The Unity of the Church

There was no subject for which Paul suffered more than for the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church. There is no topic on which he wrote more. The reason is clear and simple: the unity of the body of Christ points to the undoing of the effects of sin; it decalres the finality and sufficiency of the work of Messiah, of the ultimate power of divine grace, that both makes and permits no distinctions within the community of those drawn to God by his Spirit, redeemed by his Son and designed to live together in his presence for all eternity.

God made the world. He chose Israel as the instrument by which he would call the world back to himself - the world, not just to the Jewish people. Jesus is the Messiah promised to Israel, appointed by God for the redemption of a people from every tongue and nation. The Gospel is for men and women, boys and girls of every nation. It makes no requirements beyond faith and repentance. It accords all of its privileges through Messiah Jesus, unrelated to ethnic background, culture or practices. In Christ there is no difference.

Again: what God requires of Israel he requires of all mankind. What he accords Israel he accords all mankind. Mankind's redemption from rebellion by the powerful grace of God is a perfect, complete redemption, now working its way through history and in human lives. Its perfection is to be demonstrated in practice by the unity established and preserved between individuals from every nation within the context of a shared life of faith, obedience, spiritual enjoyment and love to God. Jews do not cease to be Jews, nor gentiles to be Gentiles, but they are one in Christ: one in faith and one in practice, one in hope and one in mode of worship. There is no room to introduce into congregational life elements that serve to distinguish one believer from another or reestablish distinctions Messiah has set aside. Neither is there spiritual advantage in any such custom.

A shared congregational life is to be conducted in the context of churches. Churches must be theo-centric, not enthno-centric. They must focus on God as he is known in Messiah, through his inscripturated word and by the power of his Holy Spirit. They should not be orientated toward any people, nor based on cultural or linguistic differences. Paul would have resolved many of his difficulties and found broader acceptance had he simply suggested that Jews and Gentiles love one another from across the street, in  separate congregations. The thought was anathema to him, and rightly so.

Culture, language, political affiliation, religious background, education, social or economic status, gender, age or health – none of these may determine the essential life of a church, however much they affect its incidentals. They certainly should not be a church's distinctive. The only distinctive factor must be the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah. The only ultimate authority must be the authority of God as expressed through his inscripturated word. No tradition, human authority, practice or preference may be allowed to intrude between redeemed and the Redeemer, or between one redeemed individual and another.

The church is one and must be one in practice. The Messianic Movement, therefore, is an abberation, a departure from the word of God. While Jewish Christians have legitimate common concerns, these must find expression in other contexts, not in the life of a church. It would be altogether valid for Jewish Christians to create a context in which they addressed these concerns, but such a context should never supplant the church. To allow it to do so is to supplant Messiah with Jewishness and the Faith of the Gospel with Judaism.

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To Be (Messianic) Or Not To Be?

To Be (Messianic) or Not to Be?

By Rev. Baruch Maoz 

The Messianic Movement has become a familiar feature in the kaleidoscope of shades and colors of those who profess to follow Jesus. What is the Messianic Movement? What is its history? What are its views? How should Christians view this movement? This article will endeavor to answer those questions, however briefly. More a more extensive discussion, readers are referred to my book, Come Let Us Reason Together, (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2012).

What is the Messianic Movement?

The Messianic Movement presents itself as an indigineous effort on the part of Jewish believers in Jesus to express their faith in terms of their national culture, with the primary view of reaching their people with the Gospel. The Movement's cultural practices are purportedly culled from Jewish religious custom, while the majority of adherants view themselves as part of the body of Christ.

Some within the movement view the observance of Jewish religious culture as the duty of Jewish believers in Jesus, and attatch various degress of spiritual advantage to such observance. Others insist that Gentiles are also benefited thereby.

The overwhelming majority of adherents to the Messianic Movement are not Jewish; the de facto Movement’s primary appeal is not to the Jewish community but to the fringes of the church. A good deal of what is purported by the Movement to be Jewish custom is not such, or is a contorted version of that custom, in some cases hardly recognizable as truly Jewish.

The distinctive of the Messianic Movement is its emphasis on Jewish custom, both biblical and rabbinic. It tends to play down apsects of its faith that are considered distinctly unJewish, such as the Trinity and the deity of Christ ; some associated with the Movement deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ. Others affirm that Jews faithful to Judaism may be saved apart from faith in Jesus.

A Short History of the Messianic Movement

The appeal of Jewish custom, biblical and otherwise, to disciples of Jesus is as old as the Faith of Jesus itself, and has a certian logic: after all, if faith in Jesus involves faith in the God of Israel, and if Gentile followers of Jesus have entered into the Faith of Israel, it is natural to expect that they would be bound by the law God gave Israel. It is further logical to assume that the Jews, presumed to know the law best, would be best equipped to interpret the law. That is why the letter to the Galatians, Romans, Ephesians and Hebrews were necessary: however natural, those assumptions are radically incorrect: the Law has had its fulfillment in Christ, and Jews without Christ are as blind to God’s truth as is any man.

The first modern attempt to bring Jewish Christians into an alliance was undertaken in England in 1813. The association was called "Bnei Abraham" (Hebrew for Sons of Abraham). On May 14 of 1867 Dr. C. Schwartz proposed founding a Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain, to be followed later by Alliances in different parts of the world.

The Hebrew Christian Prayer Union was founded in England in 1883. Within less than seven years, membership rose from 147 to 600, and branches were established in Russia, Norway, Germany, Romania, Palestine and the United States. In the early and mid 1900s a number of leading Jewish Christians arose. Among these was Rabinowitz in Kisheneff , Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein in Tapio-Szele, Hungary, Sabetai Benjamin Rohold in Palestine, and Daniel Tsion in Bulgaria .

In the wake of what seemed to be a significant wave of Jewish conversions to Christ, The Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain was formed in 1866. In 1898 the Mildmay Mission to the Jews founded a Jewish Christian congregation in London – an overtly Christian congregation among the Jews, with few Jewish trappings.

In the US, on May 22, 1901, Mark Levy, a Jewish Christian from Britain, convened the Boston Conference of the Messianic Council. He proposed to create a formal means of association for all Jewish believers in Jesus in North America. In response, the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (HCAA) was formed a good many years later, in 1915, with the primary goal of promoting the Gospel among the Jewish people. The HCAA was to provide fellowship to Jewish believers, all of whom worshipped in Christian churches. Heated discussions as to the wisdom, biblical grounds and feasibility of establishing distinctly Hebrew Christian congregations were held. The idea was firmly rejected on biblical grounds.

Hebrew Christians were eager to play an active role in the Zionist movement because they held their people’s best interests at heart and therefore affrimed the political goals of the movement. They also sought recognition by their people and perceived the Zionist Movement to serve as a useful means to that end. Their support was welcomed by the Zionist Movement, but they were excluded from participation. Nevertheless, the HCAA took part in endeavours to settle in Sinai, near the Dead Sea, in Gaza and elsewhere in the what was then Palestine.

In 1925, the  Alliance was broadened to form the International Hebrew Christian Alliance (the IHCA). Within a decade it had established affiliated alliances in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. In 1927, Sir Leon Levinson, first president of the IHCA, claimed that there were some 147,000 Jewish believers in the world. These all held to an evangelical faith and, almost to a man, were members of Christian churches.

The European Alliances largely disappeared during the Second World War, as the Jewish community was decimated by the Nazis. The American and British Alliances enlisted to assist, rescue and support their fellows-Jews wherever possible. Following the war and in response to lingering anti-Semitic attitudes, efforts were made in the USA and Britian to establish separate Jewish Christian congregations. David Bronstein had already founded, in 1921, the Peniel Center, which engaged in evangelism and provided social services to Jewish immigrants in Chicago. In 1934, the center became the First Hebrew Christian Church. (In the early 1970s, under the leadership of Daniel Juster, the congregation became a Messianic congregation and changed its name to Adat HaTikva.)

In the 1960s, a new generation began to make its presence felt. Impacted by the anti-Establishmentarian views of those years, many Jewish converts to Christ had little allegiance to the church and a strong desire to distinguish themselves. Faith in Jesus led to a renewed understanding of the value of the Old Testament and of their Jewishness. They began to call for the adoption of Jewish traditions in the context of worship, spiritual disciplines and evangelism, resulting in a more aggressive assertion of Jewish identity. The result was an evolution from what was originally known as "Hebrew Christianity" (namely, Jews who affirmed their Jewish national identity alonside their faith in Christ, and who served and worshipped in Christian congregations) into today's "Messianic Jewish Movement" (Jews and others who affirm Jewish identity, religious practice and culture as impotant aspects of their faith in Christ, and who worship in Messianic congregations).

This process was hotly contested by American Hebrew Christians who immigrated from Europe. It was also opposed by the British Hebrew Christians until 1975. Most saw no room for what is now the Messianic Movement. Yet, in June 1975,  the name of the HCAA was changed to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA).

Martin Chernoff had become the President of the HCAA in 1971 and spearheaded the change. He served the MJAA as President until 1975 and was followed by his two sons, Joel (President during the years 1979-1983) and David (President during the years 1983-1987).

A new terminology was forged: Jews were no longer to be converted; they were to be "completed." Jesus became "Yeshua", the law became the "Torah", the church was "the congregation" or even "the synagogue," biblical names were to be pronounced in their supposed original Hebrew form, and so on. The late Manny Brotman (1939-1999) established the Messianic Jewish Movement International (MJMI), and laid the groundwork for The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, founded in 1979.

The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America is affiliated with alliances in fifteen countries, including Israel. The International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA) seeks to represent the common interests of Jewish believers throughout the world by way of affiliated national alliances. The professed purpose of the International Alliance is to care for the spiritual and material welfare of all Jewish believers and to maintain within the Jewish people a witness to Yeshua the Messiah.

An example of one of the more extreme forms of Messianic Judaism is OMJRA -- the Observant Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Association, an association of Messianic Rabbis. One of the goals of the association, as described in the OMJRA booklet, is "to promote the validity and necessity of Torah observance amongst the leadership of the Messianic Movement in general". The association was founded in 1995 by Rabbi Yehoshua M. Othniel, who had "become disillusioned with the lack of Torah within the congregations where he studied and worshipped", and "felt the need to promote the richness of a Torah-observant lifestyle among his fellow believing Jews".

According to one estimate, there are now some 500 Messianic congregations worldwide. Most of these are in the United States, with a number in England,  Holland,  Germany and a growing number in the former USSR and its satellite countries. The so-called 150 Messianic congregations in Israel are largely made up of Jews who profess a saving faith in Jesus, most of whom do not adhere to rabbinic traditions in their congregational and private lifestyles, although the traditional Jewish holidays are celebrated as a matter of national culture.

Messianic Jewish Beliefs

The majority of Messianic Jewish congregations are broadly evangelical in their beliefs, with additional features of belief distinctive to the Movement. The Shalom Messianic Congregation in Nothern Ireland offer a glimps into a typical yet moderate Messianic Statement of Faith ( Shalom Messianic is one of the more moderate Messianic congregations.

The congregation's views of the Scriptures, of God, of man, of sin and of salvation are identical to those of any evangelical church, although they are couched in Hebrew and Jewish terms. For example, concerning the Scriptures, the Statement affirms:

We believe that the Bible, consisting of the Tanach (Torah, Prophets, Writings) (Holy Scriptures) and the later writings commonly known as the B'rit ha-Chadashah, also commonly referred to as the New Testament, is the only infallible and authoritative word of God. We recognize its divine inspiration and accept its teachings as our final authority in all matters of faith and practice.

Messianic congregations, to my knoweldge without exception, affirm a Premmillenial and often a Dispensational eschatology, which is a major plank in their faith and praxis. The Shalom Comgregation Statement says,

We believe in God's end-time plan for the nation of Israel and for the world. We believe in the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel/Jewish people, as taught in the Scriptures, and that the greatest miracle of our day has been the rebirth of the State of Israel according to prophecy. We believe that the 12 tribes of Israel are the modern day Jewish people both in the land of Israel, and outside the land of Israel.

 Concerning a Messianic Jewish identity the Congregation affirms,

We believe that Jewish people (physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob, whether through the mother's or the father's bloodline) who place their faith in Israel's Messiah, Yeshua, continue to be Jewish.... We believe that Gentiles who place their faith in Yeshua are "grafted in to the Jewish olive tree of faith, becoming spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham. We believe in observing and celebrating the 7th day Sabbath (sundown Friday to sundown Saturday) We believe that the Jewish Holy Days given by God to Israel/Jewish people, have their fulfilment in and through the Messiah Yeshua.

We believe that true "Biblical Judaism," the faith of first century believers, which we seek to practice, acknowledges the continuity of faith in the one true God, revealed throughout the Scriptures and ultimately manifested in God's Son, Yeshua the Messiah ... We believe that the Jewish feasts and Holy days are to be remembered and taught by the in-grafted "called out" Church. We believe that all these appointed times find their fulfilment through Yeshua our Messiah ...

We believe that we must teach against any false doctrines and practices that have crept into the body of Messiah. These include Easter, Christmas, the replacing of the biblical 7th day Sabbath with Sun-day, saints days and all other pagan influences.  ... We believe that the Torah is a lifestyle, and not an issue of salvation ... We believe that the Torah is Adonai's standard of Holiness, and that His commandments are not to be taken lightly and disregarded.

 Note the insistence that "the Jewish feasts and Holy days are to be remembered and taught by the in-grafted 'called out' Church," that "the Torah is Adonai's standard of Holiness, and that His commandments are not to be taken lightly and disregarded." In other words, Jewish and non-Jewish Chrstians alike are obliged by the Mosaic Law (in its entirety, no distinction is made between one aspect of the Law and another), and that this is God's "standard of Holiness." This notwithstanding the later statement to the effect that

We believe that the "middle wall of partition" has been broken down, and now we worship the God of Israel together. Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles. Gentiles do NOT become "Israelites" and shouldn't try to act or dress like ethnic Jews/Israel.

ORMJRA's statetemt of faith is, in this respect, more stingent: "We believe with complete faith that this Torah will not be exchanged nor will there be another Torah from the Creator, Blessed is His Name ... We believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, rewards with good those who observe His commandments, and punishes those who violate His commandments." ( , clauses 9, 11). OMJRA's Statement has nothing to say about the Trinity or the deity of Christ, nor of sin, atonement or redemption, nothing about he incarnation, Jesus' perfect life, his death, resurrection or ascencion.

              The Inernational Messianic Jewish Movement offers a Consice Messianc Statment of Faith ( in which it states in the 8th clause:

We believe that it is crucial for us to understand theologically, that the primary purpose in HaShem's giving of the Torah, as a way of making someone righteous, only achieves its goal when the person, by faith, accepts that Yeshua is the promised Messiah spoken about therein. Until the individual reaches this conclusion, his familiarity of the Torah is only so much intellectual nutrition. Only by believing in Yeshua will the person be able to properly understand HaShem, and consequently, his Word. Therefore, we strongly encourage all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, to affirm, embrace, and practice these foundational laws (Torah) and ways (halakha, i.e., practical applications) as clarified through the Torah (teachings) of Messiah Yeshua (Ex. 19 & 20; Deut. 5; Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3 & 4; 1 Cor. 7:19; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 14:12).

And in the 11th Clause;

We believe that Jewish followers of Yeshua are called to maintain their Jewish, biblical heritage and remain a part of their people Isra'el as well as the universal Body of Believers. This is part of their identity and serves as a witness to HaShem's faithfulness. We believe that Gentile Believers in Messiah are grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree, Isra'el (Rom. 11), thereby making them fellow citizens and full-participants with the Commonwealth of Isra'el (Eph. 2), thus granting them the divine privilege of following the whole of the Torah (see paragraph 8 above).  ... We believe that this same Torah is a foundational revelation of the righteousness of HaShem and serves as a description (along with the rest of the Scriptures) of the lifestyle of the Redeemed Community (James 1:16-27). 

So, keeping the Mosaic Law is the way one is made righteous, Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus are to keep the whole of the Mosaic Law, ritual and all. Nothing is said in this Statement about forgiveness or grace.

The Messianic Movement’s View of Judaism and of the Church

The Movement’s name implies its desire to be considered a branch of Judaism and its reticence to be identified (at least by the Jewish people) as an expression of Christian faith. However, the Movement’s increased effort to appeal to the church, and its dependance on Christian moral and financial suppport, has forced it to find ways to come alongside Christian churches at the same time.

A wide range of relations toward Judaism can be found among Messianics. Some affirm the religious authority of the rabbis and of Jewish tradition. Others have preferrd to limit that authority to matters of culture. Still others view Judaism as a deviation from biblical norms while acknowldgeing that Jewish national culture is largely framed by Judaism. Finally, there are those who eschew any ongoing practice of Jewish national or religious custom, submerging their Jewish identity in toto.

In consequence, the Messianic Movement’s relationship with the church has been ambivalent in the best of circumstances. Most of its members are not the product of the Movement’s evangelistic efforts, certianly not within the Jewish community; they havehave been garneredfrom the peripheries of Christians churches of every description. At the same time, the Movement looks to the churches to accord it legitimacy, even in the eys of its adherents and members.

It is disconcerting to note the increased incidence of Jews and Gentiles, who once affirmed a living faith in Christ, and have since converted to Judaism, deny the Trinity, including the deity of Christ, and look to the rabbis to guide them on the path to salvation. Paul was clear in this respect:

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles,know that a person is not justified by the works of the law,but by faith in Jesus Christ.So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith inChrist and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:15-16 NIV).

The author of the letters to the Hebrews warns:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spiritdistributed according to his will (Heb. 2:1-4).

An Assessment of the Messianic Movement

A good deal of any necessary Christian Assessment of the Messainic is implicit in what we have seen of its characteristics. There is a great deal lacking in the Movement in terms of vital Christian truth. Its tendency to downplay or neglect teaching on the Trinity and on the deity of Christ makes it suspect. Its emphasis on "Torah obedience" and lack of sufficient emphasis on the atoning work of Christ tends to replace salvation by grace with  a works righteouness. It is no wonder that, in response to a somewhat similar situaiton, Paul stated that such an approach nullifies the grace of God and implies that "Christ died in vain" (Gal. 2:21 -- and Paul was speaking to Peter, a fellow Jew!).

In addtion, the Messianic Movement's preference to read the Bible in light of Jewish rabbinic tradition imposes on Scripture a human interprative grid, and one most who whose ingredients did not even exist in the days of our Lord (the now-common celebration or demonstration of Passover Seders in Christna churches is based on the false assumption that the Seder as we know it existed at that time).

Messianic Jewish practice is only purportedly Jewish. In fact, in many cases, it is a miscontrual, a form of abberational presumptive Judaism: Sabbath meals and all other Jewish feasts  are celebrated in the home, not in the synagogue; there is no such thing as "davidic dancing"; women do not officiate in synagogue worship, wear a talit or a yarmulkeh (a skullcap). Religious Jews who witness such strange practices are either amused or incensed; they are not moved toward the Gospel. Most Jewish Chrisitans from a Jewish Orthdox background shy away from Messianic congregations for that very reason.

 By establishing a distinctive other than Christ, the Messianic Movement is dividing the church. By attributing spiritual advantage to keeping the Law and Rabbinic tradition, their are creating an anthropocentirc elitism: truly spiritual followers of jesus will keep the Torah.

Nor is Messianic Judaism evangelistically effective. The majority of Jews converted to Christ are converted through the traditional witness of the church. Most of the growth of the Messianic Movement is due to the number of Gentiles joining, striving to be Jewish or act as if they are. The average Jews looks upon Messianic practices as a superficial ploy designed to cause him to put down his defences. In response, he puts them up further.

Happily, there are exceptions to every rule. One can find reasonably evangelical Messianic Congregtions that affirm the diety of Christ, confess the Trinity and view the Torah and tradition merely as matters of national culture. But these are few and far between, and are exceptions that prove the rule. Here and there one can find a Messianic Congreagtion with a reasonable proportion of converted Jews, some of whom were converted through the witness of the congregation, and perhaps one or more formerly Orthodox Jews. But these too are rare and do not disprove the general conclusion, namely that Messianic congregations would best merge into solid churches and serve the Lord there. 

The Future of the Jewish People

 Christians are divided in their views of the future with regard to the Jewish people. However, It seems to me that those who affirm God’s freedom and sovereignty, insist on grace towards sinners as the grounds of salvation, and adhere to a grammatical-historical approach to Scripture have no grounds to deny that God’s purposes, as described in Romans 9-11. These speak oaf God’s amazing, unilateral mercy toward the Jewish people who, in spite of their sinful rejection of the Gospel, will be conquered by it to such a meaningful extent that those who witness this event will exclaim that “all” Israel has been saved (Rom. 11:26). This, says Paul, will be the harbinger of such a blessing to the world that it can be compared with nothing short of a resurrection.

 How good it is to know that the fate of individuals and of nations is in the sure hands of a merciful God.

 Baruch Maoz

Gedera, Israel

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MaozNews is published a monthly. Subscribe at  Back-issues and other information on the Gospel and Israel may be found on this website. His book on the Messianic Movement, COME LET US REASON TOGETHER has been published by Presbyterian and Reformed and is available from Barnes &Noble or from Amazon.