Will Messianic Judaism be the only expression of Judaism that excludes from full participation the Committed Non-Jew?
This is a question that faces us as we look to forming a true Messianic Judaism. This question is irrelevant for a “Messianic Movement”, which is really just Hebrew Christianity under a new name. This is an issue for a Judaism to deal with and in our discussion vital for a Messianic Judaism. As a Judaism we must ask Jewish questions and be prepared to give Jewish answers.
As a Judaism, we face a problematic issue, namely Non-Jews in Messianic Judaism and in the life of Messianic Jewish synagogues. This may seem to be a disturbing concept to many that see Messianic Judaism as the “Jewish Church” and the place of Messianic Judaism being the Jewish cultural form of the Universal Christian Church. But we have to deal with the issue of Non-Jews in our midst, are they a part of synagogue life or merely supportive attendees? Below I will categorize some types of Non-Jews in our midst:
1. The Pro-Israel Christian
2. The “Anti-Church” Christian
3. The Supporter of the “Jewish Church”
4. The Involved Synagogue Attender
5. The Committed Non-Jew
• The Pro-Israel Christian attends a Messianic Synagogue on Shabbat and a Christian Church on Sunday. They support Israel and the Jewish People. They also enjoy the music and dancing that is a part of our Movement. But their theology and faith commitment is to Christianity. They may at times comment that we are being “too Jewish”. These Non-Jews make up a part of our Movement, yet their commitments lie within the Church.
• The “Anti-Church” Christian is a Gentile Christian who out of a protest or rejection of the Church attends a Messianic synagogue. They pose a problem to Messianic Judaism because their involvement in our Movement is not for us, but as a protest against their problem with the Church. They are not committed to a Jewish life and over time will find something about Messianic Judaism to turn them against us. These are the most problematic Non-Jews.
• The Supporter of the “Jewish Church” is a Gentile Christian that sees Messianic Judaism as the “Jewish Church” akin to Hispanic and Korean Churches. They support us as a cultural form of Christianity. This is the place of understanding of my own mother. She has attended services and Seders at the various congregations that I have attended yet she sees us as like the Hispanic and Vietnamese Churches that meet on the grounds of her Baptist Church. These Non-Jews support our existence, though their understanding of us is flawed. These Non-Jews make up the bulk of Christians that support the Messianic Jewish Movement.
• The Involved Synagogue Attender is the Non-Jew that makes up a large part of the Non-Jews in Messianic Synagogues. They have taken to the synagogue and to aspects of Jewish life. Though much of the expression of Judaism is based in the synagogue. They have a commitment that is more than mere attendance. They observe Shabbat and the Festivals in synagogue life and study Jewish books, but they are content as they are as Non-Jews in a Messianic synagogue.
• The Committed Non-Jew is the Non-Jew that has been called to Messianic Judaism and has been drawn to a Jewish life. Beyond the commitment of the Involved Synagogue Attender, they seek to follow Torah in all aspects of daily life, including Shabbat and Kashrut. The Committed Non-Jew’s commitment to Messianic Judaism and the larger Jewish world marks a clear distinction in their commitment and calling. They like the Egyptians that left Egypt and with Israel stood at Mt. Sinai have been drawn to the G-d of Israel and to the People of Israel in a unique way. This commitment can lead to “conversion” or “commitment” to Judaism in Rabbinic Judaism. Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and even Humanistic Judaism have a mechanism/process for The Committed Non-Jew to cast their lot with Israel. Though many conversions to Judaism in Rabbinic Judaism is for marriage to a Jewish person, of those in Messianic Judaism the prime desire of many is a commitment to Judaism and the Jewish people.
A Messianic Jewish conversion process would be an outward affirmation by the Messianic Jewish community of an inward commitment that many have made years ago. These Committed Non-Jews have walked a Torah life and meet the Torah’s requirements of Shabbat and Passover observance, only lacking brit milah or dam brit to complete the process.
As a Judaism we have to deal with this issue of The Committed Non-Jew, if we are going to truly be a Judaism. This does not discredit the other Non-Jews in our Movement, of which the Involved Synagogue Attender plays an important role, but it marks out a process or rite of passage for The Committed Non-Jew, to complete the process of commitment to Judaism that has begun in their life.
There is a concern about a possible “bandwagon effect” if Messianic Judaism established a conversion process. This fear is unfounded if the Rabbis and leaders follow strict guidelines. Of the Non-Jews that I know in my synagogue only 2 or 3 would seek this conversion process and all have been involved in Messianic synagogues for many years. These are people who have a calling to sojourn with Israel and who as Non-Jews seek to make Torah their life.
So then, how can we hold back the “bandwagon effect or “mass conversion” of Non-Jews to Messianic Judaism?
First off, like in Rabbinic Judaism the Rabbis and leaders must rebuff those seeking conversion, so as to test their commitment to the process. This rebuffing is also a test of the calling and commitment to the whole of Jewish life.
Also important is education in that the prospective convert must be committed to a Jewish life and to their connection to all of Israel not just “saved Jews”. The prospective convert must be actively a part of the life of a Messianic synagogue and have training and knowledge of Torah and Jewish practice. They should also stand before and be examined by a Beit Din made up of recognized Messianic Jewish leaders in which there commitment to Jewish life will be examined. Also of great importance is that for prospective male converts brit milah or dam brit must be done. Circumcision is the sign of the Covenant in the flesh and this must be a part of the conversion process. At least for men this will be a real sign of commitment to Judaism and a Jewish life. The prospective convert should also go through immersion as the final act of commitment to Messianic Judaism. Also important in the process is the taking of a Hebrew name, as they become son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah.
We stand in an awkward place in that the writers of the Brit Chadasha expected the Messianic Age in their lifetime and they did not address the issue of the Non-Jew within the Messianic synagogue. They did not foresee the two millennia that would pass since the time of Yeshua and we stand to define ourselves without direct guidance from the early Messianic Jews. Though the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, addresses required conversion to Judaism of Non-Jews before joining the Messianic community, the Council did not rule on voluntary conversion of which the concluding phrase “Moshe is preached in all the synagogues every Shabbat” leaves open a deeper commitment and even a “conversion” of the Messianic Non-Jew to Judaism. The requiring of Non-Jews to convert to Judaism is clearly forbidden by the Council and we should seek to speak out against any “Messianic” group that begins conversion as a requirement for affiliation. This conversion to Messianic Judaism is for those who have a calling and commitment to Judaism and to the Jewish people and is truly an external confirmation of an internal “conversion” experience.
If we are going to be a Judaism, a true Messianic Judaism, we have to deal with the issue of the Non-Jews in our synagogues and to especially deal with the issue of the Committed Non-Jew.