Jews for Jesus and the Church
It may seem obvious to some and controversial to others but, regardless of how it seems, I need to say it loud and clear: we Jews for Jesus are part of the Church, the universal Body of Christ, the family of God. Through the shed blood of the Messiah Jesus, we are brothers and sisters with fellow believers the world over.
I reiterate this truth because some are making an artificial distinction between Jewish believers in Jesus and the rest of the Body of Christ. A cover story in the magazine, Christianity Today gave an example of this in the opening paragraph of an article in their September 1998 edition:
‘How long have you been a Christian?’ ‘I’m not a Christian,’ the woman replied indignantly. ‘I’m a Messianic Jew'” (p. 63).
Now she was only one of the Jewish believers interviewed, and others explained that Messianic Jews avoid the term “Christian” because of the common connotation that it is synonymous with non-Jew. Yet there are those within the Messianic movement who have gone beyond a preference for certain terminology to an actual rejection of identifying with the Body of Christ. Now let me say that I, too, am a Messianic Jew and a member of a Messianic congregation. But I am also a Christian and a member of the Body of Christ. I am 100% Jewish and 100% Christian.
Most involved in Messianic congregations do not want to separate themselves from the rest of the Church. Those who do seem to hope that this separation will gain them the acceptance of the rest of the Jewish community. That is a dangerous assumption that can ultimately result in disappointment, syncretism and theological error. These results are no doubt welcome to another group, however, who would like to drive a different kind of wedge between us.
Certain Jewish community leaders, along with their friends from among the liberal Christian clergy, view Jewish believers—and particularly Jews for Jesus—as a threat. One way to neutralize the “threat” is to demonize us in the minds of Jewish people who might otherwise want to hear our message, (by labeling us as a cult or accusing us of “preying” on the vulnerable). Another way, however, is to demonize us in the minds of Christians who might want to stand with us. Once we are cut off from those who share our commitments and stand behind our desire to express our faith in Jesus as Jewish people, we are easily undermined.
Certain notable denominations have withstood significant pressure to hold fast their commitments regarding Jewish evangelism.
Southern Baptist leaders have recently experienced the ire of certain Jewish community leaders on two counts. First, leaders expressed offense that the Southern Baptists had encouraged their people to pray for and witness to Jewish people. Secondly, the Southern Baptists came under attack for affirming that Jews who receive Christ remain Jews and are free to observe Jewish customs in line with the teaching of Scripture and in keeping with their own conscience. In a letter to Dr. Paige Patterson, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Jewish Community Relations Council wrote, “Our quarrel with the Southern Baptist Convention is not over its right to proselytize. Rather, the Jewish community is deeply offended that the SBC has formally embraced a strategy that attempts to deceive Jews into believing that one can be both a Jew and a Christian.…The Jewish community does not seek to define the parameters of Christianity. We ask that Southern Baptists accord the Jewish religion the same courtesy.”
Of course, the Southern Baptists are not attempting to define the parameters of the Jewish religion. They simply hold fast the conviction that Jews who believe in Jesus are still Jewish. Other evangelical denominations, such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, have come under fire for a similar stance.
Other Christian churches and leaders have not withstood the pressure so well. When they hear that it is discourteous or offensive to say that one can be Jewish and believe in Jesus, they back down in the interest of “Jewish-Christian relations.” They have accepted the position of unbelieving Jewish people rather than that of their believing counterparts. They have distanced themselves from some believers to gain the respect and acceptance of unbelievers. This kind of wedge-driving is the saddest of all.
People drive wedges to separate the Body of Christ for different reasons. The common denominator here is the statement that one cannot be Jewish and a Christian at the same time—one cannot be a member of the Church and part of the Jewish people as well. This would have been cause for great surprise among the apostles, Peter, James, John and Paul. I can’t imagine any of their contemporaries insisting that those first Jews for Jesus were no longer Jewish. Certainly Paul identified himself as such (see Acts 11:26 and Romans 11:1). When those who were not Jewish began joining the church, it became what God had intended: a unity of Jews and Gentiles within the same body. What was true 2000 years ago is just as true today, whether or not people will affirm it.
So we Jews for Jesus take great comfort in this historical reality—that the Body of Christ has historically been a unity of Jews and Gentiles. But deeper even than the historical reality is a profound spiritual reality. Our unity is rooted in the eternal truths of the gospel: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
Jesus’ work at Calvary did more than provide atonement for our sins. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book, Life Together, “Christian unity is not an ideal which we must realize, it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (p. 30). Regardless of agreement or argument, regardless of nationality or culture, regardless of our own behavior or acknowledgment, all of us who believe in Jesus are one—together in Christ.
This deeper spiritual reality opens up a wonderful world of practical realities. We have a family in the Body of Christ which transcends human barriers and limitations. This is especially comforting to us in Jews for Jesus, because many of us have been alienated from our earthly family, our own Jewish people. Rejection hurts, but we can receive comfort from a family that continues to embrace and welcome us, our family in the Body of Christ. I regularly meet Jewish believers in Jesus who tell me they have received so much love and acceptance from a local body of believers that it helped to ease the sadness of rejection they experienced from family and friends. No one takes the place of our loved ones outside of Christ, but we can bear the pain much better when we are fortified by our loved ones in Christ.
When we openly identify with Jesus, for the most part, we are officially excluded from the Jewish community. Yet, our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ stand with us, pray for us and support us so that we might continue to bear witness to our kinsmen according to the flesh.
So I am proud to be a part of the family of God, the Body of Christ. I am grateful to have been received and loved by my new family in Him. I am anxious to give back and to bless my dear family in Jesus. And I know that one day we will all unite together around the throne of God. Then our unity will be doubted by none and evident to all as together we sing, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6,7).
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter Ilana is a graduate of Biola. His son Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife Shaina have one daughter, Nora, and a son, Levy, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.