Wednesday, January 15, 2003

The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance -- Part 1

I was looking through some personal memorabilia this week. Among the items was a copy of a Campus Crusade for Christ publication: Student Action (Vol. 5, No. 2, Fall 1971). This particular newspaper had my testimony and picture, but that is another story. Rather what caught my eye was the testimony of Sherry Levi. The last name Levi, of course, is Jewish. She spoke of becoming a "completed Jew."

"Completed Jew" was a common term for young Jewish people coming to the Christian faith in the late 60's and early 70's. The term marked an very important departure from "Hebrew Christian." That departure was the product of the revoluionary changes that the 60's swept in. We "did our own thing" and challenged existing institutions. So, young new Jewish believers asked, "Why can I not still be a Jew?" While Hebrew Christians converted to Christianity completed Jews developed other ideas.

They changed the language by which they talked about their faith. They called Jesus by His more correct Hebrew name Yeshua. They began to see how their Jewish cultural heritage supported a belief in Yeshua as their Messiah. They began to connect the dots between New Testament events, like the Last Supper, and their Jewish counterparts, like Passover. They learned how to speak without saying Christ (Messiah), Church (congregations), Christians (believers), and Conversion. In so doing they became able to communicate their faith without awakening centuries of persecution and trauma in the Name of Christ. And so, they grew in numbers.

"Why can I not still be a Jew?" was followed by more questions. Can I celebrate Passover as a completed Jew? What about the Sabbath? What does the New Testament have to say about being a believing Jew? They discovered that the first decades after the resurrection of Yeshua were predominantly Jewish. They discovered that the big new idea in the New Testament was that gentiles could come to faith without becoming Jews. They discovered that the New Testament said nothing about Jews not being Jews.

Hassidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Conservative Jews, Secular Jews, found a new kid had moved to the neighborhood. The young completed Jews reclaimed their New Testament rights and became Messianic Jews. The first Messianic Jewish synagogues opened their doors in the 70's and were spreading around the world by the mid 80's. You will find them, today, all over the USA, in Europe, in South America, Russia, and Israel.

They have adapted their liturgy to include Yeshua. They read from Torah (Books of Moses), the Haphtarah (Prophets), and the Brit Chadasha (New Testament). They celebrate the Jewish holy days and holidays. They walk the Torah scrolls. They hold Bar Mitzvas and Bat Mitsvas. They have developed Yeshivas to train their rabbis. They are Jewish, but fully believe that Yeshua is God's Son.

In my lifetime, I have seen, or nearly so, the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the establishment of the Nation of Israel, the occupation by the Jews of parts of Jerusalem, and the rise of Messianic Jews. So what is the significance of this? That is for tomorrow.

Tomorrow: The Emergence of Messianic Judaism and Its Significance -- Part 2

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