Messianic leader recounts journey to Christian faith
GRACEVILLE, Fla. (BP)--Judaism is more than a religion. It’s a culture, one’s family and network of friends, a way of everyday life intricately based on faith. Feasts and joyous celebrations marked with music, dancing and laughter are forever etched into the memories of its followers.
Just as vivid, however, is the monumental genocide and suffering endured at death camps such as Auschwitz where world leaders gathered recently to mark the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. The bond among Jewish people has brought them through trails like few people have faced. So, when David Hecht began questioning his Jewish faith in the early 1980s, it was no laughing matter.
Now nearly 30 years later, the Messianic believer and Baptist College of Florida grad has committed his life to proclaiming the Gospel through fulltime ministry and has been tapped to lead the Messianic fellowship within the nation’s largest evangelical body, the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hecht’s exact lineage is blurry like that of so many of his fellow Jews, connecting only as far back as the Holocaust and dispersion throughout Europe. The one thing that is clear is that he is a multi-generational Jew, he made a bar mitzvah at age 13 and was confirmed in the Jewish faith at age 15. With a mother of Polish descent and a father of Austrian descent, the baby boomer had known nothing but Judaism his entire life.
It was 1983 when, in his mid-20s, Hecht became restless in his Jewish faith, feeling as though something was missing in his life. Unsure where else to turn, he sought guidance in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Scriptures known by most Christians as the Old Testament. He began reading in Genesis and from there a seven-year journey resulted in mounting evidence that left Hecht wavering in his beliefs.
Hecht could not put aside the discrepancies found in reading the Tanakh and the Talmud, a rabbinic commentary considered the standard in Jewish study.
“There was just no peace in my heart when I read much of the rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures,” Hecht said. “You just know when you’re hearing error and I now know it was the Holy Spirit prior to my salvation that just did not testify to the truth of what I was reading in the rabbinic commentary. In many cases the Tanakh and the Talmud contradicted each other.”
Issues like God’s holiness and the law were confusing to Hecht. “When I was honest with myself, I wasn’t keeping any of the Ten Commandments or the 613 statues and ordinances in the law of Moses,” he said.
Reading through Leviticus 16-17 on the law of atonement, Hecht said God spoke to him. “In Leviticus 17:11 God tells Moses, ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ At that moment I understood that my sins had not been atoned for because there was no more temple or priesthood or blood sacrifice,” he recounted.
Without this atonement it seemed that he was doomed. The alternative, believing that Jesus was indeed the fulfillment of prophecy and the Messiah, was unthinkable in his Jewish faith.
“In Judaism there are many different beliefs for every issue. It’s really often a joke among Jewish people,” Hecht said. “But the one thing that is agreed upon is that Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah.” But his own personal journey would not allow him to let go of his nagging suspicion that he was missing something.
Hecht recalls with great sentiment the momentous day on June 15, 1990, when missionary Israel Cohen of Chosen People Ministries spoke in his hometown of Panama City, Fla. The gathering intrigued Hecht, who heard Cohen explain that each of the seven feasts described in Leviticus 23 are a prophetic picture of the redemptive program of the Messiah in his first and second coming.
The Jewish culture prominently celebrates the seven feasts as ordained by God when the law was given to Moses, so Hecht was intimately familiar with the Scripture discussed. “After his lesson, Israel spent the whole afternoon going through the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant Scriptures and showed me one-on-one that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy,” Hecht recounted. That day Hecht accepted Christ as his personal Savior.
A whole new life began for the new believer. Within a few years he began to feel dissatisfied at his job as an advertising account executive with Panama City’s local ABC affiliate, realizing that he was more concerned with his clients’ spiritual life than their advertising contracts. By 1998 he had surrendered to fulltime ministry and enrolled at The Baptist College of Florida (BCF), then Florida Baptist Theological College in Graceville, where he studied theology.
Hecht said his studies at BCF gave him the foundational preparation necessary to reach his fellow Jewish people. “I was given a solid biblical, theological, missiological, pastoral and administrative education on which to build a lifetime of ministry,” Hecht said. “The personal commitment of the leadership and the professors at BCF to raise up the next generation of godly leadership in all areas of church and public life is unmatched.”
Graduating in 2002 from BCF, Hecht and his wife, Maxie, moved to Wake Forest, N.C. where he is now a master of divinity student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His student status has not stopped him from beginning his ministry, diving into numerous Jewish outreach programs through the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, International Mission Board and the new Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell College to reach his Jewish counterparts.
Instrumental in his Jewish ministry, Hecht said, has been NAMB’s coordinator for Jewish ministries, Jim Sibley, who was a missionary to Israel for 14 years. Hecht first met Sibley as a student at BCF when Sibley taught a Jewish course as an adjunct instructor. A lifelong bond was formed that continues to influence Hecht’s ministry today. Sibley “has been the one God has placed into my life,” Hecht said. “He is my spiritual father in the faith.”
Mission trips last summer to Israel and New York City proved fruitful and further fanned Hecht’s passion for Jewish missions. His involvement heightened in June 2004 when he was elected as president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship during their annual meeting in Indianapolis in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual gathering. Founded in 1990, the SBMF was created by a group of SBC leaders who wanted to reach out to the Jewish community.
The SBMF encompasses about 120 pastors, lay men and women, congregational leaders, missionaries and parachurch leaders in conjunction with 40 Messianic congregations in the United States, South America, Canada and Israel in cooperative relationship with the SBC. The group’s purpose, as Hecht put it, is to “present the Gospel and Jesus Christ from a biblically Jewish perspective.”
Sensitivities to Jewish evangelism and issues like anti-Semitism do not escape the 47-year-old Hecht.
Reared in the traditions of Judaism at the Temple Shalom, a reform Jewish congregation in Galesburg, Ill., Hecht hopes his understanding of Judaism helps him reach the Jewish people while still being sensitive to their needs. “It’s difficult for a Jewish person to believe that Jesus is the Messiah because of the way the Gospel and Christ are often presented,” Hecht said. “The church has separated from its Jewish roots and is coming from a completely different perspective.”
This difference in perspective, he said, is like buying a 400-page novel and starting to read at page 300. When sharing with Jewish people, Hecht said Christian evangelists often begin at the back of the Bible. “You don’t open a novel and immediately go to the last section of the book and expect to understand it,” he reflected. “When we share the Good News with Jewish people, we often begin at the back of the book.”
Hecht said the Messianic fellowship is hoping to address the problem through work with Messianic congregations, pastors of Southern Baptist churches, state and associational evangelism directors, the IMB, NAMB, Bible colleges and seminaries, the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies, and through Baptist Campus Ministries on college campuses.
SBMF members provide training to these various groups, educating them in understanding the very distinct Jewish perspective and the sensitivity required in Jewish ministry. Hecht said the best advice he can give Christians who wish to participate in Jewish missions is to prayerfully study the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation.
“The Hebrew Scriptures, properly understood, reveal God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness and the promise of the New Covenant in the person and work of the Messiah as revealed in the New Covenant Scriptures,” he explained.
He counsels fellow Christians to intentionally and lovingly share the Good News with those of Jewish faith as did Peter, Paul and the early church while being careful to distinguish “Christian and Southern Baptist tradition and culture from biblical truth.”
As described on the SBMF website, among the objectives of the organization is to “encourage Jewish believers that their ethnic and historical heritage need NOT be lost upon their commitment to Yeshua.”
Ultimately the effort is fulfilled in seeking God’s heart, Hecht said, noting, “It is God’s desire to reconcile Jew and Gentile into one new man through the body of the Messiah, the church.”
More information about the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship can be accessed online at www.sbmessianic.net.