It’s diverse. God is at work. And there are a variety of fringe characters clouding the edges of the picture.
A person might use words like these if you asked him or her to paint a verbal portrait of Jewish believers at the end of the first century. Nineteen centuries later, I find myself reaching for the same descriptors to snapshot the Messianic movement in the U.S.
Just as there has been in many other places around the world, there have always been a small number of Jewish believers in America. After the Six Day War in 1967 that reunified Jerusalem, the Messianic movement grew exponentially in the U.S., fueled in large part by the Jesus Movement revival that took place during this period.
A generation later, some have estimated that there may be more than 40,000 Jewish believers in America. There are about 300 self-identified Messianic congregations in America, but the majority of Jewish believers become a part of evangelical churches rather than worship in Messianic congregations.
It is important to note that a portion of these self-titled Messianic congregations are comprised almost entirely of Gentile believers. Many of these “Messianic Gentiles” have affection for some form of Jewish roots and practice. However, there are others in search of spiritual novelty, possessing cultural concerns about paganism or syncretism affecting their former churches, or at odds with the troubling trend toward replacement theology (supersessionism) in some streams of evangelicalism.
There are plenty of Messianic congregations with predominately Jewish membership. In fact, my husband and I attend one from time to time. Many of these congregations tend to be fairly small in size (less than 150 attending weekly, though those numbers grow during Jewish holidays). Some worship according to the pattern of a synagogue service, others function more like churches, albeit with a bit of additional Jewish “flavor”.
Some Jewish believers who worship in churches struggle with questions of assimilation and identity as they’re often told by ill-informed leaders or fellow congregants that their Jewishness no longer matters now that they believe in Yeshua. My husband and I have appreciated the efforts of a respected Jewish believer in our city who has taken it upon himself to organize a lecture series focusing on these very issues. The effort is a way to help connect Jewish believers who worship in the church with members of the Messianic community – and has been a thoughtful outreach tool some regular attenders have used to invite their not-yet-believing Jewish relatives and friends.
Most Jewish believers in the U.S. keep their eyes on what is happening in Israel. What happens in the Land affects us no matter where we live in the world. We are connected to one another by our shared faith. This is why the work of the Caspari Center is so important. As Caspari provides training, support and discipleship materials for believers across Israel and believers in the land grow in numbers and maturity, we who live in the Diaspora are strengthened as well.
Michelle van Loon