by Mark Robinson and Moshe Gold
“‘Baptism or death,’ had too often been the cry of the church, just as the ‘Koran or the sword’ had been of Islam.”1
Rev. W. T. Gidney, secretary for the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, summarized centuries of the church’s message to the Jewish community in the above statement. Fortunately, things slowly began to change around the time of the Reformation. With an emphasis on the Bible alone, “Sola Scriptura,” a few Christians began to see God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people. Although small in number and slow in growth, Bible-believing Christians began to return to the roots of their faith. A biblically-based love for Jewish people, and the desire to share God’s love with them, commenced among Christians during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, it was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when mission agencies started to reach the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” that there were fruitful results. Unfortunately, with rare exception, most of these efforts were through para-church organizations, and not the local church. It is not difficult to understand that this occurred because most of the Reformation churches still embraced a replacement theology system.
While we do respect the Reformers as men used of God and want to grant them as much credit as possible, this much remains a fact: The churches which resulted from their labor were not missionary churches in the modern sense of the word, and the theologians who followed them and claimed to be their true successors and interpreters did not advance the missionary idea and motivation.
Jesus’ last words to His followers, and perhaps our greatest priority, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8), had become all but lost in the days after the early Church until the late 1700s. Regrettably, it wasn’t local churches that started to fulfill this Great Commission. In the early nineteenth century, individual Christians, motivated by the command of our Lord, and burdened by the reality of the unsaved millions throughout the world, started para-church mission agencies to bring the Gospel to the lost. Although the church did eventually follow along in this endeavor, the void of some 1700 years was, to a large extent, being filled by para-church organizations. In this regard William Bjoraker writes:
The turn of the 19th century constitutes a turning point for Protestant Christian Missions. William Carey published his “Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen” in 1792. The Enquiry signaled a theological breakthrough in rediscovering the validity of the Great Commission. The explosion of interdenominational missionary societies triggered a large-scale missionary enterprise which would provide four-fifths of the Protestant missionaries from the days of Carey until the present time.2
Among the missionary endeavors begun, was Jewish Missions outreach. One of the major factors in the increase in missions to the Jewish people in the 1800s was the revival of interest in Bible prophecy. This renewed interest in eschatology led directly to an interest in the Jewish people and the establishment of a number of missions to the Jewish people in the nineteenth century.
Through trial and error, victories and setbacks, Jewish Missions learned much in how to effectively reach the Jewish community with the Gospel. Local churches can benefit immensely in using the legacy of experience and special resources of Jewish Missions.
Thus, Jewish missions, such as Jewish Awareness Ministries, provide a service to the local church in an area of expertise that is sadly lacking in almost all local churches. Jewish Missions can give particular insight, practical wisdom, and personal training in the process of witnessing to Jewish people. They also can offer many invaluable resources to a local church such as materials like this magazine, tracts, books, websites such as www.jewishawareness.org, as well as audio/video media. Finally, they offer missionaries to co-labor with in prayer and support. Through this partnership the local churches can fulfill the biblical command of reaching the world for Christ, which includes Jewish people, while receiving the blessing of Abraham; I will bless them that bless thee.
The Local Church
The word “church” is the Greek word “ecclesia” and means “called out ones.” The church is comprised of redeemed people who form the body of Christ (Ephesians 1-3). Through Paul the composition and organization of the Church is made manifest. The body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14) is composed of Jewish and non-Jewish people who have internalized the Gospel of Messiah (Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 4:4-6). Although consistent discernable distinction is made within the Body between Jewish and Gentile people, both are equal in standing before God and both share equally in the organization and orchestration of the local church (1 Corinthians 12:13-14; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:14-17). Gentiles are no longer treated as strangers who were alienated from the promises of God (Ephesians 2:13) and Jewish believers are now the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). Both groups are told to worship together as one man; a new way that is neither Judaism nor Paganism (Ephesians 2:15). This unity is to be the model in every local church (Ephesians 4:4-6) as it reveals, even to the heavenly host, the perfect resolution of ethnic division through God reconciling individuals to Himself and the Jew and Gentile to each other (Ephesians 3:2-10).
Yet, at least from the 2nd century the Church is guilty of excluding the Jewish community in outreach while purging itself of any Jewish identification and symbols. Rather than glorify the Lord through inclusion of Jewish worshippers and delight in the richness of blessing they bring to the local church (Romans 11:12), the Church has, through poor theology and poor preparation in gospel presentation, abandoned the imperative to bring the Gospel to the Jew (Romans 1:16). With the absence of Jewish members, the Church became almost exclusively a reflection of Gentile culture distinct among European peoples. This imbalance negatively shaped the reception of Hebrew Christians who were pressured to take on the identity of the majority at the expense of their own. This gave rise to the Messianic Movement and helps sustain it.
Jewish believers are needed in our local churches as they have a critical role in bringing balance to the understanding of Scripture, which comes from a Jewish background, and the practice of biblical Christianity. The unbiblical and heretical teaching of replacement theology possibly never would have been accepted if Jewish believers had been an integral and accepted part of the church in the second, third and fourth century. In the same way, Gentile believers could help in preventing Jewish believers from sliding into Judaizing Christianity, referred to today as Messianic Judaism or the Messianic Movement, which is a propensity of some in the Jewish Christian world. Unfortunately, the lack of biblical love and embracing of Jewish believers into local congregations has cost a hearing by many in the believing Jewish community.
The Church’s Responsibility
The Lord wants to use the local church to bring His message of salvation to His people, Israel – not only through supporting missionaries, but also through personal evangelism. We commend those churches who have revived this truth; to the Jew first. You are fulfilling a priority based on the love of God and the Hebrew Christians added to the local church will help restore balance and health to the Body. Through this testimony the heavenly host marvels at the wisdom of God you display when Jewish and Gentile Christians are worshipping together as brothers and sisters!
If our goal as the Church of Christ is to edify the Body and glorify God we all must examine our practices under the light of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1) and must embrace one another in soundness of doctrine, love and understanding.
How then should Hebrew Christians being welcomed into the local church maintain their identity while bringing balance to the church? By being encouraged to live as the Israel of God, (Galatians 6:16); a living sacrifice, understanding, and teaching the New Covenant as well as the Tenach, while actively proclaiming the Gospel. In this way we fulfill our calling to be a light to all nations. As Jews we also have a right to maintain our ethnic identity through our historical celebrations, especially as they tell the story of the plan of God for our people, from faith to faith. In these ways we transmit our Jewish identity to our children, testify the reality of God and His Messiah to our people and are a blessing within the local church.
Jewish Awareness Ministries and other sound Jewish missions stand ready to help the local church in bearing its responsibility to bring the gospel to Jewish people and establishing the new Jewish believer in a local Bible believing congregation. There are many ways that local churches can partner together with Jewish missions. Certainly one way is to support Jewish Missions through the general fund of the mission. Another is to support a missionary with Jewish missions. This is gravely needed in our churches today – not only supporting missionaries in Israel, but stateside as well, as Jewish missions is a cross-cultural outreach and there are as many Jewish people in the U.S. as there are in Israel. Another way to get involved with Jewish missions is to have a Jewish evangelism training seminar at a church. Perhaps this could lead to the development of a Jewish ministry outreach in your church helped, but not run, by a full time missionary to Jewish people. With Jewish missions exposed in a church it gives the Holy Spirit a greater opportunity to burden an individual(s) about reaching the local Jewish community.
1 Gidney, Rev. W.T., The History of the London Society For Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, London Society For Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews, 1908, page 8
2 William Bjoraker, “Mishkan,” The Beginning of Modern Jewish Missions in the English Speaking World, Issue No. 16, 1/1992, page 62