5 Minutes with the General Director
Someone has said, “Once a lie has a head start, it is hard for the truth to catch up.” About five years ago a lie got started—its authors called it Messianic Judaism, or a movement within Judaism for Messiah. From the rabbinical point of view, the movement is not Jewish; but more significantly, from a biblical perspective, it is not messianic. Though neither “fish” nor “fowl”, it has enamoured and gathered to itself a growing company of followers. its appeal lies in the fact that Jews are invited to remain Jews and simply accept the Messiah (without conversion). They are encouraged to observe Jewish holidays and ritual—and in some instances, to attend the Jewish synagogue as a form of worship.
That the leaders of Messianic Judaism love the Lord Jesus no one denies—that most are zealous and sincere is not at issue—but that much of their theology and methodology distorts the teaching of the New Testament is patently clear. The subtilty of this movement lies in the fact that some of their emphases are long overdue and true, but half-truths are whole lies. When the
pendulum reacts to an extreme position by swinging to another extreme, it does not alleviate the problem; it simply introduces a new one. Regrettably, historic Christianity has either ignored or largely distorted its Hebrew heritage, and Messianic Judaism is unfortunately an over-reaction to this long-standing inequity. While all Messianic Jews, or those who claim to be part of a movement within Judaism, would not embrace some of the areas of criticism that follows, it is a fair representation of the movement as a whole.
MESSIANIC JUDAISM AND THE CHURCH
To speak of a “movement within Judaism for Messiah” is to at once deny the clear teaching of the Word of God.
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13).
The body to which Paul refers is the Church, which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23). Concurrent with salvation, every believer, whether Jew or Gentile is identified or associated with the true Church. Any suggestion, therefore, that a saved Jew is part of a movement within Judaism is in direct conflict with the Word of God.
The divisive “middle wall” which separated Jew and Gentile for two thousand years was torn down by our Lord’s sacrificial death (Eph. 2:14). Tragically, many of the Messianic Jews are trying to rebuild the wall, which the Messiah they claim to trust, removed. Some are advocating attendance at the Jewish synagogue for purposes of identification, others are championing the erection of messianic synagogues. Whereas the Bible teaches Integration (not assimilation) of Jewish and Gentile believers, many of the Messianic Jews are practicing isolation. In many instances, Gentile believers are not welcome at meetings of Messianic Jews. ironically, they seem not to realize that mature Hebrew Christians within biblically-sound local churches could do far more for the cause of Christ among their kinsmen. The concept that a descendant of Abraham through Jacob, who accepts Christ, is part of a movement within Judaism is a lie, and one day the truth of God’s Word will silence it.
MESSIANIC JUDAISM AND THE LORD JESUS CHRiST
A dear Hebrew-Christian friend contacted me recently to share an incident which greatly concerned her. While in the presence of a group of Messianic Jews, she was invited to pray. She concluded her prayer of thanksgiving and petition “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. To her utter surprise and shock, she was soundly rebuffed for praying “In the name of Jesus Christ”. When inquiry was made as to how she should conclude her prayer, she was informed that she should use the Hebrew equivalent for Jesus Christ, “Yeshua ha Mashiach”. If this were an isolated case, there would be no reason for undue concern. The fact is, however, that the name “Jesus Christ” is all but absent in the midst of many Messianic Jews.
I have on my desk an article defending the Messianic Jewish movement. Its author attempts to justify the use of Yeshua ha Mashiach on the grounds that when Jesus appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road, He spoke to him in the Hebrew tongue. This argument would be humorous if it were not so tragic. In the first instance, we are not opposed to the tactful use of the Hebrew equivalent of Jesus Christ when it is appropriate in witness. But secondly, it would be quite natural to speak to Paul in Hebrew as it was a language with which he was familiar; just as I would expect Hebrew to be used in present day Israel. But in the United States, American Jews speak the English language, with less than 10 percent having a knowledge of Hebrew. A crucified Christ is to the Jew a stumbling block (Rom. 9:33), but he cannot be saved by circumventing it. Tactfulness in witness is to be encouraged, but compromise to make it more palatable is to be shunned. Hebrew Christians should not be ashamed to name the name of Jesus Christ, for at that name one day “, . . every knee should bow, . . , and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10, 11).
MESSIANIC JUDAISM AND CONVERSION
As Messianic Judaism has gained momentum, it has moved consistently away from historic biblical Christianity. Some Messianic Jews are now suggesting that conversion is not a necessary part of a Jew’s salvation experience; since he is part of God’s Old Testament covenant people, there is some sort of mystical front door that he can march through uninterruptedly. That God’s salvation is inseparably associated with the Church in this age, and that, entrance into it for both Jew and Gentile is an act of conversion seems to have escaped them. The name “Jesus Christ” and the concept of “conversion” are both repulsive to Jews. In the former case, Messianic Jews simply use the Hebrew equivalent; in the latter, with the wave of an invisible wand, they dismiss the need of conversion. The New Testament, however, does not tolerate such a dismissal. In a dialogue with Jesus, Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, is told that he “must be born again”—literally “born from above” (John 3:7). Conversion is an inseparable part of the new birth. Early in the Church Age, Peter addressing a large audience of Jews proclaimed,
Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).
Sometimes the terms “fulfilled Jew” or “completed Jew” are used to suggest that accepting Christ is to be consistent with and faithful to one’s heritage and the Old Testament Scriptures. But those terms should never be construed to mean “continuation”, and thereby exempt the Jewish person from a conversion experience.
Quite frankly, the biblical evidence for the universal need of conversion is so overwhelming that it is amazing that anyone who purports to accept the Bible would seriously suggest that it is not an essential part of a Jew’s salvation.
MESSIANIC JUDAISM AND ASSIMILATION
High on the list of concern voiced by Messianic Jews is the danger of assimilation of Hebrew Christians within the Church. This concern is more imagined than tangible. As the director of a Jewish mission, I receive more than 3,000 letters each month. Many are from Hebrew Christians who are members of Bible-believing churches. Far from being assimilated, they are a positive influence to stir their churches toward a witness to Israel. My pulpit ministry, which takes me throughout the world, and gives occasion to meet many Hebrew Christians, only serves to substantiate that fact. Nonetheless, concern about assimilation on the one hand and desire to make their movement attractive to potential Jewish believers on the other, Messianic Jews tend toward observing much of the Jewish ritual.
The Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is observed by fasting, prayer, and helping the less fortunate. But Moses wrote long ago,
For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul (Lev. 17:11).
The New Testament writer said. “.. . without shedding of blood is no remission” (Heb. 9:22). The root form of the word “kippur” means “to cover”, but Judaism has no covering for sin. Why then should Hebrew Christians observe a day initiated by Jews, who have rejected the provision of Christ and which has no efficacy? Why should the Hebrew Christian identify with what the Apostle Paul condemns?
For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3).
Similarly, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah originated in the inter-testament period and, therefore, is not mentioned in the Old Testament Scriptures. Rather ironically, the Feast of Hanukkah (Lights or Dedication, as it is variously called) is mentioned only in the New Testament, and that in a context where Jesus went up to Jerusalem and declared that He was “the light of the world” (cp. John 8:12 and 10:22).
The Jewish Feast of Passover is a type or illustration of “Christ our passover (who) is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor. 5:7). Now that the reality has come, is not the going back to the shadow participating in the very sin the writer to the Hebrews referred to:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:4-6),
The simple, but irrefutable, fact is that much that passes for Jewish tradition was not instituted by God in the Old Testament Scriptures, but was the creation of Jewish leadership, which had long before rejected the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Arguments to the contrary notwithstanding, most American Jews are not particularly religious. After they accept Christ as SavIour, the major problem is not so much cultural as psychological. By giving to new Hebrew Christians what can only be termed a “pseudo” culture, they will in the long run only complicate the problems because this new culture will not square with the Word of God.
A better understanding of the distinctions of God’s major dispensations; of the Book of Galatians with its teaching on Christian liberty; and of the book written “to the Hebrews”, which teaches the superiority of Christ to Moses, of grace to law, of the Melchisedecan priesthood to the Levitical priesthood, of the New Covenant to the Old Covenant; would go far to correct much of their error. It can only be hoped that this will occur.
MESSIANIC JUDAISM AND THIS ARTICLE
The message of the Bible is basically a positive message. It is far easier to write, and certainly more enjoyable to read, warm and uplifting articles. Sometimes, however, we are called on to be “SET FOR THE DEFENSE OF THE GOSPEL” (Phil. 1:17b), That I had put off addressing this subject for more than a year only tends to underscore how unpleasant a task it was for me. But that I have written this article nonetheless indicates my deep concern. Lest I leave you, dear reader, with a wrong impression, let me underscore the fact that large numbers of Jews are coming to Christ and moving soundly forward. Most happily, there are a good number of Jewish missions whose methods and message are true to the Word of God, During the urgency of the present hour they need, deserve, and depend upon your continued faithful support.
Yours in His grace,
‘Marvin J. Rosenthal