Today we are in college all day. We have morning and afternoon sessions with Lisa Loden, a prominent Messianic Jew, who is coming to share with us. This morning she is going to give us an overview of ‘The Messianic Movement in Israel’ and this afternoon she is going to talk to us about ‘Issues Relating to Messianic Believers’. We are all really looking forward to these sessions.
After breakfast some us walk down the steep hill to Mary’s Well, and then along to the steep climb up to the Seminary. Some of our group take a taxi each time we go to the Seminary but we are determined to walk as part of our fitness programme. It appears to be doing me good even though my legs ache sometimes and it can be pretty exhausting. I am leading devotions this morning – my theme is ‘loving kindness ‘ – God’s loving kindness towards us and the loving kindness he wants us to show to others. I base it on a verse in the Psalms where the Psalmist reminds us that ‘[God’s] loving kindness is better than life’ (Psalm 63:3). It seems to go down well and Lisa picks up on it when she takes over and shares with us.
Lisa is a remarkable woman. She radiates grace and peace. She is one of those people you immediately want to get to know and want to spend time with. She is originally an American Jew who emigrated to Israel a number of years ago. She had come to Christ in America, she tells us, through the witness of a Christian man her husband worked with. She is in her mid 60s and her husband, David is in his 70s. Encouragingly they are both looking forward to the next adventure God has for them. When they came to Israel they founded a Messianic congregation in Netanya where they still live. David is a musician and his vision was to develop a Hebrew hymnology. When they came to Israel there were only about 300 Messianic Jews in Israel but today there are approximately 12,000. Lisa is a prominent figure amongst Messianic Jews and travels the world speaking about these things.
She is a brilliant communicator. She listens carefully to all our questions and somehow manages to draw them into what she wants to communicate to us. It is fascinating stuff. Although a Messianic Jew herself, Lisa is very honest about the movement. When Azar shared with us the other day about Arab Christians, he tried to be as unbiased as possible given that he was an Arab himself. Lisa seeks to be just as unbiased in her assessment of Messianic Jews, even though she is a Messianic Jew. The morning session is essentially quite factual. We learn that most of the original leaders of the movement came from the USA, and that the various congregations are modelled on Brethren lines, with corporate, male, top-down leadership. They are Zionist in principle, a view under-girded by their dispensationalist, pre-millennial interpretation of what the Bible teaches about the Last Days. Many of the congregations are charismatic in their approach to worship and teaching, yet also theologically conservative as a result of the influence of the Dallas Theological Seminary who run the only Bible College for Messianic Jews in Israel. These Jewish believers prefer to be known as ‘Messianic Jews’ rather than ‘Christians’ and prefer to speak of ‘Congregations’ rather than ‘Churches’ largely because of the very negative associations Jewish people in Israel have with Christianity as a result of 2,000 years of persecution.
In the afternoon session, Lisa turns to various issues relating to Messianic Believers … and shares frankly with us some of her own concerns. The isolationism of Messianic Jews, the lack of real relationship with evangelical Arab Christians, the need for Messianic Jews to add their voice to the cry for justice and fairness for the Arabs in Israel (who are clearly discriminated against by the Jews), the need for better theological training for Messianic believers.
Lisa and her husband have recently separated from the congregation they planted many years ago and are pioneering a new venture based on a small home group that meets in their home. This group is more bottom-up than top-down in structure, and Lisa is anxious to explore a third way, rather than continue with the polarisation that seems to exist in Israel. How to achieve an honest settlement for two people groups who both have legitimate claims to this ancient land would appear impossible. There are rights and wrongs on all sides. We come away realising just how complicated everything is and that there are no simple answers. We also come away from these sessions with Lisa, grateful for her contribution, and inspired to pray and work all the harder for peace in Israel.
As we head back to Saint Margaret’s we see Azar with Lisa, ‘arm in arm’ proverbially rather than literally speaking. They are chatting away to each other like the friends they are. He is giving her a lift to the bus station so she can get her bus back to Netanya. Arab Christian and Messianic Jew, together … could this be a prophetic picture for the future?