THE JEWISH CHRISTIAN CONFERENCE
Our first effort at creating a viable, kindly alternative to the Messianic Movement is now behind us, with bright prospects for the future. We thank those who prayed, sent encouragement and showed interest. Following is a brief report of that conference.
Thirty-six of us met, by personal invitation, in Vienna, Virginia as guests of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church there and their gracious Pastor, Rev. Al Tricarico. We had originally informed just under seventy individuals of our intent and approximately half of these attended the first conference.
Our purposes were laid out from the beginning and attendance of the conference was contingent upon applicants ability to affirm our broadly conservative and evangelical Statement of Faith and to subscribe to a statement of our goals and purposes.
Papers delivered focused on the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Deity of Christ. Dr. Stuart Sacks delivered an especially helpful paper on Nicea and Chalcedon in which historical review, spiritual application and contemporary application were aptly combined.
Papers were delivered respectively by Baruch Maoz, Torkild Masvie, Richard Ganz, Stuart Sacks, Stan Telchin, Fred Klett, and Baruch Maoz. The Topics were: Why are We Gathered, The Trinity and Jewish Evangelism, The Deity and Centrality of Jesus, Learning from Our Fathers (Nicea and Chalcedon), How to Be A Jew in The Church, How the Church Should Relate to Jewish People in Her Midst, and A Message of Hope for Israel. The texts will soon be made available to the public.
Ample time was allowed for discussions, which were lively, frank and very helpful. The very different backgrounds from which participants came, and their different experiences and levels of theological and biblical education all contributed to a time that was enlightening and bode well for the future, if we could agree on a common direction.
Baruch Maoz's opening address served to give direction to our discussions. The text is brought to you here:
Why We Are Gathered
Why? Why are we gathered here and what do we hope to achieve by such a gathering? Are there not more than enough conferences, that we should call this one? These are legitimate questions, and they deserve a reply. There are a number of reasons why we have gathered.
To our utter amazement, contrary to all reasonable expectation, we have discovered ourselves to be loved of God. In spite of our sins, God has drawn us to himself, forgiven and cleansed us at the cost of his sons shame, sorrow and death, and by the power of his resurrection. He has made us his own, sent his Spirit to dwell in us and given us a sure hope of eternal life. He has given his precious word and taught us by it what to believe and how to live. He has granted us his presence, listens to our prayers and cares about us. In response, we are here to worship God and learn how to be better Christians through hearing and heeding His holy word. We are here because he first loved us, and because we want to thank him for his mercy in saving us.
Most of us are Jewish. As such, we love our people. We are witnesses of their moral and spiritual plight, share their pain, and long to see it relieved. We know what the majority of our people do not know: that Israel can find salvation only through the promised saviour. We also know that saviour to be Jesus, son of David, son of Man; born in Nazareth, crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem and now sitting at the right hand of God, sharing his rule and his glory. We seek to preach the Gospel to our people as clearly and as faithfully as possible.
Because we love our people, we wish to remain visibly and discernibly Jewish. We have not and will not turn our backs to our peoples rich history and culture. As Paul put it in I Corinthians 7:18: was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. We firmly believe that our insistence on the right to remain what God has made us in no way conflicts with the Gospel. We love our culture and our history. We share the burdens, sorrows, joys and triumphs of our people and do not wish to divorce ourselves from them. But we want to do so in a brave and distinctly Christian manner because we desire to be no less visibly and discernibly faithful to the Gospel as we are to our people. Our prior loyalty is to God as revealed in Messiah and to his Gospel.
Being Jewish, we tend to read the Bible with a different kind of insight than do many of our gentile brethren. They can teach us their insights, and we can teach them ours. In this way we can enrich each other. We do not claim to have a greater ability to discern the meaning of scripture because we are Jewish, only a tendency to read the Bible is a way that can be as advantageous to the church as is the way the Bible is read by our gentile brethren. We tend to approach the New Testament from the point of view of the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, through which we have been persuaded to worship Jesus. Our gentile brethren tend to read the Hebrew Bible from the point of view of the Gospels, by which they are persuaded to read Moses and the prophets. Both approaches are essential for the well-being of the church. We are here to learn to think more clearly and more affectionately as Jews and as Christians, and to do so together, so we can serve God and our people better.
We love Jesus, Davids greater son, the very brightness of the Fathers glory and the exact image of his essence, light of light, very God of very God, eternal, equal as to his deity with the Father and the Spirit, born of a virgin, the saviour of Israel and of the world, who is and was and is to come. We love him for the glorious beauty of his deity, for the wonder of his person, for the surprising kindness of his grace, for his self-sacrifice in bearing our sins on the cross, and dying for us and in our place. We love him for the surpassing glory of his sovereignty, the loving way he exercises it and for the hope that he has sealed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.
We desire to give Jesus pre-eminence in all things. We believe that he should be the focal point of individual and congregational life. Both Christians and Churches should be Christocentric rather than ethnocentric. Our primary concern should always be to know him and the power of his resurrection, to be true to him and be found in him, whatever our beloved but unbelieving Jewish brethren may say. Jesus is our all-in-all, and, in comparison with him, everything is but dung. For his sake, his glory, his Gospel and his crown we are prepared to suffer the loss of all things. If need be, we will go outside of the camp of national recognition, but we will not deny or make light of an inkling of Messiahs true glory.
Jesus saves, that is the essence of our message. He saves fully, utterly, effectively, to the utmost extent. There is no need to add anything to his magnificent achievements on our behalf. They alone are sufficient to bring us into the presence of God with exceeding joy. They alone can satisfy the holiness and justice of God. They alone can please him for whom all things exist. The covenant God made with our fathers at Sinai has found its complete fulfillment in the sacrificial life and death of Jesus, in his enthronement and in his kingship.
Rabbinical Judaism has made an unquestionable contribution to the culture of our people, but it has made a highly questionable contribution to our peoples commonly accepted religion. By so doing, they have transformed Jewish nationality and the commonly accepted Jewish faith into something it should never have become. Influences from Babylon, Persia and Greece have played a larger role in the evolution of Judaism than is generally acknowledged. As part of our obedience to God in Messiah, we call our people to turn from rabbinicism and return to the pure word of God, to the prophecies of Amos and Isaiah, to the words of Moses and of David. It is there that they shall find, as we did, him of whom the prophets speak.
We are here, therefore, to worship Jesus and to learn more of him.
We love the truth of God and vow ever to seek after it. We do not claim to know all things, but neither dare we deny what we sincerely believe to be the truth. We firmly believe that faithfulness to whatever measure of light that God has granted is part of the obedience that every man owes to God. The other part is to live according to that light to the utmost of mans God-given ability, ever yearning and seeking for grace to glorify God more by knowing him better and obeying him more consistently. Because we acknowledge the limitations of our knowledge, we are here to learn from each other, as well as from those who disagree with us.
We can forgo our reputations, our status in society, and our financial welfare. But we cannot concede an iota of essential truth because it is Gods, not ours. Our duty is to be faithful to that truth at any cost, while sincerely loving and respecting those who disagree with us. This we will endeavour to do, God helping us.
We love our fellow-believing brothers and sisters, be they Jewish or gentile, whether they openly identify with the church or subscribe to all or many of the tenets of the Messianic Movement. We happily agree with many of the concerns expressed by that Movement, and lovingly disagree with some of the options its adherents consider legitimate. We do not intend to argue with any. We will not speak against any. Our desire is to learn and to promote the truth. We believe this can best be done in a spirit of gracious mutual respect, as we converse with each other and search the scriptures in an effort to learn more of the truth of God.
We are here to express love for all and any who are our brethren and to invite them to enter into dialogue with us. We do not ask them to compromise their convictions. Nor will we compromise ours. We invite them to dialogue with us about the message of scripture, so that they and we can grow together into the fullest measure of the stature of Messiah and be filled with all his fullness.
We love the church, in spite of its faults, because it is the body of Messiah. We note with pain the truth of the churchs failure to stir our people to spiritual jealousy and we confess the churchs shortcomings. We are part of the church and, as such, we cannot shrug off the shame and guilt of the past. Our brethren - we - have persecuted and mistreated the Jewish people, turned a blind eye when they were being persecuted by others, and we did not make them welcome in our churches.
Many of us have experienced a sense of discomfort as we sat under preaching which castigated the Jews for rejecting Messiah while praising the disciples for believing in him; and which caricatured the Jews as representatives of everything evil. We have chaffed as we heard sermons and read bible annotations in which all the promises of God were attributed to the church, while our beloved people were left with nothing but the curses. We have shrunk in pain while being told by those who maintained their national cultures in black, Greek, Russian or American churches that we are no longer Jewish.
We are here to confess these faults and to labour for their correction. We call upon the church to welcome Jewish Christians and to abstain from calling them to undo their circumcision or deny their culture.
We are also here to affirm our oneness with all who call upon the name of the Lord from a heart made pure by the blood of Messiah and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The church is one, and its unity should be demonstrated by the way we conduct our worship, our witness and our daily lives. Culture - Jewish or gentile - should not be the issue around which congregations are founded or on which they are focused. Jesus is to be the goal and center of all we do.
The task before us is a significant one. We do not presume to be able to undertake it alone. Above all, we need grace from God, because without such grace we can never serve him acceptably. The best of our deeds are no more than filthy rags before him whom the angels cringe - although they have never sinned. Such holiness is beyond our comprehension, far beyond our reach.
We need the help of the Christian academic world. There are many areas of research that need to revisited, reviewed and - perhaps - reformulated:
We need to participate in articulating a thoroughly biblical theology of Law in general and of the Law of Moses in particular, in contemporary terms and in a manner pertinent to the questions Jewish Christians to ask and tend to be asked.
A new history of the church, written from a distinctly evangelical point of view, needs to be researched and written, taking into account the errors of the church, not only its achievements, including its attitude to what is commonly known as the Old Testament and its treatment of the Jewish people and other non-western nations.
Biblical eschatology has been transformed into a Christian form of fortune telling and has been robbed of its moral and spiritual edge. New work on eschatology urgently needs to be done, calling the church back to the main burden of the message of the prophets. We should participate in such work.
We need to learn to articulate an uncompromisingly biblical theology of God, including a theology of the Son and of the Spirit that will convey as clear a message to our people as possible, without raising any grounds for doubt among our fellow Christians as to our loyalty to biblical truth.
We need to participate in an effort to remind the church of its Christocentric calling, and to encourage the church to engage more meaningfully in multi-cultural worship and witness. The division of the church into black and white, native and immigrant, Jewish and gentile is less than helpful in discovering the riches of the Gospel and experiencing them in reality.
We need to participate in a new appraisal of Judaism, frankly recognizing its positive contributions and no less frankly indicating where it has gone astray.
We need to participate in the discovery of Jewish Christian history, including its aberrations, so we can learn form the past both what to emulate and what to avoid.
We need the help of all our fellow Christians, as we fumble our way through the morass of options, all clamoring for our attention and loyalty. We all need to bear with each other patiently, to be open to differences of practice within our respective believing communities, to graciously accept criticism when we are at fault and to dare to undertake a renewed concern for the evangelization of the Jewish people.
We need the help of our fellow Jews who believe in Jesus. We need to discuss together with them the issues at stake in a frank and open manner, ever examining the biblical evidence. We oppose none of our brethren in Christ. We do sincerely disagree with some on a number of important points, but we are confident that, as our discussion proceeds, we will discover that some of these disagreements are based on misunderstanding. We humbly ask all of our brethren to dare examine the grounds of their practice, as we shall do ours, and to join us in a search for ever-increasing understanding of the word of God. Forgive us when we are wrong, and bear with us, please, if we are overbearing. Lets serve God together by submitting to his word.
Why have we gathered at this conference? We have gathered because we are deeply concerned with trends evident among some of our Jewish fellow believers in Jesus. We are persuaded that the words of the unknown apostle in his letter to the Hebrews are still pertinent, particularly to us: We must pay much more careful attention than we have done until now to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. If the Torah, delivered by angels, was binding and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation - first announced by the Lord, confirmed by those who heard him and God himself testified to its truthfulness by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit given according to his will (Heb. 2:1-4).
We are also here to encourage the greater majority of our Jewish brethren who are to be found in evangelical churches: be true to Messiah. Remain where you are. Be faithful Christians. But dont forsake your people. Remain Jewish. Seek to reach out to your Jewish brethren who do not believe in Jesus, the members of your families, residents in your neighbourhoods, your acquaintances and those whom you either serve or who serve you in the course of your everyday walk of life. We are the light of the world. No one lights a candle to place under the table. Our light must shine so that all can see it, and in a manner that will move them to praise our Father who is in heaven. We are the salt of the earth. If the salt will have lost its saltiness, it is unfit for anything but to be thrown on the ground and trampled underfoot. Both the church and Israel needs our message - and it is a grand privilege and duty to deliver it as faithfully as God will enable us so to do.
To the extent that we are enabled by God to focus on the main issues of the Gospel, we shall best serve the interests dear to our hearts, and glorify God in the process.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord,
To him who rides the ancient skies above,
Who thunders with mighty voice.
Proclaim the power of God,
Whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in the skies.
You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary,
The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.
Praise be to God!
Let us pray:
O God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Creator and Sustainer of heaven, earth and all that is in them,
We come before you by the virtues of your son and our saviour, Jesus.
We come to plead for our people, who are still in darkness, who are without God, without Messiah and without hope in the world.
We come to plead for ourselves, in need of much more enlightenment.
We come to plead for our brethren, both Jewish and gentile, who know your grace in
Show us your grace, Lord, be with us in this conference. Teach us your ways, and give us the courage that comes with the riches of complete understanding.
May your Spirit guide us into all truth, and may we have grace to live for you according to the truth.
Save our people, Lord.
Save Israel as you have promised.
May the day soon come when Israel will blossom and bud and fill the face of the earth with fruit
and the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,
through Jesus, the Messiah and our Lord,
It soon became apparent that some who had subscribed to the conference goals and purposes did not fully grasp the implications of those goals. They were not in full agreement with the purpose for which our conference was convened. Obviously, we had failed to describe these with sufficient clarity, for which Baruch as the conference initiator and as chairman of the Convening Committee assumes the main burden of responsibility. Three main trends were evident in our discussions:
One group, wholly made up of former adherents of the Messianic Movement (MM) and injured by the Movement, insisted that we should have no dealings with the MM. Instead, we should focus on the creation of an alternative, more biblical movement.
Another group called to work for the formation of such a new Movement, but insisted that dialogue with the MM can help other adherents of the Movement hear our voice and perhaps heed it.
The third group were of the opinion that we should labour, rather, for a reformation of the MM, not seek to replace it.
There was no discussion of the Messianic Movement as such, no vitriolic, no gossip and no harsh words. All were united in a desire to honour God by avoiding all forms of backbiting, and in a desire to love our brethren in the MM, with whom we disagreed significantly. All agreed that a new, clear voice should be heard, and that we who gathered at the conference should labour to create such a voice, but there was no agreement as to the nature of that voice.
A Convening Committee was formed, consisting of the three original Conveners, and four other participants in the conference. Baruch was elected to serve as chairman. A Statement to the Press was adopted and a second conference called for. Our Statement to the Press is given below:
Statement to the Press
On May 22-24 a group of Jewish and gentile Christians, lovers of the Jewish people, met in Vienna, Virginia, USA for the first International Jewish Christian Conference.
We gathered because we love God and believe the message of salvation he has sent for Jews first and also for gentiles 1. We call upon our people, to turn from the errors in secularism and rabbinicism, to repent and to put their trust in Jesus, Israels promised Messiah 2. Rabbinic authority was established in the course of our peoples exiles and represents a departure from the biblical faith of Israel.
We call upon our Jewish brethren in the Faith who are in evangelical churches around the world to be faithful in their respective churches.
We call upon our Jewish brethren in the Faith to avoid making Jewishness their focus. We believe that none but God in Messiah should be the focus of individual and congregation life 3. There is no biblical requirement for Jewish believers to gather in ethnically focused congregations.
We call upon our Jewish brethren in the Faith who are in evangelical churches to make their distinct contribution to the church.
We call upon our Jewish brethren in the Faith to retain, cultivate and nourish their Jewish identity 4 as a matter of national and cultural heritage, not as an aspect of their obedience to God 5. Above all God has commanded us to love him sincerely, to strive for godliness and high moral standards, and to honestly care for our fellow man.
We call upon the evangelical Church to accommodate itself more fully to accept and respect Jewish Christians in its midst, and to rid itself of thought patterns and of expressions that have anti-Semitic roots. Jews who cherish their national and cultural identity are not necessarily Judaizing 6.
We call upon the evangelical Church to renew its recognition of the Bible, not rabbinic Judaism, as the roots of its faith. Rabbinic Judaism ought to be challenged, not embraced.
We call upon the evangelical Church to renew its commitment to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11) by its holiness and godly conduct and to proclaim the good news of the Messiah to the Jewish people.
We call upon all our Jewish brethren in the Faith to renew their commitment to the truth and supreme authority of Scripture, and to reaffirm that the Father, Son and Spirit are fully equal in their deity, together, one God the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation is our supreme authority for all matters of faith and conduct that the Mosaic Covenant was our schoolmaster to lead us to Messiah. Now that he has come we are no longer under the schoolmaster (Gal. 3:24-25) 7 that being Jewish or maintaining Jewish tradition in no way accords us spirituality, holiness or proximity to God, that the body of Christ is one, in which Jews and gentiles, men and women from various social, educational, financial or political strata are united.
We call upon adherents to Messianic Judaism to dialogue with us. We love and respect you. We humbly differ with you on important issues. We are eager to hear and be heard, so that you and we might together better serve God and Messiahs cause.
1. Rom. 1:16; Acts 3:26 2. Acts 3:19-26. 3. Col. 1:18 4. I Cor. 7:
17-18 5. Rom. 2:25; Gal. 5:6, 6:15. 6. Rom. 11:1 7. Gal. 3:24-25
More work now needs to be done in preparation for the second conference, and for other related endeavours contemplated. Your prayers are needed, as ever.
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