OK, that sounds pretty bad the way I expressed it. To be fair, some of the people who are most devoted to God and to living out a life dedicated to Yeshua/Jesus are found in the Christian church. I don't know about congregations that are MJ/BE focused, but from the OL congregational perspective, we often turn to a Christian church when we need a place of worship. Some (but not many) churches provide their space either cost free or for a substantial discount as part of their fellowship with our community and as an expression of our common faith in Messiah/Christ. And while both the Messianic Jewish and One Law groups tend to focus on the minutiae of our practice (how to tie your tzitzit, the best way to lay teffilin...), the church, for the most part, has been performing the weighter acts of the Torah by visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and preaching the Gospel of salvation through Christ.
Just how many Messianic Jewish and One Law congregations do that? OK, maybe yours does, but I'm talking about the wider population of congregations that, whether Jewish or Gentle lead, actually have their primary focus on serving others and not just focusing on the members of their own specific groups, their own practice, and their own ceremony.
Again, to be fair, no congregation, synagogue, church, denomination, sect, or any other grouping or category of religion or faith is perfect. The simple reason for that is such groups are always made up of human beings. We aren't always nice and we certainly don't always follow the teachings of our Master. More's the pity.
We can excuse, to some degree, the secular world for not performing the weighter acts of Torah kindness because their only Master is their own wants and needs. Yes, secular people can be altruistic, kind, selfless, giving, and self sacrificing. Chalk it up to being made in the image of God. While they don't acknowledge God, they seem to be listening to Him on some back channel or little known frequency, receiving His signals without quite realizing who they're talking to. Maybe they think it's the "milk of human kindness". Regardless, God talks to everyone and all of us, believer and secular person alike, have the choice of listening or not.
Here's what I'm getting at.
MJ/BE says that Gentiles should only worship within the context of the aforementioned Christian church. While the church, in general, has a lot going for it as I've mentioned, there are also "issues". Of course, there are "issues" in any faith group. Many people go "church shopping" (and I suppose in communities with a large enough Jewish population, some Jewish families go "synagogue shopping") to find a place of worship that most suits their needs, desires, theological perspectives, and anything else they may require. If I had the power to choose where to worship, where would I go?
Wait! Don't I have the power to choose where to worship? Yes and no. Let's think about it.
I have to choose from the available worship venues in my immediate community, unless I want to drive eight hours one-way to reach more options. I also have to consider the MJ/BE viewpoint that my only valid worship venue as a Gentile, is the church. I want to examine my options as if I have made no decisions. Here are the parameters.
I'm going to assume three possible options: The Christian church, the One Law congregation, and the Messianic Jewish synagogue. For the purposes of this blog, I'm going to define "Christian church" as a single entity, even though there are a large number of denominations and, even within those denominations, there are specific churches driven by slightly different priorities and perspectives. Here we go.
- Acceptance: As a Gentile believer, I'm instantly "in". I don't have to worry too much about being judged by my ethnicity, my nationality, my skin color, or a lot of other variables (unless I want to attend a church serving the Korean or African-American or Russian communities in my area).
- Availability: Churches are just about everywhere and even in my little corner of the world, I have a lot to choose from. I have a lot of "shopping" options.
- Community: There are a lot of Christians out there, so calling myself a "Christian" instantly tells people who I am and what I believe. Even secular people and people of other religions understand what a Christian is (even if they don't like them or at least don't like what they believe Christians stand for).
- Low Requirements: This is sort of like "Acceptance" in that, there isn't much you really have to do to be accepted in the community. There aren't a lot of behavioral requirements to which members must comply. I can shop on Saturday and Sunday, eat what I want, dress how I want (mostly), pray how I want, call God and Jesus what I want (no foreign language requirements), and read the Bible just in English without feeling guilty or stupid.
- Lovingkindness: I can operate within a congregation that is more dedicated to performing the acts of kindness commanded by Yeshua/Jesus and that is commanded throughout the Torah without having those acts be overshadowed or overwhelmed or just plain diluted by ceremonial concerns.
- Acceptance: As a Gentile believer with a "Hebraic" (however you want to define that term) point of view of the Bible, I'll either have to keep my big mouth shut during Bible classes or risk being tossed out on my ear when I speak up and disagree with the teacher that Jesus made all meats clean or changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday (and you know how well I keep my opinions to myself).
- Education: If I have to go through one more Kay Arthur canned, programmed Bible study, I'm going to puke. I design teachings so people can ask questions, even the hard ones, so that people can really participate and share their perspectives, not just so people can agree to the "party line". I'm not saying that Christian education is poor, but there aren't a lot of opportunities to stretch and grow and, as you know, I like questioning assumptions.
- Ceremony: I gave up Christmas and Easter long ago and have no regrets. Even if I chose not to "celebrate" those events in my home, as part of a church, I'd be expected to participate in them in corporate worship and to at least fake being excited at the approach of the Christmas play.
- Food: I keep what the local Chabad Rabbi calls "kosher-style" which amounts to following the Leviticus 11 guidelines for what is and isn't food. It's a personal conviction of mine (and I don't care if you say I don't "have" to or not, I "choose" to), so pretending I'm allergic to all pork, shellfish, and other treif products will be tough over the long haul.
- Lying: This actually encompasses all of the "con" points because I'd have to do a considerable amount of lying to be able to operate within the parameters of what's expected in a church. Even keeping my mouth shut or forcing myself to stuff it with a ham sandwich is a form of lie.
- Hypocrisy and worse: The single thing I can't swallow about the Church is replacement theology. While I've been repeatedly criticized by MJ/BE proponents of supporting replacement theology, that same group says I should attend a religious organization that's guaranteed to practice some version of this. Not an option for me.
- Marriage: My wife is Jewish and even in terms of my current worship, she has to conceal certain items in our home when she has friends from shul over. Imagine how much more difficult life would be like for her if I became a regular church attender.
- Acceptance: Since I already attend what you call a One Law congregation and it most matches my theological understanding and worship style, I'm quite well accepted.
- Education: I do most the teachings so, by definition, I approve of the curriculum, including the Shabbat teaching, any other classes, plus the blog and website content.
- Ceremony: As a member of the board, I have a say in the order of service, prayers, so on and so forth. Plus, within the privacy of my own home, I can choose to pray in a manner that I feel consistent with my convictions.
- Food: Within the congregation, we have agreed to the Leviticus 11 standard, so there's no question about diet and menu.
- Community: While we are few, all of the folks who regularly attend tend to view the Bible, God, Yeshua, and each other in pretty much the same way. We like each other and tend to get along.
- Requirements: Not so much for regular attenders, but our worship style and pattern can be hard to pick up. The Hebrew tends to put off folks with a traditional church background and we can seem quite "rule bound" in some ways.
- Community: We are only one of two One Law congregations within driving distance. Not a lot of shopping options.
- Extreme Variability: If you look at One Law congregations in general, they are highly variable. No two are exactly alike or even remotely alike. While I feel comfortable and accepted in my local community, I could visit another OL congregation and feel completely alienated by their practices and theology. I find some OL congregations to be kind of "crazy" in their beliefs. Lots of "grass roots" congregation development, and not always for the good.
- Unusual People Magnet: I don't know how else to put this and be nice about it. We tend to attract people who have such odd or strange beliefs that they aren't accepted or even tolerated in any other religious venue. I've heard people say that during "the lost years of Jesus", the teenage Yeshua traveled to India with his "uncle" Nicodemus. The Bible hardly figures into some of these beliefs. We also occasionally attract predators and I've had to ask more than one fellow to leave after he expressed an "uncomfortable" interest in the woman and children of the congregation.
- Acceptance: Within our walls, we accept one another, but we aren't accepted, or at least understood in the larger religious and secular communities. Most of us say we go to a "Messianic" congregation, which most church people have at least heard of. How do I explain the difference between MJ and OL to other communities who already think we're have crazy if not heretics or cultists?
- Personal Education and Growth: If I want to learn, I have to self-study. Not a lot of opportunities to consult with more learned OL colleagues around here. Also, if I were a mere "member", and I had a personal or theological crisis, I could turn to someone higher up on the chain, expect wisdom and the assurance of confidentiality that wouldn't impact my relationships. I can't really do that when I'm on the board.
- Marriage: While my wife and I have agreed that we are each doing what is right for ourselves in terms of our faith, we don't worship together anymore. As a member of an OL congregation, if I were to attend her synagogue, it might cause problems, especially since some people who orbit the fringe of OL locally also show up at the traditional synagogues. She's not available to worship with me in my context.
- Education: I'd be in an environment where the Rabbi/Congregational leader is well educated in Hebrew, Torah, Talmud, holding the equivalent of a Masters degree in theology or divinity (which is the educational requirement for all Rabbis in modern times..if you don't have the same background as a non-Messianic Rabbi, you're probably not a Rabbi).
- Organization: The synagogue would have a more formal and organized structure of worship, activities, and so forth, rather than the more "grass roots" feel of an OL congregation.
- Food: Whether or not I'd be expected to keep kosher on any level, any food in the congregation would be consumable by my standards.
- Population Consistency: Most of the people would be Jewish or Gentiles who are seriously committed to supporting the Messianic community.
- Availability: There are none in my community, so that's that.
- Acceptance: By definition, MJ/BE congregations redirect Gentiles to the Christian church, so there'd be minimal to no acceptance of me as a Gentile.
- Ceremony: Since the worship would be specifically tailored towards Jewish members, parts of the prayer service that said, "Thank you for not making me a Gentile" would be more than a little uncomfortable and what would I do with the prayers in the Siddur where the person is referring to themselves as a Jew?
- Community: Like acceptance, community would be a struggle if it was available at all. There would also always be some doubt that at least a few Jewish members of the congregation would look down on the Gentile members.
- Marriage: My wife still wouldn't attend and, like many Jewish people, doesn't consider any form of Messianic Judaism to be a Judaism.
The Jewish (non-Messianic) Synagogue
- Marriage: I could worship with my wife. I know other families in the Chabad synagogue were one spouse is Jewish and the other is Gentile. It's doable as long as the non-Jewish spouse adheres to all of the requirements and behaviors of the congregation and does his or her best to fit in.
- Population Consistency: Most if not all people attending are Jewish or Gentile spouse of Jews who are dedicated to living a Jewish lifestyle, including prayer and worship.
- Food: A no brainer. If Gentiles are attending because they're married to a Jewish spouse, they're expected to eat the same foods as their spouse. No arguments here.
- Ceremony: Everyone operates within the same framework, Jew and Gentile spouse alike, with the understanding that Jews and Gentiles have different roles and responsibilities (Gentiles aren't called up to read the Torah for instance) [Italicized text added as suggested by Gene for accuracy].
- Acceptance: Oddly enough, as the spouse of a Jew, I'd probably be more accepted in a traditional synagogue than I would be in a Messianic Jewish/BE synagogue. No traditional Jewish Rabbi in his right mind would suggest that only my wife should worship in the synagogue and redirect me to a church, keeping in mind that "acceptance" is within the context of my not being Jewish.
- Consistency and Stability: Unlike OL and maybe some MJ congregations, traditional Judaism is a well established worship form with lots of standardization and larger organizational support. No grass roots.
- Acceptance: While I'd probably be better accepted in the traditional synagogue by virtue of being married to a Jew, I've experienced some "discomfort" with certain members of the synagogue, so it's not all rosy. The primary reason why I left the synagogue (in this case Reform) the first time was that I couldn't find a niche. I didn't "fit in".
- Ceremony: Again, when the siddur says "Thank you for not making me a Gentile", I'm going to have to swallow my tongue. As previously mentioned, my role in ceremony would be restricted by my being a Gentile.
- Lying: I'm not abandoning my faith in Yeshua/Jesus but to worship in this context, I'm going to at least have to keep my mouth shut. If someone asks me point blank about my faith, I have to tell the truth and get kicked out or lie and deny the Messiah. This would also impact how my wife would be viewed and endanger her community with her fellow Jews.
- Busting the Cover: Related to "lying". Occasionally, some people who orbit the fringes of OL visit traditional synagogues. I don't live in a large metropolitan area, so chances are I've met them all before. They'd "blow my cover" in a heartbeat, again messing up my wife's connection with the Jewish community.
- Conversion: Believe it or not, this has crossed my mind before, but again, I'd have to deliberately lie and deny my faith in Yeshua/Jesus which I cannot do. Also Paul said conversion was not only unnecessary but basically a slap in the face to Yeshua's bloody death on the stake. Beyond all that, God created me as a Gentile, not a Jew. Who am I to say He made a mistake?
What do I want? What does God want of me? I don't know. Does anybody else think like me?