Judeo-Christianity: Why is It Attractive?

My friend, Bruce Stokes, started a Facebook page yesterday for “Judeo-Christianity.” See it here.

Bruce is otherwise known as Dr. H. Bruce Stokes, Dean of the School of Behavioral Sciences at California Baptist University and pastor of The Disciple Center in Anaheim, California. He has been in Messianic Jewish circles for a long time and is highly respected as a sociologist in our movement who understands issues of Jewish and gentile identity.

Dr. Stokes has long been an advocate for non-Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism to regard themselves not as de-facto Jews, but as Judeo-Christians. He has also long been building bridges with Christians outside our movement who want to embrace some Judaic traditions.

In this post, I want to explain what makes Judeo-Christianity so attractive. If you’re a Messianic Jew and you wonder why so many gentiles are interested, I hope these points resonate with you. If you’re a mainstream Jew befuddled by the magnetism of MJ for gentiles, here you go. If you are a Judeo-Christian (or a Messianic gentile or a Christian with Judaic interests), I hope you see a little of yourself here. And I have no doubt I’ve missed something or that there is more to the attraction that I am capturing here. I’d love to hear your reasons or something of your passion and story (briefly, please).

Putting the Whole Bible Back Together

The Bible for Christians has been bifurcated for too long. Too many people flipped back to those pages earlier than Matthew and found something good in there. Too few people have been satisfied with replacement theology, old-style sermons and commentaries that call Israel the Church, churches using some laws (tithing) and denouncing others (Sabbath).

The “standard canonical narrative” skips Israel: CREATION – FALL – REDEMPTION – CONSUMMATION. In other words, skip from Genesis 3 to Matthew 26, from Adam and Eve to the cross of Jesus. Nothing in between is needed. God made the world. People fell away from God. Jesus came to bring us back together. Jesus is returning to heal the world. Who needs Israel?

Your Bible will be a lot smaller if you cut out Genesis 4 – Matthew 25 (plus the majority of Mark, Luke, and John).

It’s About the Age to Come, Stupid

The nations, goyim, gentiles, will come to the mountain of the house of the Lord to learn Torah. So say Isaiah 2 and Micah 4.

The nations will keep Sukkot. God blesses foreigners who draw near and keep the Sabbath. God will call gentiles by his name. God will even take some from the nations as priests. Yes, all this is in the Hebrew Bible. If you don’t know the references, where have you been?

I do have a book on it called The World to Come (see it here at my site or here on amazon).

Many non-Jews are captivated by the way things will be in the Age to Come and want to live a foretaste of it now. Some have assumed (wrongly, in my much-published opinion) that all Christians must start keeping Torah now. Others see a distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish relation to Torah (like me). But the urge should be understandable in either direction.

The Tradition-Less Need Traditions

The free churches, evangelicals, the charismatics, and pentecostals lack tradition. They don’t have a “Common Book of Prayer.” They get bored with spontaneous prayers and vanilla services lacking depth and connection to anything ancient.

Some have turned to Celtic traditions in Christianity. Others have turned to early Roman church practices.

A lot of people don’t want to go back to the Roman empire. They want to go back to something earlier. They see in Judaism a tradition that could add depth to Christian faith.

And with the right understanding of Jewish identity and calling, I think this is a good thing. I have a book with the Southern Baptist publishing house teaching Christians about the feasts (see it here).

Summary and Forecast

I predict that Judeo-Christianity will keep growing. I think Christians in various streams of church life will increasingly seek out Jewish speakers, Jewish friends, insight into Jewish practices, and Jewish roots of Jesus and Christian faith. I think many, a small segment, will come into Messianic Jewish congregations and Judeo-Christian congregations.

I think we’ve only seen the beginning. What do you think?

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21 Responses to Judeo-Christianity: Why is It Attractive?

  1. James says:

    There was a time when I would have agreed with just about everything you’ve said, but I now wonder if there’s really much of a future for what you call “Judeo-Christian” communities or congregations. One problem is what they’d look like in practice and worship. If run by a primarily non-Jewish group of believers *and* if they acknowledged the differences between Gentile and Jewish covenant practices, they certainly would have to put away their kippot, tallitot, and siddurim to avoid the appearance of being “Jewish”. That means functionally, they would be a Christian congregation (dare I say “church”?) but with a different viewpoint on the relationship between Christians and (Messianic) Jews than most churches currently maintain.

    In other words, they wouldn’t be “Judeo-Christian”, they’d be Christian. There is nothing stopping a Christian church from holding identical values to those espoused by Bilateral Ecclesiology and in fact, the main point of Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism book is to try and convince the church to adopt and embrace those values.

    This morning I wrote another “morning meditation”, this time addressing interfaith (Christian/Jewish) marriages, including my own. I haven’t published it yet and will either post it tomorrow morning as my usual “meditation” or perhaps release it later today as an “extra edition”, so to speak. Since I live a “bilateral” life in a “bilateral” marriage, I feel as if I have something of an inside track on the matter, probably much more so than any folks in MJ or OL who are married to spouses who share their faith and perspective.

    As a Christian married to a (non-Messianic) Jew, there are only a few options in terms of worship. The Christian spouse joins the Jewish spouse in worship at the synagogue. The Jewish spouse joins the Christian spouse in worship at the church. Each spouse goes to their own house of worship. One spouse actively pursues their faith and faith community while the other spouse abstains from any public worship and religious practice to avoid divisiveness.

    Extend the metaphor into the realm of communities rather than marriages and you can see that you are either Christian or Jewish (Messianic or otherwise) but there is no option for an “in-between” expression (Judeo-Christian) that somehow encompasses both but in reality is neither. Jews in Messianic Jewish congregations practice a form of “Judaism”, at least functionally and behaviorally, and non-Jewish spouses go along to be with their mates. Christians in (bilateral) churches practice a form of Christianity and ideally, it includes acceptance of that “bilateral” relationship with Judaism Kinzer discusses, and a rejection of all forms of supercessionism. If a Jewish spouse goes with to the church, it is to worship with their mate.

    I just don’t see how a “Judeo-Christian” group can be a sustainable and independent community unless you consider it a stop-gap effort to transition One Law groups into traditional Judaism or traditional Christianity.

    Like Manny says in the second Ice Age film: “You can’t be two things”.

  2. Derek Leman says:

    James:

    I’m going to see if I can get Dr. Bruce Stokes to respond. His church in Anaheim is a Judeo-Christian congregation all the way (see http://www.disciplecenter.com/).

    I think Judeo-Christianity already exists in a variety of forms usually called “Messianic congregation.” The congregational family I lead is a home for Messianic Jews, intermarrieds, and Judeo-Christians. We are a mixed group, I guess you could say, and we have people with varying views on the role of Torah in the lives on non-Jews. But what makes it work for us is that we major on the majors: love, Messiah, faith.

    I think Judeo-Christianity exists in various forms including One Law congregations, pentecostal/charismatic groups using the label “Messianic” in spite of having only surface level Jewish practices, and many other varieties.

  3. Rey says:

    Shalom Derek,

    Hope all is well! I will keep it short, i hope lol. My journey to where i am today has been amazing! I see myself as a Messianic Gentile, i note the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and i respect them. I study daily and have come to understand that the Noachide Laws and the prohibitions put by the Apostles in Acts 15 were like a beginning for Gentiles to incorporate Torah into their lives but surely not the end. In my walk with G-d for the last 5 yrs i have grown much! Early on in this journey an un-explainable love for Israel grew in me very fast, i began to see things that i never knew before. I had always heard Christians saying that the Law/Torah was done away with and that we are in a time of grace now because of Jesus/Yeshua but grace has been from the very beginning! It didn’t start with Yeshua.

    I knew that there were things that didn’t add up, it went as far as me and some of my family members getting into heated discussions about G-d’s Instructions. I couldn’t understand how on the one hand the preacher would quote the Commandments “thou shall not take the Lord’s Name in vain, thou shall honor thy father and mother”, but i didn’t understand why they would just skip right over “thou shall keep the Sabbath day holy”! I knew something was very wrong and that G-d was steering me in the direction of finding the truth. This ‘truth’ went against everything i had been taught, for the most part. But my prayer was that no matter how difficult it was for me to except the truth, i didn’t want to be bias, i wanted G-d’s truth! The journey in these last 5 yrs has been truly amazing, praise G-d!

    I can see how many people in the past and still today have become proselytes, for i have thought about this a lot and still do! But most importantly i want to do what is right in G-d’s eyes.

    “So the Torah is holy, and the Commandment is holy and righteous and good.” – Rom.7:12

    “If you love Me keep My Commandments” – John.14:15

  4. Derek Leman says:

    Rey, thank you. You and I have a slight disagreement about the obligatory nature of Sabbath for gentiles, as I think you know, but you seem to blend your take on Torah with a healthy respect for the Jewish community. I am glad to see that. I’d encourage you to check out Daniel Lancaster’s Galatians. Maybe you told me you had ordered it, I can’t remember. Of course, I wish I could talk you into reading my Paul book as well, but, you know . . . I know I’m no Daniel Lancaster! (My congregation from time to time reminds me how awesome Rav Lancaster is, ha).

  5. Rey says:

    Derek,

    I’m well aware of your position on the Sabbath and Torah for Gentiles (and i agree on many points). I did order Daniel’s Galatians book, my beliefs are very similar to those of FFOZ (they have been a great blessing upon my life too). I wasn’t saying that Gentiles were obligated to keep the Sabbath but that many believed that Torah was done away when speaking about any of the ‘Jewish’ so to speak Commandments. Gentiles have the minimum requirements to keep (the Noachide Laws and Acts 15) but when studied in depth one will find out that it’s way more than 7 Laws lol. It’s more like a start for the new believing Gentiles, but it wouldn’t make sense that this is all that G-d had in intended for the Gentiles. Then the more the individual grows in observance, he can then make a decision if he want’s to be like a Jew and become a proselyte through the proper procedures. Well i mean for the here and now, because in the Messianic era the whole world will obey Torah!

  6. Derek Leman says:

    Rey, yes, one thing that has backfired on standard Christian teaching regarding “the law” is the weak “the law is bad” argument (but not really bad, some will say, but cannot explain the contradictory impulses to respect God’s revelation and yet reject Torah).

  7. H Bruce Stokes says:

    Derek and James,

    This is the problem. Judaism and Christianity have clear boundaries regarding Jewish identity, Torah observance, and the Messianic Claims of Yeshua. The Messianic Movement and those of us functioning as Judeo-Christianity are giving different answers.

    The first answer we give is that Jews, as Jews, can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel. Judaism and Christianity disagree.

    The second answer we give is that Torah observance (in some form) is required of Jews as a result of Sinai and some level of observance is required of Gentiles (though much variation exists). Judaism agrees and Christianity tries to agree without actually calling it Torah observance.

    The answer to the third one is problematic. We answer that the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world are concepts focused on the Restoration of the Kingdom to Israel and the salvation of the Creation. Judaism has become ambiguous about being chosen and the restoration of Am Israel, and the Church has usurped this by replacement theology and amillenialism.

    Messianic Judaism as a congregational movement must create primarily Jewish communities where Yeshua is understood in the full context of Judaism and the Promises made to Israel. These communities should have some Gentiles but they should be there with the understanding of being in a slightly different role. As a husband and wife are one but have distinct roles.

    Judeo-Christians must form communities that restore the Jewish context to the Gentile expression of the faith that is relational. Too many today are blending or creating eclectic forms. Blending destroys the integrity of the two items being blended. In this case Identity and Religious Tradition. In the eclectic approach form is only a surface expression and the deeper meanings of the rituals and symbols are lost.

    So Messianic Jews must struggle and Judeo-Christians must struggle to put Judaism and Christianity into proper relationship in Identity and Observance. When that is done, they will look related but not the same. And both are needed now in the transition and in the futures once we have come to a greater maturity.

    A greater issue for James is the intermarriage issue. But her there are more combinations. Messianic Jew marriage to Messianic Gentile. Messianic Jew married to Traditional Jew. Christian married to traditional Jew etc. There the home is the more difficult struggle and it is simply reflected in the congregation or congregations.

  8. H Bruce Stokes says:

    A remark about Kinzer’s bi-lateral ecclesiology

    When Mark released his book, I gave a response paper to his presentation at the Hashivenu Conference. I said at the time that it did not go far enough. It is a theology of the Body of the Messiah in universal terms. It is dangerous to ignore that local community (congregation) whether Messianic Judaism or Judeo-Christianity will be an uneven application of that theological perspective in a human cultural and social context. So demographics, history, language, culture, law and many other factors will mitigate the congregants in their understanding and expression of the faith. Any attempt at actualizing an ideal (theology), even Kinzer’s, will only become an approximation. So Judeo-Christian congregations will continue because they are relational communities and kinships, not because they will meet all requirements of a bi-lateral theory (theology).

  9. Derek Leman says:

    Thank you, Bruce. I knew you would give an articulate and helpful response. I could do a blog series exploring the points you made just in this one comment. I hear you on the danger of an eclectic form. Alas, our congregation is eclectic, we are deeply committed to one another, and purity of vision has to give way to relationships too important to ruin. I think we manage rather well. I do agree that in time, and as new communities form, it will be great to see Judeo-Christian and Messianic Jewish congregations side by side and also to see greater interaction with mainstream Christians and Jews.

    • H Bruce Stokes says:

      I am working on a Judeo-Christian book addressing many of these issues. We also have a short catechism and are completing a prayer book with Holy Day and Life Cycle rituals for Judeo-Christians. All of these draw on Jewish and Christian sources for Judeo-Christians in relationship to Messianic Judaism. They will be included on the Judeo-Christian Facebook page soon.

    • “purity of vision has to give way to relationships too important to ruin”

      Derek, if these relationships are based on deep commitment and love, in what way would you “ruin” these relationships by striving for the “vision”? Is there a problem with the vision itself or is the vision simply not realizable given the current situation and makeup of a typical messianic congregation and best implemented by NEW communities built from the ground up on the vision?

  10. James says:

    Judeo-Christians must form communities that restore the Jewish context to the Gentile expression of the faith that is relational. Too many today are blending or creating eclectic forms. Blending destroys the integrity of the two items being blended. In this case Identity and Religious Tradition. In the eclectic approach form is only a surface expression and the deeper meanings of the rituals and symbols are lost.

    So Messianic Jews must struggle and Judeo-Christians must struggle to put Judaism and Christianity into proper relationship in Identity and Observance. When that is done, they will look related but not the same. And both are needed now in the transition and in the futures once we have come to a greater maturity.

    Greetings, Dr. Stokes.

    What you’re describing could be the future of “the church” (at least in ideal terms). That is, a church that does practice everything you describe in your comments. It is still a largely non-Jewish group (since observant Messianic Jews would tend to worship on congregations based on the synagogue model, for the most part). In that (at least from my small point of view), the Judeo-Christian congregation is still a largely Christian group which has taken on board a BE style theology and practice.

    I suppose the difference could be a matter of semantics, but I’m not even sure anymore if there is such a thing as a “Messianic Gentile”. I know that, in the past, Derek has objected to applying the term “Messianic” to anyone or anything not Jewish because he believed that it specifically identifies the promise of the Jewish Messiah to the Jews.

    I suppose my shift in viewpoint has been largely punctuated by my marital relationship. My wife (long story) transitioned from being secular to being Christian to being Messianic to being (non-Messianic) Jewish. Two out of three of my children followed suit (I’m pretty sure David still believes in Jesus, but he’s not currently religious, as his Gentile wife is a non-religious person). For me, there is no “middle-ground” at least not one I can exist within, so it’s constricted my vision of the world around me and like my bi-racial friends tell me, you can’t be half-this and half-that. You have to choose to be a single person with a single, unified identity.

    As anyone reading my blog knows (click my name if you want to find out more), I am more than intrigued with Jewish literature and how Talmudic and Chassidic thought often parallels the teachings of the Master, but that doesn’t make me Jewish. It makes me a Christian with an interesting reading list.

  11. H Bruce Stokes says:

    James,

    James,
    You and I have similar interests and struggles. Perhaps we can connect in some way. As a psychological anthropologist, my interest has always been in marginal identity situations. What you describe in your family is certainly marginal. I am bi-racial (Native American and Swede) raised in part by an Black family after my father’s death and am involved in Messianic Judaism and Judeo-Christianity. My wife is Italian Pentecostal and my daughter in law is Mexican Baptist. No heritage in these relationships but real kinship communities requiring cultural tools. So I get the struggle and appreciate your contribution to these meaningful discussion.

  12. James says:

    You and I have similar interests and struggles. Perhaps we can connect in some way.

    Perhaps so. I lived in Orange County (Cypress) for 11 years and got my M.S. in Counseling from Cal State Fullerton. Small world.

    I’ve been skimming through your website. How successful are you at staying “connected to the traditional church and connect to Israel through Messianic and traditional Jewish institutions”? One of the difficult things for me, when I was walking that side of the street, is figuring out how to make a meaningful interface. Most churches didn’t take us seriously and the Jewish community considered us either a threat or a nuisance (which I tried to avoid).

    Although I had to end my sense of community to do it, I do feel some relief in not having to walk the road in-between anymore, at least as a teacher in a community. Whatever path I walk now, at least I walk it alone without the fear that I’ll drag someone else down the wrong alleyway.

    Beyond my odd theological bent, I’m 100% “wonder bread”, “heinz 57 sauce” generic American mutt.

    • We have been able to maintain the balance pretty well. My congregation and I are Multi-denominational. That is, we are in communion with most traditional forms of Christianity (Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, and Free Churches) by relationship with clergy and congregations. We know and treat their traditions with respect and they know us and trust our integrity in what we share with them. We have similar relationships with traditional Jews (orthodox, reform and conservative) though not as many. Our most difficult relationships are with some Messianic Jews and some so-called Messianic Gentiles. This is usually the Church haters and the Messianic Charismatics and non-denominational types who violate everyone’s traditions because they don’t understand what they are doing. Non-denominational-ism has become a plague on the church as I explain in my article at http://www.disciplecenter.com. I think that many Christians would find our approach too difficult. To protect ourselves from Christian and Messianic wack-jobs (not a Biblical term) we maintain a private community. Our congregation is closed and has no public services. We do have public ministries and relationships with other believers and non-believers ouside of congregational time and space.

  13. Rey says:

    Found this quote that is very interesting, especially to the post!

    (Midrash Tanchuma; Hamfo’ar v. 2):
    “G-d gave Torah to Israel in order that they should bring it to the Nations..”

    Midrash HaGadol
    “Moses expounded the Torah in seventy languages, according to one Midrash, because the Torah was meant to be heard and embraced by all mankind.”

    Talmud Bavli; Pesachim 87b
    “Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar ben Pedat asserted: Why did G-d exile the Jewish people? To make converts of the world.”

  14. Derek Leman says:

    Gene:

    We are finding that clear identities and some distinctions in practice and lifestyle within the congregation help us respect Jewish identity and maintain a mixed congregation. We have a great thing — and nobody’s theory is going to split us up 🙂 A family is a family is a family.

  15. Derek Leman says:

    Rey, good stuff. I suspect you know this, but they meant “bring Torah” in two ways: (1) make converts and (2) bring the Noahide laws to the righteous gentiles who do not convert. And to be clear, I don’t think the Noahide law idea is early (its not reflected in Acts 15 in my opinion), nor do I think it is an accurate depiction of what parts of Torah are obligatory for non-Jews.

  16. Rey says:

    Derek,

    Question? Do you believe in making converts? Can you give me your thoughts on this?

  17. Derek Leman says:

    Yes, I’m a member of the MJRC. We have a paper there on conversion:

    http://ourrabbis.org

  18. James says:

    Just to round out what I said before, I just published my interfaith marriage blog post. It provides more details than I could reasonably cram into a comments box.

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