While the Messianic movement started as organizations for Jewish converts, Messianic congregations attract today on average a majority of Christian-born seekers, reports Hillary Kaell (Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec) in the current issue of the journal Religion (January). Since the mid-1990s, not only has the interest of U.S. Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians in Messianic Judaism grown, but also an increasing number among them have affiliated with Messianic congregations. According to Kaell’s estimates, today’s gentile believers probably make at least 70 percent of Messianic congregations—something overlooked in studies with focus on a few flagship and high-count Jewish congregations.
The author describes those Messianic gentiles as “born-again seekers.” Being seekers, they have often attended various other congregations and may affiliate for short periods. Because the Messianic background is evangelical, people who were mostly already born again before joining a Messianic congregation feel comfortable in such settings. Kaell distinguishes them from New Age seekers, who are open to exploring much more diverse spiritual options; in contrast, for born-again seekers, “their purpose is to grow more deeply in the tradition they know.”
Various factors make Messianic Judaism attractive. They feel that Messianic teachings and preaching open a deeper understanding. The curiosity for the Jewish people linked to end times prophecies, especially concerning full control of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount following the 1967 war, also plays a role. In addition, they believe that participation in Messianic congregations allows them to worship “like Jesus,” to the extent of adopting certain Jewish rituals and rules. Although some (Jewish) Messianic leaders would discourage gentiles from embracing them, Kaell observes that Messianic gentiles actually welcome the challenge to acquire expertise on Hebrew language and rituals. Restructuring their lives around Saturday worship, Jewish holidays and various practices is seen as more rewarding than their previous experiences with evangelical congregations.
Not surprisingly, either the Jewish members in their congregation or Messianic gentiles themselves start wondering at some point if they might actually have Jewish blood. But few insist on being recognized as Jews, they rather hint at such origins. Kaell suggests that one should not look for uniform approaches, even within a single congregation. The key element is religious seeking as a practice, expressing itself in different ways in the evangelical milieu with Messianic Judaism being one of them. Rather than looking at Messianic Judaism as a new religious movement or a marginal branch of Judaism, she sees its growth as “a still under-theorized trend in North American evangelicalism towards religious seeking.”
(Religion, Taylor & Francis, 325 Chestnut Street, 8th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19106 – http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rrel20