Salvation offered ‘to the Jew first,’ speakers say, citing Bibl
NEW YORK (BP)--Christians should give priority to evangelizing Jews and they should do so with cultural sensitivity, said speakers during "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism," Sept. 23-25 at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan.
Arnold Fruchtenbaum, director of Ariel Ministries, Tustin, Calif., referred conferees to the Bible verse from which the conference's theme was drawn -- Romans 1:16, which says that the gospel "is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."
The original Greek grammar does not teach that Jews would simply be historically first to hear the gospel but rather that they should always be first whenever the gospel is preached, Fruchtenbaum declared.
"The proper procedure is for it to go to the Jew first," Fruchtenbaum said. "This is not a matter of preference but of procedure. ... Even the apostle of the Gentiles [Paul] always went to the Jew first."
Stuart Dauermann, rabbi of Ahavat Tzion, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Beverly Hills, Calif., cited the example of Paul in Acts 28 when the apostle arrived in Rome and brought the gospel first to the Jews of that city.
"If the priority of Jewish evangelism is a non-negotiable, even for the apostle to the gentiles, ... then it should certainly should be no less for us," Dauermann stated.
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.
Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, called for Christians to increase their efforts and resources directed toward Jewish evangelism.
"There needs to be a renewed commitment by the general church to Jewish missions," Glaser said. "This needs to be re-emphasized around the world, particularly North America, as our larger and more influential evangelical churches, mission agencies and denominations must renew their commitment to Jewish missions. ...
"We support missions to the Muslims, Chinese, Hindus, university students and a host of other groups,” Glaser said, “but missions to the Jews today have often become the 'great omission' of the Great Commission. ... Our evangelical leaders in churches must once again be persuaded of the truth of Romans 1:16 and deploy personnel and resources in fulfillment of the Great Commission."
As Jewish people are evangelized, they should not be expected to discard their Jewish heritage and identities, several speakers stated.
"We see the Jewish community as our primary community of reference," Dauermann explained. "In other words, we see ourselves as Jews who believe in Jesus -- not as Christians in a Jewish style. We are Jews, a particular kind of Jew, a Jesus-believing Jew."
Such an attitude is likewise typical of the Apostle Paul, said Walter C. Kaiser Jr., president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass.
"We shall badly misunderstand Paul if we think he has renounced his membership within Israel and regarded himself only as a Christian," Kaiser said. "The apostle never seceded from his Jewish heritage and roots, for what he taught was simply a completion of his Jewish faith."
Anyone engaged in Jewish evangelism should be tactful and mindful of Jewish pain, Epstein cautioned.
"It is often not an issue of the heart that keeps many Jewish people from Yeshua HaMashiach [Jesus Christ]," Epstein said. "It is more of a struggle of the heart than the head. Often it's the heart that has been damaged so deeply.
"We need to realize that our Jewish friends and relatives are hurting. They identify much of Christendom with hatred of them. ... That evil is real that our Jewish friends have suffered through history."
Michael Rydelnik, a professor at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, said the church "has a tragic history of coercion, of attacks, of persecution of the Jewish people, of attempts at forced conversion. ... [But] throughout the history of the church, there were genuine efforts to reach Jewish people with the good news of the Messiah."
A good strategy for Jewish evangelism, Rydelnik said, is that the evidence and truth of "Messianic prophecy must be presented with respect and sensitivity."
Yet some evangelicals do not demonstrate sensitivity toward Jews, said Paul Feinberg, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.
"It is not uncommon that remarks about Jews -- even biblical characters -- are often insensitive," Feinberg said, cautioning against negative labeling of revered Jewish figures from Scripture, such as Jacob, whom evangelicals sometimes call a "swindler."
Dauermann decried some who seek to provoke negative emotions from the Jewish people they evangelize.
"There are those in the field of Jewish evangelism who gauge their success by the extent to which the Jewish community gets upset," he said. "I suggest that this is a perverse definition of success and certainly a perverted attitude for Jewish believers to adopt toward their own people. ... That stinks."
Dauermann further suggested some Jewish hostility is provoked by Christians who share the gospel inappropriately.
"Years ago, I was indoctrinated to believe that what the Jewish community wants to avoid most is Jesus, and that as a missionary to the Jews it was my duty to confront Jewish people with his claims," Dauermann said. "What Jewish people want to avoid most is not Jesus, but pathology, disruption of family structures, incursions into their community by uninvited zealots and erosion of the Jewish community.
"If you think Jewish people sit at home thinking, 'I've got to avoid thinking about Jesus today,' you're living in fantasy land. It's just not true."
Jay Bockisch, a Chosen People Ministries missionary based in Bethesda, Md., said gentile Christians can evangelize Jews without artificially adopting, for example, the clothing and culture of Jewish tradition.
"It was really through the love of two gentiles," Bockisch said of his own acceptance of Jesus. "They loved me enough to share the gospel within their context, but they didn't become something they weren't. ... No matter where you are at, you don't have to change to love your Jewish brothers and sisters."