I know today is Thanksgiving and we’re all thinking about turkeys and football and family. But I have just a little suspicion some folks are going to be on their usual computer reading lists today at some point, eager to keep up those blog-reading rituals and keep the ideas and information flowing.
Anyway, if not, maybe you’ll be reading this after Thanksgiving and either one works for me.
My thoughts this morning are on a few troubling stories that I have run across. One is about a group forming online support for the “Messianic” community worldwide. Yet as I look into the group there seems to be no definition of “Messianic” that relates in any way to actual Jewish life. The other is a bitter email I received from someone who explained to me they left the Messianic Jewish movement because they viewed it as a Christ-less religion.
In various ways, these stories which sadden me all relate to Messianic Judaism at the fringes.
Unfortunately, the fringes have a lot more people involved in them than the core.
You see “Messianic Judaism” is a catch-all for a vague and general idea that attracts millions: the Jewish cultural context of the Bible virtually ignored in Christendom for millennia. Millions of Christians of all stripes and persuasions, from the Catholic and Orthodox Christian world to the Protestant, Evangelical, and Charismatic world are hungry to know more about Jesus the Rabbi.
You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to realize that Jesus is Jewish and that Christianity has been sweeping that under the rug for far too long. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not jumping on the anti-Christianity bandwagon. Far from it. I enjoy worship in and with Christians of most varieties. I can lay aside my Siddur and daven with the Baptists, moderate Pentecostals, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and so on. I can also hang with the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and maybe even Reconstructionist synagogues.
Nonetheless, the Christian history of neglect for the Jewishness of Jesus has left a massive void. Even people with little Bible knowledge realize this in some way and think looking at Jesus as a rabbi is cool. I don’t blame anyone for having a hunger to discover Passover and the tallit because of their Jesus-faith. It is a good thing.
But many “Messianic Jewish” groups are simply Christians confused about who they are, who Israel is, and what God is doing in these times with his people Israel.
Messianic Judaism at the core is about Jews and Gentiles who come alongside these Jews to be part of God’s work in the remnant of Israel. We believe that God is calling Jewish people to faith in Messiah within Judaism. We believe the idea of Jewish conversion to Christianity is a sad distortion based on a poor reading of the New Testament. God says in the New Testament that Gentiles need not become Jews to have Jesus-faith. Yet, sadly, people are convinced that Jews must become Gentiles to have Jesus-faith. Messianic Judaism at the core is a Judaism for Yeshua (Jesus).
Messianic Judaism at the fringes is filled with great people deluded by a variety of ideas. I will list a few of the most popular ones:
1. (Myth #1) Christianity is a false Greek and Roman perversion of the true faith which must be brought back to its Hebraic roots. (The kernel of truth here is that Christians need to get in touch with Jewish origins, but not in the sense of becoming Jewish in lifestyle.)
2. (Myth #2) The early Church was Jewish and we need to abandon modern churches to return to a purer form of Jesus-faith which is Jewish in expression. (Truth: The early Church in Jerusalem was Jewish, but Gentile expressions grew up through the mission of Paul and the apostles.)
3. (Myth #3) Since the Church has virtually ignored the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), we need an expression of faith that speaks less about Yeshua (Jesus) and more about the Old Testament. (Truth: Thus, out of some misguided loyalty to the Old Testament, some Messianic Jewish fringe groups try to talk about Yeshua less and the Old Testament more.)
4. (Myth #4) Since I, as a Gentile, have been grafted in to Israel (or since I am a child of Abraham now), I must relate to God as part of Israel. (Truth: The New Testament is careful to distinguish Jews and Gentiles while giving Gentiles the good news they have been brought into the promises without taking over the identity.)
5. (Myth #5) My love for Jewish things is likely evidence I am from one of the Ten Lost Tribes. (Truth: The tribes were not exactly lost and even if you had Israelite blood from thousands of years ago mixed with many generations since, how would that make you Israelite?)
6. (Myth #6) I cannot worship in a place with pagan practices such as Christmas, so the Messianic Jewish movement is all I have. (Truth: The so-called pagan roots of Christmas are exaggerated by teachers who have a vested interest in getting you to follow them.)
I could probably sit here all morning thinking of more and more myths driving the masses away from churches and into so-called Messianic Jewish groups and synagogues.
To paraphrase a friend’s great line: silly, self-defined Messianic Judaism is not worth having.
In the email I received from a person who said his seven years in Messianic Judaism was a Christ-less time, I thought about several things. First, did the synagogue he attended de-emphasize Yeshua in order to appear to be more Jewish? If so, how sad. I prefer to think of our relationship to Yeshua as comparable to Chabad’s exuberant passion for Messiah. We do not need to hide Yeshua to appear more Jewish. We need to be more passionate about Yeshua to be more MESSIANIC Jewish. Second, was this person in the Messianic movement for the wrong reason? If they had been in Messianic Judaism because of a real love for Jewish people and a desire to be part of what God is doing in Israel in the last days, then maybe they would have stuck it out or tried to find a place that better represented Yeshua.
And that all leads me to a few pieces of advice for Gentiles who realize they are part of fringe Messianic Judaism and not the real thing.
1. Are you in this for the right reasons?
2. If you bought into one of the myths above, please re-evaluate your commitment. It is likely that a good, Bible-teaching, people-serving church is the best place for you. If Christmas bothers you so much, skip out on that. You may have a great place helping people in the churches understand the Jewishness of Jesus.
3. If you are in this for the wrong reasons, but you have found yourself growing in love for Israel and Jewish people, maybe you need to find a Messianic synagogue that is actually about Judaism and Messiah. It helps if you live in a place with Jewish people. I get emails all the time from people in Timbuktu wondering how they can be Messianic Jewish. A big tip is this: be in the Jewish community. If you are not in the Jewish community, you are not really Messianic Jewish. Don’t be satisfied with a fringe group because at least they avoid some of the things you don’t like about churches. Find the real thing.
Messianic Judaism is not an alternative to the Church. Messianic Judaism is a movement within Judaism formed by God and expressing in word and deed a Jewish faith in Yeshua. There is a place for Gentiles in Messianic Judaism. I believe God said that many Gentiles would be attracted to Israel and to be part of God’s work within Israel. Some want to be involved from within and some Christians from their churches will want to be supportive from without. It is all good. But identity confusion and the strange belief that Christianity is somehow pagan have nothing to do with real Messianic Judaism.