When Disagreement Becomes Division

As a worker with Jews for Jesus, I’m not unaccustomed to people disagreeing with what I and my colleagues believe. That disagreement is often angry and hostile, and it’s something that I can often expect to come from our Jewish people when confronted with the Gospel. It hurts when other Jewish people reject me for my belief in Jesus, but it is something that the Messiah himself warned His followers to expect (Matthew 5:11). I understand and accept that. Whether Jewish or Gentile, all of us who follow Jesus should be prepared to be rejected for the sake of the Gospel.

What’s often unexpected – and usually hurts more – is when rejection comes from inside the Body of Messiah, from those you want to count on to understand and uphold you.

I would like to able to say that the unity of the Body of Messiah is what God intended, but I think any honest examination will show that it too often is not. This certainly applies to the sub-segment of the Body known as the Messianic Jewish movement. In last week’s post, Getting Down off the Pedestal, I briefly touched on the subject of immaturity in the Messianic movement. Back in June, in An Appeal to Unity, I described the LCJE’s concerns regarding the direction that some in Messianic movement are taking.

This past week, a local Messianic leader more or less told me that he had been speaking against the ministry of Jews for Jesus due to sharp disagreements he held with our ministry’s stance on Torah observance and celebrating what he termed “pagan holidays.” He reported to me that he would tell anyone who asked that he believed that our ministry was teaching against Scripture, and was telling others not to have anything to do with us.

Now, I am not so naive as to think that there are not those who disagree with our methods of evangelism and our take on issues such as Torah observance and maintaining one’s Jewish identity. I don’t usually have an issue with someone disagreeing with me on these matters, so long as we can speak to one another from positions of mutual respect, and keep the lines of communication open. What saddened me most with this particular brother was how obvious it was that he had – over time – nurtured his grievances within himself until they became matters for division, and matters over which he could force himself to encourage other Messianic Jews to regard us as worthy of contempt.

At this point, I want to once more briefly share a bit of my personal story. I am a Jew who came to believe in Y’shua almost 10 years ago through the ministry of Beth Simcha, a Messianic Jewish Congregation in San Antonio, Texas. Since leaving San Antonio, I have always attended Messianic Jewish congregations. In fact, I presently worship at Temple Aron haKodesh in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I love these congregations – and the wider Messianic Jewish movement – very deeply.

Let me continue explaining why I believe that the division and disunity I've been speaking about hurts the Body so much. I’d like to say that the attitude and rejection by the messianic leader I mentioned earlier was an isolated incident. Sadly, in certain circles of our Messianic movement this kind of rejection has become policy. Since I want to address attitudes rather than individuals, I’ve chosen to refrain from naming names of individuals.

Over the last several years, during our Behold Your God evangelistic campaigns we always approached leaders of Messianic congregations to participate and share the harvest of souls that would result from our evangelism. Many did and enjoyed meeting and accepting the new Jewish people who were seeking to know more.

But to our surprise and dismay, in some of the metropolitan areas of our campaigns the Messianic Leaders went further than just disagreeing with our ministry. These leaders actually wrote letters to the local newspapers in which they not only disassociated themselves from any evangelistic efforts, but also denounced Jews for Jesus publicly. In a similar vein, beginning in 2005 both the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (umbrella organizations of Messianic Jewish congregations) banned Jews for Jesus from participating in their regional and national conferences due to disagreements over Torah observance, Messianic Jewish identity, and other theological issues.

Some in the Messianic movement flatly deny that Jews for Jesus (and to a lesser extent, other Jewish missions) are a part of the movement. One Messianic blogger has gone so far as to label our ministry, “the greatest barrier between Jewish people and the Jewish Messiah.” I think that such a statement raises questions that go far beyond any disagreement with Jews for Jesus. Aside from being questionable as to veracity (what was the greatest barrier 50 years ago? 100? 1,000?), I think it reflects a dim view of God's grace. Neither an individual nor an organization has the power to stop God’s work in the heart of an individual. Many in the Messianic movement have pointed out that the large numbers of Jewish people who have come to believe in Y’shua over the past 30-35 years represent a move of the Holy Spirit. Any serious suggestion that Jews for Jesus -- or any other Jewish mission -- has the ability to stop God’s work from going forward seems to bespeak a rather immature faith.

The Messianic movement is a maturing movement, and not all within the movement seem willing to attempt to make peace before disagreements become division. When this happens, I believe an “us” vs. “them” mentality takes root. This mentality causes serious division in the Body of Messiah, as egos or personal agendas become more important than relating to others as brethren in Messiah. Instead of seeking to work out disagreements, a stance of isolationism is set into motion, i.e., “they don’t agree with us, so let’s not have anything to do with them.” Such an us vs. them mentality seems in stark contrast to the words of the apostle Paul,

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18



It would be wrong for me to allow to stand any idea that the individuals or congregations that I’ve referred to in a critical light represent the whole of the Messianic Jewish movement. Thankfully, they do not even represent a majority. Perhaps the hurt that I feel when someone within the movement chooses to let a disagreement become reason for division is a much sharper hurt because it does NOT represent the attitude of most Messianic Jews I’ve encountered.

A member of a nearby Messianic fellowship comes to mind as an example. This brother has also had disagreements with Jews for Jesus in such areas as Torah observance, keeping kosher, and Messianic Jewish identity. Unlike the Messianic leader I referred to at the beginning of this post, this brother has made a point of seeking out our staff and asking if we can sit down and talk things through. Although we often end up having to agree to disagree, I’ve noticed that our fellowship never suffers. I’m humbled by this man’s willingness to acknowledge that it’s less important for him to be right than it is to relate in manner that reflects our unity in Messiah.

Many leaders in the Messianic movement have come alongside Jews for Jesus as we seek to share the Gospel with our Jewish people. I’ve already mentioned the numerous Messianic leaders who partnered with our ministry on various Behold Your God evangelistic outreaches. On a personal level, Randy Shapiro of Beth Simcha not only ministered to me and encouraged me while I was a member of his congregation, but has continued to encourage and support me in full-time ministry. The leaders of Messianic congregations I have attended since leaving Beth Simcha have also been supportive of Jews for Jesus, and have encouraged the members of their congregation to be involved with us. Leaders such as these, who are able to recognize the value and need for what our ministry does, and who aren’t willing to let disagreements become divisions, represent a maturity that I can only pray we will see more of in the Messianic movement.

The Psalmist wrote,

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)



I pray that the day we in the Messianic movement truly live out these words is fast approaching.

10 comments:

Derek Leman said...

Chad:

It is legitimate to voice concerns about ministry policies and also about doctrinal issues that are problematic.

I would prefer, for example, to see a Christian friend in a church that does not teach something like prosperity theology.

So, if some of us Messianic leaders feel JFJ has an inadequate stance on continuing Jewish identity or if we dislike some of your methods of evangelism, what are we to do? Are we to speak well of you? Is it permissible to voice concerns while respecting JFJ as a Christian ministry that is trying to do a good thing?

I'd like to hear your response. Diagreement does need to lead to a parting of ways at times.

Derek Leman
derek4messiah.wordpress.com

Bryan Z said...

I think it is legitimate to voice concerns, however I personally think, and this goes for the church as well as Messianic Judaism, that our disagreements appear larger than they maybe are.

The way we each walk out our faith (i.e. things like, Shabbat, holidays, etc.) seem to be the things that we can disagree about the most. If we can each acknowledge that nobody has arrived and has every answer yet, and we know that we are all united in Messiah because of a saving faith, then from their I think we can (or at least should be able to) come together in a way that Chad described, not necessarily agreeing in the end, but not considering the other side with such contempt as to make them appear totally lost.

I think that is the part that hurts. When I read a blog post like that on the popular Christian blog Pyromaniacs, called Is Messianic Judaism a good idea", I feel hurt because the implication of the article is that it is a bad idea, and by bad the implication seems to be either inferior or lost. I feel at that point rejected not only by the world, but by the Body as well. If the article would indicate something, anything positive about MJ, at least show us as not lost, then I could handle the disagreement. However the label of not good or bad, without qualification is something that is in and of itself problematic.

For example, not getting enough sleep is bad, and jumping out of an airplane without a parachute is also bad, but a much different kind of bad. I think the same is true for the disagreements in the body, and I think if we qualify them, then I think a sense of unity and co-respect can remain.

I think even if it leads to a parting of the ways, I think what Chad writes about Messianic leaders writing to the press against JFJ seems to be misguided.

I heard one Messianic Rabbi I respect greatly once give a message on unity and he said that the non-believing Jewish community whether Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, or secular all are unified on one thing; that being that Yeshua is not the Messiah, and that if we cannot be unified as a body of believers then how can we expect to reach them with our message of faith.

This is a subject that is very dear to me, for I think it is something that harms the body greatly. We can disagree, and we are sure to, especially as Jews, but we should do so in a respectful manner.

You can disagree with me if you like. B"H

Chad said...

Derek,

Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comments.

I don't believe my post called into question the legitimacy of questioning doctrinal issues that one finds problematic, or the policies of any particular ministry (although I am presuming you are referring in this case specifically to Jews for Jesus).

What are you or other Messianic leaders to do when you feel Jews for Jesus has an inadequate stance on continuing Jewish identity or when you dislike some of the methods of evangelism that Jews for Jesus uses? In my opinion, exactly the opposite of what some in the Messianic movement have chosen to do: Dialogue. Communicate. Relate. Continue to find ways to come together on what unites us rather than allowing disagreements to dictate whatever relationship may exist. When one’s response to a disagreement is to slam the door in the other party’s face, it doesn’t allow much room to avoid disagreements becoming divisions. I think I have been pretty clear that I think divisions like these hurt the entire Body of Messiah

Is it permissible to voice concerns? Derek, no one needs to be given permission to voice concerns, but I think that the nature of how such concerns are voiced can speak volumes. Is it acceptable to you that the concerns you refer to are used by some to foster an atmosphere of hostility and contempt towards Jews for Jesus? In such a context, it’s hard for me to take you seriously when you speak of "respecting Jews for Jesus." Among the circles of the Messianic movement that my original post referred to, I see little evidence of any such respect, and even less do I see much by way of acknowledgement that we are "trying to do a good thing." Rather, I see much disparagement of Jewish missions in general, and of Jews for Jesus specifically.

I don’t expect that everyone in the Messianic movement is going to get along with each other so well that we’ll all want to sit down to a Shabbat dinner together, although you’d certainly be welcome in my home on Shabbat, Derek. My wife and I love to have guests, and she makes a great pot roast. What I do expect is that we speak to one another and about one another (especially in public) in ways which reflect that we ARE brothers and sisters in Messiah, whether we agree on everything or not.

Your questions have raised some questions that I’d like to direct to you, Derek. Why would I want to direct a new Jewish believer in Y’shua to a Messianic congregation if I had every reason to believe that they would hear hostile and possibly slanderous comments about our ministry that will probably end up damaging the work that Jews for Jesus is doing to see the Kingdom grow? Should a disagreement I might have with a Messianic leader over doctrines or issues such as Jewish identity be sufficient reason for me to withhold any mention of their congregation, and thus the opportunity for a new Jewish believer to worship and fellowship with other Jewish believers?

Chad said...

Bryan,

Good point regarding disagreements sometimes seeming larger than they are. One of the guys who discipled me used to describe this as "majoring on the minors."

Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, tells a story about being called in to mediate between two factions at a church. Things got very heated, and Sande describes how the hostility being flung by both sides at each other grew and grew, up until the point where a member of Sande's team interjected and asked both factions something along the lines of, "where does Jesus come into this conversation?"

The room got very silent, and then both factions sheepishly confessed that they were not acting in a Godly fashion. Following this, everyone present began sincerely looking for a redemptive conclusion to things.

I read the article you provide a link for when you posted about it on your own blog. I had so much on my plate the last 2 weeks or so that I never did get a chance to comment on it, but I share the same hurt you express. It's been a good reminder to me about choosing words carefully. Criticism can be a good thing, especially when believers use it as a means to build one another up (and by extension, to build up the Body of Messiah). Criticism can be a very divisive thing when it's used to tear down or marginalise others. No wonder James described the tongue as "a restless evil and full of deadly poison." (James 3:8)

Derek Leman said...

Chad:

Some things are simply unacceptable to me. For example, I am so opposed to prosperity theology that I would warn someone to stay away from a chuch that teaches it. I use that as an example we perhaps would agree on. Yet the prosperity church quite possibly teaches the gospel. Still, I would not work with them or suggest that other people attend them.

In the same way, I cannot endorse the methods of JFJ, which in my opinion do not respect God's commandment for Jews to remain faithful to the covenant.

In the same way, many at JFJ cannot endorse my methods at Tikvat David in Atlanta. For many at JFJ (not all) it is legalim to suggest that God's covenant through Moses is still in effect.

Thus, we have a division and it is not trivial. I did not expect you, Chad, to refer people to my congregation. Unless one of us changes our mind about this crucial issue, our works are incompatible. Division is not always bad. Lashon hara (speaking ill of another with impure motive) is always bad.

Let me know if I have misstated something or misunderstood.

Derek Leman
derek4messiah.wordpress.com

Bryan Z said...

Derek,

Even though you cannot endorse the methods of JFJ, that is one thing. If however you then were to start writing letters to the local papers and complaining about JFJ, that would then be taking that disagreement into the public space and that is not good for anyone, it certainly does not bring glory to G-d. I think that might be more what Chad is getting at (correct me if I am wrong). I think the fact, for example that you and JFJ don't agree on crucial issues is one thing, but to take that disagreement public is to smear the entire movement.

If I could share a personal story maybe it would spread some light on the issue. Before I came to faith, I was working at a bagel shop, baking bagels (a good job for a Jewish boy!). I baked at night along side a Christian, who was from a more Pentecostal background. He would witness to me about Yeshua. In the morning another person, who was a Jewish believer (but not Messianic. This was the early 80's and Messianic Judaism was not as well known as it is today). He was from a different church and he would witness to me as I drove with him delivering the bagels. I found that they both had some serious disagreements with each other, from my discussions with them. One day I said to both of them that they are trying to convince me of something that they themselves cannot agree on, and thus how can I be persuaded in this, if you two can not even agree. I think that hit them hard and that they discussed that among themselves and decided that it would be best to leave the parts that they disagree out of the witnessing and focus on the core of their faith that they shared, that being the message of salvation.

I think that type of sensitivity to each other, even though you might disagree, and disagree on some big and important issues, but issues that can be kept out of the public marketplace, and are disagreements in the area of discipleship and how we walk as believers in Messiah and not necessarily part of how we become believers.

Chad said...

Derek,

When you speak of "the methods" of Jews for Jesus you cannot endorse, to which method do you object? Proclaiming that Y'shua is the Messiah? Weekly public bible studies? Regular personal visitation with Jewish people for the purpose of bible study and discipleship?

It seems that you are possibly using the word "method" when you really mean "doctrine." If that is not the case, then please clarify what you really mean.

Your opinion regarding whether or not Jews for Jesus disrespects God's command for Jews to obey their covenant with him is well-documented in the writings of many others who favor the PMJ (post-missionary Messianic Judaism) that you promote on your own blog. I think it's been equally well-documented that our ministry does not reject that covenant but rather rejects rabbinic judaism, which we believe to be unfaithful to the heart of Torah and the heart of that covenant. PMJ would have us believe that rabbinic judaism is the lense through which our faith must be viewed, and that any other lense is inferior and inauthentic. What I and my colleagues reject is not the covenant, but the yoke that we believe rabbinic judaism has placed upon our Jewish people.

In my opinion, that is the crux of the matter. It is a disagreement on the nature of how that covenant is honored. Is it a weighty disagreement? Yes. Is the weight of such a disagreement grounds to completely sever relationships with fellow believers in Y'shua, and in doing so creating a division? I do not believe so. I believe to do so dishonors Scriptural injunction to seek unity and peace, as I've indicated in my original post. I believe to willingly create such division ignores and disrespects the bond that we share as members of the Body of Messiah, as Paul indicated in one of his letters to the Corinthians:

"For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. I Cor 3:4-7

With respect, I do not agree with the definition of lashon hara you have provided. It implies that speaking ill of others would be acceptable with "pure motives."
Traditional Jewish teaching on the subject, however, forbids speaking ill of others no matter what the motive. The Judaism 101 website's article on lashon hara, for example, has this to say regarding lashon hara:

"The gravest of these sins of tale-bearing is lashon ha-ra (literally, "the evil tongue"), which involves discrediting a person or saying negative things about a person, even if those negative things are true. Indeed, true statements are even more damaging than false ones, because you can't defend yourself by disproving the negative statement! Some sources indicate that lashon ha-ra is equal in seriousness to murder, idol worship, and incest and adultery (the only three sins that you may not violate even to save a life)."

Chad said...

Bryan,

You've definitely captured a good deal of where I'm coming from.

Coming out of a Messianic congregation, I had close friends who just about plotzed when I told them I would be working with Jews for Jesus. It's been encouraging to me, over the years, to see some of their negative attitudes change, as both they and I work at focusing on what unites us.

During one of my tours with the Liberated Wailing Wall, one of my teammates was came from a congregation which leaned toward the style of Messianic Judaism which our brother Derek promotes. I had many long conversations with this teammate over the 18 months we served the Lord together, and although there were MANY things we disagreed on (and still do), both took the stance that no matter what our doctrinal or theological differences might be, they were never so important that we shouldn't be able to fellowship with one another as brothers in Messiah.

Yes ... to publically denounce fellow believers in a public space such as a newspaper is something that I believe ultimately hurts both the Messianic movement and the larger body of Messiah. It most certainly does not bring glory to the Lord. I would feel this to be true whether the denunciation involved Jews for Jesus or someone else.

That there are few in the Messianic movement who seem willing to publically decry such behavior is perhaps an indication that the maturity of the movement is, as I've indicated in previous postings, far less advanced than some would have us believe.

Martin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chad said...

I removed an inordinately lengthy comment by Martin because it had absolutely no relevance to the topic of this post. Martin, if you'd care to address the actual subject of the original post, I'll be glad to let your comment stand.