The phone rang in our New York office—we knew it was a response to one of our gospel ads because the call came in on our hot line.” Sure enough, it was a Jewish man requesting more information about Jesus after seeing one of our ads.* The amazing thing was the location of the ad that had caught his eye. When asked where he’d seen it, he responded, “In my synagogue.”
Someone had removed one of our ads from a subway car and brought it to the synagogue! The rabbi actually put it on display and used it as the theme of his Sabbath morning sermon. Of course he spoke against our message, but at least one seeker in the congregation wrote down our phone number just the same.
The ad’s message? “Be More Jewish—Believe in Jesus.” After all, if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, what could be more Jewish than to believe in Him?
That slogan was the theme of our 1996 Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York City. We printed it on T-shirts and used it in our gospel tracts; we posted the slogan all over New York City, on bus stops, subway trains and even a few billboards.
Some said we were confrontational. Frankly, some people would characterize our entire ministry with that criticism. Should we respond? If so, how should we respond?
We cannot ignore criticism. Proverbs 19:25 says, “Rebuke one who has understanding, and he will discern knowledge.”
We need to weigh all rebukes and try to discern their validity. If they are valid, we need to listen and learn from them.
So what can we learn from those who criticize us and say that we are confrontational?
We can’t find a basis for that kind of rebuke in Scripture. Quite to the contrary, God instructed His prophets to confront Israel quite deliberately. Perhaps I have not analyzed the criticism of confrontation correctly because I don’t find any meaning. No matter how we do evangelism, it could by definition be considered a confrontation. Truth by itself may not appear to be a confrontation, but in contrast to a lie, it always is. And the gospel is the kind of Truth many people do not wish to hear.
Some Jewish people are annoyed with us because we are dissenting, but either Jesus is the Messiah or He isn’t. All we have to do is suggest that people consider Jesus, and some will interpret the message to mean, “You are not good enough.” Why should they think that? Because they know we proclaim Jesus died for our sins and is the only way to the Father. To suggest that someone consider Jesus, however politely, is to imply he or she needs forgiveness. The effective proclamation of the gospel inevitably leads to confrontation—not between the messenger and those who hear the message, but within the hearts of those who understand what the gospel implies.
No matter how gently one declares the gospel, it is only good news to those first willing to accept the bad news. The bad news is that sin has alienated each and every one of us from God and has led to the human predicament.
Some respond with joy to the goodness and grace that God offers in the gospel. Others are outwardly negative, but privately they might wonder if the gospel could be the solution to the question of their inexplicable emptiness. But self-righteous people, whether Jewish or Gentile, respond with real hostility and sometimes even hatred.
We dare not hold back the good news in order to avoid offending those who are committed to unbelief when others are ready to receive the same message with joy. The very fact that people do not want us to identify ourselves as Jews when we proclaim Jesus shows how attractive His message is. Our opposition seems to think that the only thing preventing Jews from believing in Jesus is the fear of losing their Jewish identity and the knowledge that they will be rejected by other Jews.
Some high-profile Jewish community leaders have led the charge against what they regard as a Jews for Jesus dragon. Unfortunately, some professing Christians echo their criticisms out of sympathy for their unsaved friends. Sometimes they fail to check out the facts to see if there is any basis to the complaint.
Our response to that kind of criticism is from the pages of the New Testament. “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16-17).
In other words, rather than defend ourselves, it is best to let our fruit speak for us as we carry out the work God commissioned us to do.
We need to stand firm when criticism is a fiery dart aimed to keep us from a forthright proclamation of the gospel, but we also need to be open to well-founded and constructive criticism. When it comes to that kind of criticism, we want to be like the wise man described in Proverbs 9:8: “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.”
One of the things I admire about Moishe Rosen is that through the years, he has always had the courage of his convictions while showing himself ready to learn from others. He has always paid special attention to criticism—letters of complaint always went straight to Moishe. And now they will come to me. I will seek that same balance he has demonstrated. I want to be sensitive to criticism, but I can’t let it deter me from doing the right thing.
It is difficult, even for servants of God, to handle criticism well. Giving and receiving correction are really two sides of the same coin. To be wise, we need to be able to give correction as well as receive it. Some of us give far better than we get, but we need to do both! Pray that we Jews for Jesus will be humble enough to receive godly correction and always bold enough to follow Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke [some translations say reprove], exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).
It is tempting to avoid the duty of reproving, or giving correction, because we want to avoid confrontation. Naturally, we want to be liked and respected. None of us wants to face anger or criticism. But we also know it is better to obey God than to be accepted by people.
In the early days of Jews for Jesus, even our name (which actually came from our opposition, much as the first-century Christians were named) was considered extremely confrontational. Yet the label Jews for Jesus was effective—a clear communication of who we are and who we are for. It challenged preconceived notions most people had concerning Jews and faith in Christ.
Jews for Jesus has made it difficult for people to deny that some Jews actually do believe in Jesus. In fact, many have grown accustomed to the phrase “Jews for Jesus.” We need new ways to challenge preconceptions so that more people will hear and understand the gospel message.
For example, it is commonly accepted that believing in Jesus is not a Jewish option even if some “misled” Jews believe in Him. That is a lie. And a lie is still a lie no matter how sincerely people believe it. Sincerity never changed a lie into the truth. So, we must challenge the lie that Jesus is not an option for Jews. And that is precisely what we did with our “Be More Jewish, Believe in Jesus” campaign. If there is one compelling ideology for my people, it is that we remain Jewish, that we affirm our Jewish identity. When we link that compelling commitment to faith in Christ, there is inevitable conflict—and we were heavily criticized for saying that people can be more Jewish by believing in Jesus.
It’s a joy to tell you that our “Be More Jewish, Believe in Jesus” campaign exceeded all our hopes and expectations. In New York City, more religious Jews than ever before took our literature and requested more information. The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) provided unintentional help by organizing a counter-missionary effort in which they pronounced, “No Way. Judaism is the only religion for Jews.” Our statement was positive and affirming. Theirs was negative. The more they insisted “No Way,” the more people were drawn to consider what the JCRC was denying. The secular media, drawn to the controversy, amplified our message on television, radio and in the newspapers. It was the most exposure the New York media has given to our message since the early days of Jews for Jesus.
I want our new chapter in Jews for Jesus to be characterized by renewed commitment to bold proclamation and, yes, meaningful confrontation. I anticipate criticism—I don’t relish it, but we will carry on regardless of what our opposition says about us. Yet we will not be indifferent to criticism from those who share our desire to see Christ proclaimed. If that criticism encourages us to be bolder, to stretch, to reach for more of God, to proclaim His name more effectively, we need to listen.
During my days as a student at Moody Bible Institute I heard many anecdotes about our school’s founder, Dwight Moody. One that I identify with closely involves a woman who approached Mr. Moody after an evangelistic rally. “Mr. Moody,” she said, “I don’t like your method of evangelism.”
“Madam,” Moody replied, “what then is your method of evangelism?”
“I don’t have a method,” the woman responded.
“Well then,” Moody answered, “I like my method far more than I like your no method.”
We will do many more new things along the lines of the “Be More Jewish” campaign, and I pray that all our efforts will be as effective. I will take seriously anyone who has a criticism or suggestion about how we can be more for the Lord. I am particularly eager to hear from anyone whose own evangelistic efforts have borne fruit.
I have said it before and will keep saying it: I believe that the best songs have yet to be recorded, the best books have yet to be written, the best literature has yet to be developed and the best methods of outreach have yet to be employed in proclaiming the gospel. We will listen and pray, and we will be as bold and creative as we can to get out the message of Messiah. We have already seen the fruit of one new method. I can hardly wait to see what else God has in store for us!
*We placed billboards in strategic locations such as the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and our posters adorned many a bus station shelter and subway car.