The Challenge Of Our Messianic Movement, Part 2
Us and Him
People have been asking, So when are we going to see ‘Part 2’ of this Havurah article?” Apparently, Part 1 stirred plenty of interest and even some controversy. Truthfully, “Part 2” has been through various permutations as we consider a response to current events within the messianic community.
As we echo concerns that many in the movement are feeling, we want to avoid a divisive “us and them” mentality. We hope to encourage all of “us” to draw closer to Him, Yeshua, or Yeshua if you prefer—in other words, closer to Jesus, the Messiah. One of the major challenges before us is that some highly intelligent, sincere and well-intentioned teaching members of the mishpochah are developing a theology that to us seems to be straying from Scripture, a theology which would set us against one another. They do not represent the majority of people in any one messianic organization, but their influence is being felt in various organizations and congregations.
It is up to all of us to pull together, to be on the alert, and to hold one another accountable to the clear teaching of Scripture. Unfortunately, it is impossible to present any credible indication of the theological danger to our movement without citing sources and names. Thus we mention people whom many of us count as friends. They are not the enemy; “they” are part of “us.” But there is an enemy of Yeshua, an enemy of our souls, who tempts and tricks very subtly, sometimes even spiritually and piously, so that even those with the best intentions might be deceived. Please read carefully and prayerfully and decide for yourself how best to guard the heart of our community.
What is our core identity as Jewish believers in Jesus? Most Jewish followers of Yeshua have given the same answer as our Gentile counterparts through the ages: first and foremost, we are “in Christ,” “in Messiah,” and therefore members of His body. Therefore, says Paul, “There is [in our standing before God] neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
Paul did not teach that Christ obliterates the distinctives of Jewishness any more than He obliterates the distinctives of male or femaleness. But our core identity is that we are part of His body, one with all believers of all times and places. “Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Yet some in our movement are saying that Messianic Jews should identify first and foremost as Jews, and secondarily as part of the entire body of Christ. In fact, some statements seem to suggest that we should identify first and foremost as Jews, and secondarily as followers of Jesus!
Mark Kinzer is the executive director of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute, which trains many of our up-and-coming messianic leaders. He is also the spiritual leader of Congregation Zera Avraham, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and he is the author of a recently published booklet titled “The Nature of Messianic Judaism: Judaism as Genus, Messianic as Species.” 1 The very title of his booklet sets forth a troubling programmatic statement. For those who are trying to remember their biology, the genus is the larger division, made up of smaller, related species. The title of Kinzer’s booklet essentially reverses the place that following Jesus is to occupy in our lives. That is not to say that Kinzer does not love and follow Yeshua. But we cannot downplay the ramifications of his statement that being a follower of Jesus is a sub-division of being Jewish.
The fact that Jewish tradition has rejected the claim of Yeshua’s Messiahship does not preclude Messianic Jewish identification with that tradition, even to the point where the Jewish people and Judaism (always interpreted through a Messianic lens) serve as the primary locus of social identity.2
Mark Kinzer is part of a larger group of people who believe in the fluidity of the Messianic movement and are seeking to take it in a particular direction. With the stated goal of developing “a mature Messianic Judaism,” a group of messianic leaders under the umbrella “Hashivenu” (headed by Stuart Dauermann) is quite invested in this direction. If you look at their core values (http://www.hashivenu.org/core_values.htm) you will find an interesting mix of ideas to agree and disagree with. (For example, who could disagree with their statement that, “Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him; therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency”?)
Mixed in with the obvious, the noble and the godly, Hashivenu’s core values imply that we will not be mature until we balance certain firmly held convictions with changing views. The last core value states, “Though we recognize the importance of firm and clearly held convictions, we consider the cultivation of supple hearts and minds essential if the Messianic Jewish community is to move on to maturity.” No one would deny that our hearts and minds should be teachable. But if you read on you find that the call to be teachable does not necessarily have to do with Scripture, prayer and accountability to other believers. It has to do with the age of information and making sure that we see the historical church and the synagogue as equal sources of insight.
We are not told exactly what we have to be open-minded about in order for the messianic Jewish community to become mature, but we are gently apprised of the need to look for truth in “surprising” places. This apprisal is offered with an air of open-mindedness that is no doubt intended, and perceived by many, as a humble spirit. However, it is disturbing that the value of “humble openness to discovery” is left vague. Are they discoveries regarding the authority of Scriptures, particularly the Pauline epistles, which some have hinted are more relevant to Gentiles than to Jewish believers? Are they discoveries regarding the uniqueness of Yeshua for salvation, or the need to profess Him openly? When will this sense of “more mature” knowledge be presented for evaluation by the rest of the Messianic community? While everything is stated as being in process, we get the feeling that some conclusions have already been reached. Hashivenu is not a covert group of people planning secret subversion. They are friends, scholars, mishpochah making and teaching many of their statements openly. We believe they are misguided on some fundamental issues, and have the potential to misguide many others. We hope you will check out their core values and pray earnestly for humility and discernment as you draw your conclusions.
Scripture teaches that God has called a social community into being, a community comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, what one early church writer even called a “third race.” What would it mean if our primary identity is not with a community of believers, but a community that has defined itself by not believing in Jesus?
The concern over the definition of who we are as Messianic Jews continues when we read statements from some leaders in the messianic movement such as, “the irreducible dyad of human existence is Israel and the nations.”3 In other words, being human comes down to the core identities of being Jewish or not. One might think that the core identities of male and female are more “irreducible,” since God created male and female before He created Jews and Gentiles. Certainly the Bible has much to say about Israel and the nations. It also has much to say about those who seek God and those who don’t, those in Christ and not in Christ; those saved and those damned; those en route to the city of God and those en route to some other place; those on either side of what C.S. Lewis termed the “Great Divorce.” The “irreducible dyad” ultimately comes down to those who are saved and those who are not.
We are not advocating that Jewish believers distance themselves from their Jewish heritage. May it never be! But our primary spiritual and social home must be among those whom we allow to influence us the most, and that should be the body of believers.
Jews express their Jewishness in a myriad of different ways ranging from mildly cultural to traditionally Orthodox to antie-stablishment tattooed Jews. It seems as though a small but influential group is suggesting that we focus on the survival of the Jewish people as a chief hallmark of participation in Jewish life.4 Of course the survival of our people is important to us. For the most part, the “Jewish life” we hear about represents only certain segments of the Jewish community. But since the Jewish community as a whole sees belief in Jesus as a huge threat to Jewish survival, the road to participation with the larger Jewish community is barricaded by pressure for the believer in Yeshua to compromise.
Generally, if we first answer the question who is Jesus and why did He come, then the question of our identity and the nature of the body of Messiah follows naturally. Unfortunately, the question of “us” and our identity is too often examined in terms of who the larger Jewish community is, rather than who Jesus is.
Put bluntly, is Jesus the One in whom all people, Jews and Gentiles, need to have faith in order to be saved? The primary saving message of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is: “Repent and turn to God on His terms.” That is the message the prophets brought to Israel, and that is the message the body of believers today must bring to both Israel and the nations.
Recently, a delegation from the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) held a conference in Israel. In the course of their visit, they gave a generous donation to a secular Jewish organization, which caught the attention of the media. Two delegates were asked by (an admittedly hostile) reporter for the Jerusalem Post newspaper, “So, are Jews who don’t believe in Jesus doomed to hell?” The delegates responded, “No, absolutely not,” and as a result, the article reported, “He [Rich Nichol] said that the UMJC…does not believe that Jews who have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah are doomed to hell.”5 That quote touched off a furor among Israeli believers.
To explain this response, Jamie Cowen, the current president of the UMJC and one of the two delegates, wrote that, “Rich [Nichol] and I spoke almost simultaneously, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Of course, the answer to that question [so, are Jews who don’t believe in Jesus doomed to hell?] is extremely nuanced.…We knew exactly what the reporter was trying to force us into, and we gave a categorical response that was unequivocal. The UMJC has a doctrinal statement as part of its Constitution which makes clear the need of the saving grace of the Messiah for salvation. I believe we all adhere to that position.”6
Certainly, we would all like to prevent hostile reporters from casting our beliefs in the worst possible light. But which should we worry about more: someone who does not know Yeshua representing us unfairly—or we, who do know Yeshua, misrepresenting God’s only means of salvation out of concern for our own image, be it an individual or corporate image? Regardless of the intent of the delegates, their answer was misguided for it implied that Jews do not need Jesus for salvation.
The delegates attempted to spare the Union from embarrassment, but unfortunately the opposite occurred. Or maybe it is fortunate, because the Union is solid enough that many were not merely embarrassed, but quite upset about the incident.
Most of us who have dealt with the press have said something we regretted at one time or another. It would be unnecessary and therefore ungracious to bring up this matter if it were merely a gaff in speaking to secular Jewish reporters. But that is unlikely. We fear Jamie Cowen is overly optimistic in his belief that “all” (UMJC congregational leaders?) adhere to the position that all people need the saving grace of Jesus for salvation. (The official UMJC doctrinal statement appears as a sidebar to this article.) Sadly, some leaders are either in a transitional state of belief or have “nuanced” the position.
Rich Nichol, Messianic Rabbi of Congregation Ruach Israel in Needham, Massachusetts, past president of the UMJC and vice president of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA), has made no secret of his ideas on the subject. In a letter to Bob Mendelsohn (leader of our Australia branch) last October (2002), Nichol wrote, “The message I hear from the Jewish missions groups is very different [from my message]: All Jews are lost and hell-bound except for the tiny minority who believe in Jesus.” And “I surely do not deny the realities of either eternal bliss for the righteous or judgment for the wicked. But I feel far less certain as to exactly who goes where than I did in an earlier stage of my spiritual journey.”
None of us, no matter what we believe about salvation, is called in any event to make determinations as to “exactly who goes where,” since we cannot see the human heart nor the outcome of a human life. But we are called to say that humanity is steeped in sin, that there are eternal consequences in life, and that we must repent and turn to God on His terms—that is, through faith in Yeshua.
A recent Yale University thesis, written by a Jewish believer, on the UMJC and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) included some disturbing quotes from Tony Eaton, UMJC treasurer and Messianic Rabbi of Simchat Yisrael Messianic Congregation, and from Mark Kinzer. Eaton is quoted as saying,
If Abraham Heschel is not in heaven, I don’t belong there either, regardless of what I think about Jesus. This is a person who had a deep personal connection with God.…The day is going to come in the judgment when all these devout Jews are going to come before the Messiah, and when they approach him they’re going to look at him and say, “Didn’t I know you?” and he’ll say, “Yeah, you did, you just didn’t know my name.”7
Also, says Eaton, “The Talmud says all Israel has a place in the world to come because God made a covenant with our ancestors. It’s not an obsession for Jews to worry about post-mortem bliss. That’s an obsession with evangelical Christians.…The focus on redemption and salvation in the Christian world is wrong—God’s role is primarily as a consummator, bringing creation to completion. Redemption is there, but it’s not the focus.”8
Mark Kinzer says, “Because of the validity of the Abrahamic covenant, I believe it’s still as possible for a Jew who doesn’t know Yeshua to have a living relationship with God, just as a Christian. But of course Yeshua is still the Messiah and any Jew who knows him is in a better place and has more access to God than before.”9
Kinzer is saying that a Jewish person can be saved because of the Abrahamic covenant. This is clearly an example of two-covenant theology, which says that Jews already have a covenant with God through Abraham and so do not need Jesus in order to find salvation.10
If Jewish people already have an automatic connection with God, then there is no need to tell them the “good news” since God has already accepted them in Yeshua, only they don’t yet know it. This would certainly be a relief to those of us who struggle with a less than popular message. But this is not what the Bible teaches!
No doubt these believers love our Jewish people and love Yeshua. But they are moving, if they have not already arrived, to a theological stance that skews the identity of Jewish believers within the larger body of Messiah. Even worse, it neglects—if not denies—the need of Jewish unbelievers to hear the gospel so they might receive and confess saving faith in Yeshua.
There is plenty of room in the messianic movement for different opinions. There is room for people to choose the day or night of the week on which they will worship the Lord. There is room for people to choose what they will or will not eat, what traditions they will or will not follow, what holidays they will or will not celebrate. There is room for some people to hand out tracts to strangers and others to share the gospel only with those whom they already know. There is room to pray spontaneously or from a siddur, in English or Hebrew or other languages. There is room to sing traditional songs and contemporary choruses. There is even a place for doubts, and soul searching and wrestling for a better understanding of the Scriptures. But is there room for a changing theology of salvation? Is there room to regard certain Scriptures as more binding on Gentile believers than on Jewish believers? Is there room for the idea that being Jewish is more fundamental to our identity than believing in Jesus? We hope you will agree that there is not!
A shipwreck begins with a small deviation from the set course. We have seen too many people whose faith has been shipwrecked because they allowed some wind or other to take them off the course of what Scripture teaches. The more obvious shipwrecks occur when people are blown about by fleshly desires. Perhaps it’s easier to identify and steer clear of the winds of immorality. Yet we have other desires which are not bad in themselves, but can still blow us off course. We may want to be more sophisticated, more openminded, more Jewish, more mature, more “understood” by our unbelieving Jewish counterparts. Even the desire to be more spiritual can lead us astray if our focus is on ourselves rather than on Jesus. The best way to be for ourselves as Messianic Jews-and the best way for us to be for anyone-is to be for Him, first and foremost.
- Mark Kinzer, “The Nature of Messianic Judaism: Judaism as Genus, Messianic as Species.” West Hartford, CT: Hashivenu Archives, no date.
- Ibid., p. 43
- Rich Nichol, as quoted in “Defining Messianic Judaism” UMJC Theology Committee, Summer 2002, Commentary by Russ Resnik available at UMJC (pdf file)
- “There may be powerful reasons for a Jewish believer in Jesus to have strong ties with a local church. However, we must not live in a fantasy land with respect to such titanically important issues such as Jewish survival and the biblical mandate for the divine/human partnership in all life’s affairs.” (“Messianic Judaism-So What Exactly Is It?” by Dr. Richard C. Nichol) at Ruach Israel
- Radoszkowicz, Abigail. “Zaka Gets Donation from Messianic Jews.” Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2003.
- Jamie Cowen, “Round” e-mail sent to several individuals, dated July 6, 2003, containing a letter “sent to all the UMJC leaders.”
- Karabelnik, Gabriela, “Competing Trends in Messianic Judaism: The Debate Over Evangelicalism.” Unpublished senior thesis, Department of Religious Studies, Yale University, 2002, p. 74, citing interview with Eaton.
- Ibid., p. 75
- Ibid. Interview with Mark Kinzer, p. 75
- Interested readers can be referred to the issue of Mishkan that was devoted to the twocovenant theory, available through www.caspari.com/mishkan.
*Note: We recognize that some of the ideas and materials we have referred to require a more in-depth response than is possible in this forum. This article is not intended to be an exhaustive response, but rather to raise the awareness of the mishpochah that these things are being circulated in the body.
Did You Know That
Jews for Jesus affirms Jewish believers who, for the sake of honoring our heritage and developing a Jewish story, choose to give up some of what grace allows to conform to dietary standards and various other Jewish practices. As long as such practices are not presented as incumbent upon others in the body of Messiah—Jewish or Gentile—we hope to be an encouragement to those who desire to uphold their Jewish identity in this way. We believe that there should be no sense of superiority based upon practicing or not practicing, but that we should all regard one another’s choices with humility in accordance with the spirit of Romans 14:5: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
A Few Questions
As the contemporary movement of Jewish believers in Yeshua continues to develop and grow, there is more than one “model.” Some seek a unified model of messianic Judaism under stated principles and perhaps practices. Others do not.
Many good possibilities lie ahead as the messianic Jewish picture continues to develop. There are also historic traps to avoid.
To avoid traps or pitfalls, it helps to know where we stand on key issues, and to encourage discussion on these issues so there is always a clear understanding of where those who are or may become teachers and leaders stand. The following is a short list that touches on three key theological concerns. You may have some of your own to add.
1. Do you believe that God’s covenant(s) with the Jewish people provide(s) for eternal salvation apart from calling on Jesus? Do you believe that a Jewish person can be saved by Jesus without knowing it or recognizing Him?
2. Do you believe in what is referred to as the “Universal Church” (not universalism but a gathering of both Jews and Gentiles into one body of Messiah)? Do you think God requires different customs, worship or association from Jewish people as opposed to Gentiles?
3. Do you believe the writings of the rabbis have any degree of divine inspiration, and/or that adherence to them is necessary for Messianic Jews to be good stewards of the Jewish identity that God has entrusted to them?
UMJC Doctrinal Statement
We believe that the Bible is the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We believe in the deity of the Lord Yeshua, the Messiah, and His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father and in His personal return in power and glory.
We believe that for the salvation of the lost and sinful man, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the believer is enabled to live a Godly life.
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life, and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
We believe in the spiritual unity of all believers in the Lord Yeshua, the Messiah.
We believe in the process of discipline and conflict resolution taught in Matthew 18:15ff, as applicable to all congregants and leaders.
As Jewish followers of Yeshua, we are called to maintain our Jewish biblical heritage and remain a part of our people Israel and the universal body of believers. This is part of our identity and a witness to the faithfulness of God.
Editor’s note: Member congregations of the UMJC are required to be in agreement with this statement.
To the Editor
We don’t normally print letters to the editor in Havurah, but it seemed appropriate to give responses to the last edition. Space does not permit us to print all the interesting responses to “The Challenge of Our Messianic Movement.” Thanks to everyone who wrote.
The term “Messianic Judaism” by definition excludes those Jews who have opposed the teachings of the Messiah and the Apostles and gone into the Church. A non-Jew may be part of the Church because he has not accepted the Covenant, but for those of us who are Jews, our ancestors accepted the Covenant on our behalf over three thousand years ago. All Jews, Messianic or not, are created by HaShem to be part of the commonwealth of Israel. In general, Christianity has rejected the Commonwealth of Israel—they have refused to become grafted into the olive tree. The Christians chose this division themselves. The Messianic groups who read the Bible and act accordingly are not the ones responsible for division that anti-Semitic Christians have established.
Robinson and Rosen attempt to include those who have cut themselves off from the Messianic Judaism as part of Messianic Community. In this attempt, the authors fail to realize that all 613 Commandments in the Torah are “Moral Commandments.” HaShem gave all the Commandments to uplift our lives and bring us closer to Messiah, Who provides our Salvation. It is immoral to disobey HaShem. It is therefore immoral to disobey any of the Commandments. Thus, all Commandments are “Moral Commandments.”
In short, Robinson and Rosen are attacking the teachings of Messiah, and attacking the Jewish people. If they are both Christians, then they should confine their opinions to the Church and leave Messianic Jews out of your magazine; if they are trying to be Messianic Jews, they need to be educated before they begin writing about Messianic Judaism.
Rabbi Kyle Moline
Ed: Rabbi Moline clearly illustrates some of the views/trends we attempted to describe in Part 1 of the Messianic Challenge. These views are not representative of most Messianic Jews we have met—certainly not of any organization we know—but neither have they developed in a vacuum.
In his article, “The Challenge of Our Messianic Movement,” Rich Robinson cites a recent definition of Messianic Judaism approved by the delegates of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) as an example of “the way of exclusivity.”
Ironically, most UMJC delegates would probably agree with the simple, ’70s-era definition of the messianic movement that opens the article: “A moving of Jewish people to faith in Yeshua in the context of Jewish culture.” But, we’d also have to agree that since the ’70s, “The term ‘messianic’ has been adopted—and sometimes co-opted—by numerous groups and theologies.” In response to this reality, the UMJC developed its definition.
Sometimes Messianic Jews claim to be “100% Jewish and 100% for Jesus.” Amen. May we all be 100% for Jesus! The UMJC definition explores the meaning of our claim to be 100% Jewish.
Rich Robinson says, “The problem is that we cannot define ourselves.” But of course we constantly define ourselves, whether we call ourselves Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus, or Christians. The challenge is to define ourselves biblically. The issue is not whether our self-definition is too exclusive, but whether it reflects the content of Scripture.
In Scripture, Jewishness is not simply a matter of birth, or even of culture, but of a divine calling. Thus, Paul writes in Romans, even after the Jewish majority turned from Yeshua as Messiah: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” (3:1-2) and “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen” (9:4-5).
The “Jewish culture” that Robinson mentions is a collective response over many centuries to these distinctive advantages. Our definition implicitly recognizes the continuing chosenness of the Jewish people, “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). To claim to be a Jewish movement without responding to the community life and traditions that have sustained the Jewish people for centuries seems to us to miss a key aspect of God’s truth.
This response does not mean, as Robinson fears, that we exclude Jews who do not follow “extra-biblical traditions and rabbinical interpretations.” Our definition does not claim to define individuals, but a movement—not Messianic Jews but Messianic Judaism. It simply recognizes that much of our Jewish tradition expresses and preserves a unique identity given by God. In Messiah, this unique identity does not need to divide us from our Gentile brothers and sisters. Rather, the UMJC definition places us in solidarity with the historic church.
The Messianic Jewish movement is not just a collection of Jews who follow Yeshua, but a corporate expression of faith in Yeshua that honors the biblical calling of the Jewish people. May there continue to be “an actual moving of Jewish people to faith in Yeshua,” as the article says. And may we continue to explore the implications both of our faith in Yeshua and of our God-given identity as Jews.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.