Dismantling Legalism In the Messianic Jewish Movement Today


Here at Museltof Countercult and Apologetics and UK Apologetics we have been becoming increasingly concerned as the Messianic Jewish Christian world has been increasingly infiltrated by legalistic teachings. We firmly believe that many are being brought back under the bondage of the law through the activities of false teachers; websites appear to be springing up almost daily which are telling Jewish Christians that they should also be observing the Torah, to say nothing of the allegations of infiltrations of local congregations. In fact, it is impossible not to be reminded of Paul’s serious warning to the Galatians. The Galatians had accepted Christ but judaizing teachers later infiltrated them telling them that accepting Christ was not enough for salvation and that they should still keep the law. But Paul hotly denied this, making some very stern and uncompromising comments about those who would pervert the gospel of Christ. If the reader is unfamiliar with this topic, I would recommend a full reading of Galatians.

I was, therefore, greatly heartened to find a Messianic Jew, Marshall Beeber, speaking out in quite strong terms about those who are at work undermining the all-important teaching of grace within the messianic Jewish community. I would like to thank Marshall for granting us permission to put his article here. There is a link to Marshall's site at the end of the article. I would just point out that many messianic congregations, however, remain true to the teaching of grace which is so essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Robin A. Brace, 2004.

The article follows:

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 why the "gospel of grace" was overtaken by "Torah observant legalism", is due to a spirit of unbiblical compromise and conformation to a false spirit of religiosity among Messianic Jewish leaders. To make the situation worse, grace oriented Messianic Jewish (Hebrew Christians) leaders have themselves been polarized by various secondary issues. 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, but 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-90’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 Jews resented the teachings of Grace having supremacy over Torah. 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 much of the Messianic Jewish movement. Today almost all dissenting teachers have been ostracized from much of the movement. Those that remain but disagree have learned a certain "politically correct" posture to take regarding legalism and have therefore been neutralized. Both the UMJC and MJA are now supportive of Sternian doctrine. 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. They must also realize that they cannot succeed in defeating the well planed "Torah observance" orientation without a well structured program offering a freedom of choice for both. These leaders must be empowered by the Spirit to achieve their goals.

Legalists must realize too 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.

Marshall Beeber

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