Commit to familial respect for church bodies where Yeshua is honored, the Bible respectfully taught, and the ordinances reverently administered.
It is regrettable that there are many in the Messianic Jewish movement who speak disparagingly and condescendingly of the church. Often the church is dismissed because "they don't celebrate the feasts, “they don't keep Torah,” and "they don't keep shabbat."
The short answer to all of these objections is that keeping the feasts of Israel, observing Torah, and keeping shabbat were never given to the Gentile world as covenant obligations. The church cannot be accused of neglect in matters for which God never held nor holds them responsible.
Different people hold t0 these erroneous opinions for a variety of reasons, and I am afraid none of the reasons are really good news for any of us. Here are some of the reasons:
- Ignorance of what Scripture says. Many such people are dependent upon teachers who are making a living and a reputation off of mesmerizing and teaching people who depend upon them to shape their viewpoints and their theology. The problem is that these people should themselves become diligent students of the Word instead of depending upon strident teachers claiming to give them the inside scoop that most of the world misses.
- A misguided conviction that the real truth about the Bible involves Jewish secrets that most people miss. This is a gnostic viewpoint--spiritual empowerment through knowing truths that others miss. I remember being invited by a friend to visit a church in New York City where the Pastor, an educated man, together with his wife, believed that they never knew such spiritual power in their lives until they started praying to the Messiah as Yahshua. This is "say the magic word mumbo jumbo." And besides such Sacred Name superstitions, there is a seemingly endless list of "Jewish secrets" which are being peddled by the blind leading the blind, or worse, by knowing hucksters who are making a bundle off of other people's naiveté. Paul warned Titus about such people two thousand years ago, saying, "avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, quarrels and fights about the Torah; because they are worthless and futile. Warn a divisive person once, then a second time; and after that, have nothing more to do with him. You may be sure that such a person has been perverted and is sinning: he stands self-condemned" (Titus 3:9-11), and he warned his disciples about those whom he deemed "hucksters," of whom there are SO many today. This is what he said: "we are not like a lot of folks who go about huckstering God's message for a fee; on the contrary, we speak out of a sincere heart, as people sent by God, standing in God's presence, living in union with the Messiah" (2 Cor 2:17). We need bumper crop of people like Paul, and we need a famine of hucksters!
- And as mentioned at the head of this posting, people under such influences often add to their sense of elitist "knowledge" by speaking disparagingly and condescendingly of the church, whom they dismiss because "they don't celebrate the feasts, “they don't keep Torah,” and "they don't keep shabbat, none of which was given by God to the non-Jewish world as a covenant obligation.
What Shall We Do With Such Viewpoints?
While the church world is not perfect, neither are we. And even for those of us who see the Jewish community as our family of origin, the church world are our in-laws, and must be treated with familial respect wherever they display that familal relationship by honoring Yeshua, teaching Scripture respectfully, and rightly practicing the ordinances instituted by the Messiah. They are family.
In day to day life there are people in our families of origin with whom we do not always agree, and who even annoy us. But most of us will recognize that these people are family and should be treated with love and respect, and that we should look out for their interests, despite our differences, whatever they might be. The same should be true of our relationship with the church world. We must avoid and indeed we should censure, instruct, and if necessary exclude from our ranks those who engage in wholesale church-bashing, for they are not acting toward the church as family. They would even dispute that should foster a healthy and accepting familial relationship with the church. But in this they are not only wrong: they are doing harm.
Finally, let me highlight a dangerous misconception, but a growing assumption that causes real problems in the area of our relationship with the church world. This dangerous misconception especially alarms me because I am a credentialed missiologist, the only one active within the Messianic Jewish congregational world (in contrast with the missions world and church world where there are other fine Jewish missiologists whom I know and respect, and who are smarter than me)!
Jewpersessionism: What is It?
Jewpersessionism names the implicit assumption or explicit conviction that God is working toward a consummation when all the nations of the world will unite in practicing some form of Judaism—that this Messianic Judaism, will be God’s One World Religion, superseding the varieties of expression of Yeshua faith that have developed, are developing, and will develop among the nations of the world. That some are saying there will be some variations in how this One World Judaism will look changes nothing.
Jewpersessionism: Some Common Claims
We are all familiar with some of the proof texts that are used to defend this. For example the text of the end of Zechariah speaking of all the nations of the world coming up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Or text in Micah and in Isaiah about all the nations of the earth coming up to Jerusalem to hear Torah from the mouth of the Lord. Or the text in Zechariah chapter 8 which speaks of 10 men grabbing hold of the garment of one who is a Jew and saying, "Let us go with you because we have heard that God is with you." We are familiar with these texts.
Responding to These Claims
When taken against the flow of the teaching of the Apostles and the rest of Scripture, these texts should be seen in their own time as making the astonishing claim at that the end of time all the idolatrous pagan nations of the earth will worship the God of Israel, at peace not only with each other, but also with the seed of Jacob.
Four Problems With Jewpersessionism
- Jewpersessionism is false. It fails to take adequate note of God being the LORD of all the nations, not just one nation, and that God is glorified as he is honored and worshipped in the midst of cultural diversity not cultural obliteration and replacement.
- Jewpersessionism labels the church from among the nations as essentially sincere but wrong-headed, as not really “with the program” that God is up to. Therefore, the church’s irrelevance may be tracked along the axis of how intentional it is or is not in moving toward a One World Judaism. This means that for the past 2000 years God could not and did not get through to the church from among the nations the insights that Jewpersessionism now affirms. Is this credible?
- Jewpersessionism is damaging and erosive to the cause of mission to the nations. It leads in the direction of requiring all nations, including tribal cultures in the Two Thirds World, to embrace Judaism as the modality of honoring Messiah as Lord. This would be to naively ignore the deep differences in cultures, and how proper missional thinking helps target cultures to find Jesus/Yeshua and his message to be the fulfillment of and embodiment of the best that their own culture as aspired to. One of my mentors, world class missionary anthropologist R. Daniel Shaw, is spending his retirement years writing passionately and touring widely with the outcry that bringing people to a embrace a foreign culture as a means of knowing God inevitably leads to dead and stifling nominalism. People in such contexts learn to go through the motions, imitating the culture of the messengers who brought the message to them, but because the faith expressions they have embraced are not true to who they have always been, it inevitably results in an imitation spirituality. Dead, and lacking the ability to renew and transmit spiritual life from one generation to the next.
- Jewpersessionism, is naive and to the extent that the Messianic Jewish Movement embraces it, could mark us as having damaged the cause of Messiah not only among our people, but among the nations.
Four Choices Confronting Us
- Are we to consider that until this generation, God has been inept in getting through to the church from among the nations in the various cultures of the world the crucial point that they need to forsake their own culture patterns and in order to come to him and express their relationship with him, embrace a new superculture?
- Does God want to replace all cultures with a Jewish superculture? This is Jewpersessionism.
- Or does God want to redeem all cultures and sanctify them through Yeshua in the power of His Spirit?
- Is God interested in and glorified by uniformity or by unity-in-diversity?