Jewish Evangelism Then and Now part 7
Part seven (the last installment) in a series, condensed from a paper presented to the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.
There’s a tendency for some of us old-timers” to remember the character, qualities and commitments of the past as better than they actually were. When it comes to commitment, we tend to remember great feats of faith and spiritual endurance, but our memories tend to dismiss the selfish and self-centered acts and attitudes.
Some are troubled by the blinders that seem to allow only certain ministers and missionaries to see the value of their own ministry and to devalue other ministries. Nevertheless, that kind of short-sightedness is hardly new. If anything, the missions and ministries were far more divided a generation ago than they are now. And there is much about Jewish evangelism today to encourage and excite us.
Modern Materials and Methods
Perhaps the newest method of all is electronic evangelism, and this has become a great asset to Jewish missions. Just about every middle-class and upwardly mobile home in the Western World owns or has access to a computer. Jews for Jesus is one of several ministries that are effectively using the Internet home pages and chat rooms to proclaim Yeshua.
Another newer method of evangelism that came into existence in the past couple of decades is the proclamation of gospel statements in secular newspapers and magazines with a large Jewish readership. At the beginning of this new generation of missionaries, most of the defense against the gospel stemmed from one simple and unassailable statement: “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Now the fact that Jews do believe in Jesus is out in the open, thanks in large part to our use of the secular media.
Messianic music has made a place for itself as a good evangelistic tool. What joy the earlier generations of missionaries to the Jews would have felt to hear how very “Jewish” gospel music has become! While Jewish believers pioneered this new kind of music in the last twenty or thirty years, it has caught on in the churches to the point where many non-Jews are writing some very Jewish-sounding gospel music.
In recent years, the quality of evangelistic literature has greatly improved. Much of it is good-natured and serves to affirm Jewishness as well as to convey the gospel. The gospel tracts and pamphlets are less formal and shorter in content to capture the shorter attention spans of this “fast-food, fast-everything” generation.
As for literature distribution, tracts are still being distributed in public places. However, a decline in foot traffic coupled with tightened legislation continues to narrow that kind of public access. For the same reasons, outdoor gospel meetings are not what they once were. Nevertheless, we now have specialized outreaches, especially to young people. The new gospel music and the new literature seem to draw new attention.
Summer camps and children’s activities are still a viable means for evangelism. The safe, supervised fun supplied by a religious entity offers a desirable alternative to camps of a more secular and possibly more permissive nature. Of course, children’s ministries depend on parental permission, as they always did.
Fellowship meetings have declined, but now we have services or celebrations at Passover and High Holiday times. Not only do Jewish believers in Yeshua assemble at these, but they often invite their relatives and friends, to take advantage of such occasions as non-threatening opportunities to satisfy their curiosity about the gospel.
If I had to judge between what was then and what is now in the field of Jewish Evangelism, which would I say is better? As far as then, I think the Jewish believers had a stronger sense of community. We had leaders who were scholars and used infinite patience in discipling new believers. We had a few heroes like Hyman Appelman, the well-known intrepid evangelist who never failed to draw a large crowd. I also think of Dr. Charles Feinberg, dean of Talbot Seminary, who was a world-respected theologian.
But whereas I miss some of the things that I knew, I feel that the possibilities, prospects and proactive nature of the movement today are better now than they have ever been.
Models change and those who do the work of the ministry march across the stage of life from youth to age. The cast of characters in this drama is ever-changing. Nevertheless, certain aspects remain the same. The materials, methodology, manpower and models morph into different shapes and are fashioned according to the times, but the mind-set of the Jewish community has not changed, nor has our message of salvation.
The mentality of those who would evangelize the Jews continues to be based on the mind of Christ. The motivation to present the gospel to the Jews comes from faith-filled people who are propelled by the Holy Spirit and the adjunct of Scripture. Moreover, the man Christ Jesus, whether we call Him Yeshua HaMashiach or any other legitimate name, will never change. He is our mandate, our motivator and our model from whom we draw our inspiration and support.