Monday, November 17, 2014

Discussion Question: Is It Okay for a Messianic to Identify as a Christian? (And Vice Versa)

Hypothetical #1:

You're a Messianic (i.e. a Yeshua-follower who believes that Mosaic Law is still in force) visiting a church.  Someone asks "Are you a Christian?"  How should you respond? (Give your reasoning).

Hypothetical #2:

You're a Messianic visiting with your neighbors and they ask "Are you a Christian?"  How should you respond? (Give your reasoning).

Hypothetical #3:

You're a Christian (Jewish or otherwise) and you have a teaching ministry.  Is it okay to call yourself Messianic?


  1. Hovav Ben Avraham AvinuNovember 18, 2014 at 5:45 AM

    #1 & #2: I'm a disciple of Jesus (if necessary/there is an opening explain more)
    #3: No way!

  2. I'm not touching #3, but as for 1 and 2, I would say that *of course* it is acceptable to identify as a Christian. We have to bear in mind the intent of the person asking the question. What information, exactly, are they trying to obtain? Do they want to know our opinion on the applicability of the Torah? Is that their intent with the question?

    When Messianics define "Christian," we often mean something like....

    "A believer in Yeshua who participates in the traditional culture with which followers of Yeshua have long been associated - that is, Christmas and Easter, full cultural integration with the local area in terms of music and style in worship, at least some degree of religious syncretism with the areas to which Christianity was brought, and neglect of biblical holidays, food regulations, and other various Biblical commandments due to a perception that Jesus wants His followers to disobey these things."

    It's very precise.

    When a Christian defines "Christian," they usually mean...

    "A believer in Yeshua."

    They're generally not interested in our far more technical and nuanced definition.

    Unless you're explicitly debating Messianic theology, they're not insinuating anything about culture, or commandments, or what percentage of the Bible one group obeys versus another. In standard parlance, a "Christian" is a person who trusts Yeshua's sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins. Occasionally, if you're discussing with someone who's very opinionated, educated, or active in leadership, it might be more specific. They might say that a non-Trinitarian isn't a Christian, or one who affirms the Torah isn't a Christian, but this is in the minority of cases, and they're usually pretty obvious on the face of it when they occur.

    The majority of the time, the intent of the question is very generic - when the term "Christian" comes up among Christians in casual conversation, it's simply, "Do you believe in Jesus?" We Messianics can unequivocally answer, "Yes."

    Now, if the person seems to want an actual conversation and to get into the details, I often follow up by explaining that I have some theological differences with most Christians. I'll sometimes say that I don't usually use that term - even though, on a basic level, it's accurate - for various reasons: offense to Jews due to historical persecution, or the fact that it's watered down in modern culture to mean next to nothing, even judging by mainstream Christian standards, or a few others.

    But, most of the time, people who ask if I'm a Christian aren't interested in what they see - for better or worse - as precise inter-denominational differences. They want to know if I believe in Jesus or not, and I just leave it at that rather than run them off with what they would perceive as "boring" technicalities.

  3. I like how emphatic you are with #3. : )

  4. RE: "We have to bear in mind the intent of the person asking the question."

    I can't argue with that.

  5. Hovav Ben Avraham AvinuNovember 18, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    Yes, of course, but the intent of the person asking is not everything.
    Unless you still have attachments to christian theology and modus operandi, than you can't, as a messianic, claim to be a christian. It is missleading. It's the same as a spirtualist saying he is a christian. He believes in Jesus - so he is a Christian? They do think so. However, since they believe in him in such a different way from other traditional christians (catholic and evangelicals) it is a wrong way to identify oneself without qualifications.
    It goes the same for messianics if - and only if - we do assume our jewish religious identity.
    It is a matter of worldview. Its is actually a question whether being messianic is the same as being just part of another sect within "evangelical" Christianity or another thing.
    It is an issue of Messianic identity: is it only Christianity with Torah (being not very differente from Adventism), or are we more jewish than that. This of course varies from person to person and ministry to ministry, nevertheless, it is an essential question for the whole messianic movement,

  6. Chantel Duvall-CooperNovember 18, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    #1 I have not attended "church" in a VERY long time and have no inkling
    to do it again in the future. I can no longer stomach the steeples, the
    icons, the animosity of the Torah or the (near) worship of Paul. IF i did by some fluke, I would NOT identify myself as "Christian"...
    #2 I do NOT identify myself as a "Christian" to anyone. I tell people I am a "Believer" in Yeshua HaMashiach. The term Christian (IMO) implies I keep Christmas, Easter and ignore the Feast and Eat unclean animals (to name just a few)..
    #3 I do not know how to answer because to me it (the question) makes the point there is a difference between "Christian and Messianic"..
    I personally do not want to be tricked into attending a ministry that claims to be Messianic and turns out to be a Pauline doctrine church...

  7. I get where you're coming from, and I agree there is a significant distinction between "Christian" and "Messianic." We do practice Judaism. But the problem is that in 90% of cases, random people on the street or in the grocery store or whatever, the person asking the question doesn't care about any the particulars of this discussion. They don't even know about any of it. The possibility has never even crossed their mind that you could accept that Yeshua is the Messiah without being a Christian. They're trying to ascertain one thing - Do you think 'Jesus' was speaking the truth, or lying? - as simply as possible.

    In about 90% of cases, saying "No" is going to give the person asking the question the wrong impression. They're going to take from this, "I testify that Yeshua is not Messiah," and that will be that. They're done.

    Saying that you're a "believer" is much better, but it and similar answers can come off as elitist and I've seen people get driven off.

    Now, you might want to go on to explain that you are Messianic, but if they've mentally checked out after hearing "No," there's no point. Usually, you've got an "audience," your questioner, for all of three seconds to communicate whether you accept Yeshua or not, without driving them away in the process.

    In the minority of cases, when they want a deep conversation, we should give them one. If they do, they'll say something like, "What denomination?" At that point, I often clarify and go, "Well, I don't actually use the word 'Christian.' I practice Judaism, but I believe that Jesus is the Messiah." But they're only interested in those peculiarities if they ask that second question, and forcing them into a conversation on the details when they don't want to have it doesn't come off well.

    They use "Christian" to mean "generic believer in Yeshua." We use the word "Christian" with a very unusual, precisely technical meaning - "A specific kind of believer in Yeshua." When they ask "Are you a Christian," they're not speaking the same language that we are. I argue that we should recognize the difference and answer the question speaking their language, not ours. We should clear up the details if they're interested in doing so.

  8. Hovav Ben Avraham AvinuNovember 18, 2014 at 1:45 PM

    I understand you, but you don't have to say you are a Christian to answer it in a simple fashion: just say you are a disciple and it will be enough - and will even bring room to sharing your perspectve. Proclaiming oneself a Christian for the sake of "clarity" actually makes it more complex: you answer the imediate question, but also let the person develop lots of expectations and pressuposition about you, that are not true.
    Maybe saying you are a disciple does the same, so you should just say i'm messianic, explain what it means and even if the person does not get it all, he/she will know that you have something in common with her, but are not the same