Jews in Christian Churches
By Daniel Juster

The "Road to Jerusalem" is a new ministry under Coach Bill McCartney's leadership (formerly the head of Promise Keepers). This ministry is absolutely committed to stand with Messianic Jews and foster the salvation of the Jewish people.

An amazing dialogue between Messianic Jews and Christians was recently pulled together by Coach Bill McCartney and Raleigh Washington. Most of the Jewish participants in this dialogue were in the mainstream of the Messianic Jewish congregational movement. Some did not represent that movement but were Jews in Christian churches. A discussion ensued concerning God's intended destiny for Jewish believers and whether or not this destiny could be fulfilled in Christian churches. This conversation had a refreshing, friendly and mature tone. The issue revolved around Romans 11:29 where Paul speaks of the Jewish people in general, "Though they are enemies of the Gospel for your sake, they are beloved and elect for the sake of the Fathers, for the gifts and call of God are irrevocable." We sometimes forget the enormous gain and consensus that has developed in Christian and Messianic Jewish circles. All agreed that Jews who believe in Jesus are still Jews and part of the destiny and irrevocable call of the Jewish people. This is wonderful and amazing! There was not the same unity on the issue of just what that call entails and even less unity between the two groups of Jewish believers on whether or not that call can be fulfilled within a Gentile church.

The Debate: Are Messianic Jews to only be in Messianic Jewish Congregations?

I personally have not found a biblical requirement that Jews be only in Messianic Jewish Congregations and not Christian Churches. In the case of Antioch in Acts and in other congregations planted in the Roman world we see congregations including Jew and Gentile. However, this was before the development of Christian (Gentile) cultures. (While local expressions are varied, there is only one universal Body of the Messiah made up of Jews and Gentiles.)

In our dialogue, some passionately argued that unless Messianic Jews are in Messianic Jewish congregations (which include both Jews and Gentiles as members) the Jews will assimilate and no longer play a part with the Jewish people.

The Jews in Christian churches argued that they still identified as Jews and were called to such churches to bring a Jewish presence and seasoning.

The response to this was to note that this would cause our children to be raised in primarily non-Jewish cultural contexts where they would not identify as part of their people. It was pointed out that none of the children or grandchildren of famous Jewish Christians of yesteryear were sitting at the table for this discussion. Where are they? God has promised to preserve Israel as a distinct people. Should we not see that without a distinct culture there is no distinct people? We should cooperate with God's heart of preservation. Indeed, assimilation is a real issue, for by natural population growth from the first century there should be hundreds of thousands of Jewish believers today, even in spite of persecution and the Holocaust. We have lost millions of Jews to assimilation. Beyond this, if we want to see a people movement for the Gospel in the Jewish community, we must be communities that are Jewish in culture where that culture is not inconsistent with Scripture. It is an axiom of missions today, and missionaries are so taught, that the most effective way to reach people is to establish Gospel movements within a culture.

The rejoinder was that we can maintain Jewish culture in our families and as individuals without being in Messianic Jewish congregations.

The response was that Jewish life is a communal corporate matter and not just individual. No doubt the Gentile Christian participants found our inter-Jewish dialogue fascinating. However, I would like to try a different approach.

Jewish Calling and Dual Upbringings

The question is how can we live out the conviction that Jews who follow Jesus are still called to live and identify as Jews? How do we foster a powerful movement for Yeshua in the Jewish community? While living in Israel does not solve all the issues, it certainly gives us a head start since we live in a Jewish nation, speak Hebrew and celebrate biblical feasts as a national culture. However Jews who live outside of Israel are also important. If we are still part of the gifts and call of God to the Jewish people, and we are to be a distinct people, then we have to see the impossibility of being a distinct people without a distinct culture. The all encompassing culture of the great mass of churches has Jewish biblical roots, but is not culturally Jewish. Worship is not in Hebrew. Musical styles, celebrations, language, foods, and mental patterns simply are not Jewish. Christian cultures have developed over many centuries by the creative appropriation of Scripture and creativity in Christian peoples. From the hymns of Bach and Wesley, to the powerful Jesus-centered liturgy of historic churches, to the joyful carols of Christmas, we find wonderful and biblically rooted cultures, but not a culture that is Jewish. If we raise our children in these churches, they will tend to feel at home in a Christian culture but less so in a Jewish cultural context. Thus the primary answer to the preservation of the Jewish identity of Jewish believers has been from congregations whose cultural expression and life is Jewish. It is shallow to not face how pervasive cultural influence is in the formation of persons. So I am fully a supporter of Messianic Jewish congregations linked in unity with biblical Christian churches. I have given 33 years to this movement. I do also have a deep and rich Christian background, so I can understand the value of Christian cultures.

The Possibility for Jews in Christian Churches

There is another alternative which has remained largely theoretical. It is anticipated in the writings of Methodist theologian Soulen. He and Orthodox theologian Wyschograd maintain that the Church must fully repudiate replacement theology (that the Church has replaced Israel in the plan of God). However this repudiation can not be complete unless the pastors of churches teach their baptized Jewish members that they are called to live and identify as Jews. Otherwise those who want Jews to believe in Jesus would be working toward the elimination of a distinct Jewish nation. Now if the Church would do this, we could see a change. This would mean that Jewish members of churches would be raising their children with a dual cultural experience. This is a difficult task, as children of missionary parents know. They grow up in a foreign culture and are very integrated in it by language and cultural experience, usually much more than their parents. Yet in the parents' home and by visits to the country of origin, they also are integrated in the culture of their parents. While such children may have identity issues, many find themselves deeply enriched for the experience.

Jews who believe in Jesus have a biblical-cultural mandate to be Jewish. For it to happen, it would be crucial that pastoral leadership in the churches embrace the mandate as Soulen describes it in his great book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology. It will not happen without strong church support. It also would entail that the Jewish believers be in an area where there is a significant Jewish population so they can connect to Messianic Congregations in the area and to Jewish community activities. Learning Hebrew, Jewish worship, Jewish feast celebrations, preparing children for Bar Mitzvah and Jewish weddings are just a few of the patterns to be established. Integration into the Jewish community on the part of anointed Jewish believers is important in producing a people movement. To do this in a way that is not shallow is a tremendous challenge. Discipleship of new Jewish believers who come to faith through the witness of these churches, in their call as Jews, will be another challenge. This is part of basic discipleship for Jewish believers.

I would urge all pastors to read Soulen and to take responsibility for encouraging the Jewish calling of your Jewish members. I would urge all Jewish believers in Christian Churches, to seriously embrace the irrevocable calling to be part of the Jewish people and to live a Jewish life. If a family can do this, the children will have an identity with the Jewish nation and an appreciation of the Christian culture of their upbringing as well. The jury is still out as to whether or not this can be done. What is clear, however, is that Jewish disciples of Yeshua are called to live and identify as part of their people. To do this in a church context that is mostly not Jewish will take tremendous commitment and leadership. Unless it can be done, the Messianic Jewish congregation will be the only real choice for Jewish cultural integrity and preservation.

By Daniel Juster


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

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Comments:
10:44 07Jul05 Saundra -
What spiritual insight. I have a precious Jewish family that fellowshops at Grace Family. He blows the shofar every week during worship service as well as on feast days and explains the connection to Yeshua. We enjoy everything we learn from him. Thanks for this wonderful article . I know this is very important and it's good to see your thoughts on it. I agree.

13:29 07Jul05 Lou Vasquez -
I found this to be a very interesting article. I would only go further as to state that just as it is the Churches responsibility to pour out the Ruach Hakodesh upon the Jewish people, and re-anoint them as High Priests (Luke 10:34) (Exod 29:21). So too, I believe it is the Messianic's responsibility to return the Church to her roots and understand that the influence of pagan symbols and culture has separated them from the fullness of God's blessing and anointing. For if the feasts are to be observed in the Messianic age, why are they shunned by the Church today. Surely a culture that reverenced God for some 4 thousand years out weighs a slightly skewed culture of 2. Since I have shed my 'Christian' upbringing and have returned to my heritage, I have found an unbelievable relationship with the Father and an anointing that I had only previously read about.

22:15 07Jul05 Marc Handelsman -
I am a Messianic Jew who attends both a Messianic congregation and Baptist church. I've found that to be a good balance. The Lord has allowed me to retain my Jewishness. Keep up the great work you're doing.

11:23 09Jul05 Walter -
Why aren't we asking the question about believing Jews who attend synagogues that are not Messianic? What better place to begin to cultivate relationships and expose our children to the rich Jewish faith and culture.

10:16 21Jul05 Susan C Clark -
I have been happy in born-again churches since I got saved at 19 yrs old, but G-d called me into the Messianic Jewish movement as my mother was all Jewish (died when I was 21). At first, I didn't quite understand why God would do this to me. Yet I have found it to be the most fulfilling and enjoyable experience of my whole life and now know that G-d has called me to His Chosen People also. I strongly urge Jewish christians to connect with their identity as Jews and become involved in Messianic Synagogues. Thanks for your support!

05:20 26Jul05 Dan Benzvi -
The fact that Gentiles outnumber Jews in most Messianic Jewish congregations at a ratio of about 80/20 flies in the face of your article.

13:29 04Aug05 Gavriel Ogugua -
Wonderful article from you as always! I believe that the church [including Messianic believers] should start praying for the fulfillment of the prophesy of Zephaniah 3:9. I believe that this pure language that is spoken about will include the restoration of the Biblical feasts of the Lord by the Christian Churches. I also believe that Zephaniah 3:10 will trigger off this restoration reality. Therefore the entire church [body of Yeshua] should also start praying for the ingathering of Yahweh's dispersed from beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. That is the missing link!!

13:23 14Aug05 Kalev -
Shalom Aleichem! I am a Messianic Jew, who believes in Messianic congregations. But, when I go to them, I'm usually in the minority. Why, is it that something that was meant for our people is becoming Gentile dominated. Isn't this what happened to the first century Church?

11:29 18Sep05 William French -
This article leaves the impression that Jews are "assimilating" into the Christian Churches rather than into the cultural surrounding them. Most Christian Churches do in fact reflect the culture that they are immersed, to some degree or another. I would suggest that while your article gives an additional need to the Christian Churches, it represents assimilation wrongly. Complete assimilation has always involved the Jew leaving the ways of God and becoming like the nations around them in ungodly ways. This clearly is not the same with Jews joining Christian Churches that teach godliness. Furthermore, teaching godliness within a congregation that has a Jewish Cultural identity would be a great improvement to our current condition as well. We still have a long way to go in seeing solid disciples of Yeshua conform to his godliness. Christian Churches are still doing a better job of this if only slightly better, with some Churches taking extra care with the Jewish members they receive. In light of this warm reception of Jewish people into some Churches and while some Jews still express a sense of rejection present in some Messianic Jewish congregations, I would think that assimilation is still a few categories down on our priority list. I find it ironic those organizations that find 2nd and 3rd generation Jewish members of Christian Churches to be non-Jews would be asking where those Jews are today in terms of Jewish identity. In light of that level of rejection why would they return to their Jewish roots? We have much work to do!

13:25 19Apr06 Rich Hagen -
Sounds like the discussion that took place with you guys was like the early apostles' discussion in Jerusalem about circumcision. We need more of that in the true faith and grace of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, our Messiah. What can be said about Paul's comment about there being no distinction between Jew and Gentile, someone please help me with this. Are we to separate and have our Messianic congregations and Gentile congregations. Isn't our divine task to provoke Jews to jealousy?

11:33 08Nov06 David -
I am currently reading the book, Our Father Abraham by Dr Marvin Wilson, and am only on the third chapter. Thus far I am struck with the theme that Christians, by the mercy and grace of G-d have been joined to the root of the olive tree, see Romans chapter 11. Your article in speaking of assimilation comes at this issue from a slightly different but thought-provoking perspective. In my own local church, there seems to be little interest in Jewish roots of Christianity, or perhaps a lack of awareness of church history and the sad affects of divorcing roots that occurred in the early centuries. I am impressed with the God-fearers and would like to see Christian education move its adherents in that direction for in Yeshua there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free. I pray in general that we may become opened to gain an appreciation and respect for the faith of our fathers -- all of them.

16:18 10Mar08 Yvonne -
I am deeply affected by the article and subsequent comments. Where to start? Still trying to find an online resource for Jews brought up Christian and desiring to bring up their children with belief and commitment to their heritage/Jewish roots.