The Quest For Jewish Authenticity


The two most noteworthy developments in the Kingdom of God over the last 30 years are evangelistic progress in the Southern Hemisphere and the emergence of the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement. By comparison with the growth of Christianity, the Messianic Movement is relatively small. Yet, Jews turning to the Messiah in the context of Jewish oriented New Covenant Congregations is no less significant. These two developments are certainly intertwined and are signs of the Last Days.

Three Important Conclusions

Almost 34 years ago, when the Messianic movement was very small (only three congregations in North America), I wrestled with the issue of Jewish identity and faith in Yeshua. I came to three conclusions.

  1. Jews who believe in Yeshua were called to maintain a Jewish lifestyle and identity. The irrevocable gifts and call of God to Israel includes Messianic Jews (Romans 11:29).
  2. Many Jews would come to Yeshua; however they would not do so in a context that was foreign to them. A Jewish context to see Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah was needed. Indeed these two conclusions implied and brought me to the third conclusion:
  3. The most effective means of living out the convictions of conclusions one and two was through culturally Jewish congregations.

As they say, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” As we embarked upon this path in the early 70’s, we saw fulfillment well beyond our expectations. The 80’s was a special period of growth in America. In the 90’s there was great growth in Russia and Ukraine. Today we see significant growth in Israel.

The Call for Jewish Authenticity

Recently, coalitions within the Messianic movement in Israel and America have called for greater Jewish authenticity. These voices are dissatisfied with what they perceive as a mere superficial gloss of Jewishness that is superimposed on a basically Evangelical sub-culture. To that end they are speaking out, writing articles and organizing convocations; all with a view towards establishing greater authenticity within the Messianic community. Authenticity implies a depth in conveying reality; in this case the reality of that which is good in Judaism. There are benefits and dangers in this call. The issues are not new; some forget how much we wrestled with these questions thirty years ago.

Our theology has to be determined by interpreting the Bible in its original context. If many of our conclusions place us in accord with Evangelical Christianity or other types of Christianity, so be it. If a true interpretation of the Bible requires us to be distinct from Evangelical Christianity or other types of Christianity, so be it. The quest for Jewish authenticity must not produce an orientation that rejects something that is biblical simply because it is not presently embraced by the Jewish community! This is the greatest danger. Community is a powerful force for conformity. Integration into the Jewish community can produce such a desire to conform that it risks down-playing biblical truth.

A Biblical Approach to Jewish Authenticity

For over thirty years I have argued that Jewish believers should be authentically Jewish. As I have studied the issues, my perspectives have changed concerning what constitutes authenticity. However, the more I study, the more I perceive the extent of mixture in what we know of as Judaism and Jewish culture. Sometimes, Judaism reflects biblical truths and values. Jewish traditions of interpretation and Jewish practices can be natural extensions of biblical truth. Creative development that reflects God’s truth, beauty and goodness is important for Jews to note, appreciate, and appropriate. Scripture admonishes us to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom. 13:7). The biblical command to honor our parents has been interpreted to imply grandparents and ancestors by most Jewish and Christian interpreters. That is, those who gave such good to us and our families are to be honored.

However there is also much that is not in accord with the spirit of the Bible. In the quest for authenticity, we must first have a biblically renewed mind, centered on Yeshua. Only from this mind can we discern that which is good, beautiful and true (Phil.4:8, Romans 12:2). Only from this mind can we discern that which is not good, and forgive our ancestors for this. We are to abandon that which is not good. This also honors our Jewish heritage.

Judaism has its legalistic minutiae that are not in accord with Yeshua. Some circles of Judaism accept kabalistic magic. There are interpretations and practices that are not in accord with the New Covenant. We must avoid a Jewish pride and idolatry of Judaism and Jewish ancestral teachers. This would lead to honoring everything Jewish as if it were all good and wonderful. In addition, for Jews today, we must emphasize that the way to salvation is only through Yeshua! I should note that living in Israel, speaking the language, and living in this Israeli culture is a step of authenticity (not fully adequate, but a big step). I also note that the principles we put forth here apply to the Christian heritage and to all cultures.

The Imagined Jewish Visitor

Sometimes, the quest for authenticity focuses on the imagined Jewish visitor. What will the average Jew or especially the religious Jew think if they come to our services? How will they respond to the evangelical projections of our speech? How will they respond to our lack of depth in the knowledge of Judaism? How will they respond to the poor reading of Hebrew in some congregations? Certainly, we can improve in all these areas. However, we can also place too much emphasis on these concerns. What is our motivation? Are we seeking to honor Yeshua or gain acceptance within the Jewish community?

The Leveling Power of the Holy Spirit

One of the clear conclusions I have embraced is that the Holy Spirit is the great leveler in human effectiveness. The simplest person operating in the power of the Spirit is easily a match for even the most authentically educated and sophisticated Jew.

Some twenty odd years ago, I visited an unusual Messianic Congregation. The culture and faith expression of the congregation was notably Pentecostal. I am not just referring to theology. Their whole cultural projection was a mixture of Jewish elements and this particular Christian subculture. The Hebrew was poorly pronounced. Pentecostal hymns were sung along side the new Messianic movement’s music. I have to admit I was embarrassed and perhaps even a little indignant at what I perceived as an incongruous cultural mix (This is not to say I do not appreciate Pentecostal culture – I certainly do).

Yet, there were more Jews in this congregation than most Messianic congregations at that time. Why? The Spirit was moving in power. Jews were being healed of diseases. Miracles and answered prayer were commonplace within this ministry. Word got around. What a lesson! This did not make me want to return to Washington and adopt a more Pentecostal culture. Yet, I was chastened. Yes, only the real power of God in Yeshua centered preaching, worship and personal witness will bring our people to the knowledge of the truth.

In our quest for authenticity, we must never forget this. The Holy Spirit gives his power to simple, ordinary people who have faith and love. Through Him they can do mighty deeds with an anointing that draws people to Yeshua. May the Messianic movement fully embrace this truth and never depart from it. Such is our goal in Tikkun within and outside of Israel.