|Excerpts from a Review
DR. ARNOLD G. FRUCHTENBAUM Th.M., Ph.D.
of the book:
"SOME MESSIANIC JEWS SAY MESSIANIC JUDAISM IS
NOT CHRISTIANITY: A LOVING CALL TO UNITY" by Stan Telchin
It did not take long for this book to cause a stir within the Messianic movement, both negatively and positively, but mostly the former. One paper, The Messianic Times, even had Telchin's daughter write a critique, which dealt with more on Telchin's qualifications to do such a critique than with the content of what he wrote.
In this section, Telchin raises some legitimate questions. In light of so many Jews coming to faith following the Six Day War in 1967, "...how was the Church to respond to the Jewish people who were coming to faith in Jesus?" This is followed by other questions that show the different way the church had responded in the past" (p.17).
The next question he raises is, "And how should new Jewish believers express their faith?" This is followed by questions of identity, and the follow up question then is, "How were they to live as Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus?" This question is followed by describing the various options that have taken place and his description is accurate (p.18).
It is then that Telchin comes to the issue of the book as a whole:
"Some in the movement created a form of worship such as never existed before - a mixture of Orthodox form and lifestyle with faith in Messiah Jesus - and modeled this form for other congregations. And as they did so, more and more Hebrew was incorporated into the service, though for Jews in the United States and almost no Gentiles understood Hebrew. Then the movement decided to call itself "Messianic Judaism" with the not so subtle emphasis on the word Judaism. Over the decades more and more rabbinic form and practices were brought into many of the congregations. This emphasis has brought considerable confusion, pain, discomfort and division into the lives of both Jewish and Gentile believers. It also has divided the Church" (p.19).
But was it wrong to incorporate Hebrew into the service, especially if it was translated so that all understood what the Hebrew was saying. What determines if rabbinic form and practices are valid incorporations or not? This is where Telchin should have defined Judaism, Messianic Judaism, rabbinic, and Christianity. But he does not do so and therefore it is not immediately known as to why it is a problem. I think I know what he means; but I am not sure. But his intent is clearly stated: "That is why I am writing this book. I intend to be fair, accurate and comprehensive in my review of Messianic Judaism" (p.19). But exactly what is he reviewing? I know it is Messianic Judaism, but what does he mean by it? How would his definition differ from others, especially adherents to the movement? He obviously does not believe it is kosher, but are there varieties, as he himself implies, that are kosher? If so, it desperately needed distinctive definitions which did not appear here as they should have which opened the door to much (but often unfair) criticism.
Chapter 1 - Messianic Judaism: The Issue Before Us
One would think that since Messianic Judaism was not defined in the introductory chapter, it would be in this one in light of its title, but it is not. The chapter begins with an account of a Messianic Jewish rabbi telling a Gentile believer to break off with a Jewish believer he is dating since Messianic Jews should not marry Gentiles, even believing ones (p.21-23). Do some Messianic Jews believe that Messianic Jews should only marry Messianic Jews? Yes, there are some that do. But does that mean that Messianic Judaism stands against such marriages? Obviously not for a very simple reason: The majority of Messianic Jewish leaders are married to Gentiles. Some are even children of such mixed marriages. Many members of messianic congregations are made up mixed married couples. The majority have more Gentile members than Jewish members and a few have no Jews in them at all. So no, the majority of Messianic Jewish leaders in Messianic Judaism do not oppose such mixed marriages. It is wrong to apply the view of the few on the many. So what ever may be wrong with Messianic Judaism, this is not one of its problems.
The above is followed by a long series of questions, 27 altogether, and these are very good questions that need to be answered. While it would be easier to answer them with a working of definition, they are questions Telchin tries to answer through his book. Among the more important questions are, "Are we Jews who have accepted the Messiah 'Jewish Christians' or 'Messianic Jews'? And is there any difference between the two (p. 23)?" Many leaders in the messianic movement do make such a distinction and even some outside the movement, such as Baruch Maoz, make such a distinction. I will comment on the validity of such a distinction when Telchin gives his answer. The next question on the same page is, "Must we Jewish believers restrict ourselves to attending Messianic synagogues, or may we attend churches?" The fact is that some leaders have made this the issue between Messianic Jews and Hebrew Christians. They define Messianic Jews as those who attend messianic congregations and Hebrew Christians as those who attend church. Sadly, the issue is not on what the congregation or the church teaches; it is strictly based on what one calls itself. Other relevant questions include: "Must we call our Messiah 'Jesus' or 'Yeshua'?" Are 'Messianic rabbis' really 'rabbis'?" "Is Messianic Judaism a 'different gospel'?" (If so, it is a false gospel). "Is there such a thing as a separate Messianic Jewish theology (pp. 24-25)?"
It is in the following paragraph that he makes his key point and notes the direction of his book: "As you continue to read this book, it will become very clear that, in fact, I do not believe God's Word supports Messianic Judaism (p. 25)." He goes on to quote William Varner as agreeing with him, which is essentially true, but Varner's article is opposed to all messianic congregations, and not just to the theologically questionable ones. I do not think that Telchin goes as far as Varner does. The reason Telchin gives is, "I believe some of their practices and some of their teachings are unscriptural (p.27)." Shortly thereafter, on the same page, he makes the following distinction: "Do note that I have used two different words: congregations and synagogues. In the chapters that follow I will explain the differences between these words. I am not opposed to all Messianic congregations, but I am opposed to Messianic Judaism." This would imply that Messianic Judaism applies to messianic synagogues while the term congregations applies to some that may be Messianic Judaism and to others that would not be. Having a definition to work with would be helpful here, but again, Telchin does not define the differences in terms, which renders his arguments weak and hard to follow. Just how do messianic synagogues differ from messianic congregations? And how does Judaism differ from Jewishness? The title of the book shows that he distinguishes Messianic Jews from Messianic Judaism, so what is the difference. Had he defined his terms at the beginning of his work, things would have gone much easier. But he goes on to state his position: "Heretofore I have not publicly opposed Messianic Judaism. But now I do (p.28)."
The chapter goes on to spell out Telchin's three purposes for writing the book (p.28-29), and all are noble purposes but they need not concern us here. He then gives two specific true story accounts that helped him decide to write the book. My own experiences in the movement show clearly that such incidents are a reality. But the question is: Because it happens in some, does it mean it happens in all? Even if it happens in a majority of cases, does it happen to all? In the case of one of the incidences, the point of which was that all Jewish believers should only be members of messianic congregations to avoid being "Gentilized," Telchin responds: "At that, I could not help myself and burst into laughter. How was I, a Jew whose parents were both Jewish, going to be "Gentilized" by the Church?" And here, Telchin is correct. Whether a Messianic Jew attends a messianic congregation or a church, he cannot become a Gentile. The fact remains that Jews in messianic congregations are primarily surrounded by Gentiles, some of whom are merely Jewish wanabees. Nor does the mere use or practice of rabbinic rituals determine Jewishness or the lack of "Gentileness."
The chapter ends with Telchin again repeating his goal in the form of questions: "But underlying all of these concerns will be these questions: Is Messianic Judaism biblical? Should the Church encourage Jewish believers to attend Messianic synagogues? How does this movement need to change? How can the church help (p. 34)?"
Chapter 2 - What Gave Birth to this Movement?
This chapter primarily is a history of church anti-Semitism (p.35-45), which Telchin sees as a major reason for the rise of Messianic Judaism. He makes it clear that he does not view these church persecutors of being "...a true disciple of the Lord Jesus." Telchin feels it is important to know about church anti-Semitism because, "If we do not consider this, then the Messianic movement will make no sense to us." Beyond this point, the chapter is an accurate summary of history and does not need to concern us here either.
Chapter 3 - Identity - The Real Issue
"This chapter is largely autobiographical, as I want to help you see a picture of the events that shaped my life (p. 47)." The point of this chapter is made at the end: "The point I am stressing and frequently repeating is this: Jewish people can express their Jewish identity in innumerable ways; yet, as you will see in the chapters that follow, Messianic Judaism seems to insist that the single most important way a Jewish believer in Jesus can express his or her identity as a Jew is by being part of a Messianic synagogue (p.56)." What Telchin says here is true in two areas. First, Jewishness can indeed be expressed in all kinds of different ways and those messianic leaders who claim otherwise are very clearly wrong. Second, it is also very true that there are messianic leaders who claim that the only way of maintaining a Jewish identity is to be part of a messianic congregation or synagogue. Those who do claim this have taken a very unbiblical turn. It is obvious that in the churches established by the Apostles in the Diaspora there were both Jews and Gentiles with the latter often in the majority (i.e., the Corinthian Church). The Jewish believers did not separate into messianic congregations. They were part of the same local church and they expressed their Jewishness in their way while the Gentiles expressed their Gentile identity in their own way. However it is also true that not all messianic leaders would say this, but it is sad that many would, although except for their music and rituals, their services differ little from a typical Pentecostal/charismatic service on one hand or a Bible church on the other. Some even have gone to the extreme Toronto experience and there is nothing Jewish about making animal sounds in a service.
The chapter ends citing a messianic leader claiming that since a specific Jewish believer has chosen to attend a church in place of a messianic congregation, he no longer wants to be Jewish. Here again, not all messianic leaders would make such a statement but many would and it is equally wrong and sad. If the messianic congregation spends no time in the exposition of the Word of God, then why should the Jewish believer not choose to go to a church that does and still be loyal to his Jewish identity? If the only thing Jewish about that congregation is ritual and nothing more, then the Jewish believer can go to a Bible teaching church and carry out Jewish rituals in the privacy of his own home. If the messianic congregation is imitating the animal sounds of Toronto (only excluding the sounds of non-kosher animals such the oinking of a pig), it would be a more Jewish thing for him to choose to go elsewhere. Let it be said loud and clear that the most Jewish thing a Jewish believer can do is to seek out a Bible teaching fellowship. If it has to be a church, so be it! To go to a poor Bible teaching messianic congregation for no other reason than that it has Jewish music and rituals would be a disloyalty to his Jewish identity. Fortunately, I did not have to make such a choice since I am member of a messianic congregation whose pastor/congregational leader is a solid Bible teacher and one I can sit under and learn from. But again, what Telchin describes is not true across the board and this must also be made clear.
Chapter 4 - How the Movement Grew
This chapter gives a short summary of what made the movement grow but here Telchin also makes some statements that are true on one hand but not true of all on the other. But he gets some things wrong as well. After noting that the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America changed its name to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, which happened in 1975, he states: "During these years a new terminology was created. In addition to the change in the name of the Alliance, Jews were no longer 'converted'; they were 'completed' (p. 60)." But, this is simply not true. That concept was already around for many years before that and I was hearing this and using it in the late 50's or early 60's. It is certainly true that some new terms were introduced, such as mikvah-bris for baptism, but using completed in place of converted was not one of them. Even the use of the term synagogue was not introduced at this point since it was used previously by messianic groups, though very rarely, and now more commonly.
Even the term rabbi was not new for messianic leaders but previously it was very rarely used and is now used more commonly. I for one prefer that that title not be used by messianic leaders and I would never use it of myself though I have probably had more rabbinic studies and training than the majority of those who use that title. However, if one wishes to use it, he should at least get the training that such a term implies and the simple truth is that virtually none in the movement who use that title have had that training. Only a minority can read Hebrew fluently, and even that minority does not understand what they are reading. Virtually none have read the rabbinic writings such as the Talmud, Midrash, and Targum, among others. I agree with what Telchin says about the use the term rabbi, but here again, not all messianic leaders have chosen to use that term.
Other terms were not new but are only now used with a new focus such as congregation in place of church. Also new here was a change of meaning. Previously, it was understood by all that the word congregation meant the same as church but the latter term had a negative meaning in the Jewish community and so it was not a preferred term to use. However, with the change of name, many leaders began denying that they were part of the church and now distinguished the congregation from the church. To deny that they were part of the church, in its New Testament meaning, was and still is a major fallacy in the movement. The issue is not whether we need to use the term. The issue is: what are we? According to the New Testament, all believers make up the Body of the Messiah which is the church (Col. 1:18; I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:11-16; 3:5-6). The denial of this truth is indeed a major fallacy in the movement but again, it is not true of all. It is not true of our congregation, Shuvah Yisrael, and it is not true of the messianic congregations that are part of The Association of Messianic Congregations, and it is not true of a number of independent messianic congregations who have not associated with any of the three unions.
The above fallacy in the movement has led to another as Telchin quotes a messianic leader as saying, "...Messianic Judaism was becoming a reality and that it would become a fourth branch of Judaism, along with Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Judaism (p. 61)." But as Telchin truly points out, whatever the differences the three branches of Judaism may have, they all agree on one point: "Jesus was not the Messiah." This is also one of the more serious misconceptions that many in the movement have about themselves. They not only deny being part of the church, but claim to be part of Judaism. Yet it is the church that accepts them and it is Judaism that rejects them. What the New Testament teaches about the Remnant of Israel is that they will always be rejected by the non-remnant until the time comes when "all Israel shall be saved." The hope Messianic Jews have to be accepted by the larger Jewish community is wishful thinking. It also remains a fact that a majority of the members of messianic congregations are composed of Gentiles and not Jews. This will not be acceptable to any of the three branches of Judaism. The movement, to be biblical, must recognize that in spite of all terminology, they are part of the Church, the Body of the Messiah.
Towards the end of the chapter, Telchin makes the following observation:
As more and more leaders in the movement caught the idea, many of them began to call their congregations "synagogues" and proclaimed themselves to be "rabbis." But most of these men were not raised as observant Jews, most had no rabbinic training and some them were Gentiles. I remember thinking, How can they ever expect to be considered rabbis by the Jewish community? Won't there be strong opposition to their use of this term (p. 61-62)?
This is a valid criticism except, again, it must be made clear that it is not true of all messianic congregations. What he concludes the chapter with is also true: "They were determined to establish Messianic synagogues and promote the movement. They also were more focused on maintaining Jewishness than they were on maintaining the integrity of Scripture (p. 62)." But again, there are messianic leaders who promote the establishment of messianic congregations but do not compromise "the integrity of Scripture."
Chapter 5 - Is Messianic Judaism Jewish?
This chapter begins with Telchin noting that while some of the stated goals of Messianic Judaism are important objectives, what he finds a problem with is the following:
"But pay careful attention to the next statement: Gaining acceptance by the Jewish community seems to have become one of its primary objectives. Hear me clearly as I rewrite that statement: As Jews who believe in Jesus, Messianic Jews want to be identified with and accepted by a Jewry that has largely rejected God and His Word. Clearly this is not a biblical objective" (p.63).
His observation is correct: A large segment of the movement is indeed trying to find acceptance by the larger Jewish community. But here again, it is not all, and not true of groups such as the Association of Messianic Congregations. And once again, a lack of definition is causing confusion. The above quote states that this is the desire of Messianic Jews and taken in this context, it implies that this is true of all Messianic Jews. Yet he calls himself a Messianic Jew but does not subscribe to that objective. Neither do I. Neither do others. It is not that what Telchin says is wrong; it is in fact true of a large segment of the movement. But he keeps stating these truths with too large a sweep and that is unfair to Messianic Jews who do not follow that approach. And crediting it to Messianic Jews in general is what renders the statement faulty. He does clarify it later, but three paragraphs away. He points out that what is important is what the Bible actually says, and that what many Messianic Jewish leaders say is the opinion of men since it does not correspond with the Word of God. But then he adds, "So please do not think that these statements apply to all Messianic congregations (p. 64)." And indeed, they do not. Telchin should have defined and delineated two different groups at the beginning of the book and that would have rendered his work more understandable, and even more acceptable with others who agree with him. But his failure to clarify such distinctions has caused some very kosher messianic leaders and congregations to shy away from the book. But Telchin is right that the focus in the movement is more on Jewishness than on Scripture and his observation of about 33,000 sites on the Internet that would fall under the search title "Messianic Judaism", is, "And you surely will see that most of them are focused more upon 'Jewishness' than upon the Bible (p. 64)."
In the next segment, Telchin points out that while first generation immigrants do need to attend ethnic church due to language, the second generation does not need to do so since they are fluent in English. He then applies it to messianic congregations:
"The argument also falls apart when you look at Jewish people today. Most of us do not speak Hebrew. Most are not regular synagogue attendees. Most do not equate being Jewish with participating in synagogue life. So why should we be required to attend a Messianic synagogue when we come to faith in order to prove that we are Jewish (p. 65)?"
This is a good response those messianic leaders who claim that Jewish believers must attend messianic congregations in order to maintain their Jewish identity. Again, the first question should always be: where is the Bible being taught; where is it being expounded upon? Then that is where any believer should go, Jewish or Gentile. As long as the above statement does not rule out attending a messianic congregation by choice, then there is not a problem. It should be kept in mind that for many of us, the desire to attend a messianic congregation is our preference to have Jewish music and Jewish style teaching and not to prove to the large community that we are really Jews. For me and for others, we choose a messianic congregation that is Bible teaching and fosters a style of worship we prefer to another. For that same reason, some Gentiles prefer to go to a church that has a traditional style of worship while others go one with a more modern form of worship. The issue here is not language, but style of culture. So for some Messianic Jews, the issue is not language but style of worship. That is why I enjoy my messianic congregation. I learn from the pastor and I enjoy the worship format. So again, Telchin's critique is not wrong, but somewhat limited.
As for the claim that Jews are not attracted to a Gentile Jesus but would be attracted to a Jewish Yeshua, Telchin notes that the vast majority of Jewish believers were not saved through messianic congregations but through being witnessed to by Gentiles, most of whom did not use Jewish terms. He refers to a survey that notes that "only four percent of believing Jews were evangelized by Messianic Congregations (p.65-66)." While I am not sure of the accuracy of that figure, I do know that indeed the vast majority of Jewish believers were not evangelized by messianic congregations. If the primary purpose of such congregations was to evangelize, then indeed they have failed and will continue to fail. I, for one, do not think that is the primary purpose of a messianic congregation. For me, the primary purpose is that this is what we want: a Jewish worship style, a place our children can learn about Jewish things such as history and festivities, among other things. Nor would it be necessary for a Jewish believer to join such a congregation if he prefers to attend a church. There are ways to meet those desires in that context as well. Here again, what Telchin says is true, but does not apply to all messianic situations.
The next point Telchin gets into is the desire of many leaders to make a distinction between Messianic Jews and Jewish Christians, and it is true that many leaders in the movement do make such a distinction. But even some who would virtually fully agree with Telchin, such as Maoz, would also make such a distinction. But I agree with Telchin that this is a foolish and wrong distinction. The term messianic is of Hebrew origin based on the Hebrew word meshichi. The term Christian is based on the Greek term christos, which itself is simply the Greek translation of mashiach. In other words, the meaning is exactly the same and there is no linguistic distinction; the difference is a matter of a distinction in language. So while some leaders would claim that Messianic Jews go to messianic congregations and Jewish Christians go to church, Telchin notes that "I suspect that the majority of Jewish believers today call themselves 'Messianic Jews,' even though they are not involved with Messianic Judaism. They refuse the term Judaism because it reminds them of rabbinic - man-made - concepts, which they refuse as contrary to Scripture (p.66)." This is also an accurate observation and one I would identify with.
As for the claim that Messianic Jews are more zealous for the Law, Telchin makes the following observation:
Do those who attend Messianic synagogues even know these 613 commandments? And it they do not know them, how can they zealously keep them? What they seem to be zealous for is the word Torah and the emotional coloring of carrying the Torah scrolls around the synagogue during a service (p. 67).
This is another valid conclusion. I have observed that while they often preach Torah or Law, they practice grace. For example, they insist we keep Passover because Moses commanded us to keep it. True enough, but what else did he say? In Deuteronomy 16, he specified that one not keep it at home but in the place where God will choose to put His Name, which ultimately was Jerusalem. So if they are observing Passover in the USA, either at home or at their congregation, they are breaking the Law. But grace permits believers to choose or not to choose to observe Passover, and if they choose to observe it, they can do so anywhere. For my own seder, I always choose to serve Lamb since it pictures the Messiah as the Lamb of God. In the majority of Messianic Passovers I have attended, they have chosen to follow rabbinic tradition and choose to serve chicken. This is not observing Law but practicing grace which allows you to serve any kind of meat. The Law also specified not to invite a Gentile to your Passover table unless he is circumcised first. Thank God, I no longer have to check this one out! I do not claim to observe Torah, but practice grace. So again, many messianic rabbis preach Law but practice grace. Here again, Telchin has given a correct evaluation. Telchin makes clear that he is not against observing the feast but admonishes "It is God and not the feasts that are to be worshipped (p.69)."
Telchin also observes that while some leaders claim that Messianic Jews follow the kosher eating laws of Moses, Telchin remarks, "Perhaps a few might, but the overwhelming majority does not." Again, this is also a true statement.
Telchin then notes that messianic congregations are not particularly Jewish and in fact "sometimes as many as 85 to 90 percent of the attendees - are Gentiles (p. 70)." This has been verified many times over and I have been to one that had a good size membership, but not one Jew was a member. Such a fact, he notes, will not help being accepted by the Jewish community: "For these reasons, you must understand that the Jewish community will do all in its power to prevent the favorable recognition of Messianic Judaism (p.71)." Again, this is a very true observation. If the purpose of a messianic congregation is to foster Jewishness, then it has failed and attracted more Gentiles than Jews. But if the purpose of a messianic congregation is to provide a Jewish style of worship, teaching, and ritual practice then it does not matter what the ratio of Jewish and Gentile members happens to be. But it is not the rituals that make one Jewish, as Telchin emphasizes but being born of Jewish parents determines your Jewishness. Gentiles can play Jewish by wearing kippot and wearing tallitot, but will remain Gentiles. Jews can choose not to do those things, but they will still remain Jewish (p.72).
He concludes the chapter by drawing certain distinctions: "Once again, I emphasize that there are the Jewish people and Jewish culture. Then there is the Jewish religion. They are not the same." And no, they are not. But again, there is a lack of definition and so it is unclear as to what extent, if any, Messianic Jews can participate in the culture and/or the religion.
Chapter 6 - The Phenomenon: Gentiles in Synagogues
As the title makes clear, this chapter discusses the predominant number of Gentiles in the messianic movement, and he states, "The issue - indeed, the phenomenon - of Gentiles attending Messianic synagogues is a critical one when considering the validity of the Messianic movement (p.75)." This is followed by several personal stories of Gentiles who have or do attend such congregations and why they do and some of their questions in light of that. I will not review the various objections that come up, though valid, but to note the key element that is repeated is the fact that only a minority of the members are Jewish. One mentions only a third were Jewish in that congregation and another mentions that more than eighty percent who attended a different congregation were Gentiles. The valid question to raise is: If the majority are Gentiles, what makes the congregation Jewish? There are Jewish believers in churches, and some churches have more Jewish members than messianic congregations, then what makes the congregation Jewish? It is not due to membership, with few exceptions, but it is due style of worship and the rituals practiced, and not really much more. So if the purpose of messianic congregations was to be Jewish in membership, at least for the majority, then it is a failure. However, for some of us, the purpose was to establish a congregation with a Jewish style of worship and teaching, both for children and adults, and the membership may be what may be, recognizing that the majority could be Gentiles. In this approach, and for these messianic congregations, it is not a failure.
Telchin then deals with why Gentiles attend messianic synagogues: "They love the music. They enjoy learning about the Jewish holidays and even enjoy singing Hebrew songs. And certainly they enjoy the feeling of family (p. 83)." But eventually some left either because the focus was more on Jewishness than on the Messiah, or "...emulating rabbinic Judaism with a Christian vocabulary rather than concentrating on the finished work Jesus did on the cross (p81)." Another one stated, "I was filled to overflowing by the 'wanabees' and the 'Pharisees' (p. 82)!" People leave churches and congregations for various reasons and some are valid and some are not. If the above reasons are true, it is inexcusable for a congregation to be what they described. Here again, what is true of some is not true of all.
Then Telchin deals with the other side of the coin: Why Jews do not attend messianic synagogues. He estimates that less than five percent of Messianic Jews attend messianic synagogues. He did not provide the source for that conclusion but anyone who travels among Jewish believers can largely agree that the vast majority of Jewish believers do not attend messianic congregations. As to why not, Telchin gives the following reason:
Why is that? Perhaps it is because those who had an Orthodox or Conservative upbringing in the
synagogue are uncomfortable with what they see and hear in most Messianic synagogues. It is
something they never saw or heard in their home synagogues. Many Jewish people who I have brought to such synagogues have told me they felt as though they were looking at a caricature -
an imitation and not the real thing. But perhaps the major reason why more Jewish followers of the Messiah are involved in Messianic Judaism is that most Jewish people in the United States did not grow up in observant homes or in the synagogue. They find the Messianic synagogues foreign to their understanding and choose to stay away...God's love and grace are secondary to the emphasis upon "Jewishness." This, too, drives many Jewish believers away.
It is true that many such congregations are trying to imitate the synagogue, and often do it wrongly, such as wearing tallitot at an evening service. It is also true that for those of us who were raised orthodox or conservative, it seems to be playing at being Jewish, especially when the Torah scroll is opened to be read but those reading it read it very poorly, or not at all; they simply place an English Bible on top of the scroll and read from it. This is playing Jewish and not being Jewish. However, there are congregations, like the one I am a member of, who do not try to imitate the synagogue but simply set their own form of worship, some of which may follow the synagogue pattern and some of which will not, but it is still ours. We are not trying to impress the Jewish community but trying to provide for ourselves what we are and what we want. Messianic Jews are free to join and free not to join; Gentiles are also free to join and not to join. Those who do join need to agree to our philosophy of ministry which includes a Jewish congregational style of worship and teaching and in our case, we have a good expositor of the Word.
The chapter ends with Telchin noting that what he described is not true of all congregations. He points out a friend who leads a messianic congregation that has about a forty percent Jewish membership who is quoted as saying:
"I understand,...what many in the movement are doing is substituting rabbinic form for Jewish culture. We don't do that in my congregation. The only things I do on Saturday mornings are blow the shofar [ram's horn] to announce the beginning of the service. And we sing the Sh'ma...We do not wear yarmulkes or tallits...But we certainly talk about the feasts of Israel and show how they were fulfilled in Jesus. And I stress the wonderful Jewish culture and history to show how God has preserved us. (p.85-86)
Although still noting that the Gentiles are the majority, Telchin is comfortable with this kind of congregation and I also wish there were more like it. The one I am member of is very similar except that some do wear the kippot and the tallitot, and some do not and each one is free to choose what he wishes to do. This is the freedom in the Messiah and there is not peer group pressure to conform to one style of Jewishness which is more rabbinic than Jewish.
Chapter 7 - One New Man
As the title suggests, this chapter focuses on the fact that God created a one new man, not two new men, composed of both Jews and Gentiles who believe. It is based on Ephesians 2:11-16. Not much in the opening pages of this chapter need concern us and all Bible students would agree with he writes. Then Telchin skips over to 4:12-14, and then states:
When I thought about what I had read in verse 14, I realized that in many ways I had become confused by the different winds of doctrine that were being proclaimed by certain leaders in Messianic Judaism. I also realized that I was not the only Jewish believer who felt this way. I was beginning to find that all too many, like myself, were similarly confused. Why? Because we were being encouraged to follow the teachings of men rather than the Word of God. Why was that? Because our leaders did not stress or demand our full submission to God's Word. Instead they seemed to be trying to gain the acceptance of the rabbis and of the Jewish establishment. (p.93)
While Telchin is obviously repeating himself, sometimes such repetition is necessary and it certainly is here. It is a basic truth many leaders in the messianic movement are stressing far more Judaism and Jewish than they are the authority of the Word of God. Much more is focused on explaining the weekly parashot (readings) than an exposition of the Scriptures as a whole. But it was refreshing to read later: "But first, I must again remind you that there are innumerable factions within Jewish ministry, and what I am about to say will not apply to each of them." (p.96) What he goes on to critique (1) that many in the movement are more focused in trying to prove that they are Jewish than on the things of God; (2) they concentrate more on "rabbinic practices and synagogal form" than on Jewish life and culture, and there really is a difference; (3) this led to their judging other messianic groups based on who is more Jewish and who is less. (p.97). This is followed by a strongly worded paragraph:
"Now please consider: Is there any place in Scripture where God directs us Jews to "prove our Jewishness"? Is there any place where He directs Gentiles to "prove their Jewishness"? Does concentrating on rabbinic form bring glory to God? Does rabbinic form equip us to do what Jesus did? does it help us to develop more understudies of Messiah Jesus? Will focusing on our "Jewishness" in our worship help us reach more Jewish people with the Gospel? Has it done so in the past? Do we not understand that currently only seven percent of the Jewish people in the United States attend a synagogue as often as twice a month? do we not also understand that at least 85 percent of the Jewish people in the world are secular? Do we admit that the overwhelming majority of people who attend Messianic synagogues in the United States are not Jewish?" (p.97-98)
The questions are pointed and the answers are mostly obvious. If the reason for a messianic congregation to exist lies only to prove our Jewishness and there is not biblical reason to have one. But that is not the basis for every messianic congregation. Some of us have one for no other reason than this is the kind of format we want to have. It does not matter to us whether the Jewish community accepts us as Jewish or not. This is what we are and this is what we do. So again, Telchin's criticism does apply to many but not to all.
Towards the end of the chapter, Telchin shows that he does understand this though it is not as prominent in his book as one would hope:
"Let me make the next point crystal clear; I am not opposed to any ethnic group of people articulating its social, moral, and cultural heritage. When we become believers, we do not turn our backs on whom god made us to be. But Scripture clearly establishes the fact that God does not want those ethnic and cultural differences to divide us. He wants us to be united. No matter what our culture or heritage, we are to be one new man in Messiah Jesus" (p.99)
This part of Telchin's position is often missed by the many critiques of his work and it would be easy to miss in the wider scheme of things. But the very fact of the one new man concept allows for a messianic congregation to exists, expressing a Jewish cultural style of worship and teaching, and still have a majority of Gentiles attending!
Chapter 8 - How Jewish People Are Being Reached
The basic point of this chapter is that messianic congregations have not had an effective outreach to the Jewish community and it is still true that more Jews find their Messiah through Gentile witness, and these Gentiles are not members of messianic congregations. Telchin quotes another messianic leader who cites four reasons for their failure but the bottom line is the same: the desire to be part of the Jewish community and the desire to prove their Jewish identity, they often compromise on preaching the Gospel and refrain from active evangelism. Once again, it is a true statement of many but not all and the congregation I am a member of has had an effective evangelistic trust as well.
Chapter 9 - What About Congregations in Israel?
In this chapter, Telchin makes a very accurate observation that messianic congregations in Israel are very different than those of North America:
"What you must certainly have observed from these comments is that Messianic Judaism is of little interest to Jewish believers in Israel. Although a number of American leaders in the Messianic movement have emigrated to Israel and have attempted to create American-style Messianic synagogues, they have not succeeded in doing so" (p.118)
And if they have succeeded to establish one or two, they are the exception to the rule and not the norm for Israeli believers who feel no need to prove their Jewishness to anyone. Furthermore, being identified as being more Orthodox would prove to be a negative in the Israeli society than a positive. American messianic believer would do well to learn from the Israeli believers how to practice their Jewishness. But not much more need to detain us in this chapter.
Chapter 10 - Is Messianic Judaism God's Way?
The first paragraph explains the purpose of this chapter: "In view of all we have considered thus far, we have to ask what role Messianic Judaism plays in God's plan for the Jewish people and the Church." (p.123) This is followed by a survey of the plan of redemption and what the Bible teaches about Israel's restoration. After discussing the fact the will of God with go against any tolerance of what is not his will, Telchin again makes a strong statement:
No, we do not have to be more tolerant of Messianic Judaism. If we see that some of what it says and does contradicts God's way; if we see that its values, lifestyles and truth claims are contrary to what God says; if we see that it is dividing the Church; then we - especially Church leaders - must speak up. We must not support or encourage or sponsor or be "tolerant" of any activity that we know is inconsistent with God's Word. And this includes Messianic Judaism. (p.131-132)
Once again there is an overstatement here. Once again Messianic Judaism is not defined in a clear way that would distinguish it from those kind of messianic congregations Telchin would approve of. For that reason, even such congregations feel attacked by Telchin's book though they are not. But one has to read very carefully to see that distinction. The chapter ends with Telchin making it clear that he is not attacking individuals in the movement but with the false doctrine in the movement. True enough. But it would have been very helpful for Telchin to have clarified, identified, and delineated the different facets within the messianic movement so there would not be such confusion as to whom Telchin is attacking and whom he is not.
Chapter 11 - What Does the Church Need to Do?
The point of this chapter is to teach the church what it must do about the past and how it can provoke the Jews to jealousy but the content would not concern us in the purpose of this review.
Chapter 12 - Beware the Divided Heart
The focus of this chapter is to show that if the heart is focused on the Messiah, it is not divided, but if it is focused on Jewishness then it is divided:
Now watch the application to Messianic Judaism. It seems to have a little bit of God and a little bit of Torah service, a little bit of Hebrew, a little bit of bread and wine, a little bit of yarmulke wearing, a little bit of keeping kosher, and lots of Messianic music and Israel folk dancing. And before you know it, these things are spoken of more than we speak of Yeshua. The heart has been divided, and the truth has been corrupted. (p.147)
This is the point that bothers Telchin most about "Messianic Judaism": It has tidbits of Jewishness, a lot of focus on music and dance, all of which overshadows focusing on the Messiah and focusing on the Scriptures. There is something basically wrong if the music and ritual is twice as long as the exposition of the Word of God and there is something wrong when people attend the longer music and dance ministry and tend to walk out before or during the teaching, and indeed some do. To him, this is the result of the divided heart and will bring the movement down spiritually, no matter how it will grow numerically. But once again it must be emphasized that this description does not fit all though it may fit most. Here again, failing to define Messianic Judaism and/or distinguish it from other types of messianic congregations makes it sound that all are guilty of what he describes though obviously from comments made previously, he does not believe that.
So what should we do? Telchin gives the following suggestion:
"I know that almost all leaders in Messianic Judaism would insist that salvation is solely by faith through God's grace. But the actions and attitudes of their (primarily Gentile) followers seem to indicate a belief that if Jewish people are really saved, they should belong to Messianic synagogues and follow rabbinic form. Somehow in the midst of my brothers' emphasis on Messianic Judaism, they have lost sight of two facts that we already have discussed: (1) God has not called us to an ethnic identity, and (2) He has clearly called us - Jews and Gentiles alike - to spiritual identity as one new man" (p.150)
Indeed, this is another valid criticism and I have heard more than one leader claim that all believing Jews need to be in messianic congregations for no other reason than they call themselves messianic, regardless of style of worship, theology, and teaching (or a lack thereof). But once again, it is not true of all and his use of Messianic Judaism implies that what he describes is indeed true of all. Again, it is possible to be messianic without being rabbinic, and it is possible to leave the member the freedom as to whether they will or will not don rabbinic attire. It is not that these things are wrong in themselves, but it is wrong to apply peer group pressure for all to conform.
In this chapter, Telchin summarizes what he has seen over the last quarter century:
"More than 25 years have passed since I first recognized the potential problems of Messianic Judaism. During this time I have waited for the movement to become more stable and for the needed corrections to be made. But they have not been made. Instead with the passing years, the problems have increased and intensified. Further, as we reflect on how few Jewish people Messianic Judaism has attracted and how many Jewish people it has antagonized and offended, we can see that it has not accomplished one of the major purposes it has declared for its existence". (p.154)
I have also observed the development over the same period of time and have seen the same problems arise and get worse. I only wish that Telchin had spoken out on these things much earlier than now. The fact now is that the existing groups are not likely to change since the problem is as much with the leaders, in not more so, than with the laity. It is the lost hope that they could stabilize that has created the need for the new group, The Association of Messianic Congregations. The congregations of this fellowship are not guilty of the faults that Telchin has described. On the other hand, while they vary widely from congregation to congregation, all do have certain Jewish rituals, but they do not assign to them the "cosmic motif" that others do. As long as it is simply a freedom in the Messiah to do or not to do, it is quite valid. As for the statement about offending Jewish people, if the goal of the messianic congregation was not to offend but to be accepted, they have indeed failed. However, if the offense was that of the cross, we should anticipate Jews to be offended regardless of the nature of the messianic congregation.
Towards the end of the book, Telchin issues the following challenge:
But it is not too late. Accordingly I now address my brothers and sisters who are involved in Messianic Judaism. I exhort you to:
1. Recognize the tremendous differences that exists between Jewish culture and rabbinic form. I urge you to end your emphasis on rabbinic form.
2. Recognize that while Messianic congregations can be a bridge between the synagogue and the Church, no one builds a home on a bridge.
3. Recognize that it God's will that together we be one new man. There is to be one Church. (p.154-155)
Concerning the first point, it is very valid to differentiate between Jewish culture and rabbinic form. It is also valid to focus more on the culture than on the rabbinic. However, it should be noted that if the rabbinic form is New Testament neutral, there is no harm in using it as long as it is voluntary and not mandatory, and does not take priority over the exposition of the Word of God. As for the second point, it seems to view messianic congregations a being only a bridge. However, there is not reason why the messianic congregation cannot become the local church for the believer, thought the term church may not be used due to its negative role in Jewish history. I am a member of a very balanced messianic congregation. Biblically, it is a local church but we prefer not to use that terminology. Our style of worship may differ from Gentile churches, but even among Gentile churches, the style of worship differs from one to the other. As for the third point, it is a valid point but a messianic congregation can fulfill that motif and ours has both Jews and Gentiles in it and the Gentile members are not trying to become Jewish.
Telchin's book is not as bad as many make it out to be, but it could be better. The problem is not that his descriptions and criticisms are invalid, but they are too sweeping and he brushes with too wide a brush (or broom?). He does not take the care necessary to carefully delineate the various groups within the movement, though he clearly recognized that they exist, and carefully spell out who is guilty of his criticisms and who is not. Again, even those who largely agree with him are still put off due to such sweeping statements and are not sure whether he would or would not approve their congregation.
If this book undergoes a future reprinting, I would recommend the following changes that would not in any way undermine Telchin's convictions.
He needs to define clearly, early in the book, the following terms and how they do or do not differ from one another: Messianic Jew, Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Christian, Christian Jew, Christianity, Church, Synagogue, Messianic Synagogue, Messianic Congregation, Jewish Culture, Rabbinic Form, etc. This would go a long way in clarifying who is talking about and who he is not talking about. There was simply too much confusion on these issue.
Since he implied he was not against all messianic congregations, it would be very helpful to add a chapter describing the kind of messianic congregation he would be comfortable with and give some example of it. He approves of Jewish culture, and so how much of that culture should be allowed in that congregation? He has trouble with rabbinic form, so how would these congregations clearly distinguish between the culture and the form? And to what extend is rabbinic form wrong and why?
I believe the above suggestions would clarify the book, make the critique better, and help silence some of the unfair criticisms that the book has experienced so far. There are things I obviously disagree with. But there are so many things in the back that are very valid and so merely dismissing the book, as so many book reports have done so far, only reaffirms the very criticism he has been giving.
This review was edited for length. The full review can be found at www.Ariel.org
The Association of Messianic
Congregations (AMC) is committed to seeing the Messianic Jewish movement
grow and flourish, especially in our commitment to seeing Messiah Yeshua and His Grace become
acknowledged as the central core of our Messianic faith by all Messianic Congregations.
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