Fulfilling one’s calling in life is a part of maturity, but we should not so emphasize calling that we deemphasize the more critical universal aspects of the explicit definitions of maturity in the New Covenant Scriptures.
Messianic Jews are committed to living out their calling by identifying as Jews. This is rooted in the Biblical pattern of life revealed in the Torah and now applied as fitting to the New Covenant order. This calling is clear from Romans 11:5 and 11:16 which state that Messianic Jews are the saved remnant and the first fruits of their people. Yet unless we are clear about what constitutes maturity in the New Covenant, we in the Messianic Jewish movement will not fulfill our destiny to be a powerful witness to our people. Nor will we make a contribution to world missions, also an important part of our calling.
One official definition put forth in the Messianic Jewish world defines a mature Messianic Judaism as follows: “An authentic Messianic Judaism (that) maintains substantial continuity with Jewish tradition … An integrated following of Yeshua through traditional Jewish forms and the modern day practice of Judaism.“
This definition seeks to show that we really are part of the Jewish community and that we integrate traditional Jewish religious practice when it does not contradict New Covenant faith in Yeshua. I have given over 40 years of my life to helping establish a Messianic Jewish way of life that reflects this approach. Then why does this orientation of “maturity” cause me concern?Because it can be read to place claims of cultural/traditional integration on the same level with the Biblical definitions of maturity.
Conformity of Character
The Bible gives two primary definitions of maturity. One is conformity to the character of Yeshua. The character of Yeshua is summarized in His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 at the end of which we are told:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
The call is to be perfect as God is perfect. The overall issue of maturity is that by the power of the Spirit and the Word, we become like Yeshua. A person who is like Yeshua is mature (Ephesians 4:11-13).
“… till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:13).
Discernment in the Spirit
The second passage and definition is found in Hebrews and tells us that:
“Solid food is for the mature, who through practice have their senses trained to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
This capability is a matter of discernment in the Spirit. Watchman Nee took this text and others to develop the concept of the “spiritual man” as one who walks in the Spirit at such a level that the person knows and obeys the voice of the Spirit, but then tests by the Word to make sure that there is no mistake. Indeed, those who are the sons and daughters of God are the ones who are led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14). I recently read a biography of Reinhardt Bonkke. It is an amazing testimony of what God can do in one who really hears the voice of the Spirit and obeys. The issue of maturity then also includes attaining aspects of effectiveness in the power of the Spirit and spreading the Gospel with signs following, seeing people born into the Kingdom of God and becoming effective in discipleship. When we recognize our need in the Messianic Jewish movement on these matters, we are undone and cry out for an outpouring of the Spirit.
Wisdom in cultural integration is very important. However, if we overemphasize any extra-biblical aspect of life as defining maturity we will do damage to our spiritual life and the power and success of our movement.
There is a secondary maturity in the right integration of living out our calling as Messianic Jews among the communities and people where God has placed us. That level of maturity however, is only exhibited by the one who is exercising Hebrews 5:14 discernment, and who is being conformed to the character of Yeshua. Such a disciple can discern what is really from God in various cultures, and this includes both Jewish and church culture. How much is from God, and how much emphasis can we give any of these traditional/cultural elements and still be in balance with God’s leading?
Being rightly integrated into the cultures of the people we seek to reach is important, and I would be the first to describe Jewish culture as being unique in that its foundation is the divine revelation of a holy way of life given to Israel. Yet even this original basis in Biblical truth comes with the temptation to so integrate into tradition, that the hard edges of the Gospel are compromised. Let us grow in our understanding of tradition and how we should apply it, but let us not make our extent of keeping any tradition the definition of maturity and authenticity.
Finding the right balance where Yeshua is central and where we see the power of the Holy Spirit working alongside tradition in our personal lives and communities will often be a daily tension – to be resolved through earnest prayer, humility, and being saturated with the word of God.