J.K. McKee delivers the October 2022 Outreach Israel News update.
A Parallel Course: Realigning With the Original Messianic Mission – October 2022 Outreach Israel NewsOctober_2022
What happened during the recent Fall High Holiday season? I sincerely hope that each one of you had a distinct or unique encounter with the Lord, and that you received a special answer to a prayer or concern weighing on your heart. I had some unexpected things occur via our ministry, which I had not encountered for quite a few years. So, throughout the Ten Days of Awe, and immediately after, I had impressed upon me the need to review a great deal of what has transpired in the development of the Messianic Jewish movement, and various offshoots. Our ministry and family are aligned with the Messianic Jewish movement, but we interact with individual people and families all across a wider spectrum.
This past High Holiday season, between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I posted a number of short video clips from my office, both before and after attending the evening and morning services at my local Messianic congregation. As is traditional for both holidays, I wished everyone L’shana tovah and May you have an easy fast. What I discussed focused more on going before the Lord in corporate prayer and repentance, entreating God for answers to the big questions which are on our hearts and minds, etc. I think many of you who follow our teachings track with these things. But then I received a higher number of responses, which I did not expect to encounter:
- Don’t you know that “Rosh HaShanah” was something that the Jews picked up in Babylon?
- How do you know that “afflicting one’s soul” on the Day of Atonement means to fast?
Every year, we do often receive these questions, typically from non-Jewish people who are new to the appointed times. Sometimes they are written publicly on social media. Sometimes they are written privately to us. Some inquiries are polite, but some inquiries are not so polite. And, this past year, we received a higher percentage of these questions than we usually do. This got me to really start thinking about some things…
To be sure, questions are to be encouraged! Many of us would not be a part of the Messianic community if we did not ask questions. Investigation and research into a particular issue is also something quite important.
Thankfully, a number of years ago, partially due to our ministry’s Messianic Fall Holiday Helper, we put together some FAQ entries on Rosh HaShanah and fasting on Yom Kippur. So, answering the questions we received this year was fairly easy. What is not easy to witness, is when it is clear that your answers are not commonly received in an amicable demeanor, and your research is just dismissed and ignored—without anyone even bothering to spend ten to fifteen minutes and read through your analysis. I believe that a significant factor contributing to this was how I often first responded with, “Our ministry follows Messianic Jewish halachah in these areas.”
Not caring too much for the mainstream Jewish traditions associated with Rosh HaShanah, or fasting on Yom Kippur—is actually a sign of a much larger problem, and the huge schism between the Messianic movement and the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement. The former is made up of Messianic Jewish Believers, and non-Jewish Believers who are committed to the salvation of Israel and the Jewish people—with a definite missiology based in Romans chs. 9-11. The latter is almost exclusively made up of non-Jewish people, who while wanting to rightly connect to their faith heritage in the Scriptures of Israel—are also widely known for rejecting the positive contributions of the evangelical Church and Jewish Synagogue, and possesses no certain or definite missiology.
Many of the non-Jewish people in the Hebrew Roots movement are arrogant, and do not care to fairly investigate the origins of mainstream Jewish traditions and customs, because they do not care if they unnecessarily offend a Jewish person. They want to be an offense. The testimony of the current Hebrew Roots movement is that whether it is Christian or Jewish, religion is all man-made and probably all “pagan.” Just look up “Hebrew Roots” on social media today, and you will see a label which often means anything but what it meant twenty years ago: Hebrew language study, Tanach study, and even study of Second Temple Jewish literature.
Fortunately though, a wide number of non-Jewish Believers who have been a part of the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement are aware of the problems and instability. The new, emerging Pronomian Christian sub-movement is trying to stress a pro-Law or pro-Torah position, while still expressing a wide degree of honor to our Christian forbearers, at least. Yet, while rightfully wanting to honor the positive contributions of evangelical Protestantism, what might its position regarding Judaism and Messianic Judaism be? While things are too early to tell, it would be easy to recognize that some are not too keen on various mainstream Jewish traditions, customs, Rabbinical literature, and approaches to Scripture. While Pronomian Christianity’s missiology is still developing, what about the matters of Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity?
While it will be easier for some and more difficult for others—I think today’s non-Jewish Believers active within the broad Messianic sphere of influence, can and should decide to steer a parallel course with today’s Messianic Jewish movement. This might not mean one-hundred percent agreement on all matters. But, a greater level of agreement—because of the nature of the Messianic mission—should be sought where it legitimately can be found.
What was the Messianic movement originally set up to do?
When reviewing the history of the modern Messianic movement, does anyone really recall what it was originally set up to do? Many people who I have interacted with over many years—mainly non-Jewish Believers from varied Christian backgrounds—simply assume that the original purpose of the Messianic movement was “to restore the Hebrew Roots of the Christian faith,” or even to return the Body of Messiah to “a foundation of Torah.” Whether you realize it or not, those were not the original reasons why formal Messianic Judaism emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The original purpose of the Messianic movement was not to help non-Jewish Believers connect with their faith heritage in the Scriptures of Israel.
When you trace the history of the modern Messianic Jewish movement, it actually has much earlier origins in the Hebrew Christian movement of the Nineteenth Century. The Hebrew Christian movement itself emerged from various evangelistic outreaches of different Protestant groups in Europe, Great Britain, and North America—to present the Jewish community with the good news of Israel’s Messiah. Some of this was joined with early Zionism, but a great deal of it encouraged assimilation on the part of Jewish Believers, “Hebrew Christians” as they were first known, into Protestantism. Torah practices such as Shabbat or the festivals could be observed as a part of Jewish culture, but not out of any continuing sense of covenant fidelity. While successful in various ways, there was a difficult shift to Messianic Judaism in the 1960s and 1970s—as Messianic Jews, as they would become known, would plant Messianic Jewish congregations, operating on a Synagogue-based model, and with Jewish Believers in Yeshua maintaining fidelity to Torah via the New Covenant. Messianic Judaism would not encourage assimilation of Jewish Believers into mainstream Christianity, and would be active in support of the State of Israel, stand against anti-Semitism, and would be active in the Jewish community. Believing in Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah is the most Jewish thing a Jewish person could do. Messianic congregations, synagogues, and fellowships were planted all over North America and the world, throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
Messianic Jewish congregations would be ideal places for Jewish people to hear the good news of Israel’s Messiah in a Jewish sensitive context. They would be ideal places for Messianic Jewish young people to grow up, going through b’rit milah, bar/bat mitzvah, and hopefully meeting an appropriate Messianic Jewish spouse. This would discourage assimilation into mainstream Christianity, or even a relapse into non-Messianic Judaism. To be sure, non-Jewish people would be a part of the experience to some degree. Many of the Messianic Jewish pioneers had non-Jewish spouses (many of whom were instrumental in leading them to Yeshua). Intermarriage was to be expected on some level, likely reflective of intermarriage in the non-Messianic Synagogue. And, the Messianic Jewish community would need allies in evangelical Christianity, many of whom were expected to frequently visit Messianic congregations, with some even being called to become members and active participants.
So the original mission, of the Messianic movement, was to be a place to facilitate Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity. Today in late 2022, this original mission has not changed, nor has it gone away—nor should it go away.
How did the Messianic Jewish pioneers respond to non-Jewish Believers entering in?
In the 1970s and 1980s to be sure, it was hardly a convenient thing to label oneself as a “Messianic Jew.” Messianic Judaism was a new and controversial movement. Messianic Judaism was establishing congregations based off a Synagogue model, with a Shabbat service employing traditional Hebrew liturgy, and being able to facilitate the elements of a Jewish lifestyle. Messianic Judaism faced extreme hostility from non-Messsianic Judaism, and it was also widely rejected by evangelical Christianity, although not by all. One of the things which can be said, looking back on Messianic Jewish development in the 1970s and 1980s, is that was a period of infancy and early adolescence. Many were still sorting through what it meant to be a Jewish Believer in Yeshua, and maintain one’s Jewish heritage. I seriously doubt that aside from a few non-Jewish people here or there, that the Messianic Jewish leaders of the 1970s and 1980s could have foreseen what was going to take place in the 1990s and early 2000s, as the movement ended up attracting more non-Jewish Believers interested in their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures, than Jewish people searching for their Messiah.
Messianic Judaism in the 1970s and 1980s was in a period of early development, as Jewish Believers in Yeshua were often still having to deal with what it meant to actually be a Jewish Believer in Yeshua. Messianic Judaism was wrestling and struggling with what Messianic Judaism was to be for Jews, not really considering any outside impact or influence, or other demographics it would attract. Was this to be an another ethnic denomination of Protestantism? Was this to be a new branch of Judaism? Was this to be a new move of the Spirit? What about the role of God’s Torah? Was it abolished in the New Covenant? Is it to be observed just as a matter of Jewish identity and preservation? Is it to be observed by Jews as a work of the Holy Spirit? What about the Rabbinic tradition? What about the Jewish life cycle? What about this…what about that…? It is not difficult to see how Messianic Jewish leaders and people looked out for their own interests first.
The challenge, to be sure, is that just as many of the First Century Jewish Believers had their own ideas about the spread of the good news or gospel—and could not have anticipated quickly becoming a minority as Greeks and Romans embraced Israel’s Messiah more than their own people—many of the early Messianic Jewish leaders had no idea that non-Jewish Believers would quickly embrace things like Shabbat or the festivals or a Torah lifestyle more seriously than many Messianic Jews. In the mid-to-late 1980s and 1990s, more and more evangelicals got exposed to the Messianic movement through Messianic Jewish leaders often being invited into churches to give presentations on the Passover seder, connecting it to the Last Supper. The huge pull of evangelical Believers toward the Messianic movement has always been “Jesus in the feasts,” and how the appointed times or moedim portray the Messiah’s First and Second Comings, and salvation work. “The early Believers kept the feasts, so why don’t we?” was a question asked by Christian people drawn into the Messianic movement.
The Messianic Jewish reaction to non-Jewish Believers entering into their assemblies, to understand the Jewish Roots of their faith, to keep the feasts, to live a life similar to the first assemblies of Messiah followers in the First Century Mediterranean—was mixed. Many Messianic Jewish leaders embraced such non-Jewish Believers as fellow brothers and sisters, their equals in the Lord, and together that Jewish and non-Jewish Messiah followers were to constitute “one new man” or “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15). Others were more cautious, recognizing the complicated history of Christian anti-Semitism, and stressed that non-Jewish Believers had to be called into the Messianic movement—as it would have to involve participating in Jewish outreach and not just personal enrichment. Still, other Messianic Jewish leaders were seen to dismiss or reject a great number of non-Jewish Believers—or there was at least a perception that a great number of non-Jewish Believers were being rejected. Some of this dismissal may have been direct, but more likely if it manifested it was more indirect.
Many of what are today considered aberrant offshoots and sub-movements, came as some consequence of various non-Jewish people feeling unwelcome, rejected, dismissed, overlooked, and even unloved by a number of Messianic Jewish leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. This hardly constituted all Messianic Jewish leaders from this period, and every congregational situation is different. Yet, because someone got rubbed the wrong way by Leader ABC, we now have Sub-Movement XYZ to contend with. And, any new religious movement which was birthed out of rejection—and with it most probably also a degree of unforgiveness—is bound to create difficulties.
Certainly looking back on the development of Messianic Judaism in the 1980s and 1990s, if it had been better communicated to many of the non-Jewish people visiting Messianic congregations and synagogues that this was a new, early, and still-developing movement, perhaps some things would have been avoided. If more Messianic Jewish leaders had been honest about various matters “still under construction,” as there were many Messianic Jewish Believers sorting through various matters for themselves what it meant to be Jewish and a Believer in Israel’s Messiah—then mature, non-Jewish Believers should have been able to have the patience of recognizing that they were part of something which was going to take a while to mature. But this did not happen, for a variety of reasons. Many did not want to be honest and publicly recognize that the Messianic Jewish movement of the 1980s and 1990s was theologically and spiritually under-developed in too many areas, when compared to a great deal of the Jewish Synagogue and evangelical Protestantism.
Two-House to Hebrew Roots
There is little doubting that throughout a great deal of history, Judaism and Christianity have often agreed on one thing: believing in Jesus as the Messiah and being Jewish are mutually exclusive. Jewish Believers from the past century have rightfully fought against this, emphasizing that believing in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah is one of the most Jewish things a Jewish person can do, and that Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah do not have to assimilate into Gentile Christianity, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren having little to no knowledge of their Jewish heritage. The early Messianic Jewish movement of the 1970s and 1980s fought very hard to emphasize the value of Jewishness for Jewish Believers. The early Messianic Jewish pioneers did this, while experiencing a great deal of rejection from the Jewish communities and their own families, and broad dismissal from a great deal of Christianity. Because of how frequently and how often it has been attacked and assaulted throughout history—in time periods ranging from the Maccabean crisis, the destruction of the Temple, the Inquisition, pogroms, Nazism, social anti-Semitism and discrimination, and supersessionism or replacement theology—Jewish identity is important to today’s Messianic Jews.
What did some non-Jewish people in the 1980s do, who had become a part of the Messianic Jewish movement—yet felt second class, treated as inferior, and they concluded that an abnormal level of pride was possibly associated with Messianic Jewish Believers strongly asserting themselves as Jews? Some expelled the effort to listen and learn more about the Jewish experience in history, recognizing that the Messianic Jewish movement was still developing, and that various Messianic Jewish people were working through many issues. Other non-Jewish people sought to quickly find some distant Jewish ancestor or heritage, which they believed would help them be treated as more equal and welcome in the eyes of various Messianic Jewish people. And then others, seeing a strong amount of Jewish identity being asserted by Messianic Jews—believed that one really needed to have a physical connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to be considered “special” to the Creator. Some tried to find some distant Jewish ancestor. Yet, many actually looked to the Divided Kingdom era in Ancient Israel, the exiles of the Northern Kingdom taken away by Assyria, and discussions about members of the Ten Lost Tribes as clues as to why, perhaps, many non-Jewish Believers were drawn into the Messianic movement.
Using a variety of Tanach prophecies, notably including the two-stick oracle of Ezekiel 37:15-28, the Two-House sub-movement emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, promoting the idea that most non-Jewish Believers are members of the Ten Lost Tribes. While the issues of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and their reunification are important for Biblical prophecy and the future—it is foolish for any human being to think that a physical connection to the Patriarchs of Israel is going to merit any special favors before the Almighty (Romans 3:9). The Two-House sub-movement largely arose because of an over-emphasis, on the part of some in early Messianic Judaism, on Jewish identity and a physical connection to the Patriarchs.
Many Messianic Jewish Believers today, in the 2020s, have been quick to recognize that our identity is to first and foremost be found in Messiah Yeshua, and not one’s ancestry or pedigree. They recognize how various non-Jewish people in early Messianic Judaism were trying to find a physical connection to the Patriarchs, when only Yeshua and not our bloodlines, can save us from sin. Yet, we have a Two-House sub-movement out there, which while raising an important issue regarding the Northern and Southern Kingdoms in Biblical history—is widely composed of non-Jewish people with no physical connection at all to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But what much of it has invoked, however, is much of the instability which marked the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was known for its rebellion against the Throne of David, the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Far from self-claiming “Ephraimites” often wanting some kind of unity or peace with today’s Messianic Jewish Believers—they usually have done everything that they can, to dismiss or reject mainline Jewish and Messianic Jewish practice, not tending to want to find areas of common ground.
Today, while not universal, many of those who went by the label of “Two-House” in the 1990s and 2000s, are now seen to frequently go by the seemingly less stark and more innocuous title of “Hebrew Roots.” And while originally in the 1990s and 2000s, “Hebrew Roots” may have simply meant some kind of an emphasis on Hebrew language and Tanach study—now it has come to mean any manner of things, ranging from the Lost Tribes to polygamy to the Nephilim and to Flat Earth. While all of those subjects can and should be explored in various other studies, “Hebrew Roots” has been widely seen to sensationalize and market them. While some would say that efforts should be made to return an emphasis on “Hebrew Roots” back to studying the Scriptures of Israel, that might not be too possible given what was witnessed in the 2010s. What has made “Hebrew Roots” so odious is not necessarily an emphasis on all Believers having a theological foundation in Torah; what is so odious about it is a great deal of the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish rhetoric one often encounters, and some of the severe lack of Bible scholarship.
Is it possible to steer a parallel course?
The issue of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in the Body of Messiah, human equality (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11), the mutual respect and honor we are to show to one another (Romans 12:10), and the proper employment of all of our gifts and talents—is as much of an ongoing issue in the Twenty-First Century as it was in the First Century. In some places it manifests very well, and in other places it manifests with difficulty. The human condition we are all a part of is not perfect, and it is frequently not ideal. But at the same time, many who have been a part of the Messianic movement and experience since the 1970s and 1980s, will likely tell you that they recognize how the Messianic Jewish story is still being told—and that the movement in 2022 has come a long way since its early days. The story of Messianic Judaism is not yet over, and there are likely new things which will intersect with it as God’s plan for the ages more fully reveals itself.
Every tradition, custom, or application of the Bible, be it Jewish or Christian, should be subjected to review from the canonical Holy Scriptures, and the Apostle Paul’s own test of Philippians 4:8. There are many traditions and customs seen in much of the Jewish Synagogue, which are not observed in a great deal of the Messianic Jewish movement. But there are practices which are common to both: Messianic Judaism follows the same religious calendar as the mainline Synagogue, Messianic Judaism widely refrains from speaking the Divine Name YHWH, Messianic Judaism often uses some degree of traditional Hebrew liturgy, and Messianic Judaism does employ garments such as the tallit and kippah/yarmulke. Messianic Jewish Believers employ these observances, not only as a part of their Jewish heritage, but also so that Messianic congregations and synagogues can better facilitate the mission of Jewish outreach and evangelism, than much of historical Christianity has done. And, much of Messianic Judaism does believe that many non-Jewish Believers are legitimately called to participate as co-laborers with Jewish Believers, in the salvation of Israel. A majority of such non-Jewish Believers initially got involved, though, to reconnect to their spiritual heritage in the Torah and Tanach.
While my family is not Jewish, we are among those who are not only walking in parallel to the Messianic mission—but we are walking hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters in Yeshua! It is not always easy, and we continue to have moments with a Messianic Jewish person here or there, who would much prefer that we be elsewhere. But we know many, many more Messianic Jewish people and leaders, who know that we have a place alongside them, as we work toward “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). So what that means is that a great deal of how we perform matters of Torah, is going to be in alignment with the Messianic mission and the Torah application frequently seen in Messianic Judaism. This is where history is moving. So back to the original questions: we should have no problem calling the Feast of Trumpets Rosh HaShanah, and fasting on Yom Kippur, among other mainstream practices. And this is because matters of Torah are not to be the offense; Yeshua the Messiah and His sacrifice for human sin are to be the offense.
I believe that when you look at much of what the Hebrew Roots movement has developed into, and the ongoing confusion and instability it is causing—that there are going to be more and more non-Jewish people who inevitably steer a theological and spiritual path which parallels Messianic Judaism and the original Messianic mission. As this takes place, I sincerely hope that many Messianic Jewish Believers are able to see more non-Jewish Believers align with them, as strong supporters and allies.