What is a Messianic Synagogue? Who are Messianic Jews? These are a couple of the any questions which are asked by people who first encounter Messianic Judaism.
As the term itself indicates, a Messianic Synagogue is just that. It is a Synagogue; it is Jewish. We incorporate the traditional Jewish forms and expressions of worship. We celebrate Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. We enjoy our traditions and love the God who graciously made them possible. We praise the God of Israel for the atonement He has provided and the life He has given us. We continually draw on our rich heritage and seek to share its beauty with others.
But, we are a Messianic Synagogue. For centuries the devout among us have longed for the coming of our promised Messiah. We have found Him. When He came, He fulfilled the prophecies in the Torah and Haftorah made by Israel’s ancient prophets. He said He came to carry out God’s purpose for our world and made good on His promises to our people; His mission was one of fulfillment (Matthew 5:17). In other words (as the term “fulfill” means in the language He spoke), He would uncover the depths and riches of our Scriptures and our heritage; He would showcase our traditions in all their beauty and brilliance; He would pack our beliefs and practices full of significance and meaning.
Who is He? History has come to know Him as Jesus of Nazareth, but His friends just called him Yeshua (“salvation”, see Isaiah 62:11). He brought a message of love and life, a message of hope and joy. He injected peace and purpose, meaning and significance into life after life. And, He’s transformed us also! ” . . . it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16, NIV
There is nothing like belonging to a Messianic Synagogue. Messianic Synagogues sponsor corporate gatherings which influence our personal lives in a profound way. One of the most interesting aspects of a Messianic Synagogue is the vastly different backgrounds that members bring with them. While the most important focus is the salvation of our Jewish people, we are still quite a collage of individuals.
What draws people to Messianic Judaism? For those who have experience with Rabbinic Judaism, it allows a continuance of comfortable traditions. For those with assimilated Jewish backgrounds, it provides a chance to renew and learn about their rich Jewish heritage.
Many non-Jewish people are drawn to Messianic Judaism as well. These members do not convert to become Jews. (God did not make a mistake with their parents). They have a “Ruth-like” calling and desire the opportunity to “practice” Messianic Judaism and worship God as revealed in the complete Bible in a unique way. This mixture of backgrounds exists in every Messianic Synagogue. What pulls us together is Messianic Judaism.
This is an important point. It is not the Messiah alone which identifies Messianic Judaism; the Church has the Messiah and is not Messianic Jewish. It is not Judaism that makes Messianic Judaism; the Rabbinic Temple has Judaism. Messianic Judaism can only be practiced within a Messianic Synagogue.
We are defined not only by what we believe but also by what we do in concert with one another. Participation in our Synagogue’s service and activities blend us into a single “community”. Regardless of our backgrounds, we can truly be one in the Lord.
Is this something exclusively for the Jewish people? Absolutely not! All who respond to the Messiah, Jew and Gentile alike, are heirs to a rich Jewish spiritual heritage and have deep Jewish roots (Romans 11:17). We invite our Gentile Brothers to recapture the first century setting of our common faith, experience first-hand the Jewish backgrounds of the Bible, and enjoy their Jewish roots. We have been excited to see those without physical Jewish roots find a home in our Synagogue. The walls between the Jewish people and Gentiles have been broken down as we have united in a common worship and life. This is a reality which, while encouraging Gentiles to discover and enjoy their Jewish roots, also encourage Jews to pursue their full Jewish identity.
Let us explore the congregational gathering and what it offers to the body of attendees. We meet in the Synagogue on the Sabbath for many reasons, but most importantly, we meet because God said to do so. He knows we need one day of rest from the pressures we face on the other six days. As we listen to liturgy passed down through the ages and the words and music of the praise and worship group, we are filled with a wonderful gift: the gift of Shabbat peace. We respond in many different ways. Some raise their hands to welcome the Holy Spirit while others bow their heads and allow a feeling of euphoria to pour into them. Only in a corporate setting can the congregation truly share that experience.
Then, there is the teaching. Some are acquainted with the Bible through intellectual and spiritual study, while others know almost nothing but hunger to learn. There are some who read, but have no understanding of a deeper meaning of the words. Our teachers are anointed by the Spirit of God to give us insight and open our minds to the wonders of the Lord’s message. Most of us are like children as we hear and listen to our teachers. It is all so new and revealing. Where else but in a congregational gathering can we receive such knowledge and understanding of His word? In addition, beyond Biblical interpretation, we receive direction as an entire body of what we are to strive towards accomplishing. We are made aware of a corporate vision, our need for growth and the responsibility to support the congregation.
Our children are our future. For this reason, we ask God’s special blessing on them at our Sabbath service. We also introduce them to Congregational life through Bible study. Sabbath School teachers are dedicated to bringing our children the love of the Lord in a way they can comprehend. All of us look forward to the day they become a Bar or Bat Mitzvah (coming-of-age ceremony marking a boy or girl’s acceptance, at age thirteen, of responsibility for carrying out the commandments of the Torah).
We commit ourselves to the preservation of Jewish heritage. God promised the Jewish people there would always be a remnant; one day the nation would be restored as a demonstration to the world of God’s faithfulness. In this way, we remember God continues to work in bringing people to Himself.
What does our congregation offer in our personal lives? Consider first the need for personal prayer. We all face problems in our secular lives, be it financial, health, job or family. It is difficult and sometimes overwhelming to face these challenges alone. Those with a special anointing pray over us, comfort us, and assure us that Adonai is in control of all things. Hearing these words continually reinforces the truth we already know and believe. We need the strength of congregational prayer to remind us God loves us and wants only to bless us. Those who come forward to receive these words of comfort also receive an additional spiritual uplift, sometimes so overwhelming that they let loose of all resistance to their surroundings focusing
solely on Adonai. This is truly a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit.
What else does the congregational body offer us personally? As believers, we look to associate with other believers. It is here we can find true friendships, comrades that share in the delight of the Lord, and the understanding and compassion we cannot get in the outside world. The Lord has commanded us to love one another as He loved us. Above all else, our Shabbat services are a time to share His love.
Finally, there is another important event that takes place after the service – the Oneg Shabbat. Our synagogue is blessed with wonderful chefs. The Oneg not only feeds the body, but gives us the opportunity to develop friendships and is a time when bonding can begin. It is also where advice is freely given and compassion is offered when needed. What a wonderful way to experience Sabbath. What a wonderful way to spend time with each other and our Lord.
As a Synagogue, we try to live out the principles of love and service that should follow from true faith. We desire to support and build one another up and to spread the Good News of Messiah’s salvation to all men.