Messianic Distinctives

I have been thinking recently about what it means to be Messianic. For three years now I have had no Messianic fellowship at all – there is simply nothing available in this part of the world – and so, after being completely isolated for so long (and even without internet fellowship) I have started again to look for Christian fellowship, and have had to determine where I can be in agreement, and where I must draw the line.

So what does Messianic mean?

Messianic Judaism, or the Messianic faith is far from homogenous – there is a broad spectrum ranging from something which to all intents and purposes resembles mainstream Christianity, right through to something which resembles something more like Orthodox Judaism.I wrote this basic list in around 2007 in an attempt to formulate some `distinctives’ (differences from mainstream Christianity) to which all Messianics would be able to agree.
[1] We fully identify ourselves with the Jewish people: For those of us who are of a Jewish background and heritage, we remain Jews. For those of us who are of a gentile background and heritage, we see ourselves as ‘grafted in’ to the Covenant People, Israel. We do not remain `gentiles’ in the sense of ‘pagan’ (although the Hebrew word ‘goyim’ also carries the meaning ‘Nations’). We do not stop being English / French / African / Australian or whatever, and we do not become `Jews’.
To be fair though, even this is not without contention. Most Jewish congregations do not accept non-Jews as part of Israel, denoting this whole idea as ‘replacement theology’ and saying that non-Jews can be part of the ‘commonwealth’ but never properly part of Israel. I don’t personally think that is a fair criticism.  We are supposed to be ‘One New Man’, the Body of Christ. Read Romans 11 and Ephesians 2. What if a Jewish Messianic marries a non-Jewish Messianic? Are their children Jewish? No, I am convinced that these distinctions should not be perpetuated indefinitely. There is to be neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female. But as with other race problems in the Church at large, we’re not there yet.
[2] We seek to recover the lost heritage of the essential `Jewishness’ of the ‘faith’ – that is the ‘Christian’ faith, the original Messianic faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and perhaps emphasising the Jewishness of the early church by including the use of Hebrew names, and a movement away from pagan-derived non-Hebrew religious names and vocabulary. (This is much more prevalent in the Sacred Names movement, which is connected to but perhaps a somewhat separate branch to Messianic Judaism.)
[3] We celebrate the Scriptural and Jewish Feasts, including Sabbath, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach/ Passover, FirstFruits/ Omer/ Shavuot (`Pentecost’ in Greek) as well as Hanukkah and Purim in preference to `Christian-ised’ pagan-derived feasts such as Christmas and Easter. (The more Christian branch of Messianic spectrum, that formerly called itself Hebrew or Jewish Christians, tends to retain all the Christian festivals, and tends not to view any possible pagan connections as a problem.)
Additionally, some adopt a kosher diet – abstaining from pork and shellfish – understanding that Paul’s vision was a metaphor for welcoming non-Jewish people into the faith and not, as Christians understand it, abandoning the food laws themselves.
[4] We have a reverence for Torah in its entirety, not just the `ten commandments’, as “inspired, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness”. (Not to earn salvation, as the Messianic movement is often accused of)
There is an unfortunate tendency to get stuck in the minutiae of the Feasts without going on to searching out the ‘Weightier Matters of the Law’. I have been down that path myself, and I have seen good people disappear into an abyss of rules and regulations, losing their love and compassion along the way. It’s not a pretty picture.
The weightier matters of the Law are pretty clear from scripture – they include Justice (justice for the poor, the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned, the victim), Mercy and Love.
For those reasons, the church with which I have involved myself recently – although it  may not seem an obvious choice, given their love of Christmas – is The Salvation Army. Obviously we differ on the significance of the sabbath and the festivals; and I am pretty sure it is a denomination that tends towards replacement theology. I am pretty sure we differ theologically. I’m also pretty sure that it wouldn’t be the most comfortable place for a Messianic believer.
But ultimately, I feel that as a single, isolated believer, I am doing no good, but as part of an extended body, despite theological differences, we can achieve some good. And when you look at Christianity as a whole, what denomination is doing more towards Tikkun Olam? (Healing the World)
The Messianic view of the Law, Torah, is quite different from mainstream Christianity – it is not a burdensome, undesirable curse of a thing that you would want to get rid of. Instead, it is viewed as a gift. A beautiful, restful, peaceful haven of safety. Torah is viewed as freedom, not something we need to be freed from.
The Salvation Army, perhaps alone in having the ‘liberal’ values of wanting to help the poor and disadvantaged, tends to be fairly conservative theologically in terms of valuing ‘holiness’. Although they divide the Law into the classic ‘Moral, Civil and Ceremonial’ categories, rejecting the ‘Civil’ and ‘Ceremonial’, they do at least continue to believe that the Law is a good thing.
I was thinking today that, if I were asked to ‘work’ on Shabbat (in terms of Salvation Army work), for instance, I would struggle, I would certainly wrestle with whether or not I could or should ‘work’. But it occurred to me to wonder what constitutes Biblical ‘work’ – I generally wouldn’t cook or shop on the sabbath, but what about healing the sick? feeding the hungry? rescuing the endangered? At this point, I haven’t been asked to do anything that would make me struggle or question.
But I think that it would be possible to retain integrity as a Messianic believer at the same time as giving up the gift of the sabbath to do good. After all, isn’t that what Yeshua himself did?
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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mishayah
    Feb 18, 2014 @ 20:37:29

    I don’t mean to be offensive, but I think part of the problem is the over emphasis of being ‘Jewish’ or ‘Jewishness.’ The vast majority of Israel is not Jewish and there are many many Christians who are every bit as much Israel as are the Jews. This is not replacement theology, it is simple genetic fact. Personally I could care less whether the Jews recognize me or not, it’s not their say so as to who is and who is not Israel, it never has been. It is YHVH and YHVH alone who makes the distinction. The planting is of YHVH not the Jews, not the Christians, not the Messianics.
    Also I don’t think that Yahshua ever gave up the ‘gift of the Sabbath’ what he did was to set it free from the corrupted version being taught by the Rabbi’s.
    As long as men take titles to themselves as to identify themselves with others then the world will never know the ONE who sent HIM. This will only happen when we enter into Yahshua’s prayer and enter it fervently to be ONE with the Father, One with the Son. When that happens both collectively and individually then the world will know that YHVH sent Him. That’s the only recognition that anyone needs.

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