2006 to allow its readers to cover all of the bases and get to the best part of the Seder — the eating of the meal — as quickly as possible. Although I enjoy a full-up Haggadah as much as the next pre-believer, I can certainly appreciate the advantages of this two-minute version. While I ponder how to sell this concept to Gina, I’d like to close by saying to one and all, Shalom!