A Messianic Progress Report
These are exciting days for Jewish believers in Jesus…perhaps the most exciting since the first century! The Messianic movement has made tremendous headway in dispelling the myth that developed—the myth that Jews cannot believe in Jesus. The dynamic growth which has taken place in the last twenty years is not merely the work of gifted men and women, but the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This progress is the work of God, and it is God who will complete His work. (Philippians 1:6)
In noting the dynamic growth of the last twenty years, we can’t dismiss the accomplishments of Jewish believers in previous decades. What would we have done without the Jewish Christians who, during the post World War II period, developed solid Bible-based doctrine and teaching? They established an effective methodology and they produced and disseminated a body of suitable tracts and other materials. They secured a degree of allegiance from the evangelical church, so that Jewish evangelism was recognized (in principle at least) as a part of the mission of the Church.
Nevertheless, after a generation of victories, the gospel ministry among the Jewish people began to lose its cutting edge. We became dull. The Jewish community was not taking believers in Jesus seriously, and few Jews were turning to the Lord.
Help from a Surprising Source
In 1969 the Fellowship of Christian Testimonies to the Jews (a now defunct umbrella organization for several Jewish ministries) sponsored a conference at Nyack College. The organizers of the conference felt it would be insightful to have a rabbi address the group, but no practicing rabbi could allow himself to accept the invitation.
Finally, the program committee invited Sid Lawrence, a trained rabbi who served as a Jewish community worker in Kansas City. He was asked to speak about The Image of the Missionary in the Jewish Community.” Lawrence (probably the first cigar chain smoker ever to speak at Nyack Christian College!) was brief and to the point. He never meant to advance our cause with his speech but, indirectly, he did.
Lawrence said: “The missionary to the Jews has no image in the Jewish community. We heard of you a long time ago. We never think of you and if we did, there are two words which describe your efforts to convert the Jewish people. First of all, narishkeit (foolishness), and you can see how your efforts have failed. Why continue in an unsuccessful venture? And secondly, you have chutzpah (effrontery). It takes nerve to tell us that we must believe in Jesus. Most Jews have never heard of a Jew believing in Jesus and, if they had, we would have mobilized against you!”
Some thought that Lawrence was simply trying to discourage the group. Others, including Daniel Fuchs (then the executive director of the American Board of Missions to the Jews) and Moishe Rosen (also an executive with the ABMJ before he founded the Jews for Jesus ministry), were stirred by his comments.
Lawrence’s cutting remarks were helpful, because Moishe viewed them as an indictment and a challenge. He pondered what steps could be taken to reverse the situation, and concluded that five things were urgently needed to effectively reach Jewish people for Jesus:
Community of witness: There was a need to establish communities of Jewish believers who would strengthen one another in the proclamation of the gospel. There were few such communities available at that time to meet the needs of Messianic Jews.
Courageous initiative: Many people involved in Jewish outreach had succumbed to the temptation of “respectability.” The concern to avoid conflict had stifled our story.
Cooperative effort: A bold, unified voice was needed to speak to the Jewish community. The courage to speak would not have been enough because our movement was fragmented and no one group was capable of raising the needed story alone.
Commitment to an apostolic lifestyle: It was critical that Jewish believers take a good, hard look at the Jewish Apostles as examples of how to advance the gospel. Three areas of their lifestyle made them especially effective witnesses: first, mobility, a willingness to go anywhere; second, versatility, a willingness to do anything; and finally, availability, a willingness to become vulnerable in meeting people’s needs.
Creative communications: The means of communication then in use were too easily ignored. They were not especially Jewish nor were they contemporary.
An Outpouring of the Holy Spirit: 1968-1974
It was a radical happening…but then events precipitated by the Holy Spirit usually are! You might recall the “Jesus Revolution” which swept across the United States between 1968 and 1974—but do you realize how many Jewish people accepted Christ during that time? It began the most dramatic changes in Jewish evangelism this century has seen…at least, so far!
I remember it firsthand because I was part of the wave of young Jews who searched for “peace” and found the Prince of Peace. I was brought up in a middle-class Jewish home in New York, and in 1969 dropped out of college and into the San Francisco hippie scene. The last thing in the world I was looking for was Jesus. And yet, strangers on the streets, “Jesus freaks,” kept telling me about him. I knew how to get these people off my back though; I simply told them “I’m Jewish.” They usually gave up pretty easily and went to speak to someone else.
Then, in the fall of 1970, my two best friends (both Jewish) became believers in Jesus. As I watched their lives change, I became open to the message of the Messiah and, soon after, accepted the Lord. It seemed natural that other friends would also become believers. At the time, I was living in a three-bedroom apartment with seventeen roommates (you couldn’t beat the rent)—at least half of whom were Jewish! (According to a survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, 30% of the hippie community was Jewish.) Before long, we were out on the streets telling everyone about Jesus!
I was a new believer and I thought that what was happening was perfectly normal. Every day, I met Jews and gentiles who were receiving Jesus as their Savior. There were Christian communities springing up in rapid succession, and plenty of Bible studies where we could gather and grow in the Lord. A 1968 issue of Christianity Today described the phenomenon:
Arthur Blessitt, 27, runs His Place Coffeehouse on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, the converted hippies’ headquarters. Sunset Strip clubs and sidewalks are partied nightly with thousands of teens, including each night some 500 who jam into His Place for free coffee and sandwiches, gospel rock, folk and soul tunes, and midnight sermons. The results reported are that those involved are seeing people come to the Lord every night.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
Some call it an underground movement, others describe it as the closest thing to New Testament Christianity this country has ever seen. But those involved, thousands of bearded, long-haired, rather unkempt former hippies, term it a spiritual revolution. “These kids still look like hippies,” says a just-over-30 youth minister at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, Don Williamson, “but the change on the inside is miraculous. These kids are out talking about Christ on the streets, in churches, at the beach. Although their appearance raises eyebrows in many churches, some churches are not only accepting these young people, but are looking out for them as well.”
What was happening was not the norm! Nor was it a revival, for only those who have previously been alive can be revived. The Jesus Movement did not occur because of renewed witnessing efforts by a revitalized church. The Jesus Movement was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Not only was the church revitalized by the influx of new believers which resulted, but the Messianic movement and missions to Jewish people began to make giant strides.
God side-stepped Jewish mission agencies and the conventional church. He brought hundreds of Jewish people to himself through the Jesus Revolution, and many of them were activists who would become deeply involved in ministry to Jewish people. And God has used their efforts to bring about significant and lasting change.
Four Steps Forward
The revitalizing effect of the Jesus revolution helped the cause of Jewish evangelism move ahead in four major areas.
Dignity and a proper respect for holy things is important. Unfortunately, professional ministries can become so “proper” and “dignified” that they are unwilling to risk rejection. When we refuse to risk rejection, our witness becomes muted. The Jews who became believers during the Jesus movement were accustomed to scorn and ridicule, and they were not afraid to be different. This prepared them to become bold witnesses to the Jewish people. Their personal dignity was rooted more in the causes they supported than in their own self-image.
The late 60s and early 70s were times of social and political ferment, and Jewish people were in the forefront of the anti-Vietnam War movement, etc. It was only natural for those who accepted Christ to use some of the same communication and organizational skills to proclaim Christ. Jewish believers became active on campuses and sidewalks everywhere. And many of us still are! Jews for Jesus has recently completed its 13th witnessing campaign…and cooperative efforts in evangelism have also been undertaken this past summer in Miami Beach, Minneapolis and Washington DC.
The new boldness has encouraged many churches to renew their concern for Jewish people. Denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Conservative Baptist Association have all increased their story to the Jewish people. But what has been most outstanding is the great desire on the part of Jewish believers to witness to their friends and relatives.
This boldness has been an answer to Moishe’s prayers for a courageous new initiative on the part of the Messianic movement. And the proof of its effectiveness goes back to Sid Lawrence’s statement: “Most Jews have never heard of a Jew believing in Jesus and, if they had, we would have mobilized against you!”
We can be thankful to the “counter missionaries” because their increased opposition has demonstrated that, finally, our people are hearing the gospel! Enough are hearing so that there are people who can actually make a full-time living by trying to prevent the Jewish community from believing what we have to say! And the opposition has not caused members of our movement to cower in fear or strike back in anger. Time after time, whether it be in Ft. Lauderdale, Philadelphia, New York or Israel…our Messianic family has stood fast in facing persecution for the Lord. I am proud to be associated with those who have undergone a degree of suffering for the Savior and I hope you are, too!
Literature: Many Jewish believers from the Jesus Revolution leafleted for political and social causes. They were eager to be just as active for Jesus, but the available tracts, with their small print on glossy paper, were meant for Jews of a different generation. They contained rich insights into the Bible and rabbinical literature…but failed to interest people in the gospel. Jews for Jesus stepped to the forefront of producing a new kind of tract, “broadsides,” which effectively engage people on the streets.
Creative literature has not been restricted to tracts. In the last decade, we have witnessed a wonderful increase of all sorts of Messianic literature.
Discipleship materials for Jewish believers were scarce in the past. Now we have some fine works, thanks to the efforts of Dan Juster, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, David Stem and others.
My co-worker, Susan Perlman, has pioneered the use of the printed media for evangelism, continuing the great start made by the American Board of Missions to the Jews almost twenty years ago, with their pace-setting “Smiling Faces” newspaper ad. Susan also edits ISSUES, a publication mainly for Jews who don’t yet believe in Jesus. We’ve been sending it to you not only for your edification, but in hopes that you might pass along copies to your unsaved relatives and friends.
Apologetic literature is on the rise, thanks to scholars like Louis Goldberg and Arthur Kac, who have been producing quality literature for decades. Excuse me for leaving anyone out…one sign of progress is that few of us can keep up with all that is being written for the movement!
Music: Peter, Paul and Mary, singers of folk songs from the sixties, seventies (and yes, they still get together for an occasional concert in the eighties) knew the value of music in making a point. One song they sang explains, “Music speaks louder than words; it’s the only thing that the whole world listens to. Music speaks louder than words, when you sing, people understand.”
Whereas the Holy Spirit brings about understanding of spiritual matters to each individual, music is the soul of a movement. Music enables people to feel and express what they know and, until recently, there was very little music to help Jewish believers do either.
In the late 1960s, Stuart Dauermann began producing song after song in the style of Jewish folk music, with lyrics taken from the Scriptures. Others began writing songs, and soon groups like the Liberated Wailing Wall and Lamb were producing albums which glorify Yeshua with a Jewish sound. And let’s not forget pioneers like Sandra Sheskin Brotman, who saw the need for Messianic music before it was popular. (By the way, congratulations to Sandra and Manny on the soon-to-be first anniversary of their marriage!) These groups are still active and recording, with more than 20 albums between them! And still more groups and musicians are cropping up: Kol Simcha, and Israel’s Hope are just two examples.
And speaking of Israel, Messianic music has caught on there, too! Until recently, Israeli believers could only sing Western hymns translated into Hebrew. Now they are writing music on their own, some of which has found its way to various congregations in the United States. How grateful we in the U.S. are for the God-glorifying songs of David and Lisa Loden.
Drama: Many people in the Jesus Movement had been involved in “street theater” for political purposes, so it was natural for them to use drama in preaching the gospel. Many Jewish people will stop on the street or even attend a public meeting to watch a drama, whereas they would not sit and listen to a sermon.
Drama has also been used by Phil Goble and Avi Snyder to give believers insights into the Jewishness of the Scriptures. Each of these men has a brilliant “one man show” on the life of the Apostle Paul.
Television and Radio: The efforts of Louis Kaplan, Zola Levitt, and Neil and Jamie Lasch in television as well as Sid Roth and Charles Halff in radio are making a difference. Some Jewish people have come to know the Lord through their creative efforts and many Christians have gained new insights into the Jewish roots of the faith through their ministries.
The third major area of improvement is:
A New Sense of Community
The sense of community among hippies was sanctified and carried over to their new-found faith, giving a tremendous source of group support. This was especially important to Jewish believers who found themselves ostracized by family and friends because of their faith. The Jesus movement was characterized by numerous communes and house churches.
As in the early church, many of these communes disbanded as the number of Messianic believers grew. But the sense of community and the understanding of the importance of a group story continued. Messianic communities became foundations for new Jewish missions like Jews for Jesus as well as for many Messianic congregations.
The movement to start Messianic congregations is ancient. It began in Acts 2. Jewish Christian congregations existed during the 19th century, everywhere from London to Israel to Tunisia to Budapest. But this movement declined after World War I and Hebrew Christian churches became a rarity.
During the past 25 years, missions experts have begun emphasizing the significance of people groups and the planting of homogeneous churches (Hispanic, Black, Korean, etc.). This trend towards homogeneous churches, combined with the resurgence of Jewish identity, has resulted in a significant movement of Jewish believers forming Messianic congregations. There are currently more than 75 functioning Messianic congregations in the United States. In July 1979, the Union of Messianic Congregations (UMJC) was formed under the leadership of Daniel C. Juster. The Union considers itself to be an umbrella organization embracing and strengthening many of the congregations in the United States and Canada.
The Messianic Jewish Alliance (MJA) also provides a forum of fellowship for almost a dozen Messianic congregations. An international group has also been formed called the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations (IAMC). This exciting fellowship includes congregations as far away as Great Britain and Australia. The president of the group is David Chernoff, the leader of congregation Beth Yeshua in Philadelphia.
The Fellowship of Messianic Congregations (FMC) provides another needed forum for congregations with unique distinctives. The leader of this ministry is Louis Lapides of Beth Ariel fellowship in Los Angeles.
Each of these groups wrestles with the challenges of serving the Lord in a Messianic context. They are producing some wonderful materials for the education of our Messianic kinderlach as well as for discipleship and outreach.
The celebration of Messianic community and fellowship can be witnessed at any number of Messianic conferences held throughout the year. Twenty years ago, the annual Messianic Jewish Alliance conference drew a few hundred participants to its summer conference…for the last decade this conference gathers more than a thousand believers almost every summer! And whereas years ago this was the only large conference of Jewish believers, now there are several others! The UMJC annual conference and the Jews for Jesus Ingatherings held regionally in the fall are only two examples. Last spring a conference held in Israel during Shavuot drew over a thousand believers, most of whom are Jewish. The Lord is bringing more Jewish people to himself and giving us a supernatural love and appreciation for one another. And that’s ENCOURAGING!
Another giant stride in cooperation is the work of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE): the only international cooperative body for those involved in Jewish evangelism. The LCJE is a new movement, and most who are involved in professional Jewish missions are very excited about it. If you don’t already know about it, I’m eager for you to find out.
The fourth area in which we’ve taken a giant stride:
New Sense of Cultural Identity
Many Jewish believers discovered their Jewish roots through faith in Christ, a phenomenon which still mystifies many Jewish community leaders. A number of young Jews, even those who were brought up in religious homes, felt that tradition without God was meaningless. But through Yeshua, they returned to the God of Israel and could finally read about the calling of Abraham and the election of Israel (Gen. 12:1-3, Deut. 7) with a sense of personal connection.
Do you remember the first time you celebrated Passover as a new believer in Christ? I do. The Christian implications of the Passover, the broken matzoh (unleavened bread) referring to the Body of Christ, and the cup of redemption (the third cup) which reminds us of the blood of the New Covenant, gave me a whole new appreciation for the Feast of Redemption.
A recent survey of Jewish believers in the United States shows an increasing interest in celebrating the Jewish holidays. Seventy-five percent of the 4,000 surveyed indicated that they celebrated the Jewish holidays either sometimes or all the time. Only twenty-five percent indicated that they did not celebrate the Jewish holidays at all.
This resurgence of Jewish identity has had a dramatic influence on efforts to evangelize the Jewish people. There now exists living evidence, through thousands of vocal Jewish believers, that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. Perhaps even more important, there is a renewed understanding that Jesus is for Jews.
This new sense of cultural appreciation has found expression in a number of areas, not the least of which is the development of Messianic worship services: liturgies, ceremonies and festival celebrations which allow Jewish believers to worship the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Messianic believers can now celebrate the New Year with the blowing of the shofar, marry under the huppah and even conduct a Messianic bris! This is an incredible advance over the last twenty years. We should be thankful to God for those who have developed these ceremonies, and use them for the good of our own souls and for a story to our loved ones.
The Decade Ahead
We have witnessed the faithfulness of God to us as individuals and as a movement during the last two decades. Should we expect less in the future? It’s easy to optimize and speak in overly “triumphalistic” terms about what might be ahead. This can become a disappointment and distract us from looking at the wonderful things that the Lord has accomplished for us and through us.
Let’s not get carried away. We are a minority of minorities, and will still be a remnant at the turn of the century, if the Lord tarries. Jesus will still be unacceptable to most Jews and gentiles because few people are eager to be convicted of sin. Messianic Jews will not be included in the Jewish community at large, nor will our movement be welcomed as a new expression of the Jewish religion. We will be “outsiders” as long as our Savior is considered an outsider.
And yet I still believe that the best is yet to come. Why? Because he who began this Messianic movement will complete and bless it! Our success and achievements are not founded on our own strength or might, nor are our organizations only human institutions. It is the Lord himself who yields the increase. This is another great lesson of the Jesus movement. Where man falls, God wins. And as long as our movement keeps depending on His grace and seeks to glorify Yeshua…then our movement will continue to move.
One last note…let’s do our best to appreciate the accomplishments of God through one another. Let’s rejoice in all the good things being done among our people, even if what is being done is not proceeding in precisely the same manner as we would do it! My brothers and sisters…this growing Messianic movement is God’s work, accomplished through imperfect people. The best is yet to come! Let’s stand back in amazement and enjoy all he is able to do through fellow Messianic saints and give him the glory! Let’s join our hearts with the apostle Paul and together affirm:
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”
P.S. Don’t feel badly if I didn’t mention your name or ministry…it’s possible that I don’t know who you are or what you are doing to serve the Lord. Don’t hesitate to write and tell me how God is advancing the Messianic movement in your community. I want to rejoice with you and let others know how God is blessing your efforts!