SOME WITHIN THE MESSIANIC JEWISH COMMUNITY ARE CONVERTING GENTILES INTO JEWS. THAT CROSSES A BOUNDARY THAT MUST NOT BE CROSSED!
There are theological borders of faith and practice that must not be crossed. The Trinity, the deity of Messiah, the Incarnation and Resurrection of the Messiah, the inspiration of the Tenach (Old Testament) and the New Testament are some of those faith boundaries we dare not cross. Messianic Jews converting Gentiles into so-called Jews or Messianic Jews is another of those theological boundaries that must not be crossed. It is a very serious error in faith and practice. There is a word for that. It’s called heresy. Sadly, that heresy is being practiced by some and tolerated by more within the Messianic Jewish movement. I am very concerned about this because a little leaven can leaven a whole lump. I am writing this to inform my Messianic Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters about this error and to ask for their help to stop this error before it spreads further.
Things You Should Know About Me
I am a Messianic Jew. I am a Messianic Rabbi, the senior rabbi of Congregation Shema Yisrael in the Detroit area. I am married to Martha, who is a fifth-generation Messianic Jew. She comes from one of the longest lines, if not the longest line, of Messianic Jews in the world. Martha’s family has been involved in Jewish ministry for close to 100 years. I love the Messianic Jewish Movement and am deeply committed to it and have given most of my life to it. I see it as the apple of God’s eye, as something very precious to Him. I believe that one of the great things God is doing today, in fulfillment of His prophetic word, is restoring the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and at the same restoring more and more Jewish people to the God of Israel by revealing to us that Yeshua, Jesus, is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world. The growth of the Messianic Jewish movement is one of the most important things that the Spirit of God is doing in the world today. This is one of the signs of Messiah’s return – Jewish people returning physically to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people beginning to return spiritually to the Three-In-One God of Israel.
There are many good things happening within the Messianic Jewish Community, but there also are a few seriously wrong things taking place. I want to bring the attention of the Christian and Messianic Jewish Communities to the problem of key Messianic Jewish leaders converting Gentiles into Jews. It’s happening, and I am aware of it, and other leaders in the Messianic Jewish Community are aware of it, but this very serious error is not being sufficiently dealt with. The followers of Messiah are to judge themselves. Messiah’s New Covenant Community must police itself – but for various reasons, the Messianic Jewish Community seems to be incapable of taking sufficient action to correct this serious problem. We need the rest of the Church’s help since we can’t do it on our own.
Some Background To Understand The Messianic Jewish Movement
I don’t want my Christian brothers and sisters to think that everything Messianic Jewish is suspect. The Messianic Jewish Movement is like a river made up of several streams. One of those streams is the outreach organizations like Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries. They are against leaders in the Messianic Jewish movement converting Gentiles into Jews or Messianic Jews. Another stream is the Messianic Congregations. The majority of the congregations oppose conversion – but some are engaged in it. Two larger organizations help organize the Messianic Congregations: The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America is opposed to conversion. The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations tolerates those within its midst who are engaged in conversions. The main source of the conversion problem is the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (http://ourrabbis.org/main/). This relatively new organization is advocating for conversion and some of its members are engaging in conversion. We know it’s happening, but numbers are hard to come by. Those converting Gentiles into Jews are trying to keep it quiet. One example of a Gentile converted into a so-called Jew or Messianic Jew is “Rabbi” Derek Leman. “Rabbi” Derek is himself part of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council. And it gets worse: His books are carried by Messianic Jewish Publishers and Resources – the largest publisher of books in our movement.
What’s Wrong With Conversion?
It is a repetition of one of the first major errors in the early Messianic Movement – the error of the Judaizers: pressuring Gentile Christians to be circumcised, and become Jews, and live like Jews, and take on all the unique responsibilities given to the Chosen People under the Sinai Covenant. The First Jerusalem Council met and ruled on this issue (see Acts 15), and according to its Holy Spirit-inspired decision, Gentile Christians don’t need to be circumcised or live a Sinai Covenant-based life. Paul’s letter to Messiah’s Communities in Galatia, most likely written before the First Jerusalem Council, strongly reinforces this truth.
Circumcision of Gentile Christians 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).
Circumcision of Gentile Christians de-emphasizes the superior circumcision they already have. It redirects people from the spiritual to the physical – which is not a good thing. Moses told the Jewish people: “Circumcise your hearts.” Gentiles who become loyal to the Three-In-One God of Israel experience this circumcision of the heart. They are spiritually circumcised. Their innermost beings are cut, tender, receptive to God. This spiritual circumcision is a better circumcision, because ordinary circumcision is done to the physical body by human hands and does not automatically include salvation. Just as many are called, but few are chosen, many are circumcised, but not all are saved. But the circumcision that Gentile Christians experience that brings them into Messiah’s New Covenant is not done to the physical body and it’s not done by human hands. It’s done to the human heart. And it is done by God Himself. And it always includes salvation and eternal life.
Converting Gentile Christians into so-called Messianic Jews is destructive because it ignores other important spiritual realities Gentile Christians already enjoy: Before the coming of the Messiah, the peoples of the nations of the world were uncircumcised, separate from Messiah, excluded from citizenship in Israel, foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God. But now, united to the Son of God, all these terrible things are reversed! Gentile Christians are no longer separate from Messiah. They are joined to the King of the Jews! They are part of Him, and He is part of them. He is bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh. Now, connected to the King of the Jews, Gentile Christians are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel. They have a deep connection to the faithful remnant of the Chosen People. They are grafted into us. They have citizenship in a renewed Israel made up the faithful remnant of Messianic Jews. They are fellow citizens with the Messianic Jewish saints in the New Jerusalem. They are full and equal citizens of that glorious city and will enjoy all the amazing benefits of citizenship that we will. People from the nations are no longer foreigners to the covenants of the promise; they are participants in the covenants of the promise, especially the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant. The wonderful promise made to Abraham as part of the covenant: In you, all the families of the Earth will be blessed applies to them. Gentile Christians are blessed with reconciliation to God, salvation, eternal life. And, all the great promises of blessing and salvation that are part of Messiah’s New Covenant are now theirs.
Before the Messiah came, Jews and Gentiles were profoundly divided. Under the Sinai Covenant, there were God-ordained laws designed to separate the holy people from the darkness of the nations. There were laws about the peoples we can’t worship with; there were kashrut, dietary laws; there were laws about special clothing for us to wear; laws about people we were not to marry. Paul used the barrier of the dividing wall to illustrate the separation between Jews and Gentiles. In Israel, in Jerusalem, in the Temple area, there was an outer wall beyond which Gentiles could not pass. The Jewish people could go beyond the barrier into the Temple courtyard, where the bronze altar of atonement was. But Gentiles had to remain outside of the Temple courtyard. This wall divided Jews and Gentiles. They did not have the same access to worship in the Temple of God. But now, because of the Messiah, the barrier of the dividing wall is gone! Spiritually speaking, Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians can not only go together into Temple courtyard, but into the Temple itself, and then into the Most Holy Place, into the welcoming presence of a holy God!
Under the Sinai Covenant, there was a God-ordained separation. But under the New Covenant, it’s God’s will to unite the Messianic Jewish Remnant and the Gentile Christian Remnant. It’s not that Messianic Jews are to assimilate, stop practicing circumcision or the kosher laws, or begin wearing clothing made of mixed materials or stop wearing tzit-tzit (the special fringes on the clothes of Jewish men). We can still practice those laws. But a new purpose exists with the New Covenant – that Jew and Gentile come together and form a new united humanity. Messiah’s purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility. By His dying on the cross, Jews are reconciled to God; and Gentiles are reconciled to God; and Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to each other. Messiah’s death on the cross creates a new, united humanity coming together with true and lasting peace.
Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are united into a new humanity – but not so that Israel is absorbed into the nations, or that Messianic Jews assimilate and lose our God-given, set-apart identity, or that Gentiles are excluded from our fellowships, or converted into so-called Messianic Jews, like some of us are doing. No, we are united in a way that Jews remain Jews and Gentiles remain Gentiles. The division and hostility ends and is replaced by peace and love and unity and a precious and eternal fellowship. In Messiah’s New Covenant Community of Jews and Gentiles, there is no place for hostility between Jew and Gentile, division, disunity, elitism based on Jewishness, suspicion, exclusion, jealously, hatred, expressions of anti-Semitism or anti-Gentilism. Since it was Messiah’s purpose to unite Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians into one new humanity, anything that disrupts that purpose, like conversion of Gentiles into so-called Jews or Messianic Jews, undermines one of the purposes for the coming of the Son of God. That’s a very, very bad thing to do.
Converting Gentile Christians into so-called Messianic Jews 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. He does not want peoples from the nations rejecting their national identity and becoming something else.
Converting Gentile Christians into so-called Jews or Messianic Jews causes jealousy and division by creating different classes of Christians, an elite of converted Gentiles with special privileges or status and non-converted Gentiles with fewer privileges or lower status. Speaking as the leader of a Community of Messianic Jews and Gentiles who belong to Messiah, this is a terrible thing to encourage.
Converting Gentile Christians into so-called Messianic Jews destroys the unity of the Community of Messiah. The Christian Church, throughout its history, has been keenly aware of Judaizing, Legalism and the Galatian Error. It, rightly so, has strongly rejected this. Our movement will never gain acceptance, let alone take significant leadership in the Church, if we are converting Gentiles or tolerating those in our movement who convert Gentiles.
Conversion of Gentile Christians into so-called Jews or Messianic Jews will harm our relationship with the Jewish community. Orthodox Jews don’t accept those of us who are Jews by birth. They don’t recognize our spiritual authority. They will not accept our converts. In fact, this will cause them to hate us even more. If you are one of these so-called Messianic Jewish converts, and you go to Israel and ask for the right to live in Israel, do you think the Misrad HaPanim (the Office of the Interior) is going to say, “Baruch HaBa? Welcome brother”? No, they will take down all your information, and demand to know the man who dared “convert” you, and then deport you.
The focus of those converting Gentile Christians into so-called Messianic Jews is wrong. A right focus for a New Covenant believer is being filled with the Spirit of Yeshua; carrying on Messiah’s mission of salvation to the Jewish people first, and also to the Gentiles; proclaiming the Good News to those outside of Messiah’s Community; and building up Messiah’s Community from within. It is damaging, limiting, a distraction to be focused on trying to change ethnic identity and life-style issues. That’s why the apostle to the Gentiles wrote: In Messiah Yeshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).
Converting Gentile Christians into so-called Jews or Messianic Jews 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. In Messiah all the fullness of God lives in bodily form, and joined to Him, you have been made complete (Colossians 2:9-10). God the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah (Ephesians 1). United to the Son of God, Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are complete. We lack nothing – not one bit of atonement, not one smattering of righteousness, salvation, grace, mercy, love, acceptance, eternal life. Messiah is complete. He is all-sufficient. He is full of grace upon grace. He is the source of spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing. Joined to the Son of God, Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews possess every spiritual blessing that exists in the heavenly realms. We are the recipients of divine sonship, the indwelling and empowering and sealing of the Holy Spirit. We are protected by the power of God. We are the recipients of love, grace and mercy, salvation, redemption, atonement, the complete forgiveness of all of our sins, divine acceptance, reconciliation with God, peace with God, eternal life. We 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 a Gentile Christian need? To have his foreskin snipped? To live a Sinai-Covenant lifestyle? Why?
Conversion is a form of anti-Gentilism. How would you feel if you were told by the Church that there is something wrong with you if you remain Jewish? You need to assimilate? Stop being Jewish? Stop practicing Jewish things and do only Gentile things? The Church did, in fact, do this awful thing to Jewish converts in earlier centuries. Just as we know that stance is very wrong, in the same way, conversion is an assault on God-given Gentile identity and is very wrong.
Some of those who are converting Gentile Christians into Jews or Messianic Jews are also excluding Gentile Christians who won’t convert from their fellowships. Convert, we accept you. We consider you to be Jewish and you are welcome among us. Don’t convert, don’t come back. This is crossing another boundary of faith and practice that must not be crossed, which destroys the unity of the New United Humanity of the Messianic Jewish Remnant and the Gentile Christian Remnant, called out from the nations.
You are a Gentile and you want to become part of the Jewish people? There is a way to do it. Marry a Jew. If you marry a Jewish person, not you, but your children can be considered to be Jewish. That’s why Titus was not allowed to be circumcised and Timothy was circumcised.
What Should The Messianic Jewish Leadership Do?
We should not look to the non-believing Jewish community as the role model as to how Jews and Gentiles are to relate in a Messianic congregation. We look to the New Covenant, especially to Rabbi Paul, the Lord’s Representative to the Gentiles, as to how Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians are to relate in the one community of the Messiah. If we do, we will communicate to the Gentiles in our movement that they are equals, brothers, full members of our communities, co-workers, fellow citizens, co-heirs. We will speak and act in such a way that they feel good about who they are, and don’t feel envy or the need to convert.
We emphasize the basis our unity – which is not race, but what Paul communicated to us: There is only one body, one great community of all of God’s Messianic Jewish and Messianic Gentile sons and daughters, which we are all part of, and that unites us. There is one Spirit, who lives in all of us, and who unites us. There is one calling, one great hope of eternal life in the New Jerusalem that we all are invited to share, and that unites us. There is one Lord, the risen, powerful, glorious Son of God, whom we are all joined to and whom we all serve, and our living Lord unites us. There is one faith, one core set of basic beliefs that we all subscribe to, and that unites us. There is one baptism, one initiation rite into Messiah’s eternal community we all experience, and that unites us. There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all, and the all-authoritative and all-pervasive and beneficial fatherhood of God unites us. These things are the basis of our love and unity in the New Covenant, and outweigh our race or level of Jewish lifestyle, or our politics or economic status or anything else.
We should accept everyone God sends our way. We should not have an artificial percentage as to what makes a congregation acceptably Jewish. We welcome into our fellowship everyone the Holy Spirit brings to us. If they are Gentiles, we love them and help them understand the Jewish roots of the Faith, the need to bless the Jewish people, the need to bring the Good News to the Jewish people first.
The Messianic Jewish movement needs to understand the importance of this issue and the seriousness of the danger. Regarding those leaders who are converting Gentiles into Messianic Jews, we should take action now. We shouldn’t delay. A crisis delayed is a crisis intensified. The theologically sound leaders of the Messianic Jewish movement need to come together and go to those who are doing this, and tell them to stop and to de-Judaize their converts. If they don’t, sanctions need to be imposed. Until that happens, we should mark those who are doing this and beware of them.
What Should The Messianic Jewish And Christian Communities Do?
Pray for the well-being of the precious Messianic Jewish Community and specifically that we will receive much-needed correction in this area. Pray that the theologically sound leaders of the Messianic Jewish movement unite and communicate to those who are judaizing that they must stop their judaizing and de-judaize their “converts.”
Be informed. Study Rabbi Paul’s letter to the Galatians. My commentary on it in audio and written forms is available at shema.com.
Inform others. The rest of Messiah’s Community needs to be aware of this error and help correct it.
This is a serious crossing of a boundary, and those who have crossed this boundary are not to be trusted. Identify those who are doing this, beware of them and do not support them. Bring pressure to bear on those who are doing this and those who tolerate them. In specific, contact the leaders of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and demand they stop tolerating this heresy.
Make it clear that you do not consider these so-called converts to be Jews.
Contact us if you have specific information about those who are doing any converting or those who have been converted. Light exposes darkness and can bring healing.