So what is Messianic Judaism's Purpose?

Oct 14, 2009 at 1:03 PM

The Messianic Jewish movement currently finds itself in the midst of a rabid identity crisis. From its inception, Messianic Judaism’s primary goal has been to be a home and way of life for Jewish followers of Yeshua. However, if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that our efforts have largely been a failure. In the decades since our recent inception, we have not yet succeeded at creating a JEWISH Messianic Movement.

Where did we get distracted?

First, let me clarify what I am NOT saying. I recognize there is a definite place for non-Jews who are legitimately called to Messianic Judaism. We applaud the efforts of those non-Jews who have chosen to sojourn among the Jewish people and who have sacrificed greatly in order to be a part of our communities. However, by our own fault, and the simple overwhelming number of non-Jewish followers of Yeshua, the result of Messianic Judaism has largely been reduced to being a Torah revival for Christians.

Now – please hear me out before your start throwing rocks …

I bring this up because it is detrimental to our future. We have largely missed why we should exist and for what purpose. We have been distracted, chasing controversies that only continue to marginalize those Jews we seek to embrace. Although there is a place for discussions like “the role of Torah for non-Jews,” the overwhelming attention placed on these issues affecting non-Jews carries very little weight for Jews. For most Jews being Jewish and living a particular Jewish way of life (the way they so choose) is a no brainer. So why would an intelligent Jewish person want to get mixed up with our baggage? Afterall, many of the issues we seem to find ourselves wrapped up in have very little to do with someone who is Jewish.

And it is not just those on the “outside.” We are loosing young Jews even within our own ranks who have not yet been compelled with a good enough reason to remain Messianic. It is not faith in Yeshua that is largely the stumbling block keeping us from effectively being a home to Jewish believers and seekers – it is our own hang ups. If we do not come to grips with a clear purpose and vision for Messianic Judaism we will find ourselves extinct.

Nearly 95% of all Messianic congregations' websites state the purpose of a Messianic congregation is “to be a congregation of Jews and non-Jews worshiping together.” Really? That is the sole purpose of a Messianic congregation? In my opinion, this is exactly where we got distracted. Although I value Messianic congregations as being places where Jews and non-Jews can worship together, this should not be our primary purpose. Rather, it should be a byproduct.

We believe a Messianic congregation should exist for only three primary purposes:

  1. To be a home for Jewish followers of Yeshua;
  2. To be a welcoming environment for Jewish seekers open to exploring our claims that Yeshua is the Messiah;
  3. And a place to raise our children as Messianic Jews.

All other efforts and programs are secondary to these primary goals. We must exist to be vibrant spiritual homes for Jews. Otherwise we fail to accomplish our prophetic purpose.

Directing our primary focus on Jews does not in and of itself alienate non-Jews. For any congregational growth specialist will note that no specific congregation can be all things to all people. In the past we have tried to do it all – and it has not worked. We need to come back to our primary purpose. However, at the same time we must be careful not to purposely alienate non-Jews in our midst. Regardless of a person’s background, if a person shares a commitment to the above primary values they should be invited to pursue this prophetic task along with us. Jews and non-Jews worshiping together may be a byproduct of a much clearer purpose, but should not be the primary purpose.

We must first and foremost be vibrant spiritual homes for Jews and directing our efforts as such. If we do this, hopefully everything should fall into place.

29 comments

  1. judeoxian Says:

    I couldn't agree more. We (Gentiles) do a great disservice to our Jewish brothers when we simply speak of "The Messianic Movement" as opposed to the "Messianic Jewish Movement." Studying more on the history of Hebrew Christianity and Messianic Judaism has really brought me to that conclusion. We (Gentiles) don't necessitate a Messianic movement. Not that we can't be a part (like you said, a natural bi-product). But, it is Jewish believers who necessitate a Messianic Jewish movement.

  2. towardblog Says:

    Joshua,

    It is been a while but comply your blog is good to see you're still plugging away and motivates me to get towardblog going again!

    In this post you ask what Rabbi Stuart Dauermann calls the unasked question, "what is the purpose of messianic Judaism?"

    Though it should be fundamental, sadly it's the unasked question or as you note above, the generic purpose of most messianic congregations is a place for Jewish and Gentile Yeshua believers to worship together. Being that most Gentile churches have a few to hundreds of Jewish believers in them this really is not a unique aspect of the messianic Jewish movement or unique purpose.

    Sadly as you state it is hard to call our movement "messianic Jewish movement" wherein we are lacking in Jewish people and Jewish values and caught up more on issues of our vast Gentile populace, like Torah for Gentiles.

    Joshua I'm glad that you asked this question that hopefully as we do our part of the building of the next generation that we will see to build a Jewish movement and Jewish synagogues that are home base for all the Jewish people that as Jewish questions and seek to give Jewish answers. A place where the Jewish Messiah is honored by covenant faithful Jews.

  3. Great post, Joshua - I am forwarding it to my friends.

    I am tired of constantly spinning my wheels on issues that distract us from our purpose. In the next few weeks, G-d willing, I will be starting a class at our shul with the sole goal of introducing people to our vision and focus as a movement and congregation.

  4. jonroush Says:

    This is a discussion that cannot be brushed aside or past over. The people of the MJ movement have got to do real business with these issues and must come to a place of convinced ownership/vested interest in recognizing and pursuing these ideals and this specific purpose.
    As a small movement (with such specific goals) I don't think we are afforded (nor can we afford) the same level of passive pew sitting that much of the American church has.
    The passion of maintaining and safeguarding God's covenant with the Jewish people (which is inherently tied in with Jewish identity) must be grasped/grappled with and realized.

    "If we do this, hopefully everything should fall into place."

    This seems like a little bit of a throw away line...Could you elaborate a bit? I don't think things will fall into place because we unify and begin pursuing these things. Perhaps I am just being cynical or pessimistic, but I don't see this battle ever being over (whether the issues are coming from within the movement or outside). Perhaps it will shift to a different form, but the importance of this issue (which is directly relates to the validity of the movement) leads me to a place of thinking that we must always be vigilant and proactive in continuing to address our purpose and vision.

  5. Joshua, I already got this reply to your article from one of my rabbi friends (will remain unidentified):

    "God fearers were always found and welcomed into traditional as well as Yeshua believing synagogues. I wonder if JB has ever tried to start a congregation from the ground up. ...It's an OK theory and trying to build such a congregation is a long and difficult process."

  6. Rabbi Joshua Says:

    Thank you all for your feedback. It is very helpful.

  7. Rabbi Joshua Says:

    Gene:

    Understandably this focus does make the task a little more difficult. However, it can and has been done. This is actually what I have partnered with others in doing in the past, and what we will be doing with Yinon.

  8. >> From its inception, Messianic Judaism’s primary goal has been to be a home and way of life for Jewish followers of Yeshua.

    Which Messianic Judaism are you speaking of: The faith of the disciples or the modern movement?

  9. Rabbi Joshua Says:

    Judah:

    A case can be made for both.

  10. orgadol Says:

    Why be a welcome environment only to "Jewish seekers open to exploring our claims that Yeshua is the Messiah"? That's an awfully limited audience. How about all Jews, and if some want to come along for the ride, that's all the better?

  11. "How about all Jews, and if some want to come along for the ride, that's all the better?"

    Agree!

  12. If it's for both, let's look at that.

    1. "[The faith of the apostle's] primary goal has been to be a home and way of life for Jewish followers of Yeshua."

    The goal of the faith of the apostles was to preach the gospel. Asking that our faith be a home for Jews, and not so much for gentiles, is a new innovation and phenomenon, one not originating with the apostles.

    2. "[The modern Messianic movement's] primary goal has been to be a home and way of life for Jewish followers of Yeshua."

    The modern MJ movement was originally the result of Christian missions to the Jews. It was not a way of preserving Jewish identity, it was a way of converting Jews to Christianity.

    The modern MJ movement springs largely from the Jesus movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and those in turn are rooted back in Christian missions to Jews. Even the MJAA was originally called the HCAA (Hebrew Christian Alliance of America). It's purpose was not to preserve Judaism, but to bring Jews to Messiah.

    And if one reads the works of Messianic pioneers of the 19th and 20th centuries, most of them gladly identified themselves as Christians and full standing members of the Christian Church.

  13. Monique Says:

    Good point, Orgadol. There shouldn't be a theological litmus test for Jewish participation in Judaism. You'd see that reflected in our thinking if this were more than a truncated blog post.

    Gene, your friend's observation was astute, and it's something we often consider. Alas, advice like that has never stopped us from trying.

    Jon, I think you're right that it's not so tidy. Identity issues can be incredibly explosive. But if we lose focus on our primary purpose (as we have), then we'll only get sidetracked (as we are). Let's keep the conversation going. We can't figure out the "right way" to focus on our purpose (while maintaining inclusivity) until we try.

    Judah, we're not interested in reconstructing the first-century church ... a so-called "more biblical" or "less pagan" faith than 21st century Christianity. In our view, that's an impossible task 20 centuries later ... and its pursuit produces exactly the result we're critiquing here. Specifically, the modern Messianic congregational movement is a spiritual home primarily for disaffected Christians, and is downright alienating to most Jewish people (there are exceptions, of course!).

    We're very happy when we see the 21st century church taking steps to reform itself, reembrace its roots, and deconstruct theologies that justified rampant antisemitism. We feel that it's our role to encourage the church and partner with it when it does so ... not poach its members to fill our pews.

    What we ARE interested in doing is building a spiritual home for Jewish people ... which will serve as a sign, demonstration, and catalyst for G-d's consummative purposes for Israel: the fullness of Israel, which Paul compares to "life from the dead!"

    G-d is already on the move among our people. Young Israeli Jews are demonstrating a growing interest in spirituality and religious observance. In the Diaspora, there's been a return to kashrus, taharas mishpochah, tzedakah, tefillah, and Shabbos. At a time when the Catholic church is having trouble recruiting for its religious orders, rabbinical schools and grad programs in Jewish education are fully enrolled. Immigration to Israel continues at its normal pace. In so many ways, G-d is gathering the Jewish people back to Himself and back to our original purpose, which is to be a nation of priest and a light to the nations.

    THAT is what we're interested in. And we're profoundly grateful to the Gentiles in our midst who have latched onto that vision and want to figure out how they can participate in it. As Jon's comment illustrates, we need to figure out what that looks like ... together.

  14. Monique Says:

    Sean, I'm glad we inspired you to get back on the horse!

  15. orgadol Says:

    Monique,
    I'm glad. I have seen Messianic Jewish communities split over the issue of whether there should be, as you say, "a theological litmus test for Jewish participation in Judaism" and the results aren't pretty.

    Judah,
    Many of those pioneers envisioned the establishment of a distinct "Hebrew Christian Church" as a means of preserving Jewish identity and made that a significant part of their agenda
    You have to realize that many of the pioneers of Hebrew Christianity are speaking with the only vocabulary they have. Where we would identify with "the wider body of Messiah"... they would identify with "the Christian Church". Where we would identify as "believers in Yeshua"... they would identify as "Christians". . Their mission both in terms of "converting Jews to Christianity" (read: bringing Jews to recognize the Messiah) and "establishing a Hebrew Christian Church" (read: creating institutions to preserve Jewish identity) was directed exclusively towards Jews.

    Ovadia

  16. I haven't suggested anything.

    I only point out that Joshua's statement,

    "From its inception, Messianic Judaism’s primary goal has been to be a home and way of life for Jewish followers of Yeshua."

    Is a false statement. Neither the faith of the apostles, nor the early 19th and 20th century Messianic pioneers had the sole ideal of merely being a home for Jews and Judaism.


    ---


    Here's what I say: God has brought the gentiles into Messianic Judaism. God is doing it. I mean, isn't it miraculous that gentile Christians, that for centuries have hated the Jewish people and called themselves replacements, suddenly embrace Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people? I think it's straight from God.

    The sooner we stop looking at gentiles as a problem, a short-coming, or a "by-product" -- the sooner we stop fighting the move of God among gentiles -- the sooner the Messianic movement moves forward.

  17. "Here's what I say: God has brought the gentiles into Messianic Judaism."

    I am so sure he brought SOME of them into Messianic Judaism. But I don't for a minute believe that the presence of many or even most of the Gentiles in Messianic movement (or it's fringes) is G-d's doing. I don't for a second believe that it was G-d who introduced the Two-House Ephraimites (Gentiles as physical Israelites, or the Lost Tribes), theology that you grew up in (MIA) and yourself espouse, or that it was G-d who is behind the established of the countless anti-rabbinic (and anti-semitic in many cases) Judenfrei One-Law congregations.

    No, friend, you speak for a different kind of "Judaism", one that views Jews as the problem and oppressors of the Gentiles, one that seeks to minimize the "Ju" at all cost. You have been accusing Jewish believers as promoters of "apartheid" at every turn.

    I don't think you a bad guy or that you don't mean well, but you need to step back a bit and stop attacking the Jewish believers for trying to build Messianic Judaism as G-d guides them.

  18. Rabbi Joshua Says:

    Ovadia-

    I agree with you and was not advocating for a "litmus test" but rather for Jews of all walks and points on a spiritual journey to be welcome.

  19. FWIW I hold that we are there for the same reasons as a synagogue - group prayer and house of study, which have as their deeper purpose being a mission base, a mission team base, for tikkun olam.

    A Gentile friend who cares a great deal about MJs tells me that when he goes to church his concern is that he should be 'welcomed home from battle, asked how goes the war, prayed with and prayed for, nourished and sent back out encouraged.'

    So to make our MJ gatherings purposeful, we certainly need to move beyond gatherings for worship and reclaim being mission -focussed houses of learning. By mission I mean primarily being engaged together in our wider communities in tikkun olam, and this is much broader than evangelism. Obviously, I take it as read that being houses of quality Jewish education for our children comes first and foremost within the whole picture, or we have no future as MJs.

  20. Oh, relax, Gene, don't get all wound up just because someone doesn't buy your brand of exclusive theology.

  21. Dan Benzvi Says:

    Just kick the Gentiles out....

    Remove the egg from over your face, a "Jewish" movement with 90% Gentiles? What a problem solving solution.......

  22. Dan... you remind me of the insipid mockers in Nehemiah 2:1-20. As Israelites were rebuilding Jerusalem in an effort to strengthen its walls to withstand enemy attacks and to resurrect the Jewish nation from the ashes of captivity, the surrounding peoples stood by the walls of the city and they mocked and jeered the builders daily. The mockers of Israel preferred a broken, weak nation, and sought to demoralize those of us who labor for HaShem at every turn. So it is with you.

    "Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. "What is this you are doing?" they asked. "Are you rebelling against the king?" Nehemiah answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it."

  23. Monique Says:

    Dan, please don't turn nuance into hyperbole. It's unproductive and gives the impression that you're not interested in thoughtful dialogue.

  24. Dan Benzvi Says:

    Monique,

    No hyperbole here, just a sober assessment of the facts.

    the moment MJ UMJC's style declared themselves a Jewish organization and let Gentiles in, it made their death bed. Crying now in an attempt to return the feathers back in the pillow, is just pathetic.

  25. Monique Says:

    Dan, it's hardly pathetic to learn from history and correct one's actions and perspective moving forward ... and then humbly deal with the fallout from a change in approach.

    Those who would prefer to keep their heads in the sand are at liberty to do so.

    We're not naive enough to think there won't be obstacles involved in implementing a new approach. Neither are we pessimistic enough to throw up our hands because our predecessors miscalculated. In so many ways, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Imperfect giants, no doubt. But accomplished pioneers nonetheless. It is indeed possible to depart from their approach without denigrating it.

    I'm beginning to agree with Gene. If you're uninterested in repair, restoration, and rebuilding ... then at least refrain from mocking those who are.

  26. Dan Benzvi Says:

    Monique,

    i am the one who is not interested in repair, restoration, and rebuilding?

    Please read the article by one of the "Giants" Stuart Dauermann "Messianic Jewish Congregation and disappointed Gentiles friends," and tell me if this does not smack of racism...

    Heck, if he chnges the word gentiles to the woed blacks, they will come and burn his Synagogue... Cant't you guys see this?

  27. Monique Says:

    Dan, if you'd like to take issue with Stuart, do so on his blog.

  28. "Heck, if he chnges the word gentiles to the woed blacks, they will come and burn his Synagogue."

    Dan, do you even realize how racist YOU yourself sound (regarding African Americans) with the above statement?

  29. Rabbi Joshua Says:

    Dan-

    Stuart Dauermann is not only a colleague, but a good friend. He is no racist. As such, we're not even going to entertain such a dialogue.