It’s happening again! It first occurred after Jim Jones and his People’s Temple cult committed mass suicide in Guyana. That shocking event brought about such universal revulsion to the mere word cult” that Jewish leaders opposed to our evangelistic ministry seized the opportunity to blacken our reputation by labeling us a cult, too.
It was a clever ploy intended to produce a double detriment. If unbelievers thought Jews for Jesus was a cult, none of them would want to hear us or become involved with us for fear that some day we, too, might lead them to drink Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. And if our fellow Christians thought we were a cult, they would avoid us and we would lose their much-needed moral, spiritual and financial support. Also, those who came to the Lord through our ministry would not be welcomed in the churches, or at best would be received only with suspicion.
In trying to crush our evangelistic efforts, the opposers took their “cult campaign” a step further. The Jewish Community Relations Council in New York City formed a counter-missionary group called the “Task Force on Cults and Missionaries.” This shrewd strategy insinuated that Christian missionaries fit into the same category as cultists, thus establishing guilt by association. The word “cult,” associated with deviant beliefs, devious methods and danger to a person’s mental and physical health, was now linked with “missionary,” previously a title for someone who nobly worked to bring Christ’s message of love and salvation to those beyond the reach of the traditional church. Now, with the implied connection between “missionary” and “cult,” the Jewish community could view missionaries as loathsome manipulators to be avoided as much as cult recruiters.
Of course, those who really know Jews for Jesus and understand what a cult is would never imagine that we fit the category! We stand out for our boldness and the heroic, sometimes uncomfortable measures we take to proclaim the gospel. Yet by our theology and by our association we are in the mainstream of evangelical Christianity. We are governed by an astute board of directors who take their supervisory responsibilities very seriously. Comprised of clergymen and discerning lay people, the board would never tolerate anything but the most scriptural doctrine and behavior, and I am accountable to it.
Unlike a cult, we are not a membership organization. No one can “join” Jews for Jesus, except to become a donor-supported staff member. Our workers belong to conventional local congregations of their own choosing that represent the larger body of Christ. Our missionaries receive their ministry training at accredited Bible colleges and theological seminaries. They are accountable to me as to the performance of their ministry duties, but their free time is their own. They do not live communally, and they lead private lives as they see fit, under the guidance of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. If we Jews for Jesus stand out as being “different,” it is due to our firm belief that when we become Christians we are still Jews, and most leading evangelical theologians would agree with us about that.
By any definition, then, we could never be considered a cult, or even a sect. Yet once again we are being maligned this time in the wake of the Branch Davidian cult disaster in Waco, Texas. In the aftermath of that ghastly destruction and the mass deaths, dormant emotions against cults resurfaced. That provided a perfect opportunity for those who opposed Jews for Jesus to try to sully our name and ministry once again by labeling us a cult.
We are not really surprised at such opposition, nor should we be. We have learned that if we are faithful to Christ and forthright in proclaiming His gospel, there will always be some who will try to stop us in every way they can. (Some don’t even mind telling lies about us if it serves their purpose, but such disinformation usually works against the opposers and their goals. When Jewish people meet us and come to know us, they lose confidence in the credibility of those who told them we were terrible people. Then they can’t help but wonder if the rabbis have told the truth about there being good reason not to believe in Jesus.)
Successful or not, opposition is still painful. Maybe it would be less disturbing if it did not cause grief and confusion to our families who do not yet believe in Jesus. Maybe it would hurt less if it did not come from rabbis and Jewish community leaders whom we were always taught to respect. Maybe it would not be so discouraging if all our Christian brothers and sisters had the spiritual discernment to recognize the conflict for what it is—an attempt to discredit Jewish evangelism by discrediting us, the evangelists.
A couple of years ago Ellen, one of our bright young Jewish staff members, discredited herself. She was “deprogrammed” while on vacation to visit her parents. She not only left our staff, but renounced her faith in Jesus, because she had confusedly equated commitment to Him with being a missionary with Jews for Jesus. (Of course we never taught Ellen or anyone else that faith in Christ was synonymous with serving with Jews for Jesus; but the deprogrammer must have used Ellen’s guilt feelings about leaving her chosen profession to amplify that thought in her mind.)
Ellen has been speaking against us in synagogues and Jewish community groups. Some who have heard her talk describe it as an obviously memorized, joyless message. They also note that Ellen’s manner lacks the vivacity and ardor of the young woman we knew, who used to proclaim Jesus whenever she could with such obvious delight.
Someone used Ellen to write an anti-missionary book in her name, and the publishers felt free to justify her defection by casting aspersions on us. Though they were very careful not to use the word “cult,” the smear tactics and intent to malign are quite obvious in their use of certain words, along with an endorsement for the book by a well-known cult deprogrammer.
One paragraph on the back cover of the book announces, “Through…eye-witness accounts, you’ll see how Jews for Jesus sucked in a young, bright, talented Jewish woman and kept her in with mind control [emphasis ours]. You’ll learn how they…raise money from the Christian community and target Jews in metropolitan areas.”
Another paragraph calls us a “fundamentalist Christian missionary machine whose goal is to convert as many Jews worldwide as possible.” That statement is not derogatory, though the authors obviously intended it that way. We happily admit that our goal is the conversion of as many Jewish people as possible to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah—except we know that we have no power to convert anyone. Rather, as we proclaim the gospel forthrightly and lovingly, the Holy Spirit moves in seeking hearts. He is the one who brings Jews and others to faith, and He alone will keep those whose faith and commitment are genuine.
What, then, should be our response to the opposition’s name-calling or to their false accusations? The answer might surprise you! The Bible says that we should rejoice and count ourselves blessed to be worthy of sharing just a small part of Yeshua’s suffering! He told His followers:
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11, 12)
It is also good to know that, no matter how anyone down here on earth tries to blacken our reputation, when we commit ourselves to the Lord we have a new name written down in glory. It is a good name because it is what God Himself will call us.
In Bible days names told something about the individuals. I like to think that our new names, which only God knows right now, will incorporate who and what we are, how we got that way, and what we yet will be—redeemed sinners, saved by grace, praising and exalting the Lord in His presence forever.
Derogatory names and false accusations will never deter us from serving our God. We will gladly continue to take upon ourselves the reproach of the name “Christian” (“follower of Christ”). We will gladly bear the title “missionary” (“sent one”). To us it is not a dirty word, but an honorable title that speaks of our holy calling.
Proverbs 22:1 states, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor [in Hebrew, cheyn, also translated “grace”] rather than silver and gold.” As long as we have a good name and a good reputation with God (the kind that is not earned, but graciously given us through our Savior Yeshua), we can endure the slander of those who oppose us down here. And we rejoice, because we know that “great is our reward in heaven.”