* * * Be sure to read part 1 before this article * * *
Many people are paralyzed, incapable of moving forward defining who they are, or knowing what to do. Non-Jews in Messianic synagogues may periodically wonder, “What am I doing here?” Christians with a love for Jewish roots in churches may periodically wonder, “What am I doing here?” People too uncertain to be in community at either a church or a Messianic synagogue wonder, “Where do I belong?”
Who will play God and answer these questions for other people? Not I.
Each person has a relationship with the Living God. The details of that relationship, the influences and desires mediated by God’s Spirit in persons is a holy thing. Watching from the outside, we should be cautious about speaking into this relationship.
Of course, there are egregious cases of abuse of the idea of divine calling. “God led me to this extra-marital affair,” has a false ring to it to say the least.
In Part 2 of this series, I want to consider the intersection of the individual and the community as well as the intersection between certain principles and subjective senses of divine calling. As for the first, the relationship of individual and corporate identity, we think too much as individuals and realize too little that we are part of families, communities, and people groups. As for the second, between principles and subjectivity, we make discerning God’s will more difficult than it needs to be.
Who Am I: an Individual or Part of the Group?
This question is important for many reasons when considering what non-Jews ought to do about love for Jewish roots. People in different situations are asking their questions from different places:
–“I am a Christian, but I want to keep some Jewish observances, such as holidays, without communicating to others that somehow Christians have replaced Israel and without implying that I doubt the uniqueness of Jewish identity and calling.”
–“I am not Jewish, but have been involved for about five years in Messianic Judaism. I don’t know who I am.”
–“I am Jewish and I don’t know what to think about these non-Jews in our synagogue. I can’t imagine life without them. They are integral to my life, but should non-Jews be here?”
Our decisions about what to do as individuals affect our families, communities, and all circles of relationship. Decisions are never purely about “me and only me.”
If you are married, what effect does the identity of your spouse have on you? I speak with many intermarrieds I have met online and it seems to me that the non-Jewish spouses of intermarriage often fail to realize that their family is connected to the people of Israel. I’ve counseled many a non-Jewish spouse to work toward a more Jewish home or at least a Jewish-friendly home. Should a father of Jewish kids eat babybacks and shrimp? Can a family be divided over important covenantal commitments?
If you are married and both are non-Jewish, is belonging to a Messianic Jewish community the desire of both partners?
Another belonging we have is to congregational communities. When I first began hearing from colleagues that there should be more distinction between Jews and non-Jews, I was angry and upset. People whom I believe with all my heart God has placed in my life should not be pushed away. Our community is strong at my synagogue. And there are non-Jews whom I subjectively believe to be inseparable from the future destiny of our community.
I found that in discussions with other Messianic rabbis, most felt the same way. None were eager to start asking people to leave the synagogue, at least not the kind of people who were one with the community. The talk I have heard from colleagues is more about helping people who come for wrong reasons and who don’t belong in a Messianic Jewish community from making the mistake of false belonging.
We have a mess on our hands of individual and corporate proportions because we have been careless in our notions of identity and purpose. But if I have a point to make here, it is this: those who belong in our communities, who have established a home here in Messianic Judaism, and who believe in and work toward the goals of Jewish renewal in Yeshua — as far as I am concerned — belong to the community.
Clarifying our individual identities and purposes should not be about rupturing communities or asking people to leave. A strategy of vetting people for membership in the future or helping people not to make the mistake of joining a community for the wrong reasons is a good one. But playing God and dividing existing communities is not something I will engage in. It seems my colleagues will not either.
Principles and Subjective Senses of Calling
Another issue in the question, “What are non-Jews to do?” is the balance between principles and the subjective sense of calling.
I remember in Christian clergy circles thinking that a lot of people were confused about the difference between subjective and objective ways of knowing. Applications for ministry positions in various Christian groups would have a question like, “On what date and under what circumstances did you receive the calling?”
The calling. As if our path in life is laid out for us like some prophecy which God reveals in words. I suppose that kind of clarity has happened in some cases in history. But by encouraging an objectifying of something subjective, I noticed that pop-Christian thinking about calling was distorted.
The fact is, deny it if you like, God is largely absent, silent, hidden. Our sense of calling is subjective. There is a lot of room for free choice.
People sometimes tell me God has shown them what to do. They move from failure to failure and eventually blame God. If God told me to do this, why didn’t it produce fruit?
I think the balance between subjective calling and objective principles is not as hard as people make it out to be. Consider first the commandments and wisdom that bear on your decisions. After that, follow your desires which fit with the commandments and wisdom.
Commandments and wisdom are the most objective criteria in decisions. Desires are subjective, but should not be despised as a form of recognizing God’s will. Look up “desire” in a concordance. Wrong desires conflict with commandments and wisdom. Right desires agree with commandments and wisdom. And desire is a primary way God leads us.
Some will sense the danger here. “Derek, are you saying that the desire people have to adopt Jewish customs or to belong to Messianic Jewish communities could be from God?” Am I simply rubber-stamping all forms of desire? Yes, if.
Yes, if these desires are consonant with wisdom and commandments.
The following is a list of principles which I think should inform people as they think about calling and purpose in their lives specifically with regard to Jewish roots or belonging to Messianic Jewish communities:
—God does not love Jews more than people from the nations. No one needs to be Jewish to find greater favor, blessing, or role in life. If there was any uncertainty about this before Yeshua came and the apostles carried on his work, that uncertainty has been removed completely.
—The Torah covenant is not between non-Jews and God, but between God and the people of Israel. As a non-Jew, you do not need to take on Jewish identity markers. It is not wrong for you to eat pork. It is not wrong for you to work on Shabbat. Any sense of guilt you have over these issues is not from God but from false teaching.
—The Church is God’s multi-national institution for non-Jews and being human is as corrupt as anything human will be. Israel is God’s national people set apart for a purpose in history. The people of Israel show the same failings as the Church and vice-versa. There is no room for comparing the Church or Israel unfavorably. Both are a mixture of blessing and curse, hope and failure, light and darkness.
—Supersessionism (replacement theology) is wrong, but does not disqualify the Church any more than rampant sin disqualifies Israel or the Church. There is no righteous community you can join. God will not judge you because your corporate community is imperfect. We are called to be a light to those around us, in the Church or amongst the people of Israel.
—The people of Israel is not a refuge from “Babylon,” as some people put it, or a righteous place for people to run to get away from the alleged paganism of Christianity. Do not seek out a Messianic synagogue because you see no option between church practices that bother you and becoming Jewish. If you think for a minute, people seeking a community free from uncomfortable practices could and perhaps should start Christian community based on those principles before retreating to Israel and giving up on the Church.
—Do not try to change Messianic Judaism into a universal Torah movement so you can have a home. If you cannot see in the Bible that God has a remnant of Yeshua-faith in Israel and that this remnant has a purpose in the plan of God in history, I have doubts about your ability to read the Bible. Any attempt to dilute the remnant of Israel with sloppy theology denies that God has a plan for the remnant of Israel. This point gets me in trouble with my friends in the universal Torah movements. Too often, this is what I think they are doing — redefining Israel to include gentiles with faith in Yeshua. If that is true, then why did God bother to choose Israel at all and why are there continuing statements of Israel’s unique election and calling in the New Testament?
—It is not necessary to come to Judaism or Messianic Judaism to practice a faith more in line with the whole Bible. It is possible to have Christian communities which celebrate Passover. Though I am not in favor of Shabbat observance for Christians, if you believe this is God’s will, you can do it in a Christian group. You don’t have to take over a Messianic synagogue to be a Sabbath-keeping Christian.
—It is possible to be a member of a church and to have periodic fellowship, such as at holidays, with Jewish and/or Messianic Jewish groups. You don’t have to join Israel to have a relationship with Jewish people.
—There certainly are non-Jews who have Jewish souls. Conversion has always been an option through intermarriage and also through other forms of joining the Jewish people. If you look at websites about conversion, you will find that the reasons most Jewish teachers list for conversion are similar to the desires many non-Jews in Messianic Judaism have. Some of my colleagues might criticize me for saying this, but I invite them to dialogue. Why should Messianic Judaism be more dissuasive of potential converts than mainstream Judaism? As long as people have healthy senses of their own identity and worth in God’s eyes, I don’t think we should deny persistent desires to become one with the people of Israel. (NOTE: I do not think “Paul’s rule in all the churches” disagrees with what I am saying here — more on that in the Paul’s rule series of blog posts I will continue here on Messianic Jewish Musings).
So far, we have discussed (in Part 1) the reasons for a wide interest among non-Jews in Jewish roots and Messianic Judaism. We have considered the importance of communal identity as opposed to thoughtless individualism. And we have considered the balance between the subjective and objective in finding God’s will for our calling.
In further installments in this series, we will look at options and issues for non-Jews. We will consider questions like, “How would Christianity have looked if it had not been for supersessionism (replacement theology) and anti-nomianism (a rejection of commandments)?” We will discuss the situations of people in different places, all with a love for Israel, for the Hebrew Bible, and for various parts or the whole of Jewish tradition.