I have recently been involved in a discussion online with Christian pastors who argue that the “Law” is passed, or fulfilled and therefore they believe Judaism is religion of works righteousness. I told them that is not Judaism, and the Law is not passed, but is part of living a godly life. It highlights for me why Messianic Judaism is not Christianity. We do follow the same Messiah, but the idea of how we are to live is vastly different. Does following Yeshua make one a Christian, or do you think we are something different? Outside of Yeshua, I see nothing in common with them.
-Rabbi Dr Michael Schiffman
from his Facebook comment
Rabbi Dr Schiffman made this comment in a closed Facebook group to which I belong, so I can’t post a link to the entire conversation. I do want to insert a few of the responding comments, but I will disguise the identity of the responders:
RG: we have nothing in common with them…at least I don’t have…G_d’s Covenant with Abraham is an Eternal Covenant for all the ages, as is the Covenant of Circumcision…Forever means ’til revisionists decide to jettison it…?
KS: If I may interject, it’s not that our brethren that don’t see Messianic Judaism as a doctrinally pure way to live feel you can do anything you want. Rather they recoil at the idea that God would expect you to do anything for Him. He is “love” and our greatest and in their mind only commandment is love. But what is the standard. How do I know what love is? Their concept of the Gospel is very subjective. If you engage many christians in dialogue the only firm thing they believe is that you should not follow the “Old Testament” because that is “law”. Unfortunately they then are like the blindfolded men who come across the elephant and one thinks he’s a trunk, another a big foot, a third thinks he is this little tail. We need to walk in the light and then we will see. The light is what David describes in the Psalms: “Torah” is a lamp for my feet and light for my path”. If you reject His written Word how can you hear clearly the Living Word?
YL: So far it seems the conversation is focusing on Christians whose theology is supersessionist, and speaking of those Christians as if they represent the whole. But there are also Christians who have rejected supercessionism and are working to repair its horrible effects on Christian theology and Christian/Jewish relations. If the primary thing that defines Messianic Judaism as a different religion than Christianity is supercessionism and anti-Judaism, then what about those Christians who affirm the Jewish people’s ongoing covenantal relationship with Hashem via the Torah?
Rabbi Dr Schiffman: There is always some overlap among different groups, just as there are differences between Messianics. While there are some post-supersessionist Christians, the majority are supersessionist, and as they find dispensationalism wanting, many have turned toward tradiitional supersessionist theology. Hopefully this will change in the future, but if we are really in a “post-Supersessionist” era, why do we have so many supersessionists around? I guess it hasn’t trickled down yet.
YL: Agreed. So what, if anything, can we do to help make the vision of post-supercessionist Christianity a reality? And are there things we need to avoid as MJs because they subtly undermine that vision?
SB: If a Gentile respected Torah, he (she) would follow the Noakhide instructions. They were given to all mankind. This respect for Torah, I think, is something that should be spread.
I’m sorry for posting such a lengthy transaction but keep in mind this is only a fraction of the responses I’ve reviewed in the conversation as I write this “meditation.” You may be wondering why I’m bothering with all this, but the question of the relationship between Christianity and Messianic Judaism (and I’m deliberately setting aside the Hebrew Roots variants including One Law and Two-House) has been a problem, at least once it came to light that Messianic Judaism must be a Judaism in order to function and be a valid religious and cultural expression of faith in Yeshua for halakhic Jews.
Nearly two months ago, Rabbi Dr. Schiffman wrote a blog post called Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah which more formally presents his ideas on this matter. It is very much in line with what you’ll find in Mark Kinzer’s book, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People
To distill all of this down into a single sentence, necessarily compressing many complex details, what is being suggested is that Christianity and Messianic Judaism are mutually exclusive religious expressions that, although they share the same God and the same Messiah, otherwise service wholly different populations. Granted, that’s a gross oversimplification, but I believe it captures the essence of what Kinzer and Schiffman are trying to communicate to the rest of us…that is, Christians.
At one point a few years back, this idea bothered me so much that I created an entire blog and series of blog posts, starting with something called Fractured Fellowship.
So where does that leave us. YL provided the most hopeful suggestion in the above-quoted conversation, with the idea that there are “post-supersessionist” Christians who “are working to repair its horrible effects on Christian theology and Christian/Jewish relations” and “who affirm the Jewish people’s ongoing covenantal relationship with Hashem via the Torah.”
I’m not sure YL’s comments were all that well received, especially with the follow-up query about whether or not post-supersessionist Christians should follow the Seven Noahide Laws (and to my understanding, by definition, Christians should already be obeying them).
I must admit to a bit of confusion. I was invited to this Facebook group with the knowledge that I’m not Jewish, so there is some idea that it’s “OK” for Christians and Messianic Jews to occupy the same space, or at least the same virtual space in Facebook. I also have a few Messianic Jews who I feel are my friends and who I have worshipped with fairly recently. Others have invited me to worship and associate with them should we ever overcome the geographic barriers that keep us apart.
This isn’t the only conversation on the web discussing this topic. Both Derek Leman and Gene Shlomovich have written recent blog posts contrasting Christianity and Messianic Judaism. For my own part, I too have have discussed early Christian and Jewish relations as they affect the interaction and fellowship between believing Jews and Christians today.
Yet in reading many of the comments in the Facebook conversation, it is as if fellowship between Messianic Jews and Christians on many levels is undesired and unwelcome.
I wonder if this was built into the original design?
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
–Luke 21:24 (ESV)
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.
–Romans 11:25 (ESV)
It would seem that not only have (most of) the Jewish people been temporarily blinded to the identity of the Messiah for the sake of the Gentiles, but until the time when Jewish eyes will be reopened, there will be enmity between the Jew and the Gentile (Christian). This somewhat flies in the face of the following:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
–Ephesians 2:13-16 (ESV)
However, if you add the passages from Luke and Romans to my analysis of Cohen from his book From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, you start seeing a picture of a less than rosy relationship between the first Jewish disciples of the Messiah and the first Gentile disciples right from the start.
Gene Shlomovich confirms this in a comment on his blog:
To begin with, it took nearly 20 years since the all Jewish Messianic community was founded around 30 CE to make first Gentile converts. So, only around year 50 CE we have first Gentile believers coming unto the scene. Even then it wasn’t all flowers between the two groups. I think the example of Peter being afraid to be seen with Gentiles shows that the two groups had an uneasy social relationship from the get go, which hardly meshes with your statement of “unprecedented level of social cohesion” and supposedly fully integrated messianic synagogues. (While you read this, keep in mind that Romans destroyed Jerusalem and led Jews away in chains mere 20 years later, in 70 CE).
Secondly, almost immediately after the first converts among the Gentiles were made, there was a rise in Roman antisemitism. We read that already in Acts 18:2 that Roman Emperor Claudius threw out all Jews from Rome (around 50 CE). This had effectively ended whatever the Jewish presence that existed among the Roman Christians, who were probably the biggest single group of Gentile believers at the time. Secondly and some say as a result of that expulsion, we see an undercurrent of pride and anti-Judaism beginning to appear among Gentile believers – and we have Paul warning (some say around year 56 CE) Gentiles under his care about it. (Romans 11:18) And just 16 years later, Jerusalem and the Temple was destroyed, effectively ending the Messianic Jewish presence in the land, along with whatever communities and synagogues that had existed at the time.
Fortunately, he followed up with another comment:
I have no problem fellowship and worshiping with Gentile believers. In fact, the goal of this blog, as it says in the head, is ” Jewish-Gentile Reconciliation”. What I take issue with is the Supersessionism found within some Hebrew Roots circles, the appropriation of Judaism and misuse of Jewish sancta, anti-Judaism, and misleading Christians (Gentiles) to force them to do things that G-d never intended them to do by making them feel that they are sinning if they do not eat up the One Law agenda.
So what we have, at least from Gene’s perspective, is not a requirement for absolute separation between Messianic Jews and Christians in our individual silos, but a clear definition of relationships and roles within any mutual fellowship context.
Of course, you’ll find variation among believing Jews, with some advocating for total or at least significant inclusion of Gentiles within a Jewish worship and cultural lifestyle, and others advocating for the polar opposite and requiring that non-Jews be excluded from any Messianic Jewish community (which will be pretty tough, since to the best of my awareness, there currently is no Messianic Jewish synagogue, congregation, or community composed of exclusively Jews or even of a majority of Jews).
But then what do we do with the following passages?
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”
–Isaiah 56:3-8 (ESV)
Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”
–Zechariah 8:23 (ESV)
While the Matthew 28:18-20 imperative is the command of Jesus to his Jewish disciples to also make disciples of the nations, it doesn’t necessarily pre-suppose a lasting relationship and a fused corporate identity between said-Jewish and Gentile disciples. Certainly there is ample evidence to support how the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master almost immediately developed separate communities, probably within a few decades of the first Gentile being brought into worship of the God of Israel through the Jewish Messiah.
And yet Isaiah and Zechariah suggest that we Gentiles (Christians?) may have a closer relationship to the Jews and the Temple than what modern-day Messianics such as Schiffman and Kinzer would necessarily support. It has been suggested that in the future Temple, even Gentiles (Christians?) will be allowed to serve as Priests, but this is disputed by Gene Shlomovich in another of his recent blog posts:
Will the reign of Yeshua as Messiah mean that anyone who truly worships G-d, Jew or Gentile, could finally just waltz into the sanctuary of G-d in the new Temple, have the unfettered access anywhere, even if they are not priests? Does this mean, as some teach, the Gentiles will be selected to work as priests in the new Temple? Not at all!
They [that is “priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok” Ezekiel 44:14] alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and perform my service. (Ezekiel 44:15)
Gene also quotes scripture that supports the idea of Gentiles continuing to be restricted to the outer courts of the future Temple in Messianic times.
Go and measure the Temple of G-d and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. (Revelation 11:2)
His final comment on the matter is this:
The Temple will be a place where both Jews and Gentiles could worship the G-d of Israel, both together and in unique ways. All nations will come to learn from Israel because they will all know that G-d is with the Jewish people:
This is what the L-rd Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that G-d is with you.’” (Zechariah 8:23)
The bottom line seems to be that Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians may have started out at a single point in history but once we began to diverge on separate trajectories, those separate and distinct paths forever defined our destiny in terms of a relationship with each other (Jews and Christians) and our separate relationships with God (relative to differences in application of Torah upon Jews and Christians).
Boaz Michael’s new book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile will become available in January 2013 and defines the Gentile mission in the community of the church as one of healing between Christian and Jew. There is also an educational group open to Jews and (Gentile) Christians called MJ Studies that bills itself as “a gateway to post-supersessionist New Testament scholarship”. This group presumably would allow Christians to participate with Jews in mutual study and fellowship (at least virtually) so Jewish/Christian relationships don’t have to be totally severed for the sake of the modern Jewish disciples of Messiah.
There’s a part of me screaming in my ear that the easiest method of satisfying Messianic Jewish requirements is just to let them be. If the integration or even occasional inclusion of the Gentile Christian into a Messianic Jewish context is a great a difficulty, I can solve the problem by having nothing to do with Messianic Judaism. I can exist in a wholly separate and sealed conduit containing only Gentile Christians or, if that’s not to my taste, I can form a “community of one,” but in either case, I can allow Messianic Judaism to develop and grow without injecting my presence into their awareness. Of course, that’s an extremist solution, but it’s the easiest one to implement.
But while some Messianic Jews (and many Jews in general) see Christians as “the enemy,” largely due to the centuries of crime, hostility, rejection, and murder we’ve committed against Jews and Jewish communities, all fueled by our supersessionistic theologies, there are a few voices out there (including a few Jewish voices) that express the hope that some in the church actually support the Jewish right to define Judaism, including the Jewish worship of the Messiah Yeshua. If that is true, there may be hope for future dialog between our two groups. Perhaps that will lead to healing.
I want you to know that I support Jewish uniqueness both generally and as it applies to the Messianic movement. For my part and with that in mind, if someone invites me into their house, I will enter. If they have a “keep out” sign in their yard, I’ll pass by their house and keep on walking.
As for unity in the body of Messiah…as far as I can see, based on everything I’ve just said, that is yet to come.
I know that on Fridays I typically post a commentary on the week’s Torah Portion, (this week it is Vayishlach) but the current topic captured my thoughts and I found I had lost all enthusiasm for that other endeavor. Besides, with images such as “warring” brothers, and man wrestling with God, maybe the theme of Christian vs. Messianic Jew isn’t so off base after all.