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The Messianic Movement
and its Perpetual Identity Crisis

Dr. Alan Poyner-Levison

Since the Messianic Movement became buoyant in the foremost thinking of Jewish believers' lives, it has gone in many directions both doctrinally as well as positionally. What were at one time known as Hebrew Christians are now calling themselves Messianic Jews? This is because at that time Hebrew Christians were exactly that: Jewish Believers in Jesus or Christian Jews. However, we have lately seen the emergence of a sub group that has grown out of this sound messianic position, and have become named the Jewish Roots Movement. These are in the main Gentiles that have become aware of the Jewish roots of their faith, and working on the premise of Romans 11:17 that they were grafted into the Jewish root, they have adopted in some cases virtually the whole Rabbinic order of worship which is what they understand as being Jewish. They will argue that they are part of the one new man that Scripture speaks of in Ephesians 2:15, which makes them Jewish, so they should be partakers of all aspects of Jewish life. Now if this is not alarming enough, a third culture has also developed which calls itself the Two House Ephraimite Movement which teaches that the Gentile believers in Yeshua are the physical descendants of the ten lost tribes of the Kingdom of Israel which is also known as Ephraim; hence the title Ephraimite.

Now I ask you, where are we going as a movement? If we desire to be biblical we must comply with Paulís request in 1 Corinthian 4:6, Do not go beyond that which is written, and Titus 1:9, Encourage others by sound doctrine, and refute those who oppose it, and 1 Corinthianís 11:2, Keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Remaining soundly within Scripture has to be our most important premise, but people are more concerned with Jewishness than they are with Messiah Jesus; in fact, things have deteriorated so badly that in some congregations people are almost ashamed of using His name Jesus, and feel compelled to have to say Yeshua in a legalistic sense. Friends, this is majoring on minors. Ultimatly it doesnít matter whether you say Jesus or Yeshua, and it doesnít matter whether we say John or Yochanan. It's about obeying Scripture, not about language. To speak in some warped language which is a very small part Hebrew and the rest English is just nonsense. It is part of what the rest of the church finds strange about Messianic believers, and hence is causing a stumbling block to bringing the true unity that Yeshua wants for both of us. Some will go to gigantic lengths to get the Parashot* readings correct, and yet do not give the same attention to Holy Writ.

The Identity Crisis

So why do these believers get caught in these non-essential snares? Well, I believe we can glean some insight from the book of Titus. Titus 3:8-11: This is a faithful saying and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men. But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the Law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

That is a very telling statement: warped, because something that is warped is bent out of shape. It is a twisted malfunction of its original position. What it tells us about these divisive people we are being warned about is they are taking that which was pure and making it fit what they see is correct, rather than what Scripture teaches is correct.

Most of these folks are Gentile and are caught in an identity trap because they are not Jewish and feel the need to be Jewish, so they have to go overboard on kippas* and shofars* and tallits* and everything else that has come to be understood to be the domain of Jewish people. Then they get so consumed with Jewish culture that they are sidetracked away from what is important: sharing the good news with the Jewish people. What Titus is saying here is unless they get involved with the business at hand, namely to share the good news of the Gospel with Jewish people, they will get caught up in other non profit enterprises such as trying to be Jewish. Whatís more, Titus here states that they are sinning because they are self-condemned. They are Gentiles caught up in a Jewish world. But brethren, Jesus came to bring the way to life, and not the way to Jewishness. True Jewishness is not merely the external wearing of clothes or the speaking of Hebrew sentences. It's zeal in fulfilling the Lordís command to share the good news to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile.

Again Paulís commands ring out on this subject. 1 Corinthians 7:24: Brethren let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. 1 Corinthians 7:17-20: But God has distributed to each one, as the Lord
has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, But the commandments of God are what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called
.

If it was so important to take on board rabbinic Judaism, why did Paul spend 14 years in Arabia learning Biblical Judaism versus the Rabbinical Judaism he was taught from birth (Gal. 1:13-17; 2:1)? He later referred to it as dung or rubbish (Phil. 3:8), depending on what translation you have.

Their desire to become Jews has taken them so far away from the biblical format that they are even engaging in heresy, such as the Two House Movement, which is a sect derived from the old British Israelism, as is taught by Herbert Armstrong. Since the words "Israelite" and "Jew" do not mean the same things to the people in the Two House/Ephraimite movement that they mean to most people in the Messianic movement, clear communication is often impossible. To most within the Messianic movement, a Jew is any descendant of Jacob who identifies himself by the word Jew, and there are no lost tribes of Israel. One of the ways we know this is  because we see individuals like Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36) showing up in the New Testament narrative. Now this is almost 700 years after the northern tribe of Asher was supposed to be lost. We also need to realize that all the tribes were accounted for by Ezra and Nehemiah, and Ezra says that the tribe of Judah and Israel were together when they returned from the captivity (Ezra 5:1). We may also consider that the Samaritans had Jewish lineage, and even partly adopted Judaism. Yet, Ezra didn't consider them Jews (Ezra 4:1-4). Neither did Yeshua. To the woman at the well: You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22, NASB).

Wrong Idea

There is a view from some quarters that Gentiles coming into the Messianic Movement and being born again have become spiritual Jews. This is moving from the wrong premise. To be spiritual is merely growing up with the Holy Spirit, and the height of spirituality is when you have achieved maturity in the things of the Spirit. Therefore, by definition, a Gentile that is spiritual is a spiritual Gentile, and a Jew that is spiritual is a spiritual Jew. So because Romans 11:17 informs us that Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish root does not make them spiritual Jews. If I moved from Manchester to live in London, that does not make me a Cockney: It makes me a Mancunian living in London. Arabs are also born of Abraham, but that does not make them Jews even though they are actually born out of the loins of Abraham. But God has taken both Jews and Gentiles and made them into something we know as the Church. Gentiles are grafted into Israel to become heirs of the promises, but that does not mean that they in some mystical way become Jews.

Scripture teaches us that a Jew is someone who is so inwardly, and outward appearance as Jews simply does not cut it. Itís a play on words and appearance. A man may marry a woman, but that does not change their gender. They are not both called men or both called women, but they remain a man and a woman; yet they are married, made one, and this is also true of Gentiles grafted into Israel: They are the one new man, but retain their individual identities even as a male and female do before God.

I am often very troubled at what I see in the direction of the Messianic Movement. It will have grave consequences for incoming new believers, especially those who are Gentile and feel called to minister to Jews. I also feel the same for Jewish missions who help some of these groups to get established, yet they bring forth little fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven from Jewish people coming to faith. Rather they spend all their time internally trying to get their Jewishness, as they see it, right. This whole business is in great need of being addressed, and the Messianic associations, especially the big ones, need to lead the way in this to prevent the movement going into total meltdown.

Dr Alan Poyner-Levison

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* Parashot. The prescribed weekly Torah portions to be read in synagogues each Sabbath.

* Kippas. Yarmulkes. Skullcaps.

* Shofars. Rams' horns used in some synagogue services.

* Tallits. Prayer shawls.

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Dr. Poyner-Levison is Messianic Teacher at Beit Shalom Ministries at various locations in
the United Kingdom,
www.beitshalom.co.ukand is the AMC European Director.