The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach - Question #1 (The Prioritization of Outreach)

April 15, 2019

I recently posted a video on Facebook where I highlighted the Messianic Jewish Movement's general failure to attract other Jews to Yeshua-faith. In response, a good friend wrote the following, which I will address in a series of blogs. I am breaking up her comments into numbered paragraphs for ease of following, and giving each a title. Then I will follow with some brief responses to these excellent questions in a series of blogs. See that video HERE-->

Normally, at Passover time (fast approaching) we have Four Questions. In these blogs we will deal with FIVE question. And today, I will respond to the first.

  1. My Apparent Prioritization of Outreach - That was really interesting. Can you unpack for me why you think Messianic Judaism is by definition a movement called to reach the Jewish people with the gospel? Obviously that's a perspective which arises naturally in Christian thought - evangelical churches define themselves in terms of their purpose being evangelism. I'm not trying to ask mischievous questions here, I'm trying to ask what underlies, what's at the basis of, this theology which focusses completely on converting people, rather than on a broader picture of mission (ie to congregations, networks of congregations, movements to work for social justice, feed the hungry, etc).
  2. What About the Messianic Jewish Movement's Predominant Gentile Influx - What happens theologically to this understanding if it's actually overwhelmingly non-Jews whom the Ruach HaKodesh is calling in? What is God saying then about purpose?
  3. What About Discipleship/Discipling? - What happens, most importantly, to discipleship, creating a learning community which creates a life-giving, Yeshua transformed setting for ordinary believers in Yeshua to live out their lives and raise their children?
  4. What About the Priority of Torah Learning for Jews? - What happens to the purpose approached from a Jewish perspective, of 'from generation to generation' transmission in terms of Torah learning? What happens to the ability of the Messianic community to engage in ever deeper Torah learning to develop its maturing theology? I'm trying to make sense of how you and others see the bigger picture.
  5. What About Gift Projection? - I've seen how easy it is for one person who has a strong calling, say, to pastoral care, to 'convert' a whole string of churches into seeing themselves as being there only to give pastoral care to one another and new people as they come in. Their entire 'skill set' becomes seen through, evaluated through, and enacted in terms of pastoral care. I've seen it happen with social justice, with congregations being led by a passionate social justice pioneer into this being the reason for the existence, their calling and purpose, to the point where pastoral care is virtually non-existent. How is all this balanced out?

What follows is a brief response to the first of these excellent areas of inquiry.

QUESTION #1 - My Apparent Prioritization of Outreach

This prioritization has several sources, and is also not as absolute as is stated in your question.

  • The first reason for prioritization is subjective: this priority has been a fire in my belly and my bones for over fifty years. As Jeremiah says in another connection, "there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot."
  • The second reasons for its prioritization in my video is that this is an area which is sorely lacking and poorly addressed in the Messianic Jewish Movement. My video is intended as a corrective, and as a corrective, yes, the video has a narrow focus. But that does not mean that outreach is my only focus. My writings reveal that I see seven eschatological purposes for the people Israel listed in Ezekiel 37:21-28, and these are not ranked: (1) Israel's return to the Land, (2) unification of the Jewish people, (3) their spiritual renewal, (4) their gathering in allegiance to the Messiah, (5) Their return to covenantal Torah-faithfulness, (6) their national experience of the fullness of the Divine Presence, (7) all of the foregoing being instruments of HaShem's vindication of his Name and his vindication of Israel as his people. Of these seven items, outreach is associated with the fourth. Yes, we should be engaged in calling our people to allegiance to the Messiah, just as we should be calling them back to the Land, to unity, to spiritual renewal, to Torah obedience, and to the richness of the Presence of Ruach HaKodesh. There is no imbalance here, nor any apologies, of course.
  • Third, theologically the prioritization of outreach comes from our fulfilling the Jewish value, "kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh––all Israel is responsible for one another." The general failure of our people to embrace the Messiah is a matter of grave covenantal consequence, and, being covenantally bound to our people, we cannot be indifferent to seeing this failure redressed as much as possible. This was the Kind of covenantal solidarity that drove the anguish of Saul of Tarsus when he said, "my heart's deepest desire and my prayer to God for Isra'el is for their salvation" (Romans 10:1). And I believe this "salvatiion" of the people Israel as a whole is tied up with redressing the covenant violation of rejecting God's ultimate Messenger, the Messiah. My understanding of Jewish culpability in the Bible is that it always involves rejection of God's messengers and rejection of their call to Jews to return to Torah-centric covenant obedience. Especially as members of the Remnant of Israel we must be preoccupied negatively with rescuing our people from covenant jeopardy (called nakam brit,  [ וְהֵבֵאתִי עֲלֵיכֶם חֶרֶב נֹקֶמֶת נְקַם־בְּרִית ] "And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant," Leviticus 26:25), and positively with sharing with them the foretaste of eschatological blessings which are ours through allegiance to "David their king, whom I will raise up for them" (Jeremiah 30:9). And yes, other aspects of Israel's fullness, enumerated in Ezekiel 37:21-28, and elsewhere, will also be our concern. Still, I think that given the universal testimony of Scripture, repentance from rejection of God's ultimate messenger, and repentance for abandoning covenantal Torah-obligations are primary.
  • Fourth is the matter of what might be termed covenantal decency - In 2 Kings chapter seven, Israel, in the ancient city of Samaria, is being beseiged by Ben-hadad, he King of Syria. The resultant famine is severe in the extreme. Four lepers who are outside the gate of the city because of their outcast status reason with each other that if they go into the city they will starve, and if they go over to the army of the Syrians, the worst the enemy will do is to kill them. Since they are going to die anyway, there is nothing to lose. However, when they arrive at the camp, they find that the Syrians had totally abandoned the camp and all its plunder (because God had caused them to hear a mighty army coming at them––an auditory hallucination––which resulted in their fleeing for their lives. The account goes on to say,
    • 8 When these men with tzara'at [commonly, but inaccurately termed 'leprosy'] reached the outskirts of the camp, they entered one of the tents, ate and drank; then took some silver, gold and clothing; and went and hid it. Next they returned and entered another tent, took stuff from there, and went and hid it. 9 But finally they said to each other, "What we are doing is wrong. At a time of good news like this, we shouldn't keep it to ourselves. If we wait even till morning, we will earn only punishment; so come on, let's go and tell the king's household." (2 Kings 7)
  • Similarly, we Jews who believe in Yeshua cannot justify keeping the good news to ourselves, but must go to our people and share the benefits we have found which in a very real sense, have saved our lives, as they will save theirs. While, as mentioned, it is not our sole priority, it most certainly is not one to be deferred or neglected. Hence the urgency of my appeal to a movement where the priority is not generally effectively pursued.

More to come . . .

7 comments on “The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach - Question #1 (The Prioritization of Outreach)”

  1. I wanted to look more closely at your "seven eschatological purposes", Stuart, but Jeremiah 37 contains only 21 verses, making it rather difficult to examine "21-28". Could you please correct your cited reference (in two places) to show the address you actually intended?

  2. Upon further research, I believe I have found the passage you intended, Stuart, in Ezekiel 37:21-28 (not in Jeremiah). Nonetheless, the above essay would benefit from the correction.

  3. I'd like to submit one more observation, Stuart, regarding "outreach" and the notion of "go[ing] to our people". You have, at other times, used the term "inreach", which I think is an appropriate alternative view of the needed process. Encouraging our people to pursue allegiance to "David our king", with all appropriate midrashic resonances in haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef's teachings, is not something that can be accomplished from "outside the camp", so to speak. Nor does the Ezekiel passage even hint at such a remote approach. Until Jewish messianists have returned to live within the Jewish community in such a manner that shines the light of their Torah-infused halachic behavior to glorify HaShem, perhaps also having returned to live in the land of Israel itself, it may be argued that we have not gone to our people at all.

    We who wish to represent the kingdom of heaven must behave as "yeast in meal" (although maybe *not* during Passover [:)]). Yeast is useless unless it is mixed thoroughly into the dough. Messianists must be thoroughly mixed in and blended with our people, if we are to affect them in such a manner that they would "rise up" to pursue the insights and enlightenment that we ourselves ought to have discovered.

    While we may have had employ the exhortation of Heb.13:13 to go "outside the camp" in order to find our messiah who was deemed "the leprous one", that does not mean we should not return as quickly as possible to within the camp to report that he is not leprous but that we have found him cleansed of the faulty reports about him carried by others. Thus he also may be examined by the Cohanim to verify that he may be pronounced to be pure, and brought back into the camp among his people.

    But enough already of midrash and metaphor! I think I've made my point.

    1. Yes, you did make your point.

      The reason I used "outreach" is that it is a more Jewish term than "evangelism." However, I do not miss nor dispute you point about the benefits of "inreach" as a term. Still, "outreach" has the added benefit of being a term widely used in the Jewish world.

      As for us Jews who believe in Yeshua being immersed in the Jewish community rather than seeing themselves as outsiders, this too has much to commend it, and I have taught about this issue for decades. My one caveat is my observation that there is a direct correlation between the intensity of one's desire and practice to live among the Jewish community, and keeping silent about one's own Yeshua-faith. People who favor such communal immersion must face the degree to which they are hiding the light of Yeshua faith under a bushel (and I mean Yeshua faith which is not simply admirable but communicated and contageous), and those who are zealous to share heir Yeshua faith must face the degree to which they have distanced themselves from the Jewish community in heart and mind, treating Jewish people who do not believe in Yeshua as "them." I have taught on this for years and will continue to do so.

      1. I think we may be envisioning two very different models of "evangelism", Stuart. As I pointed out in my March 27, 2019 (7:41 pm) response to your June 18, 2015 essay "When Jews Who Believe in Yeshua Become Anti-Judaism":

        Rav Yeshua’s exhortation was: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good behavior and glorify your Father Who is in heaven.” [Mt.5:16] The preceding two verses about being a light to the world that is not to be hidden “under a bushel basket” clarify what is meant by that light. It is not about Rav Yeshua per se, but about the Torah-informed behavior and insight that he promulgated.

        Consequently I challenge the caveat you invoked as "hiding the light of Yeshua faith under a bushel". Allow me to elaborate why this is a false concern. What Rav Yeshua *did* warn about was cited by Mark in Mk.8:38 --

        “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

        -- and by Luke in Lk.9:26 --

        “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

        The question of shame requires recognition of the object of shame. For example, there is much of which to be ashamed in prior Christian efforts to evangelize Jews, including the ancient Disputations like the one in Paris, France in 1240 that resulted in the burning of thousands of copies of the Talmud, which was instigated by a Jewish heretic who had converted to Christianity and translated selected Talmudic passages into French in order to denigrate it and Judaism.

        While that may seem an extreme example, consider how many missionaries and churches of even the most well-meaning motivation have distanced their Jewish converts from Judaism, the Jewish heritage, and the Jewish community. Their impact on the Jewish people has been no less destructive than the Nazi Holocaust. It is they and similar prior history that have made of Rav Yeshua a "leper-messiah" and an object of shame. Unless and until this is repudiated and eliminated from the Jewish perception of Rav Yeshua, reference to him can bring no light to his people the Jews who care about HaShem's covenant. Dr. Mark Kinzer elaborated this in his 2005 book "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism", as you are well aware and about which you have written, Stuart.

        Therefore Jewish messianists who are properly embedded within the Jewish community, where they must be in order to reach inward to fellow Jews with the good news that Rav Yeshua sent his own direct disciples to promulgate, must be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (cif:Mt.10:16). It is not Rav Yeshua himself of which they must be cautious not to invoke shame, nor his words, but of a false perception of them. If they are to bring forth the light, the enlightenment, that Rav Yeshua was appointed to bring to his people, it may be that for some period of time they must remain buried with him, out of sight, until the time of resurrection. When he is resurrected in his glorified form within the consciousness of any given Jew or group of Jews, then also his disciples are unashamed -- if they have been honorable sons of the kingdom that he described as qualified by Torah and mitzvot. It is no simple or unchallenging task they must pursue until that time, in order to bring it about little by little, like "yeast in meal".

        Perhaps it is confusing to mix together all these metaphors about serpents and doves, and light and yeast and burial and resurrection and cleansing of lepers. Yet each of them reflects an image of some aspect of the challenge in this day to bring forth good news for Jews, to pursue the prophetic challenge "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people" (cif:Is.40). I assert that concerns about "hiding Yeshua's light under a bushel" are misplaced, and as such they can be counterproductive. They fail to appreciate of what that light consists and how it may shine forth.

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