Jewish believers in Jesus don't agree on everything—nor do we need to, as long as we agree on who Yeshua (Jesus) is and what He means to us. Nevertheless, we should do away with disagreements that cause division, especially when they are not based in truth.
For example, people tell me they have heard that Jews for Jesus is against Messianic congregations, (congregations of Jewish and Gentile believers who love Jesus and worship in a Jewish format). Some regard this positively, while others are disappointed. Frankly, both the approval and disappointment are equally disturbing because neither is a fact-based response. Jews for Jesus is not against Messianic congregations.
If you know anything about Jews for Jesus, you know that our passion and primary commitment is the evangelization of our Jewish people. Perhaps we have not said enough about some of our other commitments, including those regarding Messianic congregations. Here are a few simple facts:
- When Jews for Jesus founder, 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.
- Many people on the staff of Jews for Jesus 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.
- Over the years Jews for Jesus has given numerous financial grants to Messianic organizations and congregations to support their endeavors.
- We have planted a number of Messianic congregations ourselves.
I hope that these facts help to clarify our support of Messianic congregations for those who wish to know where we stand. I love the fellowship of the Body of Messiah, and I love to be with brothers and sisters of various cultures and backgrounds. I especially appreciate the fellowship of other Jewish believers in Jesus, and I know that when I go to a Messianic congregation, I will find that fellowship. It is not wrong to gravitate toward those who share a similar cultural background. When Asian-Americans or African-Americans worship in churches that express their culture and background, they are not required to justify their preference, nor should they be. Why should it be different for Jewish believers?
Most 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 called a people movement." 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. As far as we can tell, approximately 22% of Jewish people who come to faith in Yeshua choose to worship in Messianic congregations.
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. Most churches still have separate restrooms labeled "Men" and "Women," don't they? We recognize a difference in genders and it is not wrong to recognize differences between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus, and how they prefer to worship the Lord. The New Testament talks about the Jerusalem church, which was predominantly Jewish, and the Roman church, which was predominantly Gentile.
Messianic congregations can play an important role in helping Jewish believers maintain a very important part of their identity. God promised that the Jewish people would survive, and Jewish survival is not merely a matter of escaping death. Jewish survival includes the desire to continue to identify as part of the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Messianic congregations can also play an important role in helping children of Jewish believers understand how being Jewish and believing in Jesus go hand in hand, through childrens' curriculum as well as life cycle events such as bar and bat mitzvahs.
Messianic congregations can be the perfect place to send new Jewish believers in Jesus, particularly those who are fearful that believing in Jesus would rob them of their Jewish culture and heritage. For all these reasons and more, I support Messianic congregations.
Sadly, there are always some who don't really know our position yet seem eager to draw dividing lines between Jewish believers. These individuals do us all a disservice by creating unnecessary division. We need to agree to disagree in ways that will not diminish the work of God's Spirit in our lives: "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).
What we Jewish believers in Jesus need to remember is that no matter how much we identify with our own people-group and culture, we are part of the larger Body of Messiah. We would lose much if we were to cut ourselves off from our non-Jewish brothers and sisters. We also need to remember that any congregation of believers in Jesus, whether predominantly Jewish or predominantly Gentile, needs to measure up to the clear teaching of Scripture. As believers in Jesus we need to hold one another accountable to those teachings. We also need to hold one another accountable to the Great Commission.
Well-known missiologist Ralph Winter points out the New Testament pattern by which congregations and missionaries worked together to proclaim 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 such as 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 such as Jews for Jesus are single-issue sodalities, and Messianic congregations are modalities. We need to work hand in hand for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Like the apostolate, Jewish 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. And I must say that many Messianic congregations have come alongside us to help in our evangelistic campaigns, for which I am most grateful.
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 one another. If we really want the revival we talk about and pray for, we will emphasize the things that unite us. Those 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 each one is perfect, since none of us are! I hope we are all growing in our ability to both give and receive constructive criticism. Unfortunately, within the mishpochah (family) we sometimes disagree on what is constructive! Such disagreements, however, should not cause us to distance ourselves from one another.
The Bible says, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I want to hold fast to what I know is good, and I want you, dear friends, to know that as far as I'm concerned, there is much that is good about Messianic congregations.