By Rabbi Michael Skobac, Education Director of the Toronto branch of Jews for Judaism, founding Director of the New York Branch of Jews for Judaism, as well as a consultant to the New York Jewish Community Relations Council Task Force on Missionaries and Cults from 1987 until moved to Toronto in 1991.
Obviously, not all missionaries wear Jews for Jesus T-shirts, distribute religious tracts or wave the New Testament. Most evangelism is far more subtle. Many groups seeking to missionize Jews will insist that they have no such agenda, and instead they choose a more indirect route.
Two guiding principles drive their evangelism. Firstly, they assume that Jewish people resist the Christian message because Jews have been turned off as a result of 2,000 years of hostility by many of Jesus followers. If only these Evangelicals could get us to realize that real Christians love Jewish people, we'd find the Gospel irresistible.
Secondly, they sense that a great number of Jews have a very weak connection to Judaism, and that those who do affiliate with Judaism are expressing their culture or ethnicity, but possess little spiritual depth. They sense that many Jews may recite prayers out of a book during services, but will probably never speak to G-d in their own words once they leave the synagogue.
Deeply spiritual Christians feel that if Jewish people are exposed to their profoundly personal relationship with G-d, they will certainly, in the words of the New Testament, be provoked to jealousy and ultimately convert (Romans 11:11-15).
Tipping Their Hand
Occasionally, missionaries of this school let their guard down and expose themselves for all to see. In an unusually frank interview with the National Courier, Joe Dean, founder of an American Christian Zionist group, tipped his hand.
By standing with the Jewish people in love and support, we can provoke them to jealousy, as the apostle Paul said, so as to win them to Christ.
Not by cramming the Gospel down their throats, but by showing that our faith produces faithful works. I have told the Jewish agencies that we are not an evangelical group as such, and this is true. We are not actively trying to win Jews over to Christ but by taking this stand, the Jewish people don't run away from us, and we are able to witness to them indirectly, he said.
However, our Christian Zionist friends will only speak bluntly in-house, when they assume we are out of earshot. Frank Eiklor, head of Shalom International, works tirelessly fighting anti-Semitism and drumming up support for Israel. He bristles at any suggestion that he has hidden agenda. Needless to say, fund-raising letters to his supporters tell another story.
I want to see Christians wake up and stand up for the Jewish people. Only then will Jews be impressed and one day want Jesus as their Messiah! The key to Jewish hearts is unconditional love. More Jewish people are loving Jesus today than at any time in history, and we're told that our ministry is a big reason for that happening, he wrote.
While the pro-Israel advocacy efforts of these groups are laudable, their insistence that they have no hidden agenda rings hollow. Because many of them are genuinely sincere about their love for the Jewish people, they convince themselves that they have no ulterior motives.
However, we wonder if they really believe the double-talk they employ to placate an often-skeptical Jewish community. Jan Willem van de Hoeven, of the Jerusalem-based International Christian Embassy, has insisted that converting Jews is anti-Christian.
Jesus and the apostles didn't seek to make their fellow Jews Christians, but to make them better Jews, he said.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mr. van de Hoeven explained that those Jews who are converted under his group's influence remained faithful to their roots and to Israel. How does he square converting to Christianity with faithfulness to Judaism?
Provoking to Jealousy
In Canada, Christians for Israel is one of about a half-dozen similar pro-Israel organizations. They seek to educate Christians about two vital issues. Firstly, the importance of the return of Jewish people to Israel is a major sign pointing to the end times, and secondly that Christians must oppose anti-Semitism around the world and work to support Israel and Jewish people everywhere materially and spiritually.
One of their major efforts has been to partner with Exobus Project to assist Jews in the Ukraine in immigrating to Israel. Is there an agenda behind their admirable projects? Their publication, Christians for Israel Today, constantly speaks about how these good works will provoke the Jews to jealousy.
For Jews, this is a troubling refrain, especially in light of its New Testament implications.
Not long ago, I attended a Christians for Israel program at a large church in Brampton. Rev. Willem Glashouwer gushed as he described how Christian volunteers for the Exobus Project shared the love of Jesus with homebound Jews.
Paul Wilbur, a Hebrew Christian recording artist, exulted as he described how one of my dear friends is in Haifa today, to establish a Russian-speaking congregation to receive these immigrants.
They're clothing these immigrants with a ministry called Tests of Mercy and they're bringing them into the salvation knowledge of Yeshua, he said.
In Odessa in the Ukraine, three years ago in just three days we saw over 30,000 Jewish people come to know Jesus! They're getting on the Christians for Israel buses and coming back to the land of Israel. The word of G-d says, How can they believe unless someone preaches, and how can he preach unless he is sent? We can't send ourselves, but you can send us, he pleaded.
Leading messianic rabbis were also featured guests on a Christians for Israel cruise. The magazine, Christians for Israel Today included a full-page ad for the Hebrew Christian missionary program to honor the 50th anniversary of Israel that took place in Orlando.
I met recently with Rev. John Tweedie, Vice-President of Christians for Israel International. He assured me that his organization will no longer include Hebrew Christian leaders in their programs. Was this a principled decision based upon their opposition to such groups, or simply a tactical move to appease the Jewish community?
Should we be concerned about the motivations of Evangelicals who extend themselves on behalf of Israel and Jewish people? If we don't place any stock in the multitude of Christian speculations about various apocalyptic developments, who cares if they believe that their support of Israel will hasten the Rapture or the Battle of Armageddon?
However, if we suspect that they are making nice in order to lubricate the conversion process, why should we play along? We can appreciate their prayer rallies on behalf of Israel, but should we be encouraging our communities to attend?
Today, too many Jews lack strong spiritual immune systems, as well as the vital knowledge necessary to penetrate the Christian Zionists rhetoric and unconditional love. Is it prudent to risk their being provoked to jealousy and their possible conversion to Christianity?
Living in our precarious, unpredictable world entails taking necessary risks and appropriate precautions. For example, we rely on our cars every day, even though the possibility of a fatal accident does exist. How do we reduce the risk? We demand that all drivers keep their automobiles in excellent condition, take educational courses and pass a rigorous driver's test.
Similarly, when it comes to the risks posed by interacting with well-meaning, but spiritually alluring Christians, we can't ignore the vulnerability of many Jews. We cannot tolerate mediocrity when it comes to ensuring the road-readiness of our community.
Our schools, synagogues, homes, and communities must become bastions of a joyous and spiritually nourishing Judaism. Jews with a sophisticated level of Jewish knowledge (we don't expect less when it comes to secular education) and a passionate commitment to living a Jewish life are not likely to be provoked to jealousy.
These are very trying times. An Evangelical embrace may well be a double-edged embrace. However, if we substantially enhance our spiritual health, there's less of a chance of getting nicked.