There is no denying that the Messianic community is a widely diverse group. There was a time, in my lifetime, that the term “Messianic,” referred specifically to Jewish Yeshua believers who worshiped in Messianic congregations. After the 1989 Israeli Supreme Court Beresford decision, the term Messianic became more widely used by Jewish Yeshua believers in churches, who used to be called “Hebrew-Christians,” as well as by gentiles who were worshiping in Messianic Jewish congregations. Later, gentiles started their own congregations even if they didn’t have any Jewish people in them, worshiping in a Messianic style, and dropped the modifier “Jewish” and referring to themselves as “Messianic,” using the symbols of Judaism but having no attachment to their traditional meaning.
This latest manifestation of the term Messianic took on an almost “dungeon and dragons” fantasy approach, where congregation members envisioned themselves as part of the allegedly lost tribes of Israel. The troubling aspect of this latter incarnation were people with no genetic connection to Jewish people, the biological descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, claiming to be part of various tribes of Ancient Israel; one woman announcing to me that she was a Levite Princess. After five minutes of uncontrollably laughing, I was deeply grieved by her trivializing my heritage. As I look at this latter group, I am reminded of a minstrel show complete with Velcro peyos, and tzitzis tied to their belt loops, rather than anything that is genuinely Jewish, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” I am as offended by their caricature as an African-American would be of a minstrel show.
Recognizing these flagrant idiocies, I want to mention that not all gentiles in the Messianic world are like that. There are many who are fine, genuine people who respect the Jewish culture and heritage, and simply wish to be alongside us. They are a blessing and help make us stronger. Who could object to them? Not me!
Having said this, the biggest problem in our midst is not weird gentiles, because they stand out like sore thumbs and are actually not part of us at all. They have their own conferences, their own congregations, they just took our name which creates confusion. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t care. Similarly, the problem is not gentiles who are part of our congregations. They come to be with us, and love us, and seek to build us up. They too are not a problem.
The problem as I see it are the arrogant individuals who are in our midst, looking down their noses at our services because we aren’t Orthodox enough for them, or they don’t like the music, or they don’t like having gentiles in our congregations. These self-appointed purists won’t call our congregations “synagogues.” They may call them “places,” if they are being polite, and “churches,” if they aren’t being polite. They refer to traditional synagogues as “real” synagogues. It offends me that they are so contemptuous of our congregations because we aren’t Orthodox. Who ever said we need to be Orthodox anyway? The same people would be contemptuous of Conservative and Reform Judaism. I’m sorry, but the majority of the Jewish people in the world are not Orthodox, and Jewish Orthodoxy is not Biblical Judaism, but came about after the destruction of the Second Temple, around the same time Messianic Judaism came about.
I value the heritage and teachings of traditional Judaism, but not for one second do I imagine it to be any more legitimate than we are. If our goal was to be Orthodox, I would just go to an Orthodox Synagogue. I believe as a Messianic Rabbi, that we are to be lifting up Yeshua our Messiah, in a genuinely Jewish manner. This means our worship will look and sound more like a traditional synagogue than a church, but nonetheless, will have Yeshua as the center of our worship. This means much of what we do will look exactly like traditional Jewish services, because we are Jewish, and embrace our Jewish Messiah. It also means that some things we do will deviate from tradition, because we do recognize Yeshua and some of the tradition was formulated by the sages in reaction to Yeshua belief. If that is troubling to some, it’s just too bad. It’s a privilege to be able to worship in a Messianic Jewish congregation, even if it’s not everything you want it to be. I remember a time where there were only a handful of our congregations and everyone didn’t have the luxury of having one near them. If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend a Messianic Jewish congregation, then support it, help build it up, and and be flexible enough to be able to enjoy it.