Review of Mark S. Kinzer, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. Grand Rapids 2005… A Jew who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, is he a Jew or a Christian? Jesus believing Jews give different answers to the question. The history of the Messianic movement – as it is commonly known today – could even be divided into periods corresponding to these answers.
The implications are great. Is a Jew who believes in Jesus obliged to continue observing the commandments of the Torah? How does he deal with the rabbinic interpretation and practice of the Torah? What is his relation to the Jewish people and to the Church, or to Christianity?
Somebody who in answering these questions tries to go beyond the almost classical oppositions, is Mark Kinzer. He is president of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute in the USA. Some years ago he wrote on this subject his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Last year I received this book as a present, and I would like to share with you some thoughts that inspired me.
In his book, Kinzer develops a – what he calls – bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel, that confirms Israel’s covenant, Torah and religious tradition. So he challenges the church to think – again – about her relation with Israel and first and foremost about which place Jews who believe in Jesus have in the church. It is vital for the church to remain rooted in Israel. The presence of Messianic Jews might well be the most visible sign of this rootedness.
Then, however, they have to be recognizable as Jews. And that is his appeal to these believers – and in a broader sense to the Jewish people: Jews who believe in Jesus are Jews and should live as such and be accepted as such.
What is his ecclesiology about? The church is in origin a Jewish movement, within Israel. Gentile believers are added to that. However, the different calling of Israel remains valid also within the church. So in the church there is unity and differentiation: unity in Christ, but differentiation between Jew and gentile, according to the vocation of Israel. A ‘bilateral ecclesiology’ thus describes a community of two different groups: Jews and gentiles, within the church – Kinzer prefers to speak about the Jewish ekklesia and the gentile ekklesia.
At the same time, that is a recognition of the continued calling and place of Israel as a whole, besides and in distinction of the church. The church does not take the place of Israel, but is rather an extension of Israel. This implies, too, the recognition of the validity and the authority of rabbinical tradition.
Why ‘post-missionary’? Kinzer mentions several reasons. First of all, it has to do with the reason why a Messianic Jew should live a Jewish life: not out of missionary considerations, but as an expression of loyalty to the covenant of God with Israel. Secondly, this term expresses that a post-missionary Messianic Judaism (indeed just like the ekklesia as a whole) embraces the Jewish people and its religious tradition and discovers God and the Messiah in the midst of Israel. In the third place, it says that Messianic Jews serve the (gentile) Christian church by linking her to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and so confirming her identity as a multinational extension of the people of Israel.
In two chapters Kinzer discusses the New Testament data concerning the Jewish practice and the Jewish people; in other chapters the apparent Jewish ‘no’ to Jesus and the Biblical basis of Jewish oral tradition. The centre chapter deals with the Christian ‘no’ to Israel. And that is the crux of the issue: to refute of this ‘no’ and to point at a more excellent way.
Judaism as a whole never rejected Jesus. The New Testament confirms the irrevocable covenant of God with Israel. Besides, it confirms Jewish praxis, that is rooted in the Torah, as a sign of this covenant and as a means to preserve Israel as covenant people in this world. In other words, the New Testament confirms Judaism as we know it today.
The great schism
With his ecclesiology, Kinzer hopes to give an impulse to the restoration of the great schism of Israel and the church. The church needs to come home to Israel, would she again breathe freely in this time.