Robert L. Malarkey
"Why do we do this and not that?" Reformed Christians who are reforming should always be asking this question. Why do I worship this way and not that way? Why do I hold to this belief and not that belief? The pressure of the question gains a new intensity when a Christian lives in a culture different from his own.
As an American Protestant settles in Israel, for instance, he quickly realizes that his status has changed. "Shalom" replaces "Hello" and synagogues outnumber churches. Living in Israel we are a definite Christian minority walking among two and one half million Jews and one million Moslems. Each day we encounter new or different ways of thinking and living. A soft but constant pressure forces us to discover what of our faith and style of life is strictly American and what is grounded in New Testament patterns—what could go and what must stay.
In Israel, Saturday is "Sunday" and Sunday is "Monday." Roaring buses and screeching trains rest on Saturday—it is Shabbat. Christians go to church on Sunday to the rhythm of a city unloosening for another week of work. We sing "O Day of Rest and Gladness" to the pounding of people, automobiles, and air hammers. How do we adjust to a nation that rests on Saturday and works on Sunday—or do we? The question of Sabbath observance confronts the Christian who takes this practice seriously. Must the Christian Sabbath be only on Sunday or may it be on another day? In America we usually are not forced in practice to answer this question; days off and Sunday go together. In Israel you can't escape the question. Schools hold classes and jobs begin when "Yom Rishon" arrives. Life in Israel has brought me to the question and driven me back to Scripture—a blessing of minority life.
Jews in Israel begin a new year in early fall. After national repentance, they celebrate the gathered harvest and the glories of the Torah. January 1 can pass by unnoticed—as also Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Halloween. The newness of this experience raises the question of holidays and time itself. Calendars are and have been central to Jewish life. "Orthopractice," not orthodoxy, is of primary concern to the Jews. The Essene community of Dead Sea Scroll fame, for instance, was castigated for adherence to a different calendar more than for heretical doctrine.
Observance of Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Succoth, and Pesach has been fundamental in preserving Jewish nationhood. Is observance of Christian holidays fundamental to the preservation of Christian faith and life? Jewish holidays are commanded in the Old Testament; I find no commandment for Christian holidays in the New Testament. Does this decide the issue? Is observance of Christian holidays strictly cultural and, therefore, dispensable, or should they remain integral to the expression of my faith?
"I am a student. I live on Rehov Harakevet, I do not speak Hebrew ... good ... well." Flying from New York to Tel Aviv, one exchanges Hebrew for English. It can be an exasperating and frightening experience to be unable to communicate basic needs to other people. "Where can I buy some food?" "How do I get to Jerusalem from here?" The judgment of Genesis 11 takes on a new reality as I work hard to buy four bottles of milk and not four boxes of raisins. Talking louder and waving arms in the air don't prove successful.
In the United States we are monolingual; we can travel the 3,000 miles from New York to Los Angeles with out fear that "Water, please" means something different in Manhattan than in Pasadena. Living and traveling in the Middle East, however, one changes languages as he changes his money and crosses the border. To return to the pre-school level of vocabulary and sentence patterns can be a healthy corrective for a recent seminary graduate. I can not forget, however, that this mixture and confusion of tongues is God's judgment on men who build cities and towers without him.
"Jews are pushy. They always try to squeeze the last dollar out of you. Jews are crafty." Antisemitism—indicated by such expressions—is ugly. From medieval blood libels to Hitler's holocaust, Jews have been the object of scorn and persecution. Christians in America are not uncontaminated by these unfair and simpleminded generalizations about the Jewish people. Our culture is infected by the hate which sent six million Jews into ovens and gas chambers.
Walking in the streets of Jerusalem, I pass the survivors of Russian pogroms and German camps. A woman with 54734 stamped on her forearm rides beside me on the bus. In the shops I hear German, French, Polish, and Hungarian—the unwanted of Europe. Living in Israel brings the Christian to the remnant of European Jewry. As one Jewish professor told us in class, "The Holocaust is something only the Germans and Jews can talk about. The rest of us can only cry." Israel forces me to face my problem of an untamed tongue which is a restless evil "set on fire by hell" (James 3).
Living in Israel has been a unique privilege. The cultural supports to my faith have been removed. Now I can ask with increased urgency, "What is the content of my faith?" "Why do I do this and not that?" From Jerusalem I call out to my brothers and fathers in the faith to ask with me questions of reformation. With Luther and Calvin we must learn to ask, "Why?" From Israel I see more clearly that reformers have always challenged cultural and status quo Christianity. Minority life in Israel has increased my concern to see our church Reformed and reforming.
Mr. Malarkey was a 1968 graduate of Westminster Seminary. He and his wife spent a year in Israel, where he did graduate work in Old Testament at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies.
© 2024 The Orthodox Presbyterian Church