Q: Kevin, I’ve been so drawn to the Messianic way for a few years, but haven’t found a group of Messianic believers who get along. On Facebook there are 3 or 4 different groups who don’t agree with each other. Who can I trust to teach me when they all disagree on different things? Some [are] very legalistic to the point of saying believers who aren’t Messianic are going to hell… others I’m not quite sure what they’re trying to say. If I believe what some are saying, [my husband] is going to hell because he wants to give gifts on Christmas, and because his job requires working Saturday. Shalom.
A: First, let me say that I empathize with you—you are not alone in recognizing the divergent and often antagonistic views in Messianic (or pseudo-Messianic) circles. I think you have already uncovered your answer with regard to whom you can trust to teach you—or rather, whom you cannot. Paul acknowledged in 1Timothy 1:6-7 that even in his day, “certain [men], having swerved, turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of Torah, not understanding either the things they say, nor concerning what they [confidently] assert.” If you’re confused about what they’re trying to say, it may be with good reason—their discussion is most likely “fruitless.” And without a doubt, the Legalist, and the one who condemns “non-Messianics” to hell should not only be completely ignored, but sternly rebuked. As for your husband, I think you already know to discard the words of those “teachers” regarding his fate. Celebrating Christmas—even working on Shabbat—is not going to send him to hell… not even close!
So, who can you trust? It seems to me that before we can truly trust someone who “becomes [a] teacher” (James 3:1), above all, we need to know their character—and this cannot be gleaned merely from one’s public (or online) persona. I think a good starting place for determining a teacher’s character would be Paul’s qualifications for overseers or elders, as he lists them in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:7-9—what his temperament is, how he exemplifies integrity, how he treats Scripture, how he cares for others and leads his family… things of this nature.
And yet, we must be cautious. While such characteristics can be genuine, they can also be counterfeited (indeed, some are very adept at hiding their true selves, even in their private life). We would be extremely foolish indeed to believe that the Body of Messiah no longer suffers from “many [who are] both out-of-control empty-talkers and mind-deceivers… who overturn whole households, teaching things which [they] should not, for dishonest gain’s sake.” (Titus 1:10-11) Many opportunists and power-mongers stalk unsuspecting prey in and around the Messianic movement—indeed, the whole Body—and their motives are not always readily discerned. We should trust only people of impeccable character to be our teachers—and to do that, we need to get to know them personally. Admittedly, such an endeavor is not always practical or possible—for example, if you are separated by a great distance. Nevertheless, by virtue of one’s reputation, associations, and the fruit of their personal lives and public work, a person’s character may be discerned… even when obscured by a mesmerizing torrent of “many words” (Proverbs 10:19).
There are indeed trustworthy teachers out there (I hope I am one of them!). Just use wisdom, being careful to look beyond the surface—both in what they teach, as well as the content of their character (2Corinthians 11:13-14).
What do you think? Weigh in with your comments below.
This “Messy Messianics” article was originally published in Messianic Jewish Issues. Messy Messianics, a recurring feature in Messianic Jewish Issues, is provided as a resource for helping troubled friends back from the fringe.