Jewish Missions and Messianic Jewish CongregationsBy Barry Rubin, President, Lederer/Messianic Jewish Communications, Baltimore, Md.
A Match Made in Heaven
". . . independence of the church is bad, cooperation with the church is better, service as an arm of the church is best."
From John Stott's Theological Preamble to "Cooperating in World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para-Church Relationships," an Occasional Paper of the Lausanne Consultation for World Evangelization, 1983.
Time Warner, the enormous communications company recently partnered with AOL. Both megacorporations wanted to expand their impact in the world. CocaCola and Proctor & Gamble have formed a new marketing partnership for their drinks and snacks to penetrate foreign markets. These giants, and many smaller corporations, are realizing the benefit of cooperation where cooperation is possible. They are forming strategic partnerships for profit, the purpose of all businesses.
The enterprise of bringing the message of Messiah to Jewish people is the LCJE's primary purpose. I propose therefore that missions consider developing “strategic partnerships” with Messianic Jewish congregations to accomplish the goals we all share - to reach our people with the message of God’s love and forgiveness. This is the time for cooperation.
From 19741988, I served with several Jewish missions - Jews for Jesus from 19741980, a small mission headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the next two years, and then ABMJ (now Chosen People Ministries - CPM) for the next five years.
During my time with CPM, my way of thinking about Jewish evangelism changed. At that time, the president authorized the missionaries to plant Messianic Jewish congregations. Previously, I held a negative view of the congregational movement because it was often disparaged by Jewish missions. However, I began to see the real value of congregations. In addition, when I took over the leadership of Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation in 1981, my new understanding was solidified.
I share this bit of background with you so you will understand that I have some experience in both the worlds of Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations. Coupled with my strong conviction that all organizations called to serve God should cooperate, rather than compete, when asked what I would like to give a paper on at this meeting, I chose this topic.
As I began to think about which direction I would take in this talk, I decided to digest the 1983 paper of the LCWE, mentioned earlier, which passionately pleaded for more cooperation in the Body. Since the LCJE is connected to the LCWE, using material from this paper seemed a good way to structure this paper.
Here is a quotation from that Occasional Paper that relates to Jewish missions:
Yet we who share the same biblical faith should be closely united in fellowship, work and witness. We confess our testimony has sometimes been marred by sinful individualism and needless duplication. We pledge ourselves to seek a deeper unity in truth, worship, holiness and mission. We urge the development of . . . strategic planning for mutual encouragement, and for the sharing of resources and experience.
After a brief review of cooperation between missions and congregations in the first century, I will use some of the lessons learned by the LCWE as a starting place to discuss issues that hinder cooperation between Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations. Then I will summarize the results of a survey on the subject that I recently conducted, provide some anecdotal material derived from that survey, and finally offer just a few ideas that could foster cooperation.
In the Second Temple period, after Messiah was resurrected, groups of his followers gathered for fellowship, encouragement, and instruction. Following their Master’s marching orders, they then went to the Gentiles to make talmidim (disciples) of them. Rabbi Sha’ul (Paul) led some believers from the Jerusalem assembly to the lands of the Gentiles to tell them the good news. When these people trusted in Yeshua, the shlikim (apostles) formed them into congregations. Missionaries planting congregations.
Another example of the relationship between the mission and congregation is seen in Acts 13:13. Here, the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) said to the congregation in Antioch “Set aside BarNabba and Sha’ul for the work to which I have called them.” Their local congregation sent them out.
Examples such as these show the organic connection between congregations and missions, modalities and sodalities. There was a strong relationship between the apostles and their local congregation; moreover, the shlikim were sent under the auspices of the Jerusalem assembly, and reported back to it what they encountered.
According to Dr. Mitch Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries, in an article entitled “The Future of the Traditional Jewish Mission” (in Voices of Messianic Judaism, Lederer/Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2001)
The result of the work of the mission structure was often the establishment of local fellowships or churches. There are, in fact, many indications of interrelationships between the mission structure and the local church. Not only was there sharing of personnel (2 Corinthians 8:1624), but also sharing of resources.
2,000 years have passed since these early days, and pressures - political, economic, and operational - have affected cooperation. Fortunately, this Lausanne Occasional Paper on “Cooperating in World Evangelization” identified five “ Hindrances to Cooperation” between churches and missions. We can learn from their research.
Hindrance 1: Dogmatism about NonEssentials and Differing Scriptural Interpretations
After stating that there is an enormous amount that evangelicals hold in common, the paper states, “The larger areas of fundamental and essential agreement are soon eclipsed by the secondary matters which quickly become the sole focus of attention. Some are so convinced about such matters that they show an unwillingness to even listen to another position.” The article goes on to mention examples of terminology, history, and doctrine. Cooperation was suffering because of a majoring on the minors.
Members of LCJE have the same goal as Messianic Jewish congregations - proclaiming the good news of Yeshua’s atonement for sin to Jewish people. Missions and congregations have different ways of accomplishing this - citywide events, distribution of literature, providing congregational communities, etc. There are also some differences in theology. Nevertheless, that which is held in common - sharing the good news of Yeshua - should be the focus of attention, not that which separates.
Hindrance 2: The Threat of Conflicting Authorities
“Who gave you your mandate?” is a question asked of special ministry groups. “To whom are you accountable in matters of doctrine, morals, administration and finances?” “Who checks up on you, hires you, fires you or sets you straight?”
These issues arise when a local mission or congregation is threatened by a larger one. Unlike the early days of the Messianic era, when a missionary was under the authority of a local congregation, missions today, because of size, money, and influence, do not report to a local assemblies.
The LCWE report recognizes this and recommends that” groups not directly accountable to the churches go out of their way to establish some line of voluntary accountability, particularly in matters moral and doctrinal.” They go on to say, “ It is clear that every member of a parachurch organization should be not only a member of a local church¼but an active member of that church¼This will ensure the corrective discipline and wise pastoring that all Christians need.”
The LCWE suggests dialogue between the local pastor and the leader of the parachurch organization, along with corporate accountability, remembering Paul’s advice:
“Walk¼with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance toward one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The bottom line is common courtesy and respectful communications.
Hindrance 3: The Harmfulness of Strained Relationships
Referring to the Consultation in Thailand, the LCWE said that a “change is now called for in our attitudes to one another as we ‘strive side by side for the faith of the gospel.’” Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations can learn from the seven causes for strained relationships identified in the paper.
1. A superior attitude - This attitude can “soon contaminate the supporting staff of an organization. Some parachurch organizations want to show themselves to be the biggest and best, and therefore demand that they should be treated with extra respect. They regard their size as evidence that God has blessed them, and are often insensitive to others who consider them a threatening steamroller ready to flatten everything in sight.”
A superior attitude is not what the Messiah wanted in people; he wanted humility. There is no doubt that this should be a consideration in the field of Jewish evangelism.
2. Deeply Ingrained Prejudices - Here, the LCWE is referring to racial, national, and regional prejudices. They identified prejudices between America and the rest of the world. The Europeans were not enthralled by United States flamboyant fundraising methods. Add to this a worldwide spirit of nationalism, and division developed in the Body of the Messiah.
Those in Jewish ministry would do well to examine our hearts and see if there is ingrained prejudice, especially between Jews and Gentiles. We should also ask ourselves if we have a prejudice toward other approaches to evangelism.
3. A Competitive Spirit - Although competition might stimulate growth and outreach, “an empirical fact is not necessarily a theological truth.” In other words, as John Stott said, “sometimes the attempt to glorify the spirit of competition among us thinly disguises a sinful evangelical powerstruggle of which we need to repent in dust and ashes.”
Those laboring in the Jewish vineyard need to be particularly aware of falling into this hindrance to cooperation.
4. An Unforgiving Spirit - The LCWE paper states, “Several denominations, as well as a number of Christian agencies, have started because of power struggles, personality conflicts, or opposing philosophies. Bad experiences either during the “divorce” or after are sometimes kept uppermost in the minds of the leaders¼Such an unforgiving spirit has enormous potential to seriously damage the Christian witness quite apart from killing the relationship.”
This description of the problems caused by this “unforgiving spirit” aptly describes the history of Jewish work, where there has been an abundance of such ungodly attitudes. Individuals in missions and congregations need to examine their hearts for roots of bitterness and unforgiving spirits.
5. Disparaging Talk - The paper “noted the ease with which we find ourselves able to indulge in, or respond to, negative talk about other churches and other Christian ministries¼We, therefore, urge that we learn to treat each other with family loyalty.”
Who has not been involved in backbiting, gossip, or slander? If we were “in the world,” many of us could be sued for libel or slander. Do we presume upon God’s grace and follow the ways of the world just because we do not expect to be sued?
Let us not use our disinclination to sue one another as license to behave in a way that, were we in the business world, could cost us money, and possibly our entire operations.
6. Personnel Stealing - “Inconsiderate enticement of leaders from one ministry to another is seem by the Commission as having the potential to create almost irreparable damage in church/parachurch¼ relationships.”
This practice, present in the Christian mission world, is particularly painful in our world of Jewish ministry. I have heard mission leaders discuss “raiding” another work they did not think was doing a good enough job. The pain caused by “sheep stealing” is particularly egregious to a small “family,” causing many damaging repercussions. Missions and congregations need to adopt and live by a standard of ethics if we are really going to foster a spirit of cooperation.
7. An Indifferent Attitude Towards Unity - “There seem to be relatively few who give much more than lip service to striving to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are often so determined that [cooperation] will not take precedence over our own concerns that we think of it as something we should do when we run out of things to do.”
If this is a problem to the traditional missionary world, how much more should we, in the work of Jewish evangelism, strive to overcome it. How can Jewish people believe anything we say if we do not follow Messiah's advice to “love one another”?
Hindrance 4: The Rivalry Between Ministries
A reason for rivalry is a lack of communication and consequent trust due to the growing number of independent ministries. This is why the work of LCJE and other similar organizations is so important. We need to consciously seek ways to reduce rivalry and foster cooperation.
We know there has been rivalry between missions. Now, there is often rivalry between congregations in the same geographic area. I cannot imagine the Jerusalem assembly sending out apostles to plant two congregations in the same place at the same time.
Missions and congregations need to find ways to reduce rivalry and foster cooperation. It would be helpful to think of us as “franchisees” of God’s great Franchise. Our “Franchiser” does not want rivalry to occur between his “franchises,” whether they are missions or congregations. Each has been franchised to do a specialized kind of work.
Hindrance 5: The Suspicion About Finances
“As competition for dollars increases, questionable methods of fundraising, not only bring scorn on the Body, but hurt other organizations.” The Report states that this competition for dollars has come about because of 1) obscure financial reporting, 2) alarming overhead, 3) unwise use of mailing lists, and 4) questionable fundraising techniques.
Are missions and congregations in competition for money? In a sense, they are. All organizations require money. The local congregation needs to support its local ministry. The mission needs to raise funds to do its ministry. Suspicion about finances caused by competition for dollars has thus become a very real hindrance to cooperation.
How often have we seen fundraising letters that we suspect are exaggerations? Sometimes the stated needs do not even exist. The local congregation, often struggling to survive and adequately compensate its staff, cannot compete with the largescale missions’ fundraising programs. This can cause a local congregation to unnecessarily close its doors to a potential ministry “partner” - the Jewish mission - while the mission blithely goes on raising funds.
Moreover, it would be productive for congregations to start supporting Jewish missions with whose programs the congregation agrees. That would expand cooperation.
It is clear from the LCWE paper, that churches and parachurch organizations have had problems in the past because of hindrances to cooperation. The LCWE identified these hindrances, examined them, and published its paper to urge the Body to address the issue to be more effective in world evangelization.
We in Jewish work can and should learn from their lessons. Considering the hindrances they identified is a worthy and productive exercise for our arm of the Body.
Now I will present some findings that I have gathered that describe the current attitudes about cooperation between Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations, then some statements by mission and congregational leaders, and finally some suggestions that I hope lead to more discussion and greater cooperation.
What is the Current Relationship between Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations?
Over the past few months, I conducted a limited survey of people working in either Jewish missions or Messianic Jewish congregations. What appears significant from the statistics is that both Jewish missions and Messianic Jewish congregations view their relationships with each other as mildly positive and expect them to be more productive in the future. However, Jewish missions view this relationship significantly more positively than do Messianic Jewish congregations.
Following are some comments about Jewish missions made by Messianic congregational leaders that I hope will foster understanding and be of some use in promoting understanding. Next, I have included comments from Jewish mission leaders about congregations. I have divided the comments in each section into positive and negative comments and grouped the comments in each division.
Comments about Jewish missions made by Messianic congregational leaders
“They have taken out ads that have generated interest in Yeshua.”
“By doing good outreach in our area and sending us the contacts.”
“Keep referring believers who want a Jewish context to their faith instead of gentile church.”
“I have found good cooperation with them.”
“We have had a healthy relationship with groups¼we don’t plan to work that closely with one in the future.”
“I have not had any problem with any mission.”
About Needed Changes
“The groups we connect with are Messianic based and seem more of an extension of Messianic Judaism than being just another Christian evangelical outreach group¼It is my hope that missions will become more sensitive to Messianic concerns.”
“We are friendly toward Jewish missions but feel we are in a different religious culture¼but see the priority of working together, learning from each other, and drawing closer together.”
“Jewish missions are moving more in the direction of being supportive of Messianic Jewish congregations and even planting their own.”
“Our approach is community congregational and we do not interact with missions. Let them start congregational communities.”
About Attitudes toward Messianic Judaism
“[A national mission] does not speak favorably of the Messianic Jewish movement.”
“Some missions fail to acknowledge that Messianic Jewish congregations are a viable place for new Jewish believers.”
“We cooperate but have pretty different methodology in reaching the local Jewish community.”
“They can stop doing fake Bar/Bat Mitzvahs that fail to make these “sons” & “daughters” of the covenant actual partakers of the covenant through real Jewish life and practice.”
“I do not agree with their methods. It is not the way to build a bridge to the Jewish community¼they haven’t helped matters with their blatant missionizing statements. Who is building a bridge? I don’t know any Jewish missions that are doing that.”
“Scheduling their activities in direct conflict with our Sabbath services¼arrogant and impolite attitudes of most of the people who were or are on staff with them¼refusal to attend Messianic Jewish events.”
“Learn what a Messianic synagogue is and work with us.”
“In 12 years we have had barely a single handful of referrals. It would appear that the missions are determined to see us as competitors and therefore fail to see us as potential partners. I believe money is the arbiter of their vision and we are a threat to their vision.”
“Absorb a healthy dose of their own Jewish roots before trying to minister to Jews.
About Connection to the Church
“They tend to assimilate Jewish believers into the church and dismiss the importance of Jewish identity. They really do support the myth about ‘conversion.’ They¼are very closely tied to the church to support them.”
“Their approach to reaching Jewish people has left such a bad reputation among the Jews, that they dissuade people from even talking with us¼. [their message in churches] is ‘let’s get them saved and Christianized - support us with prayer and money.’”
“Jewish missions have a negative image in the Jewish community, not necessarily because of Yeshua, but because of the ‘aggressive’ approaches which are offputting to Jews.”
“Unless I see a radical change, I am becoming more and more disenchanted with Jewish missions. I think for the most part they are ineffective in reaching Jews, They are also very effective in undermining the credibility of the gospel and destroying the Jewish community. Jewish people have the right to ask, ‘What kind of a Messiah is he that makes goyim out of Jews?’”
Comments about Messianic Jewish congregations made by Jewish parachurch groups
“Good relationship with those that are theologically sound; not so good with those who think they are super-Jews”
“their teaching filled in the Jewish gap left by predominantly Gentile churches¼. I would like to see the fullest possible participation (membership, attendance at conferences, presenters, etc.) in LCJE.
“Our nationally syndicated TV program tries to connect believers and inquirers with local Messianic Jewish congregations where they are available.”
“We have established several congregations¼we distinguish between Messianic ‘fellowships’ which are sponsored by local churches as a form of outreach and Messianic ‘congregations’ which are standalone, self-governing bodies.”
Theology and Practice
“I am optimistic that more and more Messianic Jewish congregations will be focusing outward in evangelism. Participating in cooperative efforts with us and other missions¼encouraging congregants to regard evangelism as a priority for themselves personally.”
“I believe strongly in the need for Messianic Jewish congregations as a place where Jewish believers can raise their families Jewishly.
“Messianic Jewish congregations could be a great place for Jewish missions workers to be sent out from and be accountable to.”
“I think that Messianic Jewish congregations are the best place for Messianic Jews to grow, and be a witness.”
“The legalists major on Jewishness and upstage Yeshua.”
“Those congregations which are more Torahcentric sometimes have less than full fellowship and openness with Gentile believers.”
“I have at times been putoff by the gentile hangerson/wannabes/flakes that are attracted to Messianic Jewish congregations. But I affirm the movement as a genuine Jewish revival.”
“Our organization does not support the concept of Messianic Jewish congregations. We are taking public issue with the Messianic movement.”
“Too much focus on ‘Jewishness’ (usually by nonJews) at the expense of real evangelism.”
“No recognition by the congregations of the need for evangelistic paracongregational ministries. The congregations tend to view us as competition, not partners¼
“The only congregations we have had a problem with are the more extreme ‘Torahobservant’ ones who label us antiTorah¼who lean toward legalism.”
Comments by Congregation Leaders about Cooperation with Jewish missions
Missions and congregations share a vision that the glory of Messiah - his appearing, death, and resurrection - belongs at the heart of the glory of the Jewish people. Missions remind the congregations that we need to be actively engaged in reaching our people with this story, one by one if necessary. And the congregations remind the missions that it is our people we are reaching that we can best tell this story not as outsiders, but within the framework of Jewish life and tradition.
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations
In order for the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement to mature, it must go through the kind of self-differentiation, which we expect in adolescence. Just as healthy families expect and facilitate their children becoming independent adults, so missions/ministries/organizations must not adopt a paternalistic role toward Messianic Jewish congregations, even those they may have planted. Paternalism by one partner leads to the infantilization of the other.
Rabbi, Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue
In a perfect world, missions and synagogues could work effectively hand in hand in the following way(s). Missions have the manpower, time, and money to make and cultivate contacts in the Jewish community. They could be instrumental in introducing the issues of Yeshua and atonement and perhaps in some circumstances even be effective in assisting a person in coming into a relationship with him. The nurturing and discipling would then take place in the synagogue, which is where the communal support system would develop around the new believer and integration into the community would be effected.
Unfortunately, not living in a perfect world, the missions usually place the new - or almost - believer into a mission Bible study and/or church. What then takes place is isolation from the Jewish community/family and absorption/assimilation into the church or mission, rather than integration into the Jewish community/family.
Dr. John Fischer, Rabbi, Or Chadosh Messianic Jewish Congregation
President, Menorah Ministries
Academic Dean, St. Petersburg Theological Seminary
Missions and other parachurch organizations involved with evangelism should have as their primary purpose the assisting of congregations to fulfill one of the primary purposes, namely, evangelism. That is, they should not be doing evangelism in place of the congregations, but should be supporting the congregations in accomplishing what congregations are meant to do. Ultimately, the missions should work themselves out of a job, as congregations increasingly carry out their biblical task of evangelism.
¼.there is no place for independence from the Messianic Jewish movement; such independence arises from a Christianghetto mentality, which is only counterproductive to the spread of the gospel among the Jewish people.
Dr. David Stern, Author
Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc. Comments by Mission Leaders about Cooperation with Messianic Jewish congregations
Chosen People Ministries believes in the importance of starting and supporting Messianic Jewish congregations. A number of our staff members are spiritual leaders of Messianic congregations. This is their full time ministry within our mission.
Why do we start congregations? Because we believe that the task of our Mission is to do more than evangelize and bring people through the initial stages of discipleship and dedication to the Lord. We hope to build disciples with depth. We do not believe that this work of deeper discipleship is another person's or another ministry’s responsibility. It is part of what God has called us to do as a mission. We also believe in the power of a corporate Jewish testimony.
Mitch Glaser, President
Chosen People Ministries
Jews For Jesus has long enjoyed a very good cooperative relationship with any number of Messianic Jewish congregations. I think the key word is relationship. When we know one another, when we break bread and pray together, the common bond we have in Y'shua takes precedence over any philosophical differences or suspicions we may feel toward one another. When there is no effort to get to Know one another the trust necessary for good cooperation goes out the window.
It seems to me that the kind of cooperation was modeled in Acts with the local congregations and the apostolic bands, what Ralph Winter calls the modality and sodality. We should look for ways to reproduce this New Testament model.
David Brickner, Executive Director
Jews for Jesus
A Few Ideas to Foster Cooperation From this preliminary survey, the statistics and anecdotes show that both Messianic Jewish congregations and Jewish missions see the potential of working together. Yes, there are questions of theology and methodology, but my sense is that if people are ready to sit down and work as partners, these questions will diminish in importance. This could not have happened even as recently as ten years ago. Nonetheless, the time is ripe for cooperation.
The LCJE, as the “networking” organization for Jewish missions, should continue to make overtures to the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (of the MJAA), and any other group of congregations, to explore ways to cooperate for the good of the Kingdom.
Perhaps it would be productive for each organization to be connected to the International Messianic Jewish Alliance, which could facilitate discussion and mutually beneficial strategic partnerships?
Jewish missions might assign a missionary to work in a Messianic congregation for a period of two years. He or she will be supported by the mission, perhaps having raised money specifically for this “mission trip.” The missionary will report regularly to the Mission, but will be assigned to the congregation for the time. This will give congregations an opportunity to learn what the missions purport to know best - evangelism - and give the missionary an opportunity to win friends and future support from that particular congregation. As in the first century, this would organically connect both the mission and the congregation, and develop ways of cooperation.
CONCLUSION Not long ago, a couple came to my congregation. The man is Jewish, his wife, Gentile. They had been “worked with” by a Jewish mission for at least six months. They had been encouraged to attend a local church (I think one that supports the missionary) even though this particular mission makes a point of stating that it refers Jewish people to Messianic Jewish congregations. (There are at least half-dozen good congregations in the general area.)
After attending Emmanuel for two weeks, the man said to me, “Why didn’t that missionary tell me that Messianic Jewish congregations exist.” I did not want to tell him the truth that missions and congregations do not really cooperate the way they could, and that perhaps the referral to a church was motivated by the missionary's personal reasons.
This couple had been attending services regularly for several months, when they attended our Passover Seder. When I asked the man when he last participated in a Seder, he wistfully replied, “Thirty eight years ago.” If he had not found us, he probably still would not have enjoyed the Passover, reclaiming his Jewish identity. Now, they are both believers.
I hope that because of this paper, more and more missions will start actively increasing their support of Messianic Jewish congregations, referring Jewish people to them. Doing so, strengthens the Jewish identity of a believer, builds Messianic Jewish congregations, and fosters a spirit of cooperation between the congregations and missions.
Moreover, Messianic Jewish congregations need to see Jewish missions as their arms reaching into Jewish communities they cannot get to, their partners in reaching the lost sheep of the house of Israel where they are. The fruit from this partnership will be plentiful. However, this is not going to happen without mutual trust and respect, something that is now arising in the world of Jewish work.
May this new spirit of cooperation continue to grow, and be what God will use to move us all into the next era of Jewish evangelism. If competitive corporations can form strategic partnerships for profits, how much more should we partner for the sake of the Kingdom of God.