Proselytism or Evangelism?
Here in France, Proselytism” is a popular word with an unpopular connotation. I am often asked if we “proselytize”—and no compliment is intended in the question. It is ironic that this term is now used to describe attempts by Christians to convert Jews and implicitly to do so in an unethical way.
A proselyte at the time of Jesus was a Gentile who converted to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—a Gentile who became a Jew by adopting the God of the Jews! Ruth, King David’s great-grandmother, is perhaps the most famous proselyte.
A proselyte was much prized in Jewish thinking—to such an extent that the Talmud (Jewish oral tradition, which has been recorded and is considered on par with the Torah by religious Jews) declares, “God dispersed Israel among the Nations to the sole end that proselytes should multiply among them.” One of the jewels of religious Jewish literature, the Targum Onkelos, was written by the proselyte Onkelos. Yet, today many rabbis and even certain Christians proudly renounce proselytism and roundly denounce those who practice it. A mildmannered missionary friend of ours in Germany was recently forced to resign from the Council of Christians and Jews on the grounds that he was involved in proselytism.
Actually, Jews for Jesus is not involved in proselytism. We are not looking to turn Gentiles into Jews—nor Jews into Gentiles! Nor do we offer any inducement for Jews (or Gentiles) to turn to Jesus. After all, Jesus’ promises of peace, joy, forgiveness, His indwelling Spirit and eternal life are all the inducement we need!
Some people use the word “proselytism” to damn evangelism. But evangelism simply means announcing the Good News of God’s salvation plan. And every disciple of Jesus has received the commission to do so.
Some Christians say that their way of giving the Good News to Jewish people is to show the love of Christ without talking about the message of Christ. But how can you separate the demonstration of the love of Christ from the proclamation of the gospel of Christ? As if Christian love exists without prayerful attempts to explain the gospel—as if the gospel could be explained without Love! The gospel is itself the supreme demonstration of God’s love for the Jewish people!
I remember Ethel, a Jewish friend attending her first Bible study in our home. As she read the words: “I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives His life for His sheep.…My Father loves Me because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself.” (John 10:11,17,18), she gasped. Then she exclaimed, “For two thousand years we’ve been accused of killing Jesus, and here He tells us that He sacrificed His life for us!”
Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the Word of God. If there is no Word of God behind our love, how will people know the truth of the gospel? How will they know what Jesus did, and why?
What better way of showing our love for the Jewish people than by sharing with them the Good News that Jesus the Jew, Son of God, gave His life that every Jew might come to know God’s salvation?