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:
- Jewish people who do not follow Yeshua.
- Other Messianic Jews who prefer more traditional forms of worship.
- Those who do not accept modern claims of the supernatural dimension.
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
Pentecostals fostered many
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
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
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.