Christian or Christ-follower in Messianic Judaism

I read today an article by Jason Byassee, ‘Not a Christian, But a Christ-Follower?‘. It’s an interesting article that calls into questioning some who want to rid themselves of Christian baggage (i.e., all that a particular person doesn’t like about other Christians – crusades, conservatives, liberals, etc.) and say something to the effect of, ‘No, I’m not a Christian; I’m a Christ-follower.’ (Random aside to John Meunier: did I use the semicolon correctly there? I never know when it’s appropriate.) In his article, he says that we can’t just disown each other by changing our label:

This is the part that really irks me the most on eschewing “Christian.” It’s as though we get off scot-free for historical Christian sins (the crusades, racism, you name it) by just calling ourselves something else. Christians believe there is a way to forgiveness and purity—but it passes through confession, restoration, and repaired relationship. The much more costly way to disassociate from those who have done ill in Christ’s name is to set about loving as fanatically as they hated.

I agree with him, and appreciate in particular what he says about the way to purity.

As I read, I thought about those who call themselves Messianic Jews (Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah) and they call themselves that refusing to call themselves Christians. Or at least some of them. I admit I know very little about Messianic Judaism. The little I do know is from those I met in Christian chat rooms or online forums, which isn’t much. And usually I simply got messages that told me I didn’t understand, which there may have been some truth to it. But, I did feel  determination to be separate from the rest of us.

Certainly what Jason says (above, and his commentary on the body of Christ in the article) would apply to Messianic Jews as well as Jesus’ ‘Gentile followers’. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I would be interested in hearing about it.

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17 thoughts on “Christian or Christ-follower in Messianic Judaism

  1. You do use the semicolon properly. My beef is that it is never necessary, but I won’t go on as it will detract from your post.

    I thought Rev. Byassee’s column was good, too.

  2. Interesting. I’ve thought a lot about this too. The Messianic Jewish community is, it seems to me, in a very awkward position in many ways (some of it a result of their own doing): many are hesitant to use the word “Christian” and most Jews that I’ve heard reference the movement seem adamant that they not call themselves Jews. But that gets complicated, especially as a born Jew is hesitant to abandon the word, even when he changes faiths.

    I’ve heard Christians in the blogosphere talk occasionally about wanting to abandong the word “Christian” for something like Christ-follower. Whenever I hear that I think, “No, the word needs to be redeemed, not abandoned.” (Somehow I feel a bit more sympathetic to Messianic Jews and their position, though I don’t doubt the general point being made here that the abandonment of the word may simply be an effort to sidestep the difficulties that come with using the word.)

    I seem to remember Kierkegaard writing in his “Attack Upon Christendom” about not wanting to use the word Christian because he didn’t consider himself worthy in light of what the word was supposed to mean. That kind of seems to be the opposite of what’s being discussed above.

    I think the word “Christian” is a fine word: it’s what’s been done under the word that’s created the problem.

    • I frankly don’t blame Messianic Jews at all for not wanting to be called Christians. The Christian world is terribly messed up. I feel it has so many totally bogus doctrines, it hardly represents what Christ and the disciples originally taught. Just look at all the different denominations. Just look at a Christian chat room where debates, arguments, insults, and name calling go on continually over differences in beliefs, even within the Christian world itself. How many different denominations are there, anyway? Four-thousand and something? What’s that tell us? We’re the blind leading the blind, that’s what. And then Christians have the audacity to throw stones at messianic Jews. Well good grief! Thank God they’ve come to Christ! But there’s something terribly wrong with the Modern Christian belief systems. I myself would run the other way as fast as I could if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ. However, I’m not so sure HE has much to do with the Christian church, such as it is. If Messianic Jews can shed some light on the mess, let them have at it!

  3. I agree Wyman that Messianic Jews are in a hard place (though I can also understand why other Jewish groups don’t accept them). Again, I haven’t actually met any in person. Just in chat rooms and forums, and these media can bring out the extremes in any religious groups! So, I understand that when I say this I don’t believe they are speaking for everyone: I seem to get the impression that they are determined to be separate from ‘Gentile Christians’, some for what they see as us going the wrong way with our festivals and seasons.

    Yes, I agree that what Byasee talks about is not what Kierkegaard was talking about! I agree, Christian is a fine word!

    Oh, and speaking of liturgical seasons, someone found my blog by searching for ‘southern baptist advent readings’. I wish I knew who it was! I would pass them on to you!

  4. I am Messianic, and I embrace the label Christian. I know what you mean, though. Messianic Judaism is known for having a chip on its shoulder.
    Sadly, what happens sometimes is that Christians (both Gentile and Jew), in their search for Biblical understanding, study Jewish teachings to learn the Hebraic roots of the Bible. So far, so good. But along with the study of history, they study traditional Judaism, which denies Jesus and denies Christianity.
    After walking in the counsel of non-Messianic Judaism for a while, these people (who are predominately Gentiles by birth) adopt anti-Christian attitudes. They separate from mainstream Christians. Some come to hate the name Jesus, and will only say Yeshua.
    This is not what Jesus wanted for us. He prayed in the garden before his crucifixion that all believers would be one as he and the Father are one.
    If you look, you can still find congregations where Jews and Gentiles worship Jesus together.

  5. And by the way, you are correct in seeing Messianics as rejecting Christian holidays- but not all of us do. I love all the holidays, and celebrate all year round! What’s could be funner than celebrating Christmas on the heels of Hanukkah? Jesus was born the Light of the World!

    My blog and website, Precious Holidays, is devoted to Jewish and Christian harmony through celebrating holidays. I hope you can stop by the website at PreciousHolidays.net And I hope I’m not stepping on your toes by posting the site. Feel free to edit or delete with my blessings.

  6. kfrazier: Thank you for stopping by! Your comments are interesting regarding the study of history. I did not admit in my post, and should have done, that Christians have done a lot toward Jews that we need to repent to repent of. But, I have picked up on some of the things you mention about reluctance to say Jesus. I hope we can continue to become one in Christ!

    I will check out your blog and hope that you will be back!

  7. Pingback: A Follow-Up on Messianic Judaism « Ramblings from Red Rose

  8. Try http://www.bmja.net for information about Messianic Judaism in the UK, or my book “Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology:A Constructive Approach” (Paternoster, 2009) for discussion of MJ theology.

    Best regards

    Richard Harvey

    • Richard Thank you for stopping by. I have been to the BMJA link, but didn’t find much in relation to their thoughts on ‘Christianity’ as such or their relationships with Gentiles in general. Or, for that matter, the practices and feasts that have become important to many Christians (which, as one MJ online said to me, stinks in God’s nostrils). Also, thank you for the book suggestion. I will look into it when I have time. Unfortunately, I am a big book buyer, but don’t read a lot! 🙂

  9. The problem in today’s world is the word Jew. Right away, Christians conotate us with being the Christ killers. There has always been a bad taste in the mouth of especially Christians especially when anything is attributed to any Jewish. Even though our Messiah was a Jew from the tribe of Judah, and our Apostles were all of the Hebrew blood line.

    But when Rome took over this new found religion under the guidance of Constantine, he tried to make a real break from Judiasm. He even went so far as making a declaration that if anyone observed the Sabbath or participating in the Holy Days of Yahweh, that their possessions would be confiscated and they would be imprisoned or even executed.

    This anti-semitism has come down through the centuries for 1600 years. And when you try to explain to Christians of the modern Religious Denominations that the christians are grafted into the original vine, which is Israel and that they are fed by the root, which is Yahshua, they get highly defensive. Without their realizing it, there is still a strong case of anti-semitism going on, and the majority of the Christians don’t even realize that they are very much a part of this feeling of prejudice. It is what they have been taught in the various denominations, and they are just pawns in the hands of the clergy who put more emphasis on the doctrines and traditions of their various religions than on the very words of Yahweh and Yahshua. Just the same thing that Yahshua had accused the Pharisees of doing.

    Yahweh said, that when you become a new believer, you are neither Jew nor gentile (Greek) but you have become a new man in Messiah.
    But, this thought does not enter the minds of the average believer of today. They always have to re-instate that partition which Yahshua had died to remove.

    It is sad that man has not learned. Yahshua said that the world will know that you belong to me by the love you have for one another. But it seems that that love is only for those of the same belief, and not for those who are considered Messianic.

  10. Charyah- It’s ironic that you accuse Christians of prejudice as you insult them and say “they always…”. You condemn their doctrines and traditions, and call them “pawns in the hands of clergy,” as if Christian clergy are all in evil cahoots. Whether intentional or not, you’re coming across as if you believe we can learn nothing from our Gentile brothers. It sounds as though you are saying Christians must deny their traditions, and take on yours, in order to be true followers of God.

    Antisemitism still exists in churches, but parishioners haven’t officially been taught that Jews are Christ-killers for over forty years, thanks to the work of Sister Rose Thering, a Gentile. And it’s been a while since Catholics confiscated possessions or executed Jews. We mustn’t forget. But it’s time to forgive and move on.

    It’s possible that the defensive reaction you see springs from the spirit in which you “try to explain to Christians”. Customs such as lighting Sabbath candles on Friday night, and hiding the afikomen during Passover, hold meaning for me. But they, too, are doctrines and traditions of man. They aren’t better or worse than Gentile customs, because they stem from Judaism. We can worship differently, and still unite in purpose.

    Even your use of language is divisive. You write English, but throw in a couple Hebrew-English hybrid transliterations, even though you’re addressing an English-speaking Gentile. God is not confused or offended by our languages. Revelation 5-7 talks about people of every language worshiping before the throne of God. By using Hebrew-sounding words, at best, you assert your differentness. At worse, you cause confusion.

    Treating Christians as if their relationship with God is somehow less than your relationship with God, encourages a combative relationship between Jew and Gentile, and feeds existing Antisemitism. I’m sure that isn’t your intent. But that is the result.

  11. I call myself a Christian but I have become very conscious more recently of the burden of history I am taking on by using that name. As far as I am aware lighting candles on the sabbath and other jewish traditions are not directly drawn from paganism – but many “christian” traditions such as Christmas, Easter, possibly even sunday worship are and have unfortunately evolved directly in opposition to the jewish roots of Christianity and indeed were introduced in some cases in an attempt to cause a clear division between Christianity and its jewish roots. There was a parallel growth in anti-semitism as these christian traditions became enshrined into church law. I really do think that as “christians” we need to actually look very closely at our history. It is perhaps because messianics are aware of this history that the name “christian” has become such an issue. For my part it seems to me that if calling oneself a christian doesnt make you a christian, it equally holds true that not calling oneself a christian doesnt mean you arent one ie a Christ follower! I dont think that names matter that much in the long run – its ones actions that count. Just my opinion.

  12. I don’t consider myself a christian because I don’t really believe in the myth created by those after his passing. I simply believe that he was a man who was ‘in touch’ with God(as only a few throughout all time are) and tried to teach theses ways. The people did not get this.. and created him into something he wasn’t.

    That being said, I do consider myself a christ follower as I believe in the spirit of his teaching, which we get a glimpse at through the bible. I do use is life as a model to strive for. It’s really a shame we have to read all this junk about casting demons into pigs, cursing innocent fig trees, and all this stuff about physical resurrection when the message is so strong about who to live Gods way. It’s just so much work to dig through he dogma of ‘christianity’ to get to God, but if you believe, it certainly CAN get you in that direction.

    But on a technicality, I guess I’m a Jesus follower as I don’t consider him the ‘Christ’, just as I am also a Buddha follower.

    In short, give us yourself for others, show love, compassion, and be humble. Do not judge, avoid extremes, greed.. maintain balance in your life. All wonderful ways to make a connection with God.

    We struggle so hard to put mans face on God but God is can not be comprehended, understood, described. We try through metaphors, but when you step back, God just is, has always been. There are many paths to God, not just one.
    Yes Christianity as it is certainly a way to that works to bring people to God, but religion in general can be used for purposed that does not represent God, but God cannot be used in this way, which goes to show that religion IS mans creation, but God is God.

    As for using the word Christian, as I said, I’m not a Christian, but I am a follower of Jesus. If I were a believer, i would never let a few angry people or some bad people in history give a bad name to my believe. If I were a christian, I would not be ashamed of the name. The whole idea.. seems kind of not ‘christ’ like. The new testament epistles/letters talk a lot of false prophets.. so obviously they have always existed, yet they continues to call themselves Christians.

  13. Tom: Thank you for your response. Of course, there is a wide area of disagreement between the two of us. I do not think one can read the gospels and simply get ‘a good moral teacher’. But you may think the gospel writers may be among those who you believe help to create the myth. The problem comes in trying to separate it all out. There are plenty of others who make these arguments, though.

  14. B”H

    Hi Pastor Will, I happened upon your site while looking for a copy of Jason Byassee’s article in The Christian Century, “Can a Jew Be a Christian?” I read this article several years ago and found it to be a mixed-bag. The comments here on your site seem to be very similar. I was glad to read several comments from Jewish believers here. I think that unity in the Body of Believers is more important than our doctrines, and I surely agree that just by seeking to rename ourselves doesn’t erase our true identity. One issue that remains to be settled is whether the term “christian” is a positive or a negative term in the Bible. I certainly understand the deep seated sense of pride that most of the non-Jewish followers of Jesus hold regarding the label christian, but mere sentiment alone shouldn’t be our sole or primary guide in navigating life together. History has proven that the actions associated with the name christian are far too often less than glorious.

    Thank you for raising this topic and continuing the discussion. I suggest that you seek to find some Jewish believers to fellowship with. There are far more of us than you might suspect and both Jews and non-Jews have a lot to share to benefit each other.

    Shlomo

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