A Hebrew-root Church - is a body of believers that is seeking to understand the Hebrew roots of the faith. These bodies have many beliefs similar to ours. One outstanding organization supporting Hebrew Roots is First Fruits of Zion.
A Messianic Jewish Synagogue - is a body of believers (made up of Jews and former Gentiles) that not only seek to understand the Hebrew roots of the faith, but by extension, to live out their belief by living as their Messiah Lived. This belief is lived out in a Jewish context (as our Messiah did) and as part of the Jewish people.
In order to live out the life of the Messiah, we go beyond merely learning about "Jewish" Life. We must move towards adopting the Life of the Messiah. This means not only talking about the Torah He lived, but living and following the Torah ourselves (Not for salvation but as fruit of that salvation).
In essence we all are Messianic Hebrews (having crossed over from death to iife); whether Jew or former Gentile.
Is someone required to become a Jew to be saved? No, the Jerusalem Council made it clear in Acts 15 that one does not have to become a Jew to be saved. They also made it clear that the redeemed former Gentiles (having crossed over in Messiah) where to now learn G-d's commands (Acts 15:21) from the Jews. We should also note that nowhere in scripture are Jews commanded to live like Gentiles (give up Torah) to be saved. Though it is never commanded in scripture, that is exactly what the majority of the Church has been doing for the last 1700 years (or more).
A Messianic Jewish Synagogue teaches that we are not only to learn about the Messiah; we are to take on the life (live like) of the Messiah. That life expresses itself as a Jewish Lifestyle. We must never forget, our Messiah was born of a Jewish woman, of the tribe of Judah. Lived a Jewish life, and died as a Jew.
Some well intentioned people (or sometimes not so well intentioned) will consider this Messianic Jewish Lifestyle to be "Legalism". They will say we are "free" from the Law. The only problem is, is that true? 1 John Chapter 3 says:
1Jn 3:4 Everyone who keeps sinning is violating Torah - indeed, sin is violation of Torah.
1Jn 3:5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and that there is no sin in him.
1Jn 3:6 So no one who remains united with him continues sinning; everyone who does continue sinning has neither seen him nor known him.
1Jn 3:7 Children, don't let anyone deceive you - it is the person that keeps on doing what is right who is righteous, just as God is righteous.
1Jn 3:8 The person who keeps on sinning is from the Adversary, because from the very beginning the Adversary has kept on sinning. It was for this very reason that the Son of God appeared, to destroy these doings of the Adversary.
1Jn 3:9 No one who has God as his Father keeps on sinning, because the seed planted by God remains in him. That is, he cannot continue sinning, because he has God as his Father.
1Jn 3:10 Here is how one can distinguish clearly between God's children and those of the Adversary: everyone who does not continue doing what is right is not from God. Likewise, anyone who fails to keep loving his brother is not from God.
Thus sin is a violation of Torah (verse 4) and anyone who keeps violating Torah has neither seen Him or knows Him (verse 6). Even more startling is verse 8 "The person who keeps on violating Torah (sinning) is from the Adversary".
So how then do we know what sin is? By knowing and following Torah.
Legalism is by definition, saying someone must do something (or not do something) to be saved. Have we ever said that a person must wear Tzitzit to be saved, or a kippa? The answer is, no we have not.
In a recent debate with Pat Donahue (Church of Christ) he stated we Messianic Jews were not saved because we followed Torah. That is true Legalism and is a gross perversion of Rabbi Sha'ul's (Paul's) writings. Paul never said to do away with Torah. He did say:
(Rom 7:12) So the Torah is holy; that is, the commandment is holy, just and good.
(1Ti 1:8) We know that the Torah is good, provided one uses it in the way the Torah itself intends.
In his writings on circumcision and other Jewish conversion rites; his condemnation was not on the practice, but on people thinking they had to do it to be saved. Thus Paul is not forbidding a Gentile from becoming a Jew, or forbidding Torah practices, but condemning them for believing they have to become a Jew to be saved (Some in the Two House movement comes dangerously close to this position by saying that those who are saved are really "lost" members of the House of Israel).
In summary, this began as a brief discussion on the difference between a Messianic Synagogue and a Hebrew Roots Church. It however has expanded to include what I hope is clarification on what we believe, teach and live.
We do not teach that all must live as we do to be saved. We ask the same in return. Our position is scriptural and on that day, when we stand before the Most High, it will be the blood of Messiah that redeems us. Hopefully it will be our life, lived as our Messiah did, that will enable us to hear "Well done my good and faithful servant". For our Messiah said: Mat 5:19 So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (Commandments, i.e. Torah) and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I think the words of the Master are the words we should learn from and live by.
Blessings Rabbi Gavri'el