Jewish

Why ‘Messianic’? or, Why ‘Jewish’?

The vast majority of the earliest followers of Jesus, first called ‘Christians’ at Antioch, were Jewish.

Jesus spoke and thought within a distinctly and profoundly Jewish context.

The early writers of the Gospels and Epistles and the Revelation wrote from within that Jewish context.

There is evidence that even within predominantly gentile congregations, a Jewish flavour or expression of Christianity and contact with the synagogue continued, at least until the Bar Kochba revolt.

Small Jewish congregations such as the Ebionites, and possibly the Waldensians, continued living out Christianity from a profoundly Jewish perspective.

 

Messianic Distinctives

Modern Messianic Judaism, or the Messianic faith is far from homogenous – there is a broad spectrum ranging from something which to all intents and purposes resembles mainstream Christianity, right through to something which resembles something more like Orthodox Judaism.

This basic list is an attempt to formulate some `distinctives’ (differences from mainstream Christianity) with which all those who identify as Messianic or Jewish Messianic would be able to agree.

[1] We fully identify ourselves with the Jewish people as ‘separated brethren’: For those of us who are of a Jewish background and heritage, we remain Jews. For those of us who are of a gentile background and heritage, we see ourselves as ‘grafted in’ to the Covenant People, Israel. We do not remain `gentiles’ in the sense of ‘pagan’ (although the Hebrew word ‘goyim’ also carries the meaning ‘Nations’). We do not stop being English / French / African / Australian or whatever, and we do not become `Jews’.

To be fair though, even this is not without contention. Most Jewish congregations do not accept non-Jews as part of Israel, denoting this whole idea, although Biblical, as ‘replacement theology’ and saying that non-Jews can be part of the ‘commonwealth’ but never properly part of Israel.

Is that a fair criticism?  We are supposed to be ‘One New Man’, the Body of Christ. Read Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. What if a Jewish Messianic marries a non-Jewish Messianic? Are their children Jewish? Gentile?

No, these distinctions should not be perpetuated indefinitely. There is to be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. But as with other race, class and gender problems in the Church at large, we’re not there yet.

[2] We seek to recover the lost heritage of the essential `Jewishness’ of the ‘faith’ – that is the ‘Christian’ faith, the original Messianic faith in Yeshua (Jesus), perhaps emphasising the Jewishness of the early church by including the use of Hebrew names, moving away from pagan-derived non-Hebrew religious names and vocabulary. (This is much more prevalent in the Sacred Names movement, which is connected to but perhaps a somewhat separate branch to Messianic Judaism.)

[3] We celebrate the Scriptural and Jewish Feasts, including Sabbath, Sukkot, Yom haTeruah, Yom Kippur, Pesach/ Passover, FirstFruits/ Omer/ Shavuot (`Pentecost’ in Greek) as well as Hanukkah and Purim in preference to `Christian-ised’ pagan-derived feasts such as Christmas and Easter. (The more Christian branch of the Messianic spectrum, who formerly called themselves Hebrew or Jewish Christians, tend to retain all the Christian festivals, and tend not to view any possible pagan connections as a problem.)

Additionally, some adopt a kosher diet – abstaining from pork and shellfish – understanding that Paul’s vision was a metaphor for welcoming non-Jewish people into the faith and not, as Christians understand it, abandoning the food laws themselves.

[4] We have a reverence for Torah in its entirety, not just the `ten commandments’, as “inspired, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness”. (Not to earn salvation, as the Messianic movement is often accused of)

There is an unfortunate tendency, however, to get stuck in the minutiae of the Feasts without going on to searching out the ‘Weightier Matters of the Law’. I have been down that path myself, and I have seen good people disappear into an abyss of rules and regulations, losing their love and compassion along the way. It’s not a pretty picture.

The weightier matters of the Law are pretty clear from scripture – they include Justice (justice for the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, the victim), Mercy and Love.

The Messianic view of the Law, Torah, is quite different from mainstream Christianity – it is not a burdensome, undesirable curse of a thing that you would want to get rid of. Instead, it is viewed as a gift. A beautiful, restful, peaceful haven of safety. Torah is viewed as freedom, not something we need to be freed from.

 

(c) Sharon Tootill 2007, updated 2014

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