I just read a thought-provoking essay on the history of Messianic Judaism and the current crisis of identity that has stalled so great a movement in God’s redemptive plan. In case anyone is wondering, Messianic Judaism has been in the doldrums for a decade and the passionately committed among us are praying for a breakout.
If reading that essay were not enough, the discussion that ensued from my poll on terminology yesterday also makes apparent the seriousness of the crisis. Who let the Jews out?
Maybe I should start by explaining, for those who don’t know what I am talking about and for those who do but want to know where I am coming from, what I mean about Messianic Judaism’s crisis. I will say something briefly about the history that has led us here (without stealing the thunder of the wonderful article that will soon be coming out in a publication I can’t name because I am a confidential adviser).
Messianic Judaism follows on a history of emergence of Jewish believers in Jesus seeking to reclaim their identity as Jews and as followers of Jesus at the same time. A simple summary of that history should note that in the 18th and 19th centuries, Christians of Jewish descent increased in numbers due to social issues in Europe and America. By the time of the Holocaust, the number of Jewish Christians was quite large, and I have heard estimates of 100,000 or more Jewish Christians killed among the 6,000,000 Jews.
In Europe and America the growing number of Jewish Christians were represented by missionary organizations to the Jews with quaint names. It is a fascinating history.
And out of that movement came some geniuses ahead of their time, none of them perfect and all short of what we would consider a Messianic Jewish agenda today. Men like Joseph Rabinowitz, Alfred Edersheim, Yechiel Lichtenstein, Yitzhak Lichtenstein, Paul Phillip Levertoff, and more come to mind.
The Christian missions to the Jews movement made an advance, in my opinion, when Hebrew Christians, as they were known, began to associate and come together for conferences. The idea of maintaining Jewish identity as followers of Jesus began to grow. At first this had little to do with Judaism. But it was a tremendous step forward.
In the 1970’s, some of these Hebrew Christians, especially under the influence of Martin Chernoff and Manny Brotman, developed Messianic Judaism in its incipient form. The advancement here was the idea of Jews actually practicing faith in Jesus in a Jewish way.
All of this historical summary is to make one big point: God, as I see it, was moving the hearts of Jews not only to follow Jesus as the long-promised Messiah, but also to identify as Jews and eventually to return to Judaism.
Increasingly, however, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Messianic Judaism became a haven for non-Jews looking to find a restoration of a perceived early church or some alternative to a church that had grown soft on Biblical practice and strong on revivalist tradition.
In other words, something God had been doing amongst Jewish people became a predominantly Gentile movement.
We could stop here and ask a lot of questions:
–What are some good reasons for Gentiles to be involved in Messianic Judaism?
–What are some less than helpful reasons for Gentiles to be involved?
–How can Messianic Jewish synagogues encourage the right Gentiles to stay and the wrong ones to move on and form their own movements?
I certainly have opinions on those questions and have been asked by several to address them. I plan to, after a little more thought.
But the question driving this musing is in another direction: why aren’t Jews who follow Jesus turning up in Messianic synagogues in increasing numbers? As Monique commented in yesterday’s poll:
But what tends to be missing in those same congregations is a degree of authentic Jewish culture and loads of Jewish families.
I have opinions about this matter as well. Perhaps we can discuss this in the comments and I will throw in my thoughts as we discuss:
–Where have the Jews in Messianic Judaism gone?
–Where are Jews who have a commitment to Yeshua going?
–Why aren’t intermarried Jews and their children coming more?
–Does any of this relate to the general decline in religious practice in America?
–Does any of this reflect trends in the synagogue world?
–Does any of this reflect trends in the church world?
–Are there hopeful signs of a promising future for a Jewish Messianic Judaism?