Three key Differences Between
Messianic Judaism and Nazarene Judaism
(Excerpt from 1999 Presentation
I believe the central issue that we need to address is one of identity. With whom do we identify, or, as I have heard it poignantly stated before, with whom will we be persecuted? Many people who hear of us and what we are doing will identify us with the Messianic Jewish Movement (I have experienced this many times) and by doing so they place us under the heading of ‘Christianity’. Both Jews and Christians who are knowledgeable enough usually make this identification. We need to ask ourselves whether this is the banner under which we want to develop our identity.
Let’s look at the Messianic Jewish Movement for a moment. Many of us are familiar with it and some of us are still involved with it to some degree. The following discussion is about the popular notion of what the Messianic Jewish movement is all about and how it describes and understands itself as exemplified by the Messianic Jewish Alliance, The Messianic Union, related organizations and their leaders. Regardless of what may be their deepest desire, which is to be regarded as a valid expression of Judaism, just as the Orthodox or Reform movements are, they are not and they never will be. Because in their attempt to do so, they have kept one foot firmly planted within the Christian community. A large part of their theology and worldview come from Christianity. While they do reject replacement theology and so make room for themselves as Jews within the Christian community, they have not, in most cases, developed practices and institutions endemic to Judaism. As such there are some fundamental problems with the Messianic Jewish Movement’s understanding of things and this results in confusion and disunity.
One of the first areas of confusion is that of religious expression. First, allow me to say that there is a wide spectrum of religious practice among Messianic Jews and their congregations, which, in itself, is a problem. Some congregations are adopting Orthodox or Hasidic practices and others have kept mainstream church worship traditions. Ultimately, in the Messianic Jewish point of view, there are no standards because there is no right and wrong in religious expression. Allow me to explain how I can come to such a conclusion. While many Messianic Jews and even some Christians know that Passover and Yom Kippor are Scriptural and Christmas and Easter are not, there can be no authoritative correction (although the Christians will sometimes accuse those who follow Scriptural religious traditions of being legalists and Judaizers!). This is because Messianic Jews see themselves as part of the ‘church’ and they look at Christians as their brothers and because of this they accept, to a greater or lesser degree, the Christian interpretation of Scripture. They are all part of the ‘body’, the Messianic Community, the universal Church. The result of this is the practical understanding that Elohim does not really care that most of ‘the body’ are worshipping Him according to the practices of the pagans (Deut 12) or the ‘Traditions of men’ and while He may be pleased that some are worshipping Him according to Torah, it was really only meant for ‘ethnic’ or ‘natural’ Israel. In the great scheme of things it doesn’t really matter because ‘we’re all saved’, which is the ultimate goal of both groups. I have read this described as the ‘One faith, one baptism, two expressions’ theory. One cannot do enough Scriptural gymnastics to support such an idea. To do so is to ignore all the warnings of Moshe and the Prophets about the adoption of pagan practices and of the corruption of the pure religion YHVH had given to the people of Israel. It supports the spoken and unspoken assumption of the ‘church’ that the ‘Old Testament’ isn’t relevant to them. It is also to embrace the absurd idea that Shimon Kefa and that great Pharisee Rav Sha’ul accepted Gentiles into the community of Israel while allowing them to continue to practice paganism. That they allowed pagans to rename pagan practices and celebrate them with equal validity alongside the festivals of YHVH and see nothing wrong with it. That Gentiles could come into covenant relationship with the Elohim of Israel while thumbing their noses at all the things those who had gone before held dear. That they believed the Messiah had come to give ready acceptance to both Jews and Gentiles in the small, unique community of Remnant Israel, regardless of their behavior or the forms of their religious expression. Anyone who wants to become part of the commonwealth of Israel through the Messiah does so in the context of covenant. And covenants have stipulations that are meant to be adhered to and if they are not, there are negative consequences. For Messianic Jews to look at and accept Christians as equally acceptable brothers ‘in the Lord’ and as legitimate ‘converts’ into the commonwealth of Israel is to destroy the basis for the covenant relationship Elohim has always had with His people.
This brings us to another problem with Messianic Judaism. They don’t know what to do with the Gentiles. The confusion again results from having one foot in either camp. On the one hand, they want to see themselves as a legitimate branch of Judaism and to this end, they have set up many institutions in which the leadership and policy bodies are made up of ethnic Jews (although in Messianic Judaism the definition of an ‘ethnic Jew’ does not usually follow ‘traditional’ halachah). However, many Gentiles have become attracted to Judaism, as has been the case throughout history, and a brand of Judaism that allows them to maintain their belief in their Messiah is particularly attractive. Many Christians have come to see the value in understanding the jewishness of their original faith and some have even been motivated to adopt some Jewish practices. And others, like many of us, have seen the value of Torah as the correct way of life for the redeemed person and have sought to apply it all to the best of our knowledge and understanding. But when a Gentile comes into Messianic Judaism they find out that their participation is limited to the perimeter. In the MJAA they are not allowed full membership. They are not ordained as Rabbis. There is no mechanism or procedure to allow a Gentile’s full participation in the institutions of Messianic Judaism.
In Non-Messianic Judaism, this is accomplished through the conversion process. After a Gentile has gone through this process they are members of the House of Israel, no different than their natural born counterparts, with all the same privileges and responsibilities. Messianic Judaism, on the other hand, does not see the need for conversion. The Gentile Christians are already their brothers, fellow heirs in the body of Messiah. Why would they need to convert? In many Messianic synagogues, Jews and Gentiles alike are encouraged to pray the ‘sinners prayer’ at which time they enter the ‘Church’. The Jew and the Gentile take divergent paths from there, however. Once they come into the ‘Church’ they have different responsibilities and duties. In the Messianic synagogue, Judaism is practiced to some degree. The Gentile is sent to a church with different practices. He can visit the synagogue but it not really there for him, regardless of what he thinks. So the Gentile on whom Elohim has impressed the importance of Torah and Judaism finds himself in limbo. While the Messianic Jews see him as a ‘brother in Messiah’ he is held at arms length due to an accident of birth. It seems as though the Messianic Jewish ‘denomination’ is a ‘Jews only’ club.
Another problem is Messianic Judaism is ambivalent about Torah. Since it seems as though Messianic Judaism is another Christian denomination of sorts, they have sought to pour the wine of Christianity into the wineskin of Judaism. Outwardly, many of their practices are Jewish. They wear tallit when they worship and they worship on Shabbat. They celebrate many of the festivals and they wear kippot. Some synagogues even have Torah scrolls and a few of the congregants can read it. But inwardly, most of their theology and belief is Christian. Their creeds, their understanding of the Messiah, the nature of God, salvation and especially their attitude and understanding of the Mosaic covenant come from Christianity. They don’t know how important it is. On one hand, they’re Jewish so they know, at some level, it is important to them. On the other hand, their brothers, the Christians, don’t obey the mosaic covenant at all. In fact, they have adopted many practices of the pagans, something the terms of the covenant prohibit. But they are ‘saved’ just the same. Yet, both the Messiah and His Talmidim taught about the importance of Torah and lived it out in their lives. And these are the acknowledged founders of the ‘church’. But the ‘church’ has taught for almost two thousand years that Torah is not essential for salvation, it is not important in a believer’s life and may even be an impediment to the Christian drawing closer to Elohim. So if it’s not essential to salvation, Messianic Judaism cannot, with any real authority, require, or even strongly encourage, Torah obedience among it’s adherents. Christian understanding says Torah is not important so as long as Messianic Judaism remains in the Christian camp, Torah obedience will just be one option of acceptable Christian religious expression among many. It will be a means to an evangelistic end and will continued to be looked at with suspicion (and rightly so) by non-messianic Jews.
So what am I saying here. I’ve thrown out a a lot of terms here; salvation, Torah, Israel, Messiah, Church, Jew, Christian and others common in our religious debate. The definition of these terms is something that we need to discuss as well. Messianic Judaism has adopted, for the most part, a Christian understanding of these terms and many of us, having been brought up in a Christian environment, still think that way as well. As such, it would be easy to conclude from my statements that I believe Torah, the Law, is essential for salvation and all the Christians are going to hell. Taking salvation, Israel and Torah, understanding them in the common Christian sense and combining them as I have, it would be easy to come to that conclusion. Nothing could be farther form the truth however. One does not have to be part of the ‘commonwealth of Israel’, remember the Sabbath, abstain from pork or celebrate the festivals to receive a place in the world to come (See Israel, the Goyim and the Eternal Destiny of Man for more info here). That is another issue completely but it illustrates the point that if we are going to understand Scripture in a consistent matter, we cannot blindly accept Christianity’s definition of these terms for they have a different meaning in Judaism.
Ultimately, the question which we must have the courage to face and answer is, ‘are Christianity and Judaism compatible at all?’ Messianic Judaism has said yes and attempted to make the marriage work and we have looked at the results. I believe there are fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity in theology, practice and in the religious communities themselves which require a negative answer to the question. Christianity evolved as a reaction against Judaism and the Jewish people around the period of the first Jewish war with Rome. It proscribed Jewish practices more vehemently than did the Roman government. It began to understand the Scriptures through the eyes of Plato and Aristotle instead of Moshe and the prophets. They stole the Sacred Scriptures and made them simply a preface to their own and then redacted themselves into them to create a sense of legitimacy. They changed the Messiah from a Torah obedient Jewish man Who loved His people to a universal, anti-Torah demigod. And once they had the machinery of the state at their disposal, they rigorously persecuted the true people of Elohim, something that continues to this day. Judaism is a triad of Torah, people and land put together by Elohim Himself never to be forsaken or replaced. Christianity has proscribed the Torah for it’s adherents, persecuted the people and moved the promised land to the heavenlies. How can there be any perceived continuity between the two? Judaism holds dear everything Christianity abhors. Christianity is a man made religion, a combination of Roman and Babylonian religion, Greek philosophy and some basic Jewish ethics (although with all the murder and mayhem perpetuated in the name of ‘Christ’, the last point could certainly be disputed). Christianity has taken some basic truths and ideas, removed their foundation and created a new religion. To put Judaism back into Christianity is to put a square peg in a round hole. When we present Nazarene Judaism to Christians, we are not educating them about the roots of their faith, we are showing them the truths of the Scriptures they claim. Christianity is not a form of Judaism, it doesn’t even spring from the same well.
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