Is The Messianic Movement Merely Pentecostalism in Jewish Garb?
by Dan Juster, Director, Tikkun Ministries International
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This accusation is raised against some Messianic Jewish congregations. It is directed at those who embrace modern worship styles and gifts of the Spirit, by:
The Messianic Judaism expression is accused of being inauthentic - a Pentecostal Christianity with superficial Jewish garb. Ironically "Pentecost", (the Greek term for Shavuot/Feast of Weeks) refers to the inauguration of the Messianic Jewish community - 120 Jewish disciples receiving flames of Holy Spirit fire in Acts 2:1-4.
The accusation of "Pentecostalism" as used by our critics, vaguely refers to the movement that started at the beginning of the 20th century. It grew out of the healing revivals and holiness movement of the late 19th century, with Methodist roots. The Pentecostals experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and then worked out a theology that cohered with their experience of physical healing, tongues, interpretation and prophecy.
Pentecostals fostered many denominations1. They emphasized exuberant classical hymns, invitations to receive salvation and the baptism of the Spirit and other manifestations like falling in the Spirit. Holiness codes were established - avoiding movies, alcohol and make up; and fostering modesty. When one looks at the Messianic Jewish world, one sees little that looks like classic Pentecostalism. So the critic must have something else in mind when he uses the term.
Roots in the Jesus Movement
The real roots of much of the Messianic Jewish Movement were in the Jesus Movement. This amazing outpouring of the Spirit for evangelism swept millions of young people into the Kingdom in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these new believers were Jewish. They helped formed the nucleus of Messianic Jewish congregations established in the 1970s and 1980s. The Jesus movement developed a whole new style of exhilarated worship led by musicians who were strongly influenced by the newly popular folk/rock music. These forms have since become commonplace world-wide. Initially the Pentecostals largely rejected the Jesus Movement. Over the decades they accepted more and more of its trends, as the charismatic and Jesus movements merged.
In the 1970s, some early leaders of the Messianic Jewish movement consciously embraced the new forms of worship, along with developing Hebraic themes and flavor. Indeed, the young people were attracted by this new way of worshiping. This is hardly Pentecostalism. It was much more a youth revolution in style. Many Messianic Jews also embraced Jewish liturgical worship. This combination of modern worship style together with Jewish liturgy, is the most common expression of Messianic Jewish worship in the West.
In Israel, embrace of the liturgical is very limited. This gives critics some of their grounds for claiming that we are merely Pentecostal. Though many Israeli Messianic Jews believe their Israeli identity makes synagogue expressions irrelevant, I feel that this is not the case.
Embracing the Power of God
Some Messianic Jewish streams strongly embrace outward signs of the power of God. A number in the West and in Israel believe that when the Spirit moves, there will be manifestations of His power such as those found in the 1st century Messianic Jewish movement: healings, prophecy, tongues and interpretation. The movement in Ukraine under Boris Greshenko is the most noteworthy for this, and Boris leads the largest Messianic Jewish congregation in the world with over 1600 people.
Are these manifestations really of the Spirit? One cannot judge by external appearance. It is important that the fruit and the reality of healings and miracles be tested by empirical evidence. At any rate, these aspects are more akin to third-world power Christianity, not classic Pentecostalism. Psychiatrist John White, in When the Spirit Falls with Power, has written the best book on the universal aspects of manifestations in the Spirit. With no prior influence from other revivals, some of the manifestations in vastly separated locations are very similar. In his view, we can therefore say that such manifestations are objective signs of the Spirit and not mere culture.
Some Messianic Jewish congregations embrace these manifestations, and some do not. In any case we must all seek the genuine anointing, presence and work of God's Spirit.
Messianic Jewish Applications
One can see from this analysis that the accusation of Pentecostalism is at least partially unfair. I believe God has led many to employ modern styles of musical worship to attract and embrace a new and young generation. This need continues. In addition, the real power of God is crucial to the advance of Messianic Jewish faith. However, I would agree with the critics in one regard. If our worship has no distinctive or classical Jewish expressions, we can look as if we are not distinctively Jewish at all, but more akin to universal modern Christian expressions of faith. In that, I think, there is an important criticism for some groups. If Messianic Jews do include such expression, celebrate the Feasts, keep the Sabbath and include the Hebrew language, then I think the criticism becomes baseless.
Let us not be shaken by this accusation, which can be quite shallow. But rather let us seek a mature response that embraces the leading of God's Spirit!
1 The African American Church of God in Christ, the Assembly of God, the Church of God, Cleveland, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, and finally the Four Square Gospel Church. In England, there are two main-line Pentecostal denominations: the Assemblies of God and the Elim Pentecostal Church.
that need not be adopted, but the criticisms of both Pentecostalism and Messianic Judaism are unfair.')
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