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Messianic Ministries

Where is the Central Focus?

by John J. Parsons

Someone wrote me recently asking for my opinion regarding certain other Messianic teachers, many of whom I had never heard of before. Since I rarely have time to evaluate the content of these ministries, I simply reminded this friend to exercise discernment and to "test the spirits" of those who purport to teach God's truth....

Because false teachers abound in the world, each of us is obligated to test (δοκιμάζω, lit. "determine if a metal is pure") doctrine to see if it accords with the truth (1 John 2:27, 4:1). We must test people's truth claims, especially those religious leaders who purport to be speaking on behalf of the Living God.... When confronted by false teaching, we are called to "earnestly contend for" (ἐπαγωνίζομαι, lit. "wrestle over") the truth of the faith (Jude 1:3). That's the proper response to untruth. On the other hand, we are commanded to "always be ready" to provide a reason (λόγος) for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:5). That's the call to be a witness to the truth...

We are explicitly commanded to ask God for heavenly wisdom (James 1:5), though this is "not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away" (1 Cor. 2:6-7). Indeed, the gospel message itself is called the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21-24). Disciples of Yeshua are to have the "mind of the Messiah" (1 Cor. 2:16). We can guard against false teachers by using discernment to test their spirits, but we can only be equipped to do so if we "build ourselves up in the most holy faith" (Jude 1:20). We build ourselves up by carefully studying the word of God so that we will be able to accurately wield the Sword of the Spirit (2 Tim. 2:15-16, 2 Pet. 1:19-20). In order to grow, we must have "good soil" for the seed of the word to take root. We "get rooted by knowing the roots" of our faith! Studying the Scriptures and praying in the Holy Spirit keeps us securely in the love of God as we wait for the mercy of Yeshua who gives us eternal life (Jude 1:21).

As I've written about elsewhere, we are responsible to walk in the Spirit of truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). God Himself helps us to do this: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (παράκλητος, someone "called to one's side"), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). God gives us the Spirit of Truth so that we can know the truth about His salvation and to "discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2).

Whenever we encounter other ministries, there are some practical things we can do to guard ourselves from being deceived. There are several questions we can ask those who claim they are teaching the truth of God. The first we should ask - and the one that precedes all others - is who does the teacher (or denomination, ministry, etc.) say that Yeshua is (Matt. 16:15)? Is the glory of Yeshua the focus, or is something else?  The role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Messiah, God's Son (John 16:14), so if He is not being honored and esteemed as the LORD of Glory, then that is a "red flag" regarding the ministry in question. Test to see if the teacher (or ministry or denomination) unequivocally and unashamedly confesses that Yeshua is the LORD (יהוה), the very Creator who became flesh, the only way to eternal life, and the Savior of the world (John 1:1,14). Unlike some religious leaders today who are embarassed over the exclusive claims of the gospel message, it is important to realize that God is not an "inclusivist" who winks at truth and thinks its okay to worship anything, so long as the will is good and the heart is sincere... No, there is salvation in no other than Yeshua, and those who waffle on this point are deceivers who betray God's salvation. "Those who honor the Son are the ones who honor the Father" (John 5:23); and, "whoever hates the Son hates the Father also" (John 15:23). Even the most brilliant Torah scholar (or "pope" or other "Christian" leader) is in spiritual darkness if he or she denies the truth that Yeshua is the "only wise God our Savior" (Jude 1:25; 1 Tim. 1:17). So ask yourself: Do these ministries teach that Yeshua is the Creator, Sustainer, and LORD of all reality? Is Yeshua honored as the Holy One of Israel, the King of Israel, the Redeemer and only Savior of the world? Is Yeshua recognized as the Judge of the living and the dead, to whom every knee shall one day bow as Sovereign LORD?

Second, does the teacher in question advocate some sort of "special name" for God other than (or over and above) the name of Yeshua? Are they part of the "Sacred Name" movement (i.e., cult)? Do they openly confess that Yeshua is the "Name above all Names" (Phil. 2:9-11), or do they waffle on this question and focus instead on the name YHVH? Do they spend an exorbitant amount of time and energy on the phonetics of the name of God, offering permutations or linguistic variations while overlooking the fact that the Name refers to Something beyond the merely linguistic? Do they disdain the name Jesus or ridicule Christians who use the name "Christ," regarding them as "pagan" or "Gentile"? Do they attempt to impress you with the secret meaning of Hebrew words and spurious intellectualism? Do they suggest that Christian theology is inherently suspect?  Do they mock the idea of the Trinity as incoherent or unbiblical? Do they miss the point of God's revelation by taking the Name of the LORD in vain?

    "I, I am the LORD (יְהוָה), and besides me there is no Savior (מוֹשִׁיעַ). For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. This is what the LORD, Israel's king and His Redeemer, the LORD of Hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת) says: "I am the first and I am the last, there is no God but me." "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isa 43:3, 11, 44:6; cp. Jude 1:25, Rev. 1:17; 22:13; Isa. 48:12; 9:6).

Third, do these ministries disparage or otherwise minimize the writings of the Apostle Paul? Do they quibble over Paul's view of the "law" or attempt to reinterpret his words to mean that we are still obligated to observe the rules and regulations given to Israel at Sinai? Do they suggest that Paul wrote only "midrash"? Do they regard the writings of Paul as having the same authority as that of Moses? Do they attempt to argue that the "new covenant" isn't really all that "new," and should instead be understood as a "renewed" covenant? Do they attempt to "explain away" the clear meaning of the book of Galatians and the book of Hebrews regarding the believer's relationship to the law of Moses? Do they impugn the Greek New Testament or claim that the Aramaic Peshitta or some long-lost Hebrew text is more accurate than the Koine Greek documents we have today? Do they attempt to reconstruct or redefine the Greek text by speculating that there is an earlier text that is the "real" Scripture? Do they advocate Bible codes or Hebrew "pictograms" as some sort of "key" to unlock the secrets of the Scriptures? Beware, chaverim.....

Fourth, do these ministries teach that salvation comes through trusting in the finished work of Yeshua alone, or do they add something else to the mix? Do they claim that we should become kosher or obey the law of Moses in order to "really" understand or follow Yeshua? A true teacher of the gospel message will present the liberty of God's grace as grace, not as "grace +" something else. When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" (tetelestai), he proclaimed that all that was required to bring us to eternal life was accomplished through his death the cross. Yeshua - alone - is the Savior, and we are to trust in His works for our righteousness - not in our own. As the Apostle Paul taught, "The Messiah is the end of the law (τέλος νόμου) for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). All that the law attempted to do for us is fulfilled and completed and perfected and realized in Yeshua the Messiah. We add NOTHING to His finished work...

Fifth, how do these teachers regard the idea of "sanctification"? Do they regard the process of spiritual growth (and obedience) as an expression of God's grace, or are there "strings attached" to God's acceptance and love? Do these ministries advocate either "Torah observance" or Jewish mysticism (i.e., "kabbalah") as a means of sanctification? Do they claim Yeshua was either a mystic who taught higher consciousness as the way to know God or a Pharisee who was attempting to restore the true meaning of the law? Do they claim that Jewish believers are required to be "Torah Observant" while Gentile believers are merely "invited" to experience the "deeper life" by doing so? Do they still put up a "dividing wall of separation" between the Jew and the Gentile in the Messiah? Do they faithfully teach the truth of the "one new man" that is created in the Messiah (Eph. 2:11-22)?

Sixth, how do these ministries understand the idea of the law? Do they advocate following Moses or Yeshua? Do they confuse the idea of Torah (instruction) with the terms of the covenant given at Sinai? Do they mistakenly equate "Torah" with mishpatim ("rules"), chukkim ("statutes"), and so on?  Are they confused about what the law at Sinai actually means, or what purpose it serves? How do they understand statements in the New Testament that clearly teach that the law of Moses was a "shadow" (σκιά) of the greater Substance the Messiah came to give to us (Heb. 10:1)? How do they understand the "law of the Messiah" (Gal. 6:2)? Are they offended by the Cross of Yeshua, or do they stumble over the message of the cross? Do they advocate an "observational calendar" based on the lunar cycles and the first appearance of barley in the month of Aviv? Do they disparage the traditional Jewish calendar as being corrupt? Do they argue that true followers of Yeshua must observe the Jewish holidays or Shabbat? Beware, chaverim....

Seventh, how do these ministries regard the idea of the "church"? Do they understand that the church, as a called out assembly from every tribe and tongue, has a destiny and purpose different than ethnic Israel, or to they attempt to identify the church with Israel (e.g., by saying that the church constitutes the "House of Ephraim" or the "Ten Lost Tribes" of Israel, etc.)? Do they react so strongly to the error of "replacement theology" that they attempt to deny that the church is a valid institution at all? Do they offer any clear teaching on Paul's letters to the various assemblies of his day, instructing them about the order of services and the role of various people within the assembly?

Of course a good deal more could be said about this subject - and there are many additional pages on this web site that might help you further - but asking these sorts of questions should help you to "test the spirits" in order to discern whether a "Messianic" ministry is really kosher -- or not.

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