The Messianic SurveyNovember 29, 2016
I am excited to share about a research project that I am conducting as part of my studies at TorahResource Institute. I am currently working on my thesis, which is on the topic of defining the Messianic Torah movement and tracing out some of its history and trajectory. As part of this research, I have launched The Messianic Survey, which I hope will offer some insights into our varied yet fascinating movement. I would encourage everyone reading this to check out the survey, as your input and your help spreading the word is vital for the success of this project. (EDIT: As of June 2017 the survey is now closed. Results are to be posted on the survey website.) But first, I invite you to keep reading to learn why I believe this research project is important.
The Big Picture
I have long had a burden for the condition of the Messianic Torah movement. I believe this movement is an exciting work of God drawing people to Yeshua and to Torah. But there are many issues facing us, and some crucial ways that I believe we as a movement need to improve and develop. Some of the controversies we face include the role of Jews and Gentiles, the role of tradition, and common theological and halachic disputes. There is a great need for healthier communities, more trained leaders, better scholarship, and engaging the next generation. These are all issues I feel passionate about, as do many of us.
Of course, my perspective is limited. The more I learn the more I realize how narrow my view is. How do I know whether the issues I see are really the important ones? As long as I am relying on my own limited perspective, there is a chance my efforts to address the problems we face will only contribute to those problems. I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for all the trees. Each of us occupies a particular position within this broad and convoluted Messianic “forest,” and few of us are exposed to the broader Messianic Torah movement in its entirety. We may each be familiar with the group of trees immediately around us, but most of us don’t have a very clear glimpse of the forest as a whole.
I believe it is vital for us to get the big picture, to see beyond the group of trees in which we are immersed and get a birds-eye view. Certainly there are other parts of the forest with which we will have disagreements and concerns. I am not suggesting we all compromise on our positions or develop a relativistic approach that says our differences don’t matter. But I feel a prerequisite to addressing those issues is to first understand the big picture. This requires seeing the movement as it is, and not just how I want it to be.
Labels and Definitions
Labels are tricky things. There is a lot of variation in what could be labelled “Messianic.” As result, many prefer other labels, such as “Messianic Judaism” or “Hebrew Roots.” These differing labels are often used in antithesis to each other, and carry with them a set of prejudices and assumptions. Of course, no one likes being put in a box, so some try to avoid labels altogether. We tend to like labelling others more than we like being labelled by others.
Defining the movement (or “movements”) becomes even trickier. Even in this post, I have been using the label “Messianic Torah movement” to refer to Torah-following Yeshua-believers, which carries its own set of problems and assumptions. It seems like everyone has their competing self-definition of what the movement should look like. When that happens, defining the movement becomes a polemic rather than a description.
While labels can cause problems, avoiding labels causes its own set of problems. As much as many of us don’t like labels, at some point they are unavoidable. If we don’t give ourselves a name, someone else will. I find our children especially need labels because they want to know who they are in relation to others. Somehow labels help us to understand ourselves. That is why we need to strive for clear, helpful labels and definitions.
And that is what is at stake here: defining who we are. Before we can address our issues and differences, we need to know who we are. And to do that, we need to understand our history.
We all have a story. We are all part of a history that is broad and complex. The problem is that we are not always aware of our own history. I believe this is true for many of us in the broader Messianic Torah movement. I have been a part of the Messianic Torah movement for some 15 years, and I have noticed a common struggle is the need for a clear identity and a sense of belonging. It is instinctive for us as humans to want to know who we are and where we fit in. And that involves knowing our story.
How did this movement come about? What is our history? Who are the pioneers and forerunners? What other movements influenced and shaped our movement to be what it is today? No matter how grass-roots our movement may be, none of us are here in isolation. We are all part of something bigger.
In 1982, David Rausch wrote, “The history of Messianic Judaism is currently being made. It has roots that are deep and strong, an influence far beyond its numbers; predecessors of which it is unaware.” David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity (Edwin Mellen, 1982), p. 111. Those words apply to us even today, almost 35 years later. Our history is still currently being made, and most of us are still largely unaware of our predecessors. It is time we rediscover our history.
Knowing where we have come from helps us to know where we are going. The more strongly we connect with the past in a healthy way, the clearer our vision for the future will be. History alone is not enough. We have to apply that history in a way that enables us to move forward.
I for one have a vested interest in seeing the Messianic Torah movement become something vibrant and lasting. I want to see this faith passed on to my children. I want to leave them a heritage that they can embrace and expand.
A question we should all ask ourselves is this: What vital behaviours will make this movement a better place? Together, with the help of the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit), we can be the beautiful spotless bride that we are called to be. If we have a common goal, we can begin to work together toward that goal.
Telling the story
In sum, I want to understand the Messianic Torah movement better. I want to understand the heartstrings of this movement, and what makes it tick. Essentially, I want to know our story. I want to know our story the way it really is, not the way I want it to be. But in that I want to find a story that I, and the many others in this varied movement with me, can relate to on a deep and personal level. I believe we can then catch a glimpse of the future that is inspiring and viable.
It is not as though no one has ever attempted to tell this story before. For example, there have been many books written on the subject of Messianic Judaism. But most of these sources, in my opinion, leave out half of the story. They focus on Jewish believers in Yeshua, but fail to account for the movement of Gentile believers embracing Torah. Conversely, many on the Gentile side of the Torah movement are disconnected from the Jewish side of the story. In both cases, the story is incomplete, and this only promotes a lack of understanding between the two sides.
This is probably the most unique aspect of my particular research project. Instead of treating Messianic Jews and Torah-keeping Gentiles as two separate, unrelated movements, I want to see how they fit together and affect each other. I want to see both sides of the story, and it is precisely the point at which these two sides intersect that fascinates me the most.
This research project, in a nutshell, is a journey to discover who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. And this is where you come in: I am inviting you to be part of this story. This is also your story, and you have a role to play.
Please check out the survey results, and give us your feedback!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity (Edwin Mellen, 1982), p. 111.|