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What is Messianic Judaism?
There are many articles available on the Internet that describes Messianic Judaism from a historical and religious point of view. I will instead answer this question from my personal observations, instead of from a traditional expository approach.
When I had been ostracized out of the synagogue that I was a part of, I decided to explore the Christian world. I had believed in Jesus as my Messiah for over three years, and had grown to have a strong understanding of the Gospel and the implications of what Jesus did for me. When I visited my first Church, it was a bit of a culture shock at first. I had made several assumptions about churches, and quickly discovered that my preconceived ideas were not very close to reality. It was suggested to me that I visit with some Messianic Synagogues. It was assumed that I would be able to relate more to the Messianic Synagogues given my background.
When I visited with my first Messianic congregation, it was also a difficult experience. The worship service was common for most Messianic congregations. It could be described as a liberalized version of the most liberal reformed Jewish synagogues. I felt slightly insulted on behalf of my people when it was suggested that this type of worship was designed to attract Jewish people. Myself, and many other Jewish people I have asked over the years would often feel that the sanctity of the Synagogues was somewhat desecrated by what they were doing. I found the hybridization of Hebrew and English confusing. The way you think in Hebrew is very different from the way you think in English. Combining the two languages simultaneously can be very difficult when you understand this. I rapidly discovered however that no one in the Messianic congregation really understood Hebrew, so I could understand why this wasnít a problem for them. I have visited with many Messianic congregations over the years, and have yet to meet anyone who understands Hebrew. Some could pronounce the words from the actual Aramaic script, but most would need transliterations in English.
It was suggested to me that the services and style of worship was designed to attract Jewish people. From what I have observed over the years, they donít attract Jewish people. They attract Gentiles, but not Jews. The Jews that I have known have been offended by their services, and by the people who pretend to be someone they are not. I found that it is very unusual to find a Jewish person in a Messianic Jewish congregation. It is even more unusual to find a Jewish person who actually grew up with the traditions of Judaism, instead of recently discovering that a distant relative was considered to be Jewish.
It is often suggested that a person cannot understand the Scriptures well without understanding Hebraic roots, and perhaps some Jewish tradition. I do agree with this to a certain degree, but I have found that what they generally believe about Hebrew roots, and Jewish traditions is invalid. Just because someone says they study or teach Hebrew roots, doesnít mean that what they study or teach is true Hebrew roots. Many people are sincerely convinced that they are, but that doesnít mean they really are. Many people may study Torah (Law), and yet still have no idea what the law says, let alone what it means. There have been generations of people who have devoted their lives to studying Torah, and according to Jesus, had no idea what it said or what it meant. I could easily say this about myself before I knew that Jesus is the Messiah. If Jesus said this, then why would it be hard to believe that it isnít very different today? Someone who has never had any deep exposure to Judaism can easily be deceived into believing that they are getting exposure to deeper truths, when in reality, they are not. It is very easy for this to happen. What is even more challenging is that a person can have a background in traditional Judaism, and still be deceived with respect to their Hebrew roots because of evolutionary Pharisaism. I do agree that there are many things hidden in the Scriptures because of a lack of understanding of the Hebraic culture and teachings. What I donít agree with, is what many people believe those things are.
The Messianic Jewish culture has been interesting to observe. The core theology that is presented in the majority of Messianic Synagogues corresponds well with Baptist theology. There are several exceptions of course. I am only saying this from an observational point of view. What is very unique, however, is that the people in the congregations are generally Charismatic / Pentecostal in their theology. It is a peculiar combination that troubled me for a long time given their significant differences. I found that the style of worship was attractive to the Charismatic, and the teaching would rarely address the New Testament. Therefore, their differences are normally not addressed, because of the focus on other subjects.
I spoke with one of the most renowned leaders in the Messianic Jewish community in the early 90ís and asked him about the discipleship programs he had in his congregation. He began to explain to me that he was very troubled that many people would join his congregation, he would often marry them to others in the congregation and they would often teach Bible studies during the week. However, it was common for them to eventually convert to Judaism, and while they would normally not reject Jesus, they would live as if they didnít know Him. He was very confused by this, and didnít know why it was happening. In time, I discovered that it is very common for people to convert to Judaism after spending time with a Messianic Synagogue. It was generally unheard of that a Jewish person would convert to believing that Jesus is the Messiah after spending time with a Messianic Synagogue. I was very surprised at this also until I found out what many people in Messianic Judaism really believe.
A Messianic Synagogue is not very different from other churches in some ways. Most every church teaches and promotes a balance between the doctrines of law and the doctrines of grace. Their differences can be described in terms of their differences in laws they try and obey, and how they apply grace in their life when they fail to live in obedience to those laws. These laws are generally never written. Some are presented directly from the pulpits. Tithing is one example. Others are indirectly taught or culturally persuaded. The best question to ask when wanting to know these laws is what do I need to do and not do in order to be considered acceptable and an upstanding member of the particular congregation? Within Messianic Judaism there is also a very large variety of opinions with respect to what laws people are to obey and how they are to be obeyed. One thing I have found that they all seem to share in common is that most everyone says they do not teach or believe in legalism. However, not many are willing to define this term so they can clearly distinguish themselves from those that do teach legalism. This therefore is most often a statement of opinion that has no basis in anything.
One of the advertisements of Messianic Judaism is that you will grow closer to your God through the participation in the Messianic Synagogue, and the traditions that are taught there. I described earlier that what many believe are Hebrew roots and truths that can help illuminate the Scriptures may not necessarily be true. I have made this statement from a general point of view without specific examples. The intent of this paper is only to describe Messianic Judaism from a general point of view. The specifics will be addressed according to the specific relevant subjects. I have yet to meet anyone who was a part of a Messianic congregation that would convince me that they have truly grown closer to their God, and an understanding of who He is. They certainly donít need to convince me, but I have not seen any evidence that what is advertised will truly be delivered. On the other hand, I have met many people in Messianic congregations who have openly told me that they felt further away from God than when they first got saved. Many of whom had tried every denomination they could find and have settled on this one, waiting and hoping that one day things would be made clear. These were people who were considered to be elders in their congregations. Therefore, by their testimony, I would suggest that the advertising may not be true.
The leadership in most Messianic congregations will normally have some Jewishness in their background. There are some who say they do, but the degree to which they do is rather questionable. The following are some examples in the Denver, Colorado area. I know one who has a long lineage of Rabbis in his family, but couldnít read or correctly pronounce Hebrew at all. This would be the first skill he would have learned. I believe he is telling the truth about his lineage, but he did not grow up learning anything about Hebrew roots. I know another who has a very large following. He completely fabricated his background and facilitates his groups like a skilled cult leader. I believe he has been successful because he has promoted Charismatic teachings, which corresponds better to most of the people found in Messianic congregations. I have watched him since the beginning of his ministry, and have been consistently surprised with how many people he has been able to completely deceive. There is another who is probably the most popular that openly told me he did not care about truth, but only that he could keep people in his congregation to provide him with tithes and offerings. Not all people are who they tell you they are, but I think he was being sincere about this.
The intent of this was to give a general description of my exposure to Messianic Judaism. I will address specifics through addressing specific questions about what many Messianic Jews believe and why.
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