Christianity Today recently published a feature article titled, 100 Things the Church is Doing Right."* That article started me thinking about all the things I love about God's people, the Church. We don't have a full magazine to develop the idea, but I thought I would draw up a "short list" to express my gratitude to God for His Church.
Number 7: Diversity. The secular press enjoys portraying evangelical Christians as cultural monotones or stereotypes. Yet in truth, the Body of Christ is a rich tapestry of color, culture and custom. I once spoke in a Portuguese church in Johannesburg, South Africa. As my message was simultaneously translated into Portuguese I thought, "Only in Christ could an American Jew proclaim the gospel among Portuguese Christians in Johannesburg, South Africa." I have ministered in African American, Korean Presbyterian, Swedish Baptist, German Lutheran and Dutch Reformed churches—to name a few! I have grown to love and appreciate the diverse traditions of these committed Christians. It is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. As long as we agree upon the authority of God's Word and the need for all people to come to Christ, God's grace allows "different strokes for different folks." "For in fact the body is not one member but many" (1 Corinthians 12:14).
Number 6: Unity. Unity and diversity are two sides of the same coin. That coin is the Holy Spirit's currency, working to transform us into a new creation in Christ. Our unity is not based upon agreement on all points of doctrine or practice within the Church. Our unity is a supernatural bond, based on the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. This is particularly precious to us Jews for Jesus. Our faith in Jesus often leads to ostracism from our earthly family. How much more do we need and appreciate the acceptance we find, the unity we can experience in the Church. Many Jewish believers have discovered a new family within the Body of Christ. I am still amazed that as I travel, whether I am in Africa, Russia, Argentina or Israel, I have been received in love as a brother because of Jesus.
Number 5: Tolerance. In the early days of our Jews for Jesus ministry, the dear saints of God at First Baptist Church of Mill Valley, California endured quite a lot when our group of brash, young, ex-hippies flooded into their nice, quiet church. With the patient instruction of Pastor John MacDonald, the Christians at First Baptist Church not only tolerated these "strange" new members of their church family, they embraced and encouraged them in Christ. Their example is repeated countless thousands of times all around the world, as bodies of believers welcome all kinds of people who wouldn't find such acceptance elsewhere. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty" (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Number 4: Evangelism. Some lament the decline of evangelistic programs in the Church—and we certainly can be doing more evangelism. Nevertheless, many people in churches around the world really have a heart to see souls won to Christ. They witness to their neighbors, their friends and co-workers. In fact, some of the best sources of contacts for Jews for Jesus are Christians who witness to their Jewish friends and/or put us in touch with those friends. This is a two-way partnership. For example, it's been a great blessing for us to team up with pastors and churches in the areas where we hold our campaigns. We send them names, addresses and phone numbers of hundreds of people who have either prayed to receive Christ or expressed interest in hearing more about the gospel. Months or even years later, we meet some of these people who are growing and actively participating in church life.
Number 3: Generosity. I'm grateful to God for the generosity of pastors who welcome our ministry into their pulpits, giving us the opportunity to share our hearts with their people. And I'm grateful for countless Christians across the world who have welcomed us into their hearts and their homes, fed us, encouraged us and sent us on our way with their love and blessing. Our ministry is made possible by Christians who pray and give to help us keep going. These are people who have taken to heart Paul's admonition to the church in Rome, "For if the Gentiles had been partakers of their (Jewish believers) spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things" (Romans 15:27). Of course, if all God's people supported Jews for Jesus with the same level of fervor and commitment, there wouldn't be energies left over for many of the other important tasks and opportunities for Christian service. But God places special burdens on the hearts of many of His people, and their generosity keeps us going.
Number 2: Truth. My Jewish people have been called "The people of the Book." Ever since Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, Israel has been entrusted with the transmission of the sacred Scriptures. We can thank God for the way my forefathers have jealously preserved the sacred text. Yet today we would be hard-pressed to call Israel "The people of the Book." The religious folk among Israel have become the people of many books. The study of Scripture has been overshadowed by the study of rabbinical commentary—so much so that the truth of the Scriptures has been overlooked and, in some cases, distorted. The majority of my people do not have even a rudimentary knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures. Praise God that the Church has taken up this sacred duty, preserving and proclaiming the gospel truth throughout the ages. Withstanding the withering attacks of higher critical scholars and the secular skeptics who seek to "debunk" the truth of God's Word, the Church has preserved and continued to proclaim the message of Messiah. The history of humanity is littered with the ideas and philosophies that have been tried and trashed under scrutiny. The Church of Jesus Christ has been the repository of the only truth that has stood the test of time.
Number 1: Messiah's Bride. The number one reason why I love the Church is because she is the Bride of Christ. There's an old Yiddish proverb which begins, "Ale kales zaynen sheyn.…" That means, "all brides are beautiful." Many people today are inclined to size up the Church of Jesus Christ, to see the blemishes and sneer at her shortcomings. But the Church is the Bride of Christ. If you love the Groom, you have to love the bride. I think the bride is beautiful. Frankly, those who disregard or disdain the Church (whether they are believers or not) risk the wrath of the Groom, our King Messiah. No groom would take kindly to those who abuse his bride—how much more so our Savior? One of the best ways to show love for someone is to care for and uphold the people they love. I believe that the more we fall in love with Messiah the Groom, the more we will care for and uphold His Bride, the Church. Those who truly love Jesus can't help loving the Church and longing for the day when we will appear before Him together, spotless as His Bride. "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25, 27).
* I was gratified to see that one item on the list was the ministry that Jews for Jesus is having, particularly in Russia.