Jewish Christianity or Messianic Judaism: What’s the Difference?

October 9, 2010
Jewish Christianity or Messianic Judaism: 
 

What’s the Difference?

by

Kenny Begun
Vision Outreach Ministries

 In 1979, I became a believer in Jesus. I was saved on Easter Sunday during a service at a Pentecostal Church. For many years after that, I was a member of that Church and participated in their music ministry.

I began to read information by an organization called “Jews for Jesus”. I was thrilled to find a connection between my heritage and my new faith. For many years after, I was a supporter of Jews for Jesus, financially and in prayer. I even participated in a music contest that had 1200 entries. I was one of the ten chosen for performance in the recital at the Jews for Jesus Ingathering in 1990. The atmosphere was alive and electric and it was one of the best experiences of the presence of the Holy Spirit I had ever had. The song I performed was “My First Love” which is on the "Prince Of Peace" album.

As a result of my positive experiences at the Ingathering, I started to consider myself a Messianic Jew, which is what I thought Jews for Jesus people were. I continued to categorize myself as an MJ until in 1996, when my music group, Ruach, was invited to play music at a Messianic Jewish convention in Pennsylvania. We had ministered in Churches for several years throughout New England, New York and Canada.

Our experience at this Messianic Jewish event was eye opening There was a very legalistic attitude that I had not experienced since the days before my Bar Mitzvah. The people in charge were overly controlling. If I said Jesus, I was scolded and told not to say that word at the convention. I couldn’t believe it. It was then that I understood the difference between Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews. Jews for Jesus would be better described as Jewish Christians; they walked in liberty, maintaining a Jewish identity, while not being subject to the bondage of the religion of Judaism.

Let me say right now that I am glad that the Messianic Jewish Movement exists. It has it’s place for people who have been raised in the religious environment of traditional Judaism. It allows them to maintain a semblance of their Jewish identity while at the same time recognizing the Messiahship of Yeshua. I just tend to disagree with several doctrines of the Messianic Jewish movement. Although I am delighted that they have lead many people to a relationship with Yeshua, I must emphasize the difference between “Jewish Christianity” and “Messianic Judaism.” Messianic Jews are believers in Yeshua, but also feel that they must still be under the “brucha” (blessing) of the Law. Jewish Christians, on the other hand, know that Jesus has delivered believers from the “curse” of the Law by His Grace.

I must point out that “Messianic Jew” is a misnomer. By definition, all religious Jews are Messianic. They await the deliverance of the Messiah. They just don’t recognize that Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophesies of “Mashiach ben David” in Scripture.

I am also disappointed that Messianic Jews have an obsession with semantics. They say Yeshua instead of Jesus, Congregation instead of Church and Tree instead of Cross. It could be considered deceptive to not be up front with people as to whom they are worshiping. I was told of an elderly Russian woman in Brighton Beach, NY who was lead to belief in Yeshua and after several services at her Congregation, someone was praising Jesus. When she found out that Yeshua and Jesus were one and the same, she left and felt betrayed. I hope that she eventually came to love the Lord, but the damage that was done was very likely irreversible.

The Scripture tells us not to be ashamed of the Gospel.

Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

By not being honest about who Yeshua is, that is being ashamed of the Gospel. I like to take it one step further:

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel and I am not ashamed of the English language”.

I have been approached by leaders of the MJ movement and scorned because I “shouldn’t mix in” with the Gentile Churches. God has no such restriction, but MJ leaders want all Jewish Christians to be Messianic believers in Yeshua, still keeping all of the Laws and maintaining traditions. As a secular (non-religious) Jew, I never kept the Laws and traditions to begin with, so why should I start that restrictive lifestyle now? Most Jewish people are secular, even in Israel. They don’t wear Yarmulkes or keep Kosher or celebrate Shabot (Sabbath), but once they are involved in MJ, they are encouraged to partake in those legalistic traditions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of Jewish believers in Jesus were saved in a Christian Church, not a Messianic Congregation. They were delivered from the oppressive regulations of men, so why were they convinced to get back into it? The answer is found in the New Testament. This misunderstanding of the Gospel has been with us for two thousand years. I believe that the books of Acts and Colossians address this issue very thoroughly. I have highlighted the applicable passages.

Colossians 2

I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how orderly you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

Freedom From Human Regulations Through Life With Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
(NIV)

Here Paul is saying that the law of religion is a form of bondage. The laws are the rules of men, not of God. We should no longer feel in bondage to them, but instead experience and accept the true freedom in the spirit that is found through belief in Jesus. He forgave our sins and canceled the written code. Hallelujah!! He nailed the regulations that were against us to the cross. Hallelujah!! He made a public spectacle of the authorities and triumphed over them. Hallelujah!!

Acts 15:5-11

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses."
The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
(NIV)

Are you surprised that there were believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees? I sure was when I first saw this passage. They believed Jesus was Messiah, but still clung to the tradition that neither they or their fathers could bear. Peter rebuked them and said that they were saved by grace also, just like the Gentiles. Of course, many Messianic Jews will argue with me on this subject, but I am not impressed by the arguments that they put forth. No matter how you look at it, Messianic Judaism still holds onto the religion of the Pharisees that would put believers under rules that are based on human commands and teachings. This is a denial of the freedom from human regulations through life in Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
(NIV)


Christianity, by it’s very supernature, rejects all religions, including Judaism. One only has to look at the account of Jesus as he rebuked the leadership in the Temple, His Father’s house.

Matthew 23:13-33

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

The Lord has made the Good News very simple and quite clear to us in His Word. He wants us to turn away from religion and have a direct relationship with Him. Knowing Jesus personally is an all or nothing proposition. You either know Him personally or you don’t, and it is not enough to just know about Him! You are either saved by grace or you are not saved at all.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.

There is no middle ground. He said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through Me”. One can’t be more direct than that. Jesus is the only way to salvation and eternal life. There is certainly no need to add religious works.

Romans 10:12

For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him

It is truly my desire to see the Messianic Jews become a part of the Church and be free from bondage of the Law. They will still be Jews. They will not lose their identity. I didn’t. I have not been assimilated. I did not turn into a Gentile. I am what I am, nothing can change that. However, God can certainly change them on the inside as I have been changed.

One of my favorite statements when I’m with Jews or Gentiles is spoken with a strong Yiddish accent: “I may be a Christian, but I’m still a Jew!” It always gets a laugh!

I would also like to see the Messianic Jewish movement be more open about who Yeshua is and not shroud His identity in Hebrew words. Honesty is the best policy.

If you wish to learn more about the true relationship with Jesus, without the corruption of religion, contact us at kbgunn1@gmail.com

 

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