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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,
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
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
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
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).
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.
Dr. Poyner-Levison is
at Beit Shalom Ministries
at various locations in
the United Kingdom,
and is the AMC