Today we conclude our varied, even if not entirely comprehensive, categorization of the various kinds of Jewish Yeshua believers one will find here in the United States of America. This is offered as an antidote for the kind of simplistic generalizations that one often hears or reads of, as if all Messianic Jews were of one breed. Hardly.
The Flaw of the Excluded Present
Such persons feel connected with the glories of the Jewish past [the Bible], and connected to a glorious Jewish future [the Millennium], but demonstrate little if any ongoing connection to Jewish community life today. Their only posture toward the larger Jewish community is to mount some form of witness to them, and to participate in some pallid fashion in key lifestyle and calendar events which arise in the context of family and friendship obligations. For such individuals, the biblical Jewish past is rosy, their Jewish future is radiant as they anticipate the Millennium; but their Jewish present is wretched because they are disconnected from growing in Jewish covenantal life and community.
Jewish-Style Messianic Jews
These are people who affiliate in congregations which are Jewish in style but with little substance or depth. In some of these congregations, the Jewish demographic presence may be very slight or even entirely lacking. Their services may be what I call “Jimmy Swaggart with Yarmulkes,” where what is going on is really American Pentecostalism or charismatic culture but done in a minor key, perhaps to the accompaniment of dancing. Or such services might be what I term “B’nai First Baptist Church,” where the entire structure of the service, its feel, what Jews call its “ta’am” [“flavor”], is not really Jewish, despite the use of Jewish terminology, decorations, and even some service elements. Also among these is the “Mulligan-Stew Model,” which involves a hodge-podge of everything Jewish that people have laying around: a few Jewish songs, a Jewish prayer or two, an Israeli flag on the platform, a Magen David tambourine or two, but all without any sense of structural integrity or relationship to Jewish community norms. Another model is what I term “Arthur Murray Goes to Tel Aviv.” For these congregations, their main investment in Jewish ambiance and authenticity is dance, while other substantive areas are subject to neglect, ignorance, or tokenism. It is this disproportionate reliance on what is termed “Davidic Dancing” to the neglect of substantial Jewish religious communal engagements that is the problem here.
You might summarize all of these models as the “ham and cheese on a bagel approach.” There is something Jewish in there, but there is so much that is alien to the Jewish ethos, that authenticity is lacking. The problem is one of substituting a thin veneer for the real thing. The danger is that such models of services and congregational culture produce Jewish believers whose Jewishness is an eighth of an inch deep—at least to other Jews if not themselves.
Mezzuzah-fied Messianic Jews
This is the kind of Hebrew-Christian/Messianic Jewish identity characterized by paying only superficial tribute to Jewish identity in passing. Such parties engage in sporadic attendance at Jewish style meetings, but their real spiritual identity is not in Jewish life but somewhere else. These are the people we see each year at our synagogue who attend various churches during the year, but show up at our doorstep every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For such people, Jewish life is something you kiss in reverence on your way to something else more central to who you are. Such persons may be growing in their Christian lives but are not growing as Jewish people. There is no Jewish growing edge. Their Jewishness is not really alive. The key question to ask such people is, “How have you grown as a Jew lately?”
Minstrel Show Messianic Jews
These are people whose Jewish religious public persona and presentation is especially geared to win the approval of a mailing list or otherwise constituted Christian public which views such persons as “real Jews” who have the added charm of believing in Jesus. The “minstrel show” metaphor references how minstrel shows presented black people as white people wanted to imagine them: Happy go-lucky darkies a-singin’ and a-dancin’ on the old plantation. Jewish Yeshua believers reflect this model whenever their Jewish life-style is adapted and displayed for the benefit of reassuring or winning the approval of others, portraying Jews as some segment of the Christian public prefers to imagine them: Noble converts withstanding hard-hearted rejection by their people, and grateful for having been delivered from the vacuity and needless restrictions of bondage to the law into the warm and fuller fellowship of the Church. Similarly, no Messianic Jew or group of Messianic Jews should ever adopt a Jewish lifestyle or adhere to halachic norms as a means of winning the approval of some idealized Jewish elite. Jewish life is meant to be lived for the eyes of God out of obedience, love, and respect for Him, and out of commitment to Jewish covenantal community and continuity, not for the sake of winning the approval of some elite group or for the purpose of pleasing donors.