Thursday, August 7, 2014

Messianic: A Religious Definition

Those of us in the Hebrew Roots / Messianic / Torah Observant Believer / [insert other name here] movement seem to some difficulty in the area of labels. Many seek new labels (or to go label-less) as current ones don't seem to fit or come across as too restrictive. It's part of our identity search as a relatively new movement. Meanwhile, the labels we do have sometimes seem to elude definition. Just what is a "Messianic," anyway?

First of all, I want to briefly mention why I choose the label Messianic above others. One reason is because it is the most widely used (though Hebrew Roots takes a close second). For a label to be effective, people have to know what it means. The term "Messianic" seems the best fit for the job. A second reason is because of emphasis. Names like Torah Observant Believer or Hebrew Roots focus on the law and Jewish traditions. Messianic points to our Messiah, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Messianic Christianity in the most basic sense is a blend between Judaism and Christianity anchored in two points: The revelation of Mt. Sinai and the resurrection of Yeshua.

Mt. Sinai:
The Mt. Sinai revelation implies two things for Messianic believers. Firstly, Messianics believe in the personal application of Torah (Mosaic Law) as per Matthew 5:17. That is, to one extent or another, we keep Sabbath, feast days, kosher, etc. Now, there is a lot of room for diversity here. Within the Messianic movement you'll find dozens of calendars for the holidays, a hundred ways to observe the Sabbath, multiple pronunciations for God's holy name (if your particular flavor chooses to pronounce His name), etc. There are a wide range of views on how to interpret the Torah, ranging from a text-only literal view to a traditional Jewish view, from strict observance to liberal practice. Then there's the question of who all is required to adhere to the commandments. Is it something only Jews are required to do? All peoples? Is it something optional you've chosen to bring into your life? The one common element is that all Messianics choose to (for one reason or another) personally take on the commandments of Torah to some extent.

The second implication is that the people of Israel remain in covenant relationship with God. Messianics believe that God will fulfill His literal promise of the Promised Land to Abraham's descendants. The Covenant is eternal; the Lord has not rejected His people (Jer. 33:24-26, Rom. 11:1-2). Again, this does not necessarily imply an endorsement of everything Jewish or even of the state of Israel (though support for the state of Israel is very common among Messianics). Nor does it say anything about our relationship with the Covenant people. It simply means that we believe God will not forsake His promises to the Jewish people.

More familiar to most of us is the death and resurrection of our Messiah. Messianics hold a firm faith in this pivotal event in world history. However, in the Messy movement, things start to get a bit hairy as we move into the implications. Theologies diverge as to just exactly what this event accomplished and how it relates to us and salvation. Neither can you say that Messianics hold to an exclusive salvation by faith doctrine. Questions are also raised about Yeshua's identity as not all Messianics hold trinitarian beliefs. Nevertheless, the fact of Yeshua's death and resurrection remains at the centerpiece of Messianic faith.


A few more notes about Messianic beliefs before we wrap this up. While many Messianics adopt a strict "Scripture only" point of view, it is not uncommon for the Scriptures themselves to come under scrutiny (especially Paul's letters). I've heard the epistles referred to as "good commentary, nothing more." Messianic identity is another contentious point. Jewish and Christian identities often depend on either denying the other or enforcing a strict separation between the two. Messianics, by virture of their theology, blend the two identities (which creates all sorts of interesting complexities). A variety of solutions have been forward to solve this problem, leading to no end of arguing.

One could probably fill a book with the many variations within the Messianic movement. You may be wondering how anyone could claim to belong to such a messy group of people. Many who otherwise confess the basic Messianic beliefs don't. They disavow the Messianic label so as not to get caught up in the mess of others.

We're still quite young. We're still figuring ourselves out, finding out who we are and what we believe. Many feel like they're trying to re-invent their religion from scratch as they realize nothing is beyond questioning. To me, that's part of the beauty. We have a chance for a fresh start here. Learning from our big brothers Judaism and Christianity (their successes, their failures, their conversations), we have an opportunity blaze a new path anchored in the two most important events in history: the Mt. Sinai revelation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that is only the beginning of our potential. But, now I'm getting ahead of myself ;)

No comments:

Post a Comment