I have questions. I created this blog because I have questions. I usually blog representing my congregation but it's not fair or right for me to use the umbrella of my congregation's name when I'm expressing my personal options and conducting an individual search of my faith. I try to encourage everyone of faith to question their assumptions, but it's a rare thing for people to actually do so. Here, I plan to live out my own words and question my assumptions about God, Yeshua/Jesus, the Bible, and who I am as a Gentile in relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
What started all this? I'm glad you asked.
Not too long ago, I wrote an article for my congregation's blog called Does God Love Gentiles Too?. It was part of a series of articles I'd been writing in response to the viewpoint of some Messianic Jewish organizations, principally the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, that the name, theological constructs, worship style, and embodiment of that entity we call "Messianic Judaism" is wholly owned and operated by Jewish people who believe that Yeshua is the promised Messiah. From that perspective, Messianic Judaism is a Judaism in the same sense as Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Judaism and is not generally open to more than the occasional Gentile...period.
Before I continue, keep in mind that I don't word my articles quite so strongly on my congregation's blog, but these are my personal thoughts. I and I alone am responsible for the content presented here and my opinions cannot be attributed or assigned to any other person or entity.
If that had been the end of it, maybe a few dozen people would have viewed the article and less than 5 would have commented and we all would have moved on. However, occasionally, the content from my congregation's blog is picked up and published by Judah Himango, a Messianic Jewish blogger who maintains Kineti L'Tziyon, a blog site which aggregates content from other Messianic blogs and websites across the Internet. This past week, Judah included a link to Does God Love Gentiles Too? on his Weekly Bracha.
Then the comments about my blog article began...and continued. Here's a sample, keeping in mind they're taken out of context. You can click the link I just posted to see everything in its original context.
You ignore the fact that Messianic Judaism was started as a movement for Jewish people to express life and faith in Yeshua. Those who are not Jewish and who wish to be part of Messianic Judaism should be here for a Jewish movement to come alongside, not to say, "Hey, Messianic Judaism belongs to us now, so move over Jews.
I wish you would either rejoice in your non-Jewish identity and find your place in the church or realize that your participation in MJ (assuming your congregation is actually Jewish, which I do not think is a given) is about supporting God's work amongst the people of Israel.I haven't used "Messianic Judaism" to refer to me or my congregation for quite some time, basically because I don't think we're a "Judaism" as such. However, I thought that the "Messianic Movement" (for lack of a better term) contained the natural and grafted in branches to the root and that there was fellowship between Jews and Gentiles as partners and brothers within that content. I was told I was wrong.
But Messianic is the name we have used for our movement. It is a name which communicates Messianic Jewish to the world. If One Law groups were to use a different name, that would solve a lot of the problem. But, in my (admittedly limited) experience, One Law groups talk the talk of being a possible home for Jewish followers of Yeshua (even when they have no Jewish members or leaders). I'm not sure most One Law groups would want to give up the illusion of being Messianic Jewish.I long ago gave up the notion that congregations such as mine had a primary purpose of "converting" rabbinic Jewish people into faith in Messiah Yeshua. As I saw our mission changing and watched who was walking through our doors, it seemed more likely that our primary purpose was to educate Gentile believers into the Jewishness of Jesus and the Bible, opening up the rich tapestry of the Torah to fresh eyes. I felt that Gentiles could be "Messianic", though the meaning for us might not have the same context as for Jewish people, but then I was told that was wrong, again.
James, is not your wife Jewish? If so, I would say that you have a legitimate reason to be part of a Messianic congregation - for your wife's sake. Otherwise, yes - I would say that a Sunday (or Monday, Tuesday, Wed..) keeping church would be a perfectly acceptable and even a preferable choice for you and most Gentile followers of the Messiah.That statement came as quite a shock. The only valid reason the writer of that comment felt I had for being in a Messianic group was that I had a Jewish wife. It was like having a visitor's pass to an otherwise exclusive club of which I had no personal right to belong.
OK, to be fair, not all that many Gentiles regularly attend and are full members of Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox Jewish synagogues since that faith and worship identity are uniquely Jewish. Most Gentiles have no real context for fitting into those groups. Non-Jewish people who regularly attend Jewish synagogues do so because (wait for it) they are married to a Jew.
MJTI might be right to not expect a lot of Gentiles who they consider Christian but not Messianic, to be hanging around their synagogues and their congregants. But from the viewpoint of the Apostolic Scriptures, that didn't make sense.
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in." Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! -Romans 11:13-24If the Gentiles are grafted into the same root as the Jewish believers, and the MJTI viewpoint is supposed to be correct, what are we doing on the same tree? According to the last commenter, Gentile believers are supposed to be going to a Sunday church and Jewish believers are supposed to be going to a Sabbath-keeping Messianic Synagogue. What happened?
Most Gentiles I know in the "Messianic Movement" (sometimes called "One Law"), left their churches and joined with our faith context because they found the church to be somewhat wanting. It didn't make sense, as far as what the Bible actually says, for Gentiles to replace the Jewish people in the covenant promises. It doesn't make sense for God to go back on His word or to change His mind. God spent the first two-thirds of the Bible affirming over and over again His love for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. Was he supposed to forget all that, turn His word upside down, and create a "spiritual Israel" with the Gentiles? It seems pretty far fetched.
My wife and I attended a church quite a number of years ago and we had the same issues. No one could answer our questions and the people in the church seemed to think it was odd that we should even be asking such things. My wife happened to meet a few people from our local Messianic group and she was immediately hooked. It took a little while longer for me to be convinced that this was the right way to go, but the more I studied and started changing my perspective, prayer life, and practices, the more everything seemed to fit into place.
As my wife continued to deepen her exploration into her own Jewishness, she started attending the Reform synagogue and later developed a relationship with the folks at the local Chabad. I continued to attend the Messianic group in Boise and eventually was asked to sit on the Board of Elders and subsequently took on more teaching and writing duties.
The idea of going back to a Sunday keeping church at this point seems uncomfortable to me, not because I am against churches, but because I would no longer fit in. I don't believe the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday (for Gentiles) and I certainly am not a replacement theologist (even though I've been accused of being just that lately). The suggestion that "my place" was in a church so that Messianic Judaism can remain totally Jewish didn't seem right. Where's the fellowship between Jew and Gentile in the Messiah? Certainly Paul never intended for there to be religious segregation between Jew and Gentile. What about us all being equal in Yeshua's love?
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. -Galatians 3:26-29According to Paul, both Jews and Gentiles, united in the Messiah, are one in Yeshua and, belonging to him, we are all "Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." I don't see Paul saying, "but you Jews go to a synagogue and you Gentiles, wait 24 hours and then start worshiping at your churches and be fellow heirs, but in different places with different practices".
That's not to say that the covenant promises to the Jewish nation have been done away with. Far from it. But from my reading of Paul and the other authors of the New Testament, our faith in Yeshua brings the Gentiles into the promises, too.
I know what you're thinking. What about this:
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, two men who were leaders among the brothers. With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. -Acts 15:22-29One of the interpretations of this text, if you read it with no context, is that the Gentile believers were and are only obligated to obey those specific commandments and none of the 613 Commandments that are generally assigned to the Jews.
Let's compare this letter to what is known in Rabbinic Judaism as the Noahide Laws. These are the seven minimal requirements of God for the Gentiles, according to Judaism, in order for the nations to properly acknowledge the One True God of the Universe. Here they are:
- Belief in G-d
- Respect G-d and Praise Him
- Respect Human Life
- Respect the Family
- Respect Human Beings
- Have a Judicial System
- Respect All Creatures
They seem substantially similar to the letter crafted by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 in terms of limiting the requirements Gentiles have in order to obey God. If certain factions of Messianic Judaism believe that the Jerusalem letter represents a Gentile's only obligations to God, then why did Yeshua come to die for the sins of humanity? In traditional Judaism, all a Gentile must obey is the seven Noahide laws and not even a belief in Yeshua/Jesus is required. If Messianic Judaism, or at least the version I'm discussing here is correct, then as far as the Gentile nations are concerned, Yeshua's coming wasn't particularly significant. Gentiles could obey the Jerusalem Council's version of the Noahide Laws at any point in history. There were plenty of "God-fearers" before there were Gentile Christians. If faith in the Messiah doesn't really graft us in and make us something more than we were before, then most of what's in the New Testament doesn't make a great deal of sense.
As you can see, trying to fit the MJTI viewpoint into what the Bible actually seems to say is enough to make a poor Gentile like me half crazy. I have no desire to engage in "replacement theology" or to somehow rob the Jewish people of covenant promises that belong to them and them alone, but Yeshua's coming, death, and resurrection did something that had never been done before. If that's not true and Yeshua came to maintain the status quo between Jews and Gentiles, then why Matthew 28, Romans 11, or Galatians 3?
However, I did come here to examine my assumptions against the Bible and against the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of other people of faith, Jews and Gentiles alike. While I've been told that it's impossible for a Gentile to be Messianic and the best he or she can ever achieve is to be a Sunday Christian, I don't believe that. There's more. Exactly how much more, I'm not sure. Being Messianic doesn't turn a Gentile into a "spiritual Jew" but it does open his or her eyes to a new way of looking at the Bible, at Yeshua, at God, and a new way to look at that person in the mirror.
Sometime in the years encompassed between the first and third centuries of the common era, a schism developed between the Messianics who were natural branches and those who were grafted in. As Gentiles started to outnumber the Jewish believers, they began to marginalize the Jews and finally to develop theologies and interpretations of the Bible that were markedly not Jewish and denied the Jewish origins. The Gentiles had Christianity and the Jews had Judaism. Two separate but equal ways of expressing faith in God. To do that, Yeshua had to lose so much Jewishness that he stopped being recognized by Jews as the Messiah and became Jesus: the wholly owned Savior of the Christian church.
Compare that to what I've been talking about and see the problem. The fellowship I once felt existed between Messianic Jew and "Messianic" Gentile has been fractured...at least between some Jews and Gentiles in the movement. If groups like the MJTI become the dominant force in the movement, then there will be no joining in fellowship between Jew and Gentile, except at an exceedingly polite distance. Eventually, Messianic Jews will have Messiah Yeshua and Christian Gentiles will have Jesus Christ...but you could stand the two guys next to each other and they'd hardly look like the same person.
This isn't God's doing, this is what people do. I'll continue to explore my personal questions on this blog including asking much harder questions than I would as a representative of my congregation. I can say to you honestly, that I don't know where this will lead. That's the hazard of questioning assumptions. If you're serious, you have to be ready to change.
One thing that will never change is my faith in God and in the Son of God. Hashem be willing, I'll always stay in his love, and learn to love others...no matter what they may think of me.
Afterword: I haven't come to any final conclusions as far as exactly who I am in relation to other believers, be they Jewish or Gentile, who I am in relation to Yeshua/Jesus, and who I am in relation to God. This blog isn't a "one shot" just to respond to one conversation or one set of human beings. I will continue to use this venue to personally explore my assumptions, my questions, my doubts, and my faith. Hopefully, I'll become a better person and servant of God. That is my sincere hope if it is within Hashem's will.