I was raised in a Messianic Jewish family, brought up in church and small Messianic home groups until the age of 15 because there was no Messianic synagogue that we knew of in our area. I have been active in my local synagogue all these years since, also attending local conferences in my region on a regular basis to meet other Messianic believers and broaden my ties to the Messianic community. It wasn’t until this summer that I finally got to attend a national conference and was excited to have a chance to meet others beyond my regional borders.
As you may, or may not know, in Messianic Judaism we have almost as many splinter groups as the Christian community, but there are two major Messianic organizations – the UMJC and the MJAA/IAMCS. These two groups were once a single organization and because of fundamental differences in vision and practice, long ago they split. As the saying goes, “To err is human…..” and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t find ways to screw things up. Each organization has their positives and negatives. No group is perfect, but we all have a place within the body of Messiah. There has since been much work between these organizations in the area of mutual respect and reconciliation.
Every summer, each of them hold their national conferences, attracting people from around the country for days of teaching and shmoozing. My area of the country is primarily peppered with congregations from one of the organizations (the one my home congregation is affiliated with) and I happened to attend the national conference of the other organization. This was my first time attending anything organized by this group, simply because I had never had this opportunity.
Having just recently launched Neshama, a ministry whose goal is to “cross organizational boundaries and unite women across the Messianic movement,” I was excited to meet new people, share commonalities, and exchange dialogue concerning differences. I met some wonderful people, and had some fantastic conversations (until the early morning hours)! I consider these some new friendships that I pray will continue to grow with time.
What was most troubling to my soul was some of the rhetoric concerning the other organizations, its leadership, and members. As I stated before, no group is perfect. I am well aware that the other organization also says things that are offensive to the other side. Some of this stems from these deep-seated differences in vision, but as members of the body of Messiah, we need to move beyond this. There is no place for us to consider ourselves better than our brothers or sisters in Messiah, for we are nothing without Him.
Concern about Disunity10 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, through the name of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.11 For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers and sisters, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are rivalries among you.12 I say this because you are each saying, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Kefa,” or “I follow Messiah.”13 Has Messiah been divided? Paul wasn’t crucified for you, was he? Or were you immersed into the name of Paul?14 I thank God that I immersed none of you, except Crispus and Gaius,15 so that no one should say that I had immersed you into my own name.16 (I also immersed the household of Stephanas; besides them, I don’t recall if I immersed anyone else.)17 For Messiah sent me not to immerse, but to proclaim the Good News—not with cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Messiah would not be made of no effect.Whose Wisdom Is Foolish?18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the intelligent.”20 Where is the wise one? Where is the Torah scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of the world?21 For seeing that—in God’s wisdom—the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased—through the foolishness of the message proclaimed—to save those who believe.22 For Jewish people ask for signs and Greek people seek after wisdom,23 but we proclaim Messiah crucified—a stumbling block to Jewish people and foolishness to Gentile people,24 but to those who are called (both Jewish and Greek people), Messiah, the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.26 For you see your calling, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to human standards, not many are powerful, and not many are born well.27 Yet God chose the foolish things of the world so He might put to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world so He might put to shame the strong;28 and God chose the lowly and despised things of the world, the things that are as nothing, so He might bring to nothing the things that are—29 so that no human might boast before God.30 But because of Him you are in Messiah Yeshua, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and holiness and redemption—31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in Adonai.”1 Corinthians 1:10-31
Copyright © 2014 – Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society (Emphasis mine)
It became very clear to me during my time at this conference, that we have become caught up in Who we are and not Whose we are. When I shared with one woman about Neshama and its vision, she said, “That sounds wonderful, but I like to stay within my own organization.” The differences between our organizations and individual/congregational practices have become areas of contention and division instead of causes for celebration that all may be useful and have a place in the body of Messiah. We have come to focus more on what separates us than what unites us. How are we to ever accomplish the work of the Kingdom when we cannot stand on common ground?
12 For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body—though many—are one body, so also is Messiah.13 For in one Ruach we were all immersed into one body—whether Jewish or Greek, slave or free—and all were made to drink of one Ruach.14 For the body is not one part, but many.15 If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” is it therefore not part of the body?16 And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” is it for this reason any less part of the body?17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?18 But now God has placed the parts—each one of them—in the body just as He desired.19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?20 But now there are many parts, yet one body.21 The eye cannot tell the hand, “I don’t need you!” or in turn the head to the feet, “I don’t need you!”22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be less important are indispensable.23 Those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe with greater honor; and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty;24 but our presentable parts have no such need. Rather God assembled the body, giving more honor to those who are lacking,25 so that there may be no division in the body, but so that the parts may have the same care for one another.26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer together. If one part is honored, all the parts rejoice together.27 Now you are the body of Messiah, and members individually.1 Corinthians 12:12-27Copyright © 2014 – Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society (Emphasis mine)
We are failing to rejoice together, and instead we are wounding each other. We may not spew hateful words face to face, but wounds of the spirit still cause the same suffering and division. As I sat with one longstanding member of the organization, he asked me what I thought of the conference as compared to conferences I had attended by the other group. I was very candid and spoke of the things I had liked and the points in both organizations where some work could be done. Shortly, the conversation turned to an academic discourse on the failings of the organization that I had grown up in. (Let me say, I am well aware of their shortcomings. No one knows your dirty laundry like your family.)
But the fatal wound was delivered with this statement – “They are just raising up a generation of Messianics. That isn’t Judaism.” As I questioned him more on what he said and how that applied to myself, a product of this organization that wasn’t perpetuating Judaism in his mind, he was quick to say that he wasn’t making it personal. However, he knew me personally. He knew what congregation I had been raised in. He knew my rabbi very well. How was I not supposed to take that statement personally?
In that moment, I was the girl in high school who was mercilessly hounded by the son of the local reform rabbi, constantly telling me that I wasn’t Jewish, that I wasn’t a legitimate member of the Jewish community. It wasn’t until riding in the bus on a field trip that it came to a head. He challenged me to recite the Sh’ma, which I did flawlessly, much to his consternation. I had finally passed his Jewish litmus test.
When I asked this man at the conference how I, as a Jew who knew more about my Judaism than the vast majority of (mostly secular) Jews worldwide, and whose kids self-identify as Jews and not Christians (no offense, Christian friends), was merely Messianic and not deserving of the title “Jewish,” he began to speak in academic circles. My heart was in the pit of my stomach. A fellow brother in the Lord, one who knows the struggle of being a Messianic Jew in a Jewish world that will accept any religion before Messianic Judaism, had rejected me. He declared me less than…..other…..not worthy of the title, “Jew.” His negative view of an organization blinded him to the person sitting in front of him. How many times have we – in both of these organizations – done the same thing?
When we met with the Orthodox rabbi that did my youngest son’s bris, he spent a lot of time talking to us beforehand. He told us his amazing testimony of escaping from the Nazis in the Holocaust and all the twists and turns of his life since then. My husband made sure to tell him that we were Messianic Jews so that everything was on the table. He replied, “Who am I to say that just because you believe that Jesus is the Messiah that you are not Jews? If the Nazis were to come today, they would take you right along with me.”