Perhaps it is because of my experience and history in Messianic Judaism that I see myself as a bridge between the Jewish and non-Jewish members of Messianic Judaism. In the last few days I argued that Gentiles in Messianic Judaism need to:
(a) Hear and understand the concerns of the Jewish Yeshua-followers in MJ.
(b) Know that Messianic Judaism is a Jewish movement whose original and continuing purpose is the renewal and restoration of the people of Israel in Yeshua.
Now, I am going to share my view of the other side.
(a) It is not some kind of accident that Messianic Judaism has drawn a large number of Gentiles; it is the purpose of God and it is prophetic and biblical. (Some of my colleagues are ready to argue with me here, but they will not find me an easy opponent to dismiss).
(b) Though the presence of a large quorum of non-Jews in MJ makes us vulnerable to ridicule by mainstream Jewish communities, we must have an open table as per Yeshua and the apostles. Mainstream Judaism must learn from Yeshua, the Messiah, and sometimes the MJ community must stand on a principle.
Why Can’t All the Gentiles Stay in Churches?
We should not blame at all the Jewish members of MJ who feel that Gentiles should just stay in churches. The presence of a large Gentile quorum has weakened MJ through bad theology. It is a fact. It has caused us to lose our way and focus on the minors.
But through personal experience and many close friendships, I can attest that God has called many Gentiles to come alongside the Jewish people and to be part of Israel’s restoration in Yeshua. While we abhor anti-Christian sentiment and we denounce those who wrongly call Christians pagans or assert that lack of Sabbath observance and dietary restriction in the Church is somehow wrong, we also recognize that some Gentiles are not called to the Gentile congregation of Messiah.
Many non-Jews have their heart firmly planted with Israel, in the national life of Israel, in the celebrations and remembrances, and these do not wish to return to the life of churches where (rightly so) these celebrations and remembrances are omitted.
Why Don’t All the Gentiles in MJ Convert?
First of all, I think many could and should. Unfortunately, bad theology holds sway in this area. Some think conversion is invalid because it in some way violates Galatians (but that was about conversion in order to be accepted by God). Others think conversion is invalid because Gentiles in Messiah are already in some sense “Jewish” or “members of Israel.” These “Gentile Israelites” need to get their theology straight, to quit overlooking the distinctions made again and again in the Torah, writings, prophets, and apostles.
That said, if the anti-conversion lobby would wake up and smell the olive oil, many Gentiles in MJ are already living as converts but refuse to have a ceremony. They are “shacking up” with Israel. They are suggesting that they simply can be part of Israel without accountability to leaders and without recognition from the Jewish community.
Second of all, however, conversion is not for everyone and conversion is not the only way Gentiles could participate in Messianic Judaism. Is it possible that God has called some Gentiles, as Gentiles, to walk alongside Jewish followers of Yeshua and be part of the goals of this movement? I not only think so, I know so.
A day is probably coming when we need to say that leadership in MJ should be made up of Jewish members only. Those who wish to be part of us and not convert will need to accept their role as fellow members, but not leaders, among us. (Note: At the present time, I do not think we should be quick to enforce this rule in communities which have had non-Jewish leadership — a transition is needed that respects existing leadership structures).
But the “resident aliens” or “sojourners” or “gerei toshav” among us are a blessing and should be welcomed. (Yes, some will object that a “resident alien” is something that happens in the land only, but those who live among us in the diaspora may also be regarded as “resident aliens”).
Where is it in the Tradition that Gentiles Will Be With Jews?
Why not start with Isaiah 2? The nations (Gentiles) stream to Jerusalem to learn Torah.
OBJECTION #1: This is about the age to come, so don’t apply it now.
RESPONSE #1: Yeshua’s teaching again and again is to make happen now the reality of what will be then in the kingdom. Anyone who says that Gentiles must wait until the age to come to take hold of the blessing of kingdom living is arguing against Yeshua.
OBJECTION #2: But the apostles made it clear Gentiles can remain Gentiles and need not keep all of the Torah.
RESPONSE #2: Very true. And so the idea of Gentile obligation to all of the Torah is wrong-headed. The idea that Gentiles are obligated to keep all of Israel’s commandments is bad interpretation of Torah and bad interpretation of the New Testament. But the fact that Gentiles are not obligated is not the same thing as saying Gentiles are not invited.
OBJECTION #3: Then why didn’t the apostles invite Gentiles to Torah and to the Jewish congregation of Messiah?
RESPONSE #3: The New Testament does not cover every issue. It famously does not address in full the needs of the Jewish congregation of Messiah. Most of the New Testament consists of the apostles teaching for the Gentile congregation of Messiah. If we were to insist on following only what we find specific license for in the New Testament, we would be like the denomination known as the Church of Christ and not Messianic Judaism.
OBJECTION #4: But Jewish tradition in a number of places says it is offensive for non-Jews to keep Torah beyond certain universal commands.
RESPONSE #4: First of all, Jewish tradition is multivalent, filled with opposing viewpoints and many options. Tradition does not speak with once voice. So there is room for us to find precedents in the tradition that are welcoming to non-Jews. Second of all, we can examine the reasons and issues for the tradition that some areas of Gentile participation is offensive. The offense can be avoided by some judicious innovation (e.g., blessings that do not involve a Gentile assuming Jewish identity, refraining from laying tefillin, and more). Third of all, we have an open-table commandment from the apostles and our inclusion of Gentiles beyond the inclusion found in mainstream Judaism may just be prophetic obedience which the rest of the Jewish community should learn from.
The Bottom Line
Messianic Judaism is experiencing a partial realization of the Kingdom of God. That includes Gentiles grabbing our tzit-tzit (Zech 8:23). That includes Gentiles streaming to Mt Zion to learn Torah (Isa 2:2). That includes Gentiles who will make their home with Israel (Ezek 47:22).
The task for our generation is to:
(a) Work toward the goal of Messianic Judaism, which is the restoration and renewal of the people of Israel in Yeshua (a restatement of the mission of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, “Teaching and Living a Vision of Jewish Life Renewed in Yeshua”).
(b) Better define roles and identities within our movement which will result in many people converting, others finding their place as sojourners among us, and a shift over the next generation to Jewish leadership.