Considering Messianic Jewish Fears of Replacement and Irrelevance

PDF


PODCAST


ORIGINALLY POSTED 05 AUGUST, 2013

reproduced from the Messianic Torah Helper

At this still relatively young point in my experience as a Messianic writer and teacher, I have lost count of how many times I have begun an article, or included a statement, along the lines of: The Messianic movement has seen a generation of Jewish people come to faith in Messiah Yeshua, as well as many evangelical Christians embrace their Hebraic Roots in a tangible way… To some of you, these remarks seem rather obvious, and perhaps even a bit mundane. To others, though, these remarks are not only controversial, but they are also quite subversive. But, while you might expect these “others” to principally be various Christian leaders and theologians of influence—these “others” may actually compose some significant Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers of note. They do not like much of what they see in the contemporary Messianic movement, which they widely believe should be an almost Jewish-exclusive community.[1]

One of the most significant issues that is dominating all of the contemporary Messianic movement, at present, is the future. Many are of the conviction that even though we are living in the end-times, that there are a number of things which need to transpire via the emergence of the Messianic movement, the salvation of the Jewish people, and the restoration of Israel—which will require some more time to see properly develop. Outreach Israel Ministries and Messianic Apologetics have been among those who have recognized this reality, and have tried to approach the whole subject of the “end-times” very, very carefully.[2] Yet, even within a broad Messianic vision of anticipating the salvation of the Jewish people and restoration of Israel’s Kingdom (cf. Acts 1:6), one will encounter a huge bevy of competing visions for the future of the Messianic movement. Some of these have been composed in various popular books, which you may see in the Judaica shop of your local Messianic Jewish congregation, or may be encountered via various popular Hebrew Roots conference events, articles, and blog postings.

A significant feature of the modern Messianic movement, which the early Messianic Jewish pioneers of the late 1960s and early 1970s, did not at all anticipate—is that this is now a majority non-Jewish movement. At first, probably into the mid-to-late 1980s, it was believed—and it still is by many—that the main reason various evangelical Christians were being led into Messianic Jewish congregations and assemblies, was so that they could help out and assist in an ancillary capacity. Obviously, the Messianic Jewish movement would need workers for Jewish ministry, and would need the resources of many people in order to continue. But by the late 1908s, and into the 1990s, it became quite obvious to many that non-Jewish Believers were being led into the Messianic Jewish movement for more reasons than just to help Jewish Believers and Jewish evangelism; these people were being led by the Lord to embrace their Hebraic Roots in a very tangible way, being sovereignly directed by Him to live in obedience to the Torah as Yeshua Himself lived (cf. Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4; Zechariah 8:23). They believed that the modern Messianic movement was, in many regards, supposed to mirror the First Century Body of Messiah, of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers sharing sacred space and fellowship with one another. This has been recognized as valid by many Messianic Jews, but then has also been rejected by other Messianic Jews.

Since the late 1990s and to our present, the early 2010s, the Messianic Jewish movement has seen various splinter sub-movements emerge (i.e., the One Law/One Torah sub-movement, the Two-House sub-movement), which are widely composed of non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots in various ways. Most of these people see themselves as being grafted-in to Israel via their faith in Messiah Yeshua (Romans 11:16ff), and that they are not a part of some separate “Church” entity. Some of these people, in their quest to recapture a lost appreciation of the Torah and Tanach, try to be respectful to the Jewish and Christian people who have preceded them—but then many others are quite dishonoring of Jews, Christians, and those who have preceded them. There are diverse views about what the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) composes, and whether being a part of Israel means possessing citizenship in an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel alongside of Messianic Jewish people, keeping the same basic Torah Instruction (the One Law/One Torah sub-movement), or even whether it means that many, if not most, of today’s non-Jewish Messianics are members of the Ten Lost Tribes and need to return to the Holy Land (the Two-House sub-movement).

Suffice it to say, even with many Messianic Jewish congregations, and their leadership, being places where non-Jewish Believers can expect to be welcomed in various degrees—many non-Jewish Messianic Believers, per the issues that they face in embracing their Hebraic Roots and a life of Torah obedience—have not at all considered some of the concerns of Jewish Believers. Not enough have often paused for a moment, and considered the views of those Messianic Jews who are afraid that the Messianic movement will be so overrun by non-Jewish people, that there will be no place for Jewish ministry, mainline Jewish traditions and Jewish culture, and that Messianic Jewish children are in serious danger of all being intermarried out to non-Jewish spouses, with Jewish identity lost in one or two generations. As obvious as it might be, recognizing that you cannot have an authentic restoration of Israel without the Jewish people, and that a noticeable level of Jewish distinction must be present, has been overlooked and forgotten by many non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots at present.

I have collected a few important thoughts for each of us to consider, as we contemplate some of the fears that today’s Messianic Jewish Believers have of replacement and irrelevance, in this current season. Obviously, there are no easy answers, but I hope that these thoughts will ably communicate how I am not trying to replace the Jewish people via my Messianic convictions, and neither am I trying to pass myself off as though I were ethnically and culturally Jewish.

Required Sensitivity for Non-Jews Being a Part of Israel

One of the most significant debates raging right now, across the Messianic movement—which far too many are aware of, and which is dividing many, many people—is perhaps best represented by the question: Are non-Jewish Believers really a part of Israel? This is a topic that I delved into, in a Confronting Issues mini-book by this title, released in early 2013. My main intention was to catalogue some of the main passages from the Apostolic Scriptures or the New Testament which involve ecclesiology or the study of God’s elect,[3] notably including those which deal with the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13), the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), and the concept of those from the nations being grafted-in (Romans 11:16ff), and evaluate current Messianic handling of these ideas. My intention was not at all to communicate that non-Jewish Believers, legitimately possessing citizenship in Israel’s Messianic Kingdom realm, and thus a part of Israel—were somehow genetically, ethnically, or even culturally Jewish. As the Prophet Amos anticipated (Amos 9:11-12, both MT and LXX; cf. Acts 15:15-18), the restoration of the Tabernacle of David will involve a restored Twelve Tribes of Israel in the Holy Land, and then the borders of Israel’s Kingdom expanding to incorporate the righteous from the nations. I issued some strong words against non-Jewish Messianics thinking they could make aliyah to the Holy Land, as a Jewish person could, as well as admonishing non-Jewish Messianics not to call themselves some sort of “Israelites.” I advised being very careful with how they explained to Jewish Believers how they consider themselves a part of “Israel,” meaning the assembly Yeshua came to restore (Matthew 16:18; cf. Jeremiah 33:7, LXX), as we are not all exactly the same.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1, NRSV), as all of us, Jewish and non-Jewish, are to look to the Tanach Scriptures as a part of our spiritual heritage, and think of ourselves as being among those who participated in the Exodus. But, it cannot be overlooked how there is certainly a Jewish distinction seen in Holy Scripture, if by anything else, by virtue of the fact that what is recorded in the Tanach or the Old Testament is not only a Jewish person’s spiritual heritage, but is also his or her ethnic and cultural heritage (cf. Romans 9:4). Non-Jewish Believers cannot readily claim these latter two. This means that Jewish people will, or at least should, have a much deeper connection with the ancient Biblical past, and a familiarity and comfort level, which non-Jews are likely not to have. Jewish people should have more of a natural impetus and desire to follow the Torah than the rest of us, because for them it is not only about obeying God, but also about who they are as a people.

Being able to recognize some level of distinction, between Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, has not always been possible among non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots. In fact, it might be said that Paul’s warning of Romans 11:17-23 has not always been respected and adhered to:

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.”

It is, of course, entirely true that the olive tree, to which the wild branches of those from the nations are grafted-in, is Israel, as affirmed by the Tanach (Jeremiah 11:16-17[4]; Hosea 14:1-7[5]). Paul’s ancient observation, though, as stated earlier, was “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:2-3). If Paul, even a bit exaggerated, can say that he would be willing to give up his Messiah faith for the greater salvation of Jewish people who have largely rejected Yeshua—then today’s non-Jewish Messianics can exhibit a bit more respect and caution, than they tend to, when interacting with Jewish Believers. For, just as Paul said, natural branches had to be broken off of the olive tree to make room for those of the nations. And, just as Paul warned, if God was willing to break of natural branches, then He would be just as willing to cut off the wild branches who are arrogant and fail to recognize the likely cost of their salvation. So, if non-Jewish Believers do legitimately consider themselves a part of Israel’s olive tree, albeit as wild branches and not totally the same as Jewish Believers who are the natural branches—when they say We are a part of Israel too, it not only needs to be emphasized that what is being talked about is the future Messianic Kingdom that is coming and not citizenship in the current State of Israel, but also that they are greatly grieved at the widescale Jewish rejection of Yeshua.

Because of current challenges via the inevitable pains to be experienced by us as a still-developing and emerging faith community, it is not a surprise why many non-Jewish Believers, embracing their Hebraic Roots, have not taken Paul’s direction of Romans 11:17-23 as well as they should have. And perhaps most challenging, at least per my interpretation of Romans 11:25, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the [nations] has come in,” is that to plērōma tōn ethnōn should be interpreted in light of the previous statement, “if their transgression leads to riches for the world, and their loss riches for the [nations], how much more their fullness” (Romans 11:12, TLV), posō mallon to plērōma autōn. The corporate salvation of the Jewish people and the inauguration of the Messianic Kingdom (Romans 11:26-29), will not take place until non-Jewish Believers enter in on the scene, who are spiritually, ethically, and morally the “fullness” of all who they can be in Yeshua—specifically involving being agents of love, grace, and mercy par excellence to a Jewish people who have widely rejected Him: “because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy” (Romans 11:31). This interpretation of Romans 11:12, 25 is not a difficult one because of the exegesis involved with the term plērōma; it is a difficult interpretation because it is the most difficult to implement, as it requires many base human emotions to be jettisoned.[6]

Sadly, not enough of today’s non-Jewish Messianics have committed themselves to becoming “the fullness of the nations” spiritually, ethically, and morally. They have not asked the Lord to give them transformed hearts and minds, able to be moved with compassion for not only the unique needs of the worldwide Jewish community (especially a post-Holocaust community!),[7] but also to have the intellectual ability of knowing when and when not to speak. This does involve being able to compute some of the historical difficulties which have ensued between Jews and Christians in past centuries, being able to mediate through the religious politics of the current Messianic movement, and setting the attention of God’s people onto the glorious future in store for all of us. If non-Jewish Believers consider themselves being a part of Israel, and even sharing in Israel’s irrevocable calling (Romans 11:29)—serving God as part of a Kingdom of priests and holy nation (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9-11)—then part of serving the Lord as a priest is to know how to intercede for the redemption of humanity’s lost. The sensationalism that dominates far too much of the Hebrew Roots movement (and especially the Two-House sub-movement!)[8] has made non-Jews being a part of Israel a source of great pride and arrogance, as opposed to being substantially moved to act for the Lord for the salvation of His Jewish people and the world at large!

The Fears of Some of Today’s Messianic Jews:
non-Jewish Messianics Living as Cultural Jews

Many Messianic Jews, when looking out at the demographics of their congregations, fellowships, and at the broad Messianic community, are afraid that who they are will be marginalized by non-Jews in their midst. At the very least, if a Messianic congregation is over half non-Jewish, then will the congregational leadership be able to balance out the unique needs of all of the people who are members of the local faith community? In many cases, the issues that non-Jewish Believers have in embracing their Hebraic Roots abundantly overshadow the issues that Jewish Believers have when balancing their profession of faith in Yeshua, with their non-believing family and the wider Jewish community. Will the Messianic congregation provide some of the significant elements of a traditional synagogue, or will it be closer to a non-denominational church with some Hebraic accoutrements? Even with Jewish Believers in Yeshua knowing that their Messiah faith will require some sacrifice, totally giving up on mainline Jewish traditions and culture should not be something that the broad Messianic community—a majority of whom are non-Jewish—asks or requires of them.

In much of my on-the-ground experience, the concern exhibited by your average Messianic Jew (although there are various ones who do express such concerns) is not necessarily over non-Jewish Believers keeping the seventh-day Sabbath as a day off from work, eating a kosher-style diet that widely avoids pork and shellfish, or even men wearing a kippah/yarmulke at a Saturday morning worship service as part of congregational protocol. The concern of replacement and irrelevance that your average Messianic Jew has, is when a non-Jewish Believer, or a family of such Believers, observes a high level of cultural Jewishness that most modern Jews and Messianic Jews are themselves unwilling to have—which is typically, although not always, a level of Torah observance most easily associated with the ultra Orthodox or Chassidic movements. For many non-Jewish Messianic Believers, Torah obedience equals living as though they are ethnic and cultural Jews, in all aspects of their lives, with their own ethnic and cultural background either downplayed or totally forgotten.

Various leaders and teachers in the One Torah/One Law sub-movement, in particular, in rightly wanting to inform a broad audience about many of the edifying and enriching aspects of Jewish tradition and culture—have not done a very good job at helping non-Jewish Messianics sort between Biblical commandments, Jewish tradition, and Jewish culture. Biblical commandments like observing the seventh-day Sabbath, for example, should be observed by all of God’s people. Having a Shabbat service with a Torah scroll and various liturgical prayers, as much of a blessing as it truly may be, though, would be something found in Jewish tradition—and would be something most logical to see practiced in a wide congregational assembly, which will probably be a mixed group of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers. But, making sure that on Friday night one eats challah or gefilte fish, and drinks highly sweet and syrupy Manischewitz wine, would very clearly be a part of Jewish culture likely to be observed in Messianic Jewish homes—and while very rich and dynamic and bonding—are obviously not Biblical mandates that everyone should feel that they have to observe, and are likely to be mostly limited to Jewish homes with centuries-old family traditions.

Since the late 2000s and into the 2010s, I have interacted with a number of Messianic Jews, some of whom are in congregational leadership or administration, who are not too worried about non-Jewish Believers worshipping with them on a consistent basis, on Shabbat—but are worried about non-Jewish Believers crowding them out, as though such non-Jewish Believers were somehow cultural Jews, when they are not. A number of major cultural aspects which disturb them, which very few have had the courage to even mention, include:

  • the adoption of Hebrew pseudo-names by non-Jewish Messianics, including calling one’s parents abba or ima
  • the adoption of cultural Jewish practices such as non-Jewish Believers (not intermarrieds) marrying under a chuppah and breaking a glass at their wedding, as though both husband and wife were Jewish
  • the adoption by some non-Jewish Messianics of dressing as though they were Chassidic Jews, via some sort of quasi-Seventeenth Century Eastern European garb
  • insistence of burial within twenty-four hours, per the more rigidly conservative Jewish convention
  • a tendency to widely, or exclusively, listen to or sing Eastern European-style klesmer or Middle Eastern-style music
  • a tendency to widely eat food that has only been prepared via customary Eastern European Jewish or Middle Eastern style (note: the issue is not a kosher style of separating out clean and unclean meats, but instead culinary taste)
  • littering normal English speech with a wide number of out of place Hebrew or Yiddish terms

Obviously, especially in a place like North America as a land of immigrants, there will be some cultural blending witnessed among whatever groups of religious people gather together in a wider assembly. And, people have a free will to call themselves what they want, to have the wedding ceremony that they want, to wear the clothing they want, to have the funeral that they want, or to favor a particular style of cuisine.

No one should take these above points and ever think that I am against a traditional Jewish wedding with a chuppah canopy, or think that I am against klesmer music, or that I am against eating Middle Eastern dishes like hummus. I am not against these things! (Non-Jewish couples having a Jewish style wedding is undeniably preferable to a man and woman indefinitely living and copulating together, unmarried, after all!) Any non-Jewish Messianic should be able to attest to the great beauty and richness of not only the Jewish people and their culture, but of the wide diversity of Jewry as well. However, non-Jewish Torah obedient people do, at times, think that they must live as though they were ethnically and culturally Jewish—and in the process they forget many of the virtues of their own background, and will even find themselves violating the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16).

While certainly needing to be reformed and influenced by a Biblical ethos, various types of clothing, cuisine, music, artwork, entertainment, architecture, and even literature—from a huge array of world cultures—should not all be synthesized to look and feel like that found in global Jewry. The Body of Messiah can—after all—be viewed as a tossed salad, and not at all as a melting pot. I myself am a huge fan of Jewish tradition and culture, and know that it benefits Messianic congregations and assemblies—of both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers—the world over. Yet is is obvious from how I live my life that I am no “Jewish wannabe,” even though I do consider myself a citizen of an enlarged Kingdom realm of Israel in Messiah Yeshua.

I might be able to help stop some of the fears of, at least a few, of today’s Messianic Jews, who might have the impression that I am a non-Jewish Believer—and a teacher who has a huge volume of writing to his name, no less—who somehow via my Torah observance, am trying to live as though I were ethnically and culturally Jewish. Some counterpoints, from my own life, per the list above, include:

  • even with some pressure exerted on me by outside extremists at times, my legal name is still John Kimball McKee, my family and close friends call me John, and professionally I go by my initials J.K. McKee in conventional honor of my paternal grandfather G.K. McKee,[9] my father K.K. McKee,[10] and my maternal grandfather W.W. Jeffries[11]
  • while I am not likely to have a traditional Protestant style wedding in a church facility, it is doubtful (at present) that (if I do get married) I will have a traditional Jewish-style wedding with Hebrew liturgy and a glass breaking ceremony, as much as I will have some sort of modified Protestant-style service with one or two Hebrew blessings, and with the Hebrew “Yeshua” used a little more than the English “Jesus” (this will obviously change if I marry a Jewish woman)[12]
  • I do not dress as though I were from Seventeenth Century Eastern Europe, nor have I ever been tempted to; I have been accused, at times, though, of dressing too “preppy”
  • if the Lord does not return in my lifetime, my funeral plans are to be buried at the McKee family plot in Ft. Mitchell, KY, which will require my body to embalmed not just for transportation, but because of cemetery policies
  • I am no music expert, but I actually prefer to play Star Trek television soundtracks (particularly Deep Space Nine) while I work
  • I enjoy a wide array of world cuisines, including Jewish cuisine, but my favorite is still Southern American BBQ; I even plan on releasing a kosher style cookbook for it in the future
  • my speech is more likely to use political science terms and theological terms derived from Hebrew, Greek, Latin, or German, than slang terms from Yiddish

I, J.K. McKee, am fairly comfortable in my identity not just as a non-Jewish Believer generically, but someone who is a Scottish American (among other nationalities), a Southern American, and who still has a high regard for his Protestant forbearers. Obviously, people who know me from my writings, know that I have defended the validity, relevance, and edifying spiritual value of mainline Jewish traditions, I have explained and lauded their importance, and I have talked about many aspects of Jewish culture by which I have personally been blessed and enriched as a part of Messianic congregations and fellowships. In addressing some of the life cycle and living preference issues, where many Messianic Jews feel like who they are is being crowded out—I hope that I have conveyed the point that am not trying to live as though I were a cultural Jew, robbing Jews of a wide degree of their distinctiveness. In a diverse Messianic congregation on Saturday morning for Shabbat, where I am in attendance, people are generally aware that a big, tall man from the nations, is among them. When they come to visit me in my ministry office, they are not at all shocked to see many Jewish books and Christian books; they are more surprised to see the many family mementos and relics across many years decorating the place rather than Judaica items.[13]

Obviously, there are many issues to be probed and explored—especially lifestyle issues—where the Bible, Jewish tradition, Jewish culture, and the backgrounds of many other people within the Messianic movement need to be respected and honored.[14] Many non-Jewish Believers, in their quest to be Torah observant, would only feel compelled to cross over into the realm of trying to live as though they were ethnically and culturally Jewish in most, if not all aspects of their lives, unless they were somehow made to feel that their own background should be disrespected. This is one of the reasons why I am so busy in ministry work, as it is my hope and intention to provide respectful, edifying solutions to our challenges—and above all see that all of us are appropriately honored for who we are as human beings made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26). Being Torah obedient for a non-Jewish Believer does not mean that all of the strengths and virtues of his or her background should get tossed away. Likewise, being in a diverse Body of Messiah does not mean that Jewish Believers have to give up all of their unique cultural extra-Biblical practices, which helps to define and identify them as Jews. How we allow for unity and diversity, at the same time, is not going to be easy in the short term.

A Complicated Messianic Future

As things stand in 2013, the broad Messianic movement (the Messianic Jewish movement, the One Law/One Torah sub-movement, the Two-House sub-movement, Hebrew/Hebraic Roots) is still reeling from much of the fallout of the January 2012 Ralph Messer incident, where this populist figure desecrated a Torah scroll by wrapping it around an African American pastor, who was also an accused sex offender, and it then went viral on all of the major news networks—but most especially on YouTube.[15] To date, this has been the biggest public exposure any sector of the Messianic or Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement(s) has had to the wider world—and it was not at all a good one.[16] Many Messianic Jews overreacted to it, thinking that this would be the proverbial “end” of Messianic Judaism, with their congregational ministries having gone “poof” or “down the drain.” Obviously, God is much bigger than that! But since that time, various figures within Messianic Judaism have used this incident to clamp down on the presumed “Gentile problem,” redoubling their efforts to see that the Messianic movement almost exclusively be defined as “legitimate Messianic Judaism,” and to see a more exclusive rather than inclusive religious environment promoted.

Suffice it to say, rather than being a reason to try to understand the psychology of why certain opportunists do what they do, and why some people are led to follow them—various leaders of today’s main Messianic Jewish denominations have used the Ralph Messer incident, among other things, to justify some inappropriate religious politics. The new test of theological orthodoxy for many in Messianic Judaism is not what you do with Yeshua the Messiah, but instead whether or not you affirm a bilateral ecclesiology of two separate groups of elect, Israel and “the Church” (being the two parts of the “Commonwealth of Israel” of course),[17] and maintain rigid distinctions among God’s people.

In evangelical Christianity, now in the 2010s, many people have started to recognize how irrelevant denominationalism has become, especially in view of the controversy of ordination over gays and lesbians. For the past several decades, the true “spiritual power” of influence, if you will, has been present among para-church ministries and organizations. Eventually, the Messianic movement is not going to be as constrained by some of its denominations, and their politicking, position statements, and white papers (none of which address theological issues, but instead are only used for posturing) as they are at present. Individual people, families of people, and groups of families in fellowships, and also various established congregations, will take responsibility for themselves—in evaluating the trajectory of salvation history, the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom, and the inclusion of people from the nations. Even with some bad behavior present, such as was demonstrated via the Ralph Messer incident—God’s will for all of His people will still be accomplished.

We are steadily approaching the return of the Messiah, and Jewish Believers should not be threatened if non-Jewish Believers are following God’s Torah as has been prophesied (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4), joining with them in one accord as has been prophesied (Zechariah 8:23)—with all allowing the Holy Spirit to compel obedience via the power of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Non-Jewish Believers should be made to feel welcome, and their unique backgrounds and talents and skills and perspectives should be honored—the same as Jewish Believers absolutely shouldbecause we all have value in God’s eyes. We need to be facilitating assemblies and fellowships where no one feels unnecessarily excluded, and where we move beyond some of the mistakes of the past. And let us also not forget this one sobering fact: the generation which will finally witness the full restoration of Israel’s Kingdom will also be one of intense apostasy against God (2 Thessalonians 2:3). There should be no real worry on the part of Messianic Jews that they will be utterly outnumbered by non-Jews in their midst, when in the future there will be too few God-Believers.[18]

Postscript:

A Messianic Spiritual Inventory

posted to the (old) TNN Online website 01 May, 2013

My family has been formally involved in the Messianic movement since 1995. As has been described in numerous places throughout our publications, we would not have entered into it, if it had not been for some unique circumstances. When my parents, Kimball and Margaret McKee, came to saving faith in 1984, not only did they return to going to church again—but they also started, albeit nominally, investigating their Hebraic Roots. My father, employing some insights which were being taught by the late Zola Levitt, integrated various Hebraic Roots components into his Sunday school class, and even gave a presentation on the Passover at our Methodist church in Northern Kentucky.[19] When he passed away in 1992, and my mother remarried in 1994 and we moved to Dallas, Texas—Mark and Margaret Huey, now, were not going to be Methodist, nor Bible church. As a new family unit, we got involved in the charismatic movement for a brief season. It was following Mark and Margaret’s December 1994 trip to Israel that they felt the pull of the Holy Spirit into Messianic things, and so it was in the Fall of 1995 that we started attending a Messianic Jewish congregation, and were significantly exposed as a family to our Jewish Roots, things of Torah, and some Messianic controversies still in their very early stages. From that time onward, it has been a unique experience as we have become acquainted with many sectors of the broad Messianic movement, and we know that the story in 2013 is far from over…[20]

While a junior in high school in 1997, I started the TNN Online website (www.tnnonline.net), which was originally called Tribulation News Network (now just Theology News Network [and having transitioned into Messianic Apologetics in 2015])—as many people, myself included, were expecting some sort of prophecy-related events to occur in conjunction with the new Millennium. Y2k came and went. In the early 2000s, though, something in the Messianic movement really began to stir, as it was obvious that more was happening beyond just the salvation of the Jewish people. Non-Jewish Believers, as our family had already experienced to a degree, had begun to embrace their Hebraic Roots en masse, living lives of Torah obedience. Between 2001-2002, while a junior at the University of Oklahoma—from my dorm room of all places—I began to write a wide variety of apologetic articles on various aspects of the Messianic lifestyle. I had already taken a semester of classical Greek, was taking modern Hebrew, and was also taking history classes germane to the broad Biblical period. The early 2000s were a time where some highly sensational literature had hit the Messianic world, written by individuals poorly qualified to offer opinions on theological and spiritual topics. Given my family’s background in both ministry and education going back several generations,[21] I certainly did not see why I could not start writing myself—and in the process offer some more balanced perspectives and opinions.

After having served in a consulting capacity with some Messianic ministries, by my senior year of college in 2002-2003, my parents started Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net), which TNN Online was naturally folded into. When I graduated in 2003, I joined the ministry full time, and I took a year-and-a-half off as we got things established. Since then, Outreach Israel has developed into an educational Messianic ministry, which produces materials addressing a wide range of (complicated) issues germane to our broad faith community.

In the Spring of 2005 I started classes at the satellite campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, to work on my M.A. in Biblical Studies. Because of my family’s past connections and involvement with Asbury in Wilmore, Kentucky at various church functions, I had a certain degree of comfort at Asbury, and an even greater familiarity with what to expect because of my Wesleyan heritage. Unlike, perhaps, some other Messianic people who have gone to Christian educational institutions—I went to Asbury to learn skills, be familiarized with discussions in current Biblical Studies, become acquainted with various perspectives present across the theological spectrum, and hone in on my Hebrew and Greek. This meant that I was very careful and tactful in challenging anything—as opposed to how some might have caused controversy by forcing their Messianic beliefs onto others.[22] For the variety of issues on which a Messianic person like myself may have disagreed, I took notes and made observations, filing them away (possibly to be used at a later date). If there is anything I was definitely taught that has remained truly invaluable for me, it was that in my Inductive Bible Study classes and exegesis classes, we were taught to stick with the text. My professors would tell us as students that even though we would be accessing various commentaries, articles, and other academic resources—that we were free to disagree with opinions offered, provided we could defend our position from the Biblical text. Learning how to do this well, was a definite skill for which I will always be thankful!

Of all the seminary experiences that I had, which I continue to carry with me, one of the most important was that of walking into the Asbury library multiple times throughout 2005. The first impression you get is personally knowing that your own library is going to have to expand, as you begin to acquire an entire host of reference books, encyclopedias, commentaries, and specialized studies. Your second impression, as a Messianic person, is realizing that while there are many books on many theological and spiritual topics—is how little written material there actually is from a Messianic Jewish/non-Jewish perspective, on some major issues of substance. Even now in 2013, much of what has influenced our broad faith community has been from those who have only written two or three books, and who then often stop. In 2005 I had to seriously consider whether it would ever be possible, for a shelf of well-written and lucid resources composed by future Messianic people to be realized. If so, it would mean a great deal of heavy labor, time, and energy committed… Many teachers and leaders continue to kick proverbial cans down the road, presumably leaving their successors—younger people such as myself—to handle the work.

In the 2000s, the Messianic movement grew too quickly and too big, and the theology has not been able to catch up with it. There was a significant amount of cutting corners by various leaders and teachers, and important details left out of key discussions. The 2000s have also been a time where a polarization began to emerge, particularly between the religious politics of various Messianic Jewish denominations, and the antics of various independent Messianic figures.[23] Recognizing, especially from my seminary studies, that the amount of work that a ministry like Outreach Israel was going to have to accomplish would be immense—we found it most prudent to adopt the policy of preferring to deal with teachings, and not teachers. The broad Messianic community is so small, that generally everyone in some position of leadership has either met or encountered or at least heard of another at some point in time. The need to stay objective—but above all emotionally distanced—is most imperative if issues of controversy are to be fairly addressed. Writing refutation papers, as opposed to theological analyses, is a habit that needs to be broken.

I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with my M.A. in Biblical Studies in the Spring of 2009—and I even received the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek, no less. At the end of 2009, though, with the new decade looming, circumstances within the contemporary Messianic movement made it obvious, to me, that some big changes would be in store for all of us in the 2010s. Some theological flip-flopping and negative religious politics by some more well-known and popular Messianic voices made it clear that some significant, necessary shifts and alterations, would need to occur among men and women within our faith community. Some of these would be painful. The biggest of these changes would be the fact that a new kind of Messianic spiritual culture had to emerge—one that emphasized the common faith in the Lord Yeshua and what He has accomplished for redeemed sinners as the most important thing. Unfortunately for far too much of the broad Messianic movement (Messianic Judaism, the One Law/One Torah sub-movement, the Two-House sub-movement, various other independents, etc.), differences among people and what makes a sub-group or clique unique or presumably “special,” are believed to override (or in some cases nullify) the common bonds among those saved by God’s grace. The actual change that needs to be made, in emphasizing what Yeshua has accomplished for us as being the most important, is quite simple…but is also quite difficult…[24] Yet, I think that the changes which need to take place among individual people and families, is much easier to implement, than in trying to change leaders.

As we entered into 2010 and a new decade, how many of us who had been in the Messianic movement for some period of time, were listening to what God was communicating? All of us, be we Jewish or non-Jewish, compose a very special and significant faith community (especially now in the very early stages, where those involved have to likely be specifically called of God into it, given its current growing pains). When we can respect the high virtues and positive accomplishments of the Jewish Synagogue and Christian Church, and come together employing those strengths in mutual submission to one another—then today’s Messianic people possess a significant amount of spiritual power to accomplish God’s objectives for the final stages of salvation history. The enemy knows this, and this is why there has been so much division. When we can get our “act together,” as it were,” I believe that there will be very little that can stop us.[25]

The 2010s are going to be a significant season of a retaking of spiritual inventory for all of us in the Messianic world. What are those things that we have all been avoiding for far too long? Where have some of us gone too far, and where will we need to pull the reigns back? Where do we need to be more cautious and considerate as we consider the future? Will tact and discernment, be truly able to replace base emotions and reactionarianism? I know that much of what Outreach Israel Ministries has researched, written, and directed in the 2000s have helped provide a base for the long term future of much of our Messianic faith community—particularly those who are able to see the big picture, and can truly consider the great potential we collectively possess.

In December 2012, my own family relocated back to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, after two years of trying to leave Central Florida. We actually have returned to where we got our start in the Messianic movement! It is too premature, after five months now in May 2013, to make any determinations on whether we are going to make a sizeable impact in an area which is a definite hub of North American Messianic activity. What is not too premature to know, however, is that a teacher such as myself is going to be absolutely overloaded with things to do for a good long while!

As the chief coordinator for Messianic Apologetics, as soon as a wider array of publications is released on a Torah obedient lifestyle for all Messianic Believers—which should have actually been finished yesterday—we have a distinct impression that issues of Christology (the doctrine of the Messiah) and soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) are going to hit our movement hard. The array of issues needing to be addressed on the Messianic lifestyle is a heavy volume for the next few years[26]; and the other issues will require a significant amount of reflection, contemplation, and reasoning—and headaches.[27] And I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Wednesday Night Bible Study podcast—which I have posted since August 2005—is what has been used to produce the volumes of our Practical Messianic commentary series.[28] This is something which I know cannot stop, because I am unaware of any other ministry which is dedicated to steadily producing Bible commentaries from a Messianic perspective, which are both semi-technical and are spiritually challenging to Believers’ growth in the Lord. At the very least, it is my goal over the next two decades or so, to see a complete set of Messianic commentaries released on the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament.[29]

Beyond the various issues of a Torah obedient lifestyle for today’s Messianic people, and issues pertaining to the nature of the Messiah and our salvation in Him—we cannot also avoid knowing that there will be a huge array of issues hitting, which wider society will force upon us as people of faith. How prepared are today’s Messianic Believers to consider criticisms against the Bible, its relativity, and its reliability? We know that these things are going to increase. During the week of this past Passover 2013, there was a huge debate here in the United States over the legality of gay marriage, which is something of a sort-of theological hot potato as it concerns the validity and relevance of the Law of Moses in various Christian circles.[30] We should also know that a simplistic and disengaged approach toward such things will not suffice. The scariest end-time sign of them all, to be certain, is the prophesied apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:9). As we anticipate the end-time restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), and the redeemed from the nations coming to Zion to be taught God’s Torah (Micah 4:1-3; Isaiah 2:2-4), and joining with the Jewish people (Zechariah 8:23)—there will also be many, many people denying the truth of God’s Word, and indeed, the very existence of a Supreme Being.[31]

What is going to come as we go through the present season of a retaking of our Messianic spiritual inventory? People from all sides of the broad Messianic movement will need to make various concessions that they might not be willing to make. We will all have to pray that the Lord grants us a significant degree of both calmness and coolness, and that we will listen to reason a bit more frequently than to our base emotions. Above all, we must be willing to be crafted into a fine-tuned and well-polished machine, knowing that whatever we may have to give up—or more likely tighten and shore up—is ultimately minor in terms of the larger impetus of seeing an inclusive, welcoming Messianic movement emerge, which employs and honors all of the gifts, talents, and skills of today’s Jewish and non-Jewish men and women!


NOTES

[1] Some of the recent literature that has been released, reflecting this perspective in various ways, includes: Daniel Juster, Jewish Roots: Understanding Your Jewish Faith, revised edition (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2013); David J. Rudolph and Joel Willetts, eds., Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013); Eitan Shishkoff, “What About Us?” The end-time calling of Gentiles in Israel’s revival (Bedford, TX: Burkhart Books, 2013); Boaz Michael, Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile (Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion, 2013).

[2] If necessary, do avail yourself of the perspective offered in the book When Will the Messiah Return? by J.K. McKee.

[3] Matthew 16:18-19; John 10:14-18; Acts 1:6; Acts 2:36-39; 15: 15:-18; Romans 2:28-29; 9:3-6, 23-29; 11:16-24, 25,-29; 16:4; 1 Corinthians 10:1-11, 18; Galatians 2:7-10; 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:11-13; 3:6; Titus 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9-11; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6.

[4] “The LORD called your name, ‘A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form’; with the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are worthless. The LORD of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced evil against you because of the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done to provoke Me by offering up sacrifices to Baal” (Jeremiah 11:16-17).

[5] “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, “Our god,” to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.’ I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon” (Hosea 14:1-7).

[6] This is further discussed in Chapter 5 of When Will the Messiah Return? by J.K. McKee, “The Restoration of All Things and the Emergence of the Messianic Movement”; also consult the relevant sections of the forthcoming (planned 2014) commentary Romans for the Practical Messianic.

[7] If at all necessary, do consult the substantial work William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany (New York: Touchstone, 1959).

[8] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Two-House Teaching,” as well as the book Israel in Future Prophecy by J.K. McKee, which takes a favorable view to Tanach prophecies involving the reunion of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel (i.e., Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Zechariah 10:6-10), but a stern view of the relatively populist Two-House sub-movement.

[9] George Kenneth McKee (1903-1978).

[10] Kenneth Kimball McKee (1951-1992).

[11] William Worthington Jeffries (1914-1989).

[12] Given the challenges of Twenty-First Century marriage, my personal view is that while intermarriage between Jewish and non-Jewish Believers can certainly work—albeit with various pushes and pulls—it should not be the overall norm for Messianic people considering marriage with a potential husband or wife.

[13] For a further review, consult the thoughts expressed in “The Jerusalem Council and Today’s Messianic Movement,” in the commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[14] These will be appropriately explored in the forthcoming book Torah In the Balance, Volume II: The Separated Life in Action—The Outward Expressions of Faith, coming late 2013 or early 2014 by J.K. McKee.

[15] As of 05 August, 2013, the YouTube video “New Birth Crowns Eddie Long as King” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVkoQHCXSK8> received approximately 891,730 views.

[16] (2012). UMJC, MJAA respond to Messer video. Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. Available online via <http://umjc.org> and <http://mjaa.org>.

[17] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Commonwealth of Israel.”

[18] As I stated, with a great deal of fear and trepidation, in my commentary 1&2 Thessalonians for the Practical Messianic (Kissimmee, FL, 2012), 113,

“As we look at v. 3 as Twenty-First Century Messianics, what might be some of the causes of this coming apostasy that should disturb, if not frighten us? While there are aspects of this apostasy which will surely involve a steady erosion of Biblical ethics and morality, and people disregarding foundational instructions like the Ten Commandments—how much of this apostasy will be spearheaded by more and more people treating the Holy Scriptures as myths and fairy tales? How much of the apostasy coming will be related to reliability and historicity issues pertaining to the Biblical record, and will even be coupled with scientific criticisms against the Bible? These are issues, which while certainly dominating much of today’s evangelical Christian apologetics, are things which too many of today’s Messianic Believers avoid. In the future, if they are at all related to the rise of apostasy—we will not be able to avoid them. The apostasy coming is perhaps the most frightening of all of the end-time signs, for the precise reason that unlike other signs—it involves a massive rebellion of many purported Believers, and it is something that the people of God can help prevent in the lives of many in the Body of Messiah.”

[19] A biographical sketch of Kim McKee is available as part of the K. Kimball McKee Memorial Fund <outreachisrael.net/kkm-fund.html>, with donations accepted by Outreach Israel Ministries, specifically established so that his Christian friends and associates can help to see his ministry work continue via his surviving family.

[20] More of our family’s “Messianic story” is seen sprinkled throughout various publications by Messianic Apologetics. These notably include Hebraic Roots: An Introductory Study, the TorahScope reflective commentaries by Mark Huey, and the publication To Be Absent From the Body by J.K. McKee.

[21] This would most notably include my maternal great-grandfather Bishop Marvin A. Franklin (1894-1972), who served as a minister and bishop of the Methodist Church, throughout his ministry serving churches in Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Bishop Franklin was President of the Council of Bishops from 1959-1960. It would also include my maternal grandfather William W. Jeffries (1914-1989), who served as a professor at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland from 1942-1989, notably as the museum director and founder of what is now the William W. Jeffries Memorial Archives in the Nimitz Library.

[22] One issue that Asbury Theological Seminary is well known for in the evangelical Christian world, is taking a strong stance against the homosexual lifestyle. Written during one of my two Romans exegesis classes, is the FAQ entry on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Romans 1:26-27.”

[23] In my own estimation, the worst of these antics was the claim of one teacher in 2005 that the Epistle to the Hebrews was riddled with reliability issues, and could neither be trusted nor regarded as Holy Scripture.

For a further discussion, consult the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[24] Consult the article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah,” appearing in the book The New Testament Validates Torah by J.K. McKee.

[25] Be sure to consult the previous thoughts in “Is God’s Purpose Bigger?,” appearing in the October 2009 issue of Outreach Israel News, and reproduced in this publication.

[26] While specific dates and the order are subject to change, between 2013 and 2014, expect to see publications such as the Messianic Torah Helper, the Messianic Sabbath Helper (paperback), the Messianic Kosher Helper, and Torah In the Balance, Volume II be released.

[27] The planned Messianic Apologetics volumes Salvation on the Line: The Nature of Yeshua and His Divinity and Salvation in View: The Doctrine of Salvation and Today’s Messianic Community, for the 2010s, will mainly classify and examine the Scriptural passages of importance as they pertain to Christology and soteriology.

[28] To date (2013), as a part of the for the Practical Messianic commentary series produced by Messianic Apologetics, the editor has completed volumes on (listed in order of release) on: James, Hebrews, Philippians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, Acts 15, the Pastoral Epistles of 1&2 Timothy and Titus, and 1&2 Thessalonians. Also released have been survey workbooks on the Tanach and Apostolic Scriptures.

[29] In the interim, following the completion of the Spring 2013 James study, will begin a planned series of long studies through the Pauline letters of Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Corinthians, which are anticipated to take between three to four years.

[30] Cf. J.K. McKee, The New Testament Validates Torah: Does the New Testament Really Do Away With the Law? (Kissimmee, FL: TNN Press, 2012), pp 6-8.

[31] Be sure to consult the commentary 1&2 Thessalonians for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee, as well as his article “The Great Apostasy,” appearing in When Will the Messiah Return?


CONTACT US