Mark Kinzer read his paper today, the second and last major paper of the conference: “Messianic Jewish Community: Standing and Serving as a Priestly Remnant.” It is a long and complex paper. Of course I am only going to summarize some concepts at the heart of it. It’s essence is that Kinzer calls Messianic Judaism to its primary scriptural role: to exist as the priestly nation. Doesn’t sound controversial does it? That’s because many people have not through through the implications of Israel’s priestly calling.
As part of this exploration, Kinzer considers the relation of the Jewish people to the multi-national Church (meaning here the universal church or the set of all believers in Jesus in all nations and through all time). And he considers the role of a Messianic Jewish community to exist and to be authentically Jewish. And, of course, the controversial part is that Messianic Jewish congregations at present, except for a very few, are not Jewish. Most are at most half Jewish. What did Kinzer say about all this?
The beginning of the paper develops thoroughly the theological underpinnings. Kinzer beautifully meditates on the writing of Franz Rosenzweig, a Jewish philosopher, who wrote, in his Star of Redemption, to describe the nearly paradoxical relationship between the Jewish people and the Church. The Jewish people are defined by begetting; the Christian people by being reborn through faith every generation. Jews are born; Christians enter by believing. A Jew is a Jew by existing; a Christian by believing. The Jewish people are one people, unique; the Church is a people from many peoples, universal.
Rosenzweig described the Jewish people as the burning core of a star and the Church as the light and heat coming from the star. The core, the Jewish people, is folded in upon itself, but from it come the rays that birth the Church. There is no Church without the Jewish people (most historic churches forgot this, but many theologians since the Holocaust have made this point repeatedly).
Kinzer next explores the language of the Siddur (Jewish prayer book) about Israel as a goy echad, a unique people, and a goy kadosh, a holy people. Lest anyone complain that Kinzer is not using scripture, I should make sure to point out that Rosenzweig’s star of redemption model is based on scriptural ideas about who is a Jew and who is a Christian and the goy echad, goy kadosh ideas of the prayer book come from scriptural language as well.
He then explores Ephesians 1 and 2. It is important to consider the reading, which I have blogged a about before, in which the “us” and “we” of Ephesians 1 is the Jewish people (Paul speaks as part of the Jewish people), describing the Jewish people with sayings like: he chose us [Israel] in him before the foundation of the world, we [Israel] who were the first to hope in Messiah, and so on. You may think this reading wrong, but likely you have not considered it as a real possibility. Kinzer’s theology is not dependent on this reading, but it adds a striking point to what he has to say. I was convinced by this reading the first time I heard it (and I’m pretty sure it is reflected in Markus Barth’s commentary on Ephesians, but I am away from home and cannot check the reference).
Ephesians describes the multi-national Church as “fellow citizens” with Israel, once far away but now brought near. Israel as a concept is now expanded and reconfigured.
Let me say that again, because it is at the heart of so much misunderstanding by supersessionist Christianity (the Church replaces Israel) and One Law/Two House groups (Yeshua-believers become de facto Israelites): Israel after Yeshua is reconfigured and expanded.
Israel now includes the multi-national Church as fellow citizens, in a relationship of dialectic tension (Christians are not Israelites, but are fellow citizens) which Rosenzweig’s star image describes well.
From there, Kinzer explores the nature of the Church. The Church is catholic and apostolic (no, catholic does not mean the Roman Catholic Church, but universal or general and is the word used in creeds to describe the fact that a person from any ethnicity may be in the Church). The difference between Israel and the Church is what makes it hard for people to understand Messianic Judaism (Jewish people who follow Yeshua just as the Church does). Teh Church is universal but the Jewish people is unique. Messianic Jews are part of the Jewish people but share the faith of the Church.
Messianic Jews must be the remnant of the Jewish people, Kinzer says, existing as a holy and unique people. The tend to democratize and say there are no distinctions anymore goes against Israel’s calling as a people, a holy calling from God to be the priestly people.
This leads Kinzer to some practical recommendations that are controversial:
(1) MJ must follow the mission of Peter and James primarily and let the Church follow the mission of Paul primarily (in other words, MJ must be part of the Jewish people).
(2) MJ must be the first fruits (see Romans 11:16) within Israel and so must be Jewish communities, but most MJ congregations are not Jewish, but are more than half non-Jewish.
(3) Conversion should be seen as a rare miracle.
He says more, but the upshot is that the present reality of gentile congregations with some Jews needs a model for change.
In the discussion after the paper, it became clear that Kinzer is not opposed to a Judaically informed practice by non-Jews as long as such practice clearly distinguishes Jews and gentiles (as in my Part 8 of “Not Jewish Yet Drawn to Torah”). It was also clear that Kinzer is not calling for MJ congregations to break up, cast out non-Jewish members, or anything of the sort.
The solution may be found in a number of forms. New congregations that are solely Jewish can form. Existing mixed groups could find ways to be on a trajectory toward Jewish congregations. My own suggestion, well-received, was that many existing MJ congregations think of themselves as Judeo-Christian congregations with a Jewish minyan within. Over time, we can work toward an independent life for the Jewish minyans within our congregations.