Preventing the Failure of the Messianic Jewish Movement: Avoiding the Ephesian Consequence

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This series of posts on “Preventing the Failure of the Messaianic Jewish Movement,” is rooted in a burden. To state the burden briefly, it is this:

I believe the Messianic Movement is failing to accomplish its calling.  Among the problems facing us is a lack of clarity on that calling, and therefore, obliviousness to the fact that we are failing to address and accomplish it.

It is like someone who is in his house, busy sculpting a beautiful statue, oblivious that a raging forest fire is only blocks away, about to destroy everything and everyone. Is it wrong to craft beautiful statues? No. But if that is not the need of the hour, then even a lovely and well-conducted project is a tragedy of the first order because of how it distracts one from the more pressing issue of life and death.

Our movement is busy crafting statues, often beautiful and skillful statues, requiring much hard labor. People demand that others admire them. Others lose themselves enraptured by their own artistry. For some the statues become idols, substitutes for the True and Living God and for what He has called us to. While too many of us are busy with our statutes, a matter of greatest urgency is ignored, and in time, perhaps a short time, it will become apparent how wastefully we spent our time and resources.

In Revelation Chapter Two, the risen Messiah addresses the Congregation at Ephesus with words that should concern us all:

images-3I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent (Revelation 2:2-6 ESV).

What is amazing about this passage is that even though the congregation at Ephesus was doing commendable things, because they had fallen from the Messiah’s highest priority for them, they were in danger of having their candlestick removed.

This brings me to what we might term the Ephesian Consequence: “If we are not fulfilling the purpose for which God raised us up, we can be removed.” This is true even if we are doing many commendable things: “crafting beautiful statues.” They may be lovely, they may be works of art worthy of much praise. But this makes no difference. To put this principle in the form of a question we need to ask,

If the Messianic Jewish Movement does not fulfill the purpose for which God raised us up, why should we assume he will not remove our candelstick?  To assume he will not is presumptuous, and for our movement, this presumption could be a fatal mistake.

And this is why it is crucial that we determine the purpose for which God raised up our movement, and apply ourselves to accomplishing that purpose.  Again, our core question is. “For what unique purpose did God raise up the Messianic Jewish Movement.”

If we fail to ask and answer this question rightly, all our fine efforts will in the end prove misplaced and futile. However, if one were to ask this question of the leaders and laity of our movement, what will we find? Will we find unanimity? Will we find clarity? Will we find answers that fulfill all aspects of the question, such as the question of uniqueness? The answer to all of these questions is “No.” I submit that one will almost never if ever find this question well answered and rightly answered.

Can the Ephesian Consequence be far behind? Maybe yes, maybe no.  But are we wise to court the risk?

From examining the rhetoric and behavior of our movement, here are some of the purposes which people attach to the Messianic Jewish Movement.

  1. To teach the church about its Jewish roots
  2. To reach the Gentile world with the knowledge of the True God, the God of Israel
  3. To be a place where Gentiles can learn to practice a form of Christian Judaism.
  4. To create a source of income for Messianic leaders with appropriate charisma and/or education and/or experience.
  5. To offer an alternative to an “apostate church” which fails to keep the Law and/or to “celebrate the feasts.”
  6. To win Jews to faith in Yeshua.
  7. To form a context where Jewish Yeshua believers can preserve their Jewish identity, passing it on and nurturing it in the next generation.
  8. To form Jewish style congregations where people can praise God in e-minor
  9. To restore a pristine form of Yeshua faith that allegedly existed in the First Century.
  10. To be a vehicle for reconciling the Church to Israel, as per the Jerusalem II Movement
  11. To be a context where the One New Man, conceived of as a community which transcends Jew/Gentile distinctions, can be expressed and gathered

Even if one were to believe that one or more of these purposes are noble, right and good, do any of them comprehensively capture the unique purpose for which God raised up the Messianic Jewish Movement? A cautious, fair, and biblically informed thinker would say, “Probably not,” and most would join me in saying, “Certainly not.”   Again, even if you judge some of these to be good and right purposes, they are not in themselves adequate as likely descriptions of why God raised up the Messianic Jewish movement.

Some give prioirty of place to the sixth purposes listed above, “To win Jews to faith in Yeshua.”  But is this in itself a right description of the unique calling of the Messianic Jewish Movement?  No, because there are many others, such as the missions community, which believe themselves called to this.  And besides, if for example we judged that the Southern Baptists, the missions community or someone else was doing “a better job” at winning Jews to Yeshua-faith, would that make the Messianic Jewish movemetn redundant?  No, the truth lies elsewhere entirely. This purpose is not a sufficient reason for being for the Messianic Jewish congregational movement.

Despite even our good works, our beautiful statues, echoing his word to the Ephesians, I think we must say the Risen Messiah has something against us—that we are failing to achieve his core purpose for us. In fact, isn’t it clear that our movement and its leaders have failed even to rightly discern and to agree on the purpose or purposes for which we have been raised up? In my experience, it seem that many have never even asked the question!

This is serious business, which is why I am so impassioned about this. If we fail to discern and to serve God’s purpose for our movement, I for one fear the Ephesian Consequence.

Do you?

In my next post I will outline my answer to the core question, “Why did God raise up the Messianic Jewish Movement?”  That will come tomorrow. Meanwhile, I invite you in your comments to answer the question yourself, in one sentence please.

5 Comments

  1. I have been very intrigued by Messianic Judaism since I first started to follow the writings of Dr Michael Brown and Stuart Dauermann. As a cradle Catholic, it gave me joy to see that Jews have begun to see that Jesus was sent to them first above all. There is a tone however that I often detect when reading discussions which are populated by Messianic Jews, and that is that those crazy Christians have really screwed things up and it is our job to as numbers 3 and 9 seem to indicate, to remake the worship of Jesus as Messiah “back” into a Jewish thing.

    I would counter that by definition the recognition of Jesus as Messiah changes almost everything. In fact Scripture from that point on is part of a New Testament, a fulfillment and perfection of the Mosiac Law. It signalled a new life, now in Christ the risen Redeemer.

    But it is also important to note that Judaism absented itself from the revelation of Jesus as Messiah and was in large part antagonistic to the new Jesus worship, so naturally the Jewish Apostles and Paul would form Christianity as something new and different.

    Had Judaism embraced Jesus from the outset, would it have retained its Judaic character? That is hard to say but clearly we know that Jesus served notice to the Pharisees that the game was forever changed. Without this, there is no crucifixion, no rising and therefore no promise of eternal life to all who follow Jesus. Things by definition had to change, and change fundamentally. The Scripture prophesied Jesus would be rejected by his own people.

    Messianic Jews I believe should embrace their brothers in Christ and as we learned from them, learn from we Christians who have been thinking about Jesus for 2,000 years now.

  2. I believe the mj movement very well could have its candlestick removed by be coming very un safe for jewish people (to the point that they are better off in non mj synagogues), becoming mockery jewish people, and causing tension / hatred and bitterness between Jews and Gentiles.

  3. I hope I did notmiss understand the question just multitasking all day so I had to read the article and type my answer out fast so I hope I make sense and I am in context

  4. Shalom Rabbi,

    I’m looking forward to your next post…I have my money on one of the options above. Let’s see if I’m right! 😉

    -YL

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