I am Messianic Jew. I’ve known and served the Lord for 30 years, during which time I’ve interacted with thousands of individuals and pastors from many Christian denominations. There are today many different denominations teaching many different doctrines. I am going to tell you what I believe and also what I don’t believe and who and what we need to avoid.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and in Messiah Yeshua, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Sheol (not Hell. Hell is different from Sheol.). The third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from there He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy universal Church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
I believe that the Holy Scriptures are divinely inspired and are inerrant and infallible. I believe that the Bible is only composed of the Old and New Testaments and not the Apocrypha.
I believe in interpreting the Scriptures from a grammatical, historical perspective. The most important rule for interpreting the Scriptures is “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense.” From this one principle, everything else derives.
I believe in the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I believe that God is Three Persons and yet One in name and nature, deity, and essence, character and attributes, yet distinct as to their Persons. God the Son is not God the Father. While the Three Persons are one in name and nature, deity, essence, and character, there is a hierarchy of position and authority within the Trinity. God the Father is greater than God the Son in position and authority.
I believe that Messiah Yeshua is the Son of God and the Son of Man and is fully God and fully Man.
I believe that the Holy Spirit, while incorporeal (without a body), is a Person who has mind, emotion, and will. He is not an impersonal force.
I am concerned by those in the Messianic Jewish Community who equivocate or refuse to use the term “Trinity.” They argue that it is not Jewish enough or it doesn’t sound Biblical or are afraid that it offends the non-believing Jewish community. But “Trinity” is a good term that accurately reflects what the Bible teaches on the Three-In-One nature of God. The Church over decades closely looked into this doctrine and then properly elaborated the truth about the Trinity, which is found in the Holy Scriptures. The Church got it right. If a doctrine is right and found in the Scriptures of the prophets, apostles, and Messiah of Israel, then it is Biblical and “Jewish”; and we don’t need to be embarrassed by it.
There are some within the Messianic Jewish Movement who deny the Trinity and the deity of the Son of God. This is a serious departure from the truth, and those people should be shunned.
I believe that unregenerate mankind is alienated from the Creator, who is the Source of life, goodness, and happiness. Humanity is fallen, lost, far from God, perishing, without eternal life, headed to the Second Death and Hell, and in the most desperate need of the salvation provided by God and Messiah Yeshua.
I believe that atonement is exclusively through God’s grace when we place our faith in God and Messiah Yeshua. I believe in salvation by grace alone and through faith alone.
I believe in Eternal Security and the Perseverance of the Saints.
Doctrines Concerning Israel
I believe in Dispensationalism and that the Lord has revealed different requirements for different peoples at different times. I believe Israel is not the Church, nor is the Church Israel. (And, yet, I have fellowship with Reformed Theologians.) I believe that the Church is made up of Jews and Gentiles; but Jews remain Jews, and Gentiles remain Gentiles.
I believe in the future restoration and salvation of the nation and the land and the people of Israel. I believe that all of God’s promises to the Jewish people will be literally fulfilled. I believe in a Millennial Kingdom here on Earth during which King Messiah will rule over Israel and the nations for 1,000 years. I believe that the modern state of Israel is not a mere accident of history. God allowed the rebirth of Israel and has protected it against overwhelming forces, all according to His Word. I believe that nations, as well as individuals, who want to please God should stand by Israel. I believe that the rebirth of the State of Israel is a work of God and that, while the nation is imperfect (as is the Church, as are individual believers), Christians should be as supportive of Israel as possible.
I believe that the Jewish people are still the Chosen People, but being part of the Holy Nation does not automatically save anyone. Non-Messianic Judaism is based on a broken covenant that cannot save us. There is no Temple, and there are no sacrifices by which we can be brought near to God and experience genuine atonement. I believe that Romans 1:16 still applies: that the Church should bring the Gospel – the true, God-ordained Message of Salvation – to the Jewish people first.
Tragically there are some Messianic Jewish leaders, especially among the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, who are teaching that Jewish people don’t need to place their faith in Yeshua in order to be saved – that non-Messianic Judaism can save them. These confused souls, in their determination to have the approval of the non-Messianic Jewish Community, are downplaying the need to accept Yeshua and over-emphasizing the importance of rabbinic-style Jewishness. But bold evangelism is at the core of our mission. It characterizes the true followers of Yeshua. Evangelism is part of our armor. It’s part of our protection. We are to be fitted with the readiness to proclaim the Gospel. If we are not living with the desire to tell others about the salvation available through the Messiah, we are lacking part of our armor. We are exposed and unprotected. Any individual, congregation, or denomination lacking focus on evangelism is, by definition, unhealthy. Those who think that, by being more Jewishly orthodox in practice and less evangelistic, we will be more acceptable to the Jewish Community are deluded. Even if such a model were effective (which it isn’t), they would still be wrong for putting the approval of men before the approval of God.
It doesn’t take a doctoral degree in theology to know that Messianic synagogues should be fully supportive of bold evangelism, and Jewish ministries and missions should be helpful toward good Messianic Jewish congregations. The proper attitude should be one of mutual support and appreciation. It is the leadership and the influence of the Paul Saals and the Mark Kinzers that are the obstacles and should be dismantled.
I believe in Dispensationalism. While the word “Dispensationalism” doesn’t appear in the Bible, the concept is taught. Dispensationalism is based on the Greek word oikonomia (sounds like economy or economics since it is related to it). A combination of oikos, “house,” and nomos, “law,” oikonomia means the law of the house, the arrangement of the house, or administration or management or dispensation (the way things are dispensed). Dispensationalism views the world like a household that is managed by God. Dispensationalism sees a progression in salvation history, a progression in the revelation of God’s will. It recognizes that God has made different demands of different peoples at different times. If we are to avoid theological and Biblical confusion and properly understand, correctly handle, and apply the Word of God, it is important to understand that God has different requirements for different people in different ages.
Dispensationalism is based on two main principles. First, it is based on a consistent, normal, literal meaning of the Word of God. The basic interpretative rule in Dispensationalism, known as the Golden Rule of Interpretation, is this: If the plain sense of Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense. Take every word in its primary, usual, normal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise.
The second key principle of Dispensationalism arises from the first: There is a consistent distinction in the Scriptures between Israel and the Church. Although there is a relationship between Israel and the Church, Israel and the Church are distinct. Therefore, Israel means Israel and the Church means the Church. The Church does not mean Israel, nor does Israel mean the Church. Israel and the nations, Jews and Gentiles, together make up Messiah’s Holy Community. Jews remain Jews in the Body of Christ, and Gentiles remain Gentiles. The Jewish people form the root of the Church. Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish Olive Tree of salvation and blessing, which is uniquely our “own olive tree.” Messianic Jews serve a dual function. We are the bridge that connects Israel and the Church. We are part of Israel – the faithful remnant within Israel – and we are also part of the Church. We should strive to be part of our people as much as possible and, yet, never compromise our bold testimony. And we should be involved in the larger Body of Messiah and, yet, without assimilating our Jewish identity.
Currently we are in the dispensation from the First Coming of the Messiah to the Second Coming of the Messiah. At His First Advent, Messiah made a New Covenant with the House of Israel and Judah. That agreement also includes Gentiles. The previous dispensation lasted from the Exodus from Egypt and the Covenant made at Mount Sinai to the First Coming of the Messiah. That dispensation dealt primarily with Israel. The Lord was forming a new nation that would be a light to the other nations. The Lord raised up Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt. The Lord, working through Moses, created our constitution. He gave many new laws to Israel. The laws provide the framework for Israel’s national life. The Temple at Jerusalem, along with the Levitical priests and the God-ordained sacrifices, which could only be offered at the Temple, provided the means of atonement. Meanwhile, the other nations were still operating under the covenant made with Noah but also with a new command – that they learn from and bless Israel.
The Relationship Of Messianic Jews
To The Laws Of The Previous Dispensation
• The covenant upon which much of the Torah is based is a broken covenant. (There is no Temple and, therefore, no sacrifices by which we may draw near to God and obtain eternal life.) It is impossible to keep all the laws of the Mosaic Covenant today. In addition, most Jews live outside of Israel; and many of the laws only apply to life within Israel.
• The laws that are part of the covenant mediated by Moses are still extremely valuable and relevant. The Torah continues to inform and guide the lives of the Jewish people. It teaches us the right things to do and gives us a good way to live. It helps us live an authentic Jewish lifestyle. It helps us remain part of the Holy People. The issue of assimilation is a major problem for Messianic Jews. Historically Messianic Jewish families who make no effort to live a Jewish lifestyle or to be involved in Jewish evangelism will almost always assimilate and lose their Jewish identity within a couple of generations. The issue of assimilation is something that is addressed in the New Testament. Rabbi Paul commands Messianic Jews to not become uncircumcised (1 Corinthians 7:18), which means not to seek assimilation into the prevailing Gentile culture but to continue their Jewish way of life.
• The Torah is more than the Mosaic Covenant. All of the Word of God, including the New Covenant, is “Torah” (literally, “teaching” or “instruction”).
• The early Messianic Jews had a favorable view of the Torah, and many were zealous to live in accordance with it. (See Acts 21:20-26.) History documents that Messianic Jews continued to live a distinctly Jewish, Torah-based lifestyle for centuries after the arrival of Messiah Yeshua. There is no incompatibility with being “zealous for the Torah” and being a Messianic Jew.
Therefore, I am pro-Torah, recognizing that the Covenant made at Sinai is a broken covenant. I am pro-Torah, valuing the great wisdom that is found in the Torah. I am pro-Torah, recognizing that all Believers are in some sense to fulfill the Law (Romans 8:4) but that not all of us are obligated to fulfill the same requirements of the Law. (For example, Gentiles need not be circumcised.) I am pro-Torah, recognizing that nobody (Jewish or otherwise) can be saved by the works of the Law. I am pro-Torah, recognizing that Messiah’s teaching helps return us to the Torah’s original intent regarding issues such as a man being married to only one woman. I am pro-Torah, understanding that one of the main purposes of the Torah is to point us to Messiah. I am pro-Torah, accepting the fact that Messianic Jews who choose not to keep every aspect of the Law, particularly the ceremonial laws, do not lose their salvation. My personal experience is that I have become more observant over time, but it was a process that took years. Therefore, I encourage Messianic Jews to identify with and embrace their Jewish heritage, which in large part is based on the Torah; and I encourage Messianic Jews to be gracious to each other regarding others’ level of Torah observance.
As Messianic Jews work out their salvation with fear and trembling, we need to be gracious to each other in the area of practice. Those Messianic Jews who want to live a life that is more Torah-observant have the freedom to do so, but they can’t demand that others live the same way. Those Messianic Jews who want to keep the customs and traditions of our people are free to do so, provided those customs and traditions do not contradict the teaching of the Word of God. Many rabbinic customs and traditions are profound and are a blessing to Jewish life. But there is a danger. Jewish traditions and practices and forms can be over-emphasized so that Orthodox Judaism is unduly elevated in the minds of our people. The result is that non-Messianic Judaism starts being wrongly perceived as more genuine, authentic, and authoritative. Then some go on to abandon Messianic Judaism and deny their faith in Yeshua altogether. Also, the forms and traditions can become so important that Yeshua is crowded out; and He becomes little more than a bystander in our services or a footnote in our prayer books. Another consideration: Far from attracting more Jewish people, such models of ministry are a turn-off to most Jewish people in the United States and Israel, most of whom don’t want long, Orthodox-style services. A recent study shows that only 9 percent of Jewish people living in the United States in the 30-39 age group consider themselves Orthodox, and 16 percent of Jews aged 18-29 now identify themselves as Orthodox.
I love the Messianic Jewish Movement and am committed to it! I want to see many healthy Messianic congregations with strong Jewish identity and commitment. I want our synagogues to identify with Israel and the Jewish people and also with the entire Body of Messiah. I want to see Messianic Jews taking more of a leadership role in the Christian Church. I want to see us committed to world evangelism, fulfilling our calling to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations. I especially want to see our synagogues committed to bold evangelism among our own people (including partnering with Jewish missions organizations). I long for the new wine of modern Messianic Judaism to be Yeshua-centered, with Spirit-directed, bold evangelism as its centerpiece. I want our congregations to creatively adapt to their time and communities, mixing old and new the best of Judaism and the best of Christianity so that it resonates with the souls of the current generation.
The Relationship Of Gentile Christians
To The Laws Of The Previous Dispensation
Messiah’s Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles, while having much in common with Israel, is not identical to Israel. The New Covenant is not the same as the Old Covenant. Jews who enter the New Covenant remain Jews, and Gentiles who enter the New Covenant remain Gentiles. Gentile Believers are not the same as the Gentile foreigners who lived in the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. Gentile Christians have an elevated status compared with the aliens who lived in the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant. They are fully co-heirs of the Kingdom with the Jewish saints. Being grafted into Israel doesn’t mean that Gentile Believers become Israel or are required to live the same way as the Jewish people. Jews and Gentiles are one because of our One God and Father of all: “One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism.” We share equally in the Spirit of God, who lives in all of us, and have the same hope of living forever in the New Jerusalem. Being one doesn’t negate the differences in roles and calling and lifestyle between Jews and Gentiles.
Keep in mind that most of the laws of the Torah were directed specifically to the Jewish people and not to the other nations. The laws form Israel’s constitution. The laws were meant to keep Israel distinct from the other nations. So what relationship does the Gentile Christian have to the 613 laws of the Torah? The book of Acts records that Messiah’s Emissaries (the Apostles) and the Elders of Messiah’s Holy Community met to decide this very issue. In the Messianic Jewish community, we commonly refer to this meeting, recorded in Acts 15, as “the First Jerusalem Council.” According to the binding, Holy Spirit-inspired decision issued by the Emissaries and Elders, apart from saving faith in Messiah Yeshua, only four essential practices are necessary for Gentile Christians: abstaining from food dirtied by idolatry, from sexual immorality, from eating blood, and from the meat of animals that have been strangled. See Acts 15, especially verses 19-20 and 28-29. In addition to these Four Essentials, obedience to the Moral Law (for example, not stealing, not murdering, not committing adultery, and not bearing false witness) is required. The Creator has written these moral laws on everyone’s heart. (See Romans 2:14-15.)
Apart from these Four Essential Practices and the Moral Law, everything else – including the Sabbath, holidays, and dietary laws – is non-essential and comes under the area of Christian freedom and liberty. If someone wants to observe a Biblical holiday or custom, there is freedom but no obligation to do so. Gentile Christians have the freedom to celebrate the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays or not observe them. If someone says, “Messiah is my Passover, and I don’t need to celebrate a Passover Seder,” that’s fine. If someone says, “Messiah is my Sabbath, and I’m resting in Him; and, therefore, I don’t need to rest on the Sabbath,” that’s OK. If someone wants to observe the first day of the week as a day of rest and worship, he or she has every right to do so. If someone says, “I want to observe the Sabbath and celebrate the Passover to help me better remember and appreciate Messiah my Passover Lamb,” that’s fine, too.
This does not make the Torah useless or irrelevant for Christians. The Torah is full of great wisdom. In the Torah are found the principles for salvation, atonement, and God-ordained ways of worship. The initial prophecies and God-ordained qualifications for the Messiah are found here. True history, the history of the Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the origins and dispersing of the nations and their languages, the foundation and calling of Israel, and the covenants made with Noah, Abraham, and Moses are all contained in this great book. Basic laws of morality and justice and principles for godly living – principles that can be applied to the life of every nation and every Christian – are found in the Torah. Every Christian should be well-versed in the Torah.
There are those within the Messianic Jewish movement who teach that Gentile Christians should keep all the laws of the Mosaic Covenant that are capable of being observed today. Those who adopt this position might not go so far as to teach that trying to keep the laws is necessary for salvation, but they pressure people to be Torah-observant in another way. They will say that keeping these laws is necessary to receive many of God’s blessings and is necessary to live in a way that really pleases God. (Implied: if you don’t, you are being disobedient and will miss out on God’s blessings – and who wants that?) But applying pressure that coerces Gentile Christians to live like the Jewish people amounts to legalism. The error committed among the Galatian community involved not only the issue of salvation but also the issue of sanctification – the way Christians are to live. The great Rabbi from Tarsus made it clear that Gentiles did not need to live like Jews either to be saved or to be holier or more pleasing to the Lord.
The Issue Of Conversion
There are those in the Messianic Jewish movement who are going even further than pressuring Gentile Believers to live like Jews. There are those who are “converting” Gentiles into Jews. This type of “conversion” is wrong for many reasons:
• It violates the clear command of Scripture: “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised … Let each man remain in the calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20). Messiah came to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles and to unite the two – but not by turning Gentiles into Jews nor Jews into Gentiles.
• It encourages Gentiles who are dissatisfied with who God made them to be to despise their God-given identity. God specifically ordained that each human being come from the parents, people, and nation they came from. The God of Israel is a God who created much diversity, and Messiah’s Holy Community was designed to be made up of Jews and people from every nation, people, and language group.
• It arouses envy and encourages Gentiles who are envious of the Chosen People to deal with their envy in the wrong way – by attempting to become Jews rather than realizing that all of us who are joined to the Messiah are complete. Jews and Gentiles have equal access to the God of Israel. He is equally our Heavenly Father. All of us are His sons and daughters. We are brothers and sisters. We are fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem and co-heirs of eternal life. We all share His Spirit! What more does anyone need?
• It creates different classes of Christians and fractures the Body of Messiah. It fosters a subtle form of elitism – elevating the perceived status of those who “convert” and creating an artificial divide between them and those who don’t.
• The focus of the Judaizers is wrong. Instead of focusing on being filled with the Spirit of Yeshua, preaching the Gospel to all nations, and loving one another, the focus becomes one’s own ethnic identity. I love the Jewishness of the Messiah and the New Testament and am committed to Messianic Synagogues and Messianic Judaism; but I am very concerned about those who, while initially interested and enthusiastic about the Jewish Roots of Christianity, take their eyes off of Messiah focusing, instead, on themselves and trying to become more Jewish. They are perpetually discontented with who God made them.
I’ve seen Gentiles drift away from Yeshua, leave the Faith, renounce the Lord, and convert to non-Messianic Judaism. I’ve seen Gentiles start living like orthodox Jews and make an orthodox lifestyle their new mission in life. Focusing on Christianity’s Jewish Roots is no substitute for knowing God and being filled with the Spirit! Knowing about the Jewishness of Christianity won’t sustain your spiritual life! Christianity is about Messiah. He Himself is the substance. In Him we are complete. He is the vine, and we are the branches who must abide in Him for our spiritual life to prosper. We need to fix our eyes on Yeshua. We need to concentrate on Messiah, and Him crucified.
In this age, as the Gospel returns to the Jewish people from whom it first went forward, we need to remember that Christianity is meant to be transcultural. The requirements are minimal (just four – see above discussion) so that it can easily adapt to other cultures. The focus is not on practices; ceremonies; rituals; traditions; Sabbaths; holidays; or what we eat, drink, or wear but on mankind being reconciled to God, loving Him with all our heart and soul, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s about embracing Messiah’s Mission, preaching the Good News about salvation, serving and loving others, and putting their needs ahead of our own.
Some Messianic Synagogues, in their desire to retain what they regard to be an authentic Jewish identity, go to the opposite extreme. They don’t convert Gentiles; they simply exclude them from their worship services altogether (perhaps not absolutely forbidding but certainly discouraging them from involvement in their congregations). I believe that every congregation should be open to anybody the Holy Spirit sends its way. God declared through the prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Not all Messianic Congregations will have the same percentage of Jews and Gentiles. In Israel the majority of the population is Jewish, and not surprisingly the concentration of Messianic Jews is high. But the situation for many Messianic Congregations outside of Israel is different. For example, the Metro Detroit area has about 3 million people, which includes 100,000 Jewish people. We number about 3 percent of the population. Why should we expect the majorities in our congregations to be Jewish? Messianic Congregations don’t need a majority of Jewish Believers to be “authentic.”
Attitudes Toward The Church
I am displeased by the attitude of those within the Messianic Jewish Movement who are overly critical of the Church. There are too many within the movement who seem to delight in fault finding with the Church and Christianity at every opportunity. They rarely have a nice word to say about the great things that God has accomplished through the Church. Given the fact that most Messianic Jews have Gentile believers to thank for their salvation experience, I consider such prideful and disdainful attitudes inexcusable. Despite its imperfections (as though we ourselves had none!), there is so much about the Church that is good and for which we should be thankful. We need to love, suppor,t and identify with the Evangelical Church as much as we identify with the Jewish people.
I am increasingly upset by those who accuse the Church of being pagan. I don’t for one moment believe that those who celebrate Christmas or Easter or who make Sunday their day of assembly and worship are guilty of engaging in paganism. Did you know that a book of the Bible is named after Ishtar, a goddess of sexuality? But now the name “Esther” is used by Jewish people and Christians with the highest regard. Did you know that one of the Jewish Biblical months is named Tammuz after an ancient Babylonian god? Did you know that the name of another Jewish hero of the Faith, Mordecai, most likely comes from another pagan deity, Marduk? But Mordecai is now a name that is used by the Jewish people with the greatest respect. Do you really suppose that, by using the names Esther, Mordecai, and Tammuz, the Jewish people are pagans? No! The Jewish people have taken pagan names and over time removed the original pagan connotation. Should it bother us that a Christian holiday (Easter) is also called by this name? I don’t think so.
I do not believe that a good evangelical Protestant church, worshiping on Sunday and celebrating Christmas and Easter, is pagan. The early Christian leaders understood that they were not required to live like Jews. They understood the decision of the First Jerusalem Council and that the demands placed on them were kept to a minimum. What they tried to do was to remove paganism from their culture by replacing false gods with the true God. They tried to bring Christ into their culture. Instead of Sunday being the day of the Sun, they made it a day for the Son of God, who is like the Sun of Righteousness. Instead of a holiday dedicated to Saturn near the winter solstice, they replaced Saturn with Messiah, the Light. Instead of a day devoted to Ishtar, they focused on the resurrection of Messiah. I don’t believe these early leaders sinned. I believe they did well! I believe that Christmas, Easter, and Sunday worship are legitimate traditions and that people have a right to observe traditions that are meaningful to them without being derided for it – as long as the traditions don’t contradict the Word of God. Messiah Yeshua Himself observed some extra-biblical Jewish traditions – like drinking more than one cup of wine at the Last Supper, which was a Passover Seder, and like His celebrating Chanukah. (See John 10.)
There are some pagan practices that do stand in contradiction to the Word of God and should not be used at all. For example, many pagans had shrines with idols in which they prayed to their gods, including a mother-goddess figure. Instead of giving up this idolatry, some nominal Christians simply renamed them Mary and the saints. Praying to fellow human beings who have died or using statues and icons as part of worship are practices that are incompatible with Biblical worship. I also find the “Sacrifice of the Mass” and the doctrine of Transubstantiation to be pagan if it is taught that the literal body and blood of the Messiah are being eaten and drunk since the Torah forbids cannibalism and the consumption of blood.
I don’t believe that Messianic Synagogues are any purer or better than any good Evangelical Church. In fact, I would far prefer people attend a healthy Evangelical Church than an unhealthy Messianic Congregation. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, making people holy and transforming them into the image of Messiah, that purifies. Messianic Judaism is not a superior type of Christianity. Through Messiah everyone is made complete. Yes, there are some beautiful truths in the holidays and other aspects of Jewish culture; but there is also great wisdom in good Christian theological books and commentaries and in the Church. And, of course, Yeshua Himself is our supreme source of wisdom. There is a depth of wisdom that is in Him that can satisfy any Christian or Messianic Jew.
I don’t believe that every Christian would be better off joining a Messianic Congregation. It takes a unique (though by no means superior) calling to be part of a Messianic Synagogue. Messianic Synagogues exist primarily to strengthen Messianic Jews (as well as Gentile Christians who come to us with the right motives) and to be a witness to the Jewish community.
While I believe that God can and does perform miracles today and can supernaturally empower people with the charismatic gifts mentioned in the Scriptures, in actual practice very few of the prophecies, tongues, visions, dreams, or healings that are claimed to be from God – at least those I’ve witnessed – were genuinely from God. I am open to the genuine, but I want to be wise and discerning and not easily manipulated. The gifts of the Spirit can’t be taught. They are supernaturally given by God according to His will. It is illegitimate to attempt to manipulate or pressure someone into speaking in tongues. It is absurd to have “schools of the prophets” if the purpose is to teach someone how to be a prophet. In the Scriptures, the “school of the prophets” simply meant the disciples of the prophets.
I want to avoid false prophets even though they may be doing genuine miracles. It is a very serious thing to claim that God is speaking or acting through you. Those who claim that God is giving them a word, vision, or language when He is not and who seek to influence others by their claim, are in dire trouble and should be shunned.
Those who base their faith on outward phenomena or esoteric experiences (as opposed to the firms truths found in the unfailing Word of God and the simple spiritual disciplines like reading and studying the Scriptures, praying and fasting, committing oneself to regular fellowship, serving, giving, and witnessing) are more prone to theological error and are susceptible to manipulation by false teachers. Because, for most, there is no real power or gifting and the experience is based on the flesh and human manipulation, the “charismatic” experience soon runs out of excitement. Then people look for the next wave, the new stream, or the next phenomenon. For that reason, many went from the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement into the bizarre manifestations that accompanied the “Toronto Blessing.”
Further, many have fallen prey to the corrupt Prosperity Teaching and followed false teachers such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, T.D. Jakes, Paul Crouch, and the “Word of Faith” crowd. I loathe the vile Prosperity Teaching. The purpose of the Gospel is not to make us healthy and rich but to save us for the true riches and bliss of an eternity with our gracious God. Our focus must not be material prosperity but spiritual prosperity and bringing the Gospel of salvation to others – as the Lord and His Apostles exemplified. The Prosperity Teaching isn’t about “faith” – it’s about materialism, greed, and worldliness – but disguised with Christian terminology. If the Prosperity Teaching is true, why are the poorest sinners in the United States generally better off materially than the holiest saints in many underdeveloped countries? The spiritual get-rich-quick scam of the Prosperity Teachers doesn’t work – except perhaps for themselves!
What is true prosperity? It is being in a right relationship with the Living God and having a job that provides enough food, clothing, and shelter to meet your needs and leaves you with something extra to help others, support your congregation, and other good works. Do you want material prosperity? It comes from delaying present gratification in order to save for future benefits. Material prosperity is the result of working hard, making good investments, bettering yourself, pursuing a good education, and living in a nation that is at peace and is politically stable – and even all those things combined are no guarantee of prosperity! Wealth tends to make itself wings and to fly away – fast, out of reach, and for a long time!
I suspect that the days of the popularity of the Prosperity Teachers will soon come to an end. I think we are due for difficult economic circumstances that will make the absurdity of the Prosperity Teaching obvious. As a nation, we have violated sound economic principles. We have created too much debt/credit/paper money not backed by gold and silver. The government and far too many American citizens and companies are tremendously in debt. We have embraced an inherently unstable, fractional reserve banking system. There are hundreds of trillions of dollars’ worth of derivatives that have never been tested in a tumultuous economic environment. The government for too long manipulated artificially low interest rates that caused a housing bubble. The government has over-extended promises of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other kinds of insurance. I would not be surprised if we entered into a Second Great Depression because of persistent violation of the laws of economics – and that would speed the end of the false Prosperity Teaching.
So, when it comes to charismatic phenomena, I would prefer to err on the side of caution. I agree with Art Katz, who wisely said that “it is the path of wisdom to keep our distance from all questionable phenomena and teachings, trusting that whatever we might be missing is not greater than what we are protecting. The Lord is not offended by a carefulness that would rather err in the direction of His holiness than risk subverting what has already been given as pure and true and reliable and trustworthy. Don’t throw away what is proven, that which you know is true, that which is precious and dear for that which is questionable. Let us not be so greedy for new spiritual experiences, new teachings, empowerments, releases, anointings, signs, wonders, miracles, or revivals that we entrust ourselves to questionable personalities and ministries who have caught the public fancy with overnight popularity.” If we will simply draw near to God, remain close to Messiah, avoid evil, and focus on the basics, we will recognize God’s voice and discern the true from the false. Then and only then will He entrust us with real power, real miracles, and a real anointing.
I believe in two ordinances for the Church – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I believe that ideally baptism should be done by full immersion to someone who has made his or her own decision to follow Messiah (but that does not prevent me from having fellowship with those who sprinkle and engage in infant baptism). The Lord’s Supper is a memorial, a symbol of our union with the Risen Lord, who is united to the Father. Transubstantiation is error, but that does not prevent me from having fellowship with those who believe in Consubstantiation. I do not believe in Baptismal Regeneration. I believe that baptism is symbolic of the inward renewal that takes place at the moment that saving faith is generated in a human heart and the Holy Spirit is given to that individual. Baptism is the first thing that should be done after a person comes to a saving knowledge of the Lord. It shows commitment and public identification with the God of Israel, with Messiah Yeshua, and the New Covenant Community. Baptism is the initiation of our life with God. The Lord’s Supper helps us sustain our life with the Lord and maintain unity with His people. Therefore, a person must be baptized before he or she is allowed to participate in the Lord’s Supper. I believe that the community of believers can observe the Lord’s Supper as often as they assemble or when they choose to do so. Our community celebrates the Lord’s Supper once a month on the first Sabbath of the new Jewish month. I believe that the bread can be either leavened or unleavened bread (except during Passover when we will use matza).
I believe that circumcision is an ordinance for the Jewish people including Messianic Jews but that it is not necessary for Gentile Christians. The covenant that God made with Abraham and His descendants is still in effect, and circumcision is our responsibility if we want to be part of that covenant.
I believe that the “Two House/Ephraimite” movement is based on bad interpretation of the Bible and bad history and should be rejected.
I believe that those involved in the “Sacred Name” movement are confused and should be avoided altogether. Their theology is based on a false premise that we must use the right pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (the Four Letters – the Yud Hay Vuv Hay); otherwise, we aren’t “calling on the name of the Lord” properly; and, if we are to “call on the name of the Lord” to be saved, we won’t be saved if we don’t use His name. When the Bible speaks of the “name of the Lord,” it is primarily referring to the character of God. God’s name tells us who He is. God’s name refers to His essence, His character, His reputation, and His power and authority. When we praise or give thanks or confess or do anything in the name of the Lord, it means we are dealing with who the true God really is. It’s about knowing who He is and reflecting His character – not about pronouncing the correct syllables. Furthermore, we really don’t know how the ancient Hebrews pronounced the Tetragrammaton. But, even if we did know, that misses the point. In a similar way, in the New Testament, the emphasis is on the name of Yeshua. Praying “in the name of Jesus” doesn’t mean adding “in Jesus’s name, amen” at the end of every prayer. To pray in the name of Yeshua means to pray as He would pray, petitioning God in a way that is consistent with Messiah’s teachings and in accord with God’s will and purposes. One doesn’t have to add “in Jesus’s name” to pray in the name of Yeshua! I don’t think any of the prayers in the New Testament end with “in Jesus’s name.” Even “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is a model prayer for us, does not end this way. Similarly, when we are baptized in the name of Jesus or do anything in His name, it is because we are committing ourselves to follow Him and embracing His Lordship, mission, and values.
Issues Regarding Gender
I am against women being in the position of pastors and rabbis or being in positions of spiritual authority over men. It’s clearly unbiblical. There was nothing ambiguous about Rabbi Paul’s words to Timothy: “A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). “An overseer must be the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). God created an order among human beings. The man is the head of his family even if his wife is smarter than he is. God’s Word, not our talent, is the determinative factor in family leadership or spiritual leadership.
Being the leader of a congregation is similar to being the leader of a family. A congregation is like an extended family. Just as the head of the home is the man, so the head of the congregation is reserved for male leadership. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. (But, if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3). Leading a congregation, like being a good father, can be very difficult at times. I’ve been a rabbi for almost 25 years, and I am telling you that being a leader of a New Covenant Community is tough work. It is often discouraging. There are times when it is burdensome. Duties include disciplining and confronting and correcting those who are doing wrong – women and some strong men. It involves receiving criticism – sometimes deserved but often not. It involves disappointing people. It involves speaking publicly about controversial and unpopular issues. All this takes a certain toughness and aggressiveness. Being a pastor is rough, hard work – if it is done well. These responsibilities are not for the gentler sex. Just as the man is the head of the home and a home functions properly when the man is the leader, so the Church functions properly in the same way. The Church, for 1900 years, rightly didn’t allow women to be leaders. Several years ago our synagogue made it a policy that none of our representatives speaks in a church that has a woman pastor in a position of authority over men.
Our sexuality is an integral part of who God made us to be, and it must not be perverted. Homosexuality defies the laws of nature and the laws of God. Homosexuality is a sexual perversion, harmful to those who engage in it, and destructive to the society that encourages it. It is a very serious sin and is treated as such in the Tenach (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) and the Brit Chadasha (the New Covenant). It is regarded as toh-ay-vah, an abomination, something that is extremely repugnant and detestable to the holy God. It is such a serious sin that, unless it is turned from, it results in loss of the Kingdom of God.
Homosexuals are not to be mistreated but, instead, to be shown compassion and love. But they also need to be told the truth – that they are misusing their sexuality and that, unless they turn away from this serious sexual sin which nature and God forbids, they will go to Hell. Our attitude toward homosexuals should be to love the sinner but hate the sin. We are to be tolerant towards homosexuals; but tolerance does not mean that you accept all ideas, religions, philosophies, worldviews, opinions, lifestyles, and practices as being equally true, valid, or beneficial. The Church must never declare that homosexuality is acceptable to God or to the Church. Those who do so, as have most of the Episcopal churches in the United States, have left the Faith.
Major Errors That Afflict The Body Of Messiah
Theological Liberalism has been one of the main enemies of the Faith for the past 150 years. It developed in the 1800s during the trend toward deifying human reason, science, and anti-supernaturalism. It excludes the supernatural from the Faith; discounts clear Biblical teaching such as a six-day Creation, the Flood, prophecies, and miracles; and often denies Messiah’s virgin birth, His resurrection, and the existence of Hell. It teaches that Genesis 1-11 is not real history with real people and real events. But it is not possible to dismiss the supernatural aspects of the Word of God and leave intact the Faith that was “once for all delivered to the saints.” Paul wrote to Timothy to avoid those who “hold to a form of religion but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). The Bible is a supernatural book about a supernatural God who supernaturally intervenes in human history.
Theological Liberalism teaches that the Bible is not divinely inspired by God, not inerrant, not accurate, and not written by those whom the Bible itself says wrote it. Many liberal/apostate/heretics embrace the false “Documentary Hypothesis” – the teaching that Moses didn’t write the Torah. Instead, they claim there were various schools of people over hundreds of years who wrote it. According to this error, Deuteronomy was written hundreds of years after Moses died! The idea that Moses didn’t write Deuteronomy (except perhaps for the last few statements) falls outside of the Faith. The Torah itself repeatedly affirms its Mosaic authorship. The infallible Son of God said that Moses wrote it. (See Matthew 8:4, Matthew 19:8, Luke 24:44.) There is no evidence for the claim that some unnamed group of men wrote Deuteronomy around 600 BC (900 years after Moses!). Those who deny that Moses wrote the Torah, in order to explain away the supernatural nature of predictive prophecy, generally also teach that there were multiple Isaiahs,and assign a late date for the book of Daniel. The multiple authorship of Isaiah and a late dating for Daniel must likewise be rejected by those who hold to the truth.
In their effort to eliminate the supernatural from the Bible, theological liberals undermine faith in God and confidence in the Bible. Francis Schaeffer observed, “Liberal theologians don’t believe in content or religious truth. They are really existentialists using theological, Christian language.” Liberalism has, in fact, destroyed the faith of millions and ruined entire denominations (particularly mainline churches, including many United Methodist, Episcopalian, and Presbyterian churches). The liberal churches are losing members and shrinking – as they should. I like the way Jackie Alnor put it: “Theological liberalism is under a curse for having taken away from the Word of God.” Perhaps she based that statement on the following verses: You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2). If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city (Revelation 22:19). In other words, those who accept the anti-Biblical tenets of Liberalism have denied the Faith. Theological Liberalism is apostate and heretical and must be rejected.
I believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a corrupt religious institution. I identify it as the woman who sits on the beast. (See Revelation 17-18.) It is connected to a great city that exercises political control over kings and nations. It is full of abominations and immorality, outwardly rich, and politically powerful having exercised great political control over many governments. It is a persecutor of the real saints and religiously corrupt. The Gospel it offers has been perverted and, consequently, will not save its adherents. It has added to the Word of God by acknowledging the Apocrypha as part of the Holy Scriptures. It has added to the Word of God by elevating Catholic traditions, laws, and decrees to the same status as the Word of God!
In addition, it has arrogantly declared the bishop of Rome to be the infallible leader of the entire Church. It invented the doctrine of a non-existent place called Purgatory. There is no Scriptural support for traditions and practices such as the sacrifice of the mass; transubstantiation; prayers and masses for the dead; indulgences; the worship of Mary; prayers to the saints; adoring a piece of bread; the use of icons in worship, holy water, rosary beads, and scapulars; a Roman Catholic priesthood; the demand of celibacy from these priests and nuns; and confession to priests to obtain absolution. It has developed a complicated system of salvation based on works and man-made teachings mixed with Scripture. It does not teach salvation by grace alone by faith alone based on the finished work of Messiah. Therefore, it teaches “Another Gospel,” which is a false gospel.
If there are genuine Christians within the Catholic Church who are born-again, it is in spite of the Catholic Church, not because of the Catholic Church. Those Catholics who may be saved as they read the Scriptures and point out the errors in the Catholic Church to their friends and family, priests, and fellow parishioners will eventually be asked to leave the Catholic Church. One of the historical distinctives of Evangelical Christianity is that it stood in opposition to these serious errors within Catholicism, which for many centuries now the Roman Church has resolutely refused to reform. I am terribly disappointed with those involved with “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” and want to keep my distance from them. I don’t want close fellowship with Evangelicals such as Billy Graham and Chuck Colson, who deceive themselves into thinking that the Catholic Church is okay.
Abortion is the supreme moral issue of our day. Each day 4,000 human beings in their mothers’ wombs are murdered in the United States. Christians and Messianic Jews must rise up against this murderous practice. Christians must not support or vote for candidates who are pro-abortion. If you claim to be a Christian or a Messianic Jew and claim to follow God and His ways and if you vote for those who are sympathetic to and supportive of the murder of our children, I don’t want to have fellowship with you! The Word of God tells us not to associate with any so-called brother who claims to be a Christian if he is an immoral person. (See 1 Corinthians 5:9.) Being supportive of abortion/murder is the epitome of immorality! I don’t want to eat with those who support murder and those who elect them to office. I don’t think the Lord will welcome you at His table either! Conventional wisdom in American politics says, “It’s the economy, stupid!” But, if you believe in God, economic issues don’t come first. Righteousness does! We must vote for what is right even if it hurts us economically. We must sacrifice our economic interests in favor of the interests of morality and righteousness. Seek first the Kingdom of God and what…? Money? No! Righteousness! You can’t serve God and money. The Holy Scriptures teach us that “righteousness (not economic policy) exalts a nation”! We must place morality and righteousness before our pocketbook. Don’t vote your pocketbook! Vote the Holy Book! Vote righteousness!
Origins and Endings
I believe that history had a beginning, has a middle, and will have an end. I believe that Genesis 1-11 is an accurate historical record. I believe that the creation days of Genesis are literal 24-hour days and that there are no good linguistic or theological reasons to believe otherwise. I believe that the Earth was cursed because of man’s sin. I believe the Genesis narrative of a cataclysmic, worldwide Flood is true. I believe that the universe was created about 6,000 years ago, and the scientific body of evidence for a young universe is very strong. (See Impact Article #384, Evidence for a Young World by Dr. Russell Humphreys at the Institute For Creation Research website; also see The Young Earth by John D. Morris, 1994, Master Books.) Billions of years are unnecessary to explain the origins of the universe and life in it.
Evolution is not only bad science (See Unlocking The Mystery Of Life, an excellent film on VHS or DVD, available through Congregation Shema Yisrael), but it contributes to bad theology. Either you believe Yeshua when He said that Adam and Eve were there at the beginning of creation (not several billion years after the beginning of creation – see Mark 10:6), or else you’re left to conclude that the Son of God was grossly mistaken or a liar. Henry Morris wrote, “The Lord Jesus, who was actually the Creator of all things and who, therefore, knows how it was, completely rejected the long-age notion of the ancient evolutionary philosophers (Stoics and Epicureans)” (The Young Earth, page 5). If you insist on accommodating the Genesis account to Evolutionary Theory, you would then have to say that there was death before Adam’s sin entered the world even though the Bible tells us that death came as a result of Adam’s sin.
Dr. John Morris helps us understand why believing in Creation and a young Earth is important: “In the Bible they (editor’s note: “they” meaning Christians) read that God created all things in six days. They’ve come to know the Lord and love and trust His Word, but they’ve heard that ‘all educated people know that evolution has been proven.’ And so, they find themselves in a dilemma. Creation or evolution, the Bible or science? ‘Since science is true and since it disagrees with the Bible, then Scripture must be untrue,’ they think. Several options present themselves. A frequent response is to believe in creation at the appropriate times but to believe evolution at other times and try not to think about the inconsistency. Or maybe the two are somehow compatible. Maybe God used evolution to create. Maybe the days of Genesis are long periods of time. Maybe evolution occurred in a ‘gap,’ then that original world was destroyed, and God re-created in six days. Maybe, maybe – ‘well I’m just not going to think about it. I’ll stay in the New Testament.’ But those doubts. Where do the dinosaurs fit in with Scripture? Where did Cain get his wife? Where did the races come from? What about the ice age? How did all those animals fit in Noah’s Ark? Where did all the water come from to cover the mountains? And where did it go? Reasoning from an evolutionary mindset, there are no good answers to these questions. And so, many think, maybe Scripture has errors. Maybe it can’t be trusted. Maybe even the New Testament can’t be trusted. The result: a weak church, with weak, doubting Christians. Young people from Christian homes and good churches who go off to college and come back doubting and defeated or worse. Pastors who don’t teach the whole Scripture. Denominations that go liberal. Seminaries that teach a smorgasbord of ideas” (The Young Earth, pages 7-8).
I believe that in the future, a one-world government headed by an evil dictator, the anti-Messiah, will come to power. I believe the true Messiah, Yeshua, will literally and physically return to Earth; destroy the anti-Messiah and his forces of wickedness; and set up His Kingdom, which will be centered in Jerusalem and last for 1,000 years. I believe in a real, not symbolic, Millennium and that God will literally fulfill the many promises He made to Israel (such as Ezekiel 40-48; Zechariah 12-14; Isaiah 2:1-4, 65:18-25; Jeremiah 33:19-22) – but that does not prevent me from having fellowship with Amillennialists.
I believe that after the Millennium this universe will be destroyed. That event will be followed by the Day of Judgment. At that time every human being will give an account of the things he or she has done and the things he or she has wrongly left undone.
I believe in a literal Heaven and Hell and in the subsequent creation of the New Heavens, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem. I differ from the traditional view of Hell that teaches that Hell is a place of eternal, excruciating, and conscious torment for every human being who is sent there. I believe that the Bible teaches the unrighteous will be resurrected, judged, and punished in Hell for a period of time proportional to their sins and that then most will suffer destruction of both body and soul in Hell. The really evil, like the Antichrist and False Prophet and perhaps others like the Hitlers and Stalins of this world, will suffer forever in Hell. (See Revelation 20:10.) My reasons for believing this, in short, are:
The human soul is not immortal. The Torah teaches us that in the beginning man was banished from the Garden of Eden and forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life so that he would not live forever so that he would not be immortal. Mankind is headed toward death – the first death, followed by the Second Death. He is not, by nature, immortal. In 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Paul says that God alone possesses immortality – not us. In 1 Corinthians 15:53, the great Rabbi teaches that the redeemed will not become immortal until the time of their resurrection. “For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” In other words, immortality is a gift of God that He gives in His grace to the redeemed at the time of their resurrection. In 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul states that, because of the appearing of our Savior, Messiah Yeshua has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. It is Yeshua who brings immortality to those who receive the Message of Salvation that He alone offers. There is no need to believe that most human beings will suffer eternally in Hell if the human soul is not intrinsically immortal – and it isn’t.
Hell is described as “the Second Death.” (See Revelation 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8.) How can Hell be a “Second Death” if it consists of a kind of ongoing life, an eternal existence of conscious torment? Is the Second Death just another kind of life? Or is the Second Death a cessation of spiritual life, like the first death is a cessation of physical life? Isn’t death a cessation of life?
Hell is a place of destruction (Matthew 7:13). Messiah revealed that in Hell both soul and body can be destroyed (Matthew 10:28). Destruction of both body and soul seems to mean the total destruction of the entire person. Likewise, in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Paul says that those who do not obey the message of salvation “will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.”
Hell is a place of eternal punishment, but there is a difference between eternal punishment and eternal punishing. It is one thing to experience a punishment that is eternal in its consequences; it is another thing to experience eternal punishing. The Bible also speaks of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), but it is not a judgment that continues eternally but rather a judgment that comes to an end that has eternal consequences.
The punishment must fit the crime. It does not seem right that trillions of years of torment and more (since that would only be the beginning of one’s torment) await those who committed crimes for a few years here on Earth.
The doctrine of eternal torment goes against Biblical examples of how God punishes the wicked. The Lord’s punishments took place quickly and without undue suffering. Sodom and Gomorrah was punished with fire – but it took place suddenly. The Lord destroyed Noah’s evil generation with water – but the Flood came quickly. The Lord ordered the Canaanites to be killed – but they were to be killed swiftly. In the Torah there was no provision for long jail sentences, where a person suffered in jail for years and years. Torture was never allowed. Punishments for violation of the Law consisted either of restitution or death. Even animals were to be spared suffering. They were to be killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
I believe that there is room within orthodoxy for this position on the nature of Hell. Both Jewish and Christians scholars have held to this position in ancient and modern times. One’s understanding about the duration of Hell is not a matter of cardinal doctrine like the doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of the Messiah, salvation by grace alone and by faith alone, or the authority of the Holy Scriptures alone. This is an issue of eschatology, the study of the Last Things; and sincere, godly believers may study the same Scripture passages about Hell and come to different conclusions about the issue of its duration. Our varied viewpoints, arrived at through earnest and godly study, should not be allowed to cause division or rancor in the Body of Messiah.
For more information on the nature of Hell, I recommend the March 2006 edition of the Lamplighter Magazine, produced by Lamb and Lion Ministries (from which much of this teaching on the nature of Hell is taken). Also, Edward Fudge’s superb and masterful book, The Fire That Consumes, is an outstanding resource on this subject.