Christians have obligation to Jews, Patterson says in New York City

NEW YORK (BP)--Christians are obliged to evangelize Jewish people and to do so with respectfulness and confidence in the truth of the gospel, said two Southern Baptists who participated in "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism," Sept. 23-25, at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan.

"We do have an obligation to the Jewish people forever and forever, because the gospel came to us through the Jewish people," said Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, during remarks to a luncheon for Southern Baptist pastors sponsored by the North American Mission Board.

Acknowledging the hostile reaction of some Jews toward Christian attempts to evangelize them, Patterson nonetheless called for toleration and freedom of religion.

"I know that our Jewish friends probably do not appreciate the effort at evangelization any more than I appreciate the two Mormon missionaries who knock on the Baptist door," Patterson said. "But if we have freedom of religion, then it presupposes a free marketplace of ideas. ... The best case wins."

Jim Sibley of Dallas, the NAMB missionary specializing in outreach to the Jews, told the pastors Christians need to put more effort into reaching Jewish people for Christ.

"I do not believe that God loves the Jewish people better than anyone else, but it is a theological imperative," said Sibley, referring to scriptural mandates to evangelize the Jews. "Each of us has an obligation to share the gospel with the Jewish people. Much more needs to be done in reaching them."

Sponsored by Chosen People Ministries of Charlotte, N.C., formerly the American Board of Missions to the Jews, the conference was held at Calvary Baptist Church -- an independent Baptist congregation formerly associated with American Baptists and pastored by David Epstein, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose grandfather was Jewish.

In a news conference, Patterson was asked if he could understand why some American Jewish leaders were upset over the International Mission Board's recent release of a prayer guide to assist Southern Baptists in praying for the conversion of their Jewish friends.

"I thought I could understand, until I read the guide," Patterson responded. "Very frankly, after I read it, I failed to see why anyone should be upset about it. It's an educational tool -- first for Southern Baptists to try to understand something about what the Jewish people do in their holidays. Second, if you read through it, on almost every page there is request for prayer in behalf of persecuted Jewish people. ... For the life of me, I cannot see why anyone would protest that."

Patterson rejected the accusation that Christian evangelization of Jews amounts to another form of anti-Semitism or persecution.

"It's a case of using words to mean something that they obviously do not mean," Patterson stated. Religious persecution occurs “when there is coercion or deception,” he said. “ We use neither coercion nor deception but stand solidly opposed to both."

Others speakers affirmed Southern Baptists' publication of the prayer guide and the SBC's efforts to evangelize Jewish people.

"I sat and read a copy of the prayer guide word for word, and I actually thought it was wonderful and informative," said Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries. "It was well-written, accurate and a terrific prayer guide. I love being prayed for by Southern Baptists.

"I've realized it's not a threat at all because Jesus -- or Yeshua -- is the Jewish Messiah. If my people knew what I knew about Jesus, then they wouldn't be threatened by what I thought was a sensitive, educational prayer guide," Glaser said.

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, told conferees he is grateful for Baptist and other attempts to evangelize Jewish people.

"The Southern Baptist Convention has been very courageous on this issue and has taken a lot of heat on this issue," said Sekulow, who related his acceptance of Jesus as Messiah when he was a student at Mercer University in the 1970s. "Dr. Patterson, we appreciate how much you and your colleagues have done to share with the Jewish people."

During the news conference, Patterson referenced the "Resolution on Jewish Evangelism" adopted by the 1996 SBC annual meeting.

The resolution, which was originally submitted for consideration by Sibley, urged Southern Baptists to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people."

"I think the resolution has assisted us in taking the Bible seriously as the title of this conference says, 'to the Jew first, and also to the Greek,' a biblical quotation. Also, I have to say that we did well to stir up Southern Baptists to remember our Jewish heritage and the tremendous debt of gratitude we owe the Jewish people," Patterson said.

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