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Foundations of Faith Series

Messianic Judaism and Traditional Christianity - Similarities and Differences
Marji Hughes

NOTE: I have included links to several articles for further study of this topic at the end of the text.line

Today, I've been asked to do a study on a comparison between Messianic Judaism and Christianity. How are they different? How are they the same? I'm going to admit right off the bat that I am intimidated - BIG time. First, because defining Messianic Judaism is a lot like trying to nail Jello to a wall. Messianic Judaism is not a "denomination." There is no contemporary founder or leader. No one speaks for all Messianics and many other Messianics might well take exception to the things I say, or at least chose to word them differently. There is no headquarters or main center and it isn't governed by a hierarchy or an organization. In some sense, it isn't even defined by its theology.

Secondly, no matter how careful I try to be, I am going to offend someone. There are many similarities between Messianic Judaism and Christianity, but there are also many differences and some of these differences touch on issues that cause great emotional responses. I know this from experience and I do all I can to avoid the controversy without sacrificing the truth. So I ask you all to pray for me even as I pray for you and this study. Will you join me?

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time of refreshing. Father, we thank You for the blessing of Your rest, Your peace and Your presence today and ask Your blessing over this coming study. Father, You know how I have struggled to achieve balance here today, but You also know how often I fail. Open the eyes of our hearts as we study, striving to grow in our understanding of You and Your ways. Open our hearts and minds to hear Your truth - protect this study and all who enter from every plan of the evil one to destroy and attack. Use me as a vessel to speak Your Truth, and forgive me when I fail in this. Protect those gathered here from my flesh and failings. Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us by Your commandments and commanded us to be a light to the nations and has given us Yeshua - our Messiah - the Light of the World. It is in His glorious Name we ask these things - Yeshua the Messiah - our Lord, our God, our Savior and King. Let it be so.

I thought we'd start by asking some questions. How many of you here today have heard about Messianic Judaism? How would you define it? Is this "Christian" or "Jewish"? Is it both?

If I were asked to give the general differences and similarities between Messianic Judaism and Christianity, I would say that the similarities are found in the area of doctrine and the differences in how those doctrines are expressed in lifestyle. But, as with most generalities, this isn't true across the board. There are exceptions to be found. Some "Messianic" doctrines are different from what is generally termed "Christian" and some of the ways those doctrines are expressed are basically the same as they are expressed by every other follower of the Messiah, Jew or Gentile. We'll take a look of some of these doctrinal differences and similarities in a minute, but first, let's try to define what Messianic Judaism is.

Rather than begin with my own definition, I decided to use those written by a few various Messianic Groups. I chose these three samplings from the various sites because they are short - and because they illustrate a problem I think is found in many Messianic "entities."

This comes from the Etz Chiam (Tree of Life) website: MESSIANIC JUDAISM is the belief that Yeshua is the Redeemer spoken of in the Tanakh (O.T.), and that He is the Messiah for whom the Jewish people all over the world and throughout history have been waiting.

From the Congregation Beth Yeshua (House of Yeshua/Jesus) site: Messianic Judaism is a Biblically based movement of Jewish people who have come to believe in Yeshua as the promised Jewish Messiah of Israel.

And finally, from Congregation Shema Yisrael (Hear Oh, Israel): Messianic Judaism is a movement of Jewish people who believe that Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) is the promised Messiah for Israel, and the Savior of the world. He is the One that the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures told us was to come.

Now right off the bat we have some problems. What did y'all notice in these definitions?

Here is what I see as the problem. Messianic Judaism is generally defined, by the majority of Messianic Jews, in such a way as to appear exclusively Jewish. This is simply not so. Yes, Messianic Judaism is "Jewish" - but it is not limited to Ethnic Jews, nor should not be.

God has always had provision for ALL people to enter into His Covenant. Ruth was not born a Jew, neither was Rahab or a few others we could mention. But they were certainly a part of Israel. The whole Israel/Jew/Church issue is something we will have to pursue in another study, but let me say here that properly observed, Messianic Judaism has no middle wall of partition (Ephesians 2:14) separating Jewish believers from Gentile believers. In fact, most Messianic assemblies, especially here in the US, have a large percentage of Gentiles, who have adopted a Jewish expression of their faith in the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua.

Let me point out here that we have a tendency to label things "Jewish" that are more accurately labeled as "biblical." I know I do - in fact, I just did. If I were to try and define Messianic Judaism, I would say it is a return to the practice of the Early Believers, where both Jew AND Gentile worshiped the Messiah in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, which, at that time, was what we know now as the Old Testament. We're going to take a break here and talk about this problem of "exclusivity" but before we do, let me remind you that there are some fairly valid reasons for this response by the Jewish Believers - even if the response is not justified. For hundreds of years, Jews who turned to Messiah were forced to deny their heritage, to turn away from the "evils of Judaism" and adapt a totally Gentile form of Christianity. These are two extremes - and neither is "right" in my opinion.

Now, were going to focus on some of the similarities. There's an old saying that, when you have two Jews, you have three opinions. As I said before, Messianic Judaism has no "official" Statement of Faith and defining the term is like nailing Jello to the wall. But, there are some things that the vast majority of Messianics do believe. I might remind you that we find this same "phenomenon" within the Christian Community as well. Sadly. some will always fall outside the borders and still want to claim citizenship.

I'm going to use my own Statement of Faith as an example of Messianic Doctrine, because on that level, I am fairly well representative of Messianic Judaism as a whole. I've tried to condense this down a bit - for the sake of brevity. (But, you know how brief "my" brevity can be.) I want to remind everyone that this is intended to show the similarities between the teachings of Messianic Judaism and Christianity - not to open the room up for an all out Doctrinal Brawl, so try to keep that in mind as you read the following.

I believe that ALL of Scripture (66 books of the Old and New Testaments) is the complete and the only divinely inspired written Word of God, a supernaturally given revelation from God Himself and, as such, relies upon no church, council or creed for it's authority. It is verbally and completely inerrant in the original writings and has been kept pure in the fundamental doctrines through subsequent ages by God's singular care and providence. It is therefore without error or misstatement in its moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts, and of supreme and final authority in all matters of faith and life, applicable to all times and cultures.

I believe in one sovereign God, eternally existing and manifesting Himself to us in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully and completely God and has eternally existed in the relationship described by the term Trinity. I believe that God is all knowing, all-powerful, ever present, and changeless and that He is holy, righteous, just, faithful, merciful and loving; He is the source of all creation and through the immediate exercise of His power, all things came into being.

I believe that Yeshua the Messiah is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father. He is the living Word of God, David's promised Messianic Heir, our Savior and Lord, our God and our King. He took on Himself the nature of man through the virgin birth so that He possesses both divine and human natures. I believe in His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Law; in His atoning death, burial, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, His high priestly work in Heaven for us, and His immanent visible and physical return to the world according to His promise.

I believe the Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead; and as such, He possesses all the distinct attributes of Deity.

I believe that regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential for personal salvation. He was active in the creation of all things and continues to be so today, restraining evil and convicting the world of sin.

I believe in the present work of the Holy Spirit, teach, motivate, sanctify and empower every believer for fruitful and gifted service characterized by growing love, faith, and hope. I believe that the Holy Spirit permanently indwells, regenerates, and seals the believer, sovereignty imparting at least one spiritual gift to every believer for the purpose of edifying and equipping the Body of Messiah.

I believe that mankind was created in the image of God, after His likeness, and therefore has intrinsic worth. I believe that, because our first parents rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, they lost their innocence and both they and their descendants, separated from God, suffer physical and spiritual death and that all born of the seed of man are sinners by nature and practice. Man has no possible means of reconciling himself to God and that, by persisting in the sinful state of unbelief, man is justly condemned by God to eternal punishment.

I believe that God the Father is the author of eternal salvation, having loved the world and given His Son for its redemption. I rejoice that He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of men, that He hears and answers prayer, and that by His grace He saves from sin and death all that come to Him through faith in Messiah Yeshua.

I believe that Yeshua the Messiah died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, as a representative and substitutionary sacrifice; that all who believe in Him are justified, not by any works of righteousness they have done, but by His perfect righteousness and atoning blood and that there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved, there is no way of salvation apart from faith in Messiah Yeshua for any person, Jewish or Gentile.

I believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, the one to eternal life and the other to eternal damnation, a state of everlasting punishment and in the consequent urgency of the Great Commission, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.

I believe that the Church is an elect people, comprising both Jews and Gentiles who acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah and Redeemer. Its purpose is to glorify God through worship, instruction, accountability, discipline, fellowship and outreach.

I affirm that other religions and ideologies are not alternative paths to God, and that human spirituality if unredeemed by the Messiah Yeshua/ Jesus, leads not to salvation but to judgment, for Messiah Yeshua is the only way.

This, of course, does not speak to the "whole" of my doctrine, but it does cover the "basics" - which is what we're focusing on at the moment. Again, I will remind you that we're not here to debate these points, but to look at them as a representative of "Messianic Doctrine." Tell me, is there anything there that you would not find in a "Christian" Statement of Faith?

Now, let's talk about the differences. This is where the ride sometimes gets a bit bumpy, so buckle your seat belts. Messianic Judaism differs from "mainstream" Christianity in several ways, especially in the area of lifestyle.

From the Menorah Ministries website, we get the following explanations:
Most Messianics are much more "zealous for the Law (Torah)" than their Gentile Christian counterparts. In this, they are following the example of the first century Messianic Jew, who were also "zealous for Torah" (Acts 15:19-21 and 21:17-27).

However, let me add once again that no Messianic believes that the Law saves in any way shape or form. We follow the Law because we CAN - enabled by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit - not because we MUST. Our obedience is an expression of our love and gratitude to God, an acknowledgement that His ways are right and just - good and holy. It is also a blessing to us, that we can not possibly experience outside of that obedience.

Now, let's turn once again to the Menorah Ministries site and their explanations of Messianic Jewish practice:
Most Messianics also refrain from calling themselves Christians, which is Greek terminology. They prefer more Hebraic terms - such as "Messianic."

I will add that they will use the Hebrew name of the Savior, Yeshua, the name He heard when He walked upon this earth. Some refer to the Scripture as the Torah, calling the Old Testament the Tanakh and the New Testament the Brit Hadasha. They will use the common Hebrew references for God - HaShem (the Name) and the Holy Spirit - Ruach HaKodesh. They will follow the custom of spelling the title "God" without the "o" as a sign of respect, setting the word apart even in it's spelling, so that both the one who writes and the one who reads sees this difference and hopefully, takes time to reflect upon the One Who Bears the Name. Some of this is due to a desire to maintain the "Jewishness" of their faith, some of it is based on a desire to relate more closely to the unsaved Jewish people, and some of it is, admittedly, pure silliness - a game of "dress up."

Ok - next point from Menorah Ministries:
Messianic Jews recognize the seventh day--Saturday--as being the Sabbath (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8- I1; 32:12-17). The Sabbath is even mentioned more in the N.T. than all the other days of the week combined. There is no mention in the Scripture of the Sabbath being changed to any other day of the week---a fact recognized by the Catholic Church. Although there are various levels of observance of the Shabbat (Sabbath) among Messianic Jews, the Shabbat is still the day of choice for worshipping the Most High. It is also seen as the perpetual sign spoken of in Exodus. (31:13-16)--pointing back to the original state of the creation---and forward to the time spoken of by the author of Hebrews (4:3) when we shall enter into the reality of the Sabbath rest - "Shabbat Shabbaton."

There is one more major difference. On the FAQ page of the Messianic Bureau International website we read:
Do you keep the Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter?

The answer given is: No. We only celebrate Scripturally commanded holy days. Neither Christmas nor Easter are the actual days for the events they propose to celebrate. We, rather, celebrate the actual days of the birth and resurrection of Yeshua, which were already scheduled in the Feasts of Israel. Messianics believe that ALL followers of the Messiah would benefit from a return to this "biblical lifestyle."

I did not add any "commentary" to these last two points because I didn't feel they needed any clarification. History clearly teaches us that both Sunday worship and the "Christian" Holidays were given to us by the Roman Catholic Church for the dual purpose of separating itself from anything "Jewish" by doing away with the "appointed times" of God set forth in the Old Testament and "Christianizing" existing pagan holidays to replace those they had rejected.

I realize the wording of that previous statement makes my thoughts on this action rather clear - but we're still not going to debate whether this was right or wrong. I also know these two points are the ones that cause the greatest amount of protest by those who are part of "mainstream" Christianity. It would be nice if we could separate our emotional attachment to these days from our reason, but it's unreasonable to expect that.

I'm going to point out here, while I have the floor, that I am NOT saying those who celebrate these days are "evil" or that the days themselves are "bad." My own position, and that of the majority of Messianics is this: I see no purpose in these days, because what they are meant to celebrate is already incorporated in the Feasts. I see it as an insult to God to reject the days He has given in favor of days created by men to replace those "Jewish" days. This is MY conviction. I do not condemn you for not sharing it. But, I would appreciate if you did not condemn me for not sharing yours as well. After a while - those stones get a little rough on the complexion after all.

(This study was concluded with a Question and Answer Session.)

Articles for Further Study

Messianic Judaism verses Rabbinic Judaism
Messianic Gentile in a Messianic Jewish Congregation
Reconciliation: A Jewish-Gentile Issue Facing the Church Today
What is Messianic Judaism and who is Yeshua?
What is Messianic Judaism?

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