The apostle Paul was obliged to tackle Gentile elitism head on. Were he with us on earth today he would probably find the same need to do so within the Christian church.
first published 04/11/2010
by Norman Skinner
My Christian life reads like an indictment of churches, but it’s not. It’s a life’s rich experience, and where that experience has led. There’s no headlines or drama – just an ever present loving God.
Born into my grand parents home in Norfolk in the East of England, I was raised in a God fearing home by those grandparents and my mother. The knowledge of the Presence of God was with me from those earliest days. My father was in the merchant marine and seldom came home.
Aged eight, father did come home from the sea and we moved to Central London. Three years in Primary school, where friends were Czechs, Poles and displaced Slavic Jews, led to public school for six years. A lad from a small village in a London Public school, and that with a strong West Norfolk accent, was a fish out of water. Those years were spent in incredible wealth and privilege, yet all I craved was a simple village life. But I received an education second to none.
A choirboy from nine years old, later an altar boy, I was left no choice but conform. A choirboy’s pay was good, so there were some compensations.
Billy Graham at Earls Court
In June 1967, aged sixteen, I felt utterly compelled to go to Billy Graham’s Earls Court Crusade. I abandoned my girlfriend, with whom I had high hopes of losing my virginity that evening, but she never returned to me.
That Saturday evening I was born again. There’s no other way to describe it. No bright lights, thunder or lightning from the Heavens – I just knew! It was a living confirmation of things I had always known.
Spiritually drifting until I was 33, a farm worker living in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, I was gravely ill. Doctors gave up on my spinal problems, saying the best I could hope for was a wheelchair. My Bible was my only comfort. I learned again to pray. I was heard.
The aging Steward of our village Methodist Chapel, a fine Christian man, refused to give up. He took me to see three osteopaths. I had to sign a disclaimer before they would touch me! Yet twenty-five visits later, I was walking, albeit with sticks, and months later driving again.
I love those Wesleyan Methodists. It was a grand time of fellowship, prayer, and seeing prayer answered. Oh that fellowship was so sweet. The Lord was gracious to me again. I received the Baptism of the Spirit, which isolated me from my Methodist brothers and sisters, but I remained in fellowship for a long time.
I was led towards Pentecostalism as a natural home, began a very serious study of the Bible, and was invited to become a Bible teacher. That group of churches had plans for a young charismatic Bible Teacher, yet I had no word on this.
A later discovery
I discovered at 38 years old I am Jewish, Polish Jewish origins, and therefore a Jewish Christian. I love this revelation; I drink it in, absorb it to my very being and still thank God for it.
I think I ventured into every synagogue in Leeds, and there are a few! I found a spiritual home in both an Etz Chaim and a very small Messianic Jewish Fellowship. Here I met a Christian brother who wanted to bring Jews out of Russia. A Word of Knowledge for him made it possible and on a grand scale. We never met again, nor spoke; yet I have been involved in that movement for years.
At that time the Shepherding (Bradford) Movement took a serious hold of my local church and eventually I received an ultimatum: accept female leadership in the church (feminism) and the Shepherding Movement or get out! I was all but asked to publicly renounce my Jewish heritage.
|My Jewish heritage did not sit well with my Pentecostal brethren, among whom I remained a Bible Teacher. No amount of repeating, ‘Jesus was a Jew and still is!’ helped my case.
"My Jewish heritage did not sit well with my Pentecostal brethren"
Utterly confused, torn, I recalled Paul, ‘do not neglect to fellowship with the brethren'. That made matters worse. Walking alone in Swaledale, near where I lived, a scripture came into mind: Come out from among them, for what fellowship has light with darkness. The conviction that came with it was so certain I have followed it since. Embodied in that was the conviction I should keep quiet about my heritage, until prompted from on high.
In those same days, in another place far away, a Christian lady of my age received the same call out. She was a life-time Salvation Army person, an officer, dedicated to Jesus.
An embarrassment to church people
A Jew is an embarrassment to so many church people. Some fawn and tell me they’ve a menorah at home, or they’re planning to visit Israel some time. Others cross themselves in some superstitious ritual redolent of the Middle Ages. A vicar said, ‘don’t tell them you’re a Yid old boy, won’t go well for you, or me.’ It’s difficult to believe the wall of separation was removed by Jesus death and resurrection. But I know it was. Yet, if church people don’t know a Jew is not different to them in most respects, what are they going to do with Jesus? He’s still a Jew!
My first wife divorced me. On her petition, very many complaints were about my being born a Jew and how it embarrassed her socially. One was about my driving and the tenth, for amusement, was because I snore!!! I have to say, my first wife is a full blooded Jewess who perfectly conceals her heritage. A divorce was granted.
Years later I met another lady through the internet, not something I would recommend unless the Holy Spirit is in it. Both divorced Christians, I learned she had received a call out too, from the Salvation Army.
Eventually, we wanted to marry.
Abuse from clergyman
We tried to marry in the Church of England, my home church, but a phone call from what is now a Canon at a major cathedral, well, it's was an unrepeatable stream of anti Jewish invective, mixed with sleights against my now wife's character and morals for wanting to marry a filthy Jew. How that hurt! My wife still doesn’t know about that.
We cast about for other places – many would marry divorcees, but none a Jew to a Christian. No one heard the words, ‘I’m a Jewish Christian.’
My second wife and I were eventually married in the Salvation Army, but none of her former fellow officers or friends would attend because I'm Jewish. The hate emails we received take some believing. Yet the then Captain was so open hearted, such Christ-like understanding of us, he broke all the Army rules; allowed me to wear my kippur and tallith, and to intone a Hebrew prayer. He married us! I love that man! He’s such an example to me.
That was twelve years ago.
Unchurched but not unloved
Now, we have no strong church affiliations, yet our closest friends are clergy with whom we have fine fellowship and with those seeking Jesus. We are but a small part of a growing world wide Diaspora; a movement of Christians away from the orthodox church. Over these years we have met many others in the Christian Diaspora, and we are in touch with many of them.
As the institutional church has developed this last twenty years, we now doubt there would be a place for either of us. Yet our spiritual lives are vibrant and rewarding, and our prayer life continues. I no longer teach the Bible, but have maintained my studies, now in Greek and Hebrew. In fact, we are praying about building a website for fellow Diaspora Christians, and anyone else, with Bible teaching material from many reasonable sources.
As I sit here, again I cry for the church, and have done so many times. But it's worth remembering, the Body of Christ is not the church, but the church contains some of the Body.
|We live quietly and work quietly and consistently with the more temperate Christian Zionist groups and others; a thing I've done for twenty years. The extent of my involvement is neither here nor there. We are involved in some pastoral work here.
|| "I find myself in a no man's land between Gentile church and Messianic congregations."
Forgiveness brings healing
Twenty years ago I met a Jewish Christian rabbi at an Etz Chaim synagogue in Leeds. Rabbi David, the leader of a small Messianic congregation in that city and a Kossoff look alike. As a boy, a Polish Jewish boy, he had been consigned to Auschwitz where he spent four of his young years. I asked him about forgiveness - this man would know the meaning of the word. His reply was, unforgiving hurts me, and those around me. Once I forgave my captors, I began to live. How the light of Christ shone from him that evening! Unmistakable. Wonderful!
I learned about forgiveness from Rabbi David, I learned to practice it at the place he directed me - the foot of the Cross. They nailed the Lamb of God to a cross.
Fulfilment and joy
Mine is not a hard luck story, quite the reverse. It's a story of personal fulfilment and joy. David wrote, before I was afflicted I never heard you ... and that's the bottom line of my life! I praise God for the churches, and all those other people, because they made of me a living believer in a living Christ Jesus. I pray everyone in a fellowship could know as they are known.
I do not encourage anyone to leave a fellowship – stay if you can, but don’t compromise your knowledge of God. It requires a high degree of security in Jesus to live without the props of fellowship. The only reason my wife and I have achieved this is by His grace, and none other. Jesus said to Paul, my grace is sufficient for you. It’s more than sufficient for us.
I add a prayer taken from Matthew, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.' John Wesley's sustaining prayer.
Footnote: Norman Skinner is a psuedonym but is known to the Editor and has kindly supplied his testimony. It contains many issues which resonate within the churches.
Norman Skinner, 18/05/2011