The Book of Judges describes Jewish history at that time as repeating cycles of forty years (Judges 3:11; 5:31; 8:28; 13:1). This newsletter considers some of the major seasons in the Messianic Jewish movement over the past 50 years. There is room for praise to God here, as well as opportunity for thoughtful consideration. What are the fast-moving challenges confronting both the Messianic Jewish movement and the larger Jewish world community?
From Hebrew-Christian to Messianic Jewish
During the first part of the 20th century Jewish believers in Jesus basically had only one place to go for fellowship – the denominational and non-Jewish churches. For Jewish believers these churches ended up being agents of ethnic and cultural assimilation. Within the span of one generation many children of Jewish believers no longer saw themselves as Jews and no longer participated in the wider Jewish community.
The healthy desire for Jewish believers to meet with other Jews presented a unique challenge. And churches were not necessarily a safe place for Jews and Jewish identity. The wraith of anti-Semitism lurked just below the surface among many Gentile Christians. The terms ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ were suspect. ‘Judaizing’ was used as a curse used to describe any continuing link between Jewish people and their culture, lifestyle and traditions. The stopgap solution was the establishment of small fellowship groups with a Jewish emphasis. Jewish believers in Jesus didn’t call their meetings ‘Jewish.’ The safer term of self-definition was ‘Hebrew Christian.’ The concept of a Jewish congregation scared many Hebrew Christians. It met with strong disapproval from most Gentile Christians as well.
Were these Hebrew-Christian fellowships simply the last whistle stop on the train to assimilation? How would a visible and healthy Jewish community of faith come into existence, and how would that torch be passed to the next generation?
Two earthquakes shaped the answer to these questions. The first was the Holocaust, where murderous anti-Semitism had a Christian-looking face and where the world turned a cold shoulder to Jewish survival. The birth of the State of Israel out of the ashes of Auschwitz put the Jewish nation back on the stage of international history. Jews now had a national focus and their own homeland. This renaissance triggered awareness of the Bible’s prophetic promises about Israel’s restoration.
The second earthquake was the Six Day War in June 1967. Israel defeated five Arab enemy armies and restored Jewish control to the mountains of Israel and the united city of Jerusalem. The Jewish ‘David’ had defeated the Arab ‘Goliath.’ The shock waves of Jewish survival and victory injected a new dignity and joy to Jews worldwide, including to Jewish believers in Jesus.
Within seven years of 1967 a new wave of Jewish leadership took the helm of the Hebrew-Christian movement. The new name ‘Messianic Jewish’ replaced the older terminology. A bolder use of Jewish cultural expression quickly found its feet. Most of these new leaders were Charismatic in theology and practice, and had come out of the hippie movement and the Jesus revolution. They had a vision for revival and for fulfilling the great Commission in their generation. Bold evangelistic outreach and street witness was also part of this new Jewish movement. Messianic music (a blend of folk-rock, klezmer and cantorial) exploded across the airwaves. And some Messianic leaders began to build Messianic Jewish congregations.
A developing middle-class movement
The original Hebrew-Christian fellowships were plucky little groups. Many of the participants had been broken on the wheels of life in their journey to Yeshua. “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26-27). But now, the new leaders of the fledgling Messianic movement wanted their congregations to be more ‘normal,’ more middle of the road. They wanted the social composition of their members to mirror the larger Jewish community – more upwardly mobile professionals, more emotional stability, more Jewish families, etc.
As the movement grew, congregational buildings were purchased and educational frameworks were established. And the revolutionary hippie roots of some Messianic Jewish leaders gradually transformed. New benchmarks for success were set. Rather than Neil Young’s cry in his hit ‘Ohio’ (“We can change the world, re-arrange the world” – released in June 1970 after the Kent State shootings), the zeal of the radical was giving way to the complacency of the bourgeoisie.
And the same social dynamics which saw dropping attendance and observance in Reform and Conservative Judaisms began to affect the Messianic movement. Within twenty years the majority of attendees at Messianic congregations had become non-Jews. The Messianic Jewish movement was moving from a radical adolescence to a contented adulthood. The radical vision of its founders was being assimilated into the American melting pot. The Messianic Jewish movement could no longer be accurately called ‘a Jewish people-movement.’
Zionist or pro-Zionist?
An Israeli acquaintance once described for me the difference between Zionists and pro-Zionists. Zionists move to Israel, he said, while pro-Zionists send money. The Messianic Jewish movement (like most Western Jews) has tended to lean toward pro-Zionism. It is easier to be pro-Israel that to move to Israel. Life in Israel is challenging on many levels. Sometimes there are even legal difficulties inhibiting Messianic Jews from immigrating to the Jewish state.
- The general attitude of the Messianic Jewish movement is warm and friendly to Israel, but the majority of Jews in the Messianic movement have not voted with their feet in terms of ‘making aliyah’ – returning to their Promised Land. The rooting of Messianic Jewish identity in the Exile is a firecracker with a long fuse. As goes the Western world in its attitude to the Jewish people, so will go the future of the Messianic Jewish movement in the Diaspora.
The grandchildren of Orthodox Judaism
The famous Pentecostal spokesman David du Plessis used to say, “God has no grandchildren.” By this he meant that religious belief and life are not automatically passed on to the next generation. A personal and life-changing encounter with the God of Israel is foundational to the process.
Most of the grandparents of the new Messianic leaders been Orthodox Jews. These grandparents had become non-observant or less traditional after leaving the ghettos of Europe. The new Messianic leaders for the most part had little first-hand knowledge of their grandparents’ religion. Ironically, secular Jews (who also knew little of Orthodox Judaism) often accuse Messianic Jews, faulting them for believing in Yeshua: “If you had only known real Judaism (ed. meaning Orthodox Judaism), you would never have embraced Yeshua!”
This rejection has struck deep into the hearts of Messianic Jewish leaders. Some said, “Perhaps if we learn more about Orthodox Judaism – even become more Orthodox in our lifestyle and faith expression – then we will be accepted by the larger Jewish community.” So the fruit of rejection incrementally began to permeate the Messianic Jewish community. Some leaders began to study Orthodoxy and to move their congregations into a warmer embrace of rabbinic liturgy.
These dynamics helped birth two theological emphases. The first now taught that Messianic Jews are under the Mosaic Torah, and that Jewish identity is primarily manifested in rabbinic and Orthodox ways. This viewpoint is held by significant minorities within the Messianic Jewish movement. The second viewpoint denigrates the deity of Messiah Yeshua. This second view is trumpeted by a very miniscule stream on the outskirts of the Messianic Jewish movement.
- The recovery and re-creation of a healthy and biblically sound Messianic Jewish identity remains a challenge. Its expression in the Jewish state will also look different from Diaspora Messianic Jewish expressions seen so far. Pray with us about these issues!
Responding to the tidal wave of anti-Semitism
German Jews and French Jews at the turn of the 20th century believed that the future of their Jewish communities was bright. There were up to 100,000 Hebrew-Christians walking the streets of Europe in those days. But the demonic genie of anti-Semitism had escaped from Pandora’s Box, and the writing was on the wall. From the pogroms of Eastern Europe to the Dreyfus riots in Paris, the marching of leather jackboots was echoing from Munich to Moscow. Most Jews hoped and prayed that this dark night would soon pass, but most could barely imagine the malevolence of the Holocaust spirit climbing up out of the abyss.
- Europe’s Jews were trapped and slaughtered while the majority of the Western world yawned about Israel’s fate. Most Christians and Jews were painfully unprepared for these events. A biblical perspective was missing regarding the demonic roots of anti-Semitism, the Last Days international consortium resolved to annihilate the Jewish people, and the prophetic closing down of the Jewish diaspora. Today the same is true for the majority of both Jews and Christians.
Where is it safest for the Jewish people?
If the Israel Defense Forces had been around in the days of Hitler, it is possible that the Nazi High Command would have had to face the cold steel of Israel Air Force bombs. But the State of Israel came into being only after the close of WWII. Jews were not safe in most countries of the world in those days. Today anti-Semitism is becoming a global epidemic. Headlines are crowded with news about the rise of physical attacks on Jews in the Diaspora from both white supremacists and black racists. Jihadi forces are targeting the Jewish state and Jews everywhere. Safety for the Jewish people is at a premium in many nations today.
- Preparing a hiding place for the Jewish people (like that prepared by Corrie ten Boom and her family in WWII Netherlands) is once again becoming a reality and a prophetic challenge for believers worldwide. Let’s remember that gale-force winds are sweeping into every country across the globe, including the Jewish state. The only safe place to be is where God tells you to be!
When the going gets tough
A football coach for the Corpus Christi Green Hornets was the first (1953) to say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” This pro-active approach to threats and challenges is encouraging for us as well. The rising triple threats of a reborn jihadi spirit, a reborn Nazi spirit and a resurgent leftist hatred of the Jews and their state – all must be confronted with pro-activity. God is certainly not at a loss for words nor at a loss for divine strategies in dealing with these hellish schemes. We who follow the Lord of Armies need to listen up and shape up for the challenges.
God’s End of Days strategy brings the Jewish nation back to their Promised Land. It is the Holy Spirit drawing the children of Jacob back, yet the majority of Israel’s Jews are not yet filled with the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 37). The day is soon coming when God’s Spirit will fill the Jewish people in Israel with spiritual life. He will cause them to rise up and stand on their feet. The prophet describes them turning into an “exceedingly great army” (Ezekiel 37:10).
- As things get worse in the world, as times get tougher both for Messianic Jews and for the larger Jewish community, our prayers rise to center stage for God to visit Israel with His protection, provision and salvation
How should we then pray?
- Pray for God to pour a renewed vision and zeal on the world leadership of the Messianic Jewish movement
- Pray for the God of Jacob to reveal His Last Days strategy for Israel to many throughout the earth
- Pray for the spirit of grace and supplications to be poured out on the Jewish people
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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