I have been a shepherd in the Messianic Jewish world for 48 1/2 years now. The primary focus of the Messianic Jewish movement was and should be winning and discipling Jewish people. However, there is a second and important purpose. Our existence raises questions that give us an opportunity to restore Jewish roots to the churches. And what did we mean by that? First of all, it was to see the churches, first with its leaders, to understand the Bible in its original Jewish context. This meant that “replacement theology” the doctrine that the Church had replaced Israel and was the new and true Israel would be rejected and secondly that the election of the Jewish people/Israel would be solidly embraced. This as well would lead to a much better reading of Scripture. We also intended that the Church would embrace the foundational stand of the Messianic Jewish congregations, that Jews who come to faith in Yeshua are called to identify and live as Jews. The Messianic Jewish movement was not against the Protestant Evangelical heritage but affirmed it. We wanted to add understanding to it. Restoring Jewish Roots did not mean destroying the Christian heritage, whether holidays, worship on Sunday, Christmas carols and other Church practices, hymns, liturgy, and holidays which were not contrary to the Bible.
However, some years later, in the 1980s a Jewish Roots Movement began that was apart from the Messianic Jewish world. Some teachers were solid, with very good teaching and some took wrong turns that brought us great concern. At its worst, some promoting Jewish roots taught that Christians, the churches, were responsible to keep the Sabbath and Jewish Feasts according to the Biblical calendar and more. This came close to what we dubbed “One Law Movements,” which the Messianic Jewish movement worldwide largely rejected. What then do we think restoring Jewish roots should entail. I outline here the first two categories which we desire and then two further categories which we think violates the teaching of Galatians and Colossians 2 and Romans 14.
- We desire that the Bible be understood in its original Jewish/biblical context. This means that we study the whole Bible. As part of this, we desire that the churches and its leaders would understand the weekly Sabbath and the Feast of Israel including: a. their historical meaning in ancient Israel and the historical events connected to them, b. their ancient agricultural meaning, c. how they were brought to fullness in the first coming of Yeshua and finally, d. how they will yet be fulfilled and are prophetic of the last of the last days and the Age to Come. The patterns of life given in the Bible for Israel have universal meaning that all are called to understand.
- We desire that the Church would understand its own heritage in its connection to Jewish roots. The Church celebrates Good Friday as the recognition of the death of Yeshua as the atonement for all. Good Friday is rooted in and participates in Passover meanings and this should be taught and understood by the Church. It is especially fitting that it be taught on Good Friday to bring out the fullness of Yeshua’s sacrifice. Also, Pentecost is celebrated as the anniversary of the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2). The Jewish Feast should be understood as its background and why God chose this Feast for the outpouring with all of its harvest meanings
These first two points are explained in my books Jewish Roots, and Israel, the church and the Last Days. We think it is appropriate and fitting for the churches to pray and be led by the Spirit to join with Messianic Jews during the seasons of the Feasts for celebrations near the days of the Feasts. But this has to be by the Spirit and not by any enjoined rule or sense that it would be superior to others that do not so embrace such celebrations. For us the Fall Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) which Zechariah 14 denotes as the international celebration of the Kingdom of God could be a special time together. On the Saturday night during Sukkot week, we used to have a great interchurch celebration.
- The third category is that it is better and so much richer if the churches give up their Christian Holy Days, and embrace instead the Biblical Holy Days since they are the Feasts of the Lord. (On the contrary we believe that embracing such Holy Days is a matter of freedom and the leading of the Spirit.) Teaching a superior tradition for the churches in our view goes over the line of the clear warnings of Colossians and Galatians. These days are a shadow, and no one is to judge for the way gentiles embrace these celebrations or do not. Even the Sabbath is taught as principle (Heb. 4) but is never enjoined as something that should be kept for gentiles during this transitional age.
- The fourth category is a more serious violation of Scripture when some teach that all Christians should keep the Torah in the same way that Jews do. Hence Jewish Roots is defined as keeping the Feasts, the Sabbath, and the food laws. Jewish roots is said to be thus restored. Scripture is explicit that this is wrong and that those who are not Jewish and circumcised are not responsible to keep the whole Law but only universal law. Of course, the details of this false view are problematic. What days do we keep? According to the Rabbinic Lunar calendar which we use in Israel? Most scholars today think that the Biblical calendar was a solar calendar and sometimes the Church Feast Days are closer to the Biblical days than the Jewish calendar. It is interesting that there is not one New Testament verse that exhorts gentiles to keep the seventh-day sabbath or the Biblical Feasts according to Biblical dating.
The Jewish Roots movement becomes a source of division rather than enrichment when it goes over the line to #3 and #4.