Though more than two millennia of antagonism have pitted Judaism and Christianity against each other, a Southlake, Texas, church more than 7,000 miles from the Holy Land is doing something tangible to bring the two groups together.
Planted just six years ago, Gateway Church (www.gatewaypeople.com) has grown to 10,000 members. The still-growing church has remained loyal to a vision given to senior pastor Robert Morris 10 years ago and cites their obedience as the reason for the enormous blessings they've received.
"If you want to get God's attention," Morris says, "bless the Jew."
Their hope is that Christians will reach out to the Jewish community with open arms and an understanding that will ultimately bring Jews to know Christ.
Driven by the biblical command to take the gospel "to the Jew first" (see Rom. 1:16), Gateway created an on-site Jewish ministry. The church hired Messianic rabbi Peter Hirsch to serve as director of Jewish ministries and later made him head of all of Gateway's Global Ministries. Having spent more than 15 years in yeshivas (advanced schools of Jewish learning), Hirsch has been ostracized by some of those closest to him for his belief in Christ.
"We love the Messiah, and we love the Jewish people," Hirsch says. "We want them to understand there is nothing more Jewish than worshiping Jesus."
Today, about 250 people attend Gateway's Messianic service, held monthly in Gateway's auditorium on Friday nights. Gateway's Jewish ministries emphasizes a concept Hirsch refers to as "one new man," taken from Ephesians 2:14-15.
"Messianic synagogues have often said: 'Gentiles, come on in. You're welcome to be with us, dress like us, keep our dietary laws, dance like us—that way you'll be one new man,'" Hirsch explains. "The [Gentile] church has said: 'Jews, you're welcome. Come on in and worship like us, dress like us, eat like us. But you can't keep your dietary laws, and you can't be Jewish. That way, you'll be one new man.'
"A 'one new man' congregation allows Jews and Gentiles to worship together, while maintaining their distinct ethnic identities and differences," Hirsch says. "They don't have to become each other, but they complement each other in the Spirit."
"Many Jewish believers feel like outsiders and haven't been welcomed when they come into Gentile churches," says Morris, noting that many Messianic believers who attend the church's Friday night Messianic service also attend the church's regular Sunday services. "In Acts 15, the church fathers made a declaration: Gentiles do not have to become Jews once they become believers. … We need to make the declaration that Jews do not have to become Gentiles once they become believers."
Because Gateway's goal is to bring diverse people into a tolerant and peaceful setting, it has sidestepped political issues.
"We also support Palestinian churches," Morris notes. "We don't let issues such as land become part of the focus at all. Our focus is bringing people to Christ."
Hirsch concurs. "The only way there will be peace between the Jews and Arabs is under the cross," he says. "The politics don't matter—it's about the name of Yeshua being lifted high. There will be peace when Yeshua comes back."
So what does Messianic ministry look like in the context of a suburban megachurch? Gateway's Jewish ministry has established small groups, with about 30 to 40 people meeting once or twice a month in homes. The calendar is filled with other activities such as a Jewish dance workshop, music concerts featuring Messianic believers and an authentic Passover celebration.
The Messianic service draws Jewish believers, Gentiles and Jews who want to know more about the gospel. The message always focuses on a topic of relevance to the Jewish community, with Jesus (Yeshua) as the center. Traditional Jewish elements are woven into the service, such as Sabbath candles, Messianic songs with customary Jewish dances, reading from the Torah, the shofar and the Aaronic blessing.
Gradually, Jewish believers are being integrated into the life of Gateway. According to Morris, Messianic synagogues in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex have indicated that Gateway is leading the way for other Gentile churches.
"Other Gentile churches have seen our example and are realizing that what we're doing is a kingdom principle," he says.
Connecting with Jewish believers has given Morris a much fuller understanding of the New Testament and the Bible as a whole. "We come into the faith as Gentiles and don't have any idea about our heritage or history," he says.
Along the way, Morris hopes other churches will rise up to take the gospel to Jews. "We feel like the end-time harvest that people are talking about is going to start with the Jewish people who are alive now, embracing their Messiah—and it's going to bring revival to the whole world."
Carol Chapman Stertzer is a freelance journalist in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.