Israel: A Prophetic Sign?

Part III: Messianic Judaism and Christian Zionism 

Introduction

The first two parts of this project on Israel as a prophetic and eschatological sign explored the biblical, historical, and theological foundations of Israel from the calling of Abraham to our own day.  It examined the relationship between the Jewish people and the Church, seeing striking parallels between Israel's rejection of Christ and the Church's subsequent rejection of Israel.  It was seen that the failure of the Jews to recognize Christ was at least partly due to the Christians' ill treatment of them throughout history.

The theology of substitution developed by the Church Fathers, stating that God had revoked his election of Israel and replaced her by the Gentile Church had produced disastrous effects: it had justified the "teaching of contempt" that itself became the cause of centuries of vicious Christian anti-Semitism.  It shaped the Church's policy of assimilation where Jewish converts were forced to renounce their Jewish heritage to become joined to the Gentile Church.  This guaranteed the failure of the mission to the Jews by working in direct opposition to the divine will to keep the seed of Israel alive as a witness to all nations.  It also denied any positive role for the Jewish people in God's plan of salvation after Christ, and saw their perpetual exile and misery as a punishment for their having killed Christ.  From the Fathers' perspective, therefore, the possibility of their return to the land of Israel was unthinkable.

Yet the unthinkable happened - and more: Against all odds, in the aftermath of the tragedy of the Holocaust, the twentieth century has witnessed the miraculous re-birth of the state of Israel and the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland.  With the beginnings of Zionism in the mid-nineteenth century also began at the same time a renaissance of Hebrew Christianity, which later developed into the greatest Jewish revival since the early Church: Messianic Judaism.  The coincidence of the birth and development of these two movements is so remarkable that it is virtually impossible to talk about one without including the other.

This second part of our study of Israel as an eschatological sign will examine the twin modern phenomenon of Zionism and Messianic Judaism.  Special attention will also be given to the increasing number of Christians who, though they do not personally have Jewish roots and ancestry, have felt a particular solidarity with Israel and the Messianic Movement.

Since writings on the Messianic movement are still fairly sparse, I will document this paper by largely drawing on my personal experience with the Messianic movement while I lived in Israel for five years.

The Zionist Movement

Since the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and especially since their exile from Palestine in the last Jewish-Roman war (132-135 A.D.) the Jewish people had lost their ancient homeland.  Throughout their long dispersion Jews never forgot about Eretz Israel, which always remained present in their thoughts, prayers, study, and daily lives.  Year after year, at Passover, Jewish families would conclude their remembrance of the Exodus with the nostalgic yet hopeful proclamation: "Next year in Jerusalem!"  Further, a small Jewish presence always remained in the Holy Land, under foreign occupation century after century.

In 1896, following devastating pogroms in Russia and a resurgence of anti-Semitism in western Europe, Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, wrote Der Judenstaat, "The Jewish State," which pushed the formation of a political movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  The following year he convened the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in which the foundations for the State of Israel were laid: "Zionism aspires to establish a homeland for the Jewish people, guaranteed by international law, in the land of Israel."

Waves of Jews had already begun to return: some 25,000 between 1882 and 1903, and about 40,000 between 1904 and 1914.  In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration in which it viewed favorably "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."  In 1922, following the First World War, Britain was granted a mandate over Palestine.  By 1928, over 100,000 new immigrants had settled the land.  These numbers exploded in the fifth "aliyah" ("going up" - term to designate a wave of immigrants), which brought in 250,000 Jews between 1929 and 1939, especially after Hitler's rise to power in Germany.  Though the country then became closed for immigration, an estimated 115,000 illegal immigrants arrived in the country between 1934 and 1948.[1]

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a partition plan dividing Palestine into two sovereign states, one Jewish and the other Arab.  Six months later, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was officially founded.  Many have seen in the miraculous re-birth of the Jewish nation a fulfillment of Isaiah's 2,700-year-old prophecy:

Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. (Isa. 66:8)

Yet while the Jews agreed to the UN partition plan, the Arabs rejected it.  The day Israel declared her independence, five Arab nations declared war to the newborn Jewish nation, hopelessly outnumbered, with neither organized army nor adequate supply of weapons, and of whose combatants included many Holocaust survivors who had just gotten off boats bringing them from the death camps of Europe.  Miraculously, by the time the UN arranged a ceasefire between the warring parties, Israel held more than double the area of land that she had been allocated in the partition.  Against all odds, she had secured her right to live among the nations.

Early Christian Zionism

It is noteworthy that the rebirth of Israel was not instigated by any Jewish religious movement.  To the eyes of the historian, it seems to have come largely from secular, political, and nationalistic forces.  Yet since the seventeenth century there had been a steadily increasing number of Christians, especially among Protestants in Great Britain, who became convinced of the eventual restoration of the Jewish people to Palestine.  They viewed this return as a fulfillment of prophecy, linking it with the Second Coming of Christ and anticipating a simultaneous conversion of the Jews to Christianity.[2]  Arthur Kac, in his book The Rebirth of the State of Israel, documents how the number of these early Christian Zionists became impressive by the mid-19th century and included quite a number of high-ranked personalities.[3]  Only God knows how many of these joined their silent prayers to those of the Jews, petitioning the most High for the promised ingathering of His people.

Even the honest unbeliever must acknowledge the unique character of the re-birth of Israel in the timeline of human history.  It was the first time that a state was created by general consensus of the assembly of nations.  More, only after the tragedy of the Holocaust was this made possible, when the world's conscience was sufficiently struck - albeit briefly - by the immense plight of the Jews.  The abominable Nazi crimes against the Chosen People had created an exceptional, tiny window of opportunity in time where the world would agree to the creation of the Jewish State out of the ashes of the Holocaust.

Early Hebrew-Christians

To the prayers of religious Jews and Gentile Christians for the restoration of Israel were also added the prayers of a third group of no small importance: the Hebrew Christians.

Though there had always been Jewish converts in the Church, these had usually been forced to renounce their Jewish heritage when they became Christians.[4]  This began to change in the 19th century when a large number of missionary societies sprang up throughout England and the United States, dedicated to "winning the world" for Christ.  One of these was the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, later known as the London "Jews Society," which helped Jewish converts with their needs and struggles and promoted the rise of Hebrew Christianity.  Gradually, an increasing number of Christians with Jewish backgrounds became unashamed of their Jewish heritage and boldly proclaimed it. 

In 1866, the Hebrew Christian Alliance was formed in London.  Its object was to provide regular fellowship and interaction between "Christian Israelites."  The Hebrew Christian Rev. A.M. Meyer declared at their conference:

Let us not sacrifice our identity.  When we profess Christ, we do not cease to be Jews; Paul, after his conversion, did not cease to be a Jew; not only Saul was, but even Paul remained, a Hebrew of the Hebrews.  We cannot and will not forget the land of our fathers, and it is our desire to cherish feelings of patriotism...As Hebrews, as Christians, we feel tied together; and as Hebrew Christians, we desire to be allied more closely to one another.[5]

In 1903, American Hebrew Christians met for the "First Hebrew Christian Conference in the United States," having as goal to organize a Hebrew Christian Alliance of America.  The chairman of the conference, Rev. A.R. Kuldell, explained why Hebrew Christians should unite:

We cannot afford to forget the rock from which we are hewn.  We have indeed given up our people's [Jewish people's] unbelief [in Jesus Christ], but we cannot give up on our people.  We have joined the Church of the First Born composed of individuals called out of all nations to be a people unto His Name, but we have not and dare not give up our nationality.  Our nation [Jewish people] stands unique in God's plan of the ages.[6]

The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was founded in 1915, after the outbreak of the First World War.  One of the pressing problems that the Alliance wished to address was gentilization, or "the burning question how to stop the constant leakage of some of Israel's noblest sons and daughters getting Gentilized through their conversion and thus becoming a dead loss to their nation [Jewish people]."[7] Inseparable from this was the major goal and driving force of the Hebrew Christian movement: Evangelism.  The alliance considered the task of the propagation of the gospel to the Jews to be the prime responsibility of Hebrew Christians.  Its journal, the Hebrew Christian Alliance Quarterly lamented:

Who is to call Israel to Christ, awakening them from their stupendous sleep of nineteen hundred year, if not the Hebrew Christians?  Yes, it is the Hebrew Christian and the Hebrew Christian only, that must do it![8]

In 1925, the International Hebrew Christian Alliance was formed, with the goal of uniting Jewish Christian consciousness around the world.  Many secret Jewish believers in Jesus, including a number of rabbis, began to communicate with the executive, and leaders of the movement began to believe that " a revived Jewish Christian independent religious communion is within measurable distance of achievement."[9]

The Hebrew Christian Renaissance of the time was not only limited to the English speaking world.  In Russia, Joseph Rabinowitz (1838-1899), a Jewish intellectual who had found Christ while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1882, founded a Messianic synagogue in Kischineff called the "Synagogue of Congregation of Israelites of the New Covenant."  He received permission from the government and the Russian Church to preach to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Messiah, and so many Jews came to faith through his efforts that he became known as far as the Siberian and Persian borders, and even America.

Early Hebrew Catholics

Though there was no organized movement within the Catholic Church in the nineteenth century that matched the English and American Protestants' interest for the Jews and Israel, many notable cases of Jewish converts to Catholicism hint at a work of the Holy Spirit in raising God's ancient people back to life that transcended denominationalism.  Several of these were strongly influenced by the conversion of Rabbi Paul Drach in Paris in 1823.  Ronda Chervin, herself a Jewish convert, relates how Rabbi Drach "enjoyed the highest esteem as an author and a learned rabbi."  His baptism, therefore, "produced a most profound impression on all active and earnest minds of the rising generation" and "became the source of salvation to many of his coreligionists."[10]  Some of these included Blessed Francis Libermann and the French brothers Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne, who resettled in Palestine and founded there the Fathers and the Sisters of Zion in 1852, two congregations initially dedicated to prayer for and evangelization of the Jewish people.  The brothers were "convinced that the political emancipation of the Jews in the nineteenth century was a prelude to a spiritual liberation that would have its center in Jerusalem."[11]  Other Hebrew Catholics, all of who became priests, included the Jewish concert pianist Hermann Cohen, baptized by the Abbé Ratisbonne, and another pair of brothers, Joseph and Augustine Lemann, who urged Catholics to pray for the conversion of the Jews.  Also of note is Raissa Maritain (1883-1960), wife of the French philosopher Jacques Maritain.

Amidst the darkness of World War II shone a few stars that would become Hebrew Catholic lighthouses for future generations.  The most famous, Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, baptized in 1922) is recorded as having said to her sister as they were being taken away to their deaths in Auschwitz: "Come, let us go for our people."  Other notable conversions during the war included Jean-Marie Lustiger, present cardinal of Paris, and the chief Rabbi of Rome, Eugenio Zolli, who told of his conversion in his book Before the Dawn.                     

A Turning Point: 1967

On June 6, 1967, in the midst of the Six-Day War, Israeli troops reached the Western Wall and reestablished Jewish control over the city of Jerusalem for the first time in nearly 2,000 years.

Jesus had predicted that following the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem would be "trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Lk. 21:24)  It seemed like that time had come.

The year 1967 was also the beginning of the Jesus movement and of the Charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church.  The Jesus movement saw a large number of young hippies across America become Christians, many of them Jews in quest of genuine spirituality.  Several pastors of Messianic Congregations today relate how they came to faith in Christ in the heyday of this vibrant movement.  I have heard more than one of them relate back to the time of their conversion, saying: "I thought I was the only Jew in the world who believed that Jesus is the Messiah."

At the same time, the Catholic Church began to experience the fruits of the renewal that had been given a green light at the Vatican II council a few years earlier.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the restoration of spiritual charisms, along with the growth of the ecumenical movement and the Church's reformed attitude towards Judaism played an important part in increasing the desire for unity among Christians and for rapprochement between Christians and Jews.  This prepared the ground for the events that were to follow.

From Hebrew-Christians to Messianic Jews

Israel and the CrossThe Hebrew Christian Alliance of America, virtually without a youth movement in the 50s and early 60s, gained from the Jesus Movement a youthful surge that it did not expect with the influx of many new young Jewish believers in Jesus.  Rausch relates: "In Cincinnati, a Hebrew Christian who had been involved in Jewish evangelism for thirty years, Martin Chernoff [later leader of the Alliance], was shocked to see his nominally Christian sons and their friends "turned on" to Jesus at a prayer meeting in his home."[12]  Joel Chernoff, nineteen at the time and later the founder of Messianic music with his group Lamb, believed that "the Six-Day War and the ‘movement of the Spirit of God during the Jesus people generation' was responsible for their group of young people moving out of "nominal" Christian roles and becoming "on fire for God."  They began telling everyone they met about Jesus, evangelizing in restaurants and going out on the streets among the drug addicts to share with them.  They visited synagogues regularly, wearing big Stars of David.  This aroused the curiosity of the Jewish community who would draw them into conversation about what they believed.  Rausch continues: "They soon found that the term ‘Hebrew Christian' was awkward and that they spent most of their time explaining what it meant.  They began describing themselves as "Jews who believe in Messiah Jesus" and perhaps even used the term "Messianic Jews."  [13]

This deeper identification of the Hebrew Christian movement with Jewish heritage and culture gradually became so widespread that the H.C.A.A. voted in 1973 to change its name to the "Messianic Jewish Alliance."  The name of their publication was also changed to The American Messianic Jewish Quarterly, which defended the name change in the summer, 1975 in this manner:

For a long time the members of our Alliance felt that it was time to change our name to identify ourselves more with Messiah and with our people.  In the Bible our people were called Hebrews at the time of Abraham and the Exodus.  Then the name Israel and Judah became prominent...[After the Exile] Jews and Jewish people became the prominent term to describe our people. We felt that this name should be adopted to describe our race and people.  The word Hebrew describes rather the language that our people use in Israel...while the word Israel describes citizens of the State of Israel whether Jewish or Arab.  Messianic and Christian have exactly the same meaning.  The word Messianic relates to the Hebrew word Messiah which means "The Anointed One."  The word Christian relates to the Greek word of Christos, which has exactly the same meaning.[14]

"Our Jewish believing brethren," the publication commented, "felt that the word of Hebrew origin better reflects our attitude to Messiah and our people...Messianic better reflects our identity."

This change was not made without controversy.  Many Christians who supported or at least tolerated the Hebrew Christian movement turned fiercely against it after it took on the name of Messianic Judaism.  Accusations of "Judaizing" were made and the desire to remain attached to Judaism was called "unscriptural."  One opponent said: "While still a Jew by birth, in spiritual condition the believing Jew is now a Christian and totally removed from the religion of Judaism."[15]  Though some Hebrew Christians of the old guard took the same position, it eventually became the consensus of the majority that  "Messianic Judaism must stand in the confidence of Jewish identity and integrity, regardless of opposition."[16]

The Messianic Movement Today

The fact that a quick Internet search today of the words "Messianic Judaism" produces about 65,000 entries illustrates the rapid growth of the movement in the past decades.  The Messianic movement has become a worldwide phenomenon with its own unique culture and life.

These websites include, in addition to the MJAA, more recent umbrella organizations such as the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations[17] (UMJC, founded in 1979) and the newly founded Association of Messianic Congregations.[18]  The numerous Messianic Congregations found on the net are but a small fraction of the total number of worldwide congregations.  To these are added all sorts of Messianic ministries: some exclusively evangelistic (such as Jews for Jesus), others who exist to support and pray for Israel, and others who wish to build bridges with the Gentile Churches and awaken awareness of Israel among them.  There is a growing profusion of academic and theological institutions and schools of formation and discipleship, either ran by Messianic Jews or by Gentile Christians with "a heart for Israel and the Jewish people".  An ever-increasing abundance of resources are also available online, including teaching materials, books, music, Judaica articles and gifts from Israel.  Several Messianic Newspapers in different languages now exist (such as the Messianic Times[19]), as well as radio and television stations.  The Messianic community even now has a few dating sites of its own!

How many Messianic Jews are there?  Though it is difficult to accurately estimate, the number of Messianic Jews in the United States is at least in the tens of thousands, with some suggesting the number to be as high as 100,000. Synagogues springing up in almost every major city across the country are representative of the tremendous growth of the movement.

Messianic Judaism in Israel

At the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 there were but a handful of Israeli Jews who believed that Jesus is the Messiah.  Estimates run from a few dozen to about 100 people, all of who had to keep the strictest secrecy about their faith.  The late Menachem Benhayim, a veteran Messianic believer who immigrated to Israel in 1963 said: "In 1963 we were about 100 Messianic Jews - perhaps 200 - in all Israel.  Most were Holocaust survivors..."[20] By the 1970s these numbers had increased to some 350-450 adults, and by the 80s there were some 1,000-2,000 Messianic Jews in Israel.

The movement experienced substantial growth in the 1990s.  By the turn of the millennium, leaders of the movement estimate that there are between 5,000 and 7,000 Messianic Believers scattered in some 80 congregations and house fellowships throughout the land of Israel.  These figures include Gentiles either married to Jewish believers or who feel solidarity with the movement.[21] 

Since Israel is a country of immigrants, it should not be surprising that a large percentage of its Messianic believers were born in other countries.  According to Facts and Myths, some 1,500 are from the former USSR, forming up to 42% of the total number of adult believers in Israel.  To these are added some 130 Ethiopians, and an estimated 325 immigrants from other countries, leaving approximately 650 native Messianic Jewish Sabras[22].

There are countless stories of Israeli Jews who have had a personal experience of faith unexplainable apart from the fact that divine grace was at work in lifting the veil off their eyes.  Many of them found Messiah while traveling abroad, feeling less constrained while away from the pressure of Israeli society.  One Israeli pastor relates how Jesus personally appeared to him.  Another young man I know found the Lord in a U.S. prison while he was awaiting deportation.  Many came to faith thanks to the loving witness of Gentile Christians, but more and more have been challenged by their own Jewish brethren to examine the claims of Jesus in light of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Messianic Theology and Faith

With the origins of the Messianic Movement deeply intertwined with British and American Protestantism, and with the massive support its receives from Evangelical churches, it is hardly surprising that Messianic theology is essentially Protestant in nature, though many believers eager to affirm their identity as Jews independent of any Christian denominalism would attempt to deny this.

We have already discussed the core principle of Messianic Judaism: Messianic Jews see themselves first and foremost as Jews who do not wish to renounce their Jewish identity and culture by coming to faith in the Messiah of Israel.  For this reason, the very term "Christian" is shunned, since for the average Israeli it is associated with a Gentile religion.  Interestingly, the use of terms in Hebrew makes this preference quite legitimate:  while the common word for "Christian," Notzri, literally means "Nazarene," the term Meshichi (Messianic = anointed one) used by Messianic Jews is an exact translation of the English Christian.  Thus the question of whether to use "Messianic" or "Christian" for a Jewish follower of Christ vanishes in the Hebrew language.  Another term used instead of "Christian" is the generic term "believer."

This is far from being the only adaptation of language found among Messianic Jews.  The newcomer into the movement will find many common Christian words conspicuously absent from the Messianic vocabulary.  Thus, assemblies of believers are not "churches" (associated with anti-Semitism and the assimilation of Jews) but "congregations" (sometimes called synagogues in the U.S. but not in Israel).  In English speaking congregations, the word "Christ" is never used, but rather its Hebrew equivalent "Messiah."  Jesus, of course, is "Yeshua."  Other traditional Christian terms are avoided whenever possible, such as "cross" (more a reminder of crusades and shed Jewish blood than of atonement) and "Trinity" (often interpreted by Jews as polytheism).  This use of a more Jewish-friendly terminology, while understandable in itself, bears of course the danger of compromising the truths of faith.

The terminology used to designate the Bible is also tricky.  The term "Old Testament" is almost never used (because of the connotation that it has been replaced by the New) but rather the Jewish term Tanakh (an acronym of Torah, Prophets and Writings).  The New Testament is the Brit Chadasha (New Covenant), and for lack of a better word, the entire Bible is simply known as "The Scriptures."  Messianic Jews use the Jewish and Protestant Old Testament that does not include the deuterocanonical books.

Though there are enough disagreements on doctrinal issues among Messianic pastors, all are united in their unconditional acceptance of sola scriptura - that the Scriptures are the final authority in matters of faith (and thus all of the other disagreements!)  This is a sine qua non that is never questioned among believers and congregations.  Strangely enough, considering the desire to return to a more Jewish and biblical form of faith, it doesn't seem occur to anyone that this Protestant belief is neither Jewish nor biblical.  I remember vividly my own experience when I began to question this principle while serving in a Messianic congregation in Tel Aviv.  Some people looked at me as if I had committed the unforgivable sin, and it was only a short time after that I was relieved of my ministerial duties!

The second Protestant pillar of sola fide, salvation by faith alone, is also generally accepted, albeit with reservations in some congregations.  There is a wider range of opinions here: while some would give a certain amount of importance to the role of good works, others will even stress their necessity.  In the US, many messianic synagogues encourage their members to continue to abide to Jewish laws and traditions in different degrees.  Though it is stressed that this is not for the purpose of salvation, the rationale is once again to show that a Jew who believes in Yeshua does not lose his distinct Jewish identity.  In this way he is also a better witness to unbelieving Jews.  This phenomenon is much less present in Israel where the entire population is Jewish and there is no threat of assimilation as in the Diaspora.  To what extent Messianic Jews keep the Law is a complex issue that we can only briefly summarize here.  All agree that they are not bound by the modern precepts of Orthodox Judaism in force today, since these are post-biblical developments.  Equally, anything that has to do with sacrifice and atonement is considered abolished since Messiah's death on the cross.  Thus, most Messianic Jews would not feel obligated to keep the kosher laws by separating meat from milk products, or to fast on Yom Kippur, since atonement for sins has been completed.  Some, however, will still choose to do these things in solidarity with their people.  Certainly, the danger of "judaizing" is often manifest in these debates about the role of the law for Messianic believers, even if all agree that it plays no part in effecting one's salvation.

Because of the absence of a central authority, Messianic ecclesiology is wholly Protestant.  The "Church" (for lack of a better word!) is not a visible institution, but the invisible union of all "true believers" - Jews and Gentiles - who may be found in any denomination.  Similarly, Messianic soteriology is typically Evangelical / Fundamentalist.  One is "saved" by "believing that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel and Son of God," and by "receiving him in one's heart."  It is generally assumed that "once saved, always saved," though this is not always explicitly taught.  New believers are baptized, but not always with the Trinitarian formula - thus many Messianic baptisms are invalid.  I have witnessed at least one baptism done in the name of Jesus only. On another, bizarre occasion, the newly baptized were told to proclaim "Yeshua, you are my Lord" before plunging themselves under the water.  Baptism (done by immersion only) should be the sign of a living faith and therefore infant baptisms are not considered acceptable.  As for other sacraments, they are also viewed in the Protestant way, with the Lord's Supper generally seen as a mere memorial of the Lord's death, though there are some who are closer to the Catholic position of believing in the Real Presence in the elements. 

The absence of authority and of a magisterium renders the lines of Messianic Judaism "orthodoxy" difficult to delineate.  Though all agree on the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth, the miracles, the bodily resurrection, and the expected return of the Lord, some at the fringes of the movement may go as far as denying the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.  These are, however, a small minority who are usually shunned by the rest.

It has already been said that Messianic Jews are very evangelistic.  To share the gospel is a central component of their faith, and Jews who find the forgiveness and love of Yeshua indeed often have a burning zeal to share the gospel with their Jewish brethren so that they too may come to salvation.  Influenced by Fundamentalism, Messianic Jews have a strong eschatological outlook that is inseparable from their belief in the return of the Jews to the land of Israel and their conversion.  Though their eschatology is often pre-millennial, teachings on the rapture are rather cautious and seldom emphasized.  What is certain is that persecution is to be expected, and this will come with the appearance of the anti-Christ that will precede the return of the Lord.

Messianic Congregations and Worship

Messianic congregations usually adopt biblical names illustrating most often a theme from the Old Testament connected to Christ.  Some of those I have attended include in Jerusalem King of Kings, an English-speaking assembly of mostly foreign Christian workers but who have also recently added a Hebrew meeting, Sukkat David (The Tabernacle of David), and Roeh Israel (The Shepherd of Israel); in Tel Aviv: Adonai Roi (The Lord is my Shepherd), Tiferet Yeshua (The Glory of Jesus), and Beit Immanuel (The House of God with Us), a very charismatic group almost entirely composed of Russian immigrants.  Beit Immanuel is at the same time a Christian guesthouse in Jaffa (the southern part of Tel Aviv).  Apart from King of Kings, these congregations all operate in Hebrew, with some of them offering English and/or Russian translation.

Messianic Congregations usually meet in rented buildings that bear no particular marks from the outside to avoid unnecessarily provoking the surrounding residents.  As one enters the meeting hall, one typically notices a variety of Jewish symbols, such as a menorah (Jewish candlestick), or Star of David, perhaps a flag of Israel and some banners with Scripture quotes. 

Though there are variations depending on the congregation, a visitor attending a Messianic service will witness a hybrid between Jewish and Evangelical/non-denominational Protestant worship.  Most of the dozen or so congregations that I have attended in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv met on the Sabbath and conformed to a similar pattern: The service begins with a word of welcome and a short prayer.  Sometimes the Sh'ma ("Hear, O Israel," Deut. 6:4-5) is sung, followed by a time of lively praise and worship (typically from 30 to 60 minutes).  Sometimes a short teaching is given on the Torah portion of the week that is read in synagogues, and an offering follows.  The focal point of the service is the sermon, where the Scriptures are expounded at length (45 to 60 minutes are not unusual).  At the end of the service there may be a time of ministry and prayer accompanied by more praise and worship, and followed by a time of fellowship.  Sometimes the shofar (ram's horn) is blown during the service, especially in the more charismatic congregations.

Some more traditional Messianic congregations adopt a liturgical form of worship that is closer to the synagogue than to evangelical worship, praying from the Jewish prayer book and reading the Scriptures from a Torah scroll.  We find more of these abroad than in Israel, though there are some exceptions.

Messianic Jews generally celebrate the Jewish Feasts with great joy and dedication, while the Christian holidays are barely acknowledged if not denigrated.  I have found their desire to keep the Feasts wholly understandable: why would a Jew who finds Christ cease commemorating and celebrating the Exodus (Passover), the giving of the Torah (Weeks), the rededication of the Temple (Hanukkah), or God's salvation of the Jews from their enemies (Purim)?  Yeshua is always integrated in one way or another to the celebrations: he is the Lamb of God and broken bread of Passover, the outpouring of His Spirit has surpassed the giving of the Law at Pentecost, and he is the light of the world who is remembered at the lighting of the candles at Hanukkah.  While their rejection of the Christian feasts is an unfortunate impoverishment, it must be said to their credit that their understanding of them is often limited to the Christmas tree and Easter eggs.  Personally, I have found since my return to the Church that the Jewish Feasts can be easily integrated in a beautiful and enriching way to the Church's liturgical calendar.

Apart from the minority of traditionalist Messianic Jews who have adopted a more liturgical form of worship, I have noticed in Israel a definite negative attitude that many Messianic believers in Israel hold against the idea of "religion," as opposed to "simple faith in Yeshua" - another trait clearly inherited from fundamentalism.  Many interpret Jesus' invectives against the Pharisees as a criticism of the entire religious establishment that can now be extended to modern Orthodox Judaism and to any organized religion, for that matter.  When Israeli Jews, whose only experience of religion had been legalistic rabbinical Judaism, personally encounter Christ, the tendency is all too easy to throw all religious heritage overboard.  Anything that remotely smells of ritual, such as written prayers or liturgy, is looked upon with suspicion.

Predictably, Catholicism does not fare too well in the eyes of Messianic Jews, and especially of those who suffer from this "anti-religious bias."  When my Messianic friends heard of my return to the Church, many thought that I had apostasied and left the faith to go back to a "dead religion of works."  While many of the reasons behind this anti-Catholicism are based on pure ignorance and prejudice, many of their objections are understandable.  A Messianic-Catholic rapprochement is difficult because Messianic Jews have inherited two distinct sets of anti-Catholic prejudices: one from Protestantism and one from Judaism.  The objections stemming from Protestantism are the least serious and can largely be addressed with the Catholic apologetics used for Protestants concerning the usual issues of Mary and the saints, Peter and the papacy, tradition, justification, purgatory, statues (though this one is a difficulty for Jews, independent of Protestantism), etc...  The objections deriving from Judaism, on the other hand, have much deeper roots and deserve a more serious treatment.  These include the history of anti-Semitism in the Church, the false teaching of "replacement theology" that is unfortunately still present in the attitudes of many (though officially revoked by the Church), and the suppression of all Jewish expression through the ages that has resulted in the Church culturally appearing completely foreign to Judaism in her architecture, art, music, dress, etc.  Jews interested in Catholicism, therefore, presently have to overcome a major culture shock to come into the Church.  Some suggestions will be presented in the conclusion of this paper as to how to overcome these obstacles.

Messianic Culture and Life in Israel

The faith of Messianic Jews in Israel is all encompassing.  Conversions are often made at a high cost, and for this most believers are bold and radical in following the Lord.  In addition to the main Sabbath meeting, one can attend during the week frequent Bible studies, prayer meetings and home groups.  Several times a year believers attend nation-wide conferences, either organized by local pastors or guests from abroad.  Common themes at these conferences are, for example, the evangelization of Israel, or the reconciliation between Jews and Gentile Christians - sometimes more specifically between Jewish and Arab believers.  Some of the most touching scenes I have seen have been meetings where Jews and Arabs united in Messiah's worshiped together, prayed for one another, and embraced each other in a powerful witness of God's love that transcends all national barriers.  I have heard testimonies of ex-Muslims who used to harbor a deep hatred of Jews, and after their conversion to Christ not only developed a love for the Jewish people but also came to accept God's promise of the land of Israel to them.

Many Israeli Messianic pastors have an active international ministry and are often invited by churches in other nations to speak about what the Lord is doing in Israel.  On two occasions, I was invited to travel with a team from a Messianic congregation to Israel conferences in Toronto, Canada, and The Hague, Holland.  I was impressed by the several hundreds of Christians who attended each of these, not only to enjoy the lively Messianic music but also to hear about Israel's prophetic role and the need for Jewish-Gentile reconciliation.  Moving apologies for past ill treatment of Jews were presented by the Christian pastors to the Jewish believers, welcoming them and embracing them in their Jewishness into the Body of Christ.  I found these manifestations of reconciliation extremely powerful and wish there were more in the Church at large.

Evangelism

I have also had the privilege to accompany Messianic believers on several evangelistic outreaches in Israel that count to this day among the most interesting adventures of my life.  Some congregations go out on the streets weekly to pass out tracts, books, and initiate conversations with Israelis.  In addition, teams of believers are sent out several times a year to various secular events across the country, such as rock concerts and New Age festivals, to evangelize the attending youth there.  This past June (2003), I accompanied a team to a large open-air New Age festival in the Galilee.  We established our camp in a corner of the site where we alternated times of praise & worship and prayer with "going out" to share the good news, inviting Israeli youth to come back to the campground for a meal and some conversations about the meaning of life.  The organizers of the festival allowed our team to set up a book table where anyone could come and ask questions, or pick up a free Hebrew New Testament or other literature in Hebrew.  There was an uninterrupted stream of people coming and going to our booth.  Truly, the hunger for truth and interest for Jesus today in Israel among Jews is staggering, with conversions and baptisms occurring ever more frequently.

Of course, there is opposition.  Though tolerance in Israeli society has greatly increased (a few decades ago, it was impossible to even talk about Jesus in public in Israel) there are still many cases of ostracizing and harassment that make life difficult for the believers.  The Orthodox Jews are the chief opponents of the gospel, as in the time of Jesus having "a zeal for God, but that is not enlightened," seeking to protect their people from the spiritual destruction that they associate with mission.  An active anti-missionary organization (Yad Le'Achim - "A hand for the brothers") is quite active in attempting to block evangelistic initiatives.  They have their information networks and often show up at outreaches with their own tracts to "warn" unsuspecting Jews about the "missionaries" who have come to "steal their souls."  Though they may not legally use violence, instances of persecution do occur.  A girl I know who came to faith from an ultra-Orthodox family was thrown out of her house and beaten up by men sent by her father.  A congregation in Beer Sheva was surrounded a few years ago by an angry mob of orthodox Jews.  Three Christian women in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim had their apartment ransacked.  Some Jewish believers lost their jobs because of pressure applied on their employers.  There are many more examples, though most instances of harassment are not physically violent.

Christian Zionism

The Messianic movement in Israel could probably not survive if it were not for the worldwide support it gets from Gentile Christians (mostly Evangelicals) in prayer, resources, humanitarian help, finances, encouragement, etc... These Churches, organizations and ministries have "caught the vision" of the restoration of Israel and of the ingrafting of the Jewish people onto their own olive tree.  Though they are often vilified by critics as being anti-Palestinian fundamentalists who are supportive of Israel only to accelerate Jesus' second coming, I have found these accusations to be without foundation.  The overwhelming majority of the Zionist Christians I have met have did not give me the impression that they were motivated by eschatological hysteria or contempt for Arabs, but rather by a genuine sacrificial love for and profound solidarity with the Jewish people and Israel.

A few of these Christian ministries have become particularly well known over the years.  One of the more prominent ones is the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.[23]  The ICEJ was founded in 1980 as an evangelical Christian response to the need to comfort Zion according to the command of scripture found in Isaiah 40:1-2.  Their website explains their vision:

The ICEJ supports the nation of Israel because we love her, are indebted to her and seek to obey God's word. We are not trying to fulfill an end time agenda, but are standing on biblical principles. We proclaim a message to Zion that her modern day restoration is not a historical accident, but the fulfillment of God's word (Ezekiel 36:24-26; Luke 21:24). A time of great glory awaits Israel even though dark times may precede the break of day. Vision will not fail and from a Jewish Jerusalem, the Lord's law will go out and the "nations shall not learn war anymore." (Isaiah 2:1-4).

Every fall, the Embassy organizes the Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, the largest touristic event in Israel, hosting some three to four thousand pilgrims who have come from all nations to worship the Lord, perhaps as a foreshadow of Zechariah's prophecy:

Then all who survive of the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of Tabernacles. (Zech. 14:16)

The Prime Minister of Israel and mayor of Jerusalem faithfully make their appearance at this event to address the participants with words of thanks and appreciation for their support and prayers.  During the Feast, the pilgrims participate in the traditional Jerusalem march in their national costumes.  Israelis are always touched by the love extended to them by these Christians who dare to visit their land torn by terrorism.  The ICEJ is also active throughout the year in providing social help to the needy in Israel, be they Jews, Arabs, Bedouins, or others.  Their Russian department also provides special assistance to Russian immigrants that have recently arrived in the land.

Other Christian organizations based in Jerusalem that have mandates similar to that of the ICEJ are Bridges for Peace and Christian Friends of Israel.[24]  Others groups, such as Operation Exodus, feel a particular mandate to help Jews in the ex-USSR return home to Israel before the next great outbreak of anti-Semitism.  Many find it difficult not to see a parallel between this great ingathering of Jews from the land to the north of Israel, facilitated by Christians "fishers" who have gone out to seek them and encourage them to "come home", and the prophecy of Jeremiah:

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, "As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt," but "As the LORD lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them." For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors.  I am now sending for many fishermen, says the LORD, and they shall catch them; and afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks. (Jer. 16:14-16)

Indeed, since the fall of Communism in 1989, no less than a million immigrants have come to Israel from the great "land of the north."

All in all, these Christian groups have had a tremendous impact in bringing down walls of mistrust and suspicion and building friendly relations with Israelis and Jews around the world.  Can one deny the intimate relationship between this manifestation of Christians' love for Israel and the worldwide Jewish revival that is simultaneously taking place?  Whereas the traditional approach of mission to the Jews that sought to assimilate them and abolish their distinct Jewish identity has been a miserable failure, the return of Christians to an appreciation of their Jewish roots and of the prophetic role of Israel has in a short time already yielded infinitely more productive results.  Israelis are amazed to hear more and more Christians say to them today the words of Ruth the Moabite:

Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16)

Such a demonstration of love and of faith in God's promises to them often leads them to ask the questions: "Who are these Gentiles who come here to tell us about our Bible and our God, and of how He will deliver us from all our troubles?"  To use Paul's words, they are "provoked to jealousy" and often prompted to ask us about the great hope that is within us.

Christian Zionism, Social Justice and the Palestinians

A serious and legitimate question that follows from all this Christian enthusiasm for Israel is the question of the Palestinians.  The question is often asked: "Can biblical prophecy be an excuse for dispossessing a people of their land?" Though we cannot do justice here to this complex question, the importance of the issue demands at least a brief answer, which is, in short: "No."  Biblical prophecy of course does not dispense anyone from the grave moral obligation of social justice to all people.  But several points are to be kept in mind as regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

First, Palestinian claims that the Jews "stole" their land are simply not true. There has never existed a Palestinian state, the land being under constant foreign occupation since the time of the Romans.  Palestinians were offered their own state in 1947 with the UN partition plan, but they refused it and declared war to Israel instead.  Many of them were encouraged by Arab leaders to leave their homes, with the promise that they could return as soon as the Jews had been defeated.  Further, with the Palestinian territories having been part of the state of Jordan between 1948 and 1967, the claim to Palestinian statehood is a very recent one.  This does not mean that Palestinians have no rights to live in the land and that they have not been victims of some degree of injustice; a large part of their suffering, however, has been largely self-inflicted by the intransigence of their leaders towards Israel and their embrace of terrorism to achieve their goals.

Second, as seen in part II of this paper, the return of the Jews to the land of Israel is taking place while they are still in a state of unrighteousness.  Only later will they receive "a new heart."  Thus it cannot be expected that all of their political and military actions will be exemplary.  Christian support of Israel does not mean that individual actions of the Israeli government or army cannot be criticized; on the contrary, any injustice should be vigorously condemned.  This being said, it is often overlooked that there are a million Israeli Arabs who peacefully live within the Jewish State.  The city where I lived, Jaffa, is one good example of peaceful Jewish-Arab coexistence.  This would hardly be possible if the absurd claims of Israel being an "apartheid state" were true.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that Palestinians are predominantly Muslim.  Even after 9/11, the West still seems to be quite naïve about the aggressive nature and theology of Islam, which sees the world as divided between the "House of Islam" and the "House of War."  Since a Jewish State in the Middle East will never be accepted in Islamic theology, it makes it particularly difficult for Israel to relinquish part of her territory to an enemy avowed to her destruction.  It is often openly acknowledged in the Palestinian media that any peace process with Israel is only a temporary compromise to achieve the long-term goal of the annihilation of the Jewish State.[25]

If the restoration of Israel is truly of central importance in the divine purpose, it would not be surprising that the spiritual enemy of mankind would use every possible means to oppose it.  Many believe that the traditional diabolical hatred of the Jews has now taken up the more "respectable" cloak of anti-Zionism.  Roy Schoeman, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, documents in his recent book Salvation is from the Jews the support of the Arab world for Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s and shows many parallels between the current Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism and that of the Third Reich.[26]

In short, while it is the obligation of Messianic Jews and Zionist Christians to love Arabs and Muslims and to oppose any kind of injustice towards them, it is not surprising to find little sympathy among them for the political aspirations of the Palestinians that have already cost so much Jewish blood.

The Hebrew-Catholic Movement

What are Catholics to make of Messianic Judaism and Christian Zionism?  On one hand, we must honestly acknowledge that the greatest re-birth of Jewish-Christianity since the Early Church is taking place before our eyes.  On the other hand, Messianic Judaism presents serious deficiencies, many of which are inherited from Protestantism and fundamentalism.  These include the absence of central ecclesiastical authority, of apostolic succession, of valid orders and therefore of sacraments, invalid baptisms in many cases, disunity in doctrine, confusion regarding the role of the law ranging from the extremes of anti-nomianism to judaizing, and fundamentalist soteriology and eschatology, to name but a few.

The proposed Catholic solution to these shortcomings is the Hebrew-Catholic movement.  We have already briefly mentioned some notable Jewish converts to Catholicism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  These were individual cases, however, and only recently have we begun to see the forming of a distinct Hebrew-Catholic movement.

The Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC)[27] was launched in 1979 by Elias Friedman, a Hebrew Catholic friar, and Andrew Sholl, a holocaust survivor.  The declared aim of the organization is to end the alienation of Catholics of Jewish origin from their heritage as Israelites by petitioning the Holy See to approve the establishment of an Israelite Community in the Church.  According to a pamphlet presenting the AHC, the first stage of their apostolate is to "announce the kerygma and to help others to read the signs of the times."  This is a warning to Gentile Christians that "their Church is under the cloud of apostasy, with the dire consequences such and apostasy engenders."  Like the Messianic Jews, Hebrew Catholics see a prophetic sign in the restoration of Israel and the conversion of the Jews: "The Return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, after 2,000 years of dispersion, culminating in the capture of Jerusalem (1967), is the corollary [of the plan of salvation entering the phase of the apostasy of the Gentiles]."

Other statements of the AHC closely reflect the philosophy of Messianic Judaism:

Hebrew Catholics should see themselves as pioneers in the Divine process of the ingrafting of their people into their own cultivated olive-tree."  They should "identify themselves with the biblical history of Israel and the post-Christic tragedy of their people, culminating in the Holocaust. The tragic exile of post-Christic Jewry was due to their incredulity, their refusal to acknowledge the divinity of Jesus; and this thought should prompt Hebrew Catholics to redress the situation by their exemplary orthodoxy.[28]

Other than the AHC, and in stark contrast to the profusion of Messianic Jewish ministries, there are only a handful of other Hebrew Catholic apostolates to be found on the net,[29] and this despite the fact that the Hebrew-Catholic community in Israel actually pre-dates the beginnings of the Messianic movement there: The community, called "The Work of St. James," was founded in 1955 and already then obtained a special authorization from Pope Pius XII to celebrate the liturgy in Hebrew. Today, the Hebrew-Catholics in Israel claim some 250 members spread out over four communities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv/Jaffa, Haifa, and Beer Sheva.

Having served in both Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Catholic communities, I can testify to the sharp contrast between both movements.  Whereas Messianic Judaism is thriving, as we have seen, the Hebrew Catholic community is Israel is rather isolated and unknown.  The community has until now had little support from the predominantly Arab Catholic hierarchy in the Holy Land and (Palestinian) Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, causing some discouragement among the leaders of the community.  When I joined the Hebrew Catholics, I found them to be somewhat lacking in vision, and geared more towards survival than growth, openly declaring that they do not engage in any kind of evangelism.   In contrast to the strong international network of Evangelical support for Messianic Judaism, there are little, if any, events and interaction of the like between local Hebrew Catholics and the universal Church.

Still, there is hope for positive development:  In August 2003, Pope John Paul II nominated Abbot Jean-Baptiste Gourion to the position of auxiliary bishop to Patriarch Sabbah with the special task of the "pastoral care of the Catholic faithful of Jewish expression" who live in the Holy Land. A French Jewish convert born in Algeria, Gourion moved to Israel in 1976 to found a new Benedictine abbey in the village of Abu Gosh near Jerusalem.  Since 1990 he has headed the Work of St. James, and he is now the first Jewish Catholic bishop in Israel since the time of Roman emperor Hadrian in the early second century.[30]The closing words of his speech at his ordination ceremony on November 9, 2003 was his moving declaration in Hebrew: "Finally, we have returned home." [ed. note: Bishop Gourion passed away on June 23, 2005, less than two years after his Episcopal ordination]

Reflections and Conclusion

The main questions that I wish to examine as I conclude this paper are the following:  Despite all of its deficiencies, why is Messianic Judaism a vibrant and rapidly growing movement while the Hebrew-Catholic community remains at the embryonic stage?  Second, if there is really such a growing interest for Jesus among Jews, why do we not see more of them embrace the Catholic faith? Third, why is there so much interest for the restoration of Israel and the re-birth of Messianic Jewish among Evangelical Christians, while most Catholics still seem to be completely unaware of these phenomena?  In short, as I have written in the introduction to part I, why is the Catholic Church presently failing to respond to the recent openness of the Jewish people for Jesus, while Messianic groups supported by Evangelical Christians are reaping the greatest Jewish harvest since the first century? There are of course many reasons for this, and I can only propose a few that I have observed in my experiences with Evangelicals, Messianic Jews and Catholics.

The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism states that "every renewal of the Church is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling,"[31] and "there can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart."[32]  The first thing necessary to correct the situation at hand is to acknowledge that something is wrong: the Church has failed in her own calling of bringing the gospel "to the Jew first."  The first and most obvious reason is her long history of anti-Semitism (as discussed in part I).

Though there has been much theological change in this area since Vatican II, in too many cases this has not yet been translated into heart repentance. Further, most Catholics are vastly ignorant of the deep open wound in the Jewish soul that has been caused by centuries of Christian anti-Semitism.  Such a wound will not be healed without genuine repentance.  Christians, and Catholics in particular, need to their Jewish brothers and sisters for forgiveness.  Even Catholics who have never personally consented to anti-Semitism should engage in identificational repentance, as Daniel and Nehemiah did when they repented for the sins of their forefathers though they were themselves not guilty of them.[33]

Fr. Peter Hocken, in his book Blazing the Trail, specifically identifies three levels of repentance necessary for Catholics in regard to the Jewish people:

  1. The first and most obvious level is repentance for the sin of anti-Semitism as racial prejudice, including discrimination, hatred and persecution of Jews.
  2. The second level is repentance for the false teaching of replacement theology claiming that God has rejected the Jewish people and revoked his covenant with them because they have rejected Jesus as the Messiah.  Often this teaching was the direct cause for the virulence and depth of the anti-Jewish spirit in the Church.
  3. The third level is repentance for the suppression and loss of the Jewish expression of the Church.  Hocken writes: "This third level more directly challenges us as Church, because the decisions requiring Jewish converts to renounce their Jewishness and to cease all Jewish practices were decisions of Church authority, mostly of local synods and councils in various parts of the Roman Empire. The wrongness of this policy, and the immense interior suffering it inflicted on Jewish converts, cannot be dismissed as simply the failings of individual Catholics."[34]

Next, Catholics must look at the present state of the faithfulness to their calling.  Unitatis Redintegratio continues: "Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded."[35]  An examination of the past decades shows that many Catholics have violated this principle by adopting "relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism,"[36] in particular by abandoning all evangelism to the Jews.  This position was well illustrated last year with the release of Reflections on Covenant and Mission, a catastrophic document issued by the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs that claimed that "campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church."  Though the document launched a torrent of protests from the Association of Hebrew Catholics and was subsequently withdrawn, it contributed to the general confusion that is now prevalent among both Jews and Catholics about the Church's missionary mandate.  Certainly, Catholics need to share the gospel with their Jewish friends with tremendous sensibility, especially in light of past errors, and will not want to adopt the aggressive tactics of Jews for Jesus.  The common Catholic attitude of congratulating oneself for not "engaging in proselytism," however, will have to be acknowledged as a serious failure in responding to the Church's calling.  At the very least, Catholics should fervently pray for the conversion of Israel.

In order to understand the pivotal role of Israel and of the Jewish people in the plan of salvation, Catholics - clergy, theologians, and lay people - should prayerfully search the Scriptures with greater hunger and devotion and study the prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel that were examined in part I.  The fact that Evangelicals may err in their interpretations of Scripture, and the security that Catholics have in the authority of the magisterium does not exempt them from attempting to discern the signs of the times.

While Catholics pilgrims generally come to the Holy Land to revisit the past and see the Holy Sites, Evangelicals go to shape its future, visiting Messianic congregations, serving in different ministries, going on evangelistic outreaches, praying for the land and its people, etc...  Catholics would benefit tremendously in getting involved with local ministries and congregations, and getting acquainted with Messianic Jews and Hebrew Catholics.  Hebrew Catholics, in turn, should strive for greater interaction and exchanges with the Messianic Jews, within the framework of Unitatis Redintegratio.  Hebrew Catholics are presently so low key in Israel that Messianic Jews barely know they exist.

Lastly, the Hebrew Catholic movement should seek genuine spiritual and charismatic renewal.  Many a Hebrew Mass I have attended in Israel was rather dry compared to the long, emotional, energy-charged Messianic services.  Without needing to go into excesses, I believe the Catholic Church in Israel needs to experience a restoration of spirit-filled praise and worship and of spiritual gifts and charisms.  After all, "the Jews demand signs," and more often come to faith through a personal encounter with Christ than by rational, theological reasoning.  Messianic Jews, too, will hardly ever be attracted to the Hebrew Catholic movement unless they find genuine life among them.

This said, I believe that there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the future of the Hebrew Catholic movement.  Despite the present anti-Catholic tendencies among Messianic Jews, so many are so intent in following the Lord that He may very well lead them into the fullness of truth.  Of course, Catholicism has a great strength in that, unlike Protestantism, its theology and liturgy are in genuine continuity with biblical Judaism.

Towards Jerusalem Council II?

In closing, it is worth mentioning an exciting ecumenical initiative called "Towards Jerusalem Council II."  In a document called "Towards Jerusalem Council II - The Vision and the Story," Peter Hocken writes:

Toward Jerusalem Council II (TJCII) is first of all a vision. It is a vision that bears the marks of the Holy Spirit. It is a vision for the Church according to the heart of the Father purchased by the blood of his Son. It is a vision for the healing of the oldest wound in the Church. The vision is for the unity of Jew and Gentile in the one body of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.
The TJCII vision is for the restoration of this unity, where the Jew and the Gentile become one in the body of Messiah without losing their identity, just as in marriage man and woman become one without ceasing to be man and woman.[37]

Led by an executive committee of fourteen leaders - seven Messianic Jews and seven Gentiles of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches - the project's vision is "that one day there will be a second Council of Jerusalem that will be, in an important respect, the inverse of the first Council described in Acts 15. Whereas the first Council was made up of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus), who decided not to impose on the Gentiles the requirements of the Jewish law, so the second Council would be made up of Gentile church leaders, who would recognize and welcome the Jewish believers in Yeshua without requiring them to abandon their Jewish identity and practice."[38]

The aims of the initiative include:

  • To make known to church leaders and Christian scholars the restoration of the Jewish segments of the church (the church of the circumcision).
  • To foster repentance for the sins of Gentile Christians and the Christian Church against the Jewish people, especially for the suppression of the corporate Jewish witness to Yeshua, the Messiah.
  • To foster intercession for all the churches of the nations to abandon all forms of replacement teaching concerning the calling and election of Israel and to recognize the place of the Jew in the body of Messiah.
  • To encourage the Messianic Jewish community in and out of Israel to enter into this vision of reconciliation and restoration and thereby fostering unity among the different streams and organizations within the Messianic Jewish Movement.

As we conclude our study of Israel, we can heartily agree with the vision of the TJCII committee: "The ultimate purpose in unifying the Body and restoring the Jewish believers to their rightful place is the hastening of the coming of the Lord Yeshua in glory and the full accomplishment of His work of redemption in the Kingdom of God."

Return to articles on Israel and the Church



[1] The Jewish Agency, http://www.jafi.org.il/education/100/concepts/aliyah3.html#first.

[2] See part I for an analysis of these prophecies.

[3] Kac, The Rebirth of the State of Israel, pp. 48-53.

[4] See Part I for a discussion of the Church's policy of assimilation of the Jews.

[5] Rausch, Messianic Judaism, p. 26.

[6] Rausch, p. 29.

[7] Rausch, p. 30.

[8] Rausch, p. 32.

[9] Rausch, p. 41.

[10] Chervin, Bread from Heaven, p. ix.

[11] Chervin, p. 15.

[12] Rausch, p. 73.

[13] Rausch, p. 74.

[14] Rausch, p. 77.

[15] Rausch, p. 78.

[16] Rausch, p. 82.

[17] www.umjc.org

[18] www.messianicassociation.org

[19] www.messianictimes.com

[20] Facts and Myths about the Messianic Congregations in Israel, p. 64.

[21] These figures have been collected in an extensive survey done by the Caspari Center of Biblical and Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, published in 1999 under the name of Facts and Myths About the Messianic Congregations in Israel.

[22] "Sabra" is the term used to designate Israelis born in Israel, as opposed to those who have immigrated; Facts and Myths, p. 72.

[23] www.icej.org

[24] http://www.bridgesforpeace.com, http://www.cfijerusalem.org/

[25] Schoeman, Salvation is from the Jews, p. 285ff.

[26] Schoeman, p. 254ff.

[27] http://www.hebrewcatholic.net

[28] http://www.hebrewcatholic.net/AboutheAHC/presentingtheahc.html

[29] Such as Second Exodus (www.secondexodus.com) and Remnant of Israel.

[30] Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, Book IV, V: 1-4.

[31] Unitatis Redintegratio 6.

[32] UR 7.

[33] Dan. 9:1-19, Neh. 1:5-9.

[34] Peter Hocken, Blazing the Trail, pp. 102-107.

[35] UR 11.

[36] Dominus Iesus 4.

[37] Hocken, Towards Jerusalem Council II: The Vision and the Story, pp. 6-7.

[38] http://www.tjcii.org/


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Wilson, Marvin, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1989.