Should Your Church Invite the Rabbi?
As I drove the rental car to Reading, Pennsylvania, I enjoyed the beauty of autumn leaves reddening, yellowing and surrendering their green. I spoke at First Presbyterian Church. I was impressed greatly by the fervor for missions and commitment to the Lord there. Their life in Christ was positively vibrant.
They publicized the meeting very well, and there were many visitors. One, a good friend of Jews for Jesus, came to the early service because she would never miss the service in her own church. Afterward she stayed for a few moments to greet me and to mention something that she thought would greatly please me: her own church had invited a local rabbi to speak about Jews and Christianity.
My usual grin must have faded, and I don’t think that she understood my evident discomfort. I promised to write an article in our Newsletter explaining my response, and this is it. It’s important to me that this dear friend and all the rest of our friends (or potential friends) understand what it means to me when a rabbi is asked to preside over a Christian pulpit.
To this friend I will first say that I am very pleased that your church cares about the Jewish people. I’m impressed that your minister has become friends with the local rabbi. As always, I appreciate any kindness to the Jewish people because I know how very much Jews need demonstrations of Christian kindness.
Nevertheless, in all honesty, I’m chagrined that the rabbi was invited to speak at the church. He is a teacher who wants you to learn why he doesn’t believe in Jesus. He will tell you: If you really respect the Jewish people, you must not proselytize or presume that we Jews need your religion.” How could I be pleased about the church receiving that message?
You see, the pulpit is more than a fancy lectern; it is the holy platform from which the Word of God is proclaimed. Christians attend church to worship Jesus and to open their hearts and their minds to the proclamation of God’s Word. Why Christian ministers offer their pulpits to those whom they could not in good conscience invite to administer or partake of communion (see 1 Corinthians 11:27) is a puzzlement to me. Could it be that some think nonbelievers can instruct them on how to serve Christ or be better Christians?
There is a time and place to hear how Jews feel about Christianity. It would be great for a whole church congregation to arrange a visit to a synagogue and enjoy the beauty of that service. Hear the rabbi unburden his heart from his own platform, the platform dedicated to promoting the Jewish religion. There is much you can learn there. But one thing you will never, ever learn from any rabbi is your Christian duty to the Jewish people. When Ford dealers earnestly present the case for you to buy Chevrolet cars, then rabbis will come to your church and explain the best way for you to fulfill the Great Commission.
You think that sounds absurd? Some Christians actually accept the advice of non-Christians who suggest that they fulfill their obligation to “witness” to Jews by supporting Israel—and keeping quiet about Jesus. I am always happy when Christians support the nation of Israel, but this in no way fulfills Christ’s mandate to go proclaim the gospel and make disciples. Are we so unfamiliar with Jesus’ words that we are willing for those who do not believe in Him to reinterpret His command to us? I can’t help being disappointed and downhearted when ministers of the gospel offer their pulpits to people who, by duty, feel bound to discourage Christians from telling Jews about Jesus.
Many of my fellow Jewish believers in Jesus experience tremendous heartache over this issue. Before we came to Christ most of us knew that if we chose to serve Him, we would be labeled traitors. If we allowed ourselves to believe what the Bible says about Jesus, we would be shunned as enemies of the Jewish people. We certainly didn’t want to be outcasts, but what could we do? Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, isn’t He? So we said yes to Him and trusted Him regardless of the consequences. And God provided for us. Even if our own families could not let themselves understand our faith, even if some whom we love most misconstrued our motives, God gave us a new family: the body of Christ.
Those who believe as we do could understand what it is to be rejected for their faith. After all, that is part of being a Christian whether a person is a Jew or Gentile. How then should we feel when our family in Christ welcomes, honors and gives a hearing to those who caused us to be disowned for our faith? And that hearing is given via the same holy desk from which we hear the Bible explained and receive the exhortation to faith!
Would Jesus want the churches to care about and be compassionate to the Jewish people? Absolutely! But would He want His bride taking instructions from “blind leaders of the blind”? Would Jesus want the church to give the pulpit to rabbis who can only seek to discredit those of us who are called by God to be evangelists?
After all, the rabbi is committed to seeing us in a certain light. In fairness to him, it would go against all his teaching and training to see us as anything other than a threat. But what of the teaching and training of a pastor? Sadly, some clergy allow accusations and insinuations against Jewish Christians to go unchallenged. They accept the rabbis’ picture of how we conduct ourselves and our ministry, not because they know us but because they know the rabbis.
Perhaps even more disappointing is the pastor who does know us and like us…but expects us to understand if he withdraws from us for a while in a show of friendship with the local rabbi. One such minister told me, “Well, perhaps if we have the rabbi speak at our church, we can build a relationship with him. Perhaps through that relationship one day he will see that Christianity is true, and then you’ll no longer be an outcast.”
Whereas I had been welcomed in that minister’s church, he explained that he probably would not invite me back in the foreseeable future. It wasn’t that the minister thought ill of Jews for Jesus, but he reasoned that having us would offend his new friend and the Jewish community—and (he said) it might even keep them from considering the gospel. So it was “in” with the rabbi and “out” with evangelizing Jews. My fellow pastor belongs to a conservative denomination. He believes that he’s acting in an open and tolerant way. He considers his choice an act of unconditional love for the Jews.
What the minister could not see was even if the rabbi did come to Christ (and I have never heard of that happening as the result of a minister disaffiliating with Jewish missions or missionaries) not only would I still be an outcast, but that rabbi would become an outcast as well. He would have to leave his synagogue, and in all probability, he would have to leave that town. Whatever relationship the pastor might hope to have with the Jewish community would be dashed to pieces because his involvement in bringing a rabbi to Christ would be far more offensive than merely inviting a missionary to speak. Some think that a rabbi who becomes a Christian would be able to influence his whole congregation for the gospel. But it was decided a long time ago that if anyone would confess that Jesus was the Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue (John 9). It’s only logical that the more influential the person who accepts Christ, the more forceful his or her expulsion from the Jewish community will be. Remember that expulsion is a protective measure to prevent Jewish believers from “infecting” other Jews with the gospel.
So, getting back to the rabbi who is not a Christian: he comes and speaks well of the church and the minister. He can do so very sincerely because as far as he is concerned, the pastor is showing respect and sensitivity for the Jewish people. After all, the rabbi feels it is arrogant for Christians to think that Jews need Jesus. Many unbelievers (Gentiles as well as Jews) choose to view evangelism as an insult. No matter how lovingly the Good News is delivered, to an ear that will not hear it sounds something like, “You aren’t good enough for us and you never will be until you join our religion.” Conversely, Christians who refuse to evangelize seem to affirm the unbeliever’s worth. But do they really?
When we tell the Good News, are we boasting in our religion, as though we were somehow smart enough and good enough to pick the best one? God forbid! We came to faith in Christ through the grace of God. He is not a religion or a commodity that we were clever enough to buy. On the contrary, with His blood He bought us. The greatest affirmation that we, who know the joy of being His, can show others is to invite them to know that joy too. We should do so humbly, as Christ’s servants. But even so, haven’t you noticed that most unbelievers regard any claim to truth as antisocial at best?
Jesus said that He is the way, the truth and the life—and that there’s no other way to the Father. Those of us who believe and repeat His words will be considered narrow-minded, intolerant, even arrogant by those who don’t believe. No one wants to have those labels pasted on them. So I find myself wondering: could it possibly be pride that motivated that pastor? Did he have to earn the rabbi’s respect by disassociating with us, his Jewish believing family in Christ? Both the pastor and the ministry of Jews for Jesus have lost something, but no one loses more than the open-minded Jews who might have come to hear Jews for Jesus at that church. Many have opened their eyes to the Messiah of Israel in churches where we have ministered. I praise God for the godly pastors and congregations who choose to honor Christ rather than correctness, which is political and popular but not true.
We need to show respect for one another and also for unbelievers. I’ve met Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and even atheists whose character, disciplined life, high ethics and scrupulous morals commanded my respect. Nevertheless, our respect for people cannot save them. Only Jesus can. We can admire, appreciate and accept those who don’t believe in Jesus when we find qualities of character that are commendable. However, if our respect for others causes us to mute our witness, we must ask ourselves if we really are being “nice guys” who comfort people on their journey to a Christless eternity.