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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.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

The Antioch-Jerusalem Continuum

One can postulate that in the First Century New Covenant context, there were a variety of congregations distributed across a continuum from the Jerusalem Congregation [strongly or even monolitihically Jewish, strongly oriented to Jewish life and Torah] to Antioch [cosmopolitan, demographically and stylisstically diverse]. Congregations in our day will similarly be varied and distributed across a continuum.

Let's talk about this.

The Antioch congregation was appropriate to its context, a cosmopolitan area, predominantly non-Jewish. Although connected by fraternal bonds to the Jerusalem center, it became a center of its own, and "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch."

I know of a congregation that meets on Sunday morning, recites the Barchu and the Shema, lights some candles, and even has Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. They would have no trouble being called a Church, although they call themselves a Hebrew-Christian Fellowship. And that is really what they are--a Jewish style church. They would not call themselves a synagogue. And of course, it is more than a matter of what day of the week they meet. More deeply, their ethos is of being a Jewish-style church, preserving some nostalgic tie with Jewish identity but no real tie with Jewish life and the wider Jewish community. They meet on Sunday because, as their leader has told me, the people would view a change to Saturday as too inconvenient and the elders would not stand for it. So, although there are nice people in this group, and not a few Jews, their unresponsiveness to Jewish norms, and their at the very best token connection to things Jewish renders them, in my opinion, unsuited for a group like the UMJC even if they changed their meeting day to shabbat.

As another example, their Torah, used only for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs is no Torah at all. It is a prop: the scroll does not have Scripture in it but is made up of scratch pad scraps perhaps from a sofer's shop--but believe me, I am not exaggerating: you will not find B'reishit, Shemot, Vayikra, Bamidbar or Devarim in that "Torah." To the outsider it looks like a Torah. But it is prop. And so is Jewish identity and the candles, Barchu and Shema as used in this group--it is a prop used to give a veneer of Jewishness to something which is not livingly connected with the Jewish historical stream or anything rightly called Judaism.

Back to the Antioch-Jerusalem Continuum. I celebrate churches, and consider the diverstity of the Christian churches in the world to be a blessing and to the glory of God. Such varied expressions would be found at the left-side, the Antioch side of the Antioch-Jerusalem continuum. And even when there are Jews present in such churches, as in Jack Hayford's Church on the Way here in the LA area, where there are very many Jews, this Jewish presence does not convert these churches into synagogues or congregations in our sense of the term. The ethos, the response to Jewish norms is of course not there, even though these people are my brothers and sisters in Messiah. So a substantial Jewish demographic presence does not therefore equal a Messianic Congregation or an expression of Messianic Judaism. Even a Torah can be a prop for something which is not Messianic Judaism rightly so-called. I am sure I am not alone in seeing this Hebrew Christian fellowship as a church and not a synagogue.

It is more than a matter of demographics. The congregations I have mentioned here have more Jews than many congregatioins in our Union. Neither is it a matter of "orthopraxy," which I find to be a misleading term. No, the divergence goes deeper than practice and demographics. The difference is one of fundamental orientation toward the Jewish people and toward Jewish life.

As I said in my definition, there are in the world congregations sprinkled across the spectrum from Antioch to Jerusalem. Each would see its primary point of reference to be either Antioch or Jerusalem--rooted in and oriented to the Church universal [Antioch] as a primary point of reference, or rooted in and oriented to the Jewish people [Jerusalem] as a primary point of reference. The Pastor of this Hebrew Christian fellowhship, a nice guy and a Jew, has real problems with me in this area, and saw fit to warn someone about me because of this issue--he views our rootedness in the Jewish people to be doctrinally deviant.

One of the questions that ought to be asked in our circles is which side of the continuum we orient toward, and in our expression, which affinity we really manifest.

And now, to a recent related experience.

Recently I taught a lesson on Parshat Terumah, which speaks of the building of the Mishkan [Tabernacle], and the haftarah speaks of the building of the Temple. The New Covenant reading from 1 Cor 3 spoke of the congregatiion being the Temple of the Spirit dwelling there, as He dwelt in the Tabernacle and Temple. As is my habit I distributed copies of my notes to the congregation.

Someone in my congregation, I am not sure who, but a person with evangelical anxieties, wrote on her notes, "Stuart: you teach as if we don't need Jesus." I have known such people. What they long for is a teaching which says [1] Judaism will never get you to heaven, nor even into a real relationship with God; [2] But Yeshua will; [3] Therefore, accept Yeshua and you will both go to heaven and know God; [4] Then simply read the Bible and pray, and of course [5] avoid gross sin, [6] confess your sins when you do sin, and [7] attend services regularly, [8] and witness of your faith to others and [9] even give what you can. What such persons have trouble seeing and accepting is that I don't base my teaching on the inadequacy of Judaism but on the sufficiency of Messiah, who I see to be the unacknowledged Messianic King of the Jews. I also see Judaism as a way of life as something holy, and a fit Mishkan for the Triune God to dwell in and for us to meet Him there. This person doesn't really get that: she would feel less anxious if I adapted the patterns and categories of Baptistic evangelicalized piety.

Also present at the service, I discovered later, was the mother of a Messianic Jewish lady. This mother is surely in her late sixties if not a little older. This lady clearly, [1] knows what we believe, and has heard about Yeshua from her grown daughter for twenty years or more; [2] She heard us read from the New Covenant, and heard me mention Yeshua in the Alenu, etc. We did not hide our light under a bushel; [3] She loved the service and the sermon and, despite the fact she is normally a very outspoken person, had no complaints.

I consider her comfort with our service a wonderful confirmation of my practical philosophy. I believe we should be forming congregations where Jewish people will feel comfortable and interested, in all stages of considering Messiah. It is as they come to our services, and become involved in our communities, that they will through a process of time, come to embrace Yeshua as Messiah [I immersed people just like that not long ago, who had been involved as active workers in my congregation for a couple of years]. I don't live to satisfy the anxieties of evangelicalized Jews who need certain buzz words and negating perspectives about Judaism in order to feel we are on the right track. I also don't live to make sure my non-Jewish members always feel comfortable. Those that we allow to bond with us know we exist for the sake of the Jewish community, and are wonderful people prepared to make sacrifices for Zion's sake.

In my not so humble opinion, it is possible to pay lip service to outreach to the Jewish community, but in reality, to form and conduct our congregations so as to please and not upset people who are already believers in Yeshua. It is not a question of trying to "win the approval of the Jewish community" in some fawning manner, as some people mischaracterize my approach. For me, it is a question of which side of the continuum we are oriented to, Jerusalem or Antioch, it is about how serious we are about Jewish norms and Jewish life, it is a question of whether the Jewish people are presently our people, and also a question of whether we are serious about our remnant responsibility to them.

At 2/16/2005 10:11 AM, Anonymous Paul Kugelman said...

Rabbi Dauermann is correct. Further, the more Messianic Judaism responds to pressures that result in distancing itself from Judaism, the more it becomes something other than Judaism. The more it becomes something other than Judaism, the farther we are from our faith and the closer we come to losing our identity as Jews.


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