Messianic Judaism and The Committed Non-Jew

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 many Christian attenders. They have attended services and Seders at various Messianic congregations yet they sees Messianic Jewish congregation like the Hispanic and Vietnamese Churches that meet on the grounds of their 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 God 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.

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7 thoughts on “Messianic Judaism and The Committed Non-Jew

  1. Ephesians 2:11-22

    Having non Jews in a Messianic congregation is not an issue, it’s a blessing and a fulfillment of prophecy when all nations will worship the God of Israel. It’s not biblical to exclude Gentiles. This mentality is what’s wrong with the Messianic movement.

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    1. The point of this post was to advocate for acceptance of those non-Jews fully committed to Judaism and the Jewish People. This is key for a healthy Messianic Judaism that those Gentiles who participate are there to serve the cause of Messianic Judaism and making Messiah known to the Jewish People. There are those who are “anti-Church Christians” that come to Messianic Jewish synagogues seeking a protest to Christianity or seeking an elite form of religion and these non-Jews are not healthy for our movement and for the work of making Messiah known.

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  2. Hi Sean,

    I am concerned that in your attempt to honor Jewish tradition, you are ignoring Jewish writing by Rav Shaul on the subject.

    The Brit Chadasha, the New Covenant, is not a “Christian” document. It is written (primarily) by Jewish people.. and it speaks to Jewish issues, as well as to those concerning Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 7, Rav Shaul, a person considered trustworthy by Yeshua, writes,

    ” 17 Only let each person live the life the L-rd has assigned him and live it in the condition he was in when G-d called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations. Was someone already circumcised when he was called? Then he should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision.

    [Jewish believers are not to assimilate into Gentile culture but continue to live Jewish lives.]

    The text continues, “Was someone uncircumcised when he was called? He shouldn’t undergo b’rit milah.”

    [Dr. Stern’s Jewish New Testament Commentary here is instructive. He says, “That is, a Gentile believer shoud not convert to Judaism. This does not speak of a Gentile Christian who wants to give up his faith in Yeshua and convert to non-Messianic Judaism— of course Sha’ul would not countenance that. Rather, he says that Gentile believers should not undergo conversion to Judaism while retaining their faith in Yeshua. At the time Sah’ul was writing there was a strong Judaizing movement but Sha’ul does not deal here with this error…. Here his chief concern is with the use of time… his advice to Gentiles is not to waste time converting to Judaism when it is unnecessary (v. 19( and there are more important things to do, namely, serving the L-rd.

    On the controversial question of whether there might ever be circumstances under which Gentile [believers] could legitimately convert to Judaism in the light of what the New Testament teaches, see Galatians 5:2-4 & Note, which continues the present discussion” (Stern 456).

    In 1 Corinthians 7, Rav Sha’ul continues,
    “Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping G-d’s comandments.”

    (Stern says, “In context with the rest of the verse, the meaning is that in G-d’s Messianic Community, Jews and Gentiles have equal standing before G-d. On this ethnic ties, cultural expressions, customs, and social or religious status have no bearing; in this regard, being Jewish or Gentile does not matter. What matters is keeping G-d’s commandments, elsewhere in similar contexts equated with “faith working itself out in love” (Ga 5:6) and “being a new creation” (Ga6:15).”

    Stern goes on to say that while there is room for discussion about whether Jews and Gentiles might have different duties as far as applicable commandments, the “trust in Yeshua which forms the basis for being acceptable in G-d’s sight is also identical for Jews and Gentiles. For this, “being circumcised means nothing” (456).

    Shaul ends this section with ” Each person should remain in the condition he was in when he was called.”

    Rav Shaul speaks very clearly in 1 Corinthians 7 that people who are born Jewish should continue to identify as Jews.. and people who are born Gentile should continue to identify as Gentiles. Being born Jewish is a tremendous responsibility and privilege… and so is being born Gentile.

    If we had a guy in our synagogue who wanted to throw off his identity and become a female, we would be concerned. We would tell him that he was fighting G-d’s plan and purpose and wisdom. G-d Himself decides how each of us, male or female, Jewish or Gentile, can best give Him glory.

    I like how David Stern writes that the Church has usually maintained a “mistaken view of conversion. Instead of understanding that a Jewish believer converts from sin to righteousness (the same as a Gentile believer), it has thought he converts from Judaism to Christianity) (Stern 455).

    Even while we are living as Jews and Gentiles together as the bearers of the treasure of the G-d of Israel in Messiah Yeshua, we cannot use modern Judaism as the plumbline to tell ourselves whether or not we are becoming more “mature.” Maturity is not found in downplaying or ignoring the writing of inspired writers of Scripture on the specific topic under discussion.

    A plumbline and the North Star are only valuable as constants if they remain faithfully in place. In the same way, the Jewish world (and the Gentile world) needs to see both Jews and Gentiles “retaining their place” as G-d assigned them.

    I liked what Joel Chernoff shared at a visit to my Messianic synagogue. He related the story of how a Jewish man approached him one day in the gym, knowing Joel is a Messianic Jew, and the man said, “Joel, I don’t get it.. Could you explain this to me? Jesus was Jewish, right? So, shouldn’t that be something in our favor? Why should they hate us so?”

    Joel said that when he was asked that question, he thought about how he could give social and political and spiritual answers about the why of that question… but as he looked at the man, there welled up within him a deep sorrow as well. This wasn’t just an idle question on the man’s part. It was a cry of pain… and in Joel’s soul, there was an answering cry of identification. Joel said that at that moment, he understood for the first time the deep need for Gentiles in the Messianic movement. He said that the Jewish people need two medicines… they need the truth and comfort that can only come from another Jewish person who believes in Yeshua. Sometimes one Jewish believer is exactly what is needed by another Jewish believer. Sometimes a not-yet-believing Jewish person needs to see that there really are Jewish people who he can relate to who believe Yeshua is the Messiah.

    And sometimes what a Jewish person needs most of all is a Gentile whose eyes tear up at the pain that Jewish people have gone through. At that point, an explanation of selfish ambition or the tragic twisting of the truths of the Bible or even of the hatred of ha satan for the Jewish people is not what is needed.. but an answering cry of real godly sorrow about the arrogance of the past in a Gentile believer’s tears. As a committed Messianic Gentile, G-d has prepared divine appointments for me personally. He has prepared me, just as I am, and will use me, just as I am, in order to bring truth and comfort to the Jewish community. I deeply want for my life to be used for G-d’s glory and His purposes.. and one of the main callings in my life is to work together with Yeshua to be a faithful witness of the One True G-d and the King of Kings of Who Yeshua is and what He has done in me.

    How do I know that I can do that as effectively if I give up what makes me unique?

    Should G-d be second-guessed like that?

    G-d promises to give grace to the humble. Is discarding His wisdom about how to make me and about what He Himself said on the topic humble?

    It doesn’t seem so, on the face of it, regardless of what other aspects of Judaism might have chosen.

    If we are acting in Yeshua’s Name as the kehillah and acting under His authority, then how can we claim to be doing that while discounting the very instructions He gave on that issue through His faithful servant, Rav Shaul?

    If G-d is pleased to make us Jewish or Gentile and send us into the world that way, can we improve on His design by refusing the calling He has given us to be who we are when Yeshua found us… and to let both Jews and Gentiles be transformed “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah”? Our goal is to be vessels He can use to pour cold water into thirsty and hurting souls, whether we are male or female, Jewish or Gentile.

    We can only benefit from receiving the words of Rav Shaul.. and we can only go astray in our thinking if we discard them.

    I realize that there is some room for discussion on this topic (or there wouldn’t be discussion), but I think that any discussion which sidesteps, downplays, or ignores the primary Scriptures on the topic in favor of emulating traditional Judaism or of re-defining or re-constructing Messianic Judaism will find that it has placed Baby Moshe in the basket but has not put the pitch around the basket as well.

    A step away from Yeshua is a wrong step for Messianic Judaism. Do we really believe that “all scripture is inspired by G-d and is profitable.. that the man of G-d may be thoroughly equipped” ? If so, then a step away from the clear teaching of Scripture is also a wrong step.

    Blessings to you, and to kol Yisrael.

    P.J.

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  3. Dear Yochanan,

    You mentioned the idea of a strict conversion process. I agree that there will not be a large number of candidates when standards are kept high. But such a process is desparately needed, for the reasons you mention.

    Up to now, conversions have been done under the guidance of individual MJ leaders without any communal consensus about standards. Although I don’t expect a majority of leaders in our movement to jump on the bandwagon, a valid communal standard could soon arise from a significant group of MJ rabbis reaching a consensus on this issue. That will give MJ conversions some weight, at least within our community.

    Chaim

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  4. chaim,

    thanks for reading this post and for your response.

    i think that your rephrasing of my initial question is a valuable contribution to this discussion. yes, there are distinct roles in synagogal life for both the jews and non-jews. and it is true that the new covenant does not require an eradication of the differences between jewish believers and non jewish believers.

    this posting is to lay out that among the many non-jews in our movement that there is a small group of those non-jews in our midst that have a definite calling to sojourn with israel, many who have been involved with messianic judaism for many years and it is time to begin the move toward allowing for these people’s commitment to judaism and the jewish people to be recognized and affirmed by our community. this is a big step for the maturing of our movement and a real step to stand in jewish space.

    i hope that this will be the beginning of further dialog.

    shalom,

    yochanan

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  5. Dear Yochanan,

    I believe that your question – Will Messianic Judaism be the only expression of Judaism that excludes from full participation the Committed Non-Jew? – is based on a false premise. All Judaisms – from Reconstructionist and Reform to Conservative and Orthodox have clear guidelines for synagogue activities and positions that are reserved for Jews and others in which non-Jews are free to participate.

    Your question would better be phrased, “Will Messianic Judaism be the only expression of Judaism that makes no practical distinction between Jew and Gentile?”

    In our chavurah, Jew and Gentile alike feel very strongly that we do not want to depart from the other Judaisms in this respect, since there is nothing in the New Covenenat Scriptures that demands, for example, that Gentiles serve as Rabbis of predominantly Jewish congregations, chant the Torah, or wear the tallit.

    I agree with you that a strict and carefully crafted conversion process will help with those few Gentiles who are truly called to convert.

    This is a refreshing conversation. Keep up the good work.

    Chaim C.

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