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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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Sunday, April 16, 2006

On Not Being Parrots, and Not Being Silent

I have been reading another of Lesslie Newbigin’s books, “The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission.” (Revised edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995). His writing affords me excellent opportunities to reflect on the current condition of the Messianic Jewish Movement, and the challenges we must face if we would move forward toward our destiny and play our part for the benefit of the entire people of God.

Newbigin says the following:

The church now exists as a global fellowship present in almost every part of the world, and is increasingly conscious of its international character . . . The ‘home base’ of missions is now nothing less than the worldwide community, and every proposed expression of the church’s missionary outreach must be tested by asking whether it can be accepted by the whole ecumenical family as an authentic expression of the gospel [Newbigin 1995:7].

Of course this statement is looked upon as heresy by some cultural and theological circles for whom the very word “ecumenical” is deemed heretical. But of course, Newbigin must be right that European and/or American missions are no longer the power base around which all other mission enterprises revolve, and are no longer the people to make and approve or reject all definitions and statements. Despite the humbling difficulty of dealing with this, the power brokers of the Western mission establishment must accept the authority of non-Western Christians to offer their opinions as to what is an authentic and culturally non-intrusive concept of the gospel. Or ought the West reserve for itself the perennial right of being the arbiter of any and all theological and missiological orthodoxy?

There are significant parallels and lessons here for the Emerging Paradigm of the Messianic Jewish Movement.

Isn’t now a good time for the Jewish component of the Body of Messiah to be heard and respected, or is our voice only to be heard to the extent that we parrot what the Church has historically said? It seems clear, to me at least, there are those not only in the Christian world, but more especially in the Jewish missions world, who view as heretical any attempt to contribute new understandings or formulations theologically, missiologically, or ecclesiologically. For example, I know for a fact that some in that world represent as non-evangelical, non=orthodox, and out of bounds people like Mark Kinzer and myself, who advocate an enduring distinction for the Jewish component of the ekklesia. Their categorical dismissal of our position seems to me to be reactionary and difficult to justify.

One need only recall what Paul says in Romans and in Ephesians, where he himself draws a distinction between Jews and Gentiles, even those who are in the ekklesia. Jews remain natural branches whether believing in Yeshua or not, and Gentiles remain wild branches, whether grafted in or not! And for Paul, it is Gentiles [in this context, pagans] who were once without hope and without God in the world, being strangers to the covenants of promise and aliens form the Commonwealth of Israel. It is Paul who draws a distinction applicable to the Jews—that their advantages are much in every way. And of course it is Paul who speaks of the Remnant of Israel, a category he does not extend to the other nations of the world. He sees distinctions everywhere! But some in the missions culture, and those influenced by them, deplore and denounce any such distinction, misrepresenting it as postulating a separation within the Body of Messiah, which proponents of this view have declared emphatically and explicitly to not be the case.

Separation implies distance; distinction means simply that there are characteristics that identify some entity as uniquely itself, while implying no distancing from other entitites with which it may be affiliated or in unity. As another example from the world of theology, consider the historical discussion of the Trinity, where it is explicitly stated that the Persons of the Trinity are distinct but NOT separate. Clearly, some have no difficulty making such semantic distinctions which some detractors of the Messianic Jewish paradigm doggedly obscure. There are some in the Jewish missions culture who have no compunction against labeling those who hold for a Jewish distinction within the Body of Messiah as being heretical and dangerous. But it is clear that Paul himself made a distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia! Ought not those who categorically deny and decry our position reconsider their strident statements?

Messianic Judaism is meant by God to bring a unique and necessary contribution to the ekklesia, the community of the people of God united in Messiah. Surely this purpose is ill-served if Messianic Jews require themselves or are required by others to remain in a paternalized state if they would prove their theological orthodoxy. Must we imitate the example of some who feel obliged to view the Church as our new parent, our new community of reference, to the eclipsing of our kinship with the Jewish people (which kinship the Newer Testament clearly affirms), and to the forfeiture of our right to speak up for the distinct theological perspective and distinctive God has entrusted to us?

R.K, Soulen rightly speaks of the Divine design that there be an economy of mutual blessing, whereby benefit is distributed through the other, males being a blessing to females, and vice versa, and Israel and the Church from among the nations being the source of blessing to one another. In this regard, the Messianic Movement has a divine destiny, and a role to play not only in action but also in helping all concerned to attain clarity on the unfolding purposes and manifest glory of God.

My Messianic Jewish friends. Please, let us not be confused. Let us not be mentally and spiritually lazy or uninformed. For God’s sake, let us not be silent. And let us choose rather to be prophets than parrots!

At 4/17/2006 7:16 AM, Blogger Tracey said...

Beautiful post! I have thought of this for quite some time. First, after having the benefit of traveling within a military family, it became clear to me that westernized ideas were not always the best and it opened my eyes to another perspective. Secondly, within the church, at least here in America, there is a distinct "Americanized Christianity" that fails in many ways to accurately reflect the teachings of the New Testament. Thirdly, I've thought about how those of us who are integrating the Hebrew roots of our faith would be seen by our brothers and sisters in the faith and I have encountered great opposition, but the tide seems to be changing. I don't evangelize, but our family keeps Shabbat and we just put on a large Seder for forty-four people to help educate Christians. We have received so many good reviews and people are begging to come next year. I wouldn't be surprised if it grew from 44 to 100 at least. What I am seeing is that if we stay the course, and stay true to what we feel the L-rd is calling us to do, more and more people will be educated and things just may change. I've seen it happen. Fifteen years ago no one wanted to hear one thing about the Jewish feasts and Shabbat, now everyone around me wants to come to our house for Shabbat or has heard about our Seders. I like your model of Messianic Judaism because it establishes a community and grows from there. One needs to HAVE a community if we want to have a place for others to come to once they've made this decision. I'm sorry this comment was long, but I get long winded when I'm enthused. LOL One more thing, I almost forgot. I am mindful of the fact that some of us are charting a new path and we aren't looking to the church at large or certain denominations to place their "stamp of approval" on us. While this may seem arrogant by those who would wish for everyone to follow their lead, I am thankful that we not only live in a free country where we can do what we wish regarding faith, but also we each are called to follow G-d, ourselves. We do have to be careful that we don't fall off the proverbial cliff (as well as pulling others off with us), but at the same time, it is a good thing to follow truth and not be hidebound to what has always been done before. A delicate balance at times.

At 4/17/2006 9:23 AM, Blogger Israel Benjamin said...

Dr. Dauermann,

I agree with Tracey that your post has merit in bolstering your group identity and purpose.

I have a somewhat "prophetic" response on my own blog to which I invite you, your community members, and your readers to read and consider. (www.belzyce.blogspot.com).

At 4/17/2006 5:09 PM, Blogger Israel Benjamin said...

Dr. Dauermann,

Thank you for responding to my post. I will leave the discussion regarding your group's reality to that blog. I wish to take up other issues here.

Your characterization of following the western church's definitions, boundaries, and paradigm's as "parroting" is quite descriptive. I'm not sure such characterizations will gain you credence in those circles, but maybe you've come to conclusion that there's no hope. They have judged you, you can't reason with them, so one must either agree with them and be "parrots" or reject their outmoded ways and be "prophetic."

I must ask, "Why is it so important to you to speak into their reality?" Or are you competing for the hearts and minds of those who would adhere to that outmoded teaching? If so, what do you hope to gain by using disparaging analogies and characterizing adherence to the "the tried and true western christian mission tradition" as either "spiritually or mentally lazy" at worst or "uninformed" at best?

A well known Catholic bishop once remarked that spiritual experiences are more common than we think, but what is most important is who we accept as authoritative in helping understand those experiences. For better or worse, traditional Judaism has turned a blind eye to such experiences and have abandoned the language of a personal relationship with God. Unaffiliated Jews are left with eastern or Christian modalities of understanding such experiences. Those Jews who find themselves settling into a church environment do so with a lack of theological perspective, placing their trust in certain Christian traditions. You are clearly calling such individuals to question why they have accepted such teachings as authoritative and consider alternatives to that form of church going but not so far as to consider what traditional Judaism has to offer. Your new paradigm seeks to embrace the church teachings insofar as regards Jesus as lord, savior, and HaShem incarnate. You call this "Yeshua-faith" and seek to marry up this "Yeshua-faith" with Jewish content, but without full participation in Jewish community. (Your objections aside, you will never find yourself invited to take a seat at your local "Board of Rabbis" and to that extent you will not attain full participation.)

I do believe I am hearing what you are saying. For better or worse, you are facing an uphill battle on several fronts: the traditional church and their power brokers, adherents of the traditional church and their allegiance to those theological traditions, and traditional Judaism with a long standing objection to Christian adherence to the content of what you call "Yeshua-faith."

As you lead your people, are you attempting to inculcate a superiority that sets themselves apart as "the thinkers" or the "not lazy" or "the not parrots?" Cannot your critics add to their observations that you are doing a lousy job of "walking humbly" as you squawk about being parrots? If your audience are the adults you believe they are, why not trust that they will respond to unadorned reason and let up on the rhetoric?


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