Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Messianic Judaism: Church, Denomination, Sect, or Cult?

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Messianic Judaism: Church, Denomination, Sect, or Cult?

Article excerpt


This investigation seeks to categorize Messianic Judaism and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations both sociologically and theologically. It accomplishes this by briefly reviewing the history of Messianic Judaism and by providing the author's personal experiences with the U.M.J.C., particularly through their nineteenth annual conference held In 1998. Next, to put the movement into some kind of perspective, this investigation briefly reviews the definitions of church, denomination, sect, and cult. This Is particularly Important because some Jews believe Messianic Judaism to be a cult or cult-like. In a further effort to place Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. In the context of American religion, the author interviewed persons representing the views of Jews, Christians, and Messianic Jews, as well as examining documents that shed light on the nature of the movement. Finally, the author attempts to give an operational definition of Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. In light of the church-sect typology, concluding that, however it is classified, Messianic Judaism is still a highly controversial topic for both Christians and Jews.

"Shema Yisroel, Adonoi Elohainu, Adonoi Echad!" (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One!). This clarion call, the closest thing Judaism has to a creed, rang out 1,000 voices strong in the large room devoted to the Shabbat morning service. However, this was no ordinary Jewish service. Rather, it was a gathering of Messianic Jews from the Union of Messianic Congregations at their nineteenth annual conference in Washington, DC, on August 1, 1998. The service was a surprise to me. While I had been watching the Messianic movement with interest for over ten years and had expected an evangelical, charismatic service with a few Hebrew prayers and phrases thrown in, Messianic Judaism had obviously changed in those ten years. As I had expected, the service started with about forty-five minutes of praise worship, with the words to songs projected on a screen, as in a charismatic or Pentecostal service, with people clapping, raising hands, banging tambourines, and dancing in the aisles. However, this worsh ip was not followed by a long sermon and extemporaneous prayers as at Messianic services I had attended in the past. Instead, it was followed by a very traditionally Jewish Torah service, complete with readers chanting from a Torah scroll in Hebrew and the reading of the Haftorah portion, a selection from Isaiah. The only things that indicated that this was a Messianic service were the invocation of Yeshua's (Jesus') name after the Shema, and the inclusion of a reading from Acts as part of the Torah service.

Although the congregation did not use a Siddur (Jewish prayer book), the leaders of the service did, as they led many of the traditional Jewish prayers. Also, all of the leaders wore kippot (skullcaps) and tallitot (prayer shawls), as did some of the members of the congregation. If I did not know where I was and what I was participating in, I would have been very confused.

Who are these Messianic Jews, and what are they trying to do? This question has faced me for ten years, as I have sought to understand the movement, a perplexing mixture of Judaism and Christianity. In this examination, I will seek to discuss where Messianic Judaism has come from and where it is now. I will focus on the U.M.J.C., the oldest (although not the largest) organized group of Messianic Jewish congregations. In order to put the movement into some kind of perspective, I will briefly review definitions of church, denomination, sect, and cult from both a theological and a sociological viewpoint. I will then attempt to integrate what I have discovered about Messianic Judaism, and the U.M.J.C. in particular, with the standard typologies. I will conclude with my own definition of Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C.


Messianic Jews today identify themselves with the earliest Jewish Christians, known as the Nazarenes. Daniel Juster, the chief theologian of the movement and an important figure in the U.M.J.C., describes the Nazarenes as "closest in viewpoint to the disciples and those closest personally to them. They were Biblically-oriented in a very full sense and accepted the central doctrines of the New Testament. They practiced their Jewish heritage as part of their life in Yeshua." [1] Due to pressure from both the early church and the Jewish community, the Jewish Christians were squeezed out, with various remnants such as the Ebionites becoming heretical. The remaining groups were taken over by Islam. From these early centuries until the end of the nineteenth century, the history of Jewish Christianity was a history only of individual personalities.

According to David Rausch, one of the earliest historians outside the movement who is expert in it, Jewish Christianity underwent a "Hebrew Christian Renaissance" about the same time as the rise of Zionism and the Second Great Awakening. Rausch has stressed that Hebrew Christianity in America, which had its roots in Fundamentalism, gave a very important historical and theological foundation to the current Messianic Jewish movement--despite important differences between the movements. Rausch noted that early Hebrew Christianity was a phenomenon in which "Christians with Jewish backgrounds became unashamed of their Jewish heritage" and began to proclaim it boldly, although they remained members of their various churches. [2] Hebrew Christians, for the most part, did not live significantly Jewish lives. That is, they did not observe the festivals of the Jewish calendar or celebrate Jewish life-cycle events such as circumcision and the bar mitzvah. [3]

In contrast, developing Messianic Judaism advocated a return to fuller Jewish practice and heritage, including the establishment of separate Messianic congregations for Jewish (and gentile) believers. [4] Rausch has explained that, early on:

A veritable battleline had been drawn between the philosophy of "Hebrew Christianity" and the philosophy of "Messianic Judaism." . . . Hebrew Christianity would be more visible and acceptable to the Christian Church.. ..Messianic Judaism would continue a quiet existence in selected individuals and would continue to feed upon the Hebrew Christian literature and experience. The charge of "Judaizer" would be leveled at any Messianic Jew who was too visible, but Messianic ritual was tolerable in small doses. [5]

In 1866, in London, Hebrew Christians formed the Hebrew Christian Alliance, to promote evangelism and fellowship with other Hebrew Christians. In 1915, American Hebrew Christians formed the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, and, in 1925, an international group formed the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. [6] An important move in the direction of Messianic Judaism came when Mark John Levy, the general secretary of the H.C.A.A., argued in 1915 for a Hebrew Christianity that would be both congregationally based and Hebraic in worship and liturgy. Levy, who even convinced the Episcopal Church of his position, had his position rejected by the H.C.A.A., which at that point was still intolerant of Messianic Judaism. In fact, according to Rausch, the H.C.A.A. "thought that it had severed itself from Messianic Judaism" so completely that it declared in 1917 in its journal that it was "'absolutely free from it, now and forever.'" [7]

Another important move in the direction of Messianic Judaism came in 1921, when David Bronstein, a converted tailor, founded the Peniel Community Center to provide social services and outreach to Jews in Chicago. Bronstein completed studies at Moody Bible Institute and McCormick Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. In 1934, the Peniel Center was reorganized as the First Hebrew Christian Church, something previously unheard of. Bronstein's church was basically Protestant, with a few Hebrew phrases thrown in and Bronstein's personality, which had a Jewish flavor. This church greatly influenced the development of the first Messianic congregations. [8]

The most successful move toward Messianic Judaism began in the 1960's. The Jesus Movement and the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War fostered change and innovation in the H.C.A.A. "The Alliance, which was virtually without a youth movement" before 1967, gained "a youthful surge that it did not expect." [9] One of the people who was instrumental in this change was Manny Brotman, president of Shalom International, which produced materials focusing on Messianic Jewish culture and heritage. In the mid-1960's Brotman came into contact with many of the old Alliance leaders and the Chicago work of Bronstein. While in Chicago, he founded the Young Hebrew Christian Alliance and greatly influenced young Jewish believers toward a Messianic Jewish direction.

In 1971, a large group of Jewish believers from Philadelphia, led by Joe Finkelstein, a chemist, and his wife Debbie, came to the H.C.A.A. conference with twenty-five "hippie" youth. "That year, the number of young people would equal the number of older members of the Alliance. A 'revolution' was about to take place in the Alliance itself." [10] This culminated in a motion at the 1973 conference that the name of the organization be changed to the "Messianic Jewish Alliance." "The vote was very close, but the supporters of the name change were defeated.... Two years later at the 1975 conference, ... Messianic Jews overwhelmed the conference numerically and the name change went into effect without any problems." [11] "The name change signified far more than a semantical expression--it represented an evolution in the thought processes and religious and philosophical outlook toward a more fervent expression of Jewish identity." Nearly 1,000 people attended the 1979 and 1980 conferences. A "'revolution' had, inde ed, occurred." [12]

In 1973, while the "revolution" was in progress, Juster, a young Presbyterian pastor who had graduated from McCormick, was called to the First Hebrew Christian Church in Chicago. He spent "two years 'evolving' toward a Messianic Jewish philosophy and [turned] the First Hebrew Christian Church into a Messianic congregation... Adat Ha Tikvah." [13] More new congregations blossomed after 1975. Most started "as small fellowship meetings in homes and [would] later rent rooms weekly in hotels or private buildings." [14] These congregations were "in various stages of transition. Some were heading toward a more traditional Jewish practice. Others [sought] to create a 'natural expression' of

Messianic Judaism." They varied "as to their position on the Hebrew Christian/Messianic Jewish spectrum." [15] Given the development of Messianic Judaism, it was ironic that quite a few Messianic leaders in the 1970's believed "they coined the term 'Messianic Judaism.' Of those who are not quite so bold as to suggest such pioneering many believe that the term originated" after the 1950's. [16]

At this point, the desire began to grow among several congregations for mutual affiliation. In 1976, Juster of Adat ha Tikveh and James Hutchins of B'nai Macabium, another Chicago congregation, asked the Messianic Jewish Alliance to consider affiliation for congregations as well as for individuals. The Alliance "board noted the need for such an affiliation but stated that it should be formed separately from the Alliance." Later that year, Brotman and Hutchins "sought to form a union of congregations" on their own, but "[t]his effort received little response and was halted. In 1978, invitations were sent by the two Chicago area congregations to all known Messianic Jewish congregations to discuss the possible formation of a union." This overture was followed by a Spring, 1979, "meeting in which there was almost unanimous agreement to form a union. A brief incorporation meeting took place" in July, 1979, forming the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, which nineteen of the twenty-two known Messianic congre gations joined. [17] The first officers included Juster as president. [18]

Rausch stated that the U.M.J.C. "was designed as a loose confederation to aid in fellowship and education. It was not to be a hierarchical control mechanism." [19] He noted that the bylaws of the Union listed five major objectives:

1. To provide whatever aid possible in the initiation, establishment, and growth of Messianic congregations worldwide.

2. To be a voice to Messianic Jewish Congregations and Messianic Judaism worldwide.

3. To provide a forum for the discussion of issues relevant to Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jewish Congregations.

4. To aid in the causes of our Jewish people worldwide, especially in Israel.

5. To support the training of Messianic Leaders. [20]

To carry out these goals, committees were appointed "on theology, worship and music, education, communication, service and support, and special conferences. . . . Among the standards set by the Union for its member congregations" were "the belief that the Bible is the 'absolute authority on all matters of teaching and practice.' Congregations are required to believe that 'salvation is by grace through faith in Yeshua's atonement and resurrection' and to believe in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Belief in the divinity of Jesus is also a requirement. The Charter congregations each had at least one service on Friday evening or on Saturday morning. The maintenance of Jewish heritage was a key standard as well." [21]

The committees went to work, producing significant findings in education, especially for Messianic Jewish children, suggestions as to how congregations should evangelize, and the need for a Messianic Siddur. A plea was made at the 1981 conference for Messianic Jews to consider aliyah (moving to Israel for the purpose of planting congregations and gaining citizenship). [22] "Another significant motion at the 1981 conference was made by the Constitution Committee . . . [which] recommended that the National Association of Evangelicals' statement of faith be adopted by UMJC (with its terminology appropriately adapted to Messianic Judaism). The reason for this tightening of terminology was to strengthen standards of membership in order to protect the new Union from 'flakey [sic] congregations and doctrines.' The idea was adopted by the membership." An appendix to the bylaws "would now stress the three persons ...of the Godhead, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit to a much greater degree than ever before." [23] The U.M.J.C. was well underway and was already contributing significantly to the unity of the Messianic Jewish movement.

Ten years ago, this author began observing several individual U.M.J.C. congregations to determine how Jewish or Christian they were. Those congregations observed in particular were Beth Messiah of Rockville, Maryland, by then the flagship congregation of the Union, led by Juster; Ohev Yisroel, the Northern Virginia congregation; and Brit Hadasha, in Memphis, Tennessee. At that point, they appeared primarily to be charismatic, evangelical congregations with an overlay of Jewish observance. That is, they conducted services with a few Hebrew prayers thrown in; they had Torahs but did not read from them; and they observed Jewish holidays in the context of their "meaning in the Messiah." Regarding Beth Messiah in particular, it apparently had moved from the Jewish direction described by Rausch in his 1982 book to a more Christian direction under the leadership of Juster.

In the early 1990's, Rausch, statistician Doug Samuelson, and this author collaborated on an attempt to determine how Jewish the members of U.M.J.C. congregations were by utilizing a specially designed questionnaire. The one firm observation that came out of this small study was that many members of Messianic congregations were gentiles. Further research was thwarted by the lack of cooperation by members of the selected U.M.J.C. congregations in returning their questionnaires. It was unclear to the authors whether this lack of cooperation was due to objection to the study or to mere disinterest on the part of the Messianic congregants.

This author's next contact with the U.M.J.C. was in 1998, at the Union's nineteenth annual conference. The theme of the conference was "Dor L'Dor"--From Generation to Generation. One of the overriding concerns of the conference was how to pass on the Messianic heritage of the "founding" generation to its children. Other important themes appeared to be how the movement could become more authentically Jewish and what the appropriate role of gentiles in the movement was. One series of sessions was designed for Messianic leaders to learn the appropriate ways to celebrate Jewish life-cycle events. The overriding concern of the Messianic spiritual leaders teaching the sessions was that Jewish events should be Jewish events, and not every event should be an occasion to preach the gospel. There was considerable disagreement among those present about how these events should be celebrated, so it seems that Jewish practice in the movement is still in a state of flux. [24]

This author noted considerably more Jewish practice at the 1998 conference than in the congregations visited in the early 1990's. Each day the conference held an early morning Shacharit service, prayed from an Orthodox Jewish prayerbook. Men wore tallit and tefillin (phylacteries), and women covered their heads in the Orthodox Jewish manner. As noted earlier, the Shabbat morning service included a Torah service, and a special service for Tisha B'Av (the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction of the two Temples) included appropriately Jewish prayers and the traditional Jewish reading of the Book of Lamentations.

The other theme noted--that of the role of gentiles in the movement--was also pervasive in the conference. Ten years ago, there appeared to be more gentiles than Jews in the U.M.J.C. In 1998, there appeared to be more Jews, who were wondering how to incorporate the gentiles in their Jewish culture and ritual. It was almost Acts 15 all over again: "What will we require or permit gentiles to do in this Jewish organization?" was repeatedly asked openly or implicitly during the conference.

This author had anticipated interviewing individuals at the conference but found that few were friendly. Most stayed with other members of their own congregations. However, a number of interesting materials about the U.M.J.C. were collected, including the conference program, which indicated how leadership of the U.M.J.C. was rotated; it also spelled out U.M.J.C. policy on anti-missionaries at their conferences. [25] Also obtained was a copy of the U.M.J.C. doctrinal statement, which is basically evangelical with two added requirements: dealing with discipline and conflict-resolution in congregations, and the call "to maintain our Jewish biblical heritage and remain a part of our people Israel and the universal body of believers." [26] Other information collected included a statement on the U.M.J.C. connectional polity, a brochure on the Messiah Biblical Institute and Joseph Rabinowitz Graduate School (now called the U.M.J.C. Yeshiva Institute), and a piece of evangelistic literature to accompany a concert of Messianic Jewish music. This brochure was very straightforward in its claims that "Messianic Jews believe Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Bible." [27] Finally, the current directory of the U.M.J.C. revealed that there were now seventy member congregations throughout the United States, Canada, and Israel. [28] This shows slow growth since the late 1980's, when there were about sixty congregations.

In order to understand Messianic Judaism better, it is essential to understand its underlying philosophy and theology. In a short article, Juster described the predominant philosophy of Messianic Judaism this way:

Messianic Jews affirm classical evangelical doctrines but express these doctrines in more Judaic terms. Messianic Jews also believe in the value of planting Messianic Jewish congregations as a home for Jews and Gentiles who desire a Jewishly rooted expression of their faith. These congregations reflect a corporate Jewish lifestyle greatly furthering the goal of fostering a New Covenant people movement in the Jewish community. By maintaining connections to their people, Messianic Jews have natural opportunities to share their faith. Furthermore, Messianic Jews believe they are called by God to maintain a biblically rooted Jewish life...

Varieties of opinion may be found on the place of the Law in this lifestyle. The basic consensus is that the Law has continued value in its universal moral principles... Also the Law is seen as a focus for defining Jewish lifestyle since it provides the roots of Jewish life in the memory maintained by feasts and other observances. Yet all must be celebrated with regard to Yeshua's...fulfillment in a new covenant context...

Messianic Jews are predominantly charismatic in orientation. The gifts of the Spirit are seen as important for accomplishing God's work. This emphasis is connected to the conviction that convincing Jewish people of the claims of Jesus will require a supernatural demonstration of God's kingdom.

Messianic Jews are usually Zionist. Some believe that Jewish people have a right to their land under standards of justice and mercy. Others see the present regathering to the land as the fulfillment of the biblical promise to Israel. Some see the present regathering as a stage of God's working to eventually bring the promised... ultimate salvation and reingrafting (Rom. 11). [29]

Juster went into all these issues in much greater detail in 1986 in Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology for Messianic Judaism. There he described the foundational nature of Torah and how all the biblical covenants are still in effect, except for the Mosaic covenant, which had the character of a national constitution for the people of Israel. He explained, without saying it directly, that the basic theology of Messianic Judaism is evangelical and that Messianic Jews practice the festivals and life-cycle events (circumcision, bar/bat mitzvah, marriage, death) in terms of their meaning "in the Messiah." He discussed how Yeshua fulfills the Law in the sense of "filling full" or completing the purpose of the Law, not abrogating it.

Juster went into great detail to explain that Yeshua's goal is not to do away with Israel's purpose as a nation. In this context, he argued with both dispensational and covenant theology, offering a different theology, based on Rom. 9-11: When all Israel is saved, they will continue as a nation but will be part of Yeshua's congregation, the church. He described how Paul maintained the validity of the Law for Jewish believers, but what Paul meant was not a system of works-righteousness but a system of national culture and heritage. He exegeted "difficult passages" in the Christian scriptures that seem to speak of anti-Messianic viewpoints but actually support Messianic views (see especially Gal. 3:28; if there were neither Jew nor Greek, there would be neither men nor women). He described Messianic Jewish practice and worship and noted that it could be Jewish as long as it was consistent with the whole Bible (the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures). Juster espoused a pre-millennial eschatology. [3 0]

David Stem, a Messianic Jewish layperson, Bible commentator, and theologian, provided an even clearer explanation than Juster about the relationship between Israel and the church, calling his approach "Olive Tree theology," after Paul's analogy in Rom. 11. Stern depicted the "cultivated olive tree" as the relationship between the church and the Jewish people throughout history. His time-line embraces 4,000 years and shows how Israel and the church grew apart after the entry of the first gentiles into the church, as well as how Israel and the church are growing together again with tie arrival of Messianic Judaism in the late twentieth century. He also showed a cross-section of the olive tree, with the church and Israel at specific points in history. This cross-section shows how the church and Israel separated completely by the fourth century; how Messianic Judaism restored the connection between the church and Israel by the late twentieth century; how, at the "end of days," all Israel shall be included in the church; and how "all Israel will be saved" (Ram. 11:26).

Stem's analysis seeks to show that the separation between the church and the Jewish people, which has developed over the last 2,000 years, is completely out of God's will, a terrible mistake, the worst schism in history. According to Stem, it is the task of Messianic Jews to rectify that mistake, to throw themselves fully into what Judaism calls tikkun-ha 'olam, literally "fixing up" and repairing the world. According to Jewish tradition, such activity hastens the coming of the Messiah; this corresponds to what Peter encouraged believers in Yeshua to do, namely, to hasten the coming of the Day of God. Stem held that Jewish people must be

brought to understand--freely, willingly, not by coercion or deception--that the age old goals of Jewish endeavor will be achieved only when the Jewish people come to understand and trust in yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. The church must be brought to understand--freely, willingly, not by coercion or deception--that its goals will be achieved only when any form of overt or covert antisemitism or stand-offishness has disappeared, and intimate unity with the Jewish people has been acknowledged. [31]


In order to try to place Messianic Judaism within the broader context of American religion, this author reviewed the literature on church-sect typology, a way of identifying differences among religious groups that was given its fullest early conceptualization by Ernst Troeltsch but was introduced into sociology by his teacher Max Weber and has since been used, expanded, and criticized by numerous sociologists. Primary interest at the beginning of this investigation was to develop a working concept of a "cult," since a number of Jewish groups consider Messianic Judaism to be a cult or at least cult-like. In this search, theological literature on cults was also consulted, because it defines "cult" differently from the sociological literature and is useful in attempting to categorize Messianic Judaism.

Troeltsch, in his 1912 book, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, established a church-sect typology that differentiates between two types of religious organizations but claims that both types are the logical results of the gospel. Troeltsch characterizes the church as conservative and universal, an integral part of the social order and dependent upon the upper classes. The church assumes a concrete, objective holiness, which it renders through tradition, priesthood, and sacrament An individual is born into the church and comes under its miraculous influence through infant baptism. Sects are comparatively small groups, which aspire toward inward perfection and aim at direct personal fellowship among the members of the group. Their attitude toward the world may be indifferent, tolerant, or hostile, since they have no desire to control overall social life. Individuals are not born into a sect; they enter it on the basis of religious conversion, and infant baptism is usually rejected. The sects are co nnected with the lower classes, or at least with those elements in society that are opposed to the state and society. [32] Troeltsch did not address the idea of a "cult" in this work.

Sociologists throughout the twentieth century have attempted to refine Troeltsch's typology. In 1929, H. Richard Niebuhr added the concept of "denomination," even as he rejected denominations as "an unacknowledged hypocrisy .... the accommodation of Christianity to the caste-system of human society." [33] J. Milton Yinger, in The Scientific Study of Religion (1970), greatly expanded the church-sect typology by characterizing religious organizations by three variables: (1) inclusiveness of the religious structures, (2) the extent of alienation from societal values, and (3) the extent of organization, complexity, and distinctiveness of the religious structures. [34] For the purposes of this investigation, it is useful to note how Yinger defined a "denomination" as church-like in its "substantial--though not perfect--harmony with the secular power structure" and how it is "characterized ... by norms of tolerance." [35] It is also useful to note Yinger's concept of "sect movement," defined as one that, "even from the beginning, develop[s] a rather complex structure, a hierarchy of leaders, and extensive plans and programs for dealing with the outside world," as distinguished from small, often one-unit sects that are ephemeral, lack structure, and come and go. [36] Yinger mentioned cults but paid scant attention to them.

Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge in a 1979 article criticized the traditional church-sect typology for theoretical reasons. They instead adopted the simplified definition of sociologist Benson Johnson: "A church is a religious group that accepts the social environment in which it exists. A sect is a religious group that rejects the social environment in which it exists." [37] Stark and Bainbridge also defined cults in this article as religious movements that "have no history of prior organizational attachment to a 'parent' religion." [38] Cults, therefore, represent innovation, something distinctive or new, or the importation of a religious body that is well established in another society. Cults, like sects, have a high state of "tension with their surrounding socio-cultural environment." [39]

Turning to the theological literature on cults, it is useful to examine the work of Walter Martin, whose 1965 book, The Kingdom of the Cults, set the tone for evangelical literature on the subject. Martin, a Baptist minister and an Evangelical holding to the inerrancy of scripture, wrote that "from a theological viewpoint, the cults contain many deviations from historic Christianity. Yet paradoxically, they continue to insist that they are entitled to be classified as Christians." [40] Martin believed that any religion was a cult if it did not accept that God became incarnate in Jesus; that Christ atoned for human sin through his death on the cross; that Christ rose bodily from the grave, conquering death and proving he is God; and that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. At certain points in his book, he even appears to have included Islam, Hinduism, and Reform Judaism among such "cults" as Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Science, Mormonism, the Unification Church, and Scientology. Martin criticized liber al Christian approaches to the cults thusly: "Liberal scholars have devoted themselves more to 'the way' than to 'the why' of the doctrines of the cults, and they have adopted the statement of Gamaliel as their creed [Acts 5:38-39]. Let it not be forgotten that Gamaliel's advice is not Biblical theology." [41]

A Jewish perspective on cults is represented by Prison or Paradise? The New Religious Cults (1980) written by Rabbi A. James Rudin and his wife Marcia R. Rudin. At the time, Rudin was Assistant National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee and later the National Interfaith Director of this national Jewish sociopolitical organization (now retired). This book basically agreed with the Stark and Bainbridge definition of a cult but went further in describing what distinguishes the new cults from those of the past. The Rudins included in this category such psychologically sophisticated techniques as "constant repetition of doctrine, application of intense peer pressure, manipulation of diet ..., deprivation of sleep, lack of privacy ..., complete break with past life, reduction of outside ... influences, ... the invention of new vocabulary and the manipulation of language to ... construct a new reality." Further, "These methods can bring about a complete personality transformation," wi th a cult member's becoming entirely subservient to a charismatic cult leader. [42]

In a further effort to try to place Messianic Judaism within the context of American religion, this author interviewed seventeen people representing the different points of view of Jews, Christians, and Messianic Jews and also reviewed three documents regarding Messianic Judaism, two from an evangelical and one from an interfaith standpoint. Finally, two websites were searched, one from a Jewish anti-missionary organization and one from the U.M.J.C. It is important to note that almost none of these sources could place Messianic Judaism into the sociological and theological typologies described above. They were familiar with Messianic Judaism but were apparently unfamiliar with the typologies.


In order to understand the Jewish point of view about Messianic Judaism, this author began by reviewing Rausch's report of one striking incident in Toronto in 1980, in which a Messianic Jewish singing group came to perform a concert that more than 200 Jewish demonstrators attempted to disrupt. Rausch said that the demonstrators' efforts were led by Rabbi J. Emmanuel Schochet, a member of the Lubavitch movement, who had his own personal crusade against "Hebrew Christian cults." Before the concert, Schochet's group distributed a leaflet headed "THE SOUL-SNATCHERS ARE AT IT. . AGAIN!" It declared that Congregation Melech Yisrael, the Messianic congregation sponsoring the concert, "is a Christian Missionary cult preying on Jewish youngsters in Toronto . . . under false pretences." [43] Rausch was horrified at what he saw: "Never before have I felt as I did that night. For once, I had seen religious oppression and hatred vented to an extent I never dreamed was possible in a free country."" He noted further:

Even though Rabbi Schochet's billing in synagogues was "The man most feared by the cults" and called for "elimination" of those he deemed cults, I did not believe that he would be happy with murder. But as a historian, I knew that words do become actions, people do get hurt, and communities do suffer from personal vendettas, whether religious or political. [45]

Contrary to Rausch's report, none of the Jews interviewed for this investigation thought that Messianic Judaism was a cult, in the sense that they understood cults. That is, they all believed cults to be religious organizations that are centered around a charismatic leader and that take away a person's individuality and isolate him or her from family and friends. This understanding was found among Jews along all points of the Jewish religious spectrum. Reform Rabbi Joshua Haberman, rabbi emeritus of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, one of the largest Jewish congregations in the United States, and a longtime active participant in interfaith dialogue, said that Messianic Judaism has grown rapidly, much to his chagrin. He said that this has happened because we live in an open society. He further characterized Messianic Judaism as an authentic denomination among American religions. [46]

Rabbi Rudin, a leading participant in interfaith dialogue, said that, although Messianic Judaism was not a cult, it had cult-like aspects. According to Rudin's personal opinion, these include the facts that Messianic Jews say that they are "completed Jews," that they observe Jewish holidays but distort their meaning, and that they are really a half-way house to move Jews into the church. He said that Messianic Jews are not Jewish--once you are baptized, you are not a Jew anymore--and that they had no right to declare themselves Jews after 2,000 years of history. He did note that "Hebrew Christians" were originally included in Prison or Paradise but that its editor deleted them because they did not really fit in with such groups as the Unification Church. [47]

Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, another national participant in interfaith dialogue, believes that Messianic Jews engage in deceptive proselytizing. In his 1984 book, What Christians Should Know about Jews and Judaism, Eckstein related an incident at "Congregation Adat Hatikvah" (Juster's former congregation), in which newly arrived Russian Jewish immigrants were invited to eat lox and bagels, watch a movie about science, and meet new American friends. In fact, Eckstein wrote, this Jewish-sounding congregation was a Hebrew Christian group meeting in a church. The program was sponsored by a Christian missionary organization; the movie shown was a proselytizing one; and the Bible given out was the Christian scriptures. Eckstein asked, "Is it any wonder that Jews are so deeply offended by such groups and tend to regard them as essentially no different from cults?" [48] This author spoke with a representative of Eckstein's organization, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, in September, 1998, wh o indicated that Eckstein's position on Messianic Jews had not changed. [49]

Finally, among Jews, this author spoke to Jerry Siegel, director of the New York office of Jews for Judaism, which bills itself as the nation's only "full service, anti-missionary, anti-cult organization." Siegel said that most Messianic Jews are ignorant Jews and gentiles who do not understand that Messianic Judaism is both a fraudulent Christianity and a fraudulent Judaism. He stated that Messianic Jews claim that they are practicing "biblical Judaism" but that they have adopted rabbinical Jewish practices, even as they claim to have rejected rabbinical Judaism and the Oral Law. Siegel said that today's Messianic Jews have no real link to first-century Jewish Christianity, as they claim to have. Rather, he stated that Messianic Judaism is just a device for proselytizing Jews by using Jewish symbols, rituals, books, and music to attract Jews. [50]

Siegel's ideas are echoed and expanded upon in an article on the Jews for Judaism website, which stated that self-styled "Messianic Judaism" is a form of Christianity that mimics rabbinic Judaism and that the question of whether such groups are Christian cults is a Christian problem. The article makes clear its position that 2,000 years of history have made Judaism and Christianity into separate faith systems that are incompatible. It also takes the following position:

Starting in the late 1960's, Christian missionary groups involved with Jewish evangelism (attempts to convert Jews to fundamentalist Christianity) began to increase their use of Jewish customs and traditions. More than ever before, their use of Jewish customs and traditions was seen as a more effective means of "witnessing" to the Jewish community. In the forefront of this type of evangelization was what caine to be called the "Messianic Jewish movement." This movement includes, among others, all those groups advocating what they see as a return to first-century style Jewish-Christian worship, with certain twentieth century modifications. Citing the Jewish roots of Christianity as justification for this style of worship, the proponents of the so-called "Messianic Jewish movement" have often presented a confused and contradictory theology. Often they allow people to think that the movement is something other than it really is [that is, that the movement is Jewish rather than Christian]. [51]

In order to determine how Christians of various backgrounds regard Messianic Judaism, Rausch's observations again provide a good starting point. He said that "this is one of the few issues that Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants agree upon, although for slightly different reasons. Evangelicals are against Messianic Jews who were 'too Jewish.'" [52] In fact, the editors of two important evangelical publications, Christianity Today and Eternity, even went so far as to censor articles that appeared to be too supportive of Messianic Judaism. [53] Mainline Protestants were more concerned "about Hebrew Christian 'Jews for Jesus' evangelism (with Messianic Jews lumped in)." [54] This was generally because they accepted the Jewish idea that, following the Holocaust, every Jew converted to Christianity was another Jew shoved into Hitler's ovens.

This agreement among Evangelicals and mainline Christians appears to have changed somewhat by 1998. Dr. Jay Rock, Director of Interfaith Relations of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., was consulted for the mainline position on this issue. Rock personally opposes "Jews for Jesus" type evangelism for the reason listed above; he said that he used to be appalled when his own congregants supported this evangelistic organization. He indicated that the N.C.C.C. has no official position on Messianic Judaism but has had a lot of experience with it. While Rock would not call it a cult, he thinks that Messianic Jews are trying to do the impossible--that is, to remain Jewish and also be Christian. He believes that they are basically Christians who are denying 2,000 years of history in trying to combine the two religions. He also believes that the Jewish community has the right to determine who is and is not Jewish, particularly in light of the Holocaust. [55]

For an interfaith point of view that includes that of mainline Protestants (as well as that of Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and various Eastern religions), this author consulted a "Statement on Proselytization," published by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, DC, on March 16, 1987. This statement specifically condemns Jewish Christian groups for deceptive proselytizing of vulnerable groups such as the aged, the ill, confused youth, and college students away from home. The statement defines deceptive proselytizing as those efforts that delegitimize the faith tradition of the person whose conversion is being sought. It says, most specifically:

Examples of such practices are those that are common among groups that have adopted the label of Hebrew Christianity, Messianic Judaism or Jews for Jesus. These groups specifically target Jews for conversion to their version of Christianity, making the claim that in accepting Jesus as the savior/messiah, a Jew "fulfills" his/her faith. Furthermore, by celebrating Jewish festivals, worshipping on the Jewish sabbath, appropriating Jewish symbols, rituals and prayers in their churches and, sometimes, even calling their leaders "Rabbi," they seek to win over, often by deception, many Jews who are sincerely looking for a path back to their ancestral heritage. [56]

For an evangelical point of view, this author consulted Dr. Marvin Wilson, Professor of Biblical Studies at Gordon College, a nationally-known expert in interfaith relations. Wilson spoke both of his own views and of the views of Protestants in general toward Messianic Judaism. In his own view, Messianic Judaism is a "culturally and ethnically Jewish attempt to wrap Christian expression." He said that the movement is "a little phony" on Jewish practice; that is, it has people from secular Jewish backgrounds doing things that were not a part of their former life. Wilson also said that Messianic Jews are not always forthright in identifying themselves, although he provided a counterexample in which a Messianic spiritual leader near Boston met with the local clergy and was upfront about who he was, calling himself a "rabbi." Wilson said he believed that many members of Messianic congregations were disenfranchised individuals of different sorts--Jews from nonreligious backgrounds, or gentiles looking for their J ewish roots--all of whom find Messianic congregations "therapeutic."

Wilson commented that the Messianic movement has created an enigma for the Christian community. He said that liberal Christians believe proselytizing has become out of vogue since the Holocaust, and they tend to listen to Jewish leaders who tell them to reject Messianic Jews. He also said that Evangelicals are divided on this issue. Centrist or liberal Evangelicals usually do not give an outward platform to the movement, because they do not want to hurt relations with the Jewish community. They do, however, regard Messianic Jews as "brothers and sisters in the Lord." More fundamentalist and right-wing Evangelicals gladly support Messianic Jews and provide money for their enterprises, because they believe in the imperative of converting everyone, including Jews. [57]

A 1976 news release by Fuller Theological Seminary on support for Jewish Christian groups provides an example of those Evangelicals who do support Messianic Judaism. This release stated in part:

In our day we are encouraged that thousands of Jewish people are coming to the Messiah. This being so, we cannot but call upon the Christian community to renew its commitment to share lovingly the Gospel of Jesus with the Jewish people. And we heartily encourage Jewish believers in him, including those who call themselves Messianic Jews, Hebrew-Christians, and Jews for Jesus, to retain their Jewish heritage, culture, religious practices and marriage customs within the context of a sound biblical theology expressing Old and New Testament truth. Their freedom in Christ to do this cannot but enrich the Church in our day. [58]

Further, the evangelical press seems to have modified its position on Messianic Judaism. A recent article in Christianity Today reported very matter-of-factly about the movement and its worldwide growth since 1967 and the Six-Day War. Earlier attempts at censorship in this publication appear to have been replaced by a straightforward interest in the "Jewish Church." [59]

For a Roman Catholic position on Messianic Judaism, this author consulted Eugene Fisher, a staff member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Fisher said that the Church's attitude toward Jews, as it was articulated at Vatican II, affects its position on Messianic Judaism. The Roman Catholic Church also agrees with Jews that they alone have the right to define what constitutes Judaism. Fisher said that he believes that Messianic Jews are Fundamentalists who are trying to convert Jews. He also believes that Messianic Judaism pretends to represent a valid form of Judaism, when it does not. Further, Messianic Judaism tries to ignore 2,000 years of history with Judaism and Christianity as separate religions. Fisher said, "You can't do Yom Kippur (the Jewish Day of Atonement) and Good Friday; they are theologically incompatible." [60]

In examining various responses to Messianic Judaism, this author also explored what Messianic Jews had to say about themselves. Rausch reported the quintessential Messianic Jewish self-attitude by quoting the leader of an American congregation who asked, "Why are they so mad at us? It is as though they have kept a well-guarded secret that Judaism and Christianity are not incompatible and we have exposed their little game!" [61]

Juster took on the concept of "cult" directly in his 1985 book Dynamics of Spiritual Deception, in which he described his experiences in the early 1970's with a church he termed "cultic." Interestingly, he concluded that a strong cultic figure is not necessary for the development of a cultic community. Rather, he believed that inadequacy of leadership under "proper spiritual authority" was more crucial in leading to the problem. [62] In Growing to Maturity, his 1982 Messianic discipling guide, Juster elaborated on the difference between cultic and biblical authority: "The cult leader says, 'Depend on me for knowledge and direction without question.' But Scripture enjoins us to try all things and prove that which is good." [63]

In Jewish Roots, Juster described Messianic Judaism as a grassroots movement. In general it is a movement among Jewish and nonJewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth who believe that it is proper and desirable for Jewish followers of Jesus to recognize and identify with their Jewislness. This Jewish lifestyle is to be maintained only as it is consistent with the whole of biblical teaching [i.e., the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures]. Congregations fostered by Messianic Jews serve as a primary means of facilitating the goals of Jewish outreach and evangelism....The author sincerely believes Messianic Judaism to be a miraculous supernatural movement of the Spirit of God. Messianic Judaism is a babe: immature, babbling and learning to walk. It is, however, a child of God. [64]

For current observations of the movement, this author interviewed two Messianic Jewish leaders and searched the U.M.J.C. website for information about the movement and the Union in particular. Jerry Miller, former assistant spiritual leader of Beth Messiah Congregation of Rockville, Maryland, the largest congregation in the U.M.J.C., said that Messianic Judaism is an "expression of the body of Christ that is Jewish in flavor." He said that it is definitely not a cult, because cults have leaders that impose their will and take away people's individuality. He said that traditional Jews call Messianic Judaism a cult because that is an explanation for why their children embrace Jesus. Miller emphatically stated that the U.M.J.C. is not a denomination; rather, it is a loose affiliation, a "unity blend of Messianic congregations, all committed as part of the Messianic movement." He stressed that there is a difference in practice from congregation to congregation and that the U.M.J.C. simply imposes standards of in tegrity. He answered questions about deceptive proselytizing by stating that his congregation is upfront about what it believes. [65]

Russ Resnik, vice president of the U.M.J.C. and spiritual leader of Adat Yeshua congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also said that the U.M.J.C. is not a denomination. Rather, it is less structured than a denomination and is an affiliation of independent congregations in order to strengthen impact and accountability. According to Resnik, the U.M.J.C. provides a common forum for congregations to learn from each other. He said that member congregations presently have a "healthy diversity," ranging from traditional Jewish to "third wave" charismatic renewal, but he hopes for more uniformity in the future. [66]

Finally, the U.M.J.C. website was reviewed for any useful information about how to classify the Union. Two interesting documents appeared there. First, an article by Juster, "Models of Accountability," grapples with an appropriate polity for the Messianic congregational movement. His conclusion is that congregations function best with a plurality of elders under a head spiritual leader at the local level. He believes that authority beyond the local congregation is "covenantly relational and not primarily legal." Regarding national bodies, such as the U.M.J.C., Juster stated:

National bodies perform best as service organizations. This may be done by congregations directly or through a representation of joint congregational councils. Efficiency is the rule. National bodies hence perform best as service organizations. Due to their spread out nature, national bodies best function as the coming together of joint apostolic flows and councils that are accepted in their own authority while providing a place for apostolic leaders to develop covenant relationships leading to mutual accountability. The leaders of a national body are recognized by other leaders. These recognized leaders function in similar plurality and mutual accountability under a recognized leader (president, Apostle, director, etc.) [67]

Additionally, the website provided the bylaws of the U.M.J.C. These are very simple and deal with such matters as objectives, membership (including reasons for suspension from the U.M.J.C.), board of directors, officers (there are four at any time), business-meeting procedures, finances, and appendices on "Standards for Messianic Jewish Congregations" and "Criteria for Chartering Messianic Jewish Congregations." The Standards are very similar to those available at the U.M.J.C. conference. The criteria are also very simple, requiring that a member congregation should have at least ten Messianic Jewish members, should meet on Friday night or Saturday morning for worship, and should send two delegates to be its official representatives to the U.M.J.C. [68]


Given what this investigation has discovered about how to classify Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C., this author will now attempt to give an operational definition of what they are. This is not a simple task, because they do not fit the standard church-sect typology or theological ideas about what constitutes a cult. The primary framework for this analysis will be sociologist Ronald Johnstone's refinement of Troeltsch's typology, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor's ideas about cults in his A Jewish Response to Cults, and Martin's definition of a cult.

First of all, Johnstone, in Religion in Society, described the church as an ideal type that

(1) claims universality and includes all members of the society within its ranks;... (2) exercises religious monopoly and tries to eliminate religious competition; (3) is very closely allied with the state and secular powers;... (4) is extensively organized as a hierarchical bureaucratic institution with a complex division of labor, (5) employs a professional, full-time clergy who possess the appropriate credentials of education and formal ordination; [and] (6) almost by definition gains new members through natural reproduction and the socialization of children into its ranks. [69]

The only sense in which Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. resemble the "church-type" is that some spiritual leaders are full-time and have attended the Union's seminary, and there has begun to be a concern over the religious socialization of the children of the movement's founding members.

Johnstone contrasted the "church-type" with the "sect-type." The sect (1) "sees itself as a fellowship of the elect ... an embodiment of true believers"; (2) "encourage[s] spontaneity of religious expression involving extensive group participation"; (3) "de-emphasize[s] organization and strive[s] to maintain maximum democratic participation of members within an explicitly nonbureaucratic structure"; (4) "is usually small, and deliberately so"; (5) "utilize[s] laypeople as leaders" (especially those with charisma); (6) "emphasizes purity of doctrine and usually demands a return to original religious teaching"; (7) "emphasizes traditional ethical principles and strives to influence its members along a broad spectrum of behavior"; (8) "tend[s] to concentrate on otherworldly issues (salvation, deliverance, heaven and hell) and discount[s] or deprecate[s] this world's concerns"; (9) "gains new members primarily through conversion . . . of adults"; and (10) "draws disproportionately from the lower social classes i n the society." [70] Johnstone concluded that "the prime characteristic of a sect" is "protest against . . . established traditional religious . . . groups" and against "the surrounding secular society, which is viewed as embodying all kinds of evil." [71]

Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. resemble Johnstone's description of the sect in only some respects. Messianic Jews do not see themselves as the embodiment of true believers, but they do believe that are a "restoration movement," reinstating the theology and practice of the early Jewish church. Messianic Judaism does encourage spontaneity of expression--most Messianic congregations are charismatic--and tend to be free in worship forms. Also, Messianic congregations encourage extensive group participation; members are encouraged to live near each other and make the congregation the center of their lives. Unlike Johnstone's sect, however, Messianic congregations do not strive for democratic participation of members but encourage congregational submission to a plurality of elders. Juster specifically rejected the democratic model of congregational government as unbiblical and noted that it leads to dissension as people compete for positions of authority within the organization. Messianic Judaism as a whole is no longer small and aims to continue growing. In fact, according to Resnik, there are now about 5,000-10,000 Messianic Jews in Messianic congregations in the United States, compared to none before the Jesus-movement explosion of the late 1960's. [72] Juster and others see the movement as God's working among the Jewish people toward the end-time, which they think may be soon.

Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. are moving away from having laypersons as the primary leaders. The Union has established the U.M.J.C. Yeshiva Institute to train spiritual leaders. This institution is still unaccredited, but its existence indicates the desire of the U.M.J.C. to move toward a theologically trained spiritual leadership. It does not appear that the element of personal charisma is more important in the Union than in other religious groups. Certainly, Juster is a central figure; he is the Union's chief theologian, was its first president, and is the former senior spiritual leader of its largest congregation. However, others have also served as U.M.J.C. president, and he is by no means the object of worship or slavish devotion.

Messianic Judaism espouses conservative evangelical principles, such as opposing abortion and women's ordination. In this sense, it does not concentrate solely upon otherworldly issues. Salvation by faith through grace, however, is important to them, as it is to Protestantism in general and evangelicalism in particular. Juster, in Jewish Roots, maintained that belief in Yeshua is necessary for everyone's salvation, even as he held that the continuing existence and identity of Israel is what Paul meant by his "olive tree" analogy in Rom. 11. At first, in the 1970's, the Messianic movement and the U.M.J.C. gained new members primarily through the conversion of adults; that is, Jews, by baptism, became Messianic Jews. The issue of gentiles who wanted to associate themselves with Messianic congregations was discussed by the U.M.J.C., which maintained, as in the first century, that gentiles did not have to become Jews to join a part of the body of Yeshua. Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C., unlike Johnstone's des cription of a sect, do not draw primarily from the lower classes of society. Most Messianic Jews are white and middle- to upper-middle-class, although there are some Messianic congregations that are primarily blue-collar. Finally, Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. are not primarily protests against established religion and society. Rather, they are an attempt to recreate a viable Jewish Christianity and, in the process, to attract Jews to Jesus. On balance, it appears that Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. have many sect-like characteristics but are not a pure sect type.

Johnstone noted that the denomination "is in a mediating position between the church and the sect, and as such is the most important addition to the original dichotomous church-sect typology" of Troeltsch. [73] denomination (1) "is similar to the church, but unlike the sect, in being on relatively good terms with the state and secular powers"; (2) "maintains at least tolerant and usually fairly friendly relationships with other denominations in a context of religious pluralism"; (3) "relies primarily on birth for membership increase, though it will also accept converts"; (4) "accepts the principle of at least modestly changing doctrine and practice, and tolerates some theological diversity and dispute--something a true sect will not do"; (5) "follows a fairly routinized ritual and worship service that explicitly discourages spontaneous emotional expression"; (6) "trains and employs a professional clergy who must meet certain formal normative requirements before certification"; (7) "recognizes competing deman ds from other affiliations upon its members' commitment and involvement;" and (8) "draws disproportionately from the middle and upper classes of the society." [74]

Despite the comments of U.M.J.C. leaders, Messianic Judaism and the Union appear to have several characteristics in common with Johnstone's denomination type. First of all, as mentioned in connection with the sect, they do try to maintain friendly relationships with other denominations, particularly with Evangelicals. They also hope to develop good relationships with the Jewish community. They are beginning to rely on birth for membership increase--note the theme of the 1998 conference: "From Generation to Generation"--although they still seek converts through low-keyed evangelistic programs. They appear to accept the idea of modestly changing doctrine and practice, since the movement is young and still working out how it can be Jewish and Christian at the same time. They do not, however, appear to follow a routinized ritual. The congregational polity of the U.M.J.C. still permits considerable diversity in practice, although if it moves toward using a Messianic siddur, this may change. As stated above, the U .M.J.C. is beginning to train and employ a professional spiritual leadership, and it appears to draw primarily from the middle and upper-middle classes of society.

This author looked particularly to see whether the U.M.J.C. had a denominational structure, a hierarchy, and central control mechanism of any kind that would resemble that of typical American denominations. At the 1998 conference, a copy of a brochure was obtained that described the U.M.J.C.'s structure, and it appears from the brochure that the Union has a loose confederation structure, perhaps resembling that of the Southern Baptists.

The brochure poses the question--"Why be connected? Why not be fully independent?"--which it answers in a way that indicates that the U.M.J.C. has some denominational features. "Connecting," for the U.M.J.C., (1) fosters our common vision and greatly advances the kingdom of G-d; (2) provides accountability (The Union requires all congregations to meet basic biblical doctrinal and moral standards. When ultimate moral and doctrinal standards are violated, the Union provides a structure for correction, rebuke, and removal of those congregations from U.M.J.C. membership who are in error.); (3) provides mutual support in times of need; (4) provides a financial base to expand congregations through planter's programs, educational materials, discipleship materials, and communications and clearinghouse functions; (5) provides standards for certification and the ordination of Messianic leadership; (6) provides a system for transfer of members between congregations with standards that build mutual loyalty and support f or local congregational discipline; and (7) provides mature leaders who can be called upon to help resolve congregational disputes. [75]

Johnstone's definition of a cult applies only in small part to Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. A cult

is similar to a sect in its rejection of the religious patterns and formulations of denominations--or of whatever the society's dominant form(s) of religion happens to be.... The cult differs from the sect, however, in that the former does not call for a return to the original, pure religion, but rather emphasizes the new--a new revelation or insight provided by a supernatural power... or the rediscovery of an old revelation that had been lost and unknown these many years (and which is therefore new to this age). Cults thus tend to be out of the mainstream of the dominant religious system in a society. Although there will usually be some overlapping of ideology and terminology, cults deliberately contrast themselves with dominant traditional religious groups.... [C]ults frequently employ new terminology and symbols.... The themes of cults tend to be mystical and esoteric. Further, a cult is more likely than any other type of religious group to be centered around a charismatic leader...

... Cults seldom develop much of an organizational structure, often tend to remain small and informal, and can be quite casual about membership requirements.

Cults tend to be rather transitory and short-lived. ... Occasionally, however, a cult persists, develops a structure and means of leadership succession, grows in size, and actually moves toward denominational status... Although a few writers have placed the cult beyond the extreme end of the church-sect continuum, another way of viewing it is to see it as an alternate to the sect at one end which may move onto the continuum at some point and give evidence of evolution toward denominational...status. [76]

The main sense in which Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. resemble Johnstone's definition of a cult is that they are out of the mainstream of society and that their validity is rejected by all Jews and many Christians. Further, they may be looked at as innovative and new if one dates Messianic Judaism to 1967 or 1975. In another sense, however, they are not innovative but are merely the outgrowth of nineteenth-century Hebrew Christianity.

Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. might be considered cult-like if Bretton-Granatoor's definition of a cult were added to Johnstone's. Bretton-Granatoor has provided a list of cults and "other groups" that includes Jews for Jesus, Hebrew Christians, and Messianic Jews (Chosen People Ministries and Ariel Ministries), as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, and Scientology. He was careful to say that this list includes some groups that are not cults, but he did not specify which ones. [77] His definition of a cult fairly closely follows that of the Rudins, with one important addition--that of deception. Bretton-Granatoor wrote:

Destructive cults commonly recruit new members and engage in fundraising activities without fully disclosing the use of mind-controlling techniques or the real nature of the organization. They often hide behind various front groups. They are frequently secretive or vague with regard to the true nature of their beliefs and activities. They generally lie in order to get members to join and stay. [78]

If various reports that Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. use deceptive proselytizing techniques are to be believed, they might be considered cult-like in this respect. However, in ten years of observing the movement, this author has never personally seen any deceptive proselytizing. All the congregations observed and literature read have been extremely up-front about what Messianic Jews believe and what Messianic congregations are: homes for Jews and gentiles who believe in Jesus and want to celebrate their Jewish identity by living a Jewish lifestyle. Therefore, Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. may be considered cult-like by some observers but not by others.

Finally, this author would like to compare Martin's definition of a cult with what has been discovered about Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. Most interestingly, Martin went into great detail in The Kingdom of the Cults about the Seventh-day Adventists and their observance of the Sabbath and the food laws found in the Hebrew Bible. He concluded that Seventh-day Adventism is a Christian denomination and that "it is perfectly possible to be a Seventh-day Adventist and be a true follower of Jesus Christ despite certain heterodox concepts...which are definitely out of the mainstream of historic Christianity and which I have taken pains to refute." [79] This author believes that Martin might look at Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. in the same way, given their evangelical bent.

An interesting example of Martin's argument is his exegesis of Gal. 4:10-11 ("You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted." N.R.S.V.) Martin stated that Paul's epistle to the Galatians was primarily a massive theological effort to bolster the young church against the Judaizers who added to the gospel of grace "another gospel" and sought to "pervert the gospel." He stated that, after studying Seventh-day Adventist literature, it was his opinion that the overwhelming majority of Adventists do not actually consider themselves "under the law," but they failed to realize that by trying to enjoin Sabbath and food-law observance upon other members of the body of Christ, they were in serious danger of transgressing the gospel of grace. [80]

Juster exegeted this passage differently to support Messianic Judaism. He wrote in Jewish Roots that the "special months and years" are not found in scripture, except for the seventh sabbatical year when slaves were freed and the land was given beneficial rest. He continued:

According to what we know of the region of Galatia historically, Paul is writing to pre-dominantly non-Jewish people. The full context has prompted many commentators to hold that Paul here is not speaking of Jewish biblical celebrations. There must have been another problem in Galatia, it is thought. This problem is acknowledged to be connected with astrology... Apparently, what Paul refers to is a drift into superstition connecting to special years, days and seasons--akin to astrology. There may have been a perverted Jewish content added to some of this. Certainly this passage has nothing to say against Jewish people celebrating God's grace in their history through feasts of Israel. [81]

In conclusion, it might be said that Messianic Judaism and the U.M.J.C. have certain church, denomination, and sect-like characteristics. In fact, they most resemble Yinger's "sect movement" that is on its way to becoming a denomination. They may also have certain cult-like characteristics if one believes the many reports of deceptive proselytizing of vulnerable people. The way this author would finally like to classify them comes from theologian R. Kendall Soulen, an expert on relations between Israel and the church, author of an anti-supersessionstic book The God of Israel and Christian Theology, and a well-received presenter at the 1998 U.M.J.C. conference. Soulen has described Messianic Judaism as the "third rail" between Judaism and Christianity. That is, the topic of Jewish Christianity is like the third rail on a subway--you touch it and you get killed! Jews and Christians can talk about almost anything else today except Messianic Judaism. However it is classified, Messianic Judaism is still too hot t o handle. [82]

Francine K. Samuelson is a program manager for the Patent Term Adjustment Program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. She has been a human-resources analyst for the Federal government, 1971-86, 1992-94, and since 1999. She has a BA from Vassar College, where she was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa, and a Master of Theological Studies summa cum laude (2000) from Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC. She is presently working on a Ph.D. in religion through distance learning with Dan Cohn-Sherbok at the University of Wales.

(1.) Daniel Juster, Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology for Messianic Judaism (Rockville, MD: Davar Press, 1986), pp. 135-136. Juster is the primary theologian of the Messianic Jewish movement, and this book provides the basic theology for Messianic Judaism.

(2.) David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity, Texts and Studies in Religion 14 (New York and Toronto: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1982), p.26. This book, though a bit dated now, is still one of the basic texts on Messianic Judaism from a historian outside the movement.

(3.) Daniel C. Juster, "Messianic Judaism," in Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, eds., Directionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Regency Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), p. 602.

(4.) Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p. 88. According to Rausch's book, the Messianic Jewish altitude is generally found in Messianic Jewish congregations, while the Hebrew Christian attitude is the backbone of the Hebrew Christian organizations doing missionary outreach to the Jews. This has changed overtime, as a number of missions have adopted congregations as an evangelistic tool, and a number of congregations at least invite missionaries to speak at their conferences.

(5.) Ibid., p. 42; emphasis in original.

(6.) Juster, "Messianic Judaism," p.602.

(7.) Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p.43; emphasis in original.

(8.) Ibid., pp. 100-101.

(9.) Ibid., pp. 71-72.

(10.) Ibid., p. 72.

(11.) Ibid., p. 76; emphasis in original.

(12.) Ibid., p. 77.

(13.) Ibid., p. 104.

(14.) Ibid., p. 105.

(15.) Ibid. p 106.

(16.) Ibid., p. 32.

(17.) Daniel C. Juster, "Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations," in Burgess and McGee, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements p. 856. An unidentified member of Adat ha Tikveh, Juster's former congregation, said at the July, 1998, U.M.J.C. conference that the U.M.J.C. had formed separately from the M.J.A.A. because of a "clash." According to Gary Thomas, the M.J.A.A formed its own union of c regulations, the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (L.A.M.C.S.), in 1986 (Gamy Thomas, "The Return of the Jewish Church," Christianity Today 42 [September 7, 1998]: 68). The L.A.M.C.S. is now the largest union of Messianic congregations, with ninety affiliate members. Thomas said that the rift between the M.J.A.A. and the U.M.J.C. has now "healed" and that a possible merger between the two organizations might occur in the future (Thomas, "Return," p. 66).

(18.) Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p. 191; and Conference Program from the 1998 U.M.J.C. conference.

(19.) Rausch, Messianic, Judaism, p. 191.

(20.) Ibid., p. 192.

(21.) Ibid.

(22.) Ibid., pp. 193-195.

(22.) Ibid., p. 195.

(24.) U.MJ.C. 1998 conference materials. This session was officially open only to U.M.J.C. spiritual leaders and their spouses. Though nonleaders were repeatedly asked to leave by the session chairs, this author did not leave. Apparently, their concern was that lay members of the U.M.J.C. not see how unresolved the movement still is over Jewish practice.

(25.) 1998 U.M.J.C. Conference Program. Anti-missionaries are Jews who "wish to inject doubt into the hearts of Messianic Jews in the hope of destroying their faith in Jesus." The conference program indicated that the U.M.J.C. had a special security team to deal with any anti-missionaries who might try to disrupt the conference.

(26.) U.M.J.C. Doctrinal Statement.

(27.) U.M.J.C. July, 1998, Concert Flyer.

(28.) U.M.J.C. Directory. This makes the U.M.J.C. the oldest but not the only, current organization for Messianic congregations. Gary Thomas stated that the largest is the I.A.M.C.S. which is close in spirit and practice to the U.M.J.C. and that a smaller organization is the Federation of Messianic Congregations, which has about twelve congregations and is more conservative doctrinally. (Note: The Federation is now defunct.) Thomas said that these three groups account for about ninety percent of the approximately 350 Messianic congregations in the world today (Thomas, "Return," p. 66).

(29.) Juster, "Messianic Judaism," p.603.

(30.) See Juster, Jewish Roots.

(31.) David R Stern, Messianic Jewish Menifesto (Jerusalem: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1988), pp. 47-59.

(32.) Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991 [orig., 1912]), pp. 331-343.

(33.) H. Richard Neibuhr, The Social Sources of Denominationalism (Hamden, CT: The Shoe String Press, 1954 [orig., 1929]), p.6.

(34.) J. Milton Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion (New York: The Macmillan, Co., 1970), pp. 259-260.

(35.) Ibid., p. 264.

(36.) Ibid., p. 273.

(37.) Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, "Of Churches, Sects, and Cults: Preliminary Concepts for a Theory of Religious Movements," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 18 (June, 1979): 123; emphasis in original.

(38.) Ibid., p. 125.

(39.) Ibid.

(40.) Walter [Ralston] Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1985 [originally published 1965]), p. 11.

(41.) Ibid., p. 13.

(42.) A. James Rudin and Marcia R. Rudin, prison or Paradise? The New Religious Cults (Philadelphai: Fortress Press, 1980), pp. 16-17.

(43.) Rausch, Messtanic Judaism, p. 215.

(44.) Ibid, p. 221.

(45.) Ibid, p. 227; emphasis in original.

(46.) Joshua Haberman, telephone interview with author, September 9, 1998.

(47.) A. James Rudin, telephone interview with author, September 4, 1998.

(48.) Yechiel Eckstein, What Christians Should Know about Jews and Judaism (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1984), Pp. 297-298. The issue of deceptive proselytizing is a complicated one and goes beyond the scope of this essay. Some Jews believe that Messianic Jews are deceptive just because they believe it is possible to remain Jewish while believing in Jesus. Others maintain that the deception lies in not being open about what they believe or misusing Jewish sancta. Note that Eckstein confuses Hebrew Christians with Messianic Jews, as many other Jews and Christians do. Despite Rausch's clarification, this remains a common misperception.

(49.) Joan Watson, telephone conversation with author, September 15, 1998.

(50.) Jerry Siegel, telephone interview with author September 23, 1998.

(51.) "Is the Christian Movement Called 'Messianic Judaism' a Form of Judaism?", 1-2. Note that this article also fails to distinguish among Jewish Christian groups.

(52.) Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p.244.

(53.) Ibid., p.243.

(54.) Ibid., p.244.

(55.) Jay Rock, telephone interview with author, September 23, 1998.

(56.) Statement on Proselytization by the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, March 16, 1987. The issue of deceptive proselytizing seems impossible to avoid with Messianic Judaism. Note here also the confusion of Jewish Christian groups.

(57.) Marvin Wilson, telephone interviews with author, September 9, 1998, and September 25, 1998.

(58.) See Fuller Theological Seminary News Release, May 12, 1976, in Juster, Jewish Roots, pp. 296-297. Note the early date of this release, its confusion among Jewish Christian groups, and its connection to Jewish evangelism.

(59.) Thomas, "Return," pp. 62-29.

(60.) Eugene Fisher, telephone interview with author, August 16, 1999.

(61.) Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p. 248.

(62.) Daniel C. Juster, Dynamics of Spiritual Deception (Bethesda, MD: Messianic Vision Press, 1985), pp. 55-56.

(63.) Daniel C. Juster, Growing to Maturity (Rockville, MD: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation, 1985), p. 135; emphasis in original.

(64.) Juster, Jewish Roots, pp. vii, ix Note that evangelism does play a part in Juster's conception of the Messianic movement.

(65.) Jerry Miller, telephone interview with author, September 28, 1998. This author wanted to interview Juster, but he was unavailable due to a recent tragedy in his family.

(66.) Russ Resnik, telephone interview with author, September 28, 1998.

(67.) Daniel C. Juster, "Models of Accountability,", p. 14.

(68.) "By-Laws of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations,"

(69.) Ronald L. Johnstone, Religion in Society: A Sociology of Religion, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Halls, 1983), pp. 79-80.

(70.) Ibid., p.78.

(71.) Ibid.

(72.) Russ Resnik, telephone conversation with author, November 4, 1998.

(73.) Johnstone, Religion in Society, p.80.

(74.) Ibid., pp. 80-81.

(75.) U.M.J.C. "Connecting" brochure. The concern for discipline and correction of error is very curious. It probably reflects the youthfulness of the movement and the need to keep everyone going in one direction.

(76.) Johnstone, Religion in Society, pp. 92-93.

(77.) Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ed., A Jewish Response to Cults (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations Press, 1997), p. 15. Note that Bretton-Granatoor has confused Hebrew Christians with Messianic Jews, by lumping chosen People Ministries and Ariel Ministries with Messianic Jews. These two ministries are Hebrew Christian evangelistic organizations.

(78.) Ibid., p.28.

(79.) Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, p. 409.

(80.) Ibid., p. 468.

(81.) Juster, Jewish Roots, pp. 114-115.

(82.) R. Kendall Soulen, telephone conversation with author, September 8, 1998.

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