Friday, July 02, 2010

Messianic Meditations: some personal thoughts

I have wanted to write more about the topic I looked at in my two previous (Messianic) articles. There is so much more to cover.

But my reading continues as I try to understand more about the relationship between the church, Jewish (Messianic) believers, and non-Messianic Jews.

I have also sought comment from a Jewish friend and brother who was involved with Messianic Judaism in its early days and in his words he saw “the good, the bad and the ugly” sides of the movement and has not been involved with them for many years, though he maintains His relationship with Jesus.

One of his observations was to compare the Messianic Judaism movement with the emergent church, saying “much of the Messianic Jewish Movement has also bought into the philosophy of maybe if they like us, they'll like our Jesus, too.”

Do the Messianic groups lean too far towards Judaism in their attempt to make the gospel relevant to other Jews? Through a week of looking over Messianic blogs and web pages I could easily conclude that some do.

There is perhaps no less variation of style and belief between the Messianic fellowships than there is among traditional Christian churches. There are a range of expressions from the ritual and liturgy of the “High church”, through to the informality associated with charismatics and house churches.

There is also a broad range of doctrines held, from strict views of “torah keeping” in which gentiles are expected to adhere to “torah” – (Paul’s Galatian letter comes to mind when I come across these) to others who recognise clear differences between requirements for Jewish believers and gentile believers.

Thinking over what I have discovered, from the very brief exposure I’ve had, I see a danger of a maintained division. The gentile church throughout history has treated Jews and even Jewish believers atrociously. Because of that, it would be easy for Messianic fellowships to maintain a distance and go their own way with no interaction with their gentile brothers and sisters. I suspect many are taking that route.

Another danger would be for both Jewish and Gentile believers to try to bring about the fulfilment of prophecy through their own efforts. I have seen several statements about the salvation of the Jews leading to revival among the gentiles. I have read accounts of a supposed increase in conversions throughout the world since the beginning of the growth in the Messianic movement. One figure stated that approximately 1/5 of the world’s population now confessed Christ as saviour. I would strongly doubt the accuracy of that statistic. Only the broadest and loosest definition of “Christian” would encompass such a number of people today*.

While the increasing numbers of Jews finding salvation through recognition of their Messiah is a reason for celebration. We need to hold to what scripture says to determine the truth of the situation. Does scripture reveal that more Jews will come to Messiah as a result of Jewish believers holding more closely to their Jewish traditions and heritage? Is that what has been foretold by the prophets? Will Jews come into relationship with Jesus apart from gentile believers? While that seems to be a logical possibility and while that seems to be the expectation of many Messianic Jews, that is not what is revealed in scripture.

Paul clearly reveals that “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel jealous”. The journeys of gentile and Jewish believers are therefore not intended to be separate. What divisions there are between Messianic and gentile believers cannot and will not continue as long as both sets of branches (the natural and the wild) are maintained by the same root. Continued division can only result in the cutting off of the offending branches.


* This claim is an attempt to show the fulfilment of Paul’s statement regarding the Jews, that “if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring”. The assumption is that their “fullness” has now begun and that the “greater riches” means world revival


Anonymous said...

Gentile believers are to make the Jews jealous but I see very little in most gentile churches that would make a Jew want to come to Jesus. For the most part we ignore the Torah and the Sabbath and we do not value anything that looks Jewish. Jews believe Jesus is a gentile Messiah and not their own because we have made Him look more gentile than Jewish.

Philip Robinson said...

A very thought-provoking one, and honest too!

I was watching the Catholic God-Channel TV station last night with a debate on the authority of the Bible + tradition. The valid point was made that when (about 49AD) the church leaders met in Jerusalem to discuss and agree whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised, that this was the 'Church' of the day deciding to abandon what was then a scriptural 'everlasting covenant' and this (through Acts) has become our Scripture.

My query is - did they decide that no-one in the new church needed circumcision, or only that it need not apply to Gentiles as only Jews are (and remain) covered by that covenant sign?

Sr Crystal Mary said...

No, its meant to be together..
You are so right!!
I love the scripture that says. "He broke down the hostility between the Jews and the Gentile wit His death on the cross.
Ephesians 2:14.

Onesimus said...

While scripture makes it clear that gentile believers do not need to become Jewish to ensure their salvation, gentiles over the centuries have enforced the opposite approach to Jews who come to faith in their Messiah. In the past this even extended to forcing Jews to eat pork and to abandon the Sabbath and their feast days to prove their allegiance to the church.
And the abandonment of Jewish feast days and their replacement with pagan-sourced holidays was an act specifically aimed at cutting Jews off from the church only three centuries after the church had been entirely Jewish.

Regarding the Sabbath, I think there are some things that need to be taken into account.
Firstly, at the giving of the law, Israel had just been freed from 400 years of slavery. The command to take a day of rest every week was a huge BLESSING to a people who had not known a day free from work.
Secondly, Jewish tradition changed this blessing into a thing of burden. Even today it is forbidden to use an elevator on the Sabbath because pressing electronic buttons is considered work – whereas walking up several flights of stairs (because of the elevator ban) is considered acceptable.
We can see here what Jesus meant when He said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.
When the Sabbath stops being a blessing for man and is enforced in a burdensome way, there is a clear problem.

Philip Robinson,
In the Jerusalem council’s decision about gentile believers, I see nothing to indicate that Jews needed to abandon what God, in the past, had commanded them to observe. Jews have never been saved through observing their laws and traditions. The Mosaic Covenant was never intended to provide eternal salvation for the Jews. The law kept them separate from other nations and through obedience, Israel would have been a light to the nations, demonstrating God’s glory.
However that obedience was rarely demonstrated.

I am now in the process of re-assessing my understanding of the way Jews relate to the New Covenant. This started by realising that the Acts 15 decision was specifically about gentiles and was not a directive for Jews to abandon their “Jewishness”.

Justification comes through faith, it does not come from gentiles observing Jewish law and neither are Jews required to abandon their law – however if their observance is an attempt to earn salvation they would be far better to abandon it than to observe it with the wrong expectation.

Crystal Mary,
Yes, that wall of division has been broken down – but while we have been made “one new man”, neither Jew nor gentile – that does not mean that cultural distinctions between Jew and gentile cease to exist, just as gender distinctions between male and female do not cease even though scripture says there is neither male nor female.

Just as gentiles did not need to become Jews to be saved, neither do Jews need to become gentilised – but that is exactly what HAS been expected of them (and even at times enforced upon them). God’s family is made up of both Jew and gentile – equal in God’s sight and equal joint heirs with Jesus the Messiah.

Philip Robinson said...

Thanks, your response is exactly in line with what I had been thinking, but I hadn't been able to set it in context.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with what you said about the feasts and Sabbath. Through study, my gentile family has come to celebrate the feasts. When cycled through each year they are meant to tell the complete story of redemption from Passover and Unleavened Bread pointing to the death and resurrection all the way through Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot which point to the Second Coming, Judgement Day and the Millenial reign. Even the Sabbath is meant to be a weekly reminder that salvation cannot be earned by work but only by resting in Jesus.

I have many Jewish friends who are intrigued by this and ask questions. I think this kind of dialogue and understanding of our faith is what can cause Jews to be jealous for their own Messiah.

Gentiles do not have to become Jews or visa versa but as Christians I think we miss out on a lot if we neglect the Jewishness or our faith. God wants to create one new man out of both.

Onesimus said...

Yes we do miss out on a lot by neglecting the Jewishness of our faith. While I have had a long interest in Israel and its role in God’s purposes, it is only within the last year that I have started to see how much has been lost through the church straying from its Hebrew roots.
And it is only through my very recent reading that I have started to see how atrociously the Jews have been treated by the church. Of course, everyone knows something about the Crusades and the Inquisition and would rightly be appalled (is that a strong enough word?) by what happened. But those atrocities are only the outcome of the earlier rejection of the Jews by the majority gentile church.

That rejection and the subsequent treatment have not only helped to harden Jews against the gospel of their Messiah; in some cases, when Jews DO turn to Messiah, in striving to maintain their Jewish identity in a still ignorant church, they try to maintain a distance from gentile believers.

This could be attributed to a natural defensiveness. The victims of severe persecution can have very long memories and they will do whatever they think necessary to prevent history repeating.
But this separation is not God’s desire.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the church has taken too large a role in the persecution of the Jews. I think it may have started to avoid further persecution for themselves around the time of the fall of Jerusalem which is a disgrace in and of itself. It certainly was well established by the time of the council of Nicea.

At the time of the Crusades, many people were illiterate and Masses were conducted in Latin which people did not understand. The people were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves even if they could because the church taught that only priests were capable of understanding it. They were led by church leaders who had their own political agendas and desires for Jerusalem.

After Luther when the Bible started to be translated into the languages of the people (all be it slowly), I find very little reason except for tradition. The scriptures are very clear about God's unending love for Israel. The New Testament continues this. The whole idea of the replacement theology that still permeates much of the church today is totally baseless in scripture and I find very frustrating personally.

We are grafted into a Jewish vine. Jesus did not come to start a new religion. He came to set right what had gone wrong and to bring the whole world to Himself through His sacrifice.

I am excited though about what God is doing among His people both Jewish and gentile. Scripture is being fulfilled. More Jews are coming to their Messiah and more gentiles are learning about the roots of their faith. I am hopeful for what is to come.