Is a Messianic Congregation a Church or is it a Synagogue?
What are the differences?
First of all, the definition is the same, a Synagogue and a Church both mean “assembly”, they both actually mean assembly.
Both are associated with people assembling for worship of “The God of the Bible.” Both have a variety of types of worship depending on the group assembling for worship.
So my answer is: this is a Synagogue or a Church depending on your background.
Traditionally we think of a Synagogue as a group of Jewish people gathered for worship and service. A synagogue can be ultra-Orthodox or Conservative with very long liturgies and strong Rabbinic teachings or it can be more liberal as Reformed or Progressive. A Reformed or Progressive Synagogue may have very little in common with the type of service of an Orthodox congregation.
Today, and for the last 50 plus years, it also includes Messianic Judaism (believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus)) as a sect of Judaism, this is true today and it was true at the time of Yeshua 2000 years ago. All the believers in Yeshua (Jesus) originally worshiped in the Temple or in the Synagogue along side of their other Jewish brothers and along side the God Fearing Gentiles (Gentiles who had a strong respect for the God of the Bible) who had accepted him as their individual redeemer from sin.
The believers in Yeshua (Jesus) did not normally call themselves Christians, but instead, called themselves “Nazarene’s” or “People of The Way” and it wasn’t until 134 AD with the Bar-Kokhba revolt we see the believers in Yeshua separated from the Synagogue formally. This rift has lasted until now.
Traditionally the Church has meant Christians who have rejected many of the tenants of Judaism specifically or most importantly the Appointed Times of Leviticus 23. The first of which is the Sabbath (7th day of the week) and the other times God specifically ordained to maintain “through-out your generations”. Messianic’s feel strongly about these “Appointed Times” as being relevant to the life of individuals and communities. Just as relevant today as it was then and as it has always been to Jewish people through-out history. So this is why many Messianic Congregations identify themselves with a Synagogue as apposed to a Church, identifying themselves more with the Jewish practices of the Apostles rather than the Roman or Gentile practices being inherited through Roman Catholicism or from Evangelical teachings. Both of which have distanced themselves from their Jewish heritage.
So in short, Messianic simply means: Believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). Messianic Judaism simply means: Believers in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) practicing “Biblical Judaism” to the best of their abilities.
Remember, the New Testament writers were inspired by God to write about the things comming to pass in the Hebrew Scriptures, being acomplished through the Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua’s custom was to attend Synagogue every Shabbat, he never stopped doing that and he never stopped teaching to follow all of God’s commandments.
If you are primarily a Gentile or non-Jewish congregation, you might find it more comfortable to call yourself a church. And, if you are trying to explain your position of following the example of Yeshua (Jesus) as to how he lived his life, then you might find yourself wanting to attend a Messianic Synagogue.