Why emphasize witnessing to Jews—what some call "targeting"?

I've seen letters to the editor in newspapers where rabbis seem very upset that Jews for Jesus "targets Jews." I know that you believe what other evangelical Christians believe. Why the emphasis on witnessing to Jews? Is there really a need to have a separate organization to tell one group of people about Jesus?

That's a question that we've been hoping somebody would ask. But before we answer, let us point out that the term "targeting" brings to mind darts or firearms. We can't imagine throwing the gospel at people or aiming to harm them with it.

Actually, targeting is a propaganda term that has been misappropriated from the marketing profession. We realize that some Christians use the term innocently in the context of outreach, but those who are not Christians use it to disparage evangelism. To scoffers and unbelievers it has a negative connotation. We avoid the term "targeting" because we see the gospel as something to be presented freely rather than something to be sold. We don't throw our tracts at people; we hand them to those who want to take them. When it comes to the gospel, the Giver, the receiver and the person who relays the message all "profit." When unbelievers use the word "targeting" they mean to make their hearers feel that it is somehow wrong for us to believe and act upon what the Bible says is right (Romans 1:16).

But back to the reason for Jewish evangelism. Most of us Jews grow up with the belief that Jesus is not an option for us. The missiological term for that is "gospel resistant." In other words, it takes a whole lot to bring my people to a place where they allow themselves to consider the gospel. Whereas you may imagine that Jewish people have the same opportunities to hear about Jesus as everyone else, there is a whole mindset that tells our people such opportunities are not for them. Jews for Jesus is committed to presenting opportunities that Jewish people cannot dismiss as being "for Gentiles only."

If you can understand the need for missionaries to go overseas and tell the gospel to people who otherwise would not hear, we hope you will understand that most Jewish people will not hear the gospel unless it is delivered in a way that takes into account a lifetime of conditioning or indoctrination. Some may call our outreach "targeting." Those of us who present the opportunity call it reaching out to people in love where they are…and we know where they are because most of us have been there!

We believe our Heavenly Father takes no more joy in a Jew coming to Christ than He does in a Hindu or a Buddhist or a pagan. Every soul is equally precious in His sight. Nevertheless, Jewish evangelism is crucial—perhaps it is the most significant issue on which the church will prove its character, conviction and commitment to evangelism.

Stop and think. If a person believes the Bible and believes that Jesus is the only way of salvation (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9,10) and then that person declines to tell a Jewish friend about Christ, it indicates one of two things. Either that person has decided that the Jews are not worthy of the gospel, in which case he would be a racist, an anti-Semite and a hater of people instead of the lover of people that God wants him to be. Or perhaps he has judged the gospel as being unworthy of the Jews in which case he has trivialized the passion of Calvary and the awesome significance of Christ's resurrection. It is imperative that the church take a stand for Jewish evangelism.

We Jews for Jesus are willing to face the challenge and do the work. We hope you see the value of Jewish evangelism, and if you do not have opportunities to witness to Jewish people, you can encourage us in our witness.

How many Jews for Jesus are there?

I hear that many Jewish people are coming to faith in their Messiah. Someone told me there are at least 100,000. Do you have any statistics as to how many Jewish believers in Jesus there are today?

Estimates range from as low as 30,000 to as high as 125,000 world-wide. There is no way to take a really accurate census of Jewish believers in Jesus. Several factors make it quite difficult.

In this country and in European countries census takers used to include a question about religion. In places where they had state-supported clergy this was an important question because it involved monies paid to the religious community on a per capita basis. For this reason conversion records were scrupulously recorded and maintained. When the ruling was made in 1956 that no question of religion was to be allowed in the U.S. Census, the European countries followed suit. Nevertheless, at the turn of the century it had been recorded that 100,000 Jewish people had converted to Protestant sects and 50,000 had converted to Roman and Greek Catholic churches.

Another factor that makes statistics difficult to ascertain is that some very new believers may not yet have confessed their faith openly. While there is no such thing as a permanently "secret believer" (see Romans 10:9, 10), sometimes believers take months or even years before making a public statement of faith because they fear the severe reactions of their families and the Jewish community.

Furthermore, even if we knew the exact number of Jewish believers, it would be necessary to make qualifying determinations. For example, would the poll include only those who came to faith in Christ directly from a Jewish religious background, or would it also include the children of Jewish converts who were raised in the Christian faith by believing parents?

Another category would be believers with only one Jewish parent. Some have a Jewish mother, and some have a Jewish father. According to Jewish law, anyone born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. If a person had a Jewish father and a Gentile mother but had been raised in a home where Judaism had been practiced, would that person be considered Jewish for the purpose of the survey? What about the added factor of the absence of Jewish traditions in a mixed marriage household? What about the occasional Gentile who converts to Judaism because he or she admires the high ethics of the Jewish religion and then becomes aware that Jesus is indeed the Messiah of Israel?

There are too many variables to obtain a really definitive answer. The important point is that many Jewish people are coming to faith. We may not always know who they are, but the Lord in whom they have come to put their trust knows them, and one day we shall meet them all in heaven.

Why do many Jews for Jesus continue to celebrate the Jewish holidays?

I have heard some people accuse Jewish believers in Christ of "neo-Galatianism" because you talk about celebrating the Jewish holidays. What, exactly, is neo-Galatianism, and how would you answer such a charge? And why do you Jewish believers continue to celebrate Jewish holidays anyhow?

In Paul's letter to the Galatian Christians he told them that they were foolish because they sought to follow the Law as a path to becoming more spiritual. He taught that those who tried to follow the Law would be cursed if they didn't continue to do all things written in the book of the law (Galatians 3:10). In short, there is no such thing as following just a little of the Law. Paul taught that it was a matter of "all or nothing at all," and if anyone violated tht Law in a single point it was as though he had completely shattered it.

Many Jewish believers in Jesus celebrate scriptural holidays and enjoy certain other Jewish traditions, even enriching them with the added knowledge and symbolism of our Messiah Y'shua. For example, besides enjoying the Jewish holidays, many of us celebrate our young people's passage into maturity with messianic bar or bat mitzvot. In doing these things we are not rejecting God's grace in Christ, nor are we trying to gain merit by observing the Law. Our purpose is to preserve and transmit our cultural heritage to our children.

Those who, would fault Jewish believers for expressing their heritage in this way would do well to study Galatians, chapter 2. There once again the Apostle Paul provided enlightenment about celebrating certain holidays or eating or abstaining from certain foods. Paul said that some people are vegetarians, and some eat all things. Elsewhere, in Romans 14:3, he said, "Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him." Then Paul went on to explain that one person esteems one day above another and another esteems every day alike, but each must be fully convinced in his own mind.

Under the New Covenant, we all have a Holy Spirit-governed liberty and a God-sensitized conscience, whereby one believer might choose to accept more or less of a burden to follow certain holidays or customs than another. Those observances are purely subjective and voluntary, and never to be considered ways of gaining merit with God. The Holy Spirit gives us the liberty to maintain our heritage and culture so long as the traditions and observances do not obscure the gospel and we realize that the only way of salvation is through grace, by faith in the atoning work of Y'shua.

How should a Jew for Jesus resolve the "forsaking" of unbelieving family with God's command to honor our parents?

How can we who follow Jesus, particularly Jewish believers with unbelieving families, resolve the "forsaking" of family—as Jesus calls us to do if necessary—with God's command to honor our parents? Is this a contradiction?

Of course God does not contradict himself. The concept of honoring one's parents does not mean absolute, slavish obedience. In ancient times, one rabbi taught that a child would be right in disobeying his parents if they commanded him to worship idols or to commit incest. Obviously those two situations would be totally offensive to God.

Like many teachings of Scripture, the admonition in the Decalogue to honor parents involves certain conditions. The mature Christian knows how to balance the teaching of Scripture by taking the whole of Scripture into account. Ephesians 6:1 clarifies the teaching on parental obedience when it says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" (italics ours).

Jesus, speaking of the reaction to faith by unbelievers, told his disciples: "And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me…" (Matthew 10:36, 37). Here we see that love for God is put above love for family. We who love the Lord also love our families; yet we cannot obey them if they tell us to turn from the Savior.

How can I respond to the accusation that Jews for Jesus is a cult?

While witnessing to a Jewish friend, I gave her some of your Jews for Jesus literature. When she saw the name of your organization, she responded by saying that Jews for Jesus is a cult, that it uses deceptive methods and that it is an offense to both Jews and Christians. This upset me because I have been a supporter of your ministry. When I discussed the lady's accusations with my pastor, he assured me that you are not a cult, and that you are well received among evangelical Christians. How can I now persuade my Jewish friend that Jews for Jesus is not a cult?

Your friend has been influenced by propaganda promulgated by those who would detract from the credibility of your witness and ours. Some Jewish community leaders spread this kind of misinformation in order to counteract Jewish evangelism, which they erroneously consider a threat to Jewish survival. Obviously, in your case the misinformation began to achieve its intended purpose.

You allowed yourself to be misled on the issue. The real issue is not our credibility as an organization, but whether or not Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the Savior of all humanity. When you are trying to tell others about the Savior, you must not allow yourself to be diverted into defending us or any other Christian group. Stick to the issue in your discussions. The issue is the credibility of Jesus. After all, if Jesus is not the Messiah, then we are, indeed, teaching false doctrine and should be considered a cult. Our integrity depends on Him.

If your friend finds Jesus as her Savior, she will measure our doctrine and our conduct in the light of the Scriptures. Then she will know that Jews for Jesus is not a cult.

How can I respond to the accusation that Jews for Jesus distorts Jewish religious symbols?

At an ecumenical luncheon I heard the rabbi of a local synagogue condemn your group for using Jewish religious symbols and giving them a Christological meaning. He claimed that Jews for Jesus uses Jewish holidays and symbols to convey the illusion that you are still Jews when, in fact, you are Christians. He also said that you "distort the meaning of what is Jewish and make it bait on a Christian fishhook to catch unwary Jews." He was especially critical about the fact that you teach about Passover in the churches, giving it "false" Christian symbolism. As a friend of your ministry, how can I defend you against such accusations?

Regardless of what anyone says, we are Jews in that we are physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At the same time we are also Christians—those who believe in and follow Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. One classification does not cancel out the other, even though rabbis like to teach that Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive categories and hence are antithetical to one another.

As for the accusation that we "fraudulently use Jewish symbols and Jewish holidays," we have a right to use Jewish symbols by virtue of our ancestry, and we have a right to celebrate Passover and other Jewish holidays and interpret them according to the teachings of Scripture. The accusation would only be valid if the New Testament were false. When we bring our Christ in the Passover presentation to the churches we do not pervert the meaning of the Paschal lamb or any of the other Passover symbols. We merely tell what Jesus Himself taught his disciples at the Last Supper, which was a Passover celebration (See Matthew 26:18-30).

In Matthew 26:28 we read:

…as they were eating, Jesus took [unleavened] bread [matzoh], blessed it and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat: this is My body." Then He took the cup [the Passover wine regarded by many rabbis as a symbol of the blood of the Passover lamb], and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."

As Jewish believers who have learned this symbolism from Scripture, we do not pervert the meaning of Passover. Rather we rejoice in discovering its true spiritual significance. From the very beginning, the entire Passover observance was filled with prophetic symbolism of the promised Messiah/Redeemer.

The Passover lamb's blood on the doorpost saved the Israelites from the scourge of the Death Angel and opened the path to freedom from Egyptian bondage. Centuries later John (Yochanon) the Baptist (a Jewish prophet and son of a devout Temple priest) pointed to Jesus and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

The Messiah Y'shua came as God's ultimate cleansing sacrifice. His blood is efficacious to save all people (not only Jews) from the slavery and penalty of sin and from the terrible punishment of the second death.

Our faith commitment to Messiah Y'shua as the Lamb of God in no way negates the meaning of the first Passover. Rather, it fulfills it. Our faith in God's Messiah, the Lamb of God, does not make us non-Jews but Jews who try with all our hearts and souls to obey the entire teachings of Holy Scripture from Moses (the Pentateuch) to the book of Revelation.

How can I respond to the accusation that Jews consider themselves superior to Gentiles because they are God's "chosen people"?

From reading your Newsletter I've gotten the impression that your staff considers Jews superior to Gentiles because the Jews are God's "chosen people." I see the phrase "to the Jew first" quite a bit. I believe that God takes us all the same, and no one group is better in his sight than another. Or is this phrase used in the framework of God expecting a lot more from "his people" or "chosen people"?

We do not claim any special privilege as Jews that would make us superior in any way to the people of God who are Gentile by birth. The only "privilege" is the honor of being physically related to the people from whom God chose to bring forth the Messiah, the Savior of the world. That is no glory to us, but to him who ordained it.

You see, the Jews were chosen, not to be honored or glorified, but to be God's servants. They had the Law, the prophets and knowledge of the one true God and were to be instrumental in bringing monotheism, and ultimately the Savior, to a pagan world. The phrase "to the Jew first" should serve to remind us all that "to whom much is given much is required."

At Jews for Jesus we often use the phrase "to the Jew first" (Romans 1:16) because we feel that it establishes biblical precedence for Jewish evangelism as a specialized field of endeavor. But as mentioned before, we do not consider Jews superior to Gentiles and neither does God's Word. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (italics ours).

Why does Jews for Jesus call its summer witnessing outreaches "campaigns"?

Why does Jews for Jesus call its summer street evangelism a campaign? Isn't campaign a military term? Also, instead of street ministry, why don't you carry on your evangelism in a more dignified manner?

The first answer is simple, and the second is contiguous with the first. In military terms, a campaign is a planned and sustained advance. In Christian terms, this world is the devil's stronghold, and trying to win souls to Christ is our planned aggressive action against him. In evangelism, we battle with the evil one for the liberation of unbelievers' souls, and our campaign tactics are designed to give us the upper hand in this battle.

As for the second question, in evangelism it is not a matter of doing the dignified thing, but the necessary thing. We need bold tactics to challenge those who assume they have heard everything they ought to know about Jesus and think they have entirely settled the matter in their minds.

A street witnessing campaign accomplishes what cannot be achieved through more passive means of evangelism. It heightens consciousness, raises questions in people's minds and confronts them with the issue of whether they really hold the right view of Jesus.

Our name or slogan Jews for Jesus causes people to do a double take. In turn, this leads to a greater consciousness that ours is not the regular "trite" message they think they already know. People have learned to expect surprises from our ministry—and perhaps the best surprise of all is that some unbelievers who have always thought they would never consider Jesus are heeding our message.

Why isn't [name withheld] any longer on the Jews for Jesus staff?

We saw one of your gospel ads in the newspaper and we liked what Jews for Jesus was doing. So we began supporting. After a while we began hearing from one of the missionary staff, and we enjoyed exchanging cards and letters. Then we started hearing from a second missionary who was thanking us for our support. Next we received a communication from the first missionary, informing us that that person had left Jews for Jesus and would welcome our support in a new ministry. I wrote back and asked why the first missionary left and never received an answer. Can you tell me why [name withheld] is no longer with Jews for Jesus—and should I support the new ministry?

Each of our missionary staff is supported by individuals and churches. Prayer is so important to our ministry and we appreciate your help so much that we strive to communicate our thanks as well as our prayer requests as much as possible. You were evidently assigned to [name withheld] so your donations went into that person's fund. But when that staff member left, we reassigned your support to another missionary, who began writing to you. People leave Jews for Jesus for various reasons. Ours is a difficult work with many disappointments to bear. We're a highly disciplined group, and the work itself is quite demanding. Some people feel overly burdened to serve in an organization like ours. Others want to serve in a particular place or serve in a particular way that Jews for Jesus can't facilitate. Some people just find it's time for a new phase in their life. All missions see some of their valued staff start a career with their particular ministry only to eventually go elsewhere.

With regard to the person that you mentioned, let me say that that person left Jews for Jesus honorably. However, it is unethical for representatives of any ministry to meet and gain friends and supporters through that ministry and then to leave that ministry and seek to bring those supporters with them. Whenever you see a missionary leaving the agency that sponsors him or her and inviting you to support another agency, you want to be very cautious*. The other agency may be worthy of your support. We hope that your decision of whether to support an agency would be based on what you might know and appreciate about its work, and not because a former staff member is looking to bring support from one agency to another.

*An obvious exception to this would be if you knew the individual before he or she joined the first agency, and you chose to support that agency because of your previous relationship with the person.

Why does Jews for Jesus charge so much for its friendship banquets?

I received your invitation to come to a Jews for Jesus friendship banquet, and I noticed that the price of the ticket was $____. That seems rather high to me for a meal. Wouldn't it be better if you just asked your supporters to donate that amount rather than inviting us to an expensive meal?

We think that $____ for a meal is a sizeable amount, too, but it is very much in line with today's costs for food preparation and service. We do not make a profit on these meals. We only charge what the catering house or hotel charges us. Had you attended the banquet, you would have noticed that usually our staff does not eat at those affairs. Instead, our people move from table to table, greeting and visiting with everyone. The friendship banquets are not occasions for "dining out," nor are they merely fund-raisers. We use them as an effective means for building relationships.

This is an area where the Jewish culture differs from the common church culture of our day. When a major event takes place in the Jewish community, such as the installation of a new rabbi at the temple, or an important speech by a visiting Israeli or other foreign dignitary, it is usually surrounded by a banquet. Jewish people feel quite comfortable at such functions. Because of this cultural orientation, our friendship banquets can be superb opportunities for Christians to invite unbelieving Jewish friends to investigate us and our message.

Our feeling is that if it works, it's worth the expense. We want to be careful with the Lord's money, but our first consideration must always be: what is the best kind of evangelism for a given situation? Then we must act accordingly.

One of the problems that plagues home missions in general is the question, "What will our contributors think?" This kind of thinking has hampered many outreach ministries, and some of the best means of evangelism have not been utilized simply because of that fear of appearing to be ostentatious or uneconomical.

If funds and fund conservation were our chief concerns, we could cut back in a number of endeavors, friendship banquets included. For example, we could make our tracts smaller to use less paper, but then they would be more difficult to distribute.

Another such example is our newspaper advertising. The ads we find most effective are our full-page spreads that present the Jewish believer's position on the person of Christ. Nevertheless, as effective as these ads are, we lose support every time such an ad appears in a major city. People mistakenly reason that if we can afford to do that kind of advertising, we must no longer need their contributions. Actually, the reverse is true. We dare to think big and to undertake big projects because we know that we have a big God.

Our average mail donation is less than the $____ we charge for admission to our friendship banquets. We do appreciate the small donors, knowing that the Lord can certainly multiply the "widow's mite" as he did the loaves and fishes. Nevertheless, we want to get moving. We want to keep on thinking big, and we trust that God will supply us with others who also can think big and who will be willing to stand with us in what we are trying to accomplish.


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