Do We Need Messianic Synagogues? Biblical, Historic, And Pragmatic Issues -- By: William C. Varner

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 14:1 (Spring 2003)
Article: Do We Need Messianic Synagogues? Biblical, Historic, And Pragmatic Issues
Author: William C. Varner


Do We Need Messianic Synagogues?
Biblical, Historic, And Pragmatic Issues

William C. Varner

Dr. Varner is Professor of Bible and Director of the Israel Bible Extension (IBEX) program at The Master’s College, Santa Clarita, California.

This essay is a slightly expanded version of a chapter in a book on Messianic Congregations to be published by Zondervan in their “Counterpoints” series.

An assessment of the Messianic Synagogue movement is difficult because it exists in so many forms, but some general observations to cover all the forms are possible. Early in the twentieth century, a Jewish Christian named David Baron evaluated the Messianic Judaism of his day. In the movement he saw specific dangers for the body of Christ, stressing how the movement tends to destroy unity in the body of Christ by erecting a wall of partition between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Similar concerns about the Messianic Jewish movement prevail in its revival during the last several decades. They touch on biblical-theological matters, including the movement’s bringing into the present the Judaism that Paul relegated to the past (cf. Gal 1:13–16), its tendency to promote divisions among Christians (cf. Gal 3:28; Eph 2:11–22), its emphasis on the shadow rather than the substance of NT fulfillments (cf. Col 2:16–17), and its tendency to redefine Jesus’ deity. Other concerns arise in historical and pragmatic matters: a return to the Judaism of apostolic times is impossible; history teaches that Messianic Synagogues are not more effective in witnessing to the Jewish community; taking Jewish believers away from churches contributes to “Gentilization” of the church; Messianic Synagogues may become an excuse for the church to transfer efforts in Jewish evangelism; and emphasis on non-biblical Jewish observances is subject to Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees’ Oral Law. The early church in Antioch of Syria in its assimilation of Jewish and Gentile believers into one body offers a suitable model for the contemporary church to follow.

The one who writes about Messianic Judaism/Synagogues faces serious challenges. Not the least of these is what exactly to call the movement. The problem is that the term “Messianic” could possibly refer to any Jewish person who believes in a personal Messiah, whether or not that Messiah is identified with Jesus of Nazareth. For example, the Lubavitcher Hasidim fervently proclaim their belief in “Moshiach,” some even to the point of iden...

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