Last fall when I spoke at a certain church in Western Massachusetts, the reader board outside the church announced in big, bold letters, Jews For Jesus—Steve Cohen to speak. All are welcome. The church was right near a local synagogue, and I heard from one of the members of the church that the pastor had received four phone calls in opposition to the sign and to my presentation.
Sadly, three of those calls came from people who said they named Jesus as their Savior. They belonged to three different denominational backgrounds, but a common thread ran through what they were saying. None of them wanted to take the heat that would be generated by affirming the need to reach Jewish people with the message of salvation.
As I spoke with the pastor beforehand, he told me that he was unaccustomed to having conflict over the gospel, and that his preference was to avoid conflict. I can really identify with that, since that is my personal nature, too. But as a missionary, I have had to learn to step outside of myself when it comes to the gospel.
Yeshua received much opposition, but he did not stop proclaiming the truth. Rather, he pressed on. I was thankful that this pastor was willing to endure the opposition and carry on despite the conflict.
A rabbi did come to one of the services that morning, but it was not the rabbi from across the street. Several unbelieving Jewish people came as well. After the service the rabbi indicated that he did not wish to speak with me, but he did attend the adult Sunday School class. There I spoke on the church’s need to reach out to Jewish people. I raised many of the objections I have heard in the past towards evangelism and, anticipating the rabbi’s reactions, I answered each one, pointing out that there is a need to reach out to Jewish people with the gospel.
Then the rabbi asked a question. I understand the Christian’s call to reach out to the unsaved. But how do we who do not wish to hear the message tell that to others without giving offense? You see, to me, it is not that evangelism is wrong, but it is a question of intensity.”
My response was, “Rabbi, in biblical times, the issue of the messiahship of Jesus was discussed openly, right in the synagogues. Paul went there on the Sabbath and reasoned from the Scriptures. Today, the venue has changed. And while many Christians do not share their faith with Jewish people, this leads others to think that the ones who do speak out are intensifying their efforts. In reality, they are only doing what Yeshua said we ought to do. Why don’t you and the pastor arrange for your congregations to get together and discuss the messiahship of Jesus?”
As an afterthought, I think I should have added, “If Jesus really is the Messiah, don’t you think your people would want to know? And if Jesus is not the Messiah, then the people in this church are just wasting their time, and wouldn’t you want them to know that, too?”
Later I learned from a telephone conversation with the pastor that he had met with the rabbi after my presentation. The rabbi had come to his office, and in professional tones had explained that the real problem was not the telling of the gospel, but the fact that Jews are claiming that they are still Jewish after they have become Christians, and when a church hosts such a presentation it causes great offense in the Jewish community. The pastor and the rabbi did discuss the possibility of talking to each congregation about these matters, but at this point nothing has transpired except the following letter which the pastor wrote to the rabbi’s congregation:
“Your rabbi met with me regarding the upset that Jews for Jesus speaker Steve Cohen created in the Jewish community…[The rabbi] I explained the opinion many Jewish people have that one cannot be Jewish and believe that the Messiah has come. This came as news to me. Therefore I offer to you this letter, both as assurance of good will and an explanation of how Christians regard these matters.
“Please understand that by inviting Mr. Cohen to [our] church I was in no way trying to bait your congregation, nor was it my intention to offend. We believe that the Messiah has come and has offered atonement for both Jew and Gentile. Indeed, the Messiah brings peace between God and humanity that is available nowhere else. These convictions, to the extent that they run counter to your beliefs, will be an offense to you. Yet the offense arises not from any animosity, hatred or prejudice, but from the fact that to withhold the message of the Messiah [from Jewish people] is the greatest act of anti-Semitism a Christian can commit.
“I would be happy to speak further of these things with you if you would like.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Jewish community leaders often try to make it difficult for pastors who have effective Jewish evangelism programs in their churches. We urge you, our ministry friends, to pray for and encourage your pastors when they come under fire for standing up for the gospel. They need to hear from you if you appreciate their courage in having speakers and programs about Jewish evangelism.