Messianic Education Trust
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Research Project - Continuing Jewish Identity

Starting in September 2014, Messianic Education Trust is supporting an important project to research and document what happens in the church in the UK to the Jewish identity of Jews who have come to believe in Yeshua as Messiah. While there is some anecdotal evidence available, this project will collect an up-to-date picture of where Jewish believers stand in the church, how their Jewish identity is coping with the blessings and challenges of life in the church and how the church relates to a continuing Jewish identity in its members.

This project is structured as a PhD research doctorate at Trinity College, Bristol. The work, which should lead to the awarding of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, is being undertaken by Jonathan Allen and should take three years to complete on a full-time basis. It is being jointly supervised by Dr Howard Worsley and Dr Richard Harvey. As well as being MET's principal teacher and writer, Jonathan is an ordained Messianic Jewish rabbi, has led a Messianic Jewish congregation in the UK for several years and is an emissary of Tikkun Ministries. He has had a broad experience of church life in the UK, as a preacher, worship leader and small-group leader for many years. In his work for MET, he teaches regular study groups and Hebrew classes as well as intensive study weeks, days and weekends.

Project Outline

The provisional title of the PhD thesis is:

The inclusion of Jewish identity among Christians of Jewish descent in the UK Church.

Historically, the church has denied any meaning or value for continuing Jewish identity for church members, and discouraged attempts to maintain relationships and cultural links with non-Yeshua-believing Jewish family, groups and organisations. Celebration of Jewish festivals and life-cycle events has been forbidden. Dan Juster has written that the historic hostility of the church towards continuing Jewish identity amongst its Jewish members - disallowing any meaningful Jewish component within the church context - creates a significant tension by requiring Jewish believers to attempt to maintain (perhaps clandestine) links with the mainstream Jewish community in order to keep their Jewish identity alive. Jewish identity and values are not generally preserved within the mainstream church culture and the social context usually forces constant choice between participation with other believers at church events or adherence to the Jewish calendar and life-cycle. Michael Wyschogrod claims that the church will not have truly repented of this anti-Jewish attitude until church pastors actively disciple their Jewish members in keeping and encouraging their Jewish heritage.

In recent years, with the emergence of the Messianic Jewish movement, awareness has risen in some churches of the importance of Jewish identity. Some denominations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, have formally renounced the idea of supercessionism or replacement theology. There are signs of a thaw in official attitudes towards Jewish believers in Messiah. It is not clear that these changes have filtered down to every consituent church congregation or church member. There are anecdotal reports of ongoing difficulties for Jewish believers. This needs to be investigated and quantified.

This work is provisionally divided into four main aims:

  1. to better define the term "Jewish identity" and how it is understood by Jewish believers in Messiah;
  2. to quantify the Jewish experience in the church in the UK, both at the local church and denominational levels;
  3. to explore those areas that demonstrate positive outcomes from encouraging and supporting the Jewish identity, culture and practice of Jews who come to faith in Yeshua;
  4. to describe and document best practice in those areas and to identify specific policies or practices that have the potential to:
    1. help individual church leaders and denominations to embrace and encourage Jewish identity in their Jewish members, and
    2. overcome possible stereotypes and prejudices.

There are a number of question areas that this work involves:

  1. How can we define "Jewish identity"?
  2. How can we define "Messianic Jewish identity"?
  3. What constitutes a "continuing Jewish identity" and is that a valid term?
  4. What is the UK church experience of Jewish believers in Messiah?
  5. What support or encouragement do Jewish believers in Messiah receive from their churches, leaders or fellow (non-Jewish) believers?
  6. How could the Church welcome, encourage and disciple Jewish identity in its Jewish members?

A definition of "Jewish identity", "continuing Jewish identity" and how that is understood by Jewish believers in Messiah will be addressed first by a thorough literature search, then tested against a sample population of UK based Jewish believers. The results from this first stage will then shape the main interview and survey program to research the experiences of Jewish believers in UK in order to measure their experience and form an initial assessment of whether there are secondary issues (such as age, gender, class, education or geographic location) involved. Once this is complete, the results will be collated and a few areas of best and worst experience identified for a third stage of more detailed interview. In this stage, both the direct subjects and their local church leaders will be interviewed in order to cover both perspectives. In parallel, there will be a small number of denominational leader interviews to investigate any denominational policies, issues or background assumptions that would affect local churches. After a final collation and analysis of the literature search and survey/interview data, it is hoped that the research can identify best practice with the potential to help churches and their leaders embrace and encourage Jewish members.

Conferences

Attendance at both academic and non-academic conferences form an important part of this work. They provide venues for learning, discussing and - in time - contributing in a peer-reviewed environment, to the wider work being done in this and other associated fields. Four conferences are currently in view:

  1. the Tikkun America Conference, held in MD, USA, at the end of May each year - this provides contact with congregational leaders and others who are engaging with these matters on a daily basis. Conference attendees include church leaders and leaders of dual-expression congregations (who do 'church' on Sunday, 'synagogue' on Saturday, with two distinct but overlapping congregations) as well as Messianic Jewish congregation leaders;
  2. the Helsinki Consultation, meeting annually since 2010 in a number of major European cities, "for Jewish Continuity in Messiah" - a serious academic theological engagement to investigate "what it means for Jews to recognise in Yeshua the Messiah of Israel";
  3. the European Messianic Theological Symposium, meeting annually in Europe to discuss papers to develop theological maturity within Messianic Judaism in Europe. With rare exception, all particpants are Jewish theologians or theological students from Europe or Israel, both leaders and lecturers;
  4. the Towards Jerusalem Council II conference, meeting annually in Europe to share the work of reconciliation between Jewish and Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua

Budget

MET has calculated a budget of approximately £25,000 ($38,000) per year for the costs of undertaking this research. This is made up of:

There may also be some one-off costs for IT support or specialist software.

Can You Help?

We are looking for sponsors who would be prepared to help support this important research project. A one-off donation will help us towards our target for the three year period; a regular monthly donation helps us spread our budget and cover our costs each month. Any donation, no matter how small, will help us to cover the costs of this work and achieve our goal of understanding more about and how to help this important group of believers.

Messianic Education Trust is a Messianic Jewish ministry, part of the Tikkun International family of Messianic Jewish ministries. Donations are processed by Tikkun Ministries International, Gaithersburg, MD, USA. Tikkun Ministries is a registered non-profit 501(c)3 organisation with the IRS in the USA. Donations will qualify for USA tax deductions; tax deduction receipts are issued annually.

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