How To Distinguish Between Healthy And Unhealthy Messianic Congregations

Interest in the Jewish roots of the Christian Faith has been growing for the past 50 years. That’s a very good thing. However, more recently some unhealthy developments have taken place in the Messianic Jewish movement. For those who are thinking about getting involved in a Messianic congregation, you need to know that not all Messianic synagogues are spiritually healthy. It’s important to be careful, wise and discerning if you plan on getting involved in the Messianic Jewish movement. Here are some things to watch out for:

Most Messianic congregations welcome everyone – Jew or Gentile. A few do not, and in light of passages such as John 10:16 and Galatians 3:28-29, which stress the unity of Jew and Gentile in the New Covenant, that’s the first sign that such congregations are not healthy and should be avoided.

Many are obsessed with “Torah observance” and pressure people to try and keep all of the laws of the Sinai Covenant. This is a matter that was settled long ago through the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:13-29), and is particularly wrong when it comes to Gentiles. It is “Judaizing” and destructive and heretical. These congregations need to be avoided.

Some are attempting to convert Gentiles into Jews. In light of the clear teaching of Rabbi Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, this is very wrong and these groups need to be avoided like the plague.

Some are teaching that Jewish people don’t need to believe in Yeshua to be saved, that the Jewish “no” to Jesus actually means “yes” to God (Jewish rejection of Jesus is compatible with true faith in God)! In light of Yeshua’s claim (John 14:6) and many other clear statements (John 8:24, Acts 4:12, Romans 10:1-2) these groups need to be avoided.

Congregations that have no interest in direct, bold evangelism and constantly criticize wonderful Messianic Jewish evangelistic organizations like Jews for Jesus and refuse to identify with them are not healthy. Those congregations have the fear of men instead of the fear of God and should be avoided.

Some believe that the Catholic Church is fine. It is not fine. The Protestant reformers were right. There are many serious errors that Catholicism embraces. Those groups that teach that the Catholic Church is kosher are wrong, and they need to be avoided.

A few groups deny that Moses wrote the Torah, deny that Genesis 1-11 is real history, or teach that there are two or more Isaiahs who wrote the book of Isaiah. That kind of theological liberalism is wrong and destructive, and those groups need to be avoided.

Some constantly criticize the Christian Church and make too much of a separation between Messianic Judaism or the Messianic Jewish movement and the Evangelical Church. The reality is, there is one Body, one great community we are all part of; one Lord whom we all follow and who unites us; one Spirit who lives in us all; one hope of eternal life in the New Jerusalem we all share; one Faith – one core set of beliefs that we all confess. In one sense, Messianic Judaism and Christianity are the same. Messianic Judaism is part of the same one Faith, but it is expressed within the Jewish heritage. Therefore a healthy congregation must identify with the Evangelical Church as well as the Jewish community. If a leader in the Messianic Jewish movement refuses to acknowledge that he is part of Christianity – if the leader is unwilling to say something like: “I am 100-percent Jewish and I am also 100-percent Christian” – it’s a sign that something is seriously wrong.

Some are into the “Two-House” teaching – the bizarre and false teaching that many people today are descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” (which is itself a myth) and therefore entitled to call themselves part of the House of Israel. These groups should not be considered part of the Messianic Jewish Community and should be avoided.

The “Sacred Name” groups need to be avoided. They foolishly and legalistically teach that unless a person properly pronounces the Four Letter Name Of God (the  Tetragrammaton – YHVH) they won’t be saved, since it’s only those who call on the name of the Lord who will be saved (see Romans 10:13). But “calling on the name of the Lord” is not about pronouncing certain syllables the right way. The Lord’s name stands for His essence, nature, attributes, character, power and authority. One can call on the name of the Lord without using the Tetragrammaton. One can call on the name of the Lord by using any of the dozens of names and titles for God that are used in the Bible. When we call on the name of the Lord, we declare who God is, ask for His help and conduct ourselves accordingly. These “Sacred Name” groups  frequently deny the Trinity and embrace other errors like legalism.

I am wary of those who accuse the Church of being pagan for celebrating Christmas and Easter and meeting for worship on Sunday. Though once associated with pagan rituals, these celebrations have long since been turned to honor God. The early Christian leaders did this on purpose, and in light of the decision of the First Jerusalem Council (see Acts 15), it wasn’t wrong for them to do so. The same goes for those who teach that it’s wrong to use the words “Jesus”, “Lord” or “God” because they are ancient pagan names or titles of deities.

Do you think by using the names Esther and Mordechai, that Jews and Christians are engaging in paganism? Esther was named after Ishtar, a star associated with the planet Venus and a Babylonian goddess. But now the name “Esther” is used by Jewish people and Christians with the highest regard. In fact, Esther is the name of a book of the Bible! Does that make the Bible a pagan book? Of course not! Mordechai most likely comes from another Babylonian god, Marduk, and means “a worshiper of Marduk.” But Mordechai is now a name that is used by Jewish and Christian peoples with the greatest respect. Are the Jewish people pagan because one of the months on our calendar is named after Tammuz – a pagan god? No. Are you pagan if you refer to the first or second days of the week, Sunday and Monday, which used to honor the sun and moon? Or Wednesday and Thursday, which used to honor the Norse gods Woden and Thor? Should it bother us that a Christian holiday (Easter) is also called by this name? Does that make Easter a pagan holiday? No. The Jewish and Christian peoples have reclaimed once-pagan names, and over time, removed the original pagan connotation. Those who refuse to understand this are spiritually unbalanced. In addition, Rabbi Paul teaches us not to get caught up in silly arguments about words (see 1 Timothy 6:3-5).

What should you look for in a healthy Messianic synagogue? A sense of community, sound doctrine, accountability regarding the leadership, a passion for evangelism and a good relationship with the Evangelical Christian Community.


One Additional Warning

Because the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) tolerates those who teach that the Jewish “no” to Jesus is “yes” to God; tolerates those who teach that Catholicism is OK; tolerates those who exclude Gentiles from Messianic Congregations; tolerates those who attempt to convert Gentiles into Messianic Jews; tolerates those who deny that Moses wrote the Torah, or deny that Genesis 1-11 is real history, or teach that there are two or more Isaiahs, it is our opinion that the UMJC should be avoided.