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A Loving Call to Unity?
Some Messianic Jews say "Messianic Judaism is not Christianity"

A review article of Stan Telchin’s latest book

There are Jewish believers who make a distinction between Christianity and what they term “Messianic Judaism”. They do so in order to distance themselves from a Church that, in their view, is not only Gentile and anti-Semitic but also unbiblical and pagan in many of its practices. Stan Telchin, one of the elder statesmen of the Messianic movement, begins his third book by challenging the idea that the term “Christian” is synonymous with “Gentile”, stating that he is both a Jew and a Christian.
Building on the truth that Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus the Messiah are “one new creation”, Stan challenges the leaders of Messianic Judaism to examine their attitudes and practices in the light of God’s Word. He argues that the original vision of the Messianic movement – to share the gospel with Jewish people – has been lost and that the movement now appears to be concerned solely with protecting its own “enshrined – and institutionalised – doctrine and rituals”. He also seeks to warn his readers about “the nature of the crisis that is emerging”.

On the one hand …

The book is written primarily from a pastor’s perspective, and the author attempts to be “corrective not condemning”. Stan Telchin recognises the important place of the Messianic movement in his own testimony and continues to call those within Messianic Judaism his brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, the book levels some very serious criticisms and certainly raises questions that need to be answered. Here is a “Messianic Jew” arguing that Messianic Judaism is not biblical faith and suggesting that those who embrace it worship a false god. How can we understand this paradox?

Stan Telchin is not opposed to Messianic congregations in principle but he argues that, by insisting that Jewish believers are obliged to adopt rabbinic traditions and a synagogue style of worship, some within Messianic Judaism have compromised the gospel of grace. Stan asks if the movement is becoming elitist and proud; he argues that Gentile worshippers at Messianic synagogues often feel marginalized because “Jewishness” seems to takes precedence over “Jesusness”; he is concerned that the differing opinions and theories of men are heard more often than the Word of God; and he suggests that evangelism amongst Jewish people is being stifled by a desire to find favour with the Jewish community.

The author considers the issue of Messianic “rabbis”, asks how God views Jewishness and “Gentileness”, and queries why Gentiles in the movement should feel obliged to keep the kosher dietary regulations. Stan also questions whether those who claim to be “zealous for the Torah” even know many of the 613 commandments they claim to be zealous for, and points out that in this area the modern Jewish community is very different from the one portrayed in the book of Acts.

On the other hand …

Some of the arguments contained in the book, however, are not very convincing. For example, Stan draws on a 1996 survey to back up his claim that Jewishness is not a factor in attracting Jewish people to the Messiah. Yet even in the short time since that survey was conducted things have changed, and the Jewishness of Jesus is often on the agenda of the younger Jewish generation.

An important point to bear in mind when reading Messianic Judaism is not Christianity, is that the book is very much written within the North American situation; therefore it focuses on selected examples of extreme opinion within American Messianic Judaism rather than giving an overview of the worldwide Messianic movement. Although this may help to warn those outside the United States of possible future trends, it is not an accurate reflection of, for example, the current British Messianic scene. Most Messianic Fellowships and congregations in Britain are led by ministers, missionaries or members of local churches. Indeed, the British Messianic Jewish Alliance (www.BMJA.net) requires its members to also be “members of good standing in local churches”.

The major problem with Stan’s book is that it lacks the clarity needed to tackle issues that have been dividing the Church since the New Testament era. It could therefore lead to confusion for, even within the American situation, Stan does not distinguish clearly between the Messianic movement and Messianic Judaism. So whilst this book criticises extremes within Messianic Judaism, it does not clearly convey – and perhaps does not accept – the practical need for a Messianic movement as an authentic form of self-expression for Jewish people who call Jesus their Messiah, Saviour and Lord.

Yet many would view Messianic Judaism as being on the left wing of a movement that has Hebrew Christianity, as espoused by Stan Telchin, on its right wing. Viewed as a broad group of people following the Lord Jesus, the Messianic movement deserves our prayers and support. It has its problems and extremes, as does the wider global Church, but the movement undoubtedly has an important part to play in challenging those sections of the Church that believe God has “finished with the Jewish people”. At a time when Messianic Jews need support, sympathy and love from pastors and other fellow Christians, it is to be hoped that Messianic Judaism is not Christianity will not unwittingly generate suspicion from the wider Church toward our Jewish brothers and sisters in Messiah or, worse still, fuel cultural triumphalism on the part of Gentile Christians.

Some Messianic Jews say, “Messianic Judaism is not Christianity”:
A Loving Call to Unity
Chosen Books, 169pp, p/b, ISBN 9780800793722
Available from Chosen Books (USA) or Amazon

This article first appeared in the March 2005 edition of the Herald
Click here to read Stan Telchin's Response


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