The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach – Question #2 (God's Purposes and the Gentile Presence in the Messianic Movement)

April 16, 2019

This post is the second in a series related to a comment responding to a Facebook video, one of my Red Door Diaries, where I highlighted the Messianic Jewish Movement's general failure to attract other Jews to Yeshua-faith. In my previous blog I responded to the first section of her response. Today, I respond to the second section. To gain a context for the discussion see the original video HERE-->

What follows is the second part of her comment, and then, my response.

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?

Your premise is hard to prove, and I think debatable. Is it the Ruach HaKodesh, the Divine Spirit, that is bringing so many Gentiles into the Messianic Jewish Movement? In some cases, I would guess yes, but in many cases, and here I would say, the majority of cases, no.

I say this because, as I have already stated, I believe this movement has a divine purpose--to be a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of God's consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob. I think it incontrovertible that only a minority of Gentiles joining the movement are doing so to facilitate that purpose, for which they deserve honor and thanks. So my premise is not to say that all Gentiles who join the movement are here due to the activity of the Holy Spirit, but that we can assume that this is certainly true of those who come to the movement to serve this Divine purpose.

Whether others drawn to the movement are drawn by the Holy Spirit, I have no business saying. I am not God. But I can say three things in this regard.

  • First, Gentiles are joining this movement for a wide variety of reasons. Therefore broad brush generalizations are counter-indicated.
  • Second, many join the movement for semi-cultic and sectarian reasons, as for example, believing that the church as a whole is apostate, not keeping Torah, celebrating the Feasts of Israel, nor keeping the seventh-day sabbath, and that Messianic Judaism is God's elite religion for the world. Such adherents cannot reasonably be assumed to be here due to having been drawn by God, since he is not known to further a semi-cultic and sectarian agenda.
  • Third, the responsibility for there being a wide variety of both reasonable and unreasonable causes of Gentiles joining the movement falls on the shoulders of the leadership of the movement and its congregations, where I believe purposes are pursued which are either pragmatic, naively conceived, at variance with the purpose I have stated, or largely unaddressed.

In all cases it is utterly unacceptable to engage in any sort of Gentile-bashing and denigration of their presence and contribution to this movement. What is called for is concerted prayer and discussion as to what God intends for this movement, and honesty with ourselves as to whether and to what extent our agendas match his.

Can anyone doubt that he holds us accountable to ask and answer such questions?

4 comments on “The Five Questions: Something Extra for Pesach – Question #2 (God's Purposes and the Gentile Presence in the Messianic Movement)”

  1. I have no doubt, Stuart, that many gentiles have been attracted to the Messianic Jewish Movement for many of the same reasons that first-century God-Fearers were attracted to the ancient movement of "The Way", and the teachings of Rav Yeshua by his disciples about a "kingdom of heaven". They were and are reflecting the prophetic image of Zechariah 8:23 --

    “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”

    What you did not address here is a failure in the modern movement to emphasize the implications of the bilateral ecclesia and its role in the redemption of the whole of humanity. Thus Jewish messianists have a dual role as they pursue Tikun ha'Olam: addressing the training of non-Jewish disciples as well as restoring their own condition and that of Rav Yeshua within the covenanted community of Jews. The MJM provided stepping stones toward both goals simultaneously during the past four decades, though in doing so it also fell short of educating and encouraging Jewish disciples sufficiently for the task of the embedded inreach that we discussed in your response to yesterday's Question #1 of this series. Nonetheless, as it is said: "The day is not over.", and there is yet time for the movement's members to adopt corrective measures and doctrines.

    1. I'd like to take the premise of my prior posting a bit further. A similar failure of the MSM has been to not sufficiently address or define a proper role for non-Jewish disciples in the overall project of human redemption that is defined in Jewish terms (of course) in the Jewish bible. Thus the path of progress toward spiritual maturity for non-Jews appeared to require participation in Judaism and its characteristic praxis, as if the requirements for non-Jewish disciples were identical to those for Jews. This is not surprising for a young movement that was struggling to define the distinctive role of Jews and Jewish messianism, and to redevelop a Jewish perspective on the Jewish literature of the apostolic writings that had been denied and disposed of when the literature was hijacked and reinterpreted by gentiles at least 15 centuries earlier. Such a young movement must be forgiven for not succeeding within a mere four decades to undo a millennium-and-a-half of inimical theologizing.

      The task of identifying the distinctive roles of non-Jewish and Jewish disciples is complicated by the existence of yet a third category -- one of uncertainty. In our era, Jewish civilization is still recovering from 20 centuries of exile and persecution, and from an attempted genocide that destroyed fully a third of the Jewish population across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Many Jews sought refuge by hiding their identities and assimilating into majority cultures surrounding them. Their descendants have faced a difficult challenge upon trying to recover their Jewish heritage. Hence many of them have been raised as gentiles and had to begin from such a condition to relearn what it means to be distinctively Jewish. Is it any wonder that many gentile disciples would be carried along with them, emulating their process of rediscovery? Thus we have had some unambiguously Jewish disciples, many of whom were also somewat assimilated into majority gentile cultures, plus technically Jewish disciples whose connection to their heritage was obscured or corrupted by intermarriages, plus halachically non-Jewish disciples of similarly mixed parentage, plus disciples who were drawn by HaShem to Judaism for other reasons. Some of this last category might be of partial Jewish lineage from some generations in the past, while others would be like gentile converts to Judaism of earlier ages. Let us not ignore that some of them currently are married to Jewish partners, and some means of fostering familial and communal unity for them and their children must be accomplished. The last three of these categories might best be reintegrated into the Jewish mainstream via conversion proceedings, even if only the last two actually require it halachically. This would resolve for them, internally, and for the Jewish community, externally, any lingering sense of uncertainty. But, regardless of the processes and procedures needed to reintegrate the Jewish community to recover a sense of wholeness, there is still a need to acknowledge an honored role for non-Jewish disciples and to help them to elaborate it, much as Rav Shaul tried to do for the gentile assemblies to whom he addressed various instructive and corrective letters.

      Regrettably, at least from the perspective of some gentile disciples, the reintegration of the Jewish community must be biased in favor of Jewish recovery and restoration in this era. Jews, and those married to them, must be encouraged to embrace the Torah covenant, and not to seek their status outside that covenant as gentiles or as Jews who have cut themselves off from the covenant. That bias has undoubtedly induced more than one gentile disciple to wish to become converted to Judaism. The resurgence of Judaism at the close of our long exile has added yet another impetus, not unlike how the Jewish victories in Persia at the time of Purim induced many to "Judaize" themselves -- that is, to convert (cif: Esther 8:17; 9:27).

      In the face of such a positive bias toward Judaism, gentile disciples are in need of that much more encouragement to pursue HaShem's path of redemption for the vast majority of non-Jewish humanity. In doing so, they must be apprised also that the example of the Nicene Council and other subsequent church councils is not a suitable one to pursue or to re-iterate. Even the Christian Reformers of a thousand years later did not succeed to uproot the earlier fundamental errors altogether. Some of the reformations expressed in new waves of Christian regeneration within the past half-century are somewhat more encouraging, insofar as they have acknowledged the need for and the accomplishments of Jewish restoration without trying to usurp or supersede them. But the redevelopment of non-Jewish discipleship is nonetheless a work in progress that undoubtedly will require continuing adjustments to which Jewish disciples may offer insights.

  2. Since only two essays have been presented here so far, of five that were projected in the 15Apr essay, I decided to review the video that was referenced in that essay. Its topic was the concept of "one new man", and its subsidiary notions of a dividing wall of separation and the mistaken notion of a "third race". Stuart explained that there were only two categories, not three -- only Jews and gentiles -- who were being unified. The proper interpretation of the phrase that is facilely translated as "one new man", is "unified, renewed, humanity". It made a bit more sense when it first appeared in the English of the King James Version, but it has been carried forward as such while the English language itself has changed somewhat in its vocabulary, phrasing and word usage.

    The subsidiary notion of an inimical dividing wall, consisting of something that is abolished in the "flesh" of the messiah Yeshua, also needs some elaboration. The reference to "flesh" is, in this case, a euphemistic reference to Yeshua's physical martyrdom. The Greek phrase in Eph.2:13, "ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ", translated as "in Christ Jesus" or even "in messiah Yeshua" is somewhat misleading, because the Hebrew phrase from which it originated would carry an alternative meaning referring to our "anointed" or designated or authorized "salvation". In other words, the physical person Rav Yeshua represents a more far-reaching concept of HaShem's purpose and chosen process of redemption. It is in or by this process of salvation that those (i.e., uncircumcised gentiles) "who formerly were far off have been brought near".

    In his letter to the Roman assemblies Rav Shaul used a different analogy of an olive tree whereby non-native branches were grafted onto the tree, and kept in place on the tree, by means of their faith. To the Ephesians, however, his emphasis was on the elimination of a dividing wall of judgment that represented a court verdict that had been set aside, which previously had enforced their separation from HaShem, and from His chosen family the Jews, because of their idolatrous uncleanness. The process of their redemption, by trusting in the teaching and the metaphorical sacrifice of an Israeli Jewish rabbi who was martyred, changed them from unclean idolators into cleansed disciples who trusted in the One-True-God HaShem and the principles taught in His Torah. Thus they could be "brought near" to the community of faithful ones and "unified" with them so that what had been two separate irreconcilable communities could be made into a single, unified, renewed representation of all redeemed humanity.

    I couldn't really discern, though, from Stuart's description in his first essay, just how this video about "one new man" provoked the five questions he intended to address about evangelistic outreach toward Jews, a predominance of gentiles in the Messianic Jewish Movement, Discipleship, Torah Learning Priority, and "gift projection" or a lack of comprehensive balancing of diverse skill sets in any given congregation. They seem a bit "non-sequitur" to me. Nonetheless, they seem to be good questions to explore and I look forward to reading Stuart's commentary about the remaining three.

    I imagine the discussion of discipleship will need to address the different approaches to be pursued by Jewish disciples and non-Jewish ones respectively, just as I noted above in my prior comments about the MJM's shortcomings vis-a-vis clarifying the distinction and prescribing a suitable differential halachah.

    Since question four addresses the specific issue of transmitting Torah learning from generation to generation among Jewish disciples, I suppose it is asking how mixed communities of disciples can provide an environment to enable this in sufficient depth. It seems to me to be an extension of the discipleship issue in question three.

    Question five appears to me to represent a question about qualifications for rabbis or congregational leaders within the MJM, and how multiple contributors within the community may apply their diverse talents and skills. I imagine this might work itself out without specific effort, if the questions of discipleship and the resulting structures and functions of a Jewish community and a non-Jewish one can be answered first.

    But it oughtta be interesting, nonetheless!

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