I am burdened about the destiny of 100,000 to 200,000 Jews in the Churches of North America. Do they continue to maintain any serious Jewish identity and transmission of that identity to their children? Sometimes those in the Messianic Jewish congregations have written off these Jews in churches. However, we need to ask if God has a special purpose for them.

The Context

There are three clear contexts in which Jewish followers of Yeshua live their lives. There is first the context of congregations where the majority of members are Jewish and where Jewish life is fostered in some significant way, either Israeli life, Jewish tradition or other points of cultural identification. In Israel, this is the norm. The community of believers is growing steadily in our homeland. Second, is the context of Messianic congregations where the majority of members are not Jewish, but where a Jewish minority continues to identify with Jewish life. The Gentile majority joins them in this life to varying extents. This is by far the largest number of congregations in the Messianic Movement in the Diaspora and the majority of Messianic Jews seeking to live a Jewish life are in these congregations. Third, are Jews in churches who may connect to some aspects of Jewish life but not necessarily connect to Jewish life in any significant way. What is the will of God for Jews in this category?

A Hidden Replacement Theology

To answer this question, I think it is well to reflect on the words of Michael Wyschogrod, one of today's most famous Orthodox Jewish theologians. He affirms the great change in many church bodies in repudiating replacement theology (that the Church has replaced Israel as God's people), but then states that this repudiation is only partial, though most church bodies are not aware that this is so. Most churches, but especially Evangelical churches, are delighted when Jews become followers of Yeshua and join their congregations. Yet, these churches do not realize that their cultural patterns lead Jews toward full assimilation into Gentile Christianity (the cultures of the Christianity of the nations) and away from Jewish life.

I have written that much of this culture was creatively developed in accord with the spirit of the Bible. It is wonderful and worthy. However these church cultures, even if pro-Israel, do not really foster Jewish life and intergenerational transmission. Wyschogrod points out with great wisdom, that the full evangelistic efforts of churches in bringing Jews to belief in Jesus would lead to the disappearance of Jews as a distinct people. Even pro-Israel people can hold to a view where Israel ceases to be when the Jews fully convert at the end of this Age. This is replacement theology again, though those who subscribe to it do so unknowingly. The Jews disappear and the Church alone continues as God's covenant people. So Wyschogrod makes an amazing assertion. The Church will not have fully repented of its replacement theology until it teaches its baptized Jews that they are responsible to live a Jewish life based on Torah. It is not that Wyschogrod desires Jews to believe in Yeshua, far from it. However, he realizes the logic that anything less is still replacement theology, since it does not really value the ongoing continuity of the Jewish people. One is amazed to see that a growing number of Christian Bible Scholars ,from Harvard and Yale to Cambridge, believe this is the apostolic biblical position.

What shall we say of Wyschogrod's argument? Our light for evaluation is based on Romans 11:29, where Paul argues that the gifts and call of God to Israel are irrevocable and Romans 11:5 where he calls Jewish disciples of Yeshua the saved remnant of Israel. Therefore, if we want to see the growth of identifiable Jewish disciples of Yeshua, and do not desire to see Israel diminished, it would seem that Wyschogrod's argument is airtight. I would note that Jewish life rooted in Torah must be by application in accord with the spirit of the New Covenant. All must be re-applied in Yeshua.

Jews in culturally Gentile Churches

There is nothing theologically wrong with Jews being part of congregations with majority Gentile populations. However, we often view our present experience as if the first century was much like our current situation. In Acts 14 we read that Barnabas and Paul ordained elders in every city where they planted congregations. This was a short time after they preached the gospel in those cities. We ask how could new believers become elders? We forget that the core of the new congregations were Jews and proselytes who were already discipled to a godly life in the synagogues.

The synagogue was the preparation for the New Covenant synagogues he planted. Therefore, I believe that New Covenant congregations were closer in culture to Messianic Congregations where Jewish life in Yeshua was still culturally natural. Two thousand years of cultural development has now given us a vastly different situation. Even pro-Israel churches provide little or no discipleship in Jewish calling and life.

I believe there will be a massive change in the church world where the Church will desire that their Jewish members not assimilate. I wrote a little tract on this some years ago encouraging the churches to develop Jewish chavurah (fellowship) groups, as part of the larger church, to foster Jewish life and Jewish involvement in the Jewish community. Jewish life, after all, is a corporate thing. I have met pastors who have said they wanted to do this, but their Jewish members were happy in Christian culture and had no interest in living as a Jew. The pastors did not know how to respond to this disinterest.

We need to respond by noting that Jewish life is not a matter of subjective preference (relativism), but is declared in Romans 11:29 as willed by God for Jewish believers. The scriptures speak clearly: This is God's gifts and call! It is the example of Jewish believers in the book of Acts.

We understand that Jews come to faith in Gentile church contexts because Gentile believers in Yeshua have demonstrated the reality of life in Yeshua. This is wonderful. However, there is more. Imagine if the churches really taught their Jewish members their covenant responsibility to remain and live as Jews and still be a part of their people. The Messianic movement would then stretch to include such believers and help to train them in Jewish life. Some would come into the Messianic congregational movement, some would be part of Jewish fellowship groups in the churches, and some would even come to a point of openness to hear the call to make and move to Israel. Imagine if just 10% of Jews in churches (or especially their children) in America recovered their Jewish identity and made aliyah to Israel. This would double or triple the body of believers in Israel.

Some of my Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters do not have faith for the future of Jewish followers of Yeshua in the churches. Yet, some have already made their way back to their Jewish calling, even to moving to Israel with effectiveness here. I believe we must have faith for Jewish believers in churches and lovingly reach out to them. However, I also believe we will only be successful if there is a massive outreach to pastors so they will understand the issues. This has not been done. This will require a great move of the Holy Spirit. I believe that focused prayer on this can do wonders.

By Daniel Juster

Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
Name Display my name ?
Yes No
Email Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comments.
16:03 02Jan06 David Peters -
Yes Jewish believers should live a Jewish life. I do get concerned though when we talk about what that means. If it means being more like Orthodox Judaism and placing ourselves more in that "culture" I think we have to be careful. Most Jewish believers that I know came to the Lord through supernatural experiences, where they had incredible encounters with God by His Spirit. I think we need a Messianic Judaism that is infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, and that lifts up Yeshua. I sincerely believe that such a move of God will win many Jewish people to Him!

18:06 02Jan06 Andre Tavares -
I am the third generation of a family that knows very well the problem that this article deals with. My father grew up knowing his Jewish origin, but this had no value to him, my grandmother didn't give her Jewish name to her children, and was discouraged to do it. At last, they were not Jews anymore, they were Christians. Even now, when I belong to a Messianic congregation and we have some acquaintance in the matter, he (my father) says: "I'm not a Jew, I'm a Baptist. What can I do? I was born Baptist". It is interesting to notice that there is some conscience of pertaining to something. But, nobody is born Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian, it's an option, a choice or an education. You become all this, whichever your origin. At least, we can state that no one is born Christian (maybe one can be born predestinated to be Christian!), you become a Christian when you are born again (yes!) in Yeshua. However, if you were born a Jew, you are still a Jew even if you don't have a Jewish education or don't follow any branch of Judaism, even so you are a Jew. I will return to my point here: my family has some conscience of pertain, but the hidden replacement theology had done its job. The notion of belonging - that is too strong on a Jewish soul - was redirected, and turned into a strange sense of Gentile-Christian culture belonging. I don't know about the most of you, but I feel discomfort when I think about this. We have the Cristianos Nuevos or Marranos, the children of Inquisition, and now the assimilated Jews that carry a profuse number of hyphened-Jews, and among them are the "Baptist-Jews", etc. Sometimes I'm not sure about what I am.
Nevertheless, to know that the leadership of the Messianic movement is worried about this matter, my matter, encourages me to persist, to keep walking to home, my home. I am not alone in the way to teshuvah.

22:24 02Jan06 anonymous -
Very interesting...what about the view that gentiles should also be Torah-observant? Main question, though, is what about those of us who were never raised as Jews in the first place? Wouldn't we be taking on a culture that was, although our birthright, never really ours? Wouldn't that be just as artificial as Gentiles doing this? And isn't much of what constitutes Jewish culture today far, far removed from biblical Judaism?

03:34 03Jan06 Leah Miiros -
Yes, I fully agree with this article.
I believe that gentile Christians should honour and love the genuine background that the Jews bring to the body of Christ as they understand who the Messiah actually is. This ought to be very natural and the Gentile believers should be grateful for the invaluable contribution of the Jewish believers.
Also the Jews themselves should humbly understand and accept the awsome and unique position and task they have in the body of Christ- and as Brother Juster says - they never lost that position nor task.
Let's pray that the Holy Spirit could open EVERBODY'S eyes to see the RICHES prepared for the entire world, as the different members in the Body of Christ find the unique giftings and roles to build the Body with.

11:11 03Jan06 Dorothy Cutter -
What a clear, concise, informative article this is! These are fine lines of distinction; yet the paths we chose lead to vastly different outcomes. How this needs to be spoken into the Body of Christ again and again until it takes root for half right is insufficient.

22:24 03Jan06 Marc Handelsman -
Yes, I believe G-d has a special purpose for Jewish Believers in churches. Some Messianic Jews are bridging the gap between the church and the Jewish community. There is a growing alliance between Christian and Jewish Zionists. G-d fearing Christians are stalwart supporters of Israel.

11:26 07Jan06 Shirley Madearis -
This is first time I've sent a comment on any of the articles since I've been receiving the newsletters. It's so important for Jewish believers to not lay aside their way of life that God gave them since they embraced faith in Yeshua. What a loss that would be for them and us Gentile believers. It's all part of being that "one new man" church that Paul spoke of. Thank you for your articles. They're so enriching to me and keeps me soul searching.

14:08 11Jan06 Peter de Boer -
I will prayer for this, and to the Holy Spirit to open the door for more Messianic Ministries and Congregations.

11:55 16Jan06 anonymous -
Dr. Juster's article, "Do We Want the Jews to Disappear?" is imaginative and well-intentioned. Obviously, his answer to his own question is "Yes, we do!" I am puzzled, however, at his idea (apparently picked up from Michael Wyschogrod) that Jewish identity can be formed and nurtured in churches.
For millenia, Jewish identity has been formed and nurtured ONLY in Jewish communities and congregations. From generation to generation, Jewish culture and religious tradition have been passed on in these settings. As far as I know, there is not a single example of a church that been the setting for the generational continuity of Jewish identity (that is, passing down of Jewish identity in at least three generations).
Why suggest a theoretical program when we already have one that has worked so well for so long? The individual and communal identity of Jewish believers in Yeshua will thrive only in Jewish congregations. The task, then, is to form such congregations rather than delegating the work to Christian pastors, however well-meaning they may be.

06:25 21Jan06 Joseph Szyka -
I must say that this article has taught me a lot that will help me put the issues concerning Christian Jews in perspective. I have told many Jews, some Christian and some secular, that The God of Israel wants them back in the land, and if they love The God of Israel then it follows they love His people and the land He has given them. When it is available to move back to, it is an obvious part of His covenant with His people. To reject the land is to reject the giver of it.
I have also shared Ezekiel chapter 20 with them. I long to see them embrace their blessings in their God and the land He has given them. It is plain to those of us that have spiritual eyes to see.
I believe the full revelation and power that God has for us will be unveiled when the Jew and gentiles start melding together in fellowship while the Jews retain and grow into the proper observance of the torah WITHOUT the (traditions of men) bondages that make it terribly more onerous and cumbersome than The God of Israel ever intended it to be. The Lord God of Israel wants His original natural olive branch to be definitely different, distictly identifiable as Jews.

16:49 27Jan06 Tracy Olesen -
I was deeply moved as I read this article. The Lord has prepared my heart over the last 5 years to not only reject the pagan celebrations of my Gentile upbringing but to embrace those of the Torah. Yah has been speaking to me about the fact that we have rejected Y'shua and his very identity and that we are missing out on blessings that we should be receiving. I have been given a prayer assignment by Yah concerning the western church and her replacement theology. I am praying for the Holy Spirit to minister truth and open the eyes that have been blinded by lies. My husband and 3 children and I have been celebrating Shabbat regularly and are so blessed by the peace that fills our home as we honour the Comandments of our God. The task seems utterly impossible at times when I look around me at the body of Y'shua and realize that they have rejected his ethnicity....and His appointed days and feasts. It breaks my heart and yet I am moved to pray for revelation and truth to be poured out over the church globally. Nothing is impossible with God!!!!

00:04 29Jan06 anonymous -
Dr. Juster, Keep seeking the heart of God! I say as a much younger Messianic believer, 'please do not get distracted from this path God has you on'. I treasure your words and am following hard on this path your vision cast light upon. Stay faithful to the end!

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Eitan Shishkoff: The Cloud is Moving
Martin Shoub: A New Life - A New Song
Shani Orfani: Part of the Mosaic
Holly Wallace: For Such a Time as This