Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Individualism in Messianic Ministries is Hurting Us as a Movement and a QUESTION

Not too long ago, there was a video put out by some Jewish Christians who apparently lived in Israel.  As is typical of Christians, they attacked Judaism by attacking the Rabbis.  The thing that bothered me most, even more than the unfair attacks, was the arrogance behind it.

And then a member of a well-known One Law ministry made some public comments that expressed approval for the awful video and I called this person out.


The readership to this blog plummeted (it has since recovered).  The person in question quickly de-friended me on Facebook (which in Medieval times would be like slapping someone with a glove).

Now, I'm not bringing this up to cast any blame--I'm sure I deserve most of the blame, not being the most diplomatic person in the world.  I'm bringing this up because it highlights a faulty value system in our Messianic movement:

It seems that most ministries prize individualism (independence) over holism (interdependence).

I seem to recall that there was a scholar named Hofstede who wrote extensively about the differences between Eastern and Western culture.  I'm probably not going to get this exactly right but I believe he explained that there exists a continuum of values between the opposite poles of individualism and collectivism that might look something like this:

Individualist values:  self-sufficiency, independence, non-conformism, role aversion, individual decision making, independent living, self-guided

Collectivist values:  cooperation, interdependence, role acceptance, group decision making, group living, group-guided

The idea was that Western countries, because of affluence and modernism, place more value on the individualist values.  Be true to yourself, do what feels good, don't listen to "authority", let's all promote equality because everyone is absolutely the same--let's even have gender neutral bathrooms.  And in the Eastern countries, people actually listen to their elders, they are true to their group at the cost of personal desires.

The ideal is probably somewhere in the middle of the continuum, where value is placed on both the individual and group--I would call this holism (from the Greek holos for "whole, entire").  Holism respects the needs of the whole entity and the needs of the individual, attempting to find a balance between the two different sets of needs.

An example would be marriage.  My wife and I are equals.  She has elected me, in a way, to be a leader in the functional sense.  I'm the "head" but I don't act without her approval--decisions are arrived at mutually.  This is dynamic is a blend of individualism and collectivism, an attempt to balance the needs of the collective (marital unit) and the needs of the 2 (extremely different) individuals that form the "whole".

But in a marriage there's great incentive to work together.  We see each other every day.  We share the same goal of raising a wonderful daughter to live as a Daughter of the King.  The needs of our "collective" are very real and immediate to us.

But unfortunately these collectivist needs are ignored by most independent Messianic ministries.  They are autonomous, self-sufficient, independent, self-guiding, accountable to no one but themselves.

Even this blog could be considered individualist!  I do try to minimize individualism however by encouraging dialogue.

But there you have it.  We Messianics have a little problem with too much individualism and not even collectivism.  In short, we're not operating holistically.

My question for you, Dear Reader, is simple:

What's the solution?

Because we desperately need a solution!


  1. There are some excellent observations here about the need for more interdependence and mutuality.

    The problem with seeing this in the Messianic community is, to be sure, a hyper-reliance on a Western individualism that many will not give up. More important, though, is that when working together as a group is emphasized, smaller ministries and organizations will not easily do it, because it will only benefit the larger ones, and it will only serve to consolidate their control.

    Working together as a group then will devolve into group-think, and progress for the Kingdom of God will be retarded. Issues that we should be addressing for the 2010s will be dismissed via the guise of "the greater good," even though what it really means is that they are inconvenient for those in charge. People who do not get in line with the majority thought will be viewed as loose canons or non-submissive to authority, probably in rebellion.

    1. That's a good analysis of the issues and what's at stake. It actually makes me jealous of how well Jews are able to work together in a bipartisan manner (e.g. the Zionism Movement). One wonders why they can do it so well... I want to venture that it's because of a more universal sense of Group Identity, Way of Life (Halacha), and Worldview (Hashkafa)...but then many Zionists weren't even religious so who really knows.

      Great comment! Thanks for visiting!

    2. While this won't solve Western American Humanistic Individualism that plagues all of our thoughts and culture, which I believe is partially inspired by our language+culture, it is a interesting thought.

      That said, this may even sound too simple, but I have read studies on how effective language can be, in terms of assimilation and identity. A simple google search can reveal some of these studies. Language is a powerful tool, the most obvious being communication, but its more than that, it involves taking on culture and ideologies. Hebrew is a strong source of assimilation for Israel, especially since many people immigrated from various cultural backgrounds and languages. I would argue, that language then, is a huge contributing factor to group identity. So, you could start there, start becoming fluent in Hebrew. :P

      Example seen here:

    3. Zion,

      Having the same language helps. But the problem is so systemic that common language doesn't always fix it by itself. Think of how so many marriages end in divorce despite the fact that the couple's share a common language.

      Perhaps we can't really deconstruct our former identities and construct new identities until we build intimate communities at the local level. Your local community affects everything about your identity. The problem also is that few people ever get to experience an actual gemeinschaft community like the Amish or the kibbutzniks where the individual is maximally integrated into the collective. Most of us literally have no idea what we're missing. Frankly, the thought of almost losing myself in a community sounds downright scary.

      But I did almost experience one night... It was on a Shabbat, after service at the Chabad synagogue ended, we were in a group walking along the road toward the rabbis house. Stars overhead, the sound of all of our collective footsteps crunching on the gravel path bordering the road, a group of shadows trudging along through the night. There was something very primal about the whole thing... I suppose, for a moment or two, I almost lost myself in the group...

      This is what I wish for our Messianic movement...

  2. Very interesting article and comments. Here are a few odd thoughts...

    1. Individualism is a distinct problem in the Messianic. Much of that stems from the fact that the very ones, up to this point, that have been willing to rock theological boats are the rugged individualists.... As the paradigm shift accelerates, there will be fewer boat rockers and more followers that will help balance the field.

    2. Very possibly, the exact reason YHVH has to take His people into the wilderness a second time to purge out the rebels (Ez 20:35ff) is this unwillingness to be a people instead of a bunch of persons. An amazing thing happens to 'enemies' when forced into the same foxhole against a common enemy. To borrow a phrase from my military days, 'the crucible of combat binds soldiers together like nothing else.' Shared challenges and misery will quickly reveal who wants to follow the King and who wants to be king.

    3. Re: Zion and shared language (Hebrew): Interestingly, one of the proposals that Al McCarn makes in his book to help begin binding together the disparate groups is to learn Hebrew. I agree that it is common ground, however, in terms of the Jews, I think the common experience of pogroms and persecution was far more valuable in keeping and binding them together than any shared language... The language help bind the various cultures once they came together in the land...

    4. Ministries, particularly the big ones, need to learn to focus more on the Kingdom rather than individual name brand. Some are starting to do this because there is a common call toward unity, but the steps are tentative at best right now... A crucible will work wonders, though be rather uncomfortable...

    1. Oh... the solution?

      On the human level: Humility and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

      What may actually be necessary: The Ruach and a crucible.

      What I am doing: Trying to learn and grow in this area with openness and love toward others. Particularly reaching out to and trying to partner with other ministries for the greater good of the Kingdom, regardless of who gets the credit...

    2. I wish it didn't have to be that way... but the fire is necessary to remove the impurities and restore a reflective surface in which others may behold the face of the Silversmith.

    3. Pete, I also like the idea of partnerships you mentioned. It'd be nice to see Messianic ministries teaming up in strategic partnerships, finding common ground such as Pro-Israel initiatives, etc, things we can all agree on.

  3. So, what is the solution? Common language is certainly a factor and cannot be minimized. But I think we have to examine the Jewish people and ask ourselves how has God preserved this ethnic group through the millennia for some degree of direction going forward. The whole ethos of Jewish identity was focused on common language, yes, common adherence to the Torah, and yes there were difference of opinions - Rabbi this and Rabbi that – but there was always the over-riding acceptance that this text was and is YHVH's truth revealed to us; Common practice where the family practice mirrored the community at large. There may be issues over which we debate, and aren't Jews known for that! but we have something which supercedes that individuality – the corporate health and well being. Stop for a moment and think of the contemporary scene in modern Israel – members of the IDF come from various levels of commitment to the Jewish halaka of walk - Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox etc. But when faced with the challenge to the corporate identity known as Israel - there are no differences.

    Years of suffering, years of genocide, years of being relegated to the sidelines of society have taken the toll on numbers of Jews, but more importantly they have solidified their Jewishness.

    Do we need to pray for suffering? Do we need to be sidelined to the margins of society? Do we need to experience persecution for our Messianic perspectives? Just such experience will have the result, I believe of drastically re-orienting our thinking towards that which is important.

    Pete. I have gone on too long, but it occurs to me that we do not have a very good understanding of the concept of what a blood covenant is and how we are bought with a price. When I make a blood covenant with another - read Jonathan and David as an example, – I am committed to the other to preserve their life at the willingness to expend my own. We may not agree on everything or even much, but that covenant of blood we made, minimizes our differences and magnifies our allegiance to one another.

    Perhaps at our low level of interaction we need to emphasize wherever and with whomever we interact, that the real battle is not with one another, heaven knows we will soon enough need each other in ways we cannot fathom!, but with the one who seeks our destruction however that may be personified in our cultures.

    Keep goading us towards the truth and know that some of us are listening and endeavouring to implement in our limited ways!

    Off to Uganda on Tuesday!

    Blessings and shalom,

    David – Baraka International Ministries

  4. This is actually part 1 and I don't know why it is second!

    Good morning and shalom!

    Excellent question and one that needs to be addressed and actioned!

    Let's digress for a moment: Most within the Messianic movement are there because they have come from a long tradition of church involvement. It was here through the years of doctrinal theology that we learned of our uniqueness when compared to the other denominations, be that Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, Anglican … This perspective was so steeped in our thinking that we knew we were RIGHT and all the others for whatever reason were, well, not so right!

    When our eyes became opened to the broader understanding of the Scriptures through a collective understanding, we carried forward the same isolationist perspective only this time replaced the denominational identity with the identity of the one through whom we learned our new perspective - Appolos, Peter, Paul, – all over again. So, the very nature of our coming “out” and coming “in” has carried with it the same unique yet varied identity. This is authenticated by the way discussions often go at Messianic conferences or feast gatherings - I am not referring to the presentations because I believe that most of the leaders really desire unity within the broad group – but the individuals who hold to their taught perspectives, and thus emphasize their perspective and teaching rather than the communal identity.

    For many years, as an aside, I questioned the contrast I saw in reading the OT where there was so much about the community, and the belief from a NT perspective on individuality and personal salvation. When I posed such a question no one seemed willing to step up and give an answer, more than likely because they had never thought of it, but more probably because they were secure in their own way to heaven!

    So, the question which Pete raises has a great deal of history which is only compounded when we view the unfolding of the splits over the centuries in various church denominations – all considered as a step of progress to better represent their understanding of the Word.

    1. David, brother, thank you for your wonderful comment. It's such an encouragement to read. And may your trip to Uganda be blessed.

      What you said makes me think of something we have in Virginia called "no fault divorce." Because civil marriage here is just a piece of paper and not a covenant, couples can terminate a marriage as though it is nothing more than a business partnership.

      And that's what we Messianics tend to do with our relationship to other Messianics with whom we experience a disagreement. We treat it like a termination of a business partnership.

      What would happen if we didn't even consider termination an option? If we considered each other as our own flesh and blood?

      You've raised an excellent point, my friend.

      Shalom and Blessings in Yeshua,


    2. Your comment that in a marriage there is a "great incentive to work together" seems to me to be the crucial point. We are - collectively - the betrothed of Y'shua, and His greatest desire, expressed in John 17, is that we would be one as He and the Father are one. Echad - united. That should be our incentive. The desire to honor and obey His wish SHOULD be our motivating factor. That it is not is indicative of our true condition - slavery to self.

      When we acknowledge Y'shua as savior, we avow that we are laying sin aside and will do our best to live according to His instructions and demonstrate His character. We truly intend to lay sin aside, yet that sinful nature resists laying SELF aside. American culture cultivates that self-ish mode, so there is little incentive to abandon it in our society. In my experience, most of the American Christians I've met are blind to their slavery to self. I certainly have been! It is pervasive in our culture, which makes it invisible. Invisible things don't get dealt with.

      I believe that without that crucible experience that Pete Rambo mentioned, the only other alternative is for those who have any grasp of unity to model it to those who do not. And it is a 90% sure bet that their efforts will get nowhere. People begin to feel convicted and then they get defensive. Then they perceive ill will where there is none. Then they 'terminate the contract." It's called the sin nature. I hate to be a naysayer, but I believe wholeheartedly that there truly will be only a remnant (of American believers at least) that will get through that narrow gate.

      The solution is the laying aside of self. The prognosis is not good for success under the current circumstances. But the Ruach has the means to change hearts, though He may have to put us through Pete's crucible before we let him change us. When our very lives and the lives of those we love depend on trusting one another and depending on one another, we may finally learn to lay self aside.

  5. As a seeker of His truth and someone looking at this movement from the outside, the individualistic views I've sometimes found cause me to quickly raise my guard. On the other hand, it motivates me to dig even deeper. Thanks, Peter, for your grace-filled approach!

    1. Anonymous,

      I pray G-d will protect you in your search and fill your heart with encouragement. My awakening began with a literal warmth in my heart at the thought of Israel. Later, I read books by Zola Levitt and David Stern. I knew there was something to this Messianic stuff... I didn't have a Messianic synagogue in my town so I went to the Reform synagogue. I could feel something stirring. But I also knew that I couldn't stay there because they didn't believe in Yeshua. Eventually I visited a Messianic synagogue and, for the first time, rather than just reading about the Messianic movement, I actually experienced it for the first time.

      But, on some level, I was let down. In my naivete, I expected some sort of utopia. But, though they did many things right (e.g. celebrating the holy days that Christianity rejected), I quickly realized they didn't have it all together either.

      So I'm like you, I'm still searching for the Truth. But I'm very glad you visited and hope to hear more from you in the future.

      Shalom and Blessings in Yeshua,