Monday, February 6, 2012

Ralph Messer's Messianic Shamanism - one shameless showman

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Ralph Messer's Messianic Shamanism - one shameless showman


"There is a big message for Messianic and Judeo-Christian folk."
In the book of Judges we have the famous line, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In the recent incident involving Ralph Messer and Bishop Eddie Long at New Birth Missionary Baptist church just a small distance from my home, we see the fruit of self-authorized, unaccountable religious groups built on popularity and sensationalism. There is a big message for Messianic and Judeo-Christian folk.
WHAT DO I MEAN BY MESSIANIC AND JUDEO-CHRISTIAN?
I have written often about the types of Messianic congregations that exist out there. See one of my recent attempts to classify what the visitor to a Messianic congregation might encounter.
I don’t believe a person like Ralph Messer could possibly be raised up in a Jewish Messianic Jewish congregation (many of you know why I have to place the word “Jewish” in front of “Messianic Jewish” as an adjective!). This is not because I think that somehow Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus) are less gullible on the whole. But I think that there has been a culture in Jewish life in America (and outside of America) which expects some level of decorum, accountability, and education in a rabbi and at a synagogue.
But in the anything-goes world of crazy Christian groups, hooting and hollering are a sign of success! And I am in no way referring to the culture in black churches in America, having grown out of the slavery experience. The spirit, enthusiasm, and loud vocal patterns in the black Baptist churches I have visited — the good ones with trained ministers accountable to a denomination — are nothing like the televangelist trash culture. It’s no coincidence that in the movie “Keeping the Faith,” Ben Stiller’s character (a Reform rabbi) called on the local AME (or maybe Baptist) church choir to come and teach his members how to have spirit when singing the “Ein Keloheinu”!
And, as has been documented repeatedly here at Messianic Jewish Musings and on plenty of other blogs, “Messianic” has become a gimmick. If you attend a concert at some “Messianic” places, members of the audience bring shofars to blow like stadium noisemakers! Ralph Messer’s televangelist strut back and forth on the stage while the magic, shamanistic icon of the Torah Scroll was being shown to the uninitiated audience (not their fault they don’t know about a Torah Scroll) was only one extreme example of a large trend. Jewish festivals, sancta, rituals, and prayers are not holy relics which will elevate a person to a higher status with God or in the world. They are not play-toys or holy hand-grenades of Antioch!
Many seekers of true faith seek out a “Messianic” or “Hebrew Roots” or “Ephraimite” or “Two House” or “One Torah” group because they think these are more legitimate, that something is wrong with Christian denominations. Foolishly, many imagine that the “Messianic” teacher who knows a smattering of Hebrew (sometimes none, sometimes a good deal of Hebrew) and has read at least five books on Judaism (some less, some more) will bring them to a higher level. It is foolish to think that Christianity, a faith which has a checkered history (welcome to the reality of being human) but which has developed works of charity and goodness all over the globe, which has spawned some of the world’s greatest literature, which has produced an elevated spiritual tradition of active love and contemplative devotion is somehow incapable of bringing a person near to God while a showman-shaman like Ralph Messer might do a better job!
What I mean by Messianic is Messianic Jewish and that means congregations primarily about Jewish faith in Yeshua, but certainly including non-Jews who believe in, are supportive of, and want to be in the Jewish movement of faith alongside Messianic Jews. What I mean by Judeo-Christian is congregations primarily about Yeshua in which there is a preference for respectful participation in Torah and Jewish liturgy and customs. I do not find it strange that many Christians want Jewish culture. I think it was inevitable. As long as Judeo-Christian groups respect other Jewish and Christian approaches to God, as long as they do not confuse people about their identity, I think they are a healthy alternative to other Christian traditions. Messianic Jews generally are positive toward Judaism and Christianity. I hope the various Judeo-Christian groups under the many labels they use will find their place and get rid of all craziness like Ralph Messer speedily and soon. I’d like to point out that I know of Judeo-Christian congregations that would be a delight for any Jew or Christian to visit.
LESSONS FROM THE MESSER DEBACLE
A commenter on “Ralph Messer is not a Messianic Jewish Rabbi” (a commenter I have recently met on Facebook and for whom I can say I have respect) said: “not belonging to any of the above mentioned Messianic groups, does not equate to illegitimacy as a Messianic Rabbi.”
I understand what this commenter was saying. But let me ask you: how is the “everyone does what is right in his own eyes” thing going? I understand that religious communities form with untrained leaders. I understand that size and success are not markers of fidelity to God.
But why must something that starts small remain isolated and unaccountable? Don’t we learn from the terrible consequences in the public media when self-styled “rabbis” cause a scandal that accountability and togetherness are a good thing?
Messianic Judaism in America has two primary associations: the UMJC and the MJAA (the congregational arm of the MJAA is actually called the IAMCS). I am a UMJC guy. If a video was made by me at some mega-church crowning kings with a Sefer Torah, I would already have been contacted and proceedings to dissociate me from the UMJC would already be underway.
Who is Ralph Messer accountable to?
I will go out on a limb and say — it is virtually impossible that any UMJC or MJAA rabbi would have done something even half as embarrassing and wrong as Ralph Messer. The disease which leads to an explosion of Messer mania is caused by the need for maintaining power, success, and image through over-the-top antics instead of principled belonging and participation in a group of congregations whose combined presence and practice gives individual congregations something larger to belong to. A rabbi or pastor in a denomination doesn’t need to self-authenticate or prance like a rooster.
Currently, there is no association for Judeo-Christian congregations which are not primarily focused on the Jewish community. I think there should be. There certainly are organizations which might be called denominations for non-Jewish “Hebraic” groups. But the ones I am aware of are based on some erroneous theology (I’m thinking, for example, of a group which holds an annual conference based on the idea that non-Jews in Yeshua might be crypto-Israelites from the “lost tribes”).
There is an organization for individual Judeo-Christians called the UMB (Union of Messianic Believers). It could be a valuable idea to explore some sort of congregational affiliation with the UMB (not sure if the UMB leadership want that or not).
And another lesson: leaders in Messianic Judaism, Judeo-Christianity, and whatever other groups out there want to call themselves should not use the term “rabbi” for themselves if they have not completed the kind of training and have not received ordination by a body of rabbis who have overseen their education. There is no shame in being a “Congregational Leader” if you have not earned the title “rabbi.” Furthermore, it is inappropriate for any non-Jew to use the title “rabbi.” Judeo-Christian groups led by non-Jews need to find titles and nomenclature that are more appropriate. A rabbi is not a “Jewish pastor,” but a person trained to function in the Jewish community as a guide to matters of law and faith. Personally, I think “pastor” is a fine title for a non-Jewish leader (and rabbis who lead congregations are also pastors, since the title pastor has to do with religious leadership of a faith community).
In short (I know, this article was not short), the incident at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, involving Ralph Messer and Bishop Eddie Long, teaches us that education, accountability, appropriate use of terminology and Jewish sancta (also Christian sancta) is required. The days of do-it-yourself “Messianic” shamanism should be over. I hope many groups will contact the UMJC and MJAA and seek information. I hope many people who have been putting up with a clown as a leader because they thought Jewish roots would make them closer to God will make an exodus from the Ralph Messers of the world and find either a good church or a Judeo-Christian group that respects Judaism and Christianity. I hope the good work being done by Messianic Judaism will not be set back a decade by the act of one shameless showman.  source:


*The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke to Jewish leaders who are highly offended and speaking out against a ceremony held Sunday at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in which Bishop Eddie Long was wrapped in a sacred Torah scroll and carried upon a throne.
“He’s a king. God has blessed him,” said Rabbi Ralph Messer before covering Long in a scroll “[that] may still have the dust of Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Messer referred to the Nazi extermination camps in Poland where millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
A Torah’s use in a ceremony ordaining Long as “a king” is offensive to many Jews, said Bill Nigut, Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The ceremony at Long’s Lithonia church, viewed more than 139,000 times on YouTube, “in no way represents any Jewish ritual that I’m familiar with,” Nigut tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We do not proclaim individuals to be kings.”
Messer said his parchment, a handwritten copy of the holiest book within Judaism, was 312 years old. His mention of Auschwitz-Birkenau implied the scroll was one of those recovered from the death camps when they were liberated by the Allies toward the end of World War II.
It’s impossible to authenticate Messer’s claim without examining the texts up close, said Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sandy Springs. While rare, Torahs can be easily purchased, even on eBay, he said.
“There are a fair number of Torah scrolls that survived the war,” said Heller, adding roughly 1,500 were rescued from Czechoslovakia alone.
More disturbing was the use of this particular Torah in an inappropriate setting, experts on religion say.
“The connection of the Torah scroll to the Holocaust and then to Eddie Long is incomprehensible to me,” said David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. Gushee is a scholar of the Holocaust and has visited Auschwitz several times.
“What was the point? Was it to signal that Eddie Long was suffering persecution like the Jews at Auschwitz?” Gushee asked.
Messer’s son, Minister Russell Messer of Simchat Torah Beit Midrash in Parker, Colo., said his father purchased the parchment and relied on the word of its seller regarding its provenance. “It came through that generation of Europe,” the younger Messer said.
Russell Messer said that in the next two days, his father — who has no formal rabbinical training — plans to post on his organization’s website the full video of his sermon along with additional comments regarding Sunday’s service.
When asked for comment about the event, New Birth emailed a statement Thursday in which Ralph Messer said critics misunderstood his intent.
“My message was about restoring a man and to encourage his walk in the Lord,” Messer said. “It was not to make Bishop Eddie L. Long a king.”
The YouTube video indicates otherwise, Heller told the AJC.
“We wouldn’t wrap a Jewish person in a Torah scroll and declare him king,” he said. “As a Jew, I find that use of symbols very off-putting.”
The messenger is as controversial as the message, Jewish leaders say.


Ralph Messer, according to a biography on his organization’s website, is “pioneering a work to bring the ‘Good News’ of Yeshua (Jesus Christ) in the Torah to the ends of the Earth.” He is active in the Messianic Judaism movement, which fuses evangelical Christian beliefs with elements of Jewish tradition.
“The Jewish community does not associate itself with the Messianic congregations,” Heller said. “We don’t feel like this does due justice to either the Jewish or Christian community.”
Messer’s biography says he has ties with prominent evangelicals including the Rev. Kenneth Copeland of Lubbock, Texas, and Paula White, pastor of a charismatic mega-church based in Florida. It says he has made frequent appearances on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
In his statement Thursday, Ralph Messer said Sunday’s presentation “was simply a way of bringing honor to a man who had given his life to the Lord and had given so much to his church, the Atlanta metro area and throughout the world.”
“Lifting him on the chair was to acknowledge and honor him,” he said, adding it is consistent with rituals performed at Jewish weddings and Bar mitzvahs.
Russell Messer said that his father and Long “just got to know each other in the last six months.”
Long was appointed New Birth’s pastor in 1987 when the church had only 300 members. By its 10th anniversary, New Birth reported a membership of roughly 18,000, peaking at 25,000.
But in September 2010, Long was sued by four former church members who alleged he used his influence, trips, gifts and jobs to coerce them into sexual relationships. The suit was settled in May. The church’s attendance has declined since the sexual coercion lawsuit was filed.
The bishop may have taken comfort in Messer’s message.
“You can’t attack [Long],” Messer said Sunday. “He’s sealed. Wherever he turns, the power of God is there. … It’s not him, it’s the king in him.”
As Long sat behind him, perched on a throne under a spotlight, Messer chanted repeatedly, “It’s a new birth,” eliciting cheers from the congregation.
Mercer’s Gushee said the service may have been an attempt to shore up Long’s standing in his ministry.
“A lot of things could have been done to shore that up, but this particularly bizarre ritual was deeply disturbing,” Gushee said. “One problem with Messianic Judaism, in which leaders attempt to fuse Jewish and Christian traditions and symbols, is that it can easily stray into profound insensitivity.”
Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, associate professor of Biblical studies at Interdenominational Theological Center, said that on viewing the video, “My first impression was, ‘Who is this individual who has the authority to make Bishop Long a king?’
“It’s something I’ve never seen or read within the Judeo-Christian tradition,” Hopkins said. “There’s nothing within Scripture that supports such a practice of this ceremony. It really just stands outside of the Christian faith.”

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