Now in this part of the series, we want to look at the typically ignored part of, what I am calling, the “Messianic Bridge”: Messianic Christianity (although we are not ignored by all Messianic leaders and rabbis).
IT’S TIME TO DEFINE “MESSIANIC CHRISTIANITY”
So what is a “Messianic Christianity?” And how do “Messianic Christians” differ from mainstream Christians? As I discussed in the last part of this study, the Messianic Jewish leaders say there is no difference; in fact, I’ve heard Messianic leaders say that Gentiles who believe in Jesus are “Christians,” they are not “Messianic,” since the leader argued, the term “Messianic” is reserved for “Jewish believers.”
WHAT DOES “MESSIANIC” MEAN, REALLY?
But the problem is that this idea doesn’t fit the reality of what’s going on within the movement, as Rabbi Shapira pointed out:
Can you define for me what it means to be “Messianic”? No, there’s no definition. What does it mean to be “Messianic”? It is not something concrete. I don’t know exactly what’s the difference even between somebody who is “Messianic” and somebody who’s a “Christian,” per se. The distinction is not so clear to the point of saying, “This one is ‘Messianic’ and this is somebody who just believes in the Messiah.”
As someone who has grown up in Christianity and has been involved in the Messianic Movement now for at least ten years, I want to tell Rabbi Shapira and others the difference between the two.
WHAT SIDE OF THE BRIDGE ARE YOU ON?
First of all, whether you want to define yourself as belonging to Christianity or Judaism should remain a personal choice. However, the three things that all Christians and Messianic Jews do agree on are the following:
- That the God of Israel is the only True, Living God;
- That Yeshua/Jesus is the Promised Messiah of Israel, as well as Lord and Savior;
- That the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament) were inspired by God; and
- That the Whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is still valid today.
From this point on, things split into millions of different beliefs, views and perspectives. Although Christians say all one has to do to become a Christian is to accept Jesus, but this is not true. There’s more to Christianity than this. If you don’t believe me, try telling a priest or pastor that you’re not planning on attending church, or studying your Bible, or or praying, or repenting from sin and you’ll start hearing about how important all of these other things are.
This is important to note because many Jews think that just because a Jew accepts Yeshua (Jesus) as the Promised Messiah, then this makes him a “Gentile Christian,” even though Yeshua (Jesus), Himself, lived His life as an Orthodox Jew, who dearly loved the Torah, the Jewish people and His homeland, the land of Israel. So how does placing one’s faith in a Jew make one a “Gentile”? It really doesn’t make any sense, does it? So now, let’s address the big question.
WHAT IS A “MESSIANIC CHRISTIAN”?
I would define a “MESSIANIC CHRISTIAN” as one who meets the following minimum FIVE characteristics:
- They believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel, as prophesied in the Scriptures and have accepted Him into their lives as both their Lord and Savior.
- They believe that literally ALL of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is for all people today, whether they are a Jew or a non-Jew.
- They have an interest in studying, and perhaps observing, the Sabbath and the Biblical Feasts.
- They have an interest in Messianic music and/or Davidic worship.
- They have a strong love for the people and nation of Israel, and believe they should do what they can to support and bless them.
These FIVE characteristics distinguish Messianic Christians from Non-Messianic Christians, who do not share or hold to these same beliefs and interests, except for the first one. In fact, there are many “Messianic Christians” who exceed these minimum characteristics to the point of attempting to live as close to the Mosaic teachings as they can, including keeping kosher, wearing tzitzit, tallith, tefillin, kippahs, etc.
Messianic Christians are, therefore, not only on the “Christian side of the Messianic bridge,” but they can span the entire length of the bridge, just as a Messianic Jew is on the “Jewish side of the Messianic bridge,” and can, likewise, span the entire length of the bridge, not just be standing right on the Judaism side. Where one chooses to stand on the bridge is up to the individual, and even that position can vary from time to time. A Messianic Christian may start off on the Christian side, and then try the middle or more towards the Judaism side, and then move back or continue perhaps a little further on, depending on his or her experience.
What needs to be said is that Messianic Christians need to remain on the “Messianic Bridge” and not get off on the Judaism side. Simply because mainstream Judaism does not accept Yeshua (Jesus) as the Promised Messiah. And there have been, and continue to be, people who start off on the Messianic Christian side, but then cross the bridge, and get so involved in the beliefs and practices of mainstream Judaism, that they end up stop believing in Yeshua (Jesus) and convert to a particular branch of mainstream Judaism. So just as mainstream Judaism is worried about Jews “becoming Christians,” Messianic and Non-Messianic Christianity is worried about “Messianic Christians” becoming Jews. The concern runs both ways.
THE LACK OF A ROLE FOR MESSIANIC CHRISTIANS
Now that I’ve distinguished between Messianic Christians and Non-Messianic (or Mainstream) Christians, we need to discuss the problem of the role of the Messianic Christian within the Messianic synagogue. The lack of a role for Gentile (or non-Jewish) believers in Messianic congregations is confirmed in Dr. H. Bruce Stokes’ online article “Gentiles in the Messianic Movement,” “In many cases,” he writes, “the role of Gentiles in Messianic congregations and the larger Messianic movement is unclear.”
According to the editor of Dr. Stokes’ article, “This article is a revision of a paper presented to the International Messianic Jewish Alliance meeting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in 1997. It also appeared as the cover article for the first edition of The Messianic Jew, a magazine published by the International Messianic Jewish Alliance.” Based on his research, he classified the various types of involvement “Gentile participants in the Messianic congregations fall into:”
- Some Gentiles are what have been described as “wanna-be Jews.” These Gentiles have come to the conclusion that God has “called” them to be Jewish. They often wear kippahs and are sometimes unwilling to be totally honest about their Gentile identity;
- A second group includes Gentiles who find Jewish ethnicity attractive and find meaning and fulfillment in Messianic styles of worship. By copying Jewish ethnicity, these Gentiles seek to demonstrate their love of the Jewish people and the Jewish roots of Christianity;
- A third group of Gentiles has come to the theological position that the Torah is equally binding on Jews and Gentiles. The result is a loss of Jewish-Gentile distinction;
- A fourth group is made up of Gentiles married to Jewish spouses. These Gentiles engage in some forms of Torah observance and Jewish practices in an attempt to bring their children up in a home that reflects the children’s Jewish heritage; and
- Finally, there are Gentiles who have joined the Messianic movement out of a desire to minister faith in Yeshua as contextually relevant to Jews.
As Dr. Stokes points out, the reasoning and/or motivation for Gentile (or non-Jewish) participation varies from individual to individual. And according to his article, there is not one single reason why Gentiles (or non-Jews) make the decision to join the movement. And I believe the reason for this “Gentile issue” within the movement is its insistence of maintaining a definition of the Messianic movement as a “religious movement of Jews coming to an acceptance of Yeshua/Jesus as the promised Messiah.” But rather than Messianic Christians thinking that they need to be “Jewish” to fit into the movement, I believe that there’s a better alternative for both Jews and non-Jews alike, and this is what I want to discuss in the final part of this series.
FINAL PART: I want to examine a new alternative to the Movement, which will enlarge the Movement’s vision of itself, erase the division between Messianics, and better prepare everyone for the Lord’s soon return and His coming Kingdom: “The Messianic Kingdom Movement: A Better Alternative.”