What goes on in Messianic Jewish worship? And why is it important?
Messianic congregations are not new — there were hundreds of these congregations in Europe prior to the Holocaust! Sadly, they were destroyed along with the Jewish communities they served.
Most of the missions to the Jewish people operating in Europe at that time created special congregations for the Jewish people who came to faith in the Messiah Jesus. In fact, we have been planting Messianic congregations for all of our 123 years of ministry!
- Chosen People Ministries was founded by Rabbi Leopold Cohn, who came to faith on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1892. He established our ministry in Brooklyn in 1894.
- Rabbi Cohn reached out to the Jewish people at that time in a variety of ways, as most of those he reached were new Jewish immigrants to the United States, like himself.
- He started food distribution centers, citizenship training, English-as-a-second-language instruction, a free medical clinic, and of course, began preaching the Gospel in parks, public areas, and through weekly and holiday services.
- Rabbi Cohn understood that it would be best for Jewish believers to worship on Friday night and Saturday as this would cause the least degree of cultural disruption for Jewish seekers and for new Jewish believers in Jesus.
Many Messianic Jews continue to worship on Friday night and Saturday at this present time.
The 150-plus Messianic congregations in Israel, where there has been tremendous growth of new congregations over the last two decades, all worship on Saturday!
(Sunday is a work day in Israel. Congregations that worship on Sunday are primarily established for non-Jews who live in the Holy Land.)
Of course, it is important for Messianic Jews to be part of a local church or Messianic congregation — just as it is important for all believers to be part of a faith community.
We also believe it is important for Jewish believers to maintain their Jewish identities in the Messiah, as God made us who we are and has planned and promised a future for the Jewish people.
The Apostle Paul would agree. He wrote in Romans 11:1, “I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.”
Jewish Identity and Messianic Congregations
Why is this so critical?
Consider: The number one reason Jewish people do not want to follow the Messiah Jesus is because it is assumed that when a Jewish person professes faith in Jesus, they are rejecting their Jewishness and committing ethnic suicide! This is the perception among the vast majority of Jewish people. And nothing could be further from the truth!
- We want to remove this very obstacle from Jewish people as our Jewish people consider the claims of the Messiah.
- We also believe it is healthy for Jewish people to understand that based upon the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) the Jewish people continue to have a unique role in this world.
- When you read through the Epistles, the Apostle Paul speaks about the unity of Jews and Gentiles, and so it is important for Jewish people to maintain their identity, as this is part of our witness of unity in the Messiah.
- Unity is not a miracle when everyone is the same (Galatians 3:28).
- While not every Messianic Jew is best served in a Messianic Jewish congregation, we find many Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus prefer it.
- And it is a wonderful corporate testimony to other Jewish people.
What is Unique About a Messianic Congregation?
Some people have asked, “What is the difference between a local evangelical church and a Messianic congregation?” This is a good question!
- Let me say from the start that Messianic Jews believe the same core doctrines as evangelical Christians.
- The difference is not doctrinal and, of course, Messianic Jews all believe that the only way to receive salvation is through accepting Jesus as our atonement for sin.
- His incarnation, resurrection and soon return are doctrines cherished by all Messianic Jews I know and especially those associated with Chosen People Ministries.
So what makes a Messianic congregation unique? Simply, we express our faith in Jesus the Messiah in a more “Jewish” way. We have already established that these congregations most often meet on Friday night or Saturday morning. This is a testimony in itself.
When Jewish people ask me what day I worship, they expect me to say “Sunday,” and then they conclude that I have “converted” and am no longer Jewish.
But if, when they ask me, I say we worship on Friday night or Saturday morning, then they are puzzled and do not understand why I worship on Saturday. This often provides an opening to explain about Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. “Wait,” they say, “I thought you were Christian?”
I usually respond with, “Well, if by Christian you mean a follower of the Jewish Messiah, then absolutely yes…you can call me a Christian. But, if by naming me a Christian you mean that I am no longer Jewish, then you are wrong…I am still Jewish, but believe that Jesus is my promised Messiah.”
There are other differences, too:
Most Messianic congregations celebrate the Jewish holidays as fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus. This would include:
- Passover (and Feast of Unleavened Bread),
- First Fruits,
- Pentecost (Shavuot),
- New Year (Rosh Hashanah),
- the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur),
- and Tabernacles (Sukkot).
I believe that the festivals are road maps to redemption leading us to the person of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Messianic congregations can provide these special ministries as they schedule congregational life around the Jewish calendar, which provides many opportunities for the Jewish family and friends of Messianic Jews to come and see the “Jewishness” of Jesus rather than simply hear about it!
You only need to attend a Messianic congregation on a Jewish holiday, wedding, or even a funeral service, to see how Jewish non-believers respond to what occurs in the service. The testimony is profound.
Also the music in a Messianic service has a more “Jewish style.” Some aspects of the service are in Hebrew, and the order of service is more like a combination of a church and a synagogue service. There is a heavy emphasis on reading the Bible, just as there is in a synagogue, and a sermon is preached—usually longer than the brief 15-minute sermon preached by the average rabbi.
The fellowship afterwards is similar, but you can expect more bagels!
The Witness of a Messianic Congregation
Just imagine what it would be like to bring your friend or relative to a Chosen People Ministries’ Messianic congregation to enjoy a Jewish holiday event! We believe that hearing the message of the Gospel in a Jewish setting adds to the clarity and power of our witness.
Chosen People Ministries serves many Jewish believers who regularly attend local churches but need the additional Messianic Jewish fellowship and training. This is also one of the reasons we provide camping programs, retreats, and trips to Israel for young adults, and more. We want to help strengthen the identity and testimony of Jewish believers in Messianic congregations and also those who are part of local churches.
Let me invite you to experience a Messianic worship service yourself, by visiting one of our Chosen People Ministries’ Messianic congregations.
Thank you for your understanding, love and support.
Dr. Mitch Glaser
President of Chosen People Ministries