Many Christians have chosen the path of the Messianic Gentile. They have seen their lives changed for the better as a result of the strides they have taken towards an understanding of their Jewish roots. They have studied, learned, and grown. At a certain point in this process of growth, though, it is not always obvious what to do next. I am frequently contacted by Messianic Gentiles who are debating what do to with their new understanding. I have connected with many communities in which this is a serious problem.
For the most part, Messianic Gentiles want to share the Messianic renewal with other believers. Grasping hold of one’s Jewish roots is a wonderful thing. It is a beautiful feeling to learn about the biblical feasts, the Sabbath, and other Jewish practices which our Master embraced and taught. Our love for Yeshua makes these things precious to us. For disciples of Yeshua, finding our Jewish roots is like discovering a beautiful, long-lost treasure.
“Introduction,” pg 18
Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile
Part of the Returning to the Tent of David series
Here is where I come in. I should say that I’m not really a typical “Messianic Gentile.” I think the model may have been more appropriate back in the day, but not so much anymore, primarily because I’m a believer going to a church, and the missus is Jewish and not a believer. Furthermore, as Boaz says several times in his book, a “Messianic Gentile” is indeed a “Christian.” I’ve adopted the latter “title” to clarify my vision: that there’s nothing about a Messianic perspective on Messiah and the Bible that should be considered separate or apart from Christians and the Church (big “C”).
The other reason I don’t call myself a “Messianic Gentile” is that I don’t “keep Torah” in many of the ways someone on a Messianic community might. Even at the height of my so-called “observance,” I still drove on Shabbat, cooked on Shabbat, ate what you might call “Kosher-style” rather than what my local Chabad Rabbi would consider kosher, used the Siddur poorly, had (and still have) by and large no command of Hebrew at all, and so forth. I was a lousy “Messianic Gentile” in my practice. But the study and the information flow was and is fabulous.
Among the many things our Master taught us was the command to love each other as he loved us (John 13:34).
This is a core of the message and the vision. If we don’t do these “Tent of David” experiences out of love rather than some other motivation, we lose and the Church loses.
And that’s not easy.
What is easy is to get involved in theological and doctrinal debates trying to show who is wrong and who is right. That’s no different from the typical “dust ups” we have in the religious blogosphere, and I’ve been critical of those before.
Becoming a living and active part of the church community isn’t always easy. I go to services, attend Sunday school, visit weekly with the Pastor, but that’s about it. Oh, I’ve taken on a special project that has required I work with one of the Associate Pastors and some of the staff, but I don’t know if that qualifies me as part of the community. Maybe it just takes more time or maybe I’m holding back.
Can one live as a Messianic Gentile among Christians who don’t yet embrace his lifestyle or viewpoint?
-ibid, pg 19
As Boaz says on the previous page, “Yet this is not always easy. Churches can be resistant to the message of the Messianic Gentile.” But is my mission and purpose to go into church with the idea of changing people? This is one of the most difficult parts of the “TOD” experience. The vision is vast and glorious, but living it out day by day is difficult, especially when I’m not a gifted teacher, theologian, and publisher, but rather, just a guy “on the ground,” so to speak.
I don’t really try to live my life as a “Messianic Gentile” in the church. I just try to be me, which I suppose is both my greatest strength and my staggering weakness.
And why should the church listen to the rather odd sounding message of the “Messianic Gentile?” I mean, it’s their home ground. They hold all the keys that open all of the doors in their realm. They are comfortable with what they are being taught and what they believe fundamentalist and evangelical Pastors and their books and sermons tell them. Saying something like the Torah is not canceled is not just different or new information, it’s radical and potentially “dangerous”. It flies in the face of everything the average Christian in the pew has ever been taught.
The Gentile believers, as part of the commonwealth, had a unique and vital role in the process of building the Tent of David, using their numbers and resources to empower and bless the Jewish community and spread the message of the kingdom in their own culture. In this way, the apostles envisioned the imminent restoration of the Tent of David and the establishment of Yeshua’s hegemony over the entire world…It would hardly be an overstatement to say that this apostolic vision is Christianity’s raison d’être, its reason for existing.
-ibid, pg 22
That’s only vaguely how most Christians and most Christian churches see themselves. Frankly, it took me awhile to even see this aspect of my “reason for existing” and even longer to get comfortable with it. A tremendous amount of internal struggle along with lots of prayer and studying had to take place before I was able to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and to recognize that the completed picture was “me.” I’ve spent many months trying to communicate on this blog what I see and while the people who already share that vision are enthusiastic, those who don’t are going to be just as blind to it as I was.
As disciples of the Messiah, Messianic Gentiles must live out by personal example the teachings of Yeshua…
-ibid, pg 24
I read this sentence and immediately thought about Sukkot. I happened to mention to my Sunday school teacher that I built a sukkah in my backyard, as I do every year, and a little bit about the customs around Sukkot. He seemed interested and enthusiastic, but not in the way I anticipated. It was more like a novelty item to him…something interesting and curious to look at but nothing that had to do with him and his lived experience. The idea of him building a sukkah would be seen in the same way as the idea of living in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet for a year. A fascinating thought but in no way connected to his experiential reality.
Who will show the institutional church its blind spot?
-ibid, pg 26
Who says they want to see it? The most interesting part of this experience is not the response, but the silence. I recently had a bit of a disagreement with my Sunday school teacher over the meaning of Acts 15:1-2. He says that the Jewish people who stated that Gentiles needed to be circumcised were “Satanically-inspired” and I said that they were Jewish people who had a legitimate theological question that needed to be resolved.
But we were the only two engaged on this issue. Everyone else in the room was silent. What were they thinking? Did they imagine I’d flipped out or was I just a heretic? OK, probably nothing that strong, but I really don’t think most of the Christians in that room had a clue how to deal with the idea that first century Jews requiring Gentiles to covert to Judaism as the only way to be saved were at all people expressing a valid concern, as opposed to a bunch of trouble makers and Judaizers.
“The church desperately needs creative heretics. A “creative heretic,” an independent thinker, is an example of the “unbalanced” force to which Newton refers in his first law of motion. Only the person who breaks with tradition can change the direction of an institution. A heretic is not an enemy of God but one who is more interested in truth than in tradition.”
-John Sloat, A Handbook for Heretics
Imparting the vision of the “Messianic Gentile” within a church setting requires a great deal of tact. I’ve tried as best I can to restrain myself. I almost always pick just one question (out of the many I could cite) to ask in Sunday school so as not to appear like I’m trying to argue. I can be candid with my Pastor but that’s part of our relationship, and all of those conversations only involve the two of us.
This can only happen, though, if those Christians who understand their Jewish roots choose to remain in their churches as faithful congregants.
-Boaz, pg 26
I’ve had this discussion before about whether or not the “Messianic Gentile,” that is, “me,” should join the church as an official member. My good friend with whom I have coffee every other Sunday afternoon says absolutely “yes.” I must join the church as a full member in order to be accepted and integrated into the body.
Which brings me to the question of who changes? Boaz mentioned previously in his Introduction about the challenges of living as a Messianic Gentile in the Christian church. Part of the difficulty as I see it is that the church is exerting an effort to change the Messianic Gentile even as the Messianic Gentile is making the same effort to change the church. Boaz says that all committed Christians want to know Jesus better, and while I believe that’s true, they also anticipate that Jesus won’t look too “Jewish” as they draw nearer to him. The portrait of Moshiach I have to paint is far more semitic than any Jesus they’ve ever seen or want to see.
The Tent of David book is designed to reach out to a vast population of Messianic Gentile and Hebrew Roots Gentile people in our country and either support them in the churches they already attend, or encourage some of them, like me, to return to the church as emissaries of the Messianic viewpoint on the Jewish Messiah. We’re not “secret agents” on a covert mission, we’re representatives of an idea and a perspective that isn’t common in the church. We’re part of Boaz’s vision of reaching the church with a new (or renewed) way of conceptualizing the Jewish Jesus. And we are only one stream among several they are trying to produce, another such stream being their A Promise of What is to Come television series (available for free over the Internet), which is designed to impart much of this information at a very accessible level for most Christians.
You are not required to complete the task, you are not free to withdraw from it … but be aware that the reward of the righteous will be given in the World to Come.
-Pirkei Avot 2:21
That sounds incredibly noble, but I’ve always had a tough time seeing myself as incredibly noble. I know too much about myself to see the reflection of a hero in the mirror when I shave in the morning.
So after nearly a year, who do I see when I look at my reflection? Most mornings, it’s easy to ignore the question. I’m getting ready to go to work or if it’s Saturday, I’m mulling over my “honey do” list for the day. If it’s Sunday, then I’m anticipating Pastor’s sermon and considering what I’m going to say in Sunday school, and then thinking about what the rest of the day will bring.
But this blog post series (assuming I write future entries) is about stopping and taking the time to look at the scruffy older guy in the mirror. Am I living up to my mission as an emissary to the church, as it were? Have I been successful in delivering my message and more importantly, in living it out?
I can’t say I’ve been wildly successful. A few people have expressed an interest in what I have to say, but they seem to only just get started on the trail and then stop. I have had conversations with one of the older Associate Pastors who is interested in Hebrew Roots but when I directed him to the First Fruits of Zion website to access some resources, I got the impression that he was quite overwhelmed.
I think there is a desire to learn more about the Jewish Jesus in the church, but there are two issues of concern. The first has to do with what Christians expect to learn. They expect that the Jewish Jesus will look and act just as they imagine him to be. They think the “Messianic Gentile” will teach them “more of the same” but maybe with some interesting but minor details. What they don’t expect is to learn anything different and especially anything challenging. The second issue comes out of the first: getting people to think outside the box without feeling like they’re being heretics or, heaven forbid, being brought “under the Law.”
That second part is really important, because if people aren’t willing to even consider a paradigm shift to a new perspective, they’ll never accept what the “Messianic Gentile” has to offer beyond the superficial.
My impression is that the mission of the Messianic Gentile in the church is a lengthy if not life long process. It also requires a great deal of commitment, not only to the church, but to God. My Crossing the Ford of the Jabbok blog post illustrates how I see what I need to do, not only for the sake of the mission but for the sake of my relationship with God. I do no one any good if I neglect dedication and devotion to Hashem, Master of Legions, Lord of Creation, while otherwise beating my brains out against the stucco walls of the church (or in the blogosphere).
If I am ever to be successful in showing the Christian world around me a true portrait of the Moshiach, the Jewish Messiah King who has come once and who will come again, then I must spend every possible moment at his feet studying, learning from his wise teachings, and becoming an ever more dedicated disciple of my Master.
Addendum: It has come to my attention that I need to be spending a lot more time sitting at the feet of my great Teacher than doing many other things. I’ll speak more on this in tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” but things are going to change.