UPDATED 23 FEBRUARY, 2010
Do you believe that males should be circumcised?
We are aware that the issue of circumcision is extremely controversial in the Messianic world. Most of Christianity has decided to largely ignore circumcision as an “Old Testament rite” entirely unimportant for Believers today.
Circumcision is the memorial sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:11). The Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all circumcised. Yeshua the Messiah was circumcised (Luke 2:21). The Apostle Paul was circumcised (Philippians 3:5). If we intend to appreciate the spiritual example and lives of these figures, then men should not at all look down on the practice of circumcision, and they could even be encouraged to be circumcised as a matter of simple obedience. Yet, being circumcised as a male adult must always be tempered with knowing that Abraham was considered righteous while uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-10; cf. Genesis 15:6), later being circumcised (at the age of ninety-nine) as he advanced in faith (Romans 4:11; cf. Genesis 17:1, 10-11).
We do not consider circumcision to be a salvation issue at all, as the power of the gospel is blind in saving males who are either circumcised or uncircumcised (Colossians 3:11). We do, however, recognize the place of circumcision for the appropriate reasons (concurrent with the example of Abraham). The reason circumcision was such a controversial issue in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) is that the non-Jewish males coming to faith were not circumcised as infants as the Scriptures prescribe. Had they been circumcised as infants, even as some kind of ancient medical procedure, then the controversy may not have really arisen. Among various groups, the foolish Galatians believed that circumcision of the flesh would assure them a place among the righteous, to which the Apostle Paul said, “Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Messiah will be of no benefit to you” (Galatians 5:2; cf. Acts 15:1). To these people he said that if you think circumcision will save you, do not even bother receiving it. (Note that circumcision was widely required of proselytes to Judaism, and there is good cause for us to believe that the phrase “receive circumcision” in Galatians, at least, was more concerned with being “converted to Judaism.”)
Circumcision has become a common medical practice for many non-Jews in North America and in other parts of the Western world since the late 1800s. We do not believe this is by coincidence. As the Messianic movement has grown considerably in the past few decades, it is probably not by happenstance that many non-Jewish males in the United States and elsewhere have been circumcised as a simple medical practice not widely looked at as strange or taboo. (Please note that this is not to exclude those elsewhere who are not circumcised; we are only making an observation). Yet, in recent days in Western Europe, legislation has been proposed that would make infant circumcision illegal, via the guise of it being “genital mutilation.” Sadly, various Christians are in support of making infant circumcision illegal.
We believe that Messianic families—either Jewish or non-Jewish—should be encouraged to circumcise their infant males. Although the practice of circumcision is not a salvation issue, it does have medical and health benefits, and it can be employed as a simple memorial of the Abrahamic Covenant. Circumcision for all Believers—male and female—should be of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:6; 30:6; Romans 2:29) more than anything else, but this in no way nullifies the benefits of a male being circumcised in the flesh. Being circumcised as an adult male should be an issue of maturity, as Believers are called to “abide” or “continue” (Grk. menō) in the faith (1 Corinthians 7:20). It may not be necessary to be physically circumcised in order to be saved, but going through the procedure as a simple act of obedience (not as some kind of proselyte procedure) should not be discouraged. This kind of obedience would be no different than a urologist advising a man that circumcision would be useful for his penile health.
The issue of circumcision is especially touchy during the Passover season, as the Torah clearly specifies that “no uncircumcised person may eat of it” (Exodus 12:48). Within the Messianic community, there are some groups that do not let uncircumcised males attend their Passover seders. Is this right or is it wrong? We do need to keep in mind the fact that a Messianic Passover seder conducted today is often just a memorial of the Passover, and there are many elements that are not observed because there is no Temple to go to where the sacrificial lamb can be offered. Because we are in the Diaspora, there are things that the Torah originally specified that cannot be followed. And in our Passover memorials, we have to not only weigh in the difference of venue, but also the reality of the post-resurrection era in which we live.
We do not believe that it is necessary for males to be circumcised to attend a Messianic Passover memorial. However, it might be encouraged that participation of individuals within the order of service or events at a Messianic seder could be limited to only those males who are physically circumcised. (And, by extension, it would be appropriate to require any males within the leadership structure of a Messianic congregation to be physically circumcised.)
 For a further discussion of this issue, consult the chapter “Is Circumcision for Everyone?” in the book Torah In the Balance, Volume II by J.K. McKee (forthcoming).