While taking a shower (TMI, I know) I had a thought. I hope it is as interesting on the blog as it seemed in the aroma of Irish Spring Aloe Deodorant soap and hot steam.
I was thinking about Messianic Jewish identity–who we are and who we are not.
As for who we are, I refer you to the UMJC statement:
Messianic Judaism is a movement of Jewish congregations and congregation-like groupings committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.
(see umjc.net for more).
As for who we are not, I think this is very important. I know there are disadvantages to being defined negatively, but there is so much confusion, I think this is vital:
We are not Dispensationalist Christianity.
We are not Charismatic Christianity.
We are not Orthodox Judaism.
We are not Reform or Conservative Judaism.
We are not the Hebrew Roots Movement.
Let me define and explain a little about each of these.
Dispensationalist Christianity is in some ways the closest evangelicals come to Messianic Judaism. Dispensationalism loves Israel and abolishes Torah. Thus, Dispensationalism gets it about half right. These are our greatest friends in Christendom. It is easy for a Messianic leader to be a Dispensationalist and not a Messianic. Dispensationalism is a movement started in the late nineteenth century and emphasizes God’s work coming in different historical dispensations or periods with different methods of God’s working and our response. Progressive Dispensationalism is the newest form and is in some ways closer to Messianic Judaism and in others farther away. Dispensationalists believe the Old Testament is not normative, but is the Old Covenant replaced by the New. By contrast, Messianic Judaism upholds both Israel and Torah, not just Israel.
Charismatic Christianity is a movement tied to an earlier movement, Pentecostalism. Charismatic Christianity is not merely the practice of speaking in tongues (languages) but is a movement defined by experiential experimentation given divine authority. Charismatic Christianity is not all bad. Charismatics, like Dispensationalists, are among our best friends in Christendom. Charismatics love Israel (and many own shofars and prayer shawls, which, unfortunately, they desecrate by misuse). Charismatics have a few practices and principles I find troublesome: silly and self-defined miraculous experiences, authoritative teachers whose teachings need not demonstrate biblical fidelity to be adhered to, and theological naiveness. For example, a fad that is only now fading from popularity in Charismatic circles is the gold-dust phenomenon. Supposedly in specially “anointed” worship, God causes gold-dust to magically appear in the sanctuary. Many Charismatics probably hate this silliness as much as I do, but it is systemic in the movement (animal noises, holy laughter, ordaining people as prophets who have no proven word from the Lord, etc). Messianic Judaism is not Charismatic Christianity and Jews who come to Charismatic Messianic services are generally going to think it is all meshuggenah, which it is.
Reform and Conservative Judaism are probably the closest forms of Judaism to Messianic. That is because they, like us, resist the pressure to conform to Orthodox halakhah (practice) and to seek a rationale for Jewish practice rooted in something more solid. You can learn more about Reform Judaism in a series of book reviews I am about to post here called “Jewish Renewal.” In spite of some similarities in halakhic thought, Messianic Judaism is not Reform or Conservative, for Yeshua is central, not peripheral, to who we are.
Orthodox Judaism is not nearly so uniform as people imagine. Here in Atlanta, Beth Jacob, Beth Tefillah, and Young Israel are three very different congregations. Halakhah is even different (especially regarding women). Orthodox Judaism in general has the most detailed halakhah. Few are aware of the detailed practices for an Orthodox Shabbat or for Orthodox dietary law (where there is also disagreement between kosher and glatt kosher). Messianic Judaism is closest to Orthodox in taking the Bible literally, but in halakhah we are very different. Messianic Judaism is not Orthodox, for Yeshua is central and halakhah needs a great deal more latitude and interpretation than Orthodox are willing to give.
The Hebrew Roots Movement is often found in congregations that use the term Messianic. In fact, many Messianic congregations are influenced by their ideas. The Hebrew Roots Movement is more about Torah than Israel and the Jewish people. This is an easy temptation for Messianic congregations, since having many Gentile members is important for numbers, budgets, and survival. Having Gentile members is not the problem. The problem is when Messianic congregations become about Torah and Jewish customs, but not about Jewish people. First Fruits of Zion is an organization representing the best of the Hebrew Roots Movement and progress is being made in issues of Jewish identity. But for now, the Hebrew Roots Movement is about a Torah revival for Gentiles (these groups cannot endorse the churches since the churches do not practice Sabbath, dietary law, and circumcision). Messianic Judaism differs from the Hebrew Roots Movement because we see a distinction between Jews and Gentiles and how they relate to Torah.
Thoughts? Criticisms. Challenges? Post a comment.