Much of the church in Germany seems to have a paralyzing image problem” that comes from viewing itself through the lens of the Holocaust. I’m not suggesting that the church ought to deny or ignore the terrible truths that enabled the Third Reich to rise. Certainly the Holocaust should be instructive to all the world, and especially to the people in whose backyard it occurred. However, many Christians in Germany today feel a sense of personal guilt over what happened, even though most either were not yet born or were too young to do anything at the time.
Even so, the state church in Germany, which is called the “Evangelical” church, has decided that in the shadow of the Holocaust, they do not have the right to personally share the gospel with Jewish people. That is their official position; the church forbids any organized efforts within their own denomination to evangelize the Jewish people.
Those who take that position may see themselves as bridge builders or peacekeepers, but in the long run they are not. While many in the church of Germany falsely see themselves as guilty for the fate of those who are gone, they become truly guilty of neglecting those who still live and need to hear the gospel. Why?
A guilty church is a weak church. In its desire to appear “not guilty” it is fearful of and unwilling to take a difficult stand for the truth.
A guilty church is easily manipulated and misled. I discovered an organization that buys goods from Israel and sells them with a steep markup to German Christians. Many are willing to pay unreasonable prices, believing that they are helping Israel’s economy. Sadly, they allow this company to take advantage of them because they see it as a “ministry” to Jewish people.
A guilty church is a silent church. Silence was the sin of the church during the rise of the Third Reich. And yet, the fear of a guilty image is leading many to repeat the sin of silence, only this time with eternal consequences for Jews in Germany.
Weak, misled and silent — quite an indictment. But before we shake our heads over the church in Germany let’s hold up a mirror to examine ourselves. Most mainline churches in the U.S. and Canada have taken exactly the same position as the “Evangelical” Church in Germany, while many other more truly evangelical churches make little or no effort to evangelize Jewish people or even support Jewish missions. Does yours? If not, why not?
Many Christians have told me that since the Jews are God’s chosen people it is unnecessary to witness to them. Did they come to that conclusion by searching the Scriptures? I don’t see how. Others frankly admit that they feel inadequate for the task or are fearful of a negative reaction. Perhaps they are afraid to be identified with the increasingly unflattering image of evangelical Christians painted by the media and want to appear “different” to their friends. This turns the idea of guilt by association on its head. Christians who are ashamed to be associated with evangelicals because of this unflattering image often make compromises that cause them to become weak, easily manipulated or misled and silent.
I have often pointed out that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s organization, The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has misled many who think, because of the name of the organization and his emphasis on fulfilling prophecy, that he is a Messianic rabbi. He certainly is not. Perhaps you have seen his commercials on Fox television. I know I may be stepping on toes, but I believe he has successfully manipulated Christians into giving him hundreds of millions of dollars, using guilt over the plight of Jews in the former Soviet Union and most recently over the war between Israel and Hezbollah. And he is not alone.
Recently some Christians have been revved up to invest large sums in political lobbying efforts on behalf of Israel. None of these organizations will have anything to do with sharing the gospel with Israel; in fact they oppose such activities. What a tragedy. I am not saying that gospel proclamation is the only thing a believer can or should do to care for Israel and the Jewish people. However, a guilty-feeling, image-conscious church can be manipulated into keeping silent about the most important message she has been given.
The effects of how others perceive us causes an image problem that goes beyond attitudes toward Jewish evangelism. In the October issue of Christianity Today magazine, historian Mark A. Noll rightly raises a concern that the church may have developed such an overemphasis on connecting with today’s culture it has undercut its role of salt and light. That is not to say that we should limit our involvement to proclaiming the gospel without ever caring for people’s physical needs. We should do all the Bible commands in caring for the lost but not for the sake of changing our image. A church that worries about its image is weak and easily misled.
Many are redirecting the church’s mission away from evangelism, into social action though it is never stated that way. “Other things” are added to the Great Commission under the guise of what is called the cultural mandate. As writer Stan Guthrie recently pointed out, “the key missions challenge may well be ensuring that external pressures and a consciously more holistic approach to missions do not obscure the preaching of forgiveness through Christ’s death and resurrection.” Amen to that.
As a postscript, I am thankful that there are Christians in Germany who certainly are not ashamed to preach the gospel to Jewish people. And I am thankful that among some who have been reluctant, the tide is turning. After the church service in Berlin, a young man in his early thirties approached me. He explained that his dentist was Jewish and had been asking him about his faith. Because he was Jewish, the man had not felt the freedom to share the gospel. He now realizes that he can and should share the gospel with this dentist and he wants Jews for Jesus to help him. Praise God for hearts that can change. Thankfully, I believe the same can be true in the church throughout the world.