Four Possible Trajectories for the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement

February 20, 2015

I am back to blogging after a hiatus. The hiatus is due to waiting until certain projects of Interfaithfulness are launched (more details later) and our website gets redesigned accordingly. That redesign will be happening in the next few months, God willing. But I thought it imporant to renew contact with you, my faithful readers in the interim. So here's a blog with more to follow. 

I spoke recently at a Messianic Jewish conference, and as part of my presentation I  listed four possible purposes God has for the Jewish people as these purpose might impact the Messianic Jewish Movement.

I now ask you the question I asked my audience: Which one of these do you believe is most likely God's purpose for the Jewish people in our day, especially as that purpose ought to impact the agenda of the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement?

  1. Abandonment - The Jews as a people are no longer God's chosen people, and are now cast off. The only way any Jews can become God's chosen people is to become part of the Church. This is the pathway commonly termed "supersessionism" or "replacement theology."
  2. Assimilation - The Jews as a people are no longer significant, and might as well disappear. So if all Jews became Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Pentecostals, for example, that would be great!  There is really no Divinely-sanctioned need any more for the Jewish people to remain a cohesive and distinct people, even if this was once desirable. If all Jews became Christians and lived normal Christian lives as part of good solid churches, that would be a good thing.
  3. Camouflage - In the Messianic Movement, Jews as a distinct people disappear, being indistinguishable from others who have joined the movement.  In the movement Jewish religious behaviors have been, are being, and should be transmuted into something uniquely "Messianic," a lowest common denominator kind of Messianic Jewishness shared equally by Gentiles and Jews in the movement, sometimes under the banner "One New Man." So Jews in the movement should accommodate to this transmuted shared religious culture, and beware of the deadness of "the religion of the rabbis."  In many corners of the Messianic jewish Movement,  you can't tell the Jews from the Gentiles any more, and that's a good thing.
  4. Consummation - The Jews as a people are destined to inherit the unique blessings they have awaited for so long, through Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah, blessings that come uniquely to the Jews as a people, through which the other nations also experience benefit without the distinction between Jews and others being obliterated or transcended. The Messianic Jewish Movement should align its agenda with these realities.

Which of these four choices seems to you to be God's will as it should shape the attitudes and the behaviors of the Messianic Jewish Movement?

15 comments on “Four Possible Trajectories for the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement”

  1. I'm a Gentile believer in Yeshua. Several days ago I was sitting in the front patio of our home studying the Torah portion for that week. The particular volume of the commentary we are using has to do with the prophets, thus those teachings were still fresh in my mind. While sitting there I hear some car doors being closed and I look up to see two cars down the street with about six nicely dressed people standing about. They of course were Jehovah's Witnesses.

    I didn't run inside the house and hide, like I used to do. Soon two men were standing on the sidewalk in front of our home speaking with me. I eventually turned the conversation toward Israel and asked them, "What about Israel? What about the Jewish people?" Before they could respond, and with commentary in hand, I started quoting prophecies from several prophets relating to the restoration of Israel and drew their attention to the fact that it was "Jehovah" who told the prophets what to say to the Jewish people. These two men stood there like deer caught in the beam of headlights. They clearly were not used to Christians they encounter bringing up that topic and they didn't know how to respond. They said they needed to get along and the youngest man asked if he could come back to "share some Scriptures" after they finished visiting my neighbors. He didn't come back.

    Thank you for your voice.

    1. Hi Mike Tilson - Thank you for your note. A Jehovah's Witness woman older than I has a lovely home on the corner of my street. Six days a week there are Jehovah's Witnesses out front of the house with their literature. You are absolutely right that they have no grasp of God's love for the Jewish people and plans for that nation.

  2. #4 is God's purpose.

    #2 hit me as the perspective that the main critical respondents at the discussion on David Rudolph and Joel Willits book "Introduction to Messianic Judaism" at the recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting. The Jewish People as Jews were no longer necessary in the divine plan with Yeshua being the last necessary Jew and as long as there was some of Jacob's blood flowing in the veins of members of the Church, that was sufficient to have a Jewish and Gentile representation in the Body. Douglas Moo went as far to say that the 144,000 of Revelation are not Jews but Christians.

  3. I think something between options 3 and 4, leaning closer to option 4. While I think that the Messianic Movement should be mostly for Jews and that God has a special purpose for the Jewish people in is Plan, I do think that there are some aspects of the Messianic Movement that all Christians should adapt--especially the more Biblically-accurate ones (as opposed to specifically Jewish-culture aspects). Also, I think that there are some Gentiles that God places among the Messianic Jews who are very passionate in helping the Messianic Movement move forward, and do that by serving. There are definitely some Gentiles who really don't exactly belong in a synagogue/congregation, but I think there are a few here and there that accomplish an important role. I'm being vague because I myself am rather undecided on what line defines "an important role." But I definitely think that Messianic Congregations should have more Jewish attendees/members/leadership than Gentile attendees/members/leadership.

  4. Who's asking?

    The salient terms seem to be 1). "Congregational", as stated in the post's title; and 2). a "Movement", as opposed to an "ism".

    Reminds me of the joke about Jews, Jewishness, and Judaisms: The Orthodox do Torah; the Conservative do business; and the Reform do lunch.

    What do the Messianic do? "Messianic Judaism"??? Jews congregate together because they're Jews. Or so I'm told.

    But to answer your question, choice number four (Consummation) looks like an open and shut door to me.

      1. I was just chewing on some thoughts (with my mouth open)---parsing Jewish identity into a distinction between Being and Doing. Jews "do Torah" (as Jews), or "do business" (as Jews), or "do lunch" (as Jews), because they're Jews. As important as "doing" is to Jewishness, it's nothing when compared to what G-d has done and is still doing and has yet to do, in creating and sustaining Jewish identity.

        Jews bless their G-d "who sanctifies Israel by His commandments." They don't say, "...who sanctifies Israel by our obedience to His commandments." It's not how well or how poorly the Jews keep the mitzvot that makes them Jewish, but rather, it's the word which G-d speaks to Jews that makes them Jews. It's not "Doing Jewish" that makes Jews who they are. It is G-d who makes Jews who they are.

        On the other hand, "Doing Jewish" is not without its consequences---the blessing or the curse. "Being Jewish" is harder outside of the Land (which is a consequence of serving other gods). But when it comes to doing even the so-called "impossible-to-keep" commandments, if G-d were to command a Jew to walk on water who's to say he couldn't? Peter was a good Jew who knew he only needed the commandment in order to climb out of his boat and go to Jesus.

        Congregations of whatever kind are (among other things) aggregations and conglomerations of identities. They're real, tangible things---in motion---not unlike the nations writ small. But it's harder to repent of our little boats in which we sit (without the command to repent) than it is to walk on water.

  5. Years ago when I was with the ABMJ, I went to hear Rabbi Immanual Shochet, one of Chabad’s most brilliant and devastating speakers (depending on your perspective). He was speaking at Fairly DIckenson University in NJ on Anti-Missionary topics. Hundreds of people attended--mostly Jewish as a gamut ranging from Traditional (“Orthodox”) to Reconstructionist and Feminists wearing kippot and tallesim of their own. Every time he mentioned “You-Know-Who,” frummer parents with kids in strollers took their kids out of the room.

    One thing popped out from all the theatrical polemics that night and seared me forever. He said “Missionaries (by which he meant any believer, and certainly Jewish believers) are finishing what Hitler started. Not only physical annihilation of Klal Yisroel but spiritual as well.” (My paraphrase.)

    In the years since I have asked if this is what G-d, the creator and inventor of Judaism, as we now call it, wanted? I have greatly struggled with the “plan” as the church world has largely understood it and the bloody cognitive dissonance of the lens of many believers as I stood at Dachau and the Kotel and similar places. I came away radicalized from my encounter with Shochet and re-radicalized in my immersion of what I am now understanding the text to be sans lens, or hopefully sans lens.

    I guess you can tell what number I would choose.

  6. I also like option 4, although I'm aware if a few things the movement needs to work through:

    (1) One of the greatest issues that faces the movement, I think, is that it's perceived to be divisive. In that, it places too much emphasis on the ongoing distinction, despite 'one-ness' in Christ of Jews and Gentiles. This needs addressing in my opinion.

    (2) Regarding supersessionism, this theology needs buy-in from more church leaders. This is a massive challenge since it stands in opposition to 19 centuries of church tradition. The neo-Calvinists are still Calvinists.

    (3) and (4) It's own biblical hermeneutic and canonical narrative need to be defined: again, both big challenges.

    (5) Another significant challenge is passing the movement's ideals on to the next generation. For, it is only in the next generation, and generations to come, can the impact of the movement be measured.

    I'm really hopeful, but also am becoming increasingly aware of what stands in the way of Option 4 above.

    God Bless your work Stuart.

  7. I humbly add that the question being asked is somewhat wrapped in a 2000+ year old enigma - that being the artificial state of separation (and thus new names/labels/denoms) from age old Judaism - be it MJ or Xianity due to the evil one's divisiveness via worldly powers.

    Paul seems to sum it up concisely in Romans 1:16 (CJB): "For I am not ashamed of the Good News, since it is God’s powerful means of bringing salvation to everyone who keeps on trusting, to the Jew especially, but equally to the Gentile. 17 For in it is revealed how God makes people righteous in his sight; and from beginning to end it is through trust — as the Tanakh puts it, “But the person who is righteous will live his life by trust.”

    #1-3 have had their day. #4 is desirable, but I posit a 5th choice that includes #4 but results in a cascade effect "reboot" of the apostolic ecclesia - picking up where (pure) Judaism left off in the 1st century and being the light to the nations as originally intended trusting Messiah.

  8. A rhetorical question for your audience, surely, but not for others. I'm constantly in discourse with my colleagues at a Christian seminary and get a mixed response of trajectory 1 (abandonment) and 2 (assimilation). Actually, I suspect that there's been a shift over time from 1 towards 2.

    A talk some years ago by Daniel Juster inspired me to study along the lines of trajectory 4 (consummation), though he re-interpreted "one new man" so starkly that I wrote a paper on it (freely available on or the SATS Conspectus page) which seems to be getting some attention. I just wish I knew the denominational breakdown of the readers. Are they just those who already agree, like those in your audience, or is the concept of a twofold ecclesia gaining traction in the evangelical world? It's worrying when someone as erudite (I'm not being sarcastic) as Douglas Moo equates Revelation 7:4-8 with 7:9 (referring to Sean Emslie's comment above). These texts present a contrast, not a parallelism! Most Christian theologians I know are constantly trying to hammer the data into line with the curve, but it's stubborn data (being inspired and all).

    1. Shalom David Woods, and thank you for your comment.

      I am afraid that theologians/Bible scholars are often no different from other people, including many but not all therapists and scientists: they use the data to confirm their already decided upon position or theory. For me, the necessary precondition to learning is knowing one does not know. Since Dr Moo, among others, is paid to know and admired for doing so, the chances are slim for his learning anything that contradicts his preferred way of seeing things. And of course, he is far from alone in this.

      Thankfully, there are exceptions. In a recnt book on the Letter to the Hebrews, Richard B. Hays writes a chapter in which he retracts and critiques his formerly published supersessionist interpretation of the Letter. It is rare, and therefore precious, for a man of his stature to to to print and say, "I was wrong," but it happens.

      As for Revelation 7, etc., here is a snippet from my dissertation on that matter.

      Are The 144,000 in Revelation Seven and Fourteen Jews Or A Symbolic Representation Of The Multi-National Church?
      Examining commentators' opinions on Revelation 7 and 14 provides yet another window to the ecclesiological and theological assumptions of the theological tradition of Christendom.

      Naturally, none of the commentators consulted saw the “144,000 from all the tribes of Israel” (Rev. 7:4; 14:1, 3) as being Jews. Indeed, their assumptions would categorically preclude this. Eugene Boring is one of many who states that the 144,000 cannot be Jews or, Jewish Christians (his antiquated term).

      (This) cannot be the case, since John identifies this group with the same number as 14:1-5, which cannot be limited to Jewish Christians. "Israel" is obviously not meant in a literal sense; there were no literal twelve tribes in the first century. Judaism had long since been more of a religious community with people of various ethnic backgrounds rather than a racial group identified by genealogy. . . . (The text) speaks with disdain of "those who say they are Jews but are not" (2:9; 3:9), that is, Jews who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah (1989:129-130).

      This language could hardly be more inflammatory. First, he demonstrates and identifies the theological presupposition that determines his interpretation. The sufficient reason why the 144,000 cannot be Jews is that "we know that John considers the church to be the continuation of Israel." He seems to me to be arguing in a circle, since he interprets one of John's texts on the basis of what he has already concluded is John's theology. Would it not have been better for him to have entertained the possibility that the text is saying something new which he as a reader/interpreter ought to factor into his assumptions about John's theology? More poisonous still is his assumption that what makes the Jews of Smyrna and Pergamos to be "those who say they are Jews and are not" is that "they did not accept Jesus as their Messiah." There is nothing in the context at all that requires of us to assume that what motivates John's denunciation of these people as Jews is the fact that they do not believe in Yeshua. In 3:9, the evidence is lacking, but in 2:9, the statement is explicitly made that they are those who both slander and oppose the believers to whom John is writing. In other words they have set themselves up as enemies of gospel and of the Christian believers. They have positioned themselves as opponents: they are not simply non-believers in Yeshua. And to assume that all Jews who do not believe in Yeshua are enemies, opponents, or not truly Jews at all is not only uncalled for, it is the stuff from which pogroms are made.
      If these theological assumptions were his alone, it would be cause for scandal. That they are widely held is cause for alarm.

      Does The Millennium Have Any Import For National Israel?

      As in the case of the 144,000, so here my concern is not so much for the interpretations of the commentators as for the assumptions behind those interpretations, for in part, the former are the product of the latter. David Aune, due to his presuppositions, sees the millennial passage in Revelation 20 as applying thickly Jewish language and concepts to the Church, with no specific reference to Israel.
      There is a likely reference here to Exod 19:6 . . . and a possible reference to Isa 61:6. . . . Hierus "priest," occurs three times in Revelation (1:6; 5:10; 20:6), always (with the possible exception of 20:6) in the context of an allusion to Exod 19:6. . . . The phrase "they will be priests to God and Christ" appears to have been derived from parallel statements in 1:6 and 5:10. . . . The idea that believers will reign (basilein), however, is quite different from the notion that they will constitute a basileia, "kingdom." The reigning of believers is also mentioned in 5:10; 20:4; 22:5. Only in 20:4, 6 is the reigning restricted to a period of time (one thousand years) and to a specific group, the resurrected martyrs (1991:193).

      For Aune then, richly allusive Jewish language and symbols are used here to make statements about the Church and its martyrs, but Israel as Israel is not in view.

      Wall, while acknowledging the deep overlap between First Century Jewish thought and the Book of Revelation, seems unable to resist the urge to simply transfer these categories to the Church to the exclusion of ethnic Israel.
      What is most important to note is that these differing rabbinical voices (in the first century) agreed that the "day of Lord Messiah" would be transitional and lead a restored Israel into God's eternal reign of shalom. Earliest Christianity, shaped within the womb of Judaism, took part in this debate and agreed with this consensus (not exactly!): the "day of the Lord Jesus" is transitional and will lead a true Israel into God's promised rest. Thus, in Revelation, John's idea of a thousand years interprets the second coming as a transitional messianic reign that will trigger the passing away of evil and usher in eternity (1991:235).

      What is of course most fascinating to me is how Wall comes so close, and yet leaves ethnic Israel on the outside of the continuing purposes of God, inserting into the equation "a true Israel," the church. This is of course the consequence of certain hermeneutical and theological assumptions, and not a conclusion simply dictated and required by the text.

  9. Thank you for the detailed reply, Dr Dauermann. I shall certainly try to read Hays on Hebrews. I recently read D. Thomas Lancaster’s “What about the sacrifices?” (First Fruits of Zion) which provided much illumination on Hebrews for me. It also explains the transitional aspect of the coming Messianic era which you mentioned. I would be very interested to know if you read Hebrews in a similar way to him.

    It seems to me there are two possible identities of the members of the synagogue of Satan in Revelation 3:9. They could be Jews who, through their own doing, have cut themselves off from their own people and are no longer members of the house of Israel. Alternately, they could be Gentiles masquerading as Jews, perhaps even in a “replacement” fashion – claiming they are true Jews whilst all others are false Jews.

    Any mention of “true Israel” seems sure to identify an adherent of replacement theology. As you know, the term is not biblical; it seems to originate with Justin Martyr (“true, spiritual Israel” in Dialogue with Trypho in the 2nd century CE). I’ve sometimes wondered if greater Israel’s blindness and hardness concerning Yeshua is not mirrored is the Christian church’s blindness and hardness concerning Israel, and that may, in fact, be a mysterious grace because if Christian Zionism triumphed in the early church period then perhaps Israel would have been restored too soon for the gospel to reach every nation. I’m uncomfortable with the notion since it seems like an accusation against God, but nevertheless I have a persistent feeling it may be true.

  10. Well, Jonathan, if you're willing to recommend aliyah, maybe you should reconsider your suggestion about joining a mainstream church (which was once a common "Hebrew-Christian" option) to consider the alternative suggestion for MJs to join a mainstream synagogue and to meet in secondary 'havurah meetings, perhaps to celebrate motzei-Shabbat as did the first century disciples.

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