Several years ago, I attended a Messianic bible study on Friday nights. The person who led the study was a Jewish believer. There were about 10-15 of us who attended this study, 80% of which were Jewish believers. The rest of us were gentiles. I remember a conversation that I heard between a couple of people. One woman asked another woman if she was Jewish. Her reply was “I wish.” She was a gentile and she wished she was a Jew. I thought about her answer and wondered why. There is no benefit to being Jewish if one is a Christian. Being Jewish does not entitle a Christian to more benefits. Jesus died both for the Jew and the gentile, there is no distinction. Her response really was a sad statement.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. (Romans 10:12)
God shows no partiality between Jews and gentiles (Acts 10:34). The woman in the Messianic bible study that I attended wanted to go to synagogue. God set up the Church for those that placed their faith in Jesus. He set up the structure of the Church for Christians.
In Acts 10:28 we see that the Jewish people did not associate with gentiles. They would not eat with the gentiles (Acts 11:3). In fact, gentiles were not permitted to enter any further than the outer court of the Temple. Only Jews were permitted to enter past the outer court. This view taken by the Jewish people in New Testament times was tradition only and not supported in either in scripture or in the Jewish Talmud. Fortunately, Jews no longer observe that old tradition and do not take the position that they cannot associate with gentiles.
We find that it was Jesus’ custom to attend synagogue:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. (Luke 4:16)
It was also Paul’s custom to attend synagogue:
And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, (Acts 17:2)
Paul who is the apostle to the gentiles is a Jew (Acts 22:3) and was zealous for the law. The new believers were all Jewish and it was their custom to attend weekly services at the synagogue. Yet we find that they met up in homes on the first day of the week (Sunday) which became the first church meetings.
Do Jews Accept Christians as Visitors in Their Synagogues?
While there may be a few exceptions, for the most part, Jewish people are a very hospitable and welcoming people and welcome gentiles to their services. The three main “denominations” of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative and Reform) have different ways in which they conduct their services. An Orthodox service has separate seating for men and women with a partition separating the two groups. Any gentile visiting an Orthodox service would be expected to observe their traditions. Most synagogues require men to wear a kippah and male gentiles visiting their service would also be required to wear a kippah. They do, however, ask that when Christians visit that they refrain from speaking about Jesus.
Today, there is not the separation between Jews and gentiles in society like we find in the New Testament before Jesus tore down the wall of partition. Jews and gentiles develop close friendships and Jewish people will invite their gentile friends to attend bar and bat mitzvahs, Passover Seders, etc. which are religious services.
Should Christians attend synagogue?
Since Christians would not be permitted to share the gospel, we should ask what is the purpose in attending a Jewish service. Do we want to learn about the Jewish roots of our faith? After all, Jesus was born to Jewish parents, lived His life as a Jew, took the Good News to the Jews and spoke to them as a Jew. Christianity, after all, is a completion of what was foretold in the Old Testament. It is the last covenant between God and man and it was completed through the house of David. It is good to understand the Jewish traditions such as the Passover Seder. The Passover Seder was Jesus’ last meal before His crucifixion and it is at this Passover Seder when He told us to partake of the bread and wine as a remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).
If a Christian wants to visit a Jewish service to learn about Jewish customs, a good place to visit would be a Messianic congregation. These congregations believe that Jesus is the Messiah and worship Him and place their faith in Him for their salvation. These congregations have both Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. Their services retain the Jewish liturgy, many blow the shofar before the service, reading of the Torah but most important, they do not stop at the Old Testament. They observe the Old Testament holidays. We can learn much about our Jewish roots while not leaving the New Testament at the door by attending or visiting a Messianic congregation.
Attending synagogue is not something Christians should do on a regular basis as a compliment to attending church. God set up the church for Christians. Jewish people in synagogues do not acknowledge that Jesus is their promised Messiah. Fortunately, there are more and more Jewish people coming to Christ in faith.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This post is adapted from an answer written for GotQuestions.org