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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Messianic "Jewishism," Popular Religious Culture, and Messianic Judaism

By examining an intentionally repetitious passage from the Torah, we can learn much about the difference between Messianic Jewishism, popular religious culture, and Messianic Judaism.

The passage under consideration is found in Bamidbar/Numbers, chapter 9.

Numbers 9:15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. 16It was always so: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp. 18At the command of the LORD the Israelites would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they would remain in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the LORD, and would not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud would remain a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the LORD they would remain in camp; then according to the command of the LORD they would set out. 21Sometimes the cloud would remain from evening until morning; and when the cloud lifted in the morning, they would set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they would set out. 22Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out. 23At the command of the LORD they would camp, and at the command of the LORD they would set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.

What do you notice from this text about what it was like for the Jewish community to live with God in the wilderness on a day by day basis? Their relationship with God was based on responding to God’s intiatives, His commandments, His covenant. Their spirituality was about knowing the will of God and doing it—it was about learning to make His will their own will. It seems to me that this is why the text is so VERY redundant about who was taking the lead and who was following whom!

This passage has much to teach us about the difference between Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jewishism. Messianic Jewishism is about shtick—it is about adding Jewish decorations to our bodies, our homes, our services. You see Messianic Jewishism in too many congregations where the objects and practices of Jewish life are used inappropriately and on a whim, where following a sense of personal leading is approved of, but where following a Torah-based way of life may even be regarded with suspicion or hostility, and where just a little bit of Torah life is good, but any more is surely going overboard. In many cases, Messianic Jewishism even embodies a mindset that is fundamentally secular or pop-culture-religious, coating it over with a thin veneer of Jewish looking stuff. But such a road does not lead to the mindset, the heart-set, the life-set of our ancestors. How could this ever be what God has in mind for Messianic Judaism?

In contrast to Messianic Jewishism, Messianic Judaism is, will be, and indeed must be a religion that goes against the grain of our 21st Century, self-centered, individualistic perspective. We would rather call the shots, do our own thing, be free to do exactly as we please, answerable to no one, and above all, we want to minimize inconvenience to ourselves. And in our religious lives we tend to remain in the center, doing only what we "feel led" to do.

This is not the faith of our fathers—this is not the road to which Yeshua calls us.

It is crucial that we wrestle with this and resolve this issue deep in our hearts. Is our religion simply about getting God to do our bidding? Is it about Jewish shtick? Is it an elite religion that makes us feel special because we attend its services? Is it about "What I get out of it?" Is it about "Meeting my felt needs?" Is it simply about my feelings? Or shouldn’t it be more about responding to a God who is "out there" and has not been silent?

1. Notice the relationship between the will of God, the preferences of God, and human preferences in this passage.

2. What is it about this passage that underscores God calling the shots, and people responding to his preferences?

3. Do you think this is a "hard sell" in our generation, and if so, why?

4. Do you think most folks are apt to accept these terms of relating to God, or do you think most folks, even religious folks, are going to rather say, "I pass?"

5. Is there anything to be lost through choosing a spiritual mind-set less responsive to the initiatives and preferences of God?

6. Is there anything to be gained by letting the grain of our religious life be governed by finding out what God wants us to do and then doing it?

7. Why is the tabernacle called "the tent of the covenant?" And what did this have to do with how our ancestors lives their lives? What did this have to do with the texture, the grain of the right kind of Jewish religion?

The covenant is the contract God made with Israel to which our ancestors all agreed: that in view of all God has done for us as a people, and in view of all he stands ready to do for us, we owe him certain kinds of behavior that bring him honor. Whether we enjoy these behaviors, feel "led" to do them, or "get something out of them" is really secondary. The point is, we obey the Covenant because we owe Him, because he is the God who redeemed us all out of slavery and death, and because God has spoken. We do this because he says to do it. Only by obeying Him as a people do we bring Him proper honor in the sight of the nations.

Why obey God?

1. He is God.
2. He redeemed us from Egypt and through the Messiah. We owe Him big time.
3. Inevitably, any other kind of life proves to be narcissistic and self-serving, to other people’s eyes even if not to the perpetrator.

To live a Torah-based Jewish live is to honor the God of our Fathers. It means to live according to the ways of life God gave our people, so that by our collective obedience our whole fabric of life is like a finger pointing to Him—not to a generic God, not to a Higher Power, but to the very specific God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By living such lives and ONLY by living such lives, we call attention to Him and to his marvelous faithfulness to our people throughout time. Again, it is NOT about what we get out of it. It is not about being respectable, moral Theists. It is certainly not about our preferences, nor is it about our feelings. It is not even about salvation. It is about ONE thing. It is about honoring the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because he is the True and Living God, because we owe him, and because he is worthy of honor. And for Messianic Jews, it means doing this with all the help available to us through Yeshua our Messiah and the Spirit of the Holy One.

This is the life that Yeshua exemplified. It was He who said "I always do what is pleasing to Him." This is the life which to which the Spirit assists us as a community. This is Messianic Judaism, not American pop-religious culture, and not Messianic Jewishism.

And it is not legalism. Rather, doing the expressed will of the Beloved is precisely what love is. What other right choice do we have?
Posted by hashivestu at June 8, 2004 09:29 PM

I just read your post on Messianic "Jewishism." I found it very interesting. I know a lot of people who call themselves Messianic or Messianic Jews (this includes non-Jews as well). I walk away confused. On a kishke level, on my "neshomameter," many times I see a kind of Christian Evangelical culture--"Baptists with beanies"---I call it. (I understand this of the Non-Jews whose only introduction to Jewishness is thru a skewed demographic of Messianic Judaism.) But frankly it hurts me to see Messianic Jews comfortable with this cognative dissonance.

Mind you I'm not picking on Christians. I'm just having a hard time viewing a Jewish Moschiach through a lens that has historically set a theology of annihilation of the Jewish people. What I don't get with some of these Messianics (not all, thank G-d) is that some of them seem more intent on creating a safely insulated parallel inverse universe--a bubble--anchored comfortably and unconsciously in the Christian world a thousand billion light-years from the soul of Am Yahadut. Instead of doing a radical karuv (outreach) based on a scary, real jewish Messiah they CHILL.

Maybe this is human nature, but that tension point kills me.

As for you---you pose some interesting things. Your writings remind me of Olam, the magazine by CHaBaD. If it weren't for "You Know Who" as famose anti-missionary Rabbi Immanual Schochet calls him (Jesus) you could be on an Aish website. Torah and Yesua (Jesus). Now that's a concept. Jewish community and Yeshua. What a concept. Think I'll checking back...