Global Conference on Russian Jewish Church Planting
WARSAW, POLAND, SEPTEMBER 14-18
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Saturday Morning Worship Service and Lecture
The worship service on Saturday morning was reminiscent of a traditional, but abbreviated, synagogue service. Typical Saturday morning Jewish liturgical prayers were said and sung by a cantor (the rabbi who leads the service through chanting prayers) and the Torah portion from the Bible was read and one of the Messianic Russian Jewish leaders from Israel preached a brief sermon on the text.
The songs were sung in Hebrew, Russian and in Yiddish – a language that would have been heard often on the streets of Warsaw. Yiddish is a combination of both old German and some Slavic words, written in Hebrew characters. When spoken, the language sounds like German. The three million Jewish people who lived in Poland prior to the Holocaust probably spoke Yiddish as much or more than Polish. The rousing worship was thoroughly enjoyed by the attendees and quite a few got up to dance to some of the livelier Yiddish songs reminding the attendees of golden days gone by. This most likely served as a reminder of their grandparents who may well have spoken and sung in Yiddish many years ago.
Eventually, the music slowed and became more contemplative focusing the participants on the revelation of the God of Israel through His Son, Yeshua.
The Morning Lectures
This led to a quick break and the topic for the morning on The Law and Righteousness.
The first speaker, a Russian Messianic Jewish leader from Israel spoke about the importance of the Torah (the Law) as God’s tool of revelation to the Jewish people. He argued that the Law brought the Jewish people knowledge of God’s word and will. Therefore, the Torah must in one way or another remain part of the spiritual life of Messianic Jews. The Law did not and cannot save Jewish or Gentile sinners, but it does give us ample information, along with the New Testament about how we can live a righteous life in the power of the Holy Spirit. To ignore the Torah is a mistake, he reasoned, as a believer would lose more than half of what God has revealed to His people. He argues that fulfillment is no reason to jettison what came before.
In fact, through Yeshua’s death, resurrection and sending of His Spirit we are now empowered to live out His righteousness. This is done through practicality, living our lives and serving others. The expression of this internal righteousness through our actions is demonstrated authentically from what we believe. And this is the true power of our witness – not that we believe what is right. Although right belief is important, but that we do what is right as well.
The second speaker, who is originally from Kiev, Ukraine, but has lives in the United States for more than two decades, agreed with the previous speaker. The Bible – both Old and New Testament were kept from Russian Jews. Therefore, today, the Bible is viewed as more precious to them. The speaker had illustrations of some very practical passages found in the Torah that should not be ignored, including a litany of down to earth wisdom revealed by Moses in Leviticus 19.
Generally, the Russian Messianic Jews advocated the study of the Torah. Including the reading of it regularly in worship services and reading the five books of Moses through in a year. The New Testament of course should be read as well. However, both speakers believed that the Church generally does not appreciate the Old Testament in the same way as a Messianic Jew. This is a good example for the rest of the Body of Messiah – to study God’s word in the Old Testament more seriously.
Sunday Morning: Role of Non-Jews in a Messianic Congregation
The speaker was a leading Messianic Jewish leader in Israel. He stated that having Gentiles in Messianic congregations reminds us that all men are created in God’s image and should be welcomed irrespective of their race or nationality.
It is also a reminder that God chose Abraham to be a blessing to the nations and the presence of Gentiles in our congregations reminds us of our God-given role to bless the Gentiles today as well. Furthermore, Gentiles in our congregations are a reminder of our unity in the Messiah. We are one in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, and all maintaining our unique God-given identities.
Gentiles who join Messianic congregations often feel inferior. Therefore, they either try to become Jewish one way or another rather than simply identifying with the Jewish people in a similar way to Ruth – “thy people shall be my people.” And this can be accomplished without becoming Jewish.
In fact, it is unnatural for Gentiles to become Jews and Messianic Jews need to affirm Gentiles in their national identity so that we achieve a glorious unity in the Messiah, which is more in sync with the teaching of the New Testament.
In light of the tragic history between more institutional Christianity and the Jewish people: tensions still exist to this very day. Naturally, this leads to mistrust and misunderstanding which can only be resolved through mutual humility. By appreciating our diversity and making attempts to find reconciliation, though the actions needing reconciliation occurred many years ago.
This comes from the speaker’s perspective as a Russian Israeli. In Israel, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot and the Church has a Jewish majority. This is especially true of the Russian Messianic congregations. Arab, Russian Gentiles, or expatriates living in Israel who worship with Israeli Jewish believers and feel that they are on the margins of the congregation. This is often the feeling of Messianic Jews worshipping in Christian churches – especially in North America.
We all feel constrained to become identified with the majority culture in our church body though we might even understand God’s love for diversity. Those who attend Messianic congregations in Israel tend to try and become more Jewish and identify with the majority. But, the speaker suggests, Russian Messianic Jewish leaders in Israel should not encourage this, but rather remind Gentile believers that they are part of the Body and one with the Jewish followers of the Messiah. Gentiles are coheirs to the Abrahamic blessings and God also has a plan for non-Jews that are intertwined with His will and plan for the Jewish people.
The speaker, who serves with a Scandinavian Jewish mission operating in Israel, suggests that we need to go out of our way to encourage non-Jews to remain who they are and to feel comfortable in their own skin by showing an appreciation for their national identity and culture.
As mentioned, the Messianic movement and Jewish-Gentile relations within the body of Messiah in the Diaspora are different. Perhaps, the speaker has identified some lessons to learn for all parties and the Messianic movement within Israel is setting a good example for the way Jewish believers should be treated within the church in the Diaspora. The speaker believes that Messianic Jews in Israel should be welcoming of non-Jews and not require Gentile believers to live as Jews. We should not reinforce the feelings of inferiority of Gentile believers by encouraging them to become Jewish. We should encourage them to remain as they are and identify and fit in as non-Jews within the Messianic Jewish community as they are able.
The next speaker leads a Messianic congregation in the Pacific Northwest. He is originally from Ukraine and has a very different perspective than the previous speaker, a Russian Israeli.
This next speaker believes that the U.S.-based Messianic movement, both Russian and non-Russian, has a majority of Gentile believers in our congregations. He asked, what is the draw for them? Many even live a Jewish-oriented lifestyle and enjoy worshipping the Lord Jesus in a very Jewish way. They do not have an inferiority complex as they feel welcome and comfortable with Jewish traditions. The speaker says, “we welcome them to join our community and invite them to worship in a Jewish way.” He then gave the example of a Muslim who came to know Jesus and attends his congregation because he feels more comfortable and closer to the Jewish tradition than to historic Christian traditions.
The speaker reminded the group that one of the ways Messianic Jews fulfill the Abrahamic covenant is to bring a Jewish perspective on life and Scripture to the church and additionally, by welcoming Gentile believers into our Messianic congregations to receive these blessings.
The speaker suggests that the Gentiles who wish to identify with the Jewish people be embraced and encouraged, but not pressured to live a Jewish religious lifestyle (keeping kosher, observing holidays in the home, the usual times of prayer, etc.). Rather, welcomed into a Jewish, Yeshua-based community as full participants without conversion to Judaism. Thus, enabling them to avail themselves of the richness of Jewish tradition and experience that exalts Jesus as the one true Messiah for all.
This would encourage a deeper study of the below passage. Paul encourages Gentile followers of Jesus to reach Jewish people for Jesus by reminding them of the blessings brought to them by the first century unbelief of the Jewish people as following the Jewish Messiah does not require any type of formal conversion to a Jewish way of life.
Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! (Romans 11:12)
But, he adds, we need to remain open to those who, for one reason or another, sincerely wish to more fully identify with Jewish life and tradition, rooted and grounded in Jesus and Scripture.
We thank God for His faithfulness to the Jewish people and this conference is a testimony of His grace. The Russian Messianic movement also points the great day that Paul describes in Romans 11:25-26.
We look forward, in great anticipation, to this “end times” harvest of His chosen people and will continue to work toward this end by proclaiming the Gospel to Russian-speaking Jewish people and all those who need to know our Messiah – may His name – Yeshua – be blessed forever and ever!