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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

What Kind of Congregations Should We Be Planting?

(This is yet another posting continuing my interaction with Lesslie Newbigin's excellent opus, "The Gospel in a Plurlist Society." In this posting I ask and answer the question of what kind of congregations we should be planting in keeping with the insights of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm.)

We begin this consideration with a quotation from Newbigin concerning whether it was God's will that Gentiles who embraced Christ as Messiah become practitioners of Judaism.
Although the gospel originally appeared in Jewish culture, this should not be taken to mean that Jewish culture is meant to be the world’s culture. This is the perspective of Islam, which views the Qur’an as perfect and untranslatable, for example. Certainly, in the early Church, the issue arose as to whether Jewish culture were to become the norm for the entire people of God. But the Holy Spirit made it clear that Gentiles should be accepted as full members of the people of God without their adhering to Jewish halachic practice [1989:145].

Newbigin asks then, “What, them are the essentials in the way the community lives which cannot be changed? Is all the long schooling of Israel in the Torah, the loving instruction of God, now to be thrown overboard? Do we say, ‘In Christ, anything goes?’” [1989:145-146]. What is the irreducible gospel message we are called to convey and the guidelines for living out our allegiance to it?

Newbigin points out how some answer this question with generalities—Jesus means love, or Jesus means freedom, Jesus means justice. In the process, the Church is bypassed, since one can pursue these ends without recourse to the Church.

He agrees instead with Roland Allen, who argued that the mission task is accomplished wherever and whenever a congregation is established which is furnished with the Bible, with the sacraments and with the apostolic ministry [elders, deacons, etc]. “When these conditions are fulfilled, the missionary has done her job. The young church is then free to learn, as it goes and grow, how to embody the gospel in its own culture” [1989:147].

Newbigin amplifies upon this and says that the livingness of Christ, the communal foretaste of the Kingdom will take place as follows:

It will be in the life of a community which remembers, rehearses, and lives by the story which the Bible tells and of which the central focus is the story told in the New Testament. This remembering and rehearsing will be through the continual reading and reflection on the Bible and the continual repetition of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. And it will maintain its link with, its continuity with the body of men to whom Jesus said, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” through a ministry in which the personal call of Jesus, "Follow me,” is continued through the generations, not in abstract moral or political principles but in the actual personal encounters in which men and women who have themselves been called, all others to follow . . . . Once again we have to insist that since the response to the gospel has to be made in freedom, and since all human beings are fallible, there will not be unanimity in the ways in which the Church in any time and place seeks to ‘contextualize’ the gospel, seeks, this is to say, to proclaim and embody the life of Jesus that his power both to sustain and to judge every human culture is manifest [1989:147-148].

To accept this scenario as the agenda for mission to the Jews is to nail shut the coffin on Jewish believers in Yeshua living as Jews in covenant faithfulness.

Although Newbigin is a wonderful man in every way, his paradigm is, from the vantage point of the Jewish people, pure supersessionism. As appealing as it sounds, this paradigm, as regards the Jewish people, must be decisively repudiated, if we care at all that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

This repudiation is necessary because it brings up an issue which most Christians and missionaries to the Jews, and even many Messianic Jews, miss, many wish to avoid, and others strongly dispute, and that is the uniqueness of the Jewish people as the object of God’s outworking of his saving mercies over all He has made. This issue may well be the core issue underlying the necessity and the validity of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm.

The Bible speaks of Israel as a unique nation throughout time and into the eschaton. Balaam’s prophecy names us as “a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations” [Numbers 23:9, NASB], or, as the New Living Bible says it, “a people who live by themselves, set apart from other nations.” Other texts teach this same uniqueness, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” [Amos 3:2]; “When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel” Deut 32:8, NKJV], “19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances” [Psalm 147:20]; “He gave them the lands of the nations, and they took possession of the wealth of the peoples,that they might keep his statutes and observe his laws. Praise the LORD!” [Psalm 105:44-45]; "For I am with you, says the Lord, to save you; I will make an end of all the nations among which I scattered you, but of you I will not make an end" [Jer 30:11]. But in addition to these specific texts and others like them, it is clear that Scripture presupposes the uniqueness of Israel, and its distinctiveness as over against all the other nations.

Like Scripture itself, Jewish liturgy and theology affirm this uniqueness and distinctiveness of Israel both explicitly and implicitly. So it is that the blessing before reading from the Torah celebrates the God “who chose us from among all nations and gave us His Torah,” [see Romans 3:1-2]. The Shabbat liturgy celebrates the gift of Shabbat in these words, “Thou, Lord our God, has not given the Sabbath day to the nations of the world; thou, our King, hast not given it as a heritage to those who worship idols; heathen do not enjoy its rest. But thou hats graciously given it to Israel thy people, the descendants of Jacob whom thou hast chosen [Birnbaum Siddur, 1949:354]. Every service ends with the Alenu, which states, “It is our duty to praise the Master of all, to exalt the Creator of the universe, who has not made us like the nations of the world and hast not placed us like the families of the earth; who has not designed our desty to be like theirs, nor our lot like that of all their multitude” [Birnbaum 1949:414].

Perhaps most clearly, the Havdalah service which ends every shabbat, speaks of God “who has made a distinction between the sacred and the profane, between light and darkness, Israel and the other nations, between the seventh day and the six working days.” For Jewish theologizing, the distinction between Israel and the other nations is as marked as that between light and darkness.

This being the case, and supported by ample Scriptural warrant, both explicit and implicit, there can be no legitimate Messianic Jewish ecclesiology along the lines outlined by Newbigin. Rather, we must seek out and honor an ecclesiology and a missiology which pays due regard to the separateness and unique calling of Israel, a people called to honor God in the context of Torah, even as we gather around the Son of David in faith and obedience [Ezekiel 37:24]. This is necessitated by Scripture and by the resultant shape of Judaism throughout time. Messianic Judaism cannot be a true Judaism if it fails to pay heed to the unique calling of the Jewish people, and the proper integration of God, Israel and Torah. And, because Israel is "a people that dwells apart, And shall not be numbered with the nations" [Numbers 23:9], because Israel is uniquely called to honor God in the context of Torah, those who plant Yeshua-honoring congregations among Jews can only truly promote His honor if and as it is done within the context of promoting Torah obedience.

At 3/03/2006 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Were you Christians who have broken off from the church? Or were you Jews who left the synagogue?
Put simply, if you weren't holding your own meetings, would your default house of worship be a church or a synagogue?

At 3/07/2006 10:54 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Anonymous [I hope you don't mind my calling you by your first name].

Your question and how it is couched calls for a surprisingly ornate response.

First, it is couched in a "do you still beat your wife" manner. You are assuming that we either left the synagogue or left the church, which is not a true assessment. For many of us, the nature of the experience was one of adding something or of broadening, rather than "leaving." Very few of us were ever kicked out of Jewish community, and most of us never decided to leave!

Second, I am afraid I will sound a bit like Bill Clinton and his famous "it depends what your definition of 'is' is" statement, but answering your question well also depends on what is meant you."

If by "you" you mean myself and my closest associates, I would suggest that our default house of worship would likely be a synagogue. However, this is not at all true of all Messianic Jews [a broader "you"]
, even those who are members of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. Some of them would default to a church situation.

A third component of my response to you concerns what I perceive to be a certain unncessesarily hard-edged categorialism. In reality, all of us, including you Anon [pardon the nickname] are people in process. I recently spent time with two highly visible Jewish believers in Jesus, who, years ago when available paradigms were fewer and they were younger, readily identified themselves simply as Christians. Now they are older people, and life experience and further thought has brought them both the the settled conviction that they would rather simply be known as non-hyphenated Jews. This does not mean that they have backpeddled on their faith in Yeshua. It does mean that they know their deepest selves and loyalties to be indelibly Jewish.

So people grow, people change. People not only make new discoveries; they also rediscover.

May God guide us all to fruitful discoveries and rediscoveries too!


Stuart Dauermann

At 3/16/2006 5:28 PM, Blogger Israel Benjamin said...

Dr. Dauermann,
Your response to the comment is, at least for me, most helpful.
In looking at the comment and your response in the context of some sort of "planting" (a term I have not seen used in what you would term "Jewish space"), I wonder if my observations are correct (and welcome your guidance).

Within a Jewish communal/synagogal context, we have our own challenges. The symptom manifesting itself in the present generation is one of intermarriage. But the root of intermarriage is composed of a variety of factors. The one most relevant in this discussion is that many have left or never belonged to a vibrant Jewish community.
It seems that rather than spiritual drift by communal members, the messianic movement is drawing its membership from two sources: Jews by birth who (pardon the term) converted, joined a church, and have left the "church" for a "messianic synagogue" (as well as gentiles who have left the church in a similar manner?); and the second source being Jews by birth who are new converts and never belonged to a church but were ushered into a messianic synagogue at the outset. Is that mostly accurate?

Your observation of humans being in process strikes me as being quite Jewish. I can't help but think that there is another layer at work. Allow me to elaborate:

Some people are in process and are aware they are in process. This lends itself to a certain degree of humility. The more one is aware of one's "processingness," the more humble one is apt to be.

Some people are in process, and have some sense of being in process. However these people might not actively pursue participation in their "pro-cessing." Thus the result might be two steps forward, one step back. (May HaShem help those who make one step forward and two steps back! A situation I sometimes, unfortunately find myself in.)

A third group might be those who are in process and are not aware of it. This might consist of those people who are simply unaware, or those people who think they have arrived. Perhaps the anonymous poster in your most recent postings falls into this latter category?

I apologize for "categorizing" in this fashion. I do this only as an aid, similar to the four sons in the Hagaddah. Within Judaism our spiritual leaders have had to interact, attend to, comfort, challenge, lead, and more with each of these types of people. I suppose this goes back to the time of Moses. Each generation and each community must navigate their way through this relationship. A person in process, (hopefully, but not always) aware of his or her own state of being in process, relating to others in varying states and in varying categories of process.

As a leader within a "messianic synagogue" how do you go about relating to these different types of people? What combination of traditional Jewish material do you use in helping people along, and how much Christian material do you use? Of the Christian material, do you follow a particular tradition (e.g. Catholic or Protestant, etc.)?

And if I may be so intrusive as to ask what is helpful to you in your own processing? My observation is that your origins within Christianity seem to offer little (if not in actuality being in opposition) to the path you have taken. I am barely out of the starting gate in my own "process" and am quite grateful for your assistance. Thank you in advance...IB


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