Two thousand years ago Paul, a Messianic Jewish rabbi, concerned about how the Jewish believers were being treated by Roman believers, penned a letter to them. Last week I had the surreal and amazing privilege of teaching part of that letter at a church in Rome.
Ron and Pastor Fernando
Chiesa Cristiana Evangelica or Evangelical Christian Church invited me to come there and teach on Jewish Roots. Rome is dominated by Catholics. Evangelicals (Bible-Believing Christians) make up just over two percent of Italy’s population while Roman Catholics comprise nearly ninety percent.
Most evangelical churches are small and very traditional. However ECC is large and full of life.
I Came to you with Great Fear and Trembling
As I prepared to minister I felt a tinge of fear. After spending the past two years working on Identity Theft, which had me researching the history of the Roman Catholic Church, I knew that I was not supposed to simply preach a normal message. I had to address the sins of Rome. In fact, I felt quite strongly that I was to preach to “Rome” from Romans 11.
In Romans 11 Paul pleads with the Roman Church to stop judging their Jewish members. They had developed a belief that the Jews were under God’s judgment and no longer had a unique calling.
v. 1 & 2 “I ask then: Did God reject His people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject His people, whom He foreknew.” v. 11 “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” v. 25 & 26 “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this wayall Israel will be saved.” v. 29 “for God’s gifts and His call [to Israel] are irrevocable.”
Furthermore he warns the Romans that if they continue in their judgments they would be judged!
v. 20-22 “Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”
Paul challenges the Roman believers that part of their calling is to reach the Jewish people by “provoking them to jealousy.”
Sadly, the Roman Church (which would soon become the headquarters of institutionalized Christianity) did not provoke Israel to jealously, but instead developed theologies that claimed…
St. Augustine: Believed that the Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the Church over the synagogue. Eusebius: Taught that the promises of Scripture were meant for the Gentiles and the curses were meant for the Jews. The Church was the “true Israel.” John Chrysostom: “It is every Christian’s duty to hate the Jews… God hates the Jews and I hate them too!”
And these beliefs led to persecutions, expulsions, inquisitions and even murder.
Too Bad Statue Can’t Talk
Paul Statue at the Vatican
The Roman Church outright rejected the teachings of the man whose statue stands outside St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I felt that my task was to challenge these dear Roman believers to repent on behalf of the sins of their fathers against the Jews. And then from there, to embrace the words of Paul, and begin to be a blessing to Israel.
Fortunately they received the word with gladness. The pastor led them in a prayer of repentance and we blessed them by chanting the birchat hacohanim — the priestly blessing from Numbers 6.