Recently, I informed my wife that I now consider myself the crown prince of Oceana and would appreciate it if she began to address me as your royal highness.” She laughed and continued what she was doing. I suppose I could have business cards made up and glossy photographs of myself wearing a crown. I could bring an entourage with me wherever I go to address me as “your royal highness.” Some people might actually be convinced. My wife wouldn’t buy it though, because she knows me. And because she loves me she would remind me that I am not the crown prince of anything.
I was kidding when I told my wife that I was the crown prince of Oceana, but the joke came from a sense of frustration I felt as I reflected on an article in this month’s “Christianity Today.” The article is titled, “Jacob vs. Jacob.” I encourage you to read it; it is available online at christianitytoday.com.
“Christianity Today” is a fine magazine and I would commend most of the articles to any believer in Jesus. Unfortunately, my suggestion that you read this particular article is more an alert than a commendation — because the article gives a very exaggerated picture of the Messianic movement. Not only does the article give what we would consider an unrealistically high estimate of how many Jewish believers there are in the United States, but in talking about the number of congregations, the article does not point out that most of those congregations have well under 100 people regularly attending and that many of the congregations have a Jewish attendance of about 30%. While the numbers can hurt the movement’s credibility, (kind of like me, calling myself the crown prince of Oceana), the larger problem is how the movement’s theology is presented.
The article claims to uncover deep divisions between leaders of Messianic congregations and Jewish missions here in America. (I suppose there could just as easily be another article titled, “Esau vs. Esau” enumerating the in-fighting among various church denominations.) I am sad to say that the main point of the article is partly true. There are divisions, as you will see by statements attributed to some of the congregational leaders in this article. If readers were to take these statements as representative of all or most Messianic congregations, they might either:
- doubt the need for straightforward proclamation of the gospel to Jewish people or
- be so disturbed by the theology of Messianic congregations that they would never dream of sending a Jewish person there to hear the gospel or
- doubt the credibility of Jewish believers in Jesus in general and distance themselves from Jewish missions as well as Messianic congregations…
- …none of which would be helpful to the cause of Christ or healthy to His body.
Let me give you a couple of examples of how the content could cause the above reactions. One messianic leader, Mark Kinzer, is quoted as saying that mission agencies (such as Jews for Jesus) are obsolete and should be dismantled. In his view, they are an obstacle. He doesn’t say what they are an obstacle to… that is left to the imagination of the reader, who may conclude that all Messianic congregations see missions as an obstacle to Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus. For some readers, that may be reason enough to either dismiss Messianic congregations as foolish if not heretical, or missions as counterproductive.
In reality, the gentleman quoted would not have facts or figures to prove that missions present an obstacle for Jewish people coming to faith, and he is too intelligent to make such a claim. I believe he sees Jewish missions as an obstacle to his hope that Messianic congregations will be accepted as part of the diversity of mainstream Judaism.
Another example that might cause people to react: the article tells how Paul Saal, the leader of a Messianic congregation in Connecticut, asked Jews for Jesus not to come to Hartford to conduct a Behold Your God evangelistic campaign. We did not change our plans, and so, as the article points out, “In… the ‘Hartford Courant,’ Saal publicly denounced Jews for Jesus. Saal, with others in his congregation, said JFJ would tarnish their image and undo years of relationship-building with the Jewish community.”
Seeking acceptance for ourselves or our beliefs from within the Jewish community is completely contrary to what we read in Hebrews 13:12-13. All too often, such expectations of acceptance lead to compromise, as has happened with quite a few in the Messianic congregational movement.
The same leader who was quoted as saying that missions ought to be dismantled has written: “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. God’s favor still rests upon Israel, and He makes a way for humble and faithful members of His people to enter His presence through the unrecognized mediation of Israel’s Messiah.”
In other words, he believes it is possible for a Jewish person who never embraces Jesus in this life to still be saved by Him in the next. This is a dangerous heresy that undermines the very heart of the gospel message. He is right about one thing though. If what he believes is true, then Jewish missions are obsolete and preaching the gospel to the Jewish people is irrelevant. While this viewpoint represents a handful of Messianic congregational leaders, they are quite articulate and strategically positioned — and the number of leaders affected by their teaching is growing. I imagine that most of the readers of “Christianity Today” (and of Jews for Jesus Real Time) might be relieved that, at least on this point, there is deep division — not just between certain Messianic leaders and missions agencies, but between those Messianic leaders and the majority of leaders in the Messianic movement.
It’s no fun for me to point out some of the problems behind the division spoken of in this article. Division is always painful, though at times people must separate themselves from what they see as contrary and detrimental to the cause of the gospel of Jesus.
I want you to see the letter I wrote to the editor of “Christianity Today” in response to this article.
February 1, 2005
Letters to the Editor
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188
Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today
Re: “Jacob versus Jacob,” February, 2005
Jews for Jesus has been receiving phone calls and emails regarding your February article, “Jacob versus Jacob.” There are many in the larger evangelical community who are puzzled over the pronouncement from some leaders of Messianic congregations concerning missions and evangelism. While those comments are disturbing, I want to assure those who may be wondering, that not all Messianic congregations have such unorthodox views on ecclesiology or the uniqueness of Christ for salvation. In the same way one would evaluate a local church, so each Messianic congregation bears honest scrutiny concerning these important matters. They should be judged in the same way that other evangelical congregations are judged. Jews for Jesus will shortly be publishing a “Field Guide to the Messianic Movement.” We hope it will prove to be a useful tool for pastors as well as the average Christian in the pew looking to understand and evaluate the emphases of the various groups calling themselves Messianic. Most of the Jews that I know who love Jesus also love His church and are grateful to be a part of that universal body of believers. As regards our own Jews for Jesus ministry, our mission statement says it best: “We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people world wide.” The author of “Jacob versus Jacob” casually referred to this approach as “in your face evangelism.” I prefer to call it forthright proclamation. It is our prayerful intention to be respectful and loving in our approach, yet remain visible, vulnerable and available so that Jesus be lifted up for all to see. (Romans 1:16)
David Brickner, Executive Director
Jews for Jesus
Maybe you will be inspired to write a letter to the editor yourself. It would be especially helpful if some of our friends who belong to Messianic congregations could write temperate letters to the editor, making it known that the quotes from Messianic leaders against missions do not represent you, as Messianic Jews. No doubt those who agree with those extremist statements will be writing letters of their own and your input will go a long way to help balance the readers’ views of Messianic Jews.
Whether or not you feel led to write a letter, we hope that you will pray:
- That those within the Messianic congregational movement who have a good understanding of the gospel and the need for Jewish people to receive Jesus will flourish and prevail — and that the influence of those who have tried to undermine forthright gospel proclamation will wane
- That readers of Christianity Today will not dismiss Messianic congregations as heretical based on the views quoted, but will evaluate congregations individually, as one would with most local churches
- That the friction caused by some of the statements in this article will not impede the work that God desires to do, both through missions agencies, as well as through those Messianic congregations that have a sound doctrinal understanding.
- Also read Why I support Messianic Congregations