Dismantling Legalism In the Messianic Jewish movement

by Marshall Beeber

The greatest threat to the Messianic Jewish (Hebrew Christian) Movement in the 21st Century is the de-spiritualization of it's ranks by legalism in the form of mandatory Torah observance. I believe  the reason for "Torah observant legalism" overtaking the "gospel of grace" is from unbiblical compromise and conformation to a false spirit of religiosity among Messianic Jewish leaders. To make the situation worse, grace oriented Messianic Jewish (Hebrew Christian) leaders have themselves been polarized by various secondary issues.

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To reverse the stemming tide of legalism before the entire movement is lost, we must put aside our differences and work together for the common goal of the gospel. To combat these false spirits, believers who know the true gospel of grace must pray continuously for the Spirit to shake off the complacency that has permitted this error to perpetuate itself.  Believers opposing legalism must not only be doctrinally correct, they must also be empowered by the Spirit to convince those in error to change.

Let me take some time to explain why legalism in the form of strict Torah Observance has successfully overtaken the correct doctrine of Grace and how Grace oriented Messianic Judaism can regain the hearts and minds of believers. The Messianic Jewish Movement grew out of rebellion against Protestant Christian missionary programs which did not understand the needs of Messianic Jewish (Hebrew Christian) believers. Doctrine was oriented towards grace, with oversight that would prevent believers from professing and teaching Torah observance. Such programs only perpetuated a "second class" Hebrew Christian citizenry within the Church, causing worshippers to mistrust their leadership. In the late 70s through the 80s the Messianic Jewish movement teaching in most congregations was still largely Grace oriented, accompanied with some Torah observance. This form of worship and daily practice still remained true to New Covenant standards and gave worshippers the freedom to express their Jewishness.

In the mid-1990’s David Stern’s revolutionary book , "The Messianic Jewish Manifesto" started turning belief towards strict Torah Observance. I believe that Stern’s intent was that of dismantling the "Pauline" teachings of Grace, to revert back to the Law. He and other supportive Messianic Jewish teachers perceived the Grace teachings of the Apostle Paul to be the greatest stumbling block to evangelizing the Jewish people. He therefore intentionally rebelled against New Covenant doctrine believing that Jews would not accept any Gospel except one that was totally Torah observant. In doing this, he and other supportive teachers adopted a dangerously heretical course. Strict Torah observance has now become the standard in many parts of the Messianic Jewish movement. Stern's book adopts a "Cultural Marxist" form of deception by promoting an erroneous historical portrait of Paul to conform to his religious and social agenda. Cultural Marxist deceit justifies promoting the "big lie" if it serves to promote the continuity of their social cause.

In developing a deceptive historical portrait of Paul that would accept Torah Observant legalism, these Messianic Jewish teachers had to take an approach that would disregard the accurate history of Paul in his evolution from "Saul of Tarsus" persecutor of the Church in Israel and the Diaspora, to the "Apostle Paul", church founder, teacher and evangelist to both Jew and Gentile alike.  They would have to sell to their flock the idea that "Rav Shaul" remained Torah observant, even while ministering to the Gentiles in the Greco/Roman provinces of Asia Minor.  They also had to assert that the proselytes of Rav Shaul were Torah observant.  The task of selling this "spin" was simple for most of the devoted believers within the Messianic Jewish movement, but much less so for those educated in Church history and New Covenant teachings. Today, most Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles have accepted Anti-Pauline doctrine unknowingly by believing in a distorted historical portrait of Paul.

Today almost all dissenting teachers have been ostracized from the movement. Those that remain but disagree have learned a certain "politically correct" posture to take regarding legalism and have therefore been neutralized. Major ministries like Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries spend little effort in combating this legalism, despite their Grace oriented teaching. They have both largely capitulated their efforts in maintaining basic doctrinal integrity within the MJM as a whole. It looks like the battle against legalism is being lost! But the legalist leaders have not yet faced the repercussion of their folly , nor the full opposition of their Grace oriented Messianic Jewish and supportive Christian brethren. It is my intent to structure a logical and persuasive campaign to cause Grace oriented Messianic Jewish brethren to rise to the cause, rather than shrink away in defeat.

If a grace oriented gospel is to successfully combat legalism, grace oriented leaders must first pray and repent of their complacency. These leaders must be empowered by the Spirit to achieve their goals. They must also realize that they cannot succeed in defeating the well planed "Torah observance" orientation without a well structured program confronting the "Rav Shaul" error and offering a freedom of choice for those who choose to remain Torah observant in a non-obligatory fashion.

Torah observant Messianic Jews and Gentiles too must realize that they cannot continue to teach doctrine opposing basic New Covenant truths without suffering the paralyzing spiritual consequences. The constant hope for "revival" in the MJM cannot be met until the Spirit is given the freedom to touch individuals. The perceived strength in legalism is it’s insistence upon conformity within the movement. This of-course, has always been the true weakness of the Law. It cannot succeed in emancipating souls by liturgical means. Only by the Spirit and the freedom of Grace are sinners truly freed from the bondage of sin and death.

Lastly, for those Messianic Jewish ministries that profess to be grace-oriented and also offer Torah observance, it is of the utmost importance that doctrinal teaching supporting the freedoms taught in the Pauline Epistles are stressed over that of Torah observance.  Otherwise a preoccupation with Torah observance will continue to exist in those ministries which would quell New Covenant freedoms and Spiritual growth.

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