Rabbi Gary Maxted doesn’t bat an eye when he’s asked to speak to groups of Southern Baptists, cowboys or even an Iranian Christian church filled with former Muslims.
He readily accepts invitations to lead Bible classes and Vacation Bible school sessions at local Protestant churches. At this time of year, his calendar is filled with Passover Seder events.
“I get to cross a lot of boundaries as a Messianic Jewish rabbi,” Maxted said. “We have so many problems and are so close to the return of the Lord that it’s time to knock off all of the nonsense between denominations. I don’t think it matters if you are Baptist or Methodist. You’re either for the Lord or against the Lord.”
There’s little doubt that Maxted is for the Lord. The Messianic Jewish community consists of Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah. As the leader of Tikvah l’Chaim, a Hope for Life Jewish Messianic Fellowship, he said his focus is to educate Christians about their Jewish heritage and to lead non-believing Jews to Christ.
“You hear about churches going to China or India or wherever to bring the Lord to those people,” he said. “When’s the last time you’ve heard a Christian church say we’re going to the unbelieving Jewish people?”
Maxted opens his Passover Seder events to Jews who aren’t affiliated with a synagogue, as well as Christians who want to learn more about Judaism.
The 60-year-old’s family tree includes Jewish grandparents who moved from Germany to escape the Holocaust and told everyone they were Catholic. He didn’t discover this information until he was introduced to Messianic Judaism.
Maxted spent his first 30 years in the Catholic and Lutheran churches. At age 24, he married Cheryl, who wasn’t raised in church. When they decided to find a place to worship together, Cheryl discovered in Roswell. It took awhile, but she finally persuaded him to attend.
“The music was unbelievable, touching my spirit,” Maxted said. “Then when the rabbi started preaching, it was the first time in my life that I knew for certain what I was hearing was the truth. While he was preaching, the letters on the page of my Bible literally, physically lifted off the page. I didn’t know what was going on. I was scared to death, to be perfectly honest.
“The scriptures were coming alive. They came off the page and they were literally implanted in my brain and heart at the same time. I know that sounds weird. I was looking around from left to right to see if anyone was noticing. Nobody had a clue. It was a transformational experience. I had been a churchgoer all my life, but this was brand new, being a believer.”
That happened 25 years ago. Since then, Maxted has been involved in five congregations, first in preparation for ministry and then as an associate or assistant.
Without firsthand experience of the Jewish culture, Maxted’s education has come from rabbinical and Messianic Jewish institutes. He also completed courses at Beulah Heights Bible College.
With support from Pastor Bill Ratliff, Maxted started Tikvah l’Chaim three years ago. The congregation receives support from the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, an organization of 30 or more Jewish people who are in the Baptist church but want to maintain their Jewish identity. Saturday services are held in a Woodstock building owned by the Etowah Baptist Association at 4206 North Arnold Mill Rd.
After worship, he and others drive to a ranch in Jasper to visit the Cowboy Church, which is part of a movement that started in the rodeo circuit. Maxted’s congregation of 25 also shares special events with members of an Iranian Christian in Roswell.
“It’s unique because they are all from Iran,” Maxted said. “They are Christians who used to be Muslims. With Jews and former Muslims meeting together in worship, we’re doing something that the United Nations couldn’t even pull off.”
Editor's note: A version of this story previously appeared in the March edition of The Cherokee Vine, a monthly newsletter that highlights news and events from churches, ministries and charitable organizations in Cherokee County.