What About Jews for Jesus and Messianic Congregations?
When the Mishpochah Message gets controversial we have readers who care enough to let us know they disagree. We also have readers who gently remind us when we could use a little more tact or sensitivity. That is what makes us mishpochah—we keep each other on our toes!
Jewish believers in Jesus don’t agree on everything, nor do we need to so long as we agree on who Yeshua is and what He means to us. Nevertheless, disagreements are not ideal, and we should definitely do away with those that are not real, especially if they cause division. For example, people tell me that Jews for Jesus is against Messianic congregations. Some regard this as a proper stand, while some who are involved with Messianic congregations are understandably disappointed. Frankly, both reactions are disturbing to us because Jews for Jesus is not against Messianic congregations.
It is difficult to pinpoint why some people attribute this position to us, with the exception of one lady who said she actually heard Moishe Rosen talk about Messianic congregations. She was referring to an informal question and answer session at a Jews for Jesus Ingathering. I recall such a session in which Moishe expressed concern and criticism of specific tendencies or patterns that he sees as dangerous to the movement, but that did not constitute an adversarial position toward Messianic congregations. In an informal setting, it would not be difficult to prompt Moishe to express concerns and criticisms of any number of things he cares about—including the Jews for Jesus staff!
Who ever said that love is blind? The more important something is to us, the higher we set our hopes and expectations. Support does not call for unconditional affirmation, and criticism does not indicate blanket disapproval. God calls us to a higher kind of commitment to one another.
If you know anything about Jews for Jesus, you know that our passion and primary commitment is evangelism of our Jewish people. Perhaps we have not said enough to make people aware of some of our other commitments, including those regarding Messianic congregations. Some people have begun defining our positions via hearsay when we could have—probably should have—made known a few simple facts.
- When Moishe Rosen began his ministry under the American Board of Missions to the Jews (now Chosen People Ministries) in the 1950s, he regularly preached at a Friday night congregation in Brooklyn.
- He also conducted services at Congregation Beth Sar Shalom, first in Hollywood and then in New York City, back in the 1960s when Messianic congregations were few, and were not called Messianic congregations.
- Jews for Jesus has planted four Messianic congregations over the past ten years. All four are functioning today as independent and viable congregations.
- Many people on the staff of Jews for Jesus, myself included, are members of Messianic congregations.
- We often refer new Jewish believers to Messianic congregations in their areas, and we often ask Messianic congregations to help follow up on contacts who respond to our evangelistic campaigns.
If you had any question about Jews for Jesus and Messianic congregations, I hope that the above information has helped to clarify our support.
Nevertheless, there are some who want to draw a line dividing Jewish believers from one another based on false characterizations. These individuals have done us all a disservice by creating unnecessary division between us. Here is one example:
At one end of the spectrum is Hebrew Christianity with a completely assimilated church-acculturated Jewish convert to Christianity and on the other end of the spectrum is Messianic Judaism with the Jewish Christian maintaining traditional practice in either attending a Messianic congregation and/or a regular synagogue. To make this even more complex, there are Jewish believers in Jesus at various points along the spectrum who are using both terms (Hebrew Christian and Messianic Jew) to describe themselves! A good example of this confusion is Moishe Rosen’s missionary organization Jews for Jesus. Unfortunately the term confuses both the Jewish and Gentile communities that are curious about the messianic movement. Moishe Rosen is a totally assimilated and Gentilized Hebrew Christian. His evangelistic enterprise, Jews for Jesus, is entirely at the Hebrew Christian end of the spectrum of totally assimilated Jews, completely ‘church-ized’ and ‘Christian-acculturized.’ Their main motivation is to evangelize and to funnel Jewish converts into Christian fundamental churches. In contrast, Messianic Jews who worship in Messianic congregations do not like the label ‘Jews for Jesus.’1
David Rausch, in his above quote, seems to be playing a game known as, Let’s you and him fight.” If you read his book you’ll find the “information” which Rausch uses to explain who and what Jews for Jesus is basically from “several [unnamed] leaders” whom Rausch says he spoke to at various congregations and conferences. Each of these unnamed leaders could confidently report on what Moishe Rosen does and doesn’t support.
I want to believe that most in the messianic movement reject Rausch’s characterization of Moishe and of Jews for Jesus just as I refuse to accept Rausch’s characterization of Messianic congregations. Yet if there weren’t some who felt it important to make such a big distinction between messianic Jews and Hebrew Christians or various “types” of Jewish believers in Jesus, Rausch would not have had much of a book. The same is true of supposed tensions between Messianic congregations and Jewish missions.
So we don’t always agree. There aren’t enough of us to divide or separate ourselves from one another. Yet it isn’t on the basis of mere numbers that we need to be careful about divisions. Let’s agree to disagree and not make the mistake the Bible warns us about: “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos’ are you not carnal?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4)
God ordained a unity that we dare not ignore. Each Jewish person who believes in Yeshua is part of the “remnant according to the election of grace.” (Romans 11:5) Unity doesn’t mean that we will always agree with one another. It does mean that areas of disagreement do not give us the right to condemn or shrink away from one another. Such behavior often sets off a chain reaction which becomes a “vicious cycle.” People feel they have been rejected. They are hurt, and sometimes they deal with that hurt by rejecting those whom they feel have judged or rejected them. Unfortunately, and to the shame of the mishpochah, the cycle can get pretty vicious. It’s no comfort to know that this is the case, not just with Jewish believers, but in the Body of Messiah in general. It’s just a very human failing.
I need to avoid that trap and so do you. Yeshua is probably the only person in history who hasn’t fallen into this trap at some time. It’s the moment in which we feel stung by something someone has said that we are most likely to fall.
Sometimes we do sting one another with criticisms, perhaps in the hope of alerting one another to problems we need to address. Other times, the sting is a result of “she said that he said…” interactions. Sometimes people feel important or wise when they fault others, so they complain about or denigrate brothers and sisters. Whether or not we expect our comments to be repeated, we need to realize and take responsibility for the fact that when we make such comments, we are risking alienation for a moment’s gratification. We need to be careful not to perpetuate opposition or rumors of opposition within the mishpochah because we only end up opposing ourselves and the purposes of God.
I hope this article has dispelled the rumor that Jews for Jesus is against Messianic congregations. I’d like to go a step further and explain my personal support of Messianic congregations.
The congregation my family attends is called Tiferet Israel, and we worship on Friday evenings. I love my congregation and take an active part in planning services. We have a well-developed Messianic liturgy including the Amidah, the Aleinu, the Sh’ma and liturgy for the Torah service. Several of us work at developing new aspects of liturgy to strengthen the worship at Tiferet Israel. We want our services to be Yeshua-centered, and we want to strengthen the Jewishness of our worship in the process.
I appreciate the opportunity to express my Jewish identity in corporate worship. That is one of the real advantages of Messianic congregations. I don’t think all Jewish believers need or ought to be members of Messianic congregations, but for me, it is an opportunity to commit time and energy to a local fellowship of believers and meet a personal commitment to maintain my Jewish identity at the same time.
The second reason I am a member of a Messianic congregation is that my children benefit from it. They learn about Yeshua through Jewish eyes, they relate to other children of Jewish believers, and they already know many of the prayers which I feel enrich our corporate worship as Jewish believers. I think we could do much more to develop a children’s program at my congregation, and if there is one area in which I would like to invest more of my time, it would be that one.
As the son of Messianic Jewish parents, I know the struggles of fostering a child’s Jewish identity within the context of a predominantly Gentile congregation. Most of the second generation children who maintain their identity as Jews have done so because their parents were involved in some outside organization, whether it was a Jewish mission or a group such as the Hebrew Christian Alliance (now called the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America). Now I can count on my children having their Jewish identity reinforced, not only in our home, but also at our congregation.
The third thing I appreciate about Messianic congregations is that they beautifully illustrate the collapse of the middle wall of partition. The breaking of that barrier is vital to the Body of Messiah. As Dan Juster points out,
Although Messianic Jews have a distinct calling from God, they are part of the Body of Messiah universal!…Although we seek to be part of Israel, we are also one with the Body of Messiah Jesus. Our words should reflect this. Our deeds should reflect this as well. There should be joint services, cooperative fellowship with leaders, etc. We can learn from the whole Body as we hopefully enrich it as well.2
My wife, Patti, who is not Jewish, has been received as an equal member at my congregation, and that is important to me. I’ll be the first to say that we must maintain the Jewishness of our Messianic congregations. I also think we must treat non-Jewish members equally even though the majority of the congregation is Jewish. This is a fine balance that, at times, can be difficult to keep.
It would be most difficult for a Messianic congregation to reinforce the Jewish identity of its members if the majority of those who attend were not Jewish. Nevertheless, we cannot raise up a middle wall of partition or make Gentiles feel like second-class citizens in a Messianic congregation. I am grateful that Tiferet Israel does not do this. Non-Jewish spouses of Jewish believers are always welcome at Tiferet Israel.
When Gentile couples or singles seek to affiliate with our congregation, the pastor usually meets with them and clearly explains our vision. We have both a general and specific purpose statement in our bylaws:
General Purpose: The general purpose of this Congregation shall be to preach the Gospel, to administer the ordinances of Yeshua, to minister to the spiritual needs of its members and all people everywhere, to train believers to work for the Lord, and to further the evangelization of the world by bringing the Word to men, women, and children so that they may enter into a living faith in Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ).
Specific Purpose: The specific purpose of this Congregation is to win Jewish people to the Lord Yeshua, to help them build their identity in Yeshua, and to affirm their Jewish cultural identity.3
Gentile Christians who understand, affirm and agree to help us carry out both those purposes are welcomed at Tiferet Israel. I think this stipulation, along with the fact that our service has a fair amount of Hebrew liturgy, has helped us to maintain the Jewish identity of our congregation and its members.
I love the fellowship of the Body of Messiah and I love to be with brothers and sisters of various cultures and backgrounds. Yet I especially appreciate the fellowship of other Jewish believers in Jesus, and I know that when I go to my congregation I will find that fellowship. It is not necessarily wrong to gravitate toward those who share similar cultural background.
Whether we are Jewish or Gentile, male or female, makes no difference when it comes to our standing before God. But those differences are not obscured in every area of life. Even in the New Testament there existed the Jerusalem church, which was predominantly Jewish, and the Roman church, which was predominantly Gentile. Most of the evangelical churches in America today are peopled with members who have common cultural roots. Today’s Messianic congregations are a natural outgrowth of what missiologist Donald McGavran has called a “people movement.”4 When a significant number of people from a particular group come to Christ, they are more likely (when possible) to remain together in indigenous fellowships rather than expressing their faith within the context of someone else’s culture.
What we don’t want to do is so closely identify with our own people group and culture that we alienate the rest of the Body of Messiah. We would lose much if we were to cut ourselves off from our non-Jewish brothers and sisters. One of the things that I really appreciate about Tiferet Israel is that we have affiliated with the Baptist General Conference (BGC). We are an independent and self-supporting congregation, not dependent upon the denomination or any other organization for our continued existence. Nevertheless, we have this connection, this fellowship, with a world-wide body of believers that reflects the universality of our faith. I see this as another demonstration of the breaking down of the middle wall of partition.
Not only is our congregation self supporting (we don’t solicit any funds from outside people or organizations), but we support several agencies outside our congregation. Our budget includes regular donations to Jewish missions, as well as a local rescue mission in San Francisco, our local Crisis Pregnancy Center and Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. In addition, many members give to world-wide missions via the “unreached peoples” program of the BGC. Ours is not a large or particularly wealthy congregation, but thus far God has enabled us to reach out, and I know of other congregations that have a similar vision.
Ours is not the only messianic congregation to affiliate with the BGC, and there are congregations that have affiliated with other established organizations such as the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention. We also have the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS), and the Fellowship of Messianic Congregations (FMC). Such groups facilitate cooperation and accountability and serve to strengthen Messianic congregations.
The fourth thing I appreciate about Messianic congregations is that they can provide a story to the Jewish community concerning Yeshua and the good news of the gospel. You may already know that Jews for Jesus has invited the sponsorship of Messianic congregations in our Rosh Hashanah outreach through gospel statements in newspapers. (If we didn’t believe in messianic congregations, we wouldn’t ask them to help us by sponsoring ads!)
I’m glad to be able to tell Jewish neighbors that we worship in a Messianic congregation. When an unbelieving Jewish person shows interest in the Messiah, I can bring them to a congregation that is recognizably Jewish. However, I do not go to a Messianic congregation just so that I can tell Jewish neighbors that I do. Nor is Tiferet Israel’s liturgy for the benefit of unsaved visitors.
I know some people have said that Messianic congregations are “the most effective means of spreading the kingdom.” Yet a recent survey done by Dr. Michael Schiffman, (leader of Congregation Kehilat Yeshua in New York) shows that only two percent of the Jewish believers surveyed came to faith in Messiah through Messianic congregations. That in no way detracts from the value of Messianic congregations! Nor does it mean that Messianic congregations should not strive to build their testimonies and outreach programs. It does mean that the primary value (not the only value, but the primary value) of congregations is ecclesiological, not missiological. We would do well to remember and communicate that. If it were not so, most of us involved in Jewish missions would gladly choose a more popular vocation. We would rejoice if more seeds could be planted and more Jewish people could be reached through congregations than through mission outreach, but there is no evidence to support that.
The well-known missiologist, Ralph Winter, points out the New Testament pattern by which congregations and missionaries worked together to bring about a proclamation of the gospel. He uses the words modality and sodality. The modality was the local congregation whether it be the Jerusalem or Antioch congregation. The sodality was the apostolic band, like Paul and Silas, those who went out from the congregation to carry on the work of ministry. The work of the apostolic band strengthened the congregation and resulted in new congregations. The congregation was the fruit of proclamation not the method of proclamation.
This model functions in the same way today. Organizations like Jews for Jesus are single-issue sodalities, and Messianic congregations are modalities. We work hand in hand for the furtherance of the kingdom. Like the apostolate, the sodalities, or missions, exist for the purpose of proclaiming the message of the gospel to our Jewish people. Messianic congregations are modalities that exist as an expression of the universal Body of Messiah in a particularly Jewish cultural context. There will naturally be a distinction between the missions and the congregations, but if we do our jobs well, the work that missions do ought to add to the Messianic congregations, and some of the best missionaries might also be sent out from the Messianic congregations. We ought, therefore, to be supportive of one another.
A number of years ago it was popular to wear a button that read “PBPGIFWMY.” The letters stand for “Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” All of us in the messianic movement could be wearing those buttons. We all need to be more humble and extend more grace to the other guy. If we really want the revival we talk about and pray for, then we will emphasize those things which unite us. Jewish believers who are members of traditional evangelical churches should support and encourage those in Messianic congregations and vice versa. Jewish missions should be supportive and encourage Messianic congregations and vice versa.
I won’t say that we should pretend one another is perfect. I hope we are all growing in our ability to both give and receive constructive criticism. Unfortunately, within the mishpochah we sometimes disagree on what is constructive! Such disagreements, however, should not define our relationships or cause us to distance ourselves from one another.
The Bible says, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Maybe some other time we’ll talk about testing. Right now I want to hold fast to what I know is good, and I want you, dear mishpochah, to know that as far as I’m concerned there is much that is good about Messianic congregations.
- David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: It’s [sic] History, Theology, and Polity, (New York and Toronto: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1982).
- Daniel Juster, Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology for Messianic Judaism, (Pacific Palisades: Davar, 1986, p. 249).
- Bylaws of Congregation Tiferet Israel, a California Nonprofit Religious Corporation, 1993.
- Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970, p. 334).
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.