Anyone who attempts to find out the answer to the question I ask in the title of this blog needs to be prepared for a difficult and confusing journey of discovery. The title of “Messianic Jew” is claimed by many people here in Israel including many who wear clothes and keep a daily pattern of habits and behaviour very similar to Orthodox Jews. Some, (it’s difficult to know how many) of this group believe they can draw closer to Yeshua (Jesus) by studying the writings of Orthodox Rabbis and Sages.
There are others who don’t wear traditional Jewish clothing, don’t keep a kosher kitchen and who might even be married to a spouse who is not Jewish. Hardly anyone in this group study Rabbinic teachings and some of these people who claim the title of Messianic Jew (full disclosure, this is the category I fall into) might even own a T-shirt with a Cross on it, or a piece of jewellery in the form of a Cross, or they might even celebrate Christmas and Easter.
In between these two bookends (I don’t think the word “extremes” is really appropriate in this context) there’s a large spectrum of habits, practices and traditions among those in Israel who describe themselves as “Messianic Jews”.
There are many others who make up our community, but with respect I am going to exclude them from this essay as they are outside it’s scope, with the exception of our Arab brothers and sisters who are also citizens of this country and who I’ll come back to towards the end.
What nearly all of these self-described Messianic Jewish groups have in common is a belief that the entire Bible, including the Torah and the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) are sacred, Divinely inspired texts. Also very commonly held among all these different sub-groups within the local Body is a strong identification with the modern State of Israel, with nearly all the children of the Messianic Jewish communities serving in the IDF and many of them going on to work in careers where they continue to serve their country as well as their local communities.
Still, there are some strong disagreements among these communities and it gets really emotional sometimes.
One of the points that I personally find the most difficult to come to terms with is that a certain sub-group within those who choose to live what they call a “Torah Observant” lifestyle describe themselves as “authentic Messianic Jews” which, whether they mean it or not, implies that the rest of us are, necessarily, a bunch of NON-authentic phonies. This does not even touch on the subject of how these self-described “authentic Messianic Jews” view the non-Jewish members of our congregations and communities and, indeed, our very families. (I only mention this because this particular point is of relevance to a larger problem which has recently become impossible to continue sweeping under the rug, and I’ll get to that in a moment.)
As difficult as this internal discussion often is, it mostly IS an internal discussion among the Believer community here in Israel and there is no doubt that at the end of the day, the things we agree on are generally more important than the things which divide us.
The controversy that has erupted over the Shelanu program hosted by GOD TV and currently (as of this writing) broadcasting on the HOT cable TV program here in Israel has resulted in statements being made by many different individuals and organizations that have gone far beyond the usual hyperbole and rhetoric.
I want to focus on one such statement because I believe it really drives home the point that we, the community of Believers here in Israel, really need to get serious about our own communal development.
I’m referring to a statement which was made by the group HaYovel, led by Tommy Waller and his sons, in one of their “Heartland Report” emails, which was sent out on the afternoon of Friday, the 15th of May. After Hayovel founder Tommy Waller previously made a public statement to the Breaking Israel News website condemning the Shelanu project as “an all-out assault against the Jew’s God-given identity” his son Zac Waller, currently serving as Executive Director of HaYovel, doubled down in this email by acknowledging that Israeli Messianic Jews would be producing the content of the channel but dismissing that as irrelevant because these Israeli Messianic Jews had bought into Replacement Theology and had thus, along with the majority of Gentile Christians (according to his view) forfeited their right to say anything to their fellow Jews about spiritual matters.
So this is what it’s come to.
We’ve gotten to the point where a Gentile Christian from Tennessee who has lived on and off in Israel for a few years feels qualified and entitled to declare a large segment of our community to be Replacement Theologians because we’re not living up to his standards of what an “authentic Messianic Jew” should look, act and worship like, and we are therefore unfit to share the Gospel with our own fellow Jews and our own fellow Israelis.
As outrageous as that is, it must be confessed in all humility that we are partially to blame that things have gotten to this point because of the ferocious contempt we have allowed our aforementioned internal discussions to become infected with. I confess that I myself have made my own fair share of contributions to this problem, and I humbly as the forgiveness of all who I have hurt.
However, Tommy Waller and the other Christian Zionist leaders who made statements against the Shelanu project (as if it was any of their business) have actually done the Believer community in Israel a big favour. They’ve shown us that the time has come to get our own house in order. We need to stop fighting amongst ourselves so much and form a united front not only to our own people and our own nation, but to this Christian Zionist movement which has been going over our heads and behind our backs for many decades now, dealing with our government and the Rabbis without taking us into account.
It is long past time for things to change.
This is our country, these are our people, and it’s our responsibility.
We’re the local, Israeli branch of the Body of Messiah. We need to get our act together, stop being timid and start living out our calling.
The first step in that process is going to be to stop holding each other in contempt, then find the proverbial “lowest common denominators” that we can all agree on which unite us and agree to make peace with the differences that we have in areas which are not of such grave Eternal importance.
So, to my brothers and sisters ACROSS THE SPECTRUM of Israel’s Believer community, including all Jews, Arabs, Gentiles and others who are citizens or at least long-term residents of this country, I propose that the time has come to hold a Council (or we can just call it a meeting if the word “Council” is too Goyish for anyone) and hash out these commonalities. We need to form a more united and organized national assembly so that we can work together, share resources, take care of each other and otherwise be worthy to be called “the local Body in Israel” as the fellowship of Believers which went by that name in the First Century (and is described for us in the Book of Acts) was.
Then, we can go to our own government as one united voice and share our concerns about the way our taxes are spent, among other things.
We can also go, as one united voice, to the Messianic communities in other countries, as well as the Christian Zionist organizations, and tell them that they are very welcome to obey God’s calling to them regarding our country and our people, but they will follow OUR lead. They will get in line with and get behind what God has called US to do here.
They will NOT come here and do their own thing without consulting or even informing us. They will not go behind our backs to our government and tell it to shut down a TV show that we’re producing. They will not tell us how to minister to our own people in our own country. They will not impose on us their standards of what proper, “authentic” Messianic Jewish practices should be and then label us as adherents of Replacement Theology because we don’t comport with those standards.
In fact, to the latter-day Judas Iscariot’s who go beyond the benign neglect with which most Christian Zionist groups treat us and actually make alliances with anti-missionary rabbis and groups who are actively persecuting us, we can say with one united voice that this is our country, not theirs, and the time has come for them to pack up their tents and go back where they came from.
But again, in order to do any of this, we must first get our own house in order, and the process of doing that needs to start immediately, if not sooner.