by Moshe Gold and Mark Robinson
There are those who believe that the Messianic Movement is the natural alternative to Christianity for saved Jewish people; one whose members effectively reach other Jewish people with the Gospel. Most who hold this view also believe that the Messianic Synagogue is a Jewish church; a nurturing environment where Messianic Jews express unique New Covenant worship while remaining true to their Jewish identity.
However noble in theory, the Messianic Movement, established in the late 20th century as a response to anti-Jewish sentiment and lack of Jewish Roots teaching in the local church, was founded on sand rather than the Rock. Although this form of Messianic Worship can be attractive to some, many of the customs observed are offensive to Jewish people and opposed to the New Covenant. While empathizing with the desire of many Hebrew Christians to maintain their Jewish identity, we, on biblical grounds, cannot help legitimize this movement. It weakens the Church and is an obstruction to discipleship in sound doctrine. As Jews we should seek an identity that allows us to maintain our ethnic distinctiveness, while at the same time express our New Covenant faith in God through Messiah Jesus in a manner consistent with New Testament teachings.
Jews? Christians? Or Both?
Within Messianic Judaism are those who accept one’s personal revelation or vision of Jesus as proof of salvation in place of repentance and turning to God through Messiah Jesus! Generally, members are insulted to be called Christians, not accepting the term as relevant and even denying that they are part of Christianity (c.f. Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). They call themselves Messianic Jews while defining Christians as non-Jews and Christianity as non-Jewish worship of Jesus. Although non-Jews are often the majority attending these worship centers, they are typically not accepted as equals, but more like “strangers” under the Mosaic Law (cf Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:19). These are broad statements but sadly encompass more than the periphery of the movement.
After reading this, some may say of Jewish Christians, “They have sold out. They are no longer Jews.” We are sons of Israel, who have an intimate, righteous relationship with the God of our Fathers through repentance and the redemption made possible by the willing self-sacrifice of the Messiah; Who being God in human form, offered Himself in our place for our sin. Having partaken of that sacrifice, we have entered into the New Covenant with Gentile people of like faith. We are part of the Church. We are born-again Christians (Hebrew = Meshichi) and our obedience is to God through the New Covenant. We are not bound by the Mosaic Law or Rabbinic Judaism. Yet, we are very much Jewish and understand the difficultly for many Hebrew Christians who want to maintain a Jewish identity apart from Judaism. It can also be confusing for Gentile Christians to separate between the two. Any confusion among Gentile Christians and inner struggle among Hebrew Christians exists because the line between Jewish identity and Rabbinic Judaism has become blurred.
Jewish Identity and Rabbinic Judaism
The blurring of these two accelerated with the return from Babylon. In an effort to keep the Law relevant in a changing world, the Rabbis rendered rulings regulating acceptable Jewish lifestyle. From the Mosaic Law they developed the Mishneh; the tradition of the elders (Matthew 15:2-3). With the religious and social collapse resulting from two failed revolts against Rome, the Mishneh became the basis for the Talmud, the code of religious and social life that is the backbone of Judaism and shaped the cultural identity of the Jewish people. Thus, Jewish identity became directly linked to the practice of Judaism as defined by the Rabbis; hence the term Rabbinic Judaism.
Using Rabbinic Judaism as their basis of Jewish identity, many messianic synagogues are advertised as a place where one can experience true Jewish worship. By choosing to organize their lives and worship according to the rabbinic model, they believe they are faithfully maintaining their cultural distinction as Jews. This is why part of the Messianic Movement considers itself as a sect of Judaism, rather than part of the Church. As faithful Jews, we must remember that our first obligation is to the God of our Fathers and not to the rabbinic fathers! Rather than identifying with religious values established by those who rejected the Messiah, rejected the New Covenant and whose motive was to reinforce observance of the Mosaic Law, let us start with the New Covenant in order to find how to carry our Jewish identity forward into our new life in Messiah.
Jewish Identity and the New Covenant
The New Testament proclaims that the New Covenant is irreconcilable with the Mosaic Law. Although vital in maintaining a national identity, the Mosaic Law’s purpose for individuals was to reveal sin and the impossibility of satisfying the demands of God (Galatians 3:23-25). It was a reminder of bondage (Galatians 4:21-5:1) that ended when the Messiah initiated the New Covenant (Hebrews 10:9-10). In fact, the follower of Jesus is to separate themselves from it (Hebrews 13:10-14) and its traditions, recognizing them to be harmful to the new life (Colossians 2:8; 1 Peter 1:18). The New Covenant replaces the Mosaic Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Hebrews 8:13) and offers freedom from the bondage (Galatians 4:1-7) and cycle of sin (Hebrews 12:18-24), as well as the restraints of religion (Hebrews 7:11-19). If one seeks to maintain their Jewish identity let them follow the example of Yeshua and the Apostles who separated their Jewish identity from the Law and Rabbinic Judaism.
Consider Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. He was born, lived and died as a Jew. Even after His resurrection and ascension, He is still recognized as Jewish (Revelation 5:5). Although He perfectly satisfied the Law, His Jewish identity was not dependant on Rabbinic Judaism, which He denounced (Matthew 15:1-11)! Although this rebuke was before the New Covenant, His intention was clear. These traditions provided no relationship with God and observing them resulted in a spiritual malaise (cf. Isaiah 29:9-14). Following these traditions was not a sign of people-hood, but symbolic of the weak spiritual condition of the people! Yet, these traditions that Jesus spoke against have become the basis by which those in the Messianic Jewish Movement identify themselves as Jewish! Peter, the Apostle to the Jews (Gal 2:7-8), understood the difference between being Jewish and following the Judaism of the Rabbis (1 Peter 1:18). Paul, the most rabbinic among the Apostles (Galatians 1:14), concluded that his observance of Judaism was more than worthless (Philippians 3:3-14) and as a Hebrew Christian maintained his identity apart from adherence to the Law (Galatians 2:16-21) and rabbinic dictates he once championed (Colossians 2:8).
In response, the Messianic Movement will point to Acts 21:20ff to validate their position. However, that was a time of militant Jewish nationalism and hostility against those who were perceived as “gentilizing” or “Romanizing” their own people; as was the charge against Paul (Acts 21:21). The guilty were subject to assassination or crowd justice (Acts 21:27-32). Many in the Church at Jerusalem were perhaps caught up in this wave of religious nationalism, expecting war and establishment of the Kingdom. This situation is not applicable today. Furthermore, while nothing prohibits the observance of ethnic traditions not conflicting with New Covenant teachings, by identifying with Rabbinic Judaism the movement enslaves themselves, creates an artificial separation, and weakens the Body of Christ.
Within the Messianic Movement there are those who, while agreeing that they are part of the Body, deny that they are part of the Church and thus weaken the Body. Others maintain that they are the Jewish portion of the Universal Church but deny their responsibility in maintaining unity of the Body within the local church. It has been stated by leaders of a messianic congregation that there will be unity in the Body only when all Christians become members of a messianic synagogue or when the Lord returns to set up His Kingdom.
What is Biblical?
Biblically, there is no Jewish church, nor is there a Gentile church, although some local congregations are made up of only Gentile believers. The local church should be comprised of all peoples, irrespective of their culture, race, and background. This includes Jew and Gentile as part of the same local congregation. No matter what conflicts existed before salvation, in Messiah, we are one. It is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to break down the barriers and heal any breaches the weakness of sinful men may have produced. When men establish local congregations based on certain cultural or ethnic differences are they not hindering the work of the Holy Spirit? Are they not hindering the potential testimony of redeemed people exhibiting the love, peace, and reconciliation a sinful world so desperately needs and seeks? Are they not building up the middle wall that God has torn down in Messiah (Ephesians 2:14)?
The Jewish Mission agency American Board of Missions to the Jews, today known as Chosen People Ministries, put it well in their January, 1976 edition of “The Chosen People” (a publication of the American Board of Missions to the Jews at that time) on page 14: “We must realize that the Gospel transcends all cultures. To form a Messianic Synagogue on the basis of cultural background is no more valid than a group of Muslims organizing an Arabian-Mohammedan-Christian Mosque.”
Jewish missions should strive to build up local churches through bringing new Jewish believers into their congregations. Jewish missions can help a new Jewish believer feel at home in a local church by instructing the local church in the sensitivities of Jewish people, and through assisting, when possible, in the discipleship of Jewish people who have come to the Lord.
The local church can help by supporting Jewish Missions and Missionaries and learning how to effectively share their faith with Jewish people. They can be an integral part in the discipleship of new Jewish believers when they come to their Messiah.
Together we can build the Body of Messiah, encourage one another in the Great Commission, and glorify our Lord before a world looking for true manifestations of acceptance and love.
 The stranger, even those who converted to Judaism, were never included as part of Israel and never allowed full equality with an Israelite. Strangers included the “mixed multitude” from Egypt (Exodus 12:38); the Canaanites still remaining in Palestine and their descendants, as Uriah the Hittite and Araunah the Jebusite, Doeg the Edomite, Ittai the Gittite; captives in war, fugitives, and merchants, amounting under Solomon to 153,600 males (2 Chronicles 2:17), one tenth of the population; Fausset Bible Dictionary “Stranger” c.f. ISBE.