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.