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Identity Crisis for Messianic Judaism

The following letter was submitted to the Messianic Times for the winter 1997-98 issue.

The Identity Crisis of Messianic Judaism

In the last issue of the Messianic Times there was much debate about the question of Torah and the diversity of opinions on the matter belies a fundamental question of purpose and vision for the messianic movement.

When Messianic Judaism started it sought to show the church that Jewish culture was no different than any other and therefore the Messiah Yeshua could be celebrated in that context. In a sense, Messianic Judaism sought validity within the church, almost as if it was another denomination. Just as black churches have their own expressions of Christianity, so the pioneers of the Messianic movement sought acceptance of their own expression. The vast majority of the people in the movement were Jews and their main concern was the evangelism of their own.

Thirty years later, things are much different. Jews no longer make up the majority. Many gentiles are discovering the beauty and authenticity of celebrating the Messiah in a Jewish context. The Church has accepted messianic Judaism into the fold, as evidenced by itís part in the recent ĎStand in Gapí gathering in Washington D.C. But there will always be an uneasiness about Messianic Judaismís relationship with larger Christendom. This is because, as those who have really thought about the issues and understand their history know, the fundamental questions are those of truth and obedience to the Word of God and not everyone can be right. And that type of talk scares a lot of Messianic Jews because they donít want to rock the boat with the church and it scares the church because it threatens itís 1900 year old position as the only valid expression of the Messiah, and, to take it one step further, it questions whether the church is a valid expression of what the Messiah taught and lived at all.

Why do these questions arise? Because we know that most of what the church does comes from paganism and it is hard for anyone to defend idolatrous practices as valid expressions of Faith. But even more than that, the abandonment of Torah obedience by the gentiles at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century was a natural outgrowth of the pervasive anti-Semitism of the Roman world. ĎChristianityí was really born not on Shavaíut but in the second century when the life in the Messiah that had been lived in Faith and obedience to Torah became an eclectic religion composed of Roman Religion, Greek philosophy and basic Jewish ethics. It was the plan of HaSatan to distort the truth and thus make the people of God ineffective. That God ever intended to scrap Torah in favor of paganism as the proper expression of faith in the Messiah is impossible to substantiate Scripturally. This is what many of the Gentiles who are coming into Messianic Judaism know and believe. And Messianic Judaism doesnít seem to know what to do about it. But God is at work. In preparation for His coming He is bringing people back to the truth, the truth that Yahushua is the Mashiyakh and that the life of Torah is the only way of life ever revealed by God for His people.

This leaves Messianic Judaism at a crossroads. Is itís identity going to remain just a Jewish cultural expression of Christianity, as many of the rabbis rightly accuse it of being. Or is it going to accept itís place as, currently, the most authentic expression of Godís Truth in the Messiah. God is bringing Jews and Gentiles to the Messiah and He is also doing what was promised as part of the new covenant, giving them a love for Torah by writing it on their hearts. Messianic Judaism must discern this move of God and put itís emphasis on faith and obedience to Torah and not on birth. That is what the Messianic community of the first century was like and look what they accomplished. If we model ourselves after them, we can do no less!

Rav Mikha'el