In the weeks following the delivery of Dr. Brown's paper quite a heated debate took place among some circles in the Messianic Jewish movement, some of which spilled over into this blog. However, Dr. Brown's paper was by no means the only presentation at the LCJE conference of which those in the Messianic movement ought to take note.
During the business meeting held on Wednesday, April 18, a majority of the voting members of the LCJE present passed An Appeal to Unity, a document both affirming the Messianic congregational movement and voicing concerns regarding the direction being taken by some in the movement. I will post the full text of the document at the end of this post, but before I do that I want to to make some personal disclosure, and then address some misperceptions regarding Jews for Jesus and the Messianic movement.
I came to faith in Y'shua (Jesus) in 1997 through a Messianic Jewish congregation in San Antonio, TX, due to an ad the congregation had placed in the Yellow Pages. I had been raised in a Conservative Jewish household, in a family that was quite active in our local synagogue. Yet in my upbringing I never really acquired a sense of the reality of God, and after my bar mitzvah at the age of 13 I began a steady drift away from any active practice of Judaism. By the time I encountered the Jewish people at that congregation in 1997, I had little sense of my Jewish identity being important. I was less astonished than I was curious to meet Jewish people who believed that Y'shua was the Messiah, and it was only after repeated challenges by one of the friends I made at the congregation that I examined the evidence of the Scriptures to see if their belief had any merit. In the space of a few months, I became convinced by the evidence and publically professed my belief that Y'shua was the Messiah of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote.
As a young believer, I both observed the active witness of those in the congregation and had chances to join in that witness myself, to members of my own family. The first experience in evangelism I had was with others from that congregation, and I found myself both scared to death and excited beyond words to be able to share about Y'shua with complete strangers. Less than 2 years passed, and I strongly felt that God was calling me to share the Gospel with other Jewish people. The opportunity to do that opened up in 1999, when I began working with Jews for Jesus. Over the past 8 years I have had more opportunity than anyone could imagine to share my faith in Y'shua with other Jewish people, first as a member of the Liberated Wailing Wall, and then as missionary.
I've disclosed all of this for a reason: there are those in the Messianic movement who would say that Jews for Jesus is not a part of the movement, and that Jews for Jesus is against Messianic congregations. Neither of these is an accurate statement, in my opinion.
Regarding the latter, let me say that in my years of service with Jews for Jesus, I've visited a large number of Messianic congregations, and not once have I heard anyone at any of them indicate they believed that our ministry is not part of the movement. Quite the opposite, I have experienced many of these congregations partnering with us in ministry! I came to faith at a Messianic congregation and have regularly attended and worshipped at Messianic congregations in the decade following, and I know numerous other staff members with Jews for Jesus who are members of Messianic congregations. Does it make sense that any of us would tie ourselves to a movement we are not part of?
Regarding the idea that Jews for Jesus is against Messianic congregations, let me simply share some facts with you:
- We often refer new Jewish believers to Messianic congregations in their areas, and we often ask Messianic congregations to help follow up on contacts who respond to our evangelistic campaigns. It's not just new believers either ... I have brought a number of Jewish people who didn't believe in Y'shua to Messianic congregations.
- Over the years Jews for Jesus has given numerous financial grants to Messianic organizations and congregations to support their endeavors. I know of a Messianic congregation that received such a grant in order to help with the purchase of a building.
- We have planted a number of Messianic congregations ourselves. At least one of these is still thriving. How do I know? I attended there for over a year.
Does it make any sense that we would do these things if we were against Messianic congregations?
I'm going to close now with the full text of the LCJE-NA Appeal to Unity. Whether you are involved with the Messianic congregational movement or not, I urge you to read the document carefully. Remember that while Jews for Jesus is a member of the network represented by the LCJE, we are only one organization, albeit an organization in agreement with the affirmations and concerns expressed in the document.
An Appeal for Unity
August 1-2, 2006, in San Antonio
As disciples of Messiah Jesus, our highest priority is to be transformed into His image even as we proclaim the Gospel first to the Jewish people and also to the nations in love and in unity. We rejoice with the psalmist in the hope of brothers dwelling together, and serving together, in unity. The LCJE—NA is a network of congregations, organizations and individuals engaged in Jewish evangelism. We seek a broader coalition with the messianic congregational movement recognizing that obstacles to such unity have been erected by some both within and without our constituency. Therefore we present this initiative toward greater unity in order that the Good News of Messiah may be communicated more effectively. As members of the LCJE—NA, meeting in San Antonio, April 18, 2007, wish to express our affirmation of the messianic congregational movement as well as some of our concerns.
- We praise God for the growth of the messianic congregational movement and believe that it witnesses to the faithfulness of God to preserve a believing remnant among the people of Israel.
- We thank God that the existence of messianic congregations is a visible and identifiable expression of Jewish faith in the Messiah and believe that they serve as a powerful force to counteract the ever-present tendency toward the assimilation of the Jewish people.
- We thank God that messianic congregations help to preserve and transmit Jewish identity and heritage to the next generation of Jewish believers and believe that they are especially suited to fight against anti-Semitism within the Church and the world.
- We praise the God of Israel that messianic congregations serve in the important task of making the Church more sensitive to the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewishness of the New Testament and believe that they provide a bridge to promote understanding between the Jewish people and the larger Christian community.
Therefore we support the messianic congregational movement and pray that God would bless it with strength and growth to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
- We view with concern that some believe in the possibility of a right relationship with God apart from a conscious personal confession in this lifetime of Jesus as Messiah and Lord.
- We view with concern that some non-Jews believe that they can become better believers or deepen their spirituality by converting to messianic Judaism or by adopting certain rabbinic practices that are non-biblical.
- We view with concern that some within the messianic movement are not properly emphasizing active Jewish outreach.
- We view with concern that some within the messianic movement inaccurately accuse the evangelical community of engaging in pagan practices.
Therefore we encourage the messianic congregational movement to prayerfully consider our concerns and to continue toward transformation into the image of Messiah Jesus.
Having expressed our affirmations and concerns, we call upon messianic congregations and the entire body of Messiah to do the following:
- Train and equip its members to sensitively evangelize the Jewish people wherever they are.
- Encourage Jewish believers to retain, cultivate and nourish their Jewish identity.
- Teach and promote the biblical mandate for non-Jewish believers to provoke the Jewish people to desire Jesus as their Messiah by their holiness and godly conduct and by proclaiming the Good News.
- Denounce any expression of anti-Semitism and reject unequivocally both the theology that teaches that God has rejected the Jewish people and the theology that Jewish people may find acceptance with God apart from faith in Jesus.
Above all, we call upon Jewish and Gentile believers to join in humility and mutual respect for the various expressions within the Body of Messiah as a sign of the truth of the Good News of Jesus that the world may know Him and the One who sent Him.