As a writer, I am deeply interested in peoples’ stories: where they have come from, where they are now, and the journey between those two places. I believe that life itself is a journey — a beautiful one, but also a complex and painful one. This belief leads me to see beyond the propositions that people assert and see people first and foremost. People who have loved, lost, cried, and laughed. People just like me. Part of this process for me is to listen and hear not just what people believe, but what has brought them to those beliefs. When I heard that my friend Jen — a former homeschool kid like me who blogs at Yeshua, Hineni! about gentle parenting, egalitarian issues, Judaism, and Christianity— has found a sense of peace and resolve in Messianic Judaism, I very much wanted to hear more. I have always been interested Messianic Judaism, but I honestly never went out of my way to learn about it. So I am excited to share this slice of Jen’s personal journey with you here. ~Ryan
I was raised somewhere in the line between Independent Fundamentalist Baptist and Southern Baptist beliefs.
My beginnings were not like most children. My parents were well established at a church at our duty station, working with the youth. My mom took leave when she was pregnant with me and I was born with much urgency and thought to have some medical issues. I ended up with a spinal tap in my first few days of life. My mother had some of the placenta remain inside her after my birth and almost died a week or so after my birth and needed a transfusion. A couple weeks later, my dad had a grease-related injury that landed him in the hospital with second and third degree burns.
Talk about coming in with a big bang.
Apparently the church that I was dedicated in was a cult. My parents did not work this out until several years after the fact. From what I understand of the church we attended for six years after all of that, it was as well. Oh, the pastor and his wife were nice enough; but the craziness that went on there is just, well, crazy. I don’t remember much other than I was the oldest child there until my siblings were born, and they were tied up with all the bans on fun and anything remotely questionable in the early 80s. I’m coming to find out some of the teachers that this was all tied to.
All I remember was that all my favorite cartoons suddenly were banned, certain types of music were suddenly awful and G-d forbid we ever have a smidge of fun.
I started having Sunday School around the time my cousin or brother were born in ’83 and ’84. I am a bit unsure on the specifics, but I do remember that my mom was really faithful about telling Bible stories and such to me as a child. I also remember that the classes on Sunday were OK, but my goodness, they repeated the same stories like I wouldn’t remember them. My biggest complaint was not about the broken crayons or the cruddy coloring pages, but that we repeated the same stories all the time. You wouldn’t think a three year old would remember something like that, but I did.
I was soon enrolled in AWANA, but that is super fuzzy other than we had to memorize Scripture and I’m not one for memorizing much of anything. I found it quite upsetting that other children were really good at that and always won prizes, but I wasn’t, and my mom didn’t have a whole lot of time to spare with things like that due to there being three children in the home within the space of 6 years.
My aunt and uncle lived nearby us for a few years before moving about an hour’s drive away from my grandparents. My uncle was a recent graduate of Bob Jones University, and had begun work with Missions to the Military in our area. My aunt was several years older than my mom, and was a trained nurse. She quit working when she and my uncle moved to focus on his ministry. She was rather isolated but happy to be living nearby. She came to our house to watch television while she did laundry and helped my mom out some. Once all of us were born, they pooled resources for meals and childcare.
My first cousin joined us in ’83. My brother joined in ’84. Soon after, my second cousin joined in ’85 and my sister in ’86. We were often together, so shopping trips were interesting, to say the least.
I started attending a public school in 1986. School was pretty normal for me, church was pretty blah, but I guess that is to be expected from a five year old. I seem to recall this is when Sunday school really kicked off for me. Ah, the flannel graphs, coloring pages and cheesy renditions of bible stories I already knew because I’d watched them on TV (thanks to CBN’s Super Book and Flying House programs.), listened to them on the radio, heard them in church and at home.
In 1989, my dad was moved to our first real overseas, non-national duty station. So, in preparation for our move, I moved to my grandparents home and attended a local private Christian school that used ABEKA curriculum for a while.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I loathed that curriculum.
We had to attend chapel at the church the school was run through and I remember thinking it was a bit over the top considering our curriculum and the fact I was in church every single time the door was open.
I made a few friends at school, but my teacher did not like me for whatever reason. We had prayer over all our meals (none of which I knew), I had restrictions on what language I could use (no gosh, darn, golly, gee, shoot, etc.); and there were restrictions on my clothing as well. The school work was handled much differently than at my previous public school, and it was farther along than ours was. When my mom called to ask my old teachers, it turns out that ABEKA was already teaching curriculum that would not have been handled until later in the year. By ABEKA standards, I was on first grade levels on several things, and on others I was fine.
My frustration with the curriculum, Bible study, chapel service, and handwriting would send me over the top sometimes. I really cannot understand trying to make a child who has only just learned in the last two years how to print, to write in cursive script and force the issue of a different print script than what they learned and give them bad marks for otherwise OK handwriting.
I wasn’t allowed to say it then, but my teacher was a royal bitch.
Living with my grandparents was pretty awesome. I had my own bedroom, they had books I could look through (not that I understood half of them), they still had Duplo at their house and I was allowed to play pretend with all the office supplies and typewriter my grandfather had left out on his desk in my bedroom.
My grandparents were pretty strict, but not as strict as my parents were. They seemed to grasp childhood development a little bit better, but I still would be spanked for infractions that I really could not justify hitting anyone for.
One of the first things we did when I arrived and unpacked was to have ground rules set. Then grandaddy went and picked a few switches from the tree in the front yard, plucked the leaves off and left them on top of the refrigerator to dry out. They probably were no more than a couple of millimeters thick, but it was enough to leave a sting like you’ve never felt before – so you would do anything to avoid them. I found out quickly that hiding or running would merit more switches, so never do that. I also learned what buttons could be pressed and when to lay off pressing or playing.
Breakfast was so much fun. I’d wake up every morning smelling grits, sausage and eggs being made. They always waited to start the toast until everyone was at the table, or on a rare occasion, we’d have doughnuts. Coffee would be brewing right around the time I could finally roll out of bed. Grandaddy would be reading his Bible, and Grandma was busy in the other end of the kitchen making food and washing dishes as she went, laying everything in the dishwasher to dry, because there was more room there than in the dish rack. I knew where everything was, and to this day I still see the old kitchen like it was when I lived with them, even though it went through a renovation and there is now a new refrigerator. In my mind I can walk in, find everything I need, and I’m just transported back to any one visit that I had with them. I don’t remember any of my other childhood homes that way, with the exception of our second overseas duty station.
My grandparents attended a Baptist church, but I’m not sure what affiliation it had. The pastor and his wife were old family friends. My cousins had moved from the last state I lived in to an area closer to my grandparents. My older cousin was attending kindergarten at the same school, so we had lunch together and many afternoons we would play together. I honestly was in the church every single time the doors were open. I didn’t have a choice in the matter, not that I thought anyone really did anything different at that age. I liked being there, so it wasn’t ever an issue when I was with my grandparents.
My grandma worked at the local high school as a lunch lady, and my grandfather worked at the local cotton mill. She volunteered for food and entertaining logistics at church, and he was a deacon and treasurer for as long as he’d ever attended church since my aunt was a toddler.
My dad’s best friend from high school attended the local Presbyterian church. When my parents came to join us, we attended a couple of times. I went to their vacation bible school, as well as my granny’s (another Baptist church) and my grandparents every summer that we visited. I never really thought about it, but this would give some key down time to my parents who had to process another move to another place within a short space of time.
I moved overseas with my siblings and we tried the services offered by the Navy Chaplaincy. My parents didn’t like it. I had no idea what to make of it, it just was so different. (Turns out they alternated Catholic, and did a mish-mash of Episcopalian/Lutheran services for the Protestant service)
We were without a church for a while, so my mom started doing devotions with us every morning and on Sundays we would watch whatever Bible cartoons were available at the time. My mom did flannelgraph Bible Stories with us while my dad read the Bible and would “preach” at us. We eventually found a church, and it was an Assemblies of G-d.
That is when everything changed.
When we started attending the AOG church, everything seemed normal, but more charismatic.
My parents had a chat with the pastor and his wife, and hammered out the differences we had in our beliefs before they committed to attending. We had very few members, some were Jamaican workers on the base, and the others were just us and the pastor’s family. We were told “The main differences in our beliefs and theirs is that we believe the signs and wonders in the Bible ceased in the first century and they don’t.” What I wasn’t prepared for was losing several holiday celebrations, being made to dress more conservatively and losing more television shows.
We first lost Halloween.
My parents were convinced by a video and long talks with the pastor and his wife, looking through the encyclopedia and dictionary and I don’t know what else – we were doomed to a life of sin if we continued celebrating. We had a fall festival so we would not feel left out, but all dressing up from here on out, would be acceptable on any other day than Mardi Gras or Halloween.
Then we lost Easter. Well, not really, but we lost the Easter Bunny and some of the other celebrations, because that was pagan too. This made school quite difficult, as we were the only “weird” children, and our teachers had to plan something else without us during Spring and October. This caused some of our assignments to be quite creative and somewhat punitive considering our parents made the decision for us.
After three years at this duty station, we moved back to my grandparents temporarily and then to our new duty station. At that duty station, we began attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church.
This is where I really started feeling disconnected from my faith.
You see, I learned to read when I was four years old. One of the first gifts I was given as a child was my KJV children’s bible. Due to there being a lack of children’s programs at my grandparents’ church, I pretty much had to entertain myself. Since my family was religious, I never thought twice about reading my Bible for fun. Honestly, I thought it was fun! Yay for being an introvert?
By the time we made it to that church, I had a pretty good handle on what I felt the Bible was saying. Upon attending formal Sunday School classes, I realized very quickly that it was a vehicle to teach church doctrine and Calvinism to us, since we were old enough to start learning these things and regurgitating it. This did not sit well with me. I raised the alarm a few times, and my parents had a chat with the pastor and teacher, but we stuck with the curriculum. Then the misogyny started from the pulpit. I decided after a while, since they kept asking for volunteers in the nursery, I’d volunteer myself.
At this point, my parents had started homeschooling us, using Alpha and Omega, which is through the very conservative black hat, horse and buggy Mennonites. I started getting the misogyny in my textbooks as well. This wasn’t meeting with my understanding of strong Biblical women, the woman of Proverbs 31 (or what I understood of her at the time) and the lives of Christian martyrs. Since I was raised to, I began questioning everything.
My parents had decided at this point, we’d quit celebrating Christmas the way we had, because it was Jesus’ birthday (I protested because the Bible never said that), and moved all our presents to Three Kings Day, because that is what the culture we lived in did.
We moved again after our three years were up, spent a year in a state we absolutely hated and moved again for a two and a half year stint in Texas before my dad retired. The church we attended in the sate we hated, would have nothing to do with us because we were not from the area, were transitioning out, and they’d just had a church split within the first couple months of us visiting.
When we moved to Texas, we attended another Independent Fundamental Baptist Church and everything went to pot.
I hated it.
I hated my schooling, which was now through Christian Light Publications and even more crappy.
Women were relegated to the back seat and all the housework while men were praised for all the wonderful things they did around the farm and in the world. I had long essays to do every single day for Language Arts/English, and the rest of my homework, with the exception of math was so easy I could do it all the night before and leave my entire day to lolly gagging and chores.
I started getting the message in church about purity culture and it was driving me absolutely mad. The church Sunday school class was something else and our teacher really didn’t have any sort of training to field the sorts of questions we lobbed at him week after week. I did not like the preaching at church, so I would take extensive notes when I was paying attention, and find myself dragged in other directions of study while looking at some interesting passages.
I frequently got in trouble for flipping through my Bible more often than the Pastor said to.
For a while, I had hope that we would have a choir. That never happened, so somehow I got involved in doing solos and duets for Sunday mornings. I’d pick music and run it by the pastor, and a lot of times he’d veto things because they either had too much of a beat or sounded too “Pop Music”. I never picked anything out of the ordinary, and it was relatively tame in regards to beats. It was frustrating.
We got selected twice to earn money during summer to attend a youth conference at Arlington Baptist College in the Dallas area and compete in several different areas of church service and such. I entered the photography contest, solo, duet and quartet, and totally choked both years for the solo due to how large their chapel was. We stayed at a hotel, boys with the pastor, girls with the wife. Little did we know what the hell we were in for when we went.
I found out quickly which things were sectioned out for only the men and I hated it. I also hated the modesty rules we were subjected to and the clothing rules. As if it wasn’t hot enough in the Texas heat that we had restrictions on how short our dresses and sleeves could be, how much neckline we could show, what kind of shoes we were allowed to wear and that we must at all times wear hoisery.
I also found out how whackadoo our pastor and his wife were. Oh my G-d, ya’ll. It was horrible.
I would have thought that whatever our parents communicated to them would be allowed while we were with them. Nope. All our music we brought along with us, outside of what we would practice was restricted. We had all Walkmans and Diskmans confiscated. We had our music confiscated. We were not allowed to watch any television, unless it was pre-approved by the pastor, including at the pizza parlor. We found out we weren’t in Texas anymore when we discovered CeeCees picked up UPN and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 was on. Four of us asked for the volume to be turned up or captions put on so we could follow, even though it was a few minutes into an episode. And we were lectured on how we were watching a humanistic demonic show and our parents would be soundly reproved when we got home. Because aliens are demons. There’s no such thing as aliens, and if they are, it’s a demonic influence of some kind.
Believe it or not, it got worse. What we were shown on the first night, amped up the longer we were there. No more late night tv. Bedtime at 8pm little teenagers! We protested because only children 10 and under have an 8pm bedtime. We were tired, but not that tired, surely they’d lost their minds. We were allowed to stay up and watch Leno and Letterman or a couple of sitcoms. Oh no. Those have language and adult themes. They were on a trip with 15-18 year olds. What in the world did they expect? It was not like a trip with their very sheltered 15 year old and 10 and under crowd. Seriously.
I started tuning out on Sundays and just continuing my own Bible studies. I didn’t need to have fire and brimstone shouted at me. I was already in the flock, I didn’t have a life, I didn’t have a boyfriend and I was soon to graduate. I wasn’t going to college and it was up to me to figure out what to do with my life. I might as well just make do.
I started having my true break from the church after my dad retired and we spent about a year and a half working with a Non-denominational church that swung a bit Independent Fundamental Baptist, but leaned a bit liturgical. Their youth group was shocking, to say the least. I never did fit in, and never would.
When things went south with the youth group, my dad got sucked into the family integrated Sunday School class that was taught by a former pastor who leaned very much to the right of all things religious. I’m coming to find a lot of his teaching was from groups like Gothard, Vision Forum, CBMW, Botkinism, The Pearls, Nancy Campbell, you name it – they likely were represented somehow within the group.
My mom got us girls involved in a girl’s bible study that was done by a family member of the pastor who headed our integrated Sunday School. It was made up of all the girls of this group, whom were also homeschooled.
I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I didn’t wear dresses, I was a “tomboy”, and I did not fit their women-only-submission lifestyle and never will. My hair was short, Ididn’t have a clue about perfume or makeup because it wasn’t really allowed and I wore “weird earrings”. (i.e. they were not conservative enough for their tastes)
I would find myself repeatedly questioning how in the world they arrived at several interpretations of passages in Bible study because it made absolutely no sense in light of a clear reading of Scripture and instead was often cherry picked passages strewn together, mixed in a pot and voilá, mishmash soup proving how we should live our lives. I only liked the study because I got to be with people my age that were not openly judging me. I hated it because the girls were always calorie counting and it was triggering great stress, and with my build, I was starting to have a very unhealthy outlook on my food intake.
We moved to a smaller suburb of the city we were living in and started church hunting. My dad finally settled us at an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. (Surprise!) I hated it. The pastor really wasn’t that great and instead of keeping his footnotes to himself, referenced them often. As much as I did not like John MacArthur before, I was coming to loathe him now.
I found out quickly that the pastor both hated confrontation and despised being asked questions by me. I was soon pegged as rebellious (like I needed that at church as well as at home!) and the pastor started to avoid me at all costs.
There was a massive church split around the time I quit attending. Like many IFBC’s and SBCs, it had to do with the issue of whether or not we would accept Calvinism, and whether we would upgrade our church growth to a “seeker-sensitive” / “Attractive Church Model”. It wasn’t going to happen, so everyone got bees in their bonnets or knickers in a twist and before you knew it, we were down to about 30 people attending regularly in a building built for about 200 or more.
I had begun working on my own, and decided to attend the church we almost settled at due to their college age group. I was at least with a group of my peers, but never accepted due to the fact I was from lower middle class military background, and I wasn’t from the area OR attending college. I ended up leaving after a year or so of trying desperately to fit in. Never once did anyone visit, call or send a post card to see what became of me.
I started attending the Baptist church that was down the road from our house and threw myself into choir and the college group. I also did not fit in there, and after a couple of years, I quit even trying.
I threw myself into my work and was frequently scheduled to work on Sundays. I hated services and knew what they were teaching was inconsistent with the Bible, so I quit attending. Oh my parents were pissed off to say the very least. I didn’t get any phone calls, postcard or visits from them either. However, I did get an interesting response when I tried to move my membership from their church to my home congregation after that. I ended up cutting off contact at that point.
I started having some health issues that necessitated some treatment and eventually exploratory surgery to find out what was wrong. We would later find out that I had endometriosis. A few years after that, we worked out that I also had Celiac Disease, and this explained why I had some serious abdominal issues and was frequently in pain or unable to function.
I started really wrestling with my beliefs and threw myself into reading my Bible.
My job was very high stress to say the least, and my boss would frequently call me out for my beliefs and make me an example to everyone. I decided to do my best to live above reproach, no matter what it took. I lost a lot of weight due to the constant stress and lack of downtime at that job.
But, I started noticing a theme in the New Testament and the inconsistencies in the beliefs I was taught started staring at me like crazy. I didn’t know what to call my new-found beliefs so I kept searching. I kept asking questions, and met a lady on one of the forums my mom frequented and started learning about Messianic Judaism.
I had long felt a pull towards the Sabbath and Biblical holidays, but had been told quite vehemently that it wasn’t for us.
We weren’t Jewish, it was heretical – you get the idea.
One day I was really fed up with the fact we literally had no holidays outside of the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and a half-hearted half-assed celebration of Christmas and Three Kings Day that I asked G-d why we even bothered, what was there, why did we have no holidays and why couldn’t we have at least something to celebrate?? I felt like I should dig deeper and I started to discover the Biblical holidays.
I was on a Yahoo group for Messianic ladies and they held a very patriarchal [Vision Forum, Botkinism, Pearls, etc.] outlook. I tried really hard to fit in and try and understand what I had been taught all of my life. I stopped wearing pants and started wearing only skirts and dresses. I began headcovering and tried to avoid conflict with my parents.
I didn’t really agree with this lifestyle, but I’d rather be damned than stop trying; if that makes any sense.
I tried researching. I requested information from my Mennonite contacts on headcovering and modesty and started digging into Christian history on that and figured better be safe than sorry, so I adopted clothing that would be readily identifiable in Orthodox Jewish circles.
The more I read, the more the Bible became alive. The more certain passages made sense, and I began to really see the apostles as keeping Jewish belief, though also believing Jesus was the Messiah. They kept worshiping in the Temple. They kept the Holy Days. They also kept Kosher. Even Paul did. But, the church was teaching the exact opposite of that, and I couldn’t reconcile these facts. But, the more I read and researched, the more the fundamentalist beliefs began unraveling.
I started searching out a local congregation, and began attending their Friday night (Shabbat) services. I found my home. I found my people! They got it! They knew what I was looking for. I was quickly accepted as one of their own, and well looked after.
That’s when everything fell apart at home.
My parents blame it on my rebelliousness and backtalk, and the fact that I worked full time instead of going to college, and I didn’t help out around the house and treated my room like a little apartment.
I really disconnected from their mentality and my life became a living hell. We had already been isolated enough. My dad had lost his job, I had helped to support the entire household, and my life since 1993 felt like Cinderella’s. Every time I sat down, there was something else to do, or something wrong with something that I had done. It was annoying as hell and of course I was a bit mouthy about it, because my family had a horrible way of communicating issues with each other.
When I started headcovering, I was mocked for it because I was so upset when I went through 6 grades of schooling under the Mennonites and said I would not do it. There I was. I should never say never. Oh, and by the way, I didn’t respect my father (aka “Head”) and therefore I was unworthy of wearing my headcovering. My dad hated that I covered, because I look like his mother and apparently reminded him of his horrible childhood, so I was supposed to ignore my own convictions and for his comfort, remove my scarf or hat when I came home. G-d forbid I ever forget. (I did, often, out of sheer exhaustion.)
Then came the mocking for my trying to keep a literal 24 hour sabbath.
No work, just relaxing and going to services. Because services were in the afternoons, I should be expected to do some sort of work around the house and honor my parents if they ask me to go to the store for them. I would ask “Could this not wait until tonight?” and get in trouble for that. Never mind I was over 18 and paying rent to live at my parents house. Soon followed comments about my dress, because obviously, I decided to try on more orthodox beliefs in conjunction with the changes I was making.
One week, I noticed my mom was talking with my older aunt a whole lot. I could have sworn that I overheard my name a few times, but I figured it wasn’t worth the trouble and went down to my room to do some studying prior to the following week’s bible study.
About a week later, I came home from either work or one of our weekly meetings and was called to my parent’s room for a chat. They were both sick, so my dad was home. I had heard before of families coming against folks who started attending Messianic Synagogues, but not so much from those who attended traditional churches. We’d had fusses before about my beliefs, but this was much more than that. I endured, while biting my tongue and digging my nails into my hands, an hours long lecture, with some sort of anti-Messianic Judaism pamphlet from some group of Southern Baptists who were certain we were not only heretics, but cultists and leading everyone astray.
My parents thought they needed to save my soul from hell fire.
I eventually hid the pamphlet somewhere in their room never to be found again. I contacted two of my elders and let them know what happened. I never did defend my beliefs when they would do that, and it would not be the last time they did.
It took one meeting with my future cousin in law to swear me off talking any of my beliefs with family unless they were absolutely certain they wanted to hear what I had to say and would not debate, because I just won’t do it.
He had just met me and my soon to be husband was visiting the US and meeting my mom’s side of the family. He was playing cards with all the other guys in the dining/kitchen area, while all the women except my dad’s stepmom were in the living room. Soon to be cousin asks what we believe and then just flays anyone who believed (as I did at the time) that Halloween was a pagan holiday. He said there was no justification and laughed and just laid into anyone who would believe that. After awhile, my sense of ire was raised and I couldn’t take it any more. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t walk out of the room. I defended my beliefs for almost a solid hour. I was sick for eight hours after that. That argument had nothing to do with how well or poorly I defended my beliefs, and everything to do with how I was treated as a person, as a woman, and as a fellow member of the same faith.
Due to how unhealthy my family’s communication methods were, I have not been able to defend my beliefs with other people since leaving home. It’s too triggering. I can tell you what I believe and where to find a wealth of information to make up your own mind, but I won’t be sucked into debate any more. I just can’t for my own mental and emotional health.
My husband and I had a traditional Ketubah signing and wedding, and I moved overseas. I’ve since been wrestling with the beliefs I have been taught. Since having my own children, everything that I had been told about children, original sin, etc – it’s all thrown by the wayside.
As a friend of mine said, I had a crisis of theology.
I decided to tear it all down and build back only what I could verify. I’m still rebuilding. That’s ok though, I know what’s going into the work and I have a say.
Any wrestling I am doing is not with an institution, my parents, a pastor, or some other individual. It’s just me.
The more research I do and the more studies I do on early Christian history and the move away from a Judaic faith, the more I understand what was being said in the New Testament and what is being conveyed in the Tanakh. (Old Testament) I’ve been reading more and more from traditional Jewish texts and as I have free time from my children, I’ve been reading the Bible with the yearly Torah portions. I had no idea what all the church had tossed in the fundamentalist movement.
My jaw frequently hits the floor and I am just astounded at the antisemitism I was brought up with.
90% or more than what I had been taught growing up about Scripture just is not so and never could be according to Scripture itself.
For people who wonder, yes, I do read rabbinic writings and I find great joy and information from them. Sometimes I find great big ol’ cow paddies out there, but I find a lot of things I have been told about the Talmud or some rabbis are just so out there that it is insanity that I ever could have listened to it.
For those of you who do not know, Messianic Judaism actually has a long history.
It might not have been known as Messianic Judaism, but there has always been a remnant of believers who were Jewish and Christian, who kept believing the Torah, who ate only Kosher and celebrated the Biblical holidays.
In the 1800s, Messianic Judaism became solidified as a work within the Anglican church.
By the time of the Jesus Movement, it had branched into many parts of Evangelicalism, including the umbrella of Baptists. In the late 1880s, There was a Methodist work and the first “Hebrew-Christian Church” in New York City. In the 1890s, the Baptists were in on the movement and their group is now named Chosen People Ministries. By 1915, we had the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America; which became the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America in the 1970s. In 1979, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was founded. There is also a large contingency of Hebrew Catholics, which started in Israel in 1979.
Since then, Messianic Judaism has blossomed around the world, and there have been several splits in the United States from the MJAA and UMJC. There are now three or four other groups, which I have become acquainted with online. I know a few teachers in some of the groups, but I try to hold some of it at arm’s length due to how messy the Messianic antics can be from time to time.
Last year I decided I could handle it and started looking for some older Messianic works to see what I could find to build up my library and increase my knowledge of the movement. I am an egalitarian and feminist, and at this point no longer shocked that I cannot attend a Messianic Seminary. So many Messianics come from a background that forbid women in ministry and focus on women-only-submission. So I made a decision, to find out what books are on the curriculum and read them on my own. I won’t get a credit on it and I won’t write any papers, but at least I know what is out there. Eventually, if I ever find the time, I plan on taking Biblical language studies. For now, my focus is on the language of my host country.
I try to live a quiet, unassuming life and see the grace in all people where I can.
A lot of people believe that Messianic believers think they are better than Evangelical, Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic believers. I do not believe what I do grants me more favor with G-d than any other Gentile or Jewish believer in the church who do not do these things. I’m no better than anyone else. I also do not believe that what I do are things everyone must do to be saved, or that they make me any more saved than the next person.
Contrary to popular belief, I do not judge people for their food choices. Food choices are a very personal decision. However, I do not eat at other people’s homes unless they can make accommodations for my dietary needs. This is why I take food with me when I visit people, and I bring my own utensils. It has not a thing in the world to do with your house or personal choices, but because of the disease I have, and my needing a special diet. I will be happy to accommodate you as much as I can at my house. I’ve got years of experience with several different dietary needs.
I keep the Sabbath because Y’shua, the disciples/apostles and Paul did. I observe the feasts for the same reason. Observation of these days in conjunction with faith in Y’shua not stop until well into the first century. (Paul mentions Shabbat, Passover and Yom Kippur at the very least)
I find it tragic that the study and opinions given by rabbis are too swiftly denounced and not solicited for the very things we ought to solicit them for. (See Matthew 13:51-52)
We’ve lost the fact that Y’shua was Jewish, doing Jewish things, working within Judaism. We lose a lot when we take a truly literal approach to Scripture. We miss a lot of things that have been handed down and memorized for thousands of years.
Unlike many people have yelled and screamed at me that I can; one cannot obey all 613 laws. No, this doesn’t mean that you break them and are sinning by not keeping all 613 either. True, there are 613 laws. But they are commandments for priests, kings, judges, scholars, those who are clean, unclean, with specific diseases, people making sacrifices, people traveling, for holidays, specific ones for men and specific ones for women. The absence of the Temple or Tabernacle do not negate or abrogate the commandments either.
There are more things, but honestly this has gotten so long that it is difficult to get into everything.
Some of the most upsetting misconceptions that Christians have about Messianic Judaism have been one of the hardest parts for me to write about because it is some of the most hurtful crap that I’ve had dealt to me over and over. I have people who are my friends, are enamored with the idea of Messianic Judaism and bam! They start slamming my beliefs and get some sort of pamphlet from their church about “The Heresy of Messianic Judaism” (or some similar title).
I end up losing people I thought were friends.
I’ve been kicked off of three or four internet forums because of my beliefs. Why? Because people asked me to explain what I believed, and somehow that was heresy. Out with the Messianic, but welcome the Jews for Jesus… because they really don’t do very many Jewish things and are ok with not keeping kosher and celebrating the church calendar. Whereas I was still wrestling with that. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or missing the forest for the trees!
They missed that we had much in common, but a few things that were different.
I am still searching for a place of worship while dealing with my past spiritual abuse and working towards healing. It is my hope that my children will not have to deal with anything that I have had to in the last three decades. Therefore, I am taking great care in choosing where we will finally settle.
7 thoughts on “My Journey from Fundamentalism to Messianic Judaism”
Thanks for sharing your story! Lovely to read!
I enjoyed reading your story. Questioning and looking for the truth is a hard path, but some of us can’t stop.
I’m not a MacArthur fan either…ugh.
I spent decades in so called Messianic Judaism much of the time as a leader and a teacher. It is indistinguishable from fundamentalism in its best form. Judaism is a religion I grew up in that specifically is based on race and rejects Jesus as messiah. The attempt to meld a legalistic Torah observance with Christianity is a contradiction in terms. You should be aware the national messianic organizations claim an autonomy from Christianity and the right to govern themselves. At the same time they have no validity within the Jewish community which rejects them and Jesus. That leaves them in a universe unto themselves in which they are either The Super Religion, ie. cult or just a schismatic club of disenfranchised theological misfits. Take your pick but I am looking for something more authentic.
Doug, what you describe about Christianity and Judaism “being a contradiction in terms,” sounds a whole lot like Yeshua and His disciples of the New Testament. Like many today, they did not choose comfort over Truth!
Wow. Your childhood sounded nearly exactly like mine. My family members were never deacons or anything like that, but I awoke to the smell of coffee and porridge in my grandparents old house and went through Awana. Except I went extreme and claimed atheism during high school, even though I didn’t really feel atheist. I just felt like nobody genuinely knew what they were talking about. None of the youth group or small group leaders were remotely qualified to teach. Everybody just rehashed other people’s work/curriculums. I think quitting Christianity altogether was just the easiest way to express my frustration. I took that back pretty fast. Anyway, then I joined the Marine Corps and ended up leaving. It’s probably much different as a dependent, but if you are actually working with marines the environment is well let’s just say “un-Christlike.” So I got out of the military a married woman and now going to a christian college. Freshmen year I wrote a paper on complementarianism vs egalitarianism and focused on Deborah because, well, I am a feminist as well! We have so much in common! I don’t know why but even at christian colleges the peers and faculty are pretty quick to pick on you for even bringing up things that are controversial, within the church itself anyways. I think if they feel threatened, maybe they should be asking themselves why? About 6 months ago I was on youtube for fun and started learning about Messianic Judaism/Hebrew Christians. It is beautiful. I have never felt so much peace of mind before this. I’m not one of those people who takes things at face value and Christianity just wasn’t enough there I said it. It’s all new, but it feels so right to have these holidays that are actually in the Bible and I can’t believe I’ve never heard about them before. I mean it even says that we will celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles during the Second Coming! Anyways, I was hoping that maybe you can tell me the authors who you have been studying from because after hearing your testimony I feel like you have a LOT more background than me biblically. And since I’m even less acquainted with Messianic Judaism than Christianity and a little nervous about being led astray from the authentic Hebrew/Christian faith, I would REALLY REALLY appreciate ANY references. Thanks in case you managed to read all this by the way. And you know it’s not heresy. It’s the desire to worship the Lord the way that He wants us to worship Him! Isn’t that what we should be striving for? I hope to hear from you!
I know I left a LOT out of my story as to how I decided upon MJ as a whole, and a lot of that decision had to do with researching my family history and other factors.
Some of your best references will be through the main Messianic groups such as the MJAA and UMJC, as well as reading authors who are not associated with either umbrella, steering clear of Two House if you can. There can be some good things in the TH group, but, it’s generally out there. (I can say that as someone with about a decade of experience with that group, right? lol)
I’ve been finding a lot of help in simply reading various Jewish theological books as of late and doing comparatives on Christian beliefs on abc and doing the same with Judaism. The main thing to remember is there are so many streams of thoughts and interpretations within Judaism too, so you can never exhaust yourself on a subject.
I do have to disagree with Doug’s comment ” It is indistinguishable from fundamentalism in its best form” to an extent. This is largely dependent on the type of congregation you find, and the type of teachers/leaders you land with. It can be quite progressive and in some areas very egalitarian.
Some people I know who do not have comparative local congregations just hitch along with their local Jewish congregations and are pretty up front with their beliefs.
Right now neither is an option for me and I’ve been dealing with a lot of trauma from the church, but am slowly putting a toe back in the water towards worshiping in a local church. Crazy, I know.
I’m still searching, learning, and growing. I’m decidedly progressive where my beliefs lead so I’d say I lean somewhere between Conservative and Reform beliefs when it comes to Judaism and I am not sure (still) where I would be most comfortable church wise.
I’ve been really burnt out by Calvinism and Lutheran beliefs are not my thing, probably much to the chagrin of my dad’s side of the family. After all, we’ve been Lutheran or Baptist on the German side since the 1770s or earlier.
It’s interesting to see how my family has responded to the various streams of belief since we’ve left home. One of my sisters is Catholic and I’m not sure exactly where my other sister fits. I’m flirting with the desire for a congregation and attending our local Catholic church as it’s been the most welcoming and least triggering to attend.
Sometimes I think G-d moves in funny ways and that our personalities and also our times of life may influence where and how we worship. Trauma definitely plays into it as well.
As far as books to read – Sydney, you may find some interesting and thought provoking ones here: http://www.pinterest.com/hadassahsukkot/bookshelf-religious/
I’m curious to know if/where you have landed? Have you explored the episcopal church?