(This was an interview used to gain a better understanding of the Messianic congregations in Israel. Some of the specific details, such as number of those in our own congregation and the demographics, have changed since that time.)
Name of Congregation: Nachalat Yeshua Messianic Congregation – Beer Sheva
Meeting Place: “Old House” (built in 1903; owned by Christian & Missionary Alliance since 1913)
City: Beer Sheva
Congregational History and Background:
1. When was the congregation established? 1972
2. What was the background of the founders of the congregation and the first members?
American, Finnish, Rumanian evangelical missionaries and Jewish new immigrants toIsrael. Some came from Pentecostal, others from more traditional backgrounds as Christians.
3. Did the congregation have (and does it still have) a specific denominational background?
Not officially, but does have a close relationship with the C&MA through our use of their properties and their workers serving with us over the years.
4. Why would you describe your congregation as Messianic?
Because we belong to and follow Yeshua the Messiah and express our faith in a Hebrew, Israeli context.
5. How would you describe the profile of the congregation? Has this profile developed over the years? If so, in what direction?
We are, what I call, a cross-denominational congregation. By this we would mean that the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ defines each believer, and His cross impacts our relationship with any other local church or ethnic group. Each culture out from which we may have come must also be seen in the light of the cross, and how that would affect the manner in which we live, celebrate holidays – both religious and national. We are cross-denominational also in that our members have come from a cross-section of humanity and streams within the household of the faith in Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
Our form of service has developed over the years as we have both grown in number and in the make-up of our members. We are freer now in our services than at the beginning, but still remain tending toward the conservative side of things. As the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, we desire to allow what God allows, and to forbid what He forbids. Humanly, we do not always succeed in this idealistically, yet doctrinally we believe that it is Jesus who is building His church, and He has placed different members of one body with different gifts and callings to labor together to build up the church in love, truth, and righteousness. We are all required to come together around His Lordship and His Word, rather than determining ourselves which “form of service” will be imposed upon others. We baptize by immersion believers, fairly shortly after they have expressed their faith in Yeshua as their Savior and Lord, who died for their sins and rose again from among the dead.
Congregational Structure and Demographics:
- Approximately how many members does the congregation have, and how many attend meetings regularly?
Membership is not formal, but we do say that to be a member one must be born-again, consider this local congregation as their home church, accept the recognized leadership for teaching, counsel, discipline. About 120 attend the weekly service regularly.
2. What percentage of the congregation consists of Jewish/Gentile believers? 60/40
3. What kind of leadership structure does the congregation have? Pastor, elders, deacons
4. How are new leaders recruited and appointed, and by whom?
Till now, always from within the local congregation. Based on acquaintance and observation, the members of the congregation are given opportunity, when the need is felt, to put forth names of those they consider suitable, given the Scriptural instructions and guidelines, to serve the congregation in an official and recognized position as deacon. This office is open to both men and women. The elders make the final determination of those candidates suggested by the members of the congregation.
Elders are nominated by the other elders, and the names of the candidates are presented to the members of the congregation for prayerful consideration and feedback. Final determination is by the elders.
The pastor (of which there has been only one designated as such in the history of this local fellowship) is appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, with confirmation by the elders and the members of the congregation in the wonderful ways of God to confirm His choice.
The period of time for these leadership positions is open-ended.
5.What kind of leadership and/or theological training do the leaders have?
Most have no formal training.
6. Is the congregation experiencing growth? If so in your opinion, why?
There is spiritual growth, which is partly a matter of faith in the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in the lives of the believers, personally and corporately. We do not always recognize or appreciate it, but we believe God for bringing us to maturity and fruitfulness as we commit ourselves to Him towards His purposes for our sanctification and glorification for the sake of Jesus His Son.
We have seen persons and families stabilize under the new conditions and circumstances they face here inIsrael, as well as the departure from ungodly living to serving the living God in truth. While we have new believers from time to time, we are not necessarily growing significantly in number at this time. Some families have left, which we sent out to do God’s work elsewhere in the Negev (the south ofIsrael). Others have left for employment reasons; some have joined up with other [Russian-speaking only] congregations in Beer Sheva; some leave to study in other cities or countries; some enter the military forces. So the fact that we are not drastically diminishing is itself some sign of “growth”! We thank and praise the Lord for the increase of believers in Yeshua in our area.
7. The immigrants from the former Soviet Union constitute a growing part of the Messianic believers. Do Russian believers have a prominent role in the congregation, and to what extent does this influence the Messianic identity of the congregation?
The Russian-speaking believers have a very prominent role in our congregation, being that they comprise about 70% of the members. They serve in leadership positions of teaching, home groups, deacons, elders, worship leaders, teaching of children’s classes.
Their influence on the Messianic identity is positive in that the emphasis is on our relationship with God the Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Since most of them did not grow up with a Jewish identity under Communism, then there is also an interest amongst them to know something of that which contributes to our identity and calling as Jewish and Israeli believers in Messiah Jesus.
- Describe the regular activities, in addition to the main service, of the congregation.
We have weekly children’s programs, five home groups, bi-weekly youth meetings, young adults’ meetings, weekly prayer meetings.
2. Which feasts and holidays are celebrated in the congregation? Describe briefly in what manner.
We take the Lord’s Supper once per month during our main service, and once each month in our home groups. At Passover we celebrate a congregational modified seder, taking into account the death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. For Shavuot/Pentecost, we normally participate with other congregations from aroundIsraelfor a day of celebration. During the Feast of Ingathering (Trumpets/”New Year” – Day of Atonements – Feast of Booths/Tabernacles), we have encouraged persons to do as the Lord leads regarding fasting and prayer, and we observe the Feast with a small booth and church picnic. For Hanukka and Christmas, we celebrate the great mystery of Godliness, that God became a man: the Light of the world, Jesus Christ came in the flesh; for Purim, there is a costume party for those who want, around the theme of the Scroll of Esther.
3. How is baptism practiced in the congregation?
Believers are baptized by immersion. If children, they must have the agreement of their parents.
Order of Worship:
- When is the main service held?
Saturday (Sabbath). Sunday inIsraelis an ordinary work day.
2. Describe the order of worship regularly used in the main service. If there is no set order of service, give a description of an average service.
We normally begin with a reading from Scripture from any portion of the Bible. This leads into our time of praise and worship, with free prayers being part of this time. If there are testimonies, they would be given as part of thanking and praising the Lord, or for specific prayer. Financial offerings are collected by two persons selected that day to do so. Flowers are given once a month for birthdays, anniversaries, new birthdays, baptisms. Announcements are given. Children who go to Shabbat school classes come up for a blessing from someone who has been asked to do that. The teacher/preacher brings the Word of God to us. A picnic is done once each month.
3. Has this order of service developed over time, or has it been constant throughout? If yes, how has it developed?
It has been fairly constant over the years, being adjusted as needed.
4. What would you consider to be the essence of the Messianic character of the service?
We consistently use and refer to the whole of the Bible; we use the Hebrew language; we worship the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; we believe the promises of YHVH God related to Jesus Christ coming again, and its relevance and impact upon the creation, upon the Body of Messiah, upon the people and landofIsrael, upon the nations of the world. We observe and acknowledge the set times of the LORD given to Israelas a matter of interest to the Church at large, if not binding for “keeping” them annually.
5. How much stress (time spent, prominence in the service) is put upon the different elements of the service?
-Prayer – 5-10 minutes
-Worship – 30-35 minutes
-Scripture Reading, with Teaching and/or Preaching – up to one hour
-Lord’s Supper – 15-20 minutes once per month
6. What kinds of prayers are mainly used? Free
7. How important is the use of the Old versus the New Testament in the service?
Both are important, but the New holds the pre-eminence.
8. What is the main objective of the service?
To worship God corporately; to have His presence in our midst; to hear from Him in various
ways; to minister to one another; to promote humility and holiness; to lift up the Name of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah; to call unsaved and saved to repentance from sin
9. Is there is something in the service you would wish to change or develop? What would this be, and how would you like to change and develop it?
We would like to see more active ministry of the Holy Spirit working through the different members of the body, and for more of the men to pray out. Right now, we pray for this, and try to encourage and exhort the believers to both exercise their faith and gifts given them for service, and for the men to take up their responsibility and privilege which God has given.
- Why does the congregation wish to identify itself as a Messianic congregation? What is the essence of the congregation’s Messianic identity?
We are an expression of the Church (Messiah’s Body) inIsrael, primarily amongst Jews. We believe in the promises of God regarding the Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, for the nation ofIsrael, confirmed by the New Testament, even as we desire to bring as many as we can now to have their sins forgiven now, and to know that they have eternal life in Christ as members of His Body.
2. Are there diverse theological/dogmatic positions among the members in the congregation? If so, what room is there for expression of diverging theological positions, and how is the unity of the congregation maintained in spite of these differences?
Yes, there are. On issues like the gifts of the Spirit and their uses; the role of women in the congregation; on matters of style of worship and uses of various musical instruments; on the manner in which the Lord’s Supper is to be taken, including everything from the day, the type of bread, the use of wine of juice, the need or not to wash the feet, on how open or closed to allow participation.
We strive to maintain the unity in the bond of peace, love, while using the Bible as our basis of what to allow or disallow; what to insist upon or where to be flexible. We want to become mature in our faith and in the decisions taken pertaining to the faith we have in the Son of God. It is testimony to the grace and power of God that we remain together for the sake of Jesus.
3. What is the main unifying principle of the congregation?
God’s love; His sovereignty; the death of Jesus and the blood of the New Covenant; the use of the Hebrew language as a unifier between us who have come from so many language groups.
4. What is the congregation’s view on Jewish and Western Christian influence on the congregation? They each and both have positive value and place, but neither is sufficient, and each present dangers to learn from and avoid.
5. Is theological reflection around the issue of the Messianic identity of the congregation prominent, and has it developed over the years?
We have given serious consideration to the issue of identity. We are complete in Messiah; our identity is realized as a new creation of God in Christ. The gospel is neither Jewish nor Greek.
The Congregation and Jewish Identity:
- What elements of the services and other activities of the congregation have a recognizeable Jewish background? What is the significance of such elements?
We conduct the service in Hebrew. There is a banner with a menorah (7-branched lampstand). At times we will refer to the synagogue ‘Torah portion of the week’ and the corresponding prophetic reading.
2. What is the congregation’s attitude towards modern Judaism, as practiced in Israel today? Modern Judaism is in spiritual opposition to the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah, Son of the Living God. There remain some elements within Judaism which are culturally acceptable for Jewish believers in Jesus to continue, just as there are within any other people’s national culture.
Being Jewish is a whole identity, as is being Christian. Being in the world, but not of it, will necessarily include our doing some of those things which belong to that which is natural, and not only that which belongs to the world to come.
3. Does the congregation wish to become more of less “Jewish”?
We want to become more like the Son of God! Evangelistically, we may be as Jews to the Jews, but within the congregation we must emphasize our identity as one new man in Messiah, where the essence is not Jewishness or any other ethnicity, but rather Christ, and our relationship to the Father and the Son and with one another through the Holy Spirit .
The Congregation and Western Christianity:
- To what degree are the activities of the congregation influenced by contemporary western Christian trends?
Generally to a rather large extent, since most of us are from the West, or from the West’s sphere of influence. Most of the media in all its forms are western based and oriented. Most of the men and women “of renown” with world-wide influence are westerners, or have moved there. The influence spiritually is of a mixed nature in terms of positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy.
- To what degree is the congregation determined by a foreign, western, influence at its founding? Significantly, being that the ones around whom the Lord began to build this congregation were all western believers. However, they also decided together that this congregation would be a local indigenous Messianic congregation.
3. What formal or informal ties does the congregation have to Christian congregations, organizations, or denominations abroad? And how do these influence the congregational life?
While we have informal ties to different “bodies”, we are not bound to any nor they to us, other than as God puts together or separates. We are all obliged to Him. Clearly, we have a close and special relationship with the C&MA in theU.S., as mentioned earlier. This has as much to do with our essential agreements doctrinally, . . . .as it does with their properties and founding initiatives.
Plans and Visions for the Congregation:
- What visions do you have for the congregation?
To be streams of living water in theNegev; to do good works in Jesus’ name to glorify our Father;to bring forth holy and righteous fruit to God’s praise; for as many as possible to be prepared to endure to the end and have part in the first resurrection, whether dead or alive.2. What aspects of the congregational life can, or need to be strengthened in the future?
Prayer; commitment to one another in love; actively being a blessing to others; being found reliable and trustworthy in the work entrusted to each one for the edifying of the whole; compatible, cooperative, and competent leadership3. What, in your opinion, can Messianic congregations contribute to the world-wide Church in the future?
Faithfulness to the truth of the gospel, and an attitude of humility and forgiveness towards our brethren from out of the other nations. This would contribute towards a return to the whole counsel of God, and to healing of broken relationships within His redeemed family, as we proclaim the truth of Jesus as Lord and Messiah.The Congregation and Israeli Society:
- To what degree do you, as a congregation, feel that you are accepted in Israeli society? Tolerated from a distance, with legal and illegal efforts to curtail evangelism.
2. What is the attitude towards the congregation in your local area?
Mostly indifference, but increasing curiosity once they realize we are here. We have experienced an outbreak of hostility led by the ultra-religious, but this has not been the norm till now.
3. What is the attitude of the authorities towards the congregation?
Ambivalence. Torn between emotional antagonism and the legal obligations of a supposed free and democratic society.
4. How does the congregation reflect upon and practice evangelism in light of these attitudes?Mostly through personal, rather than public, evangelism. From the Scriptures, we accept these present negative attitudes as “normal”, with a need to break down the strongholds – especially of the mindset opposing YHVH and His Anointed One – which have been built up and fortified through centuries of unbelief, rebellion, and rejection.
The Congregation and the Messianic Movement:
- Is the congregation a member of a larger denomination or group of congregation in Israel?Not officially or formally
2. In what context outside the congregation itself is your identity as a fellowship rooted?
We are part of the historic, world-wide (universal), and national Body of Messiah through our common salvation by faith in the grace of God revealed to us by the gospel.
3. Do you cooperate with other Messianic congregations? How? And how important is this for your congregation?
Yes. We do this through national and regional leadership meetings and conferences. Members of our congregation participate in other conferences open to other segments of the Body. We have visiting pastors from other congregations come to teach and preach in ours. As a congregation, we have held joint services with other congregations, including Arab, “Russian-only”. It is our view that this is a very vital way to express our unity here in Israel as believers in Jesus, to appreciate the bigger work that God is doing around the country and in the lives of other congregations, and to become better acquainted with other brothers and sisters in the faith.
4. Is/Are the congregation’s leader/s active in a network of other Messianic leaders? If so, please describe how this cooperation functions.
Yes. Both have been involved through the years in different capacities on boards of Messianic/Christian alliances within the country, whether for providing financial assistance to needy believers, or as a board member of reconciliation ministries, of the Israel College of the Bible, or leadership prayer gatherings, of the Christian students’ advisory board. These are all voluntary, non-paying positions and functions, some for set times, others for indefinite periods.
5. What role, in your opinion, does cooperation play in the forming of a unified Messianic identity among Messianic congregations in Israel? And what effect does such cooperation have on your congregation?
Cooperation certainly plays an important role as a unifying element. It promotes and strengthens prayer through mutual relationships, and gives us a stronger testimony throughout the country when we know that we are part of a larger whole. Since our identity is attacked as Jews believing in Jesus – and yet remaining Jews while being Christian – this cooperation helps to fortify the weaker members to be better able to give an answer for the hope within them, and to stand against the baseless attacks regarding our identity. Our congregation has also benefited from this wider cooperation, and we have been able to also bless others with our positions on some of these matters.
The Messianic Movement in Israeli Society:
- What, in your opinion, is the position of the Messianic movement in Israeli society?
The number of Jewish believers is increasing; there is greater unity of Spirit being demonstrated between the different streams of the faith; demonstrations of true reconciliation between Jewish and Arab believers are more evident. At the same time, there are contentions over fundamental issues, such as the deity of Jesus, and grace over law.
2. What is the attitude of the press towards the Messianic movement?
Since most of the press is biased away from and against the things of God, this is also reflected when they cover believers, the faith, congregations. Due to ignorance, they often distort what is actually said or occurring. Compared with their attitudes expressed towards the ultra-religious Jews, we come out favorably when writing about us in light of civil liberties. But when relating to our faith in Jesus and the New Testament (not to mention in the Word of God in the Old), their attitude is generally negative. There are, thankfully, occasions of someone, whom the Holy Spirit must be touching, communicating as a media person with respect and the fear of God.
3. Have attitudes towards Messianic Jews changed over the last years? Yes and no.
4. How do these attitudes influence the self-identity of Messianic believers and their congregations?
Responses vary, usually depending upon the “self-identity” of their leaders. The more “Jewish” the congregational leader/s is/are are want to be, the more prone they are to seeking approval of the Israeli Jewish society in which they are and with whom they identify themselves. The more they see themselves identified with Jesus, the Son of Man (and not limited to being specifically a Jew), the less are they negatively impacted by the issue of self-identity, since our identity is realized in Christ, and not as separate from Him.of other congregations, and to become better acquainted with other brothers and sisters in the faith.