In Part 1 of this series, I had one main point and several sub-points. The main point: non-Jews learning Torah should realize that the primary audience of Torah is the Jewish people. Sub-points: (1) Torah, like gospel, is not anyone’s personal domain but is God’s redemptive plan, (2) there are great resources available from FFOZ.org and a valuable association at http://www.umjc.org/umb-mainmenu-105, (3) there are different levels of interest in Torah and different ways non-Jews might find themselves related to it.
In Part 2 of this series, the main point: Torah means five different things and knowing this will help you find your relationship to it. Sub-points: (1) Torah study is a communal activity and not an individual exercise, (2) there are numerous confused groups on the internet and in congregations, (3) two bedrock concepts will help you avoid confusion: the Jewish people are God’s Chosen People and Christianity is God’s movement of redemption in the nations.
Now, in Part 3, I want to address the situation many of my non-Jewish readers find themselves in. You may be a long-time member of a “Messianic” congregation or at least you desire to be highly involved in Torah, living a Torah lifestyle of some sort. I put “Messianic” in quotes because the congregations many find themselves in are not Jewish in a variety of ways (few or no Jewish people, a lack of respect for Jewish norms, subtle or blatant anti-Judaism, etc.). Or maybe you are a non-Jew in a Messianic synagogue (heavily Jewish and intermarried constituency, following standards of observance such as those of the MJRC at ourrabbis.org).
In Part 4, I will address some issues for church-going Christians interested in Torah.
What are some healthy responses from non-Jews heavily into Torah and some branch of the “Messianic” movement?
(1) Reconsider Christianity. What were your reasons for leaving? Let me anticipate and try to defuse a criticism: “Derek, I can’t believe you started with this one; you just want non-Jews to go back to churches.”
No, I want people to make informed choices. And a bedrock notion for me is that Christianity, in all its imperfections (it’s hilarious if anyone thinks that Judaism or “Messianic” groups do better overall than Christianity) is God’s redemptive community for the nations.
Reasons you left church (or are considering it) might include:
. . . Insufficient or non-existent Bible teaching. Many churches are abject failures, assuming that people do not want or need biblical study. Sermons are pablum and self-help. Sunday School classes are social gatherings with a smattering of unprepared talk by non-learned teachers of texts no one is trying to grapple with. Perhaps the superior commitment you have found to Bible teaching in a “Messianic” group attracted you. This is a good thing. Perhaps, though, you can find this in a church. Or at least we should say, there is no reason for you to start living a Jewish lifestyle simply because you desire deeper biblical instruction.
. . . A shameful theology of Israel and the Jewish people. Many churches routinely assume the blessings of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are for Christians. Israel is a footnote in history. Done. Kaput. Pharisees are the bogey-men of preaching. “Jew” is a bad word from the pulpit. “Jewish” means inferior worship and legalism in desperate need of the allegedly superior offering of the shallow little gospel preached and lived at the church.
. . . A divided Bible and a divided narrative of God’s redemptive plan. The “Old Testament” is inferior in many places. The first 80% of the Bible barely even needs to exist. The gospels do not even make the cut (except parts of John). Really, these churches could just carry a tiny booklet with Paul’s letters and do just fine. But you see that the Bible is one developing narrative and long for teaching that brings the parts together.
But here is the thing: none of these reasons necessitate joining a “Messianic” group. You could find a church that does better. Maybe in your previous search you were not broad enough. Maybe only a certain label on the door of the church was worth considering (such as “Baptist” or “Lutheran”). Maybe there were more people there who felt the way you did and you did not look for them.
Let me at least say this. If you find unhealthy signs in your “Messianic” group or if you realize you really don’t desire to be in a Jewish community, look around at churches and visit them for a while. You might be surprised at what you find. If you choose to remain with either a Jewish community or a Torah-keeping community, at least you decision will be based on better information.
But if you joined a Messianic group for bigger reasons, because of your love for God’s redemptive plan spreading out from Israel to the nations, and you desire to be a part of the more Jewish part of what God is doing, then your reasons are healthy and good.
(2) Recognize unhealthy signs in Messianic or Torah groups.
. . . Divorcing Torah from the people of Torah (the Jewish people). Teaching in some way or form that the members of the group are the people of Torah without being Jewish. One prominent Torah-is-for-gentiles teacher is holding a seminar in which he teaches that Torah is part of your identity in Messiah. This way of looking at Torah ignores one of the five things Torah is: a covenant between God and the people of Israel.
. . . Denouncing Christianity. They (gasp) celebrate Christmas (bowing to their little Christmas idols and plotting secretly to bring Baal worship back into Baptist churches). They (gasp) believe in the Trinity (clearly an idolatrous doctrine of three gods). They (oh my) reject Torah because they don’t want to be under God’s authority. Our “Messianic” movement is the remnant, the true community, keeping it all pure and right. In a word: bunk.
. . . Disrespecting Jewish norms. Those poor, confused Jews make it all up with human reasoning. We (in our tiny, fractured, intellectually stunted little movement) can do a better job and need to redo all the Torah standards. We will make our own “biblical Torah standards” which are not in relation to the standards of Messiah-denying Judaism. In a word: laughable.
. . . Deficiency of love and good deeds. When you are busy being the superior remnant of the only believers left in a godless world of deluded religion, you don’t often have time for things like comforting mourners, lifting up the downcast, and loving as Yeshua loved.
If your group strongly evidences some of these traits, why did you think they were better than some of the churches down the street?
(3) Know your options.
There are excellent Messianic synagogues and I am not questioning your calling to belong to one. If you can find a place, which surely will have some warts, where there is love of Torah, love of the people of Israel, and love for each other, fine. If you think your somewhat unhealthy “Messianic” community has hope for a better future and you want to be an agent of change, maybe staying is a good idea. If your devotion to Torah as a non-Jew and your devotion to God’s redemptive plan for the people of Israel is strong, maybe finding a (Jewish) Messianic Jewish synagogue is right for you. Or maybe your Torah-keeping group has a healthy attitude about Judaism and Christianity.
But know that you have options. Not all groups labeled “Messianic” are the same. I highly recommend the ones that belong to the UMJC (see umjc.org).
And you can learn Torah without being in a “Messianic” group. If there are no healthy ones around, there is no need to go somewhere unhealthy. Surely there is a healthy church near you. You can supplement your educational opportunities with FFOZ material and maybe find some fellowship with like-minded people from a smattering of churches in the area. Being a Judaically informed Christian is a great thing.
(4) Serve where you are planted.
When you have a healthy understanding of your identity in Messiah (keeping Jewish signs of the covenant does not make a gentile more kosher to God) you can let go of negativity and replace it with a positive sense of mission.
As a non-Jew in a Messianic Jewish group, serve the gospel. Love people. Be in community. Do not disparage Jewish norms and traditions. Do not denounce Christians. Do not think that your group has “arrived” and is superior. Messiah is in Judaism and Christianity all over the place and miracles of love and union with God occur in places you might never imagine. (By the way, the same goes if your are Jewish and in a Messianic Jewish group).
If you are a non-Jew in a gentile Torah community, be a voice for the Jewish people, for Christianity as God’s people from the nations, and for the priority of love and good deeds.
If you are a Christian with a strong desire to learn about Torah things (Passover, calendar, Sabbath, etc.), I will share some perspectives in Part 4.