June 12, 2012
Messianic Jewish groups claim rapid growth
Groups professing to be Jewish believers in Jesus increasingly accepted in Israel
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In February, a shocking mixture of Jewish and Christian symbols in a videotaped Sunday ceremony at the New Birth Baptist Missionary Church in an Atlanta suburb attracted national attention and wide criticism. Colorado-based, self-proclaimed Messianic Rabbi Ralph Messer wrapped Atlanta Baptist Bishop Eddie Long in a Torah and carried him on a throne, annointing him king. Even the major messianic groups issued a press release, condemning “Messer’s flagrant disrespect of the Sefer Torah in this ritual and his misrepresentation of Jewish tradition. We assure the rest of the Jewish community that this ceremony would seem as bizarre and offensive within our congregations as it would within yours.”
Indeed, Nichol says, 30 years ago Jewish leaders would have called messianic Judaism a “fringe” group. But the “Jewish community today is very broad. Why shouldn’t there be room for the messianic community even if it is a minority voice? After all, Orthodox rabbis do not consider the converts of any other sect of Judaism to be genuine converts.” Nichol adds that not only is messianic Judaism making inroads on the Jewish community, but “we have (also) had a profound impact on an important segment of the Christian church, the evangelical community,” in which messianic Judaism has its roots.
Which groups are acceptable to U.S. Jewish community?
This may trouble many Jewish leaders. As reported in JewsOnFirst.org, in 1996, the Southern Baptist convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the United States claiming more than 16 million members, resolved to focus on converting Jews – specifically to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews.” In 2007, we reported that the SBC intends to evangelize Jews through the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF). “The ‘messianic’ – Jesus worshipping – congregations endeavor to appear ‘Jewish’ in order to provide a reassuring display of Jewish symbols to potential converts.”
On the other hand, the SBMF has pledged, “We will abstain from the use of trickery or deception in presenting the message of salvation through Messiah Yeshua. Also, it is not our intent to forcibly present this message during our attendance at traditional Jewish places of worship, religious gatherings, or at pubic or private events which are organized by the traditional Jewish community.”
In fact, in 2011, when Kaylene Rudy launched Americans United with Israel in Atlanta and quickly gathered a wide range of co-sponsors from the community—including the Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta and several churches and synagogues—for a mega pro-Israel rally, among the donations she received was one from Beth Hallel. Realizing that its contribution might upset Jewish groups, Beth Hallel declined to be publicly recognized. And Rudy, a Christian who lights Shabbat candles on Friday nights, received her first lesson in which religious groups were acceptable to the Jewish community, she says.
The established Jewish community is obviously wary of any attempts to convert its members either to Christianity or to messianic Judaism. But as JewishIsrael.com, an organization which takes a critical look at Israel’s alliances with fundamentalist Christian groups and monitors evangelical missionary campaigns directed at Jews, points out, the “overwhelming political and economic support for Israel which comes from the very same parties which have and continue to target Jews for conversion has confused Jewish leadership and has blurred the line between friend and foe.”
CUFI increasingly acceptable
Not every Jewish leader would agree. An increasing number of Jewish federations have enthusiastically joined Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in rallies for Israel. Four years ago, former Union of Reform Judaism President Rabbi Yoffie said Reform Jews should not work with CUFI and its leader, Pastor John Hagee, because political alliances “demand of us a higher standard and require both common values and common interests.” Today Yoffie contends that groups such as CUFI must first meet two requirements: they must not attack Muslims and they cannot support settlement activity throughout Greater Israel. CUFI, he says, has adjusted its public statements to meet the two criteria. And CUFI has participated in rallies in Israel, including last year’s Restoring Courage rallies headlined by former Fox New personality Glenn Beck.
Indeed, according to Earl Cox, a Christian advocate for Israel and head of Israel Always, an increasing number of Israeli leaders “are now understanding the differences between the evangelical or conservative Christians and those who hold to the falsehood of Replacement Theology,” which asserts that Christianity has replaced Judaism. Cox says the Replacement Theology claims that modern-day church is “spiritual Israel” and that God is finished with literal Israel. He says this view justifies the growing belief that Israel is occupying land that rightly belongs to the Arabs; in effect, contending that the very existence of Israel is a main obstacle to peace. Cox says this has created a gulf between the pro-Israel and anti-Israel segments of Christianity.
Certainly, the evangelical community contributes significantly to Israeli tourism, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the Israeli government. The Israeli Tourism Ministry has produced a video that suggests that tourists can walk in the footsteps of Jesus, see where he preached and performed miracles. gave his life on the cross and rose again. The video received wide attention when it was shown at the conservative National Broadcasters convention in 2011, where, among others, a messianic Jew was a speaker. The Tourism Ministry also gave an award to Jay Sekulow, known for his ties to Jews for Jesus.