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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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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Some Unique Aspects of Messianic Jewish Mission to the Nations

(In this posting, yet another interaction with Lesslie Newbigin's thought-provoking "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," we discover that Messianic Jewish mission to the nations, if it would be faithful, must not be identical to such activity by others.)

For Newbigin,

It [authentic Christian missional thought] must begin and continue by attending to what God has done in the story of Israel and supremely in the story of Jesus Christ. It must continue by indwelling that story so that it is our story, the way we understand the real story. And then . . . to attend with open hearts and minds to the real needs of people in the way that Jesus attended to them, knowing that the real need is that which can only be satisfied by everything that comes from the mouth of God [1989:152].

Newbigin sees story as primary, “stressing the priority of the gospel as the message, embodied in an actual story, of what God has in fact done, is doing, and will do. Christian theology is a form of rational discourse developed within the community which accepts the primacy of this story and seeks actively to live in the world in accordance with the story” [1989:152].

Of course, for Messianic Jews, the story, the God-given canonical narrative and metanarrative, is different. In contrast to all other nations, the Jewish story, even apart from explicit faith in Christ, is fully a story of God’s purposeful, even if hidden activity[as in the Book of Esther], and of Israel’s ongoing interaction, in approach and as well as avoidance, with the Living God. The Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm must therefore advocate that Messianic Jews make this Jewish story part of their own, as well as laboring to make their Yeshua faith an acknowledged part of wider Israel’s story.

We must question and resist misguided efforts by some to create a communal narrative which fails to recognize the presence of the Living God in the story of wider Israel. For example, it will no longer do to conceive of the Jewish community as one that simply lost contact with God and lost track of the truth 2,000 years ago. Something far more sophisticated was going on: Like Joseph, Yeshua has remained the hidden, sovereign Presence in the midst of Israel, nurturing and influencing the very Judaism which has sought to exclude or delegitimize Him, and, keeping his brethren alive in anticipation of the day of his ultimate self-revelation.

We might therefore paraphrase Newbigin as follows: “Messianic Jewish theology is a form of rational discourse developed within the community which accepts the primacy of Israel’s story of God, Israel and Torah, recognizes the now hidden, but ultimately to be revealed presence of Yeshua, and seeks actively to live in the world in accordance with this story.”

Newbigin outlines ways in which the theological community can fail to fulfill its calling: by failing to take seriously the world in which it is set, clinging to its holy past instead of “risking its life in a deep involvement in the world;” or, on the other hand “by allowing the world to dictate the issues and the terms of the meeting. The result then is that the world is not challenged at its depth but rather absorbs and domesticates the gospel and uses it to sacralize its own purposes” (152).

The same dangers confront the Messianic Jewish community. We can become withdrawn, cloistered, self-involved, or, on the other hand, we can effectively put ourselves up for sale, making everything a non-negotiable for the sake of being “user-friendly.”

True contextualization accords to the gospel its rightful primacy, its power to penetrate every culture and to speak within each culture, in its own speech and symbol, the word is both No and Yes, both judgment and grace. And that happens when the word is not a disembodied word, but comes from a community which embodies the true story, God’s story, in a style of life which communicates both the grace and the judgment. In order that it may do this, it must be both truly local and truly ecumenical. Truly local in that it embodies God’s particular word of grace and judgment for that people. Truly ecumenical in being open to the witness of churches in all other places, and thus saved from absorption into the culture of that place and enabled to represent to that place the universality, the catholicity of God’s purpose of grace and judgment for all humanity [1989:152]

Here Newbigin confronts us with a question concerning which the Messianic Movement is weak, and where proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm must be attentive, and that is, our mission to the wider world as a community of witness. Due to our missionary roots, our reflex is to limit Messianic Jewish mission to the nations to the proclamation of the gospel, with both the message and us stripped of specifically Jewish context and clothing. We view this to be essential, because, after all, we ought not to be calling the nations to Jewish life, as some are wont to do. But the alternative I have here outlined, of simply proclaiming some sort of de-culturized gospel will not do because it requires of us to imagine we can become culturally disembodied for the sake of the gospel and it entails divesting ourselves of our own communal call as the Remnant of Israel.

Cultural divestment is no doubt the noble example of missionaries from Ricci, to de Nobili, to Taylor and beyond. But there is something missing here, something biblical, which needs to be factored into the Messianic Jewish equation. The missing ingredient is that our communal obedience to God’s commandments, our Torah lifestyle, as part of the call of wider Israel, is itself part of our God-given responsibility, from which we have not been released, and also a God-given communal means of witness to the nations of the True and Living God [Dt. 4:5-9; Zech 8:20-23; Isaiah 2:1-4].

In addition, Newbigin’s call for our message to be simultaneously one of grace and judgment requires that we embody a sense of our own communal story and its implications. This would include our speaking of how our own people, Israel, from time to time, departed from the pathway of Torah obedience, bringing upon us Divine judgment and exile, and of how He has called Messianic Jews back to empowered and renewed covenant faithfulness thorugh faith in Yeshua the Messiah and the power of the Holy Spirit. To omit these matters, or to contravene them through our own manifest indifference to Torah, results in our converting our message to mere propositions or to our undermining the message through our own disobedience, or both. Therefore, our witness to the nations, while it must be a call to “turn to God from idols [through faith in Jesus Christ], to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Jesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come” [I Thess 1:9], must also proceed from a people living in integrity to their own call from God. Imagine the challenging power of a Torah-true Messianic Jewish community which is also engaged in calling the nations to the true and living God through faith in Yeshua the Messiah, but not to Judaism. Such a Messianic Judaism would also replicate the apostolic model.

This case is made all the stronger when we remember the multiple references to restored and renewed eschatological Israel serving God, in Messiah, in the context of Torah obedience [Jer 31:32; Ezek 36:27; 37:24]. I am sure we can agree that it is highly unlikely that prophecies of eventual divine restoration of Israel to Torah faithfulness were given to encourage passivity on the matter ourselves. Rather, it seems to me that if we as a community would both meet with and assist what God is up to concerning His people Israel, then we must become part of the solution and not part of the problem. And it is from our obedience in these matters we as a community may expect spiritual empowerment of our witness to the other nations.

Therefore, both for reasons of Israel’s past commandments concerning Torah obedience as a sign to the nations, and for reasons of the eschatological promise of this being the eventual outworking of the divine will, and due to the fact that the gospel is not a disembodied propositional message, but rather the testimony of a community living out the implications of the gospel story as understood and embodied in its own context, we ought to both share the gospel with the nations, and do so from the foundation of our own faithfulness to the full orb of our calling as part of wider Israel, certainly including the call to Torah-based covenant obedience.

At 3/01/2006 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the most interesting and thought provoking blogs that I've ever read.
Have you addressed in a previous post the issue of defining "Torah-true." If Torah-true means following Torah, does your movement follow anabaptist thought in that the perspecuity of Torah makes it possible for everyone to read Torah and apply it? Or is there a single body (such as found in the Roman Catholic Church) that defines Torah and how it is to be understood and the degree to which followers have freedom in application?
I'm also intrigued by the perspective that your group has a target audience of the nations. Generally this has meant "nations other than the Jewish nation." is that what you mean? Would you characterize yourself more like Chabad who view themselves as seeking converts (in their case to Judaism, and in your case to belief in your Messiah; both of which carry some change in behaviors and associations?).
Again, thank you for taking the time for these posts.

At 3/02/2006 12:16 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Anonymous Friend,

I posted this response earlier, but deleted it to clean up some typs.

Here it is again.

Thank you for your kind words.

Although there is a certain perspecuity to Torah, it is, first and foremost, God's guidance and instruction not for individuals, and not for all the peoples of the world, but especially, although not exclusively, for a people-- the descendants of Jacob. It is a communal, not individual, document.

Therefore, it is hubris and chutzpah for those of us who are Jews to presume to interpret Torah independent of great respect for the way in which this it has been interpreted for thousands of years by the community to whom it was given.

One ought not to wrongly imagine that we therefore accord to the rabbinic establishment a kind of papal ex cathedra authority. To do so would be to superimpose upon the Jewish context a religious culture foreign to itself. Nonetheless, although one may differ with the tradition, one ought to do so very carefully, and respectfully.

David Weiss Halivni, one of the greatest contemporary Jewish scholars, speaks of private truth and public truth. Although one may, and indeed in many cases, should, differ with the way the tradition has understood or intepreted a matter [this is one's private truth], out of proper deference and concern for community cohesion, one does not presume to break with communal consensus, especially in matters of established practice [public truth].

As far as having a target audience of the nations besides Israel, this is part an parcel of our being people who name Yeshua as Messiah. Just as the apostles were sent not only to Israel but also to the nations, so our concern is first for the Jew, but also for the Gentile.

However, as my posting indicates, I am convinced who we are in the purposes of God, as part of the Remnant of Israel, brings with it certain responsibiities and pespectives unique to ourselves.

I hope this helps.

At 3/02/2006 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, I find this VERY helpful.
What you point out impacts Jewish communal life at a variety of levels. If you would be so kind, I would like your thoughts on different approaches to remaining in Jewish communal life once one has decided Jesus is G-d.

Perhaps the most common approach would be to join a church. This seems to be the goal of groups such as Jews for Jesus.

Your approach seems to be to establish a church-like community (doctrinally based, sacramental/communal, generally evangelical christian) but separate from other expressions of Christian communities.

Then there could be another approach wherein a person who might have such a belief in Jesus, follows Jewish communal standards (as you use the term consensus) and keeps such thoughts to oneself and maintains full communal participation in one's synagogue (of whatever tradition).

Are these observations in line with your own? Would you agree that people within each of these groups have to contend with the practices and public behavior of each of the other groups? E.g. Jews in churches and are outspoken or visible, have an impact in how all others are viewed. Or the success of groups such as yours will have an impact on the effectiveness of groups who seek to get Jews into churches. Or those remaining in synagogues might have to publicly reject groups such as the first two, yet would not have to address the issue of Jesus since that issue generally does not arise in a synagogue setting.

Thanks again. This is very helpful.


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