Christian Missions to the Jews and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism

So far I have not drawn any comments about PMJ from the Messianic Jews out there who read this blog. I listed twelve implications of Mark Kinzer’s book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism and, thus far, only Christians who reject the obligation of Jewish believers to Torah have responded. I hope the conversation can include more diverse views at some point.

In light of the interaction so far, I want to comment on and excerpt a piece of Kinzer’s paper, “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, Three Years Later.”
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I have for a long time had a question for the various Christian missions to the Jewish people, including Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries and dozens of others. This question is not new and anyone who does this work has engaged it many times, I am sure.

The question: How important to God is continuing Jewish identity and how does your model of outreach handle identity?

Let me couch the question in Biblical terms. When God made a covenant with Abraham and declared that a people would come from him and bless the whole world, did God intend that a Messiah would come and bring an end to this covenant? Circumcision was to be the sign of identifying with these children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

How does the identity of being one of the descendants of Jacob get passed down?

The Jewish answer for quite a long time has been simple: Jews marry Jews and raise their children as Jews.

Is the answer of the Christian missions movement that this is no longer important? Does faith in the Jewish Messiah bring an end to the Jewish people? Should Jewish people assimilate into the larger Christian community and disappear?

I will excerpt a piece from Dr. Kinzer’s paper, add a few clarifying comments for those who might not understand his jargon, and leave the question out there for you:

Within the community of Christian missions to the Jews, I would hope for a willingness to pursue ecclesiological questions, and to see them as important in their own right and not only as subordinate matters related to missiology and soteriology. As should be clear from PMJ, I see Jewish communal identity as an ecclesial reality that is fundamental to the life and mission of the Christian Church. Some of the responses to PMJ from those in the missionary community have acknowledged the importance of these questions, and have summoned their colleagues to address them. To my knowledge this has not yet occurred, but the conversation has just begun.

In particular, I am eager to hear discussion among the missionaries concerning the importance of sustaining cross-generational Jewish life for their converts. Is it important that the grandchildren of Jewish believers in Yeshua also identify and live as Jews? If so, have traditional missionary methodsand models facilitated this goal, or hindered it? If bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel is not an option, how can this goal be achieved? Engagement with such issues will require that missionaries set aside atomistic approaches to ecclesiology, missiology, and soteriology, and think in more communal terms. In the process, they may discover neglected truths in a Bible that took shape in a world unfamiliar with modern Western individualism.

Clarifying a few terms:
1. Ecclesiological questions — Ecclesiology means our theology of congregation. What is a community of faith? How is it structured? What is its purpose? The ecclesiological questions most pertinent to Christian missions to the Jewish people are things like, “Should Jewish believers in Jesus be assimilated into churches?”

2. Missiology and soteriology — Missiology means the method of mission or outreach. Soteriology means theology of salvation.

3. Jewish Communal Identity — What does it mean to be a Jew? How does Jewish identity continue from generation to generation?

4. Bilateral ecclesiology — Kinzer’s own term for the idea that Jewish believers should form distinct communities rather than assimilate culturally into Christian communities. Bilateral means that Christian and Messianic Jewish communities are two wings of the same Jesus-movement, distinct, yet related by faith and a commitment to brotherhood.

5. atomistic approaches — Approaches to the kinds of questions raised here that are individualistic instead of creating community-wide solutions. An atomistic approach is sort of a “do what is right in your own eyes” solution instead of finding standards for the whole community to follow.

So, how about it? How will Jewish life continue among those Jews who believe in Jesus? Is God abolishing Jewish identity in Messiah? If not, how will the methods of Christian missions take seriously a need for continuing Jewish identity?

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Christian, Judaism, Mark Kinzer, Messianic Jewish, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Christian Missions to the Jews and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism

  1. Here is a comment by Connie, who is not signed up for WordPress, so she emailed me her comment instead. I think this is a great response from a non-Jew. What do you think? (It’s okay to disagree):

    Derek,

    A brief Christian comment on your July 9th post, in which you asked, “Does faith in the Jewish Messiah bring an end to the Jewish people? Should Jewish people assimilate into the larger Christian community and disappear?”

    People always want to complicate things. For me, this issue is incredibly simple. The Tanach and the Brit Chadashah distinguish between Jews and Gentiles. I am a Gentile. If God had wanted to make me a jew, He would have done so. Of course Jews must do exactly as God told them to do, as must I. They’re not the same thing. I think that expecting the MJs to assimiilate (disappear) into Christianity is as odious as replacement theology.

    Connie

  2. judahgabriel says:

    On the topic of Jews becoming gentile Christians, it’s pure foolishness.

    Messiah didn’t cancel God’s promises to Abraham.

    I think orgs like Jews for Jesus have hindered the Jewish identity. Anti-missionary organizations have a point — Jews can lose their Jewish identity!

    A greater question is, if a Jew turns to Messiah and rejects the commandments, what has he gained, exactly?

    I agree with Connie’s sentiment that Jews should not become gentiles. The reverse of this argument, that gentiles should not become Jews is true, however, it’s often abused: a gentile will tell me, “I don’t keep the Feasts because those are Jewish things! You’re trying to turn me into a Jew.”

    This is why I make a distinction between only Jewish things and God’s Feasts. God’s Sabbath is for everyone, not just Jews. Passover is for everyone, not just Jews. Yes, the Jews have been the only ones keeping it for the last 2 millenia, but that does not make them exclusively Jewish.

  3. bobcharters says:

    I meant to leave a reply on the first post of the series. I find I tend to go along with of Mark Kinzer’s both Seminal Ideas. Even as a “Goy from my mother’s womb” I’ve had most of my Jewish input form personal research into first century Judaism and the local Chabbad shul — very little from contact with Messianics, except for rading books and blogs like yours.

    My idea is this. We, as Christians have failed to put our full trust in Yeshua as the Head of the Church. We think that if our denominal leadership isn’t solidly in there, holding up the structure, the Kingdom of God will come crumbling down. The idea that the Jewish Community (sic. the rabbis) have a measure of authority in interpreting Scripture is repulsive to us as it implys that WE’ve lost control. It’s a horrible feeling to think one’s not in control, but it’s also a measure of how little trust we have in Messiah, as the Head of the Church, and King of His Kingdom.

  4. geoffrobinson says:

    I think you are confusing Torah observance with maintaining a Jewish identity. Prior to Sinai, the Jewish people had an identity.

    Wouldn’t it be the Messiah which informs, shapes, and maintains that identity?

    I think we need to think in terms of covenant and covenant community. But for groups which believe that the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled and see Jewish believers as intertwined into the large body of Messiah, that doesn’t equate to assimilation.

  5. Geoff:

    Jewish identity prior to Mt. Sinai hinged on circumcision on the 8th day.

    Jewish identity after Mt. Sinai hinges on circumcision, Sabbath, dietary law, and festivals. These are a sign between God and Israel (Exod. 31:13).

    Jewish believers who assimilate into churches, as you suggest, lose their Jewish identity completely within one or two generations. Their children, raised in church, will marry non-Jews, have non-Jewish children, and will cease to be part of Israel. A family that remained Jewish for 3,500 years will become Gentile as an ironic result of following a Jewish Messiah. If we were successful in promoting Yeshua to all the Jewish people, and if they all followed your advice, there would be no Israel within 40 years. Spiritual genocide.

    Derek

  6. geoffrobinson says:

    And Jewish identity after the Mosaic covenant is fulfilled should center around the Messiah and the New covenant. Keeping the pattern you mentioned.

  7. geoffrobinson says:

    My advice is not that you can’t be Torah observant. My advice is that it is not mandatory and is up to you and your discretion. (again, Romans 14)

  8. Geoff:

    Here is a comment from Glenn:

    Let’s be clear. Scholars confirm that the apostles and the Jewish followers of Jesus were Torah loyal. I could provide a list of scholars but I want to conserve space. The New Testaments clearly states that Gentiles remain Gentiles and do not have to become Jews to enter the corporate body of believers. The reverse is just as true. Jews remain Jews and should continue Jewish identity and practice when they enter the corporate body of believers, as the gift and call of God is irrevocable. In fact, one can not make a case that they should be able to live out their identity as who they are (whether Asian, African, Native American, etc.) unless one supports Messianic Jews. Once someone in the church makes the claim that Jews no longer have to identify as Jews, than I can make the claim that Africans no longer have to identify as Africans and Native Americans no longer have to identify as Native Americans but should assimilate into the larger European Christian community and disappear. In fact, this is just what some missionaries had done in the past. Diversity can only hold together in the church if the group that others were grafted into remains. Otherwise, how does one see diversity in the church if the Jewish Gentile mix now only contains Gentiles and excludes Jews?

    If one believes Jews are a chosen nation, then one must ask, chosen for what? Being Jewish is more than simply having Jewish DNA. To be Jewish is to live out the gift and call of God upon your people. If Jewish people assimilate into the larger Christian community and disappear, than in what way have they obeyed the call of God upon their life as a Jew? To believe it’s okay for Jewish people to assimilate into the larger Christian community and disappear is to say there is nothing unique about the Jews. And if there is nothing unique about the Jews how does one explain all those scriptures that make such a strong claim that the Jewish people have a unique role to play in world redemption?

    Geoff said, “But for groups which believe that the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled and see Jewish believers as intertwined into the large body of Messiah, that doesn’t equate to assimilation.” I’m sorry Geoff, but for all practical purposes it does equate to assimilation and a short history study of those intertwined into the large body of Messiah will reveal that by the third generation there is not a descendant around who will identify as a Jew.

    Thanks, Glenn

  9. judahgabriel says:

    Before there were Jews, there were Hebrews. :-)

    Abraham wasn’t Jewish, but he was a Hebrew: one who crosses over.

    What’s the point, you ask?

    We’re hearing Jews say they don’t want to turn into gentiles through belief in Messiah.

    And we’re hearing gentiles say they don’t want to turn into Jews through belief in Messiah.

    Maybe God’s intent is that we all cross over like Abraham did.

    If an act of “crossing over” for a Jew, today, is to accept Messiah, then perhaps an act of “crossing over” for a gentile is to enter into God’s commandments and his feasts and his rest.

    If either side just lives “as-is”, then we have lawless gentiles and Messiah-less Jews. Both parties need to act. This pointing the finger at each other, each telling the other what to do, is silly foolishness.

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