Pronomian Christianity: An Alternative To Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism?

This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.

You believe Yeshua is the Messiah. You believe the Biblical commandments are still relevant for God’s people today.

What are your options for identity and community?

  1. Join a Messianic Jewish synagogue and identify as a Messianic Jew or Messianic Gentile
  2. Join a Hebrew Roots congregation and identify as a Messianic Israelite
  3. Join (assimilate?) into a Christian church and identify as a Christian

You may now have a new option:

In his post, God’s Law Is Relevant To Me. Am I Messianic Or Christian? Jeff Young explains the term:

For a time, I called myself Messianic, an immensely confusing nomenclature. People thought that meant I had converted to Judaism, because, until this exact moment, they had never heard the word “Messianic” unaccompanied by the word “Jew”…I was more than happy to dispense with the title of “Christian”, because obviously I had “transcended the shackles of my indoctrination and had risen from the ashes of my deconstructed faith with the real truth”. Nonsense. This thinking was all ignorant “cage stage” blather.

Eventually, my zealous spirit was saddled and bridled by the anarchy of the Messianic/Hebrew roots movement, and suddenly the novelty of being called “Messianic” had run its course. Nothing makes one nostalgic for regular Church life like spending a few Sabbath afternoons with Frank Ben Yahuah explaining why Enoch isn’t Scripture and why Paul is. You find yourself reminiscing with your spouse, “Honey, remember all those times we didn’t run into polygamists and flat earthers in the Church lobby? Good times… good times.” Eventually, I said my farewells to the Messianic movement, and it’s incessant shenanigans. I came to realize the importance of my Christian heritage, and I was grateful for it.

I am Christian. I’m a Gentile grafted into Israel, undoubtedly. I am united with my Messianic Jewish brethren in the bonds of Yeshua (Jesus), however, I feel identifying as Messianic (even without the word Jewish) creates more confusion than it does clarity. Perhaps, in some contexts, the title “Messianic” makes sense, but for the average Gentile Christian (me) it does not.

How do we—Gentile Christians finding God’s Law as relevant to the modern believer—identify with God’s Law without separating ourselves from Historic and Modern Christianity? When a Christian asks about my theology, how do I explain to them that I eat clean foods, celebrate the Lord’s festivals, and rest on the Sabbath, without telling them something that either makes me sound like a Jewish convert or in a cult? What do we call this? Well, thankfully for us, there is a name for this. It’s called Pronomianism.

Pronomian Christians believe the Old Testament Biblical commands remain relevant to today’s believers while affirming historical Christianity and Christian doctrines like the sufficiency of Scripture, the 66 book Biblical canon, grace by faith, the Trinity, etc.

Here’s Jeff Young explaining this in more detail in an interview with Torah Resource’s Caleb Hegg:

Before we dive into Pronomian Christianity, let’s take a moment to inventory today’s broad Messianic movement and its challenges. Some of it may be a bit colored by my own experiences, so, a grain of salt, dear readers.

What’s wrong with Messianic Judaism?

In a nutshell, identity, infighting, apostasy, and rigidity.

God is using Messianic Judaism for His glory, I am certain. The Messianic mission is the salvation of Israel, and that mission is greater than any of the quibbles I’ll list here. But to be sure, there are difficult challenges in this movement, and that’s because human beings are terrible.

First, consider Messianic Judaism’s identity problem.

If you aren’t Jewish, you may be relegated to the back, thanked for your donations, and given little to no voice; it’s not for you. Can a non-Jew truly feel at home in a Messianic Judaism congregation without feeling like a 2nd class citizen? For many, the answer is no.

Some Messianic Jewish congregations will object to non-Jews keeping Torah commandments at all. For a non-Jew who feels called to, say, honor the Sabbath, how would such a congregation make him feel?

Even now, there’s all kinds of infighting over Jewish and Gentile distinctions, with the “Torah for Jews only” groups trying to excise the “Torah for everybody” groups. Meanwhile, the “Torah is heresy” groups are embarrassed at the other groups’ very existence.

Some Messianic Jewish organizations, such as First Fruits of Zion and the UMJC, see Jews necessarily being a part of Judaism. Jews in the Church are a kind of anathema to them, something to be avoided. This results in some Messianic Judaism organizations rejecting Jewish evangelism. (Of course, this is anathema to Torah-is-heresy groups like Jews for Jesus.)

Apostasy is also a real problem in the Messianic Judaism movement. Over the last decade, I’ve witnessed a number of families and individuals so enthralled with Judaism and yiddishkeit that they join with mainstream Judaism in rejecting Yeshua. “Why settle for Messianic Judaism, when you can have the real thing?”

At one congregation I attended in the Midwest United States, I knew several families who rejected Yeshua and converted to Orthodox Judaism. Some of them became anti-missionaries and are featured on Jews for Judaism’s anti-missionary materials.

And, my own younger brother Aaron followed the same path of apostasy, first rejecting the New Testament, then rejecting Yeshua as Messiah for Jews, and eventually rejecting Yeshua altogether and actively opposing God’s Messiah.

Finally, rigidity in Messianic Jewish theology produces an unwelcoming home for many believers, Jewish and Gentile alike.

  • If you believe Ezekiel 37 speaks of a future that includes non-Jews, you’re caricatured as a Two House heretic.
  • If you believe God calls His people to keep the Biblical commandments, per Matthew 5, you’re mislabeled as a One Law heretic and a rebuilder of the wall of partition.
  • If, per Ephesians 2, you believe non-Jews are grafted into the Commonwealth of Israel, you’re slandered as a blurrer of distinctions, a deceiver trying to make Gentiles pass as Jews.

And these rigid orthodoxies just scratch the surface.

Just this summer, I was slandered by name in a Messianic Jewish leadership forum. A Messianic Jewish rabbi of a well-known, IAMCS-affiliated congregation, called me out as a teacher of a heretical Two House congregation and claimed I spoke publicly against Messianic Jewish pioneers. Both accusations are false. But even the hint of supposed heresy in these groups results in a kind of excommunication and shunning.

I could fill several paragraphs with things I and my small congregation wrongfully endured at the hands of Messianic Judaism and its leaders over the last decade.

Messianic Judaism’s mistreatment of folks ranging from Rabbi Bruce Cohen to Rabbi Tim Hegg is a poor testimony of the Spirit of God in our midst.

The Messianic Jewish movement needs to be a big tent. It is not today.

Today, it is a tiny tent that quickly shows the door to – and ostracizes and shuns – those who question or deviate ever so slightly from Messianic Judaism’s own fundamentalism.

I personally affirm something like ~95% of Messianic Jewish theology, including the big issues of salvation of Israel and the ongoing election of the Jewish people. Yet I’m considered something of a heretic within the movement and I’m slandered with false accusations. It makes it hard for me to call this place my home, though I still do.

What’s wrong with Hebrew Roots?

God is using Hebrew Roots for His glory, I’m certain! But identifying with Hebrew Roots has its issues too. Let’s count some ways:

  • Flat earth
  • Wild conspiracy theories commonly treated as truth and even preached from the pulpit
  • A rejection of Christianity itself as a false religion
  • Seeing Christians and the Church as the Whore of Babylon rather than family in Messiah
  • A rejection of some New Testament books as canon
  • Derision of scholarship, producing an anti-intellectual environment that mocks learning, suppresses questioning, and generates echo chambers
  • Eth Cepher
  • Rejection of core Christian doctrines including the Trinity
  • Rampant sensationalism: many teachers make their living off incredible, sensational claims that have little or nothing to do with the Gospel
  • End-times date setting
  • Sacred name-only and rigidity around the name of God
  • Polygamy
  • A conflation of US Republican politics with Biblical values
  • British Israelism and other extreme forms of Two House theology
  • Little to no outreach and evangelization
  • Very few actual good works despite much talk of them

…to name a few.

There are still mainstream Hebrew Roots leaders who believe the book of Hebrews should not be in the Bible.

There are mainstream Hebrew Roots leaders who believe gravity is fiction.

There are mainstream Hebrew Roots leaders who teach Planet X is on a doomsday collision course with earth.

There are mainstream Hebrew Roots and Messianic teachers and musicians who took part in the January 6th riots at the US capitol. Some still claim President Trump will be reinstated as US President, and encourage their congregations to think the same.

There are mainstream Hebrew Roots leaders who believe the COVID vaccine is the mark of the Beast. And, even some Messianic leaders who believe it’s a new Holocaust!

Just last month, (ex?) Hebrew Roots teacher Rob Skiba, infamous for his flat earth and anti-vaxx views, died of COVID. Weeks before his death, Skiba had suggested that the vaccinated will soon start dying en masse, stating to his followers at a conference,

“Truly, I take no joy in saying this, nor will I if I’m the one still standing,”

(Aside: some of Skiba’s conspiracy-obsessed followers are in denial that he died of COVID, and some are now claiming that powerful Jewish kabbalists, who hide the true shape of the earth, are responsible for Skiba’s death. You can’t make this stuff up.)

I suspect this is the kind of stuff Pronomian Christian leader Jeff Young calls, “Messianic shenanigans.”

For these reasons, many Hebrew Roots congregations are not good places for families. Personally, I do not want to raise my kids in such an environment. Still, I fight for reform within the Hebrew Roots movement, still associate and congregate with Hebrew Roots believers.

The rise of Pronomian Christianity

There is much good in both Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. God is using both for his glory, despite people behaving badly.

But these are not for everyone. If you embrace Yeshua and the Biblical commandments, but feel uncomfortable calling yourself a Messianic [Jew], then what?

Enter Pronomian Christianity.

Pronomian = pro (in favor of) + nomian (Law/Torah).

Jeff Young, who coined the term as it applies to Messianic folks, explains his reasoning:

How do we—Gentile Christians finding God’s Law as relevant to the modern believer—identify with God’s Law without separating ourselves from Historic and Modern Christianity? When a Christian asks about my theology, how do I explain to them that I eat clean foods, celebrate the Lord’s festivals, and rest on the Sabbath, without telling them something that either makes me sound like a Jewish convert or in a cult? What do we call this? Well, thankfully for us, there is a name for this. It’s called Pronomianism.

The Pronomian Christian movement affirms the value and ongoing validity of the Law/Torah as a foundation for God’s people.

But it differs from Hebrew Roots in that it affirms the 66 book canon of the Bible, affirms core Christian doctrines such as saved by grace alone and the Trinity, affirms that we are part of Christianity, affirms Reformed Christian doctrine, affirms the Church as the community of God’s people, and generally rejects sensationalism like end-times date-setting and conspiracy theories rampant in Hebrew Roots.

Pronomian Christianity rejects the anti-nomian positions held by sectors of the Messianic movement (e.g. Jews for Jesus) and the Church, while still affirming our faith as Christian and all that implies.

Some notable figures that favor Pronomian Christianity:

In a Pronomian forum, I asked these folks if “Pronomian Christian” a theological position, an umbrella term that encompasses parts of Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism, or is it something distinct from these movements?

Joshua Ensley affirms the latter. He says,

[Pronomian Christianity] is distinct from Hebrew Roots (HR) and Messianic Judaism (MJ) and I’m doing my best to make that understood. It is distinct from HR in that it does not affirm many of the popular HR doctrines (flat earth, Arianism, etc) and does not look like MJ liturgically (Hebrew liturgy, synagogue style, etc.).

He continued later,

I would like to see The Pronomian Christian Church of America/etc in the future with a creedal statement. That would help to make it more than just a pronomian theological position but a denomination which affirms that position through its members.

Meanwhile, David Wilber sees himself as both Messianic and Pronomian:

I maintain some Messianic practices and traditions, but I’m Pronomian in that I believe Torah still applies to all believers today. I suppose I think of Pronomian in simply the literal sense of the term. I’m not antinomian, I’m Pronomian. In my view, anyone who believes that the Torah applies to all believers today is Pronomian, whether they are Messianic, Baptist, non-denom, Methodist, whatever.

I privately asked some Hebrew Roots and Messianic teachers what they thought of this Pronomian movement. One responded,

It will never catch on. I get [their] reasoning, but the word Pronomian isn’t well known and just comes across as a scholarly word that precludes the lay person.

Still, some other teachers expressed some optimism that it may be a better, less confusing term for non-Jewish, pro-Torah believers. Still others suggested it applies broadly like an umbrella, encompassing sections of both Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism.

Summary

Pronomian Christian is a descriptor for people who follow Jesus and practice the Law/Torah.

Some Pronomian Christians aspire to create a denomination around that, a place for pro-Torah followers of Yeshua to practice their faith in a community.

I can see the need for this descriptor, given that “Messianic” is a confusing term, conflating Jewish followers of Jesus and Torah-observant followers of Jesus. (Christians are confused when I tell them there are non-Jewish Messianics. And even Messianics are confused when I tell them many Messianics are not Torah-observant.)

I also see and attest to the challenges within Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. Though, we are foolish if we suppose challenges wouldn’t arise in a theoretical Pronomian Christian denomination.

Ultimately it comes down to this: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the workers labor in vain.” If Pronomian Christianity has legs, it will be because the Lord made it for running. If not, it will be an afterthought and an insignificant footnote in the broader Messianic movement, perhaps used only as a descriptor and umbrella term.

As for myself, I still identify myself as a Messianic. I believe in the Messianic Jewish mission: the salvation of Israel. It is a mission so grand it eclipses the troubles within the movement. I believe in the ongoing relevance of the Torah for all God’s people, though much of its practice remains to be worked out. I believe non-Jews are first-class citizens in God’s kingdom; God doesn’t favor Jews by merit of being Jewish. I’m Pronomian in the umbrella term sense, and interested to see its development.