I recently posted a video on Facebook where I highlighted the Messianic Jewish Movement’s general failure to attract other Jews to Yeshua-faith. In response, a good friend wrote the following, which I will address in a series of blogs. I am breaking up her comments into numbered paragraphs for ease of following, and giving each a title. Then I will follow with some brief responses to these excellent questions in a series of blogs. See that video HERE–> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ5FmR7mUlQ&t=28s
Normally, at Passover time (fast approaching) we have Four Questions. In these blogs we will deal with FIVE question. And today, I will respond to the first.
- My Apparent Prioritization of Outreach – That was really interesting. Can you unpack for me why you think Messianic Judaism is by definition a movement called to reach the Jewish people with the gospel? Obviously that’s a perspective which arises naturally in Christian thought – evangelical churches define themselves in terms of their purpose being evangelism. I’m not trying to ask mischievous questions here, I’m trying to ask what underlies, what’s at the basis of, this theology which focusses completely on converting people, rather than on a broader picture of mission (ie to congregations, networks of congregations, movements to work for social justice, feed the hungry, etc).
- What About the Messianic Jewish Movement’s Predominant Gentile Influx – What happens theologically to this understanding if it’s actually overwhelmingly non-Jews whom the Ruach HaKodesh is calling in? What is God saying then about purpose?
- What About Discipleship/Discipling? – What happens, most importantly, to discipleship, creating a learning community which creates a life-giving, Yeshua transformed setting for ordinary believers in Yeshua to live out their lives and raise their children?
- What About the Priority of Torah Learning for Jews? – What happens to the purpose approached from a Jewish perspective, of ‘from generation to generation’ transmission in terms of Torah learning? What happens to the ability of the Messianic community to engage in ever deeper Torah learning to develop its maturing theology? I’m trying to make sense of how you and others see the bigger picture.
- What About Gift Projection? – I’ve seen how easy it is for one person who has a strong calling, say, to pastoral care, to ‘convert’ a whole string of churches into seeing themselves as being there only to give pastoral care to one another and new people as they come in. Their entire ‘skill set’ becomes seen through, evaluated through, and enacted in terms of pastoral care. I’ve seen it happen with social justice, with congregations being led by a passionate social justice pioneer into this being the reason for the existence, their calling and purpose, to the point where pastoral care is virtually non-existent. How is all this balanced out?
What follows is a brief response to the first of these excellent areas of inquiry.
QUESTION #1 – My Apparent Prioritization of Outreach
This prioritization has several sources, and is also not as absolute as is stated in your question.
- The first reason for prioritization is subjective: this priority has been a fire in my belly and my bones for over fifty years. As Jeremiah says in another connection, “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”
- The second reasons for its prioritization in my video is that this is an area which is sorely lacking and poorly addressed in the Messianic Jewish Movement. My video is intended as a corrective, and as a corrective, yes, the video has a narrow focus. But that does not mean that outreach is my only focus. My writings reveal that I see seven eschatological purposes for the people Israel listed in Ezekiel 37:21-28, and these are not ranked: (1) Israel’s return to the Land, (2) unification of the Jewish people, (3) their spiritual renewal, (4) their gathering in allegiance to the Messiah, (5) Their return to covenantal Torah-faithfulness, (6) their national experience of the fullness of the Divine Presence, (7) all of the foregoing being instruments of HaShem’s vindication of his Name and his vindication of Israel as his people. Of these seven items, outreach is associated with the fourth. Yes, we should be engaged in calling our people to allegiance to the Messiah, just as we should be calling them back to the Land, to unity, to spiritual renewal, to Torah obedience, and to the richness of the Presence of Ruach HaKodesh. There is no imbalance here, nor any apologies, of course.
- Third, theologically the prioritization of outreach comes from our fulfilling the Jewish value, “kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh––all Israel is responsible for one another.” The general failure of our people to embrace the Messiah is a matter of grave covenantal consequence, and, being covenantally bound to our people, we cannot be indifferent to seeing this failure redressed as much as possible. This was the Kind of covenantal solidarity that drove the anguish of Saul of Tarsus when he said, “my heart’s deepest desire and my prayer to God for Isra’el is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). And I believe this “salvatiion” of the people Israel as a whole is tied up with redressing the covenant violation of rejecting God’s ultimate Messenger, the Messiah. My understanding of Jewish culpability in the Bible is that it always involves rejection of God’s messengers and rejection of their call to Jews to return to Torah-centric covenant obedience. Especially as members of the Remnant of Israel we must be preoccupied negatively with rescuing our people from covenant jeopardy (called nakam brit, [ וְהֵבֵאתִי עֲלֵיכֶם חֶרֶב נֹקֶמֶת נְקַם־בְּרִית ] “And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute vengeance for the covenant,” Leviticus 26:25), and positively with sharing with them the foretaste of eschatological blessings which are ours through allegiance to “David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jeremiah 30:9). And yes, other aspects of Israel’s fullness, enumerated in Ezekiel 37:21-28, and elsewhere, will also be our concern. Still, I think that given the universal testimony of Scripture, repentance from rejection of God’s ultimate messenger, and repentance for abandoning covenantal Torah-obligations are primary.
- Fourth is the matter of what might be termed covenantal decency – In 2 Kings chapter seven, Israel, in the ancient city of Samaria, is being beseiged by Ben-hadad, he King of Syria. The resultant famine is severe in the extreme. Four lepers who are outside the gate of the city because of their outcast status reason with each other that if they go into the city they will starve, and if they go over to the army of the Syrians, the worst the enemy will do is to kill them. Since they are going to die anyway, there is nothing to lose. However, when they arrive at the camp, they find that the Syrians had totally abandoned the camp and all its plunder (because God had caused them to hear a mighty army coming at them––an auditory hallucination––which resulted in their fleeing for their lives. The account goes on to say,
- 8 When these men with tzara’at [commonly, but inaccurately termed ‘leprosy’] reached the outskirts of the camp, they entered one of the tents, ate and drank; then took some silver, gold and clothing; and went and hid it. Next they returned and entered another tent, took stuff from there, and went and hid it. 9 But finally they said to each other, “What we are doing is wrong. At a time of good news like this, we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. If we wait even till morning, we will earn only punishment; so come on, let’s go and tell the king’s household.” (2 Kings 7)
- Similarly, we Jews who believe in Yeshua cannot justify keeping the good news to ourselves, but must go to our people and share the benefits we have found which in a very real sense, have saved our lives, as they will save theirs. While, as mentioned, it is not our sole priority, it most certainly is not one to be deferred or neglected. Hence the urgency of my appeal to a movement where the priority is not generally effectively pursued.
More to come . . .