Something Yaakov said got me thinking:
That being said… you did not in fact respond to all I discussed, namely the structural, organizational and MAJOR leadership chasm which exists in MJ – why is this? It seems noone in a position of leadership in MJ (I’m not referring to you) cares to address MAJOR structural and foundational elements essential for movement, development and growth.
I guess I didn’t realize it, but I, along with other up and coming rabbis, am expected to begin a life’s work of addressing this vacuum of leadership. That got me thinking about the question why. Yaakov wants to know why I haven’t done anything, why no one has done anything. Well, here are my rambling thoughts . . .
Six and a half years ago, I was nothing more than a dispensationalist Christian, a Christian who loves Israel and wants to see Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua. I did not understand Judaism. I thought of it as a false religion, much like Luther did in the recent posts about Luther’s struggle.
I thought of Jewish traditions as a sort of window dressing to make our services “cool” and “Jewish relevant.” It was a big step for me when I learned how to chant Kaddish.
I came from a non-religious background, with no faith or God or scriptures in my home. My education as a spiritual leader started immediately after my turn to faith as an engineering student at age 19. I could have done worse than the school I attended, the Moody Bible Institute. It was a dispensationalist school. Dispensationalism is a variety of Christianity that loves Israel and sees Israel continuing as the Chosen People of God. That’s not bad, considering that most of Christendom rejects Israel’s place in God’s plan. A good friend recently heard in a Methodist pulpit, “They used to be God’s people, until the cross, and now we, the Christians, are God’s people.”
Anyway, back to that time six and a half years ago, when I started a little Messianic congregation from nothing. I didn’t know what I was doing. Thank God, I believed Israel had a place in God’s plan. But I knew little else. Judaism was foreign to me. So naturally I felt qualified to start a Messianic Jewish congregation!
I came into the UMJC (Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, see umjc.net) kicking and screaming. These people were hostile to some things that I thought were central to Messianic Jewish life. I used to think standing on a street corner and handing out pamphlets was a Messianic sacrament. I proudly wore a “Jews for Jesus” shirt at my first UMJC conference. I thought one rabbi in particular was going to punch me!
I got to know a group of men I completely mistrusted. They turned things upside down for me. They seemed to have all the wrong values. And, to top all that off, they got up early and had a minyan (saying the morning prayers of Judaism) each morning. I thought they were showing off their ability with Hebrew and their knowledge of Judaism. I disdained them.
For some weird reason I stayed. I began to morph. Judaism, as I learned it, was not what I thought it was. The prayers of the Siddur converted me to Judaism. More and more I learned that Messianic Judaism was not Jewish Christianity, but a Judaism.
I learned two things, primarily from my UMJC colleagues (really they are all older and more feeble than I am, so I should not call them colleagues). I learned that Judaism is God’s way for Jewish people and cannot be ignored. I also learned that the various forms of Christianity are not to be despised.
You see there are many marginal “Messianic” voices out there who are anti-Church. They view Messianic Judaism as a purer form of religion and the church as a semi-pagan institution. I have met non-Jews who are Messianic because they feel the church has been corrupted by paganism. These people talk a lot about Constantine, and they are partially right about him, but they are filled with mythical notions of a conspiracy theory to turn all Christians into gibbering idol worshippers.
More importantly for this discussion, I learned about Judaism from my fellow UMJC leaders. I learned that Messianic Judaism must first and foremost be a home for Jews.
Some people, like Shalom Bayit and Yaakov, think Messianic Judaism has a vacuum of leadership, and that these leaders are doing far too little to make Messianic Judaism a home for Jews.
That is not my experience at all. I think the movement is changing rapidly. The movement is leaving some people behind.
These allegedly absent leaders taught me a lot.
It helps to understand how far Messianic Judaism has come.
Although I am a marginal case, a non-Jew who started a Messianic Jewish congregation, there are some ways that my experience is not all that marginal. Messianic Judaism has spent its first three decades in the confusion of its evangelical Christian roots. After three or so decades, Messianic Judaism, in some circles, is becoming a Judaism.
Some people cannot be patient with that change. Some people think that Messianic Jewish leaders should be ashamed. Some people think that guys like me are doing too little. We are busy helping our non-Jewish constituency and ignoring the Jews, for whom Messianic Judaism should be a home.
I know I personally have come a long way in six years. And the movement has come a long way in thirty years. Thirty years is not long in the lifespan of a movement just as six years is not long in a person’s development.
Am I doing anything to make Messianic Judaism a home for “simple Jews”?
Just this week a dear friend, who is Jewish and has been involved for years in church life, said to me, “I want you to teach me how to be Jewish. I never learned it from my Jewish family and I haven’t learned it in church.”
Little incidents like this are happening all over the place. Leaders like myself are continually working with Jews and non-Jews and representing God and tradition to the people.
I am not an optimist, as those who know me can readily attest. Yet I am optimistic about Messianic Judaism becoming a force within Judaism. I am optimistic that the remnant of Israel in the last days is growing in understanding to be the people God is calling them to be.
It is largely happening due to the visionary leadership of a small group of Messianic leaders.
Far from calling this a vacuum, I would call it an amazing turn-around in leadership. So some people will be left on the sidelines, complaining, while others are doing the work.
All I can say from my marginal experience as a Messianic congregational leader is wow. What an amazing change I have been through and look forward to in days ahead.