Have you ever read a fascinating, but fatally flawed book? That’s how I would describe Constantine’s Sword, The Church and the Jew—a New York Times best seller and winner of the National Book Award. While the author purports to tell the history of the relationship between my Jewish people and the Church, the Church” that he portrays is a grotesque impostor.
This book shows the history of the Church as so many centuries of bloodthirsty anti-Semites and superstitious simpletons. It chronicles obscenely wealthy and corrupt institutions whose leaders took advantage of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. The more I read, the more it dawned on me, “This is not a history of the Church. It is a continuation of one of the greatest deceptions of all time, a well-articulated lie that people continue to believe to this very day.”
No one can deny that terrible atrocities have been committed in the name of Jesus and seemingly sanctioned by “the Church.” Nor can we deny more contemporary scandals of greed and immorality—even pedophile priests whose superiors apparently protected them from the law. And politics? There is no denying that some clergymen use their pulpits as a platform, not even realizing that in their desire to be relevant they are spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric crafted by terrorist propagandists. Yet none of this represents the Church I know. The world cannot discern between man-made religion and the true Church—but we need to remember the difference.
I’ve never been fond of the label “parachurch organization” because, to some, it sounds like an attempt to replace or undermine the church, and that’s never been what Jews for Jesus is about. But now and then, as the leader of a “parachurch” organization, and particularly as a Jewish mission leader, I feel it is important to express appreciation for the Church.
The real Church is not a corrupted institution; it is a community of redeemed people who love the Lord and one another. The real Church is not a bunch of bloodthirsty anti-Semites; it is the Body of Christ, Jesus’ representatives on the earth. The real Church is not a collection of superstitious simpletons, but of people who study and submit to the teaching of the Scriptures. The real Church is the people who stoop to serve others, following the example of Yeshua (Jesus), the true leader of the Church. Those who truly represent Jesus love Him—and love His kinsmen according to the flesh, the Jewish people.
This is the Church I know. This is the Church that reached out to me when I was wandering far from God—the Church that welcomed me in from the cold to be warmed by the love of Christ and the fellowship of His saints. It’s the community that showed me that friendship with God is so much more satisfying than friendship with the world. This is the body of believers who taught me to love and study God’s Word, to practice and pursue a life of prayer, to cultivate a longing to worship and praise the Lord of heaven, to give, to serve others, to spread the good news to all people.
I know that I fall far short of the examples set for me, particularly the one set by Jesus Himself. Remarkably, the Church is made up of lots of other people who are also somewhat less than perfect. The Church I know is not a cold environment that demands perfection, but rather a warm home that extends grace and forgiveness to those who make mistakes.
Because those of us who make up the Church are imperfect, the Church is certainly subject to criticism. Some criticism is fair and deserved and leads to clearer understanding and growth. Then there is the kind of criticism that starts with a kernel of truth, but becomes a tangle of distortion and disinformation. It seems that the latter is what the Church is most often subjected to by the world. Sadly, other believers are often tempted to jump on that bandwagon. I want nothing to do with such criticism. It is rooted in self-serving agendas that, by nature, twist the truth in order to tear down rather than build. I know, because Jews for Jesus has been the target of that kind of criticism. Usually, those on the receiving end of such criticism are strongly tempted to use the same strategy to “get back.” Either that, or they are saddened, repulsed and determined to avoid imitating that type of destructive behavior. By God’s grace I hope Jews for Jesus will remain safely in the latter category.
The truth is, the Church has been a terrific example, bravely withstanding all kinds of attacks ever since the first century. The early and predominantly Jewish Church (led by Peter, Paul, James, et al.) had its share of martyrs. Today we are an amazingly diverse body of believers, among whom we Jews who name the name of Jesus are but a tiny minority. The Church continues to have its martyrs, both literal and figurative. Some have lost their lives in faraway countries. Others have been crucified in the press or by “interfaith” groups who cannot tolerate the idea of evangelism. I am thankful for each and every church that has the heart to look beyond its own culture—and certainly beyond political correctness—to continue reaching out to my Jewish people.
Some denominations pressure their local congregations to pull away from Jewish evangelism in response to books like the one I described. Some are more concerned with how they appear to the world than with the desperate need the world has for the Savior. But we have found that there are faithful and courageous churches of nearly every denomination who are willing to stand the heat of public opinion—willing to be considered unsophisticated or politically incorrect—for the sake of the gospel. These are churches who have wisely discerned that if Jesus is truly the Messiah, it is folly to think that the Jewish people (or any people) have a hope without Him.
I love and appreciate these churches for standing with us when it really would be so much easier to disassociate from anything having to do with Jewish evangelism. As we approach more and more of our Behold Your God evangelistic campaigns, our opposition is flying thicker and faster. Part of their strategy has been to try to sever our relations with various churches. But so many churches have refused to be intimidated or embarrassed; they continue to help us proclaim that all people need Jesus. And they don’t do it because we are so wonderful, but because they love the Messiah and want to see Jewish people saved. Their examples help us to be faithful to fight the good fight.
We Jews for Jesus are often called on to explain how we can believe what we do in light of the way “the Church” has treated our Jewish people for the past 2,000 years. My answer is always the same. That is not the Church I know. In fact, I am firmly convinced that if my Jewish people knew the Church I know, they would want to be a part of it, too.
There is a little Sunday School ditty my son learned in preschool that comes to mind:
I am the Church, You are the Church
We are the Church together
All who follow Jesus, all around the world
Yes, we’re the Church together!
The Church I know and love is made up of followers of Jesus from all around the world—Jews and Gentiles alike. There is nothing more important in life than following Jesus—and all who follow Him are part of His Church.