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Fashionable Religion

Having been involved in the Messianic movement in some form or another for my entire adult life, and even as an early teen, I have witnessed trends, or fashions if you will, in the Messianic movement’s theologies and teachings.

One particular trend I see emerging at the end of 2009 and into 2010, a trend that is lamentable and grievous to me: it has become trendy to trash independent Messianics.

One popular Messianic teacher recently wrote,

I was involved with a “Hebrew Roots” congregation that attempted to meet on Sabbath and festivals but without incorporating too much of traditional Judaism. I felt that it was a vacuous, shallow experience painfully disconnected from the apostolic world…

In another instance, I was attending one of the old Messianic congregations here in Minnesota a few weeks ago. Visiting the synagogue was a popular Messianic music artist, one I have quite a bit of respect for. During the performance, sadly, he called out those “independent groups that can’t get along with anybody.”


In another instance, one Messianic said,

[For] folks in the "independent messianic movement", I suspect that Jewish seekers are not the primary focus. So, perhaps [their] audience is best served with more contemporary Christian/Charismatic style worship.

Notice the usage of quotes to delegitimize independent Messianics, then a subtle yet stinging suggestion that the worship style of independent Messianics is not Jewish, and therefore ought to be relegated to Evangelical Christianity. (For folks who supposedly are opposed to “church bashing”, this criticism particularly reeks of hypocrisy.)

And recently, a popular Messianic blogger caricatured Messianic worship:

A[w]kwardly, these supposedly "spontaneous" forms of Messianic worship have developed into their own forms of predictable "liturgy." Who hasn't noticed the following pattern? It goes like this: two happy clappy songs, interrupted by the head singer's "transitioning" prayer (“oh Lord, just please keep us, just please, Lord, just…”), followed by three weepy sleepy songs ... at which point we're all supposed to feel that our spiritual tanks have been filled and we've been sufficiently prepared for the "meat" of the service, which is the rabbi's 45 minute thematic sermon.

While independent Messianics weren’t mentioned by name in that blogger’s criticism, it was a clear undertone.

There are some legitimate concerns in the criticisms. We could do better in a lot of areas: our lack of respect of tradition, in our criticisms of Christians, the deep hole of fundamentalism we’ve dug ourselves into, to name a few.

But there’s also a lot of I’m-better-than-you crap being peddled around. Attempts to paint others as outsiders, fringe groups, inauthentic in some way. Delegitimize. Isolate. Extinguish.

These folks are being dishonest: if they were to tell the truth, here’s what they’d say, “We need more theological purity in our movement. If the others don’t join us, isolate them so they’re not associated with us.”

Something fundamentally wrong about this attitude. Something very non-Messiah-like (non-Messianic?) about this attitude. With the next decade approaching, I hope this trend reverses in the coming years as Messianic Judaism becomes less elitist, less self-interested, and more pious. (Read: as we grow up.)


  1. Excellent, insightful, poignant post as usual, Judah. We are not always "independent Messianics" by choice. Someone on CARM called us "refugees." That fits. We are basically exiles, fleeing elitism, false teaching, excommunication, conflict, and second class citizenship. "Two tiers" puts tears in our eyes. We are "wandering non-Jews"......some of whom ARE Jews.

    Have you been following the dialogue at the Messianic Judaism forum at CARM? Quite a bit of activity there lately. Bilateral Ecclesiology and other hot topics are up for discussion. If you are not already there under a screen name, Your contributions to the discussions would be most welcome.



  2. "These folks are being dishonest: if they were to tell the truth, here’s what they’d say, “We need more theological purity in our movement. If the others don’t join us, isolate them so they’re not associated with us.”"

    Judah... it's nothing to do with "purity", and please - do not accuse us of dishonesty.

    It's about a non-Jewish movement, shakily standing on weak "One Law" (Gentiles must observe Mosaic Law) and/or "Ephraimite" (a.k.a. Gentiles as Lost Tribes) legs. It's a movement that wants to call itself "Messianic Judaism" , but imagines itself as a perpetual victim of a supposed Jewish arrogance, pride and even Jewish conspiracy to marginalize non-Jews in G-d's Kingdom. It eschews the G-d ordained authority and leadership of the Jews, with many in the independent circles possessing an almost visceral reaction to things "traditional" and "rabbinic" (a.k.a. "Jewish").

    For many Jews these movements (and there are many different streams) simply represent the latest in a string of failed attempts to usurp the role, place and identity of Jews in G-d's plan (a.k.a. "replacement theology).

    May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.


  3. Thank you for the stimulating thoughts. Hopefully they will prick each of us to consider our shortfallings, as we strive to do better. This will include both a respect for mainline traditions, as we are led by the Spirit.

    I think it is safe to say that there is enough blame to spread around across the Messianic spectrum. We often do not allow moderate voices to guide the discussions, and instead those who usually speak the loudest and with the most rhetorical effect are those who are heard. This often involves putting others down in order to lift oneself up--a trait of base humanity of there ever were one.

    We possess all the qualities of a first generation movement, and there is a enough fundamentalism present in the whole "thing" to make it not as effectual as it should be in accomplishing the Father's objectives. As always, time will tell...but we must be patient.

  4. Unfortunately, the differences and similarities between unwritten prayer and written prayer/liturgy are often completely misunderstood by most.

    The written prayers of Judaism are to be said in the synagogues and at certain periods throughout the day according to the sacrifices (besides the evening prayers which are extra).

    Most people assume Orthodox Jews have no such concept of unwritten personal prayer. The only reason I can think for this is lack of knowledge about Judaism and lack of interaction with Orthodox Jews. Fixing both of these follies, I had suddenly taken on a totally and more clear view of things, and I am not deceived.

    Here is a whole blog about hithbodeduth (Sepharadi spelling: "hitbodedut", Ashkenazi spelling: "hisbodedus"), which means "solitude" but more correctly means "secluded personal prayer" or "meditation".

    Most people think Orthodox Jews do not attain Ruahh HaQodhesh ('Ruach HaKodesh'; Holy Spirit), but this certainly is not true, the site linked to above gives many rabbinic sources pertaining to the discussion of Ruahh HaQodhesh and even such making one who attains it a "completely different person" according to the Rambam.

    The bottom line is: written prayers are not bad. For an assembled congregation, a Beith Knesset/Synagogue, written recitations are ideal. Some of the Psalms were written by Levites who recited them during services in the Temple. I can attest to the overcoming feeling of Sh'khina which exists in Israel on the Sabbath and can be felt strongly in the synagogues on such a unique and holy occasion of time, place, people, and prayer.

    However, for small congregations of people who are coming from usually Christian backgrounds, there is nothing wrong in engaging in personal prayer and worship as part of the service.

    The only instabilities there may exist with "flowing in the Spirit" which is a phrase used to mean attaining and feeling Ruahh HaQodhesh is that it can often be based on a person's emotions and can also be corrupted by false doctrines and Torahlessness. Without the order and in-line incantations which Judaism adheres to, there is often (but not always) no sense of kavod/sh'khina (weighty glory); kavod, as has usually been in my experience, has only existed among Torah scrolls and Jews wrapped in SiSith and tefillin.
    And spiritual "signs and wonders" are no replacement for Torah observance nor indicators of a true prophet. Christian mysticism lacks all structure of Torah and that is its downfall.

    I could be wrong about a number of things, just my thoughts.

  5. To clarify:

    -I italicized the word "order" at the end of my post but forgot to include that "sidur" means order in Hebrew. Sidure is what a Jewish prayer book is called, giving insight into what it really is, proper order of prayers.

    -Recitations of Psalms and verses from the Torah and other places in the Tanakh are included in abundance in Jewish liturgy.
    Hebrew has immense spiritual effect when spoken.

    -Personal prayer is included in the daily prayers. One may insert any personal request during recitation of the `Amida.
    According to the correct Talmudic practice (which, unfortunately is not implemented in the daily prayers by most observant Jews today), full-body prostration is performed after all the prayers in which one continues to offer up any and all words of his own.

  6. @Aaron, I am pro-liturgy. I am anti-only-liturgy. Some go as far as to say liturgy is the only legitimate mode of worship. I find this view particularly silly, as the psalms were set to music, speak of praising God with stringed instruments, drums, flutes, singing to Lord and making music to his name. King David would give us musical folk a nod of approval.

    @Gene, LOL! You say, "It's not about purity!" And then go on to lament gentiles and their crazy theologies. Hahah.

  7. "@Gene, LOL! You say, "It's not about purity!" And then go on to lament gentiles and their crazy theologies. Hahah."

    Judah... I would like to commend you on something. I see that you've been steadily inching towards mainstream Judaism over the past year - hardly any talk from you of Two House stuff that was so common in the early days of my visits here. Pretty soon you might even bury the mortally wounded One Law theology and fully migrate to mainstream Messianic Judaism (especially since you claim to be of a Jew ancestry).

  8. Judah, you might be very interested to see the morning service templates our ministry has in our Messianic Fall Holiday Helper for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. They are taken from the Conservative siddur, and hopefully try to incorporate a fair mix of music, liturgy, Scripture readings, etc.

    I have to admit, I have a strong fondness for a "high Church" style of worship, so traditional Jewish liturgy is very appealing to me. At the same time, many of those who do liturgy make it into a show, and a service does need to be able to minister to a variety of needs. In Messianic congregations with a music team, dance team, and a cantor--what does everyone else do? That's why our service templates have areas for designated readers.

  9. What Gene Shlomovich reallyFriday, September 25, 2009 10:48:00 AM

    Judah, FFOZ has abandoned your position! Hahah! And I don't hear you talking about theologies I disagree with. That must mean I'm winning. Woot! More theological purity! Oh, and while I'm at it, let me further isolate, distance, and extinguish these Two House people that I hate and have utter contempt for - even more theological purity. Hooray!

  10. Judah.. I thought my English was clear enough to not require your amazing translating talent:) Apparently not.

    This is really fun though. I think I'll try my hand at translating some of your posts.

  11. "This is really fun though".

    Agreed. :-)

    "I think I'll try my hand at translating some of your posts."

    You know what they say about imitation...

  12. Here is a book I had to read in college. It will explain to you exactly what is happening in just about every quarter of today's Messianic movement, and why we face various controversies we face:

    No further need to speculate!

  13. Judah,

    "@Aaron, I am pro-liturgy. I am anti-only-liturgy. Some go as far as to say liturgy is the only legitimate mode of worship. I find this view particularly silly, as the psalms were set to music, speak of praising God with stringed instruments, drums, flutes, singing to Lord and making music to his name. King David would give us musical folk a nod of approval."

    I agree, I feel the same way. What I am trying to show is anyone who properly understand the halakha about prayer will know liturgy ain't all it, its only part.

    I think we do have a case of Messianics striving to be Jewish and separating from "independent Messianics" when they don't always know what Judaism believes, fully, on such subjects.
    The famous Rebbe Nachman said hithbodeduth, personal meditation, was the highest form of prayer; and that is what lots of David's Psalms are!

  14. I really don't think any of your quotes point to "bashing" of independent Messianics themselves. Your first quote came from a teacher who is a leader of an independent Messianic congregation, technically speaking.

    Rather, I think these comments highlight the dissatisfaction of some with the status quo in many Messianic communities, i.e., a cliche anti-traditionalism, an almost complete detachment from the Jewish community/Jewish outreach/Jewish concerns, and an overdone charismatic, emotionally- driven worship inherited from American Evangelicalism and Charismatic churches (this is not a bash on charismatic worship, but rather a manufactured worship).

    In many ways, these comments highlight the desire of many Messianics for the Messianic Jewish movement to grow up.

  15. Hang in there Judah! Our family is friends with many of the different groups you spoke of, because we have somethng they need. Because we saw much of what you described early on in our Torah walk, we have chosen to stay independent. But we still grieve over their "shooting their own wounded" mentality. We have never liked the "Messianic Jewish" label because of all the issues associated with it. Can we come up with something else? How about Torah Observant Christian? I would love to hear other ideas as I cringe everytime someone asks me what religion I am. As demonstrated by my blog name. Shalom, Jeff.

  16. Oh I forgot that I changed my name. It used to be Messyantic.

  17. Greetings my dear friends,

    I am Messianic #4. My opinion differs from all of yours. I am neither One Law, nor Two Law, but Three Law, I believe that the Torah is for Jews, the Prophets are for Christians, and the Writings are for everyone else. This is because I found some verse somewhere in the New Testament which doesn't say this at all, but I twisted it without even proper logic and made it my new theology.

    If you disagree, I am going to form a new Messianic group and be at odds with you. And you're Satan.

    I will now quote a multitude of passages taken right out of context and proper understanding just so I can slander you. Here goes...

    "Evil Pharisees, go to hell" -YAHshua 3:16
    The Pharisees today are both Jews and Messianics like you guys, and Christians. You're all a bunch of self-loving hypocrites - like the evil Pharisees.

    "Synagogue of Satan, woe be ye" -YAHshua 7:7

    Woe be ye, sons of snakes (or whatever), since you're Phraisees and are therefore not really Jews. You're a synagogue of Satan, hurry up and go to hell. I'm the real synagogue of YAHshua. The fact you don't put YAH into everything shows you're all heathen pagan Pharisee Jews.

    Remember, YAHshua MashiYAH the MessiYAH has cursed YAHou, so YAHgo to YAHhell alYAHready.

    -Messianic #4

    (This is really Aaron. Hilariously, I have actually seen someone spell it "MashiYAH" hahaha...)

  18. Aaron,

    My lord! You're clearly the master of your religion. A theological god! I must join you, or Else!


  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. Wishing Blogspot had a thumbs up button for comments ...

    what Seth (JudeoXian) said.

    I'm not grinding an axe with you, Judah, or specifically with "independent" congregations. I understand that my words struck a nerve with you, but I was critiquing the ENTIRE movement, which is convoluted in its PRACTICES because it is still confused about its primary PURPOSE.

  21. Monique,

    Thanks for commenting. I saw your first comment, the one you deleted, via email.

    While you didn't mention independent Messianics by name and perhaps it was not your intent, it is telling that, in the comments to your posts, the independent Messianic movement was the topic.

  22. Oh, and Monique, regarding your traffic - don't worry. If you keep blogging at the rate you do, do it consistently, and keep putting out the great content you do, your traffic will build over time. You have a great blog, you and Joshua. Thanks for all you do.


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