Next month marks the 34 th anniversary of the Jews for Jesus ministry. (Of course we like to say we were established in 32 AD give or take a year!) Eleven years ago I was officially installed as Executive Director, taking over from our founder, Moishe Rosen, who celebrated his 75 th birthday this year!
When I first took the helm of leadership, I stated my belief that the best books had yet to be written, the best songs had yet to be composed, the best methods of evangelism had yet to be devised…. I knew the best was yet to come for Jews for Jesus. Why? Because we had a God-given task, we could count on Him to equip and inspire us.
I wasn’t wrong. God has continued blessing Jews for Jesus this past decade and I am more convinced than ever that the best is, indeed, yet to come.
But there is a problem. Many in Christian circles ignore the need to bring the gospel to Jewish people, while others question or actively oppose efforts to do so. I want to address three examples of this problem:
- The Pope and the Catholic Church stand ready to renounce a long-standing liturgical prayer for the salvation of the Jews.
- Respected Christian leaders are telling people they need not share Jesus with Jewish friends and neighbors.
- Even some Messianic Jewish” leaders are entertaining the possibility that Jewish people can be saved apart from conscious faith in Christ.
Normally I don’t pay close attention to pronouncements from the Vatican, but decisions concerning the revival of the Old Latin Mass have caught my attention for one reason. Jewish community leaders have criticized the Pope’s decision to revive this liturgy because of a particular prayer to be recited on Good Friday: “Let us pray also for the Jews that the Lord our God may take the veil from their hearts and that they also may acknowledge our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray: Almighty and everlasting God, you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews; hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people so that they may acknowledge the light of your truth, which is Christ, and be delivered from their darkness.”
I do find the phrases, “you do not refuse your mercy even to the Jews” and “their darkness” offensive. In modern ears it seems to indicate a belief that Jewish people are somehow less likely than others to receive God’s mercy–or that “our darkness” is somehow different from that of others who need the gospel light. The prayer certainly could do with a few tweaks! But the protest from Jewish community leaders is far more basic; they are offended by the very idea of Christians praying for their salvation through Jesus Christ.
The anti-Defamation League calls the reinstitution of this prayer “a body-blow to Catholic-Jewish relations.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Pope Benedict to declare the prayer “now entirely contrary to the teaching of the church.” Statements coming from the Vatican suggest that Catholic leaders are considering removal of the prayer from their mass in response to these protests. If this prayer is to be a litmus test of whether or not the Catholic Church cares about the Jewish people, one would hope the church would keep the prayer, affirming the words of the Apostle Paul: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). But that might not be the case.
We come now to the second trend: Evangelical Christian leaders who undermine the necessity of telling Jewish people about Jesus.
Almost 15 years ago (December 30, 1992) Pastor Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel, stated on KFAX Christian radio: “I don’t have a great burden for Jewish evangelism. I believe that God will evangelize them when He is ready. In the meantime, God has poured out His grace, His spirit upon the Gentiles and thus I like to fish where the fish are biting. I really feel that for the most part [Jewish evangelism] is a waste of church finances that can be better used to evangelize the Gentiles at this time.” Pastor Smith’s appreciation for the scriptural principle of stewardship could not have been more devastatingly misapplied. This well-respected minister was apparently not thinking of the parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go seek and save the one who is lost when he made that remark.
Perhaps he was thinking of Romans 11:25, where we read “that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” But that blindness is only in part. What about the other part? There are Jewish people who are ready to hear the gospel right now, but they need help to understand it in a Jewish context. That is why Jews for Jesus exists, and why we need help to reach other Jews who are ready to come to faith in Jesus at this time–even if they are not coming en masse.
If God only intended evangelists to go where they would find the most results, there ought not be missions to any gospel-resistant peoples. The wonderful works being done among Arabs and others would also have to be seen as a waste of resources. But that is not how God works. Sharing the gospel with many that a few might be saved is not poor stewardship. It is compassion, love and faithfulness to the Great Commission, a commission which we know Pastor Smith upholds. Unfortunately, his slighting remark on Jewish evangelism made it easy for his hearers to neglect the cause of Jewish evangelism as a fruitless endeavor, not worth the effort. Thankfully it did not affect all the pastors and churches that respect and admire him, and even more thankfully, it did not state, as some have done, that Jews do not need Jesus to be saved.
Well-known televangelist John Hagee told his followers that Christians have no duty to evangelize Jews, since the Bible says that all Israel will be saved. (See Charisma Magazine April 2004.) This is a gross misinterpretation of Romans 11:26. The passage refers to a specific time in history when the nation of Israel will be surrounded by her enemies. They will cry out to God for a deliverer, and the Messiah Jesus will come to their rescue. This will fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 12:10,
“. . . they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.”
This passage does NOT mean that every Jew ever born has an automatic pass, a free ticket to heaven apart from conscious faith in Jesus Christ. John Hagee is wrong on this point, and we will continue to say that he is wrong. We have attempted to contact him numerous times to discuss the issue but, so far, have not been successful.
Pastor Hagee’s stance that Jewish people do not need to hear about Jesus is destructive to the cause of Christ–far more so than it would be if he were counted among “liberal” Christians who view the Scriptures as less than the Word of God. It is precisely because he IS a Bible believing preacher, known for solid and uncompromising teaching, that this one compromise ought not go unchallenged. Christians don’t need leaders dismissing them from their duty to tell Jewish people or anyone else about Jesus. I hope those who do care for and respect Pastor Hagee will uphold him by firmly and lovingly speaking out against this kind of “slippage.”
During a recent question and answer session at a large, New England church, one person “asked” if it wasn’t anti-Semitic for me to insist on telling Jewish people they needed to believe in Jesus. If I were successful, according to this person, the people who received Jesus would no longer be Jewish. I replied that if Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the most Jewish thing anyone could do is to believe and follow Him. Furthermore, if Jesus is the only means of forgiveness and salvation for all people, then withholding that message from Jewish people would be the most anti-Semitic thing I could do. Applause and “amens” burst forth from many in the congregation; unfortunately, a different attitude is bursting forth from an increasing number of churches across America.
One might expect that if anyone would hold tightly to the cause of Jewish evangelism it would be other Jews who have come to faith. Which brings me to my third example:
Even some “Messianic Jewish” leaders are entertaining the notion that Jewish people can be saved apart from conscious faith in Christ.
In his controversial book, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, Messianic Jewish leader Mark Kinzer stated, “The Jewish ‘no’ to Yeshua becomes a sign of his presence in Israel rather than of his absence.” (pp. 217, 226). Kinzer seems to be saying that the Jewish rejection of Jesus was actually God’s means of bringing them salvation. Just last month, Mark Kinzer further clarified his position at a Messianic conference in Chicago. His address to the group stated: “Neither do we assume that all Jewish people who do not accept Yeshua are at enmity with God.”
I wish this were true, but the Bible tells us that ALL people are at enmity with God because of our sin, and nowhere does it state that anything other than faith in Jesus can reconcile us to our Creator. Unfortunately, quite a few Messianic congregational leaders embrace Mark Kinzer’s position.
As you read this I am in Hungary, participating in the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, an umbrella organization of Jewish missions, educators and Messianic leaders committed to evangelism. Recently, one mission leader suggested that we change the name of the organization to the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish ministry instead of Jewish evangelism. He said that he believed the name change would attract more Messianic leaders who were not eager to be identified specifically with Jewish evangelism! I am not interested in attracting Messianic leaders who don’t want to be associated with Jewish evangelism. The entire purpose of the organization is to facilitate cooperation between groups and individuals who do want to evangelize–to bring the good news of salvation–to Jewish people. It might be good to engage those who are at cross-purposes, but not in this venue, not to the detriment of those of us who are trying to do the work of evangelism. The suggested change did not receive significant support, but it indicates a sad tendency among certain Jewish believers in Jesus.
These disturbing trends have tragic implications. How should we respond? Speaking for Jews for Jesus, we are more committed than ever to standing firm for the gospel, staying on the cutting edge of creative proclamation, and continuing to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.
Jewish evangelism is still a God-given task. A growing number of people would disagree and try to discourage us from carrying out that task, so I am calling upon all who care about Jewish evangelism to stand with us. The work of Jews for Jesus is more necessary than ever in the face of these challenges. We must press ahead with all of our might to effectively preach the gospel “to the Jew first.”
Anything worthwhile done for the Lord requires vigilance. By God’s grace we will be vigilant and vigorous in the ministry God has entrusted to us in Jews for Jesus, but I need to ask you, our dear friends and supporters, to remain vigilant with us. Please be vigilant to pray with us, stand with us, pay close attention to the trends I’ve mentioned and please, speak out against them when you can.
Go to our “Thank You for Praying” section and take a look at some of the stories and reports from our recent Jews for Jesus outreaches around the world. I hope you will agree with me that the best is yet to come, and that standing with Jews for Jesus in support of Jewish evangelism is an important missions commitment for you, and for all evangelical Christians today.