The Messianic Movement
in the Protestant Continuum

rG

A growing number of Christians are viewing the contemporary Messianic movement with suspicion, confusion, ambivalence or outright opposition. Some reveal thinly veiled anti-Jewish sentiment. Others have genuine theological concern about a movement they'd love to be supportive of.

Since the publication of Baruch Maoz's provocatively titled Judaism is not Jewish and Stan Telchin's Some Messianic Jews Say Messianic Judaism is not Christianity, suspicion of the Messianic movement, and by extension individual Messianic Jews, has reached a new level.

 

That was then, this is now

The Messianic movement ought to be seen in its own right as a genuine cultural expression of faith in Jesus the Messiah. Messianic Jews must be allowed the right of self definition and self determination that all other cultural groups in the worldwide body of Messiah have been afforded. In the city where I live in there are churches catering for thirty-four different national groups. Each of these churches seems to function without any criticism of their distinctiveness. And few voices are raised calling for those attending ex-patriot English churches in foreign countries to join the indigenous church of that country.

The problems start when the contemporary Messianic movement is viewed through the lens of the Galatian heresy and is charged with rebuilding the middle wall of partition. The contemporary controversy is very different from the New Testament one. In fact it is, in many ways, a mirror image. In the New Testament context "Legalizers" were imposing Torah upon the Gentiles saying that in order to be a real believer one had to first become a real Torah true Jew.

Today many Messianic Jews are, to all intents and purposes, expected to become culturally Gentile in order to be real Christians. The Messianic movement doesn't want Gentiles to become Jews; it wants to enable Jewish believers in Yeshua to be Jews. The Galatian heresy is therefore not an accurate characterization of the whole Messianic movement.

The "middle wall of separation" charge is also an invalid accusation. For, in its original context, the issue being highlighted is that, as far as salvation is concerned, there is one way for all. Most Messianic fellowships,
congregations and synagogues world-wide have a membership that is often at least 50% Gentile, apart from Israel where the majority indigenous community of the redeemed is Jewish. So it could be argued that the Messianic movement is more successful at integrating Jews and Gentiles than many Gentile-dominated churches are!


The Messianic movement is not monolithic

The modern Messianic Jewish movement is a vibrant, diverse and ever growing phenomenon. The theological problems it faces are carbon copies of those faced by most denominations and church groupings. For example, the Sunday or Sabbath debate has resulted in Seventh Day Adventists whilst Trinity confusion has given us the Oneness Pentecostals and Unitarians. The debate over the place of the Torah in the life of the believer has given the Church theonomy. Church history provides a dizzying list to reinforce this fact. The problems of the Messianic movement are the problems of the wider Church; they are not unique to Jewish disciples of Yeshua.


Why can't they be like the rest of us?

After talking about Messianic Jews in a sermon I was challenged by a lady over coffee, "Why can't they be like the rest of us?" The answer is because they are different! God created them different and to deny Messianic Jews their cultural emancipation from what can often be characterized as white European middle-class domination, is to deny God's created order. The Messianic Movement is a challenge to lazy theology and disturbs the stagnant equilibrium of those nominal Christians who think that Christianity and European culture are synonymous.
 

Messianic Protestantism

The Messianic movement is a Protestant phenomenon. It does what all Protestant protest movements have done, but with a Hebrew accent. For generations Protestants have moved away from error and towards the truth. The New Testament followers of "The Way" were nicknamed Christians and because of nominal cultural religion, Christians have needed to define themselves as Born Again, Evangelical, Spirit filled, Reformed, Pentecostal, Baptist, Grace Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Free Presbyterian, Charismatic, and the list goes on. Messianic Jews are often condemned for not using the English transliteration of the Greek word Christianos. However there are some who talk about the Reformed Faith, Anglican Communion etc. without mentioning the word Christian. Yet when Messianic Jews participate in this Protestant continuum, they are accused of being ashamed of Christ. Messianic Jews affirm their devotion to the Messiah by calling themselves followers of Messiah but it is unfettered by the assumptions history has attached to the word Christian.


Who is grafted into whom?

It is often conveniently forgotten that according to Romans 11, it is the Gentile wild olive branches that are grafted into the Jewish olive tree, not visa versa. In the light of this, perhaps the question we should be asking is, "Why are Christians not worshipping with Messianic Jews?"


Biblical Unity

Oneness in Christ does not require physical proximity. If that were the case there should only be one megachurch per city. The Messianic movement is part of the one flock, one body of Messiah Yeshua, whether people go to a building called a church or not. Many postmodern Christians are following the house church or even cell group model without being stigmatized. The Brethren went to the Assembly or Gospel Hall not "church" and so the parallels continue. The emerging church is moving away from organizational religion and seeking to meet the challenges of a postmodern Europe that is cynical of state religion. They are not criticized to the same extent that the Messianic Movement is for doing a similar thing.

All we are asking is that the Messianic movement be given the same courtesy of cultural freedom of identity and expression as other groups have been.

What the Apostle Paul wrote is still true: What profit is there in being a Jew? Much in every way (Romans 3:1-2).

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Reprinted by permission of RG.