Is Your Messianic Judaism Too Small?

crowd_jerusalem_wallWhat is the future vision of your Messianic Judaism?

I ask this because it seems to me that some people and groups I run across don’t have a very inspiring model for tomorrow.

The Messianic Judaism that inspires me is about the greater purpose of God in redeeming Creation and bringing it to a perfect consummation in a glorious World to Come. That purpose of God works itself out in the unexpected and counter-intuitive providential thread of history. You will find this providential thread in Genesis and continuing in the story arc of the Bible.

The providential thread is centered on a people, selected by God through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and confirmed in their election at Mt. Sinai. Through this people God will bless all the other peoples and this people never loses its centrality in the purpose of God working itself out in the world.

In the Messianic Judaism I became part of 20 years ago, there was less an emphasis on the continuing role of Israel in the working out of redemption and consummation. Israel had, in essence, played its part and was on the shelf for a while, until the very end of the age. Israel had been the vehicle to bring us the Bible and the Messiah. They were in stasis, and a very unpleasant stasis, until the time of Messiah’s return was near. Anything that happened within Israel between the advents of Messiah was irrelevant.

In the Messianic Judaism I encounter in many groups, it seems to me that Israel is irrelevant in different ways. A large segment of people labeling themselves Messianic are individualistic in their outlook and don’t appear to have a communal vision of being part of a divine movement in history. Israel is irrelevant because the gifts and calling of Israel become in Messiah the gifts and calling of every person from every tribe and nation. The Torah is for all of us, they say, and Israel did its part long ago. Israel is on the shelf having delivered the great vehicle of Torah to us. Thank you very much, Israel, and see you in the time of tribulation.

I have been now a student at MJTI (mjti.com) for several years and just in 2009 began working as the Media Coordinator. I have been growing for about five or six years through Hashivenu and the UMJC and my connections to MJTI.

The vision and model for Messianic Judaism that inspires me is encapsulated in MJTI’s vision statement: teaching and living a vision of Jewish life renewed in Yeshua.

There are a few things to note about this outlook:

1. It points to a future well-documented in the promises of God, a future in which Israel is renewed at the drawing together of all things toward the days of Messiah on earth.

2. It points to a past that is not only about Israel’s election via Abraham and at Mt Sinai, but also takes seriously the working of God in Israel in between the advents of Messiah, in the movement we call Judaism. Jewish life has been growing and adapting since the time Yeshua was here and this is not irrelevant to God’s purposes.

3. It points out Yeshua as the great hope of Judaism to fulfill God’s purposes and suggests that Judaism without Yeshua has not reached the goal. He is the end and goal of everything God wants Israel to be and Judaism ultimately must find its renewal in him.

Is your Messianic Judaism too small? Does it encapsulate the story arc of the Bible and look to God’s purpose working itself out as the prophets and apostles foretold? Or is it me-focused, about my right to Torah and to correct the allegedly errors of Christendom by reviving Torah? Or is it lopsided and focused on a New Testament people of God to the exclusion of God’s people whom he called the center of his purposes? Is your Messianic Judaism teaching a vision of Jewish life renewed in Yeshua?

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
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8 Responses to Is Your Messianic Judaism Too Small?

  1. mchuey says:

    Because of our Western preponderance toward (gross) individualism, we have considerable difficulty even considering how we are a corporate Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and that only united together can we really be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). (The NIV incorrectly renders it with the plural “sacrifices.”)

    Until we can overcome some of these obstacles–rightly emphasizing the corporate dynamic of being God’s Temple and a singular living sacrice–there is likely to be a divergence of vision, as you have rightly shared in your posting. Individuals are going to use the whole Messianic “thing” as a forum to express their various “beefs” or “axes to grind,” rather than considering what God’s greater purposes are.

    JKM

  2. judahgabriel says:

    I look at the Messianic movement as a whole — including the non-Jewish Messianics — as part of God’s plan of restoring Israel.

    I do not, see Messianic Judaism as an evangelical outreach to convert Jews to Christianity, as some Christians do. I do not see Messianic Judaism as Christianity with a Jewish pieces of flair.

  3. josephmcole says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes! This is the Messianic Judaism into which I signed! You see, I am a pastor in an independent, charismatic church in rural Ohio, and I still feel as though I have a part in the movement because it was always bigger than me.

    Messianic Judaism has impacted my congregation of believers. It has brought hope and transformation because through the emphasis of Messianic Judaism on Hebraic text, they have seen that God had a brilliant plan in mind all along. It’s not just about wearing tallits, kippahs and keeping kosher. It’s about God’s eternal plan to make us His covenant people! That includes me no matter where I am or where He has called me to serve.

    Thank you for posting this! I couldn’t have written it as poignantly and competently as you have done. Thank you for giving voice to the manifesto of my heart.

  4. sidefall says:

    Great post Derek – I agree 100%.

    Let me quickly add something that other commentators have alluded to.

    I think an aspect of the vision for Messianic Judaism that needs quite a bit more thought is how it relates to gentiles. Most of the recent, high quality, work (by people associated with MJTI and Hashivenu) has been, very rightly, devoted to issues relating to Jewish belief in Yeshua. There’s a lot more to do, but I’m thrilled that, after 40 years, the big questions are finally beginning to be clarified.

    However, I think far less thought has been given to the position of gentiles who come to believe in the God of Israel and the Jewish Messiah.

    Yes, there are those (as I think Mark Kinzer said) attracted to MJ who have fallen out with their churches. Others are simply drawn to the “hebrew pentecostalism” that possibly characterises some branches of MJ, although I think this is on the decline. But after these sectors are discounted, there are still a considerable number of gentiles who have a deep spiritual connection with Judaism and the Jewish people. We should not see this as at all surprising (after all, Yeshua is Jewish!). Likewise, many genuinely feel, not because of any personal problems or axes to grind, that gentile faith in Yeshua should be expressed in a far more Jewish way than is offered by any church.

    Some of these people end up in the rather wacky branches of the Hebrew Roots movement, and others do join mainstream messianic congregations. But the view has been expressed by messianic leaders, with the best of intentions, that such people generally don’t belong in the messianic movement, which is, after all, the messianic jewish movement.

    I’m fully aware that there are some very fundamental theological issues relating to this, particularly the distinct calling of Israel, and at the moment I don’t know what the answer is. Any ideas?

    • Sidefall:

      I am giving thought to your question and would like to address it in coming weeks. I have written much in the past (as you know) under the category “Gentiles.” I plan to look through my old thoughts (some of which I would no longer agree with) and write some new material.

      I am a sort of person in the middle here: I know well the voices in MJ which leave little room for non-Jews and yet, as a non-Jew (converting) myself, I understand the worthy motivations of non-Jews in MJ. I think I could be one small voice advocating for Gentiles in MJ with understanding on both sides of the equation that there are vital issues to be protected.

      Derek

  5. Got this thoughtful comment by email from Jeff:

    “I think Messianic Judaism is in trouble as a movement. Yes, we’re growing in membership, synagogues, scholarship, etc. But we’re fractured. It’s as though someone has taken a glass candy-dish and cast it to the ground that it shatters. Various sub-sects within MJ will not talk to one another and it’s harming the whole movement. I really think that in terms of the future we must look at the damage to the movement around us and tend internal wounds. We talk about T’kun Olam, but it’s time we practice it–with our respective enemies (for lack of a better word) within the movement.

    Judaism has never been monolithic, and I don’t expect Messianic Judaism to be either. I think our forefathers had a really good idea—public debate. And not just public debate only—but give as much respect to your detractor(s) as you wish to be given yourself. Our fathers had the right idea when the House of Shammai and the House of Hillel could come together and debate (to be fair, there was more than a little name-calling too) but at the end of the day there was something marvellous. It is said that members of the house of Hillel and the House of Shammai could recommend wives to one another even though they disagreed fundamentally on who was fit to wed whom. Each side knew the other would not stab the other by knowingly recommending a wife the other was doctrinally opposed to becoming married to.

    I don’t expect “doctrinal convergence” where each sect compromises on some point to make others happy resulting in unified articles of faith—Messianic Judaism is not Wikipedia. Even when we reach a point where we understand one another’s view-points thoroughly, we don’t have to like them. With a sufficiently public airing of grievances where no corner of the movement is excluded. Then, individual adherents within the movement will be able, with thought and prayer, to make up their own mind as to which portion of the movement is more doctrinally sound, or otherwise to their linking. This may result in a lot of people moving around within the movement—short term pain would be inevitable. However, for the long hall from now until the return of the Messiah (and may He come speedily in our day!) we would all be better for it. I believe God Himself will likely orchestrate repair of the Messianic Jewish movement from that point, as it is written: “For if this counsel or this work is of men, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be found even to be fighting against God!” —Rabbi Gamaliel, Acts 5:38b–39

    Those are my thoughts, you understand where I’m coming from on this. If I had more time, I’d get more specific, but I don’t at the moment. I’ll give specific examples later, if you wish. I look forward to hearing what you think.”

    –Jeff

  6. ps29v11 says:

    B”H

    Hey Derek,

    As I have said many times before, “I think you are a great writer whose time has come.” Hmmm, I don’t that I ever actually said that before, but I am a regular subscriber to your posts and I highly recommend your blog and your books to everyone.

    The issue of envisioning the Messianic Judaism of today and tomorrow is indeed a very pressing need. Having been in and around the movement for the past 35 years I have heard and seen a lot of changes. I appreciate the quest of Hashivenu “towards a mature Messianic Judaism,” but I also agree with Sidefall and Jeff that certain areas of concern need more attention than they are presently receiving, at least publicly.

    In regard to the issue of non-Jews within the movement there is a lot of tension and resistance that is motivated more by psychology than theology. Pragmatics also plays a far greater role than many might care to admit. Considering the reality that most MJ Synagogues are led and populated by non-Jews or Jewish believers with non-Jewish spouses, the definition of who is a Jew remains a thorny issue at best. Above and beyond the topic of Gentile conversion to Judaism is the vastly unexplored region of how Rabbi Kinzer’s proposed “dual ekklesia” might play out in real life – that is outside of an academic/theological thesis in a book. Since not all Christians are either interested or willing to undergo the rigors of converting to Judaism like Rabbi Derek, then how should Messianic Judaism and the Gentile Church relate?

    The fractures within MJ that Jeff makes reference to are also issues that must be attended to if a movement of good health and one that can provide healing and forgiveness for others is a part of our future. It is well known that the UMJC was birthed out of the MJAA in the midst of great controversy in the late 1970s. There was such disagreement over the timing of the Call that led to its formation that hard feelings and division persisted for years until a formal reconciliation was reached in the early 1990s. Even though there has been a healing in part there still remains 4 parallel groups (The MJAA, The AMB, The UMJC and The IAMCS) from that breech.

    My vision of MJ for today and tomorrow is to see brothers and sisters extending the right hand of fellowship to one another while affirming the work of GOD through each other. We certainly need to press on towards maturity and integrity where Jewish believers can boldly function and live as Jews, but at the same time we need to grow more into the likeness of our Master’s character. He is a ‘suffering servant’ who came to give His life as a ransom for many. We need to excell in both knowing His work and His person.

    Blessings for love and peace,

    Shlomo

    • sidefall says:

      Shlomo,

      I agree with your sensible comments, but I’d respectfully like to question a couple of points.

      Firstly, and this is key, is it really the case that “most MJ Synagogues are led and populated by non-Jews or Jewish believers with non-Jewish spouses” ? I’m not at all sure that this is the situation. Certainly some people would claim it is, but I suspect their view is outdated at best. Whilst I don’t have any hard statistics, my feeling is that the majority of messianic congregations have Jewish leadership (not sure how many are intermarried, though). Likewise, the idea that MJ is full of gentiles/intermarrieds may not have any basis in fact. I would love to see some up-to-date research in this whole area.

      Secondly, I don’t consider the four organisations you mentioned are separate groups. Two are congregational (IAMCS and UMJC) and two are individual (MJAA and AMB). Of course, MJAA and IAMCS form one stream, and UMJC and AMB form another. And, as you suggest, they aren’t necessarily as far apart from each other as they were in previous years. But, having simplified the picture, I’m now going to complicate it by adding the AMC and IFMJ into the scene!

      I often remind myself that MJ has only been around for 40 years, and a pattern for a Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua hadn’t really existed for 1900 years previously. So it’s going to take a little while to work things out. As I said earlier, it seems to be gradually coming together now, and I know it will continue to go in the right direction when we have gifted people like Derek in leadership.

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