Jewish Evangelism Then and Now part 6
Part six in a series, condensed from a paper presented to the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism
OUTDOOR GOSPEL MEETINGS
At the turn of the century, the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago used to hitch up a gospel wagon and bring it down to Maxwell Street, a predominantly Jewish area. The wagon’s flatbed held musicians as well as a speaker at a lectern. Eventually they replaced the wagon with a truck.
In the sixties, outdoor gospel meetings were already on the wane, but one could still draw a crowd almost anywhere on the west side of New York City. All we needed to do was notify the police of the intended time and have a sturdy platform, like a soapbox, to stand on. (By the way, soapboxes were not used to ship soap but to manufacture it. The components of fat drippings and lye were poured into 1-inch thick zinc-lined wooden boxes to harden before it was cut into bars.) I recall that New York City police also required us to display an American flag to show that we were not anarchists.
The anti-missionaries also had outdoor meetings, usually not far from where we conducted our gospel meetings. We stood in front of the Chase Manhattan Bank at West 73rd and Broadway, and the Anti-shmad League” (shmad being a derogatory term they used to refer to Jews who believe in Jesus) conducted meetings on Saturday nights at West 74th and Broadway. They had a much fancier portable pulpit, with all kinds of placards, one of which said, “Don’t trust the tricky missionaries.” I guess that we were just a little tricky, because Daniel Fuchs wrote a tract titled, “Don’t trust the tricky missionaries.” The message inside was, “Don’t trust the missionaries; don’t trust your rabbis; don’t trust any clergyman; put your trust in God.” It was a very well-written tract, and from time to time on Saturday nights we handed out these tracts where the Anti-shmad League was speaking. In most cities, foot traffic declined, and so did the outdoor meetings.
Another form of outreach was referred to as “the postal witness.” I previously mentioned David Cooper’s messianic series of books that were sent free to all rabbis and Jewish doctors. Small missions in particular would build lists of Jewish names and periodically send out tracts or
pamphlets. At one time, there were also at least a half dozen periodicals designed to reach Jewish people. Perhaps the best known periodical was The Shepherd of Israel published monthly by the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Written half in Yiddish and half in English, it usually featured a story or spoke to an issue such as the Trinity, messianic prophecy, etc. The Mediator was a larger periodical, edited by Henry and Marie Einspruch and published bi-monthly by the Lederer Foundation. It contained superb articles. At the same time, several missions combined to produce HaOr (The Light). Al (Avi) Brickner was the editor, and the publication was known for high scholarship and excellent writing. Elias Newman in Pittsburgh published another periodical, sponsored by a Lutheran mission.
One anomaly of the 1950s and 1960s was known as “the parish approach.” I mentioned previously that the Christian Reform Church (CRC) had a mission station in Chicago called Nathaniel Institute. The facilities of Nathaniel Institute were sold, and a CRC clergyman named Alfred Huijen was employed. He wrote a book titled The Parish Approach in which he advocated that we do away with mission stations altogether and train the churches to do missionary work to reach the Jews. Huijen’s ministry was to go about training churches, but the problem was that those who advocated this approach were not showing the churches how to witness by example. Much of what they knew was secondhand. The Zion Society for Israel, which had operated several very effective mission stations, withdrew from those stations, and through a man named C.M. Hanson, advocated the parish approach. The Zion Society, with all of its resources, was absorbed into one of the many mergers of the Lutheran Church. The Presbyterian Church also had a fling with the parish approach. In theory, the parish approach was a good idea, but it turned out to be unrealistic. Basically, Jewish evangelism is too intimidating to all but the most stalwart of Christian witnesses. That is not to say there aren’t some effective witnesses to Jewish people within the churches. There are simply nowhere near enough to replace the work being done by Jewish missions.