A Rare PyroManiacs Guest Post
number of years ago, when my son was young, we attended a baseball game. Not only was my son a baseball fan, but he was also an avid collector of baseball cards. When we arrived at the ballpark, though, I noticed that he seemed more interested in looking at the pictures of the players on his cards than in watching the ball players on the field. In my astonishment I asked him, "Why are you looking at the pictures, when the real living players are standing right in front of you?"
What my son did with baseball cards and players, many Jewish Christians today do with their faith. Embracing a concept known as Messianic Judaism, these Jewish believers emphasize Old Testament laws and practices (such as dietary laws, feasts, and Sabbath days) as the way to please God. Yet Paul referred to these kinds of observances as "shadows" pointing to the reality of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16, 17). The Old Testament presented many shadowy pictures of the coming Messiah in the form of ritualistic laws and ceremonies. These shadows were never intended to be a permanent fixture of Christianity. Along with the rest of the Mosaic Law, these pictures were designed by God to be "our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:24, 25). Just as it is foolish for a someone to be enthralled with pictures of ballplayers rather than the players themselves, so it is inappropriate for messianic believers to focus on outdated pictures about Messiah rather than the reality of His presence.
This attraction to Old Testament messianic pictures is not new. The early church faced similar problems with Jewish Christians who had a difficult time pulling away from the many practices associated with Old Testament Judaism. In response to their reluctance to let go of their old religious ties, the writer to the Hebrews devotes his entire letter to presenting Jesus Christ as superior to a wide range of pictorial symbols found in Judaism (such as the high priesthood, Moses, the Old Covenant, and animal sacrifices). Instead of encouraging these Hebrews to remain within their comfortable religious practices, the inspired penman pleads with them to abandon these customs in favor of loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Although the Bible clearly defines the dangers of mixing Old Testament rituals with New Testament truths about Jesus (creating a legalistic form of Christianity), many Jewish believers continue to be attracted to forms and style of worship found in Messianic Judaism (i.e. messianic synagogues). In light of the popularity of Messianic Judaism, Jewish Christians should be aware of the unbiblical nature of this movement and the dangers involved in associating with it.
A Theological Danger
The greatest menace posed by Messianic Judaism is that, by encouraging its followers to diligently observe Old Testament laws, it obscures the foundational truth of Christianity, which is justification by faith in Christ. Though many within this movement are born again and would affirm that their salvation is based upon Christ's substitutionary atonement, yet their emphasis upon Old Testament ceremonial laws gives the distinct impression that the observing of these laws are necessary for salvation.
Indeed, there are some within the messianic movement who teach that Jewish believers are obligated to observe all the Old Testament laws. They would in fact associate their salvation with keeping these laws. Yet, this was the very problem that Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians. He sternly rebuked them for replacing the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith with a false gospel of salvation by law. He called their rejection of grace for law "a different gospel" (1:6) and a distortion of the gospel of Christ (1:7). For receiving such a perverted message he referred to them as "foolish and bewitched" (3:1). And those who preached such an erroneous message he called "accursed" (1:8, 9). He wrote, " . . . knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified"(Gal. 3:16).
Those within the messianic camp must consider the critical importance of affirming the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ. In keeping with the message of the New Testament, they should stop clinging to laws and practices that can never justify them before God.
A Ecclesiological Danger
One of the great truths of the New Testament is that the Body of Christ is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It is an unbiblical concept to have a local church that is distinctively Jewish or Gentile (by necessity the early church in Jerusalem consisted of all Jews because the Gospel had not been presented to the Gentile world). Thus, the nature of messianic synagogues—with their unique Jewish distinctions—violates the very spirit of fellowship among believers of all backgrounds and cultures.
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians that Christ has reconciled both Jews and Gentiles in one body through the cross (2:16). Through His death on the cross Jesus Christ abolished all the Old Testament ceremonial laws that made Jews distinct and separated them from Gentiles (2:15). As a result He has "made both groups (Jews and Gentiles) into one" by removing all spiritual distinctions between believers (2:14, 15). While maintaining ethnic and social differences, the Bible declares that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). By encouraging messianic synagogues, Messianic Judaism promotes division in the Body of Christ that is contrary to the teachings of the New Testament.
Rather than establish a distinct Jewish assembly, local churches should bring together both Jews and Gentiles in membership. To remove Jewish believers from Bible-believing churches is to essentially rob the Church of the richness of fellowship God intends Jews and Gentiles in Christ to enjoy. All spiritual fellowship should be based upon our relationship with Christ—not our former religious backgrounds.
An Evangelistic Danger
Adherents to Messianic Judaism believe that those identified with messianic synagogues make better witnesses to Jewish people than Gentiles from a Bible believing local church. However, the Apostle Paul told the Romans that his goal in ministering to so many Gentiles (he was the Apostle to the Gentiles) was to provoke Jewish people to jealousy (Romans 11:14). In other words, he felt that the best way to arouse Jewish interest in the gospel was through Gentile Christians. When Jewish people observe Gentile believers having a relationship with the Jewish Messiah and loving their Jewish Bibles, they often are provoked to a jealousy that eventually leads them to Christ.
Ironically, most Jewish Christians (including those within messianic synagogues) were led to Christ by a Gentile Christian. Messianic synagogues do a great disservice to the Jewish community by encouraging local churches to delegate Jewish evangelism to them. The Great Commission commands all believers to make disciples from all nations and nationalities—and this includes Jewish people. By believing that messianic synagogues are uniquely equipped as the sole experts in Jewish evangelism, local churches are in danger of neglecting their biblical responsibility to witness to Jewish people.
Jewish believers in Christ offer so much to the Body of Christ. They are often zealous and passionate about their faith in Messiah. Their presence and involvement in local churches, along with their Gentile brethren, testify to the world of the transforming power of the gospel of Christ.
Reference for this article came from: "Do We Need Messianic Synagogues? Biblical, Historic, And Pragmatic Issues" by Dr. William C. Varner (The Master's Seminary Journal-Spring 2003).