Types of Messianic Congregations

Scenario #1: You are a Jew or Christian and only somewhat familiar with “Messianic” congregations. You decide to visit one. The website for the place you choose says that it is “Messianic.” What might you find? My answer: what you will find is a crap-shoot. That is, there are so many groups out there with so much diversity, and some are very weird as opposed to others that only slightly weird. I, personally, aim to be in the only-slightly-weird category.

Scenario #2: You been in a “Messianic” congregation for a while. But your exposure to the broader movement and to different congregations and ideas is limited. You wonder if all groups out there are much like yours in terms of practice and belief. You’re curious what else is out there and how representative your group is or is not.

I have in the past attempted to catalogue some of the variety of groups using the label “Messianic.” I will reveal my biases certainly as I describe the groups (as I see them). I welcome discussion, disagreement, suggestions for additions or deletions, comments such as “your description of my group is untrue,” and so on. I suggest that if you challenge my description you offer a few sentences of evidence or support for your assertion. If you persuade me, I’ll even edit my description.

Meanwhile, here we go for a Cyclopedia of Messianic Groups . . .

First, let me divide the Messianic groups into three major types:

  • Messianic JEWISH Congregations: I capitalized Jewish because this type is heavily Jewish in orientation (though often the membership is only fractionally Jewish, often less than half).
  • Judeo-Christian Congregations: I’ve written a great deal about this type, which is really what characterizes the congregation I lead (as I’ll explain, our practice is very Jewish, but we’re more forthright than many MJ congregations about our non-Jewish constituency which makes up about 60% of Tikvat David).
  • Non-Jewish Torah Movements: The dividing line here involves several factors including (usually, not always) a rejection of Judaism and rabbinic traditions, little or no orientation toward the larger Jewish community, and a number of practices and beliefs which are antithetical to Judaism (which I will explain).

Now, on to my descriptions of the various types . . .

MESSIANIC JEWISH GROUPS

Messianic Synagogues: Hashivenu-style, Yeshua-centered synagogues.
Hashivenu is a fellowship of leaders in Messianic Judaism committed to raising up a Judaism devoted to following Yeshua. I have greatly benefitted from my involvement in Hashivenu, though I must say my congregation does not fit this category. There are very few of these, less than fifty to be sure, in the world. There are many who think of themselves in this category but who perhaps should be more forthright about the true makeup of their congregation. When half your people are not Jewish, you belong (in my opinion) in the category below which I call “Blended Messianic Congregations.” A true Messianic Synagogue will be mostly Jewish (I would say 60% or more) in membership, will have exclusively Jewish leadership (usually), and will generally resemble a Conservative Synagogue in practice. It would be possible to pattern observance more on the Orthodox pattern, but I am not aware of such a congregation in the U.S. Oddly, if a congregation has an Orthodox level of practice, they are generally made up mostly of non-Jews. Confused? Yes, you should be.

Hebrew Pentecostals: Charismatic Hebrew Christian congregations.
If you visit a well-established group, or especially a congregation of substantial size (100 people or more in attendance), this is most likely what you will find. The label “IAMCS” (same as “MJAA”) and “UMJC” often means this is what you will find inside. The service is very similar to an Assemblies of God but with yarmulkes, tallitot, an Ark, a Torah, and a small spattering of Hebrew prayer (usually not much). Much emphasis is placed on praise and worship and these congregations excel at spirited worship and dance. Often Jewish sancta are abused (such as twenty people bringing a shofar to the service to blow it at random times!). Jewish tradition is generally viewed as harmful unless it looks cool from the stage. Like many churches in the Charismatic stream, these congregations are a production, almost a concert or a show. And there will be speaking in tongues and other Pentecostal practices like slaying in the Spirit (sometimes at a separate service). There is no snake handling! There is a tendency for many to claim Jewish identity for spurious reasons (“my grandmother on her deathbed said she was Jewish”). So the leaders will tell you their membership is mostly Jewish, but closer examination will usually reveal a healthy minority who are born Jews. In nearly all cases the leader will be Jewish. Although it may seem I am being harsh in my description, I should point out that this type of congregation has done much good. They have created a lively worship tradition, majored on support for Israel, promoted Yeshua-faith to countless numbers of Jews, and have produced a blend of Judaism and Christianity (mostly the latter) which will appeal to Charismatic Christians. NOTE: Most Israeli congregations fit either this category or the one below.

Hebrew Baptists: Non-Charismatic Hebrew Christian congregations.
These groups almost always originate in Christian Dispensationalist theological circles. They are big on the continuing election of the people of Israel and very down on the continuing validity of Torah. Any Torah observance is regarded as being a good witness or fitting as a cultural practice but without actual obligation. It is fine to buy things on Shabbat or to eat shrimp. Jesus abolished those rules. The leaders are often Jewish and many Jews are in these congregations. Many of the nice things I said about Hebrew Pentecostals I could say about Hebrew Baptists. Personally, I would find it easier to worship in a Hebrew Baptist congregation than a Hebrew Pentecostal congregation.

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN CONGREGATIONS

Blended Messianic Congregations: Judaism-affirming, Christianity-affirming.
This is what our congregation, Tikvat David, is all about. I used to think of our congregation as a synagogue, but the truth is, we don’t believe in limiting leadership to those who are born Jews. We do seek to make some distinctions between Jews and non-Jews (one example: a Bar Tzaddik and not a Bar Mitzvah for a non-Jewish teen). We have no problem singing a Christian song or saying Jesus. We are not “against” churches and neither are we “against” synagogues. We find that Christian and Jewish tradition provide a rich source of belief, practice, and spirituality. In our case, the worship is very Jewish (we are Siddur-based). I think this is what divides us from the category below (“Philo-Semitic Christian Congregations”). In time, we will want to have a Siddur that offers a few alternate prayers for non-Jews (example: not “who has given us the Torah” but “who has given Israel the Torah”). I think we are the perfect place for intermarried couples (and we have a lot of them). Ironically, we are more Jewish in our practice than all but the Messianic Synagogues.

Judaic Churches: Philo-Semitic Christian congregations.
These differ from Blended Messianic Congregations in being less Jewish-traditional (not so Siddur based). These differ from “Hebrew Baptists” and “Hebrew Pentecostals” in that they fully affirm Torah and tradition for Jews as well as affirming Christianity for non-Jews. There should be more groups like this. It is a great pattern for Christians who wish to come alongside the people of Israel without becoming completely Jewish in practice.

NON-JEWISH TORAH MOVEMENTS

Ephraimites (Two House).
The extreme wing of the Ephraimites are convinced that “Jew” means only someone from Judah, Levi, and Benjamin (I’m not sure why they leave out Simeon). The “Israelites” have been lost, but they secretly and mysteriously have been preserved in their bloodline by God through the centuries and now, in this last days moment of divine renewal, these people are turning up and discovering their inner Israelite. Yes, they think they are crypto-Israelites, found members of the lost tribes. Note that this has nothing to do with people groups such as the Falashas or Bene Israel, whose claims have historic legitimacy. Many in this movement are quite sensationalistic, rather like televangelists in style. See below for a description of the Moderate Ephraimites.

Moderate Ephraimites.
There are some congregations in which the people believe that the Messianic movement is a God-ordained revival out of which the prophecy of reunification/restoration of Israel and Judah will occur. They do not emphasize bloodline or getting in touch with their (alleged) long-lost Israelite identity. They think, rather, that when non-Jews come alongside Jews and worship together (usually not emphasizing Torah observance and definitely not Jewish tradition), God will use this revival as the beginning of messianic fulfillment in the last days. They differ from One Law congregations in emphasis. Moderate Ephraimites are more about Jewish and Gentile unity than Torah.

One Law Synagogues.
They believe that all people are supposed to be keeping Torah. Christianity is wrong because it teaches people not to keep Sabbath and dietary law. They have accurately given the lie to antinomianism (the idea that “law is bad”) which permeates Christianity, but have failed (in my opinion) to deal with the Torah itself which distinguishes between Jewish and non-Jewish relation to the commandments. They differ from One Law Congregations in that they are very traditional in observance. They are in some cases gentiles who dress like Hasidim and practice a form of Orthodox Judaism.

One Law Congregations.
Just like the above except that they reject part or all of Judaism. They seek to establish a new Karaitism (Torah without rabbinic tradition). They do choose to follow some traditions but can be shockingly irreverent toward Judaism (example: picking their own dates for the feasts).

Sabbatarian Churches.
Most of these are offshoots from the Worldwide Church of God movement or Seventh Day Adventism. Adventists, strangely, keep Sabbath but not feasts. Various “Sabbatarian Church of God” groups sing hymns and have no Jewish cultural practices whatsoever. They simply are Christians of a fundamentalist stripe who believe the Sabbath and feasts are applicable to Christians as well as Jews. They are unlike One Law Congregations in being less Jewish in style. Seventh Day Adventism has a whole host of other issues not related to Torah (following a prophetess who founded the movement, being vegetarian, etc.).

Sacred Name Congregations.
Generally these are One Law Congregations with a twist. They insist on using the Divine Name always and avoid using any euphemisms. That is, instead of saying “Lord” or “Adonai” or “Hashem,” they constantly are pronouncing the Divine Name (as they think it should be pronounced). For most this is the prefix YAH followed by WEH (I type it this way because I do not wish to type or pronounce the Divine Name). For others, this has become YAHU followed by WAH. Similarly, they think Messianics are corrupt for calling Jesus Yeshua. Christians are even more corrupt for using the name Jesus (some claim that the SUS in Jesus comes from “Zeus” and is idolatry!). They tend to call him either YAH followed by SHUAH or, in a new twist, YAHU followed by WAH followed by SHUAH. They show up all over facebook and the internet and are easily identifiable by their constant insistence on spelling Hallujah as HalleluYAH and by frequent use of the Divine Name.

This entry was posted in Congregational Life, Judeo-Christian, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism. Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Types of Messianic Congregations

  1. James says:

    In my little corner of the world, there are just a ton of individuals, unaffiliated small groups, and families who fit into (probably) all those categories. Some folks have been burned by “Messianic” congregations and won’t touch one with a ten foot cattle prod. Others have really, really unusual theologies that are so out of the norm that no congregation would be able to accommodate them. There are even a small group of Jews who worship in traditional Jewish settings who are quietly “Messianic”. I was surprised to find that there were five “Messianic” congregations in my area (I was aware of 2 or 3) but some want to keep their groups closed so they can preserve the integrity of their belief systems without new people and ideas coming in.

    Then there are people like me. I don’t consider myself “Messianic” in any of the flavors you describe including Judeo-Christian, though that is probably the closet label I can claim. I have put away any illusions that I’m anything but a generic, Wonder Bread, Heinz 57 sauce Gentile who has a faith in Christ, but because of my background and the fact that I’m married to a Jewish wife, I have an intense interest in Jewish learning and literature (my reading list speaks for itself).

    One of the issues I have with the Messianic label is that it tends to put people off, both mainstream Christians and for the most part, mainstream Jews. The split second someone hears “Messianic” there’s a tendency to pigeon-hole the person or group to which the label is attached and, in some cases, to immediately dismiss them. On the other hand, if I say I’m a Christian with an interest in Jewish learning and interpretation, that makes me unusual without automatically putting me in a pre-defined category. As you’ve noted, some “Messianic” groups think words like “Christian” and “Jesus” are dirty words, but there have been untold generations of men and women who have lived and died for their faith in God and who were totally devoted to the cause of Christ. Messianism dismisses this history of devoted and faithful followers at its own peril.

    If the Messianic movement is to make greater headway into communicating its vision and mission to other groups, it needs to be less focused on the labels and more focused on the actual content of the message. For instance, FFOZ has a lot of good materials that would be edifying to the larger community of faith, but emphasizing their “Messianic” label will immediately turn off a lot of Christians (and many Messianics who feel FFOZ “sold out”) who otherwise would acquire a lot of benefit from their books and literature.

    At some point, it must become less important to be labeled one thing or another and more important to be recognized as a modern-day disciple of the Master, who is doing what we’ve always done; spreading the Good News of his salvation.

  2. Derek Leman says:

    James:

    I hear you. For me, “Messianic” is an important label. It is supposed to mean a movement by and for Jewish people following Messiah Yeshua. It is a name with a history which I am proud to belong to. My congregation is blended, Jewish and non-Jewish, but we are involved in the Jewish community and see the cause of Yeshua within Israel as central to our identity.

    When a Christian has a negative predisposition toward anything “Messianic,” it is usually because somewhere online or on television or on radio or, worse yet, through a congregational visit, they encountered something weird. The scary, weird groups out there using the label are generally what hurt our reputation amongst Christians.

    When a Jewish person has a negative predisposition toward anything “Messianic,” we can largely say this is because of Jews for Jesus and Chosen People and confrontational methods and simplistic gospels (“choose Jesus, deny your Jewish identity, or hell awaits you”).

    I patiently tell people: you have probably encountered some type of “Messianic” group that was not attuned to the right issues, which was not engaging the issues from a broad and well-informed perspective. I invite them to come and see how it should be done.

    Derek

  3. Derek Leman says:

    BTW, I’m surprised no one has been rankled by my use of the terms “Hebrew Pentecostal” and “Hebrew Baptist.” Does anyone out there care to admit that the congregation they attend fits either of these descriptions?

    Derek

    • Jesse Raymond says:

      Derek, nice article, James, awesome post! I personally am sketchy of attaching any label on my faith except by Christ alone. I have a love and respect for the Jewish people and an interest to understand more about them. Yet God has caused me to love the whole world when before I didn’t care. I cared, got hurt in life and went numb and He snatched that from me and replaced it with His love. Thanks for writing this article too, it is very interesting. I am with James on this, I am a straight up mutt gentile, but Jew or gentile, it doesn’t matter in the end, all that matters is God’s forgiveness, His grace and mercy, so call me what you would like but in the end, the only blood line that matters is His. We are all His creation. The only label I want is His label, His blessing, His mark on me saying that I am His forever! ABBA SHALOM! He brought me peace when I only knew war.

  4. James says:

    My experience is that when Christians encounter “Messianic”, they think “under the law” and that mobilizes all of the “law vs. grace” issues that they’ve (we’ve) been taught. Jews (again in my experience) see Messianics either as Gentile buffoons who were tzitzit on their belt loops and who are really cheeky, or as those to are trying to trick Jews to convert to Christianity and destroy Judaism.

    I understand you need to use the term in your context, but you’re going to have to work with these other groups to get past their preconceptions about what they think “Messianic” means in order to get them to listen to you (assuming that is part of your goal). My answer was simply to step outside of the Messianic context entirely, but then my situation is unique. That said, people assume I’m Messianic just because I put Christian and Jewish topics together.

    We all have to be who we are, which continues to evolve (hopefully) as we proceed down the path of self-discovery and find out who we are and who God is.

  5. Dan Benzvi says:

    ” At some point, it must become less important to be labeled one thing or another and more important to be recognized as a modern-day disciple of the Master, who is doing what we’ve always done; spreading the Good News of his salvation.”

    I could have not said it better. The hodge-podge that Derek displayed as the “Messianic movement” just emphasizes that MJ is not of God, which my wife was atuned enough to tell me 30 years ago.

    Derek, attempting to distinguish Messianic congregations is futile since there is no one congregation that does not have some of all the others. we need to concentrate on Yeshua who is our real identity.

  6. “we need to concentrate on Yeshua who is our real identity.”

    And then there’s the real world made up of real people.

  7. My congregation, and most of the folks in my congregation, fit multiple of Derek’s categorizations. I’m unashamedly a Modern Ephraimite, One Law, Hebrew Pentacostal Charismatic, Philo-Semitic. 🙂 More or less.

    Still, these are just Derek’s categorizations, which are biased and slanted towards his own organization, Hashivenu, which he’s involved with personally and professionally. Derek sets Hashivenu-style synagogues as the ultimate model for Messianics, a model many of us, including myself, reject. I digress.

    James points out a problem with labels in general: labels cause people to automatically judge one way or another. I have a label, “Two House”, that has grown to mean something ugly and terrible much of the Messianic movement. (Sometimes for good reason, but often times not.) And because of that label, myself and my group are regularly shunned and segregated by other Messianics, especially by those who don’t know me personally.

    Labels suck. But that’s the way the world works. I’ll take that label and just continue doing work for the Lord.

    I wonder if we should have another label: Derek, you and I have both encountered numerous Messianics who say Yeshua is a great rabbi but by no means the divine Son of God. I’ve encountered such Messianics even on Derek’s Messianic Judaism Facebook page, and I know some exist within the some of the main Messianic camps. I understand some FFOZ types sympathize with this idea, an idea more blasphemous than anything Two House folks get accused of. Additionaly, numerous folks in fringe groups like the Nazarenes also believe this.

    Derek, what do you label Messianics who reject the deity of Yeshua?

  8. “…The hodge-podge that Derek displayed as the “Messianic movement” just emphasizes that MJ is not of God,…”

    I would (respectfully) disagree. The same thing could have been said about the Reformation, or about any other movement in which God shed new light on Truth. I’d say that the Reformation was even more of a “hodge-podge”, with everything from extreme Anabaptists claiming the imminent return of Christ, to church sanctioned bloody war and persecution (even of moderate Anabaptists), to Henry VIII using it as vehicle to sanction a divorce. If you study your history, you’ll find it was really quite a mess. Even in New Testament times, we see extremes in both directions every time the Holy Spirit inspired new directions (ie. the Galatians vs the Corinthians).

    Actually, I would say that where we find such a “hodge-podge”, look for the seed of truth that the Holy Spirit has been bringing to light, which the forces of darkness have been trying so hard to discredit.

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      Are you insinuating that the reformation was right at the end?

      • Derek Leman says:

        Dan, I think the Reformation was a great thing. As usual, it was tainted with evil. So are we. I have a personal dislike for Luther which makes it hard for me to read him seriously, but there are plenty of good things about Reformation thought. I just reject the modernist rationalism, the Calvinism, and the reduction of the gospel to Justification by Faith.

        Derek

        • Dan Benzvi says:

          But when you read the old Creeds and Confessions, it is obvious that modern Christianity jetisons away the beliefs of historical Christianity, at least where the Torah is concerned. I think the reformation had a part of it.

  9. Dan Benzvi says:

    “And then there’s the real world made up of real people.”

    Suit yourself, if you want to remain in the world…No skin off mu\y hide….LOL!

    • It’s not about what WE want – we don’t live or die for ourselves, Dan. There are people in the world with real needs and they need more than nice slogans.

      “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Messiah, which is better by far; but it is MORE NECESSARY for you that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:24)

      • Dan Benzvi says:

        It depends how you define the body, Jews only? Is this our identity?

        • “It depends how you define the body, Jews only? Is this our identity?”

          Each person’s identity is multifaceted. We are not just one thing and G-d has never asked us to choose between being Jewish or being a follower of Yeshua (unlike some have done through history). If being a “Jew/Israelite” is an eternal attribute (and it is), then yes, I would say that G-d thinks it’s important part of who we are, our identity, at least for some of us.

          • Amen! And I’m an Irish, and a follower of Yeshua.

          • Dan Benzvi says:

            Dennis Prager asked the question:

            “Would you rather have a blood child who converted from Judaism to another religion or an adopted child who was a commited Jew?

            Blood does not play a part in our identity, only our faith….

          • Dan, a far more relevant question is: would Prager be willing to TRADE his own living blood child that his wife gave birth to and he carried in his arms (but who say became a “Christian”) for an adopted child who will be a “perfect Jew”.

            I think we all know what the answer of any sane parent would be. But this is because we are not dealing with some hypothetical things, but with real living people and real issues they face every day.

            “Then the word of the L-RD came to him (that is to Abraham): “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from YOU OWN BODY will be your heir.” (Genesis 15:4)

  10. James says:

    In reading the comments that have appeared since the last time I checked in, I realize I should say something about religion in general. It’s not like the problems of division between different Messianic “sects” is only a Messianic issue. We see this in both mainstream Christianity and Judaism. Antwuan Malone blogs on this issue in Christianity, while Asher at Lev Echad takes on the same issue within Judaism (these are just two examples and I’m sure there are many other blogs that discuss the matter of unity or lack thereof within various religious and people groups).

    This first thing I thought of when I read this blog post this morning was that it was going to stir up the pot again. I don’t mind spirited debate, but can we come out of this heading in some sort of positive direction?

  11. Derek Leman says:

    Judah:

    I think that the divinity of Yeshua is central to what it means to be Messianic. I am not sure why you mentioned “FFOZ types” having such a view. I am not aware of any such thing. But, yes, there are people who show up on Messianic web pages and say they have a problem with divinity being attributed to Yeshua. I have rarely found such a case in which the person had any serious theological education. Generally these are people who reject offhand anything “Christian” and who think the subordination of the Son to the Father (a common NT theme) disproves his divinity (as if Christians did not read the same verses and never considered this issue). 99% of the time these are people who do not even understand what “divinity of Yeshua” means (they think it means he is all there is to God, as if God is nothing more than Yeshua).

    As for the other 1%, they tend to be persuaded that God can only be transcendent. I feel for them. It’s a bleak world where God is only above us and never with us.

    I like what Mark Kinzer said in his paper about Nicea and Messianic Judaism. He said that we must have patience with people from a Jewish background who struggle with the idea. There is so much suspicion and there has been so much name-calling and anti-Judaism, we should not expect it to be easy for a person trained in Jewish thought to suddenly be open to the incarnation.

    I believe Yeshua’s divinity is a vital core belief and I defend it and teach it. I do not make it a litmus test for friendship (I would make a litmus test for leadership).

    Derek

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      The reason that I don’t agree with Kinzer here is because of what Paul said, how would they know if we don’t tell them?

  12. Derek Leman says:

    James:

    I too would like to see a positive direction from this. Here are a few thoughts:

    Discussing our differences could lead to mutual respect. Sometimes fear and ignorance of the unknown is what keeps people away. For example, someone might visit Tikvat David and say, “They are following anti-Yeshua rabbis far too much.” A Tikvat David person might visit a Hebrew Baptist congregation and say, “They went out for seafood on Shabbat!” But knowing more about the distinctive ideas and beliefs in he different groups can help eliminate fear of the unknown and cause us to see what we do have in common. Yeshua, to agree with Dan Benzvi and thus cause the earth to move slightly off its axis, is who we should and could emphasize.

    Also, I am thrilled with an upcoming event which will bring people together from the various camps all to one place with no teaching, theology, or politics to ruin it: the Asheville Music Festival. I will be there dancing next to Hebrew Pentecostals, Hebrew Baptists, One Lawers, Ephraimites, and (if they don’t yell out the divine Name every five minutes) Sacred Namers. In the end, none of us are defined by our label or the group we belong to. We are people.

    Derek

  13. James says:

    “to agree with Dan Benzvi and thus cause the earth to move slightly off its axis”

    I was wondering what that tremor was. 😉

  14. Derek Leman says:

    Dan:

    Actually, the Reformation was not the beginning of supersessionism (church supersedes Israel). That started very early (Justin Martyr, Irenaeus). The Reformers were no worse than the church fathers on this issue (though not really better either).

    Recently, in a book called Augustine and the Jews, Paula Frederiksen shows that Augustine, while still guilty of some fairly horrid statements, made progress on the Jewish question and was, relatively speaking, a friend to the Jewish cause.

    Derek

    • Dan Benzvi says:

      I like Frederiksen writing, she makes a lot of sense. And i know about Martyr, and Origen. The point i was trying to emphsize is the disconnect between The historical and Modern Christianity.

  15. Derek,
    Excellent Post! In talking to various people about where Grace and I attend we have gotten the spectrum of reacts that seemed to be based on what people have experenced from one the above types of messianic congregations. Really enjoy your post and it helps to understand that various “sects” within the messianic movement.

    PS How is the Sukkah?

  16. Derek Leman says:

    Steve:

    Thanks. (See, everybody? Positive results). As I said, people in congregations are often unaware of the variety that exists under the same label.

    Haven’t put the Sukkah kit together yet, but will do it next week. I’ll bet it will be perfect for Sukkot 2012. Thanks for donating it.

    Derek

  17. Melinda says:

    I always thought the term Messianic means a Jew who has accepted that the Messiah, Yeshua, has come and brought salavation to the world. In that case, anyone who is a Messianic believer is a Jew who believes in the Messiah.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Melinda, there are more non-Jews in Messianic congregations than Jews. There are a small number of Messianic congregations that are majority Jewish, many that have a strong minority of Jewish members, some with a few, and many with none. What I am defining here is groups, not individuals. But your comment is apt and you are right to notice how the word “Messianic” has widened in its meaning.

  18. Andrew T. says:

    Ironically, Beth Immanuel (the flagship FFOZ congregation) is mostly gentile, but very halakhic. They keep an Orthodox kosher kitchen, pray liturgically, and are building a mikveh. And this is all done with a healthy theology of Israel intact (that is, they’re not One Law or Ephraimite). It’s a beautiful thing.

    When Judah mentioned “FFOZ types” that reject Yeshua’s divinity, I can only think of a person named Brian Tebbitt (dun dun dun). “FFOZ type” because that was his background, and he knew Daniel Lancaster well. He championed the dubious formula of Orthodox Judaism plus Yeshua as Messiah, to the extent of shilling for ultra-Orthodoxy (e.g. tefillin on a woman is sinful). A professing Noachide, he rejected the Messianic label. He dropped out of the blogosphere years ago, to my knowledge. I don’t know where he is now or what he does, but I can only apologize profusely if this no longer describes him or misrepresents him.

    • Andrew, you wrote below that “I would go beyond this, and say that God has in fact blessed the Sages and their interpretations. The Pharisee party is the one Yeshua identified as sitting in Moses’ seat, so to speak.”

      I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, which makes me wonder why you have such strong words against Orthodox practices in this post. I for example would regard women wearing tefillin as just as egregious as blowing a shofar in a public park. It is just not done, and traditionally minded Jews would point to it as a serious misappropriation on our part, sort of like wearing a tallit for a minchah service. But perhaps I am misinformed.

      • Andrew T. says:

        Jacob,

        Believe it or not, unlike the practice of blowing a shofar any time one darn well pleases, there is room even in Orthodox halakha for women wearing tefillin. It is not generally done, but it is permissible by some interpretations. Rashi’s daughters donned tefillin, and Rashi was one of the great sages of his or any time. Furthermore, nowhere in Talmud will you find a prohibition against women donning them. It is a time-bound commandment, so women are not *required* to observe it, but not strictly prohibited, either. Judaism prohibits cross-dressing, but tefillin are not an item of clothing. The fact that it is generally not done is mainly a cultural thing, not a halakhic thing. The Orthodox don’t want to get on a slippery slope of egalitarianism, so they frown upon it. So, if you are among Orthodox Jews and a woman, unless it’s one of those uncommon Open Orthodox shuls (and maybe not even those), don’t even think about it. Needless to say, every non-Orthodox denomination sees it as kosher without reservations.

  19. Brian says:

    Derek, I wanted to know if you were familar with this group Yeshiva Beth HaShem found at templebethhashem.org.
    At one time I started taking some free online classes from them until I saw they did not believe in the divinity of Yeshua.

  20. Derek Leman says:

    Brian:

    No, I had not heard of them until I checked out the link and watched a few of their videos. They took a cross-country trip, taught at a few places, and had videos of things like blowing shofars in public parks (Niagara Falls). Needless to say, blowing a shofar in a public park represents some type of non-Jewish sensationalism misusing Jewish sancta (although the rabbi is undoubtedly Jewish, based on his last name). These kinds of mixed-up Jewish teachings and promotion of naive excitement about Jewish ceremonial practices (shofars, whoopee!!) is much of what gives “Messianic” a bad name to the people who visit us. Maturity, my people, maturity is what we need, and real growth in things that matter (like healing the world through service and giving).

    Derek

    • Andrew T. says:

      You’re right, Derek. The people who claim to have a corner on kosher but don’t know their Midrash from their Tosefta are always the ones that try to put on a show to compensate. Look at me, I’m blowing a shofar and wearing a tallit (no kippah though)! See, Jewish!? Such blatant mishandling of normative, historical Judaism is antisemitic in a way that evangelical Christianity is not, because at least it doesn’t have these pretenses.

      Why is it that the phony and/or weird segments of MJ invariably tend to be the ones with gaudy websites that look like old Geocities domains? I can’t be the only one to have noticed this.

  21. It is prohibitively difficult to study and discuss variegated religious movements without categorizing them along broad lines. The labels might disputed – much like the term “Anabaptist” is disputed in many Baptist circles – but in the end, labels will be created to account for these categories, which are based on very real distinctions within the broader movement. To people “in the thick of it,” so to speak, the categories might at first seem unwarranted, but ultimately they are helpful.

    Notwithstanding Judah’s unwarranted stab at First Fruits of Zion, I agree with him that Derek’s descriptions are a bit slanted in favor of the types of congregations he favors, a fact he fully discloses.

    I also have my own biases. Looking forward, I see the only viable forms of Messianic Judaism being those which affirm the importance of Jewish identity as it is defined within Judaism today as well as the importance of Jewish tradition. Partly because I think we need to be blameless and above reproach from the Jewish community, and partly because I think Judaism is right in affirming the importance of the distinction between Jew and Gentile and the role of tradition in maintaining distinct communities.

    Unfortunately the presence of sects who disparage Jewish identity and Jewish tradition (which are, by the way, inextricably linked) hurts the reputation of the whole movement and the reputation of Messiah among the Jewish people.

    On the other side of that coin, categorization can lead to marginalization – i.e. “your views don’t matter because you are a Sacred Namer.” I can understand how those from smaller groups – certainly my view is also a minority – would worry about that.

    But I think that nevertheless this is a good discussion to have and I would be interested to hear a few of the commenters here elaborate more on the particular niche they fall into, or closest to. My Sabbath fellowship is Philo-Semitic in orientation, being a part of a regular Sunday church, a part that is fully sanctioned and endorsed by the church leadership. We have virtually no Hebraic practice but we understand and support the role of Israel and the Torah.

    I see this as one of the groups with the most potential for growth as thousands of Christians wake up to the reality of Jewishness and Judaism (for Jews) and seek to learn more about Jewish interpretation of Scripture (including mysticism and gematria) and the distinct and irrevocable role of the Jews in the broader plan of God.

    Most Christians will never, ever change their praxis. They will continue to go to Church on Sunday, take their hats off when they pray, and use the form of worship they grew up with. The Apostles were realistic about the distance an average person can come away from their upbringing and I think we should be as well.

    But if we can get more churches to reject supersessionism and open their doors on Sabbath for a morning study of the Torah portion from a Jewish perspective, this will go a long way and affect a lot of people (more than have ever even heard of the Messianic movement). This will require many who have left the church to go back in, submit to church leadership, contribute financially, make real relational connections, and be frank about their intentions. But the harvest is great. We only lack laborers.

    • Andrew T. says:

      “Partly because I think we need to be blameless and above reproach from the Jewish community, and partly because I think Judaism is right in affirming the importance of the distinction between Jew and Gentile and the role of tradition in maintaining distinct communities.”

      I would go beyond this, and say that God has in fact blessed the Sages and their interpretations. The Pharisee party is the one Yeshua identified as sitting in Moses’ seat, so to speak. This does not mean they were perfect, or that only Orthodox Judaism is legitimate. But even though I am convinced this is true, it is far beyond what most MJ congregations would ever admit or submit to. How many Messianics even separate meat from dairy?

      • Andrew T. says:

        “The Apostles were realistic about the distance an average person can come away from their upbringing and I think we should be as well.”

        You bring about a good point. It’s immodest to say it, but I believe my understanding of the issues surpasses that of most actually involved in MJ. The gleeful shofar-blowers with tzitziot on their belt-loops are the opposite of me in so many ways, because they get out there and practice with only the shallowest understanding of real live Judaism. Calling a horse a zebra changes nothing about the animal; it’s still a horse. If you don’t know Hebrew, you’re no flipping rabbi. I think I do better by seeking sobriety, respect, and understanding of real and authentic Judaism, even if I lack community or practice. At least I do no damage this way.

  22. Allison says:

    I am new to Messianic Judaism (I have not yet been to a Messianic synagogue or congregation), and I had no idea that there were so many different groups within the movement. Thank you so much for the information, as always, Derek.

  23. Tammy Martin says:

    Rabbi Derek,
    Thanks for all this valuable information.
    I wondered if you may give us biblical reasoning on why not to be a vegetarian? I just wondered. I’m not one-
    Shalom,
    Tammy

    • Derek Leman says:

      Tammy:

      Meat is permitted. To non-Jews all kinds of animal are called good for food (Gen 9:3). However, vegetarianism was the beginning (Gen 1:29) and will be the end (Isa 11:6-9).

      I commend vegetarianism (but I’m not either).

  24. James says:

    Meat is permitted. To non-Jews all kinds of animal are called good for food (Gen 9:3).

    Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. –Genesis 9:3

    I’m still not eating rattlesnake chili, I don’ t care what you say. 😉

    My wife and I keep “kosher-style”, though we’ll probably make a more definite change and kasher our kitchen when the last kid leaves home. For me, it’s not just a matter of living with a Jewish wife but, even though not commanded, I still consider adjusting my diet as a matter of personal conviction. Other people can make other decisions.

    The vegetarian thing will be a bit of a stretch, though. I like a good steak.

  25. Pingback: Leaving the House of God | Morning Meditations

  26. Pingback: eBook: HaSiddur a Modern Conservative Messianic Shabbat Siddur for Small Groups or in-Home Fellowships (in PPT, DOC, PDF or Text) | para-DOX parABLEs

Comments are closed.