Christian Conversion of Jews?

Dialogika Resources

Jewish outreach: No time to 'stand still'

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--"So many Jewish people are asking questions now that they've never asked before," Messianic leader Ric Worshill said.

"Ezekiel's wheels are on the move. We can either grab hold and go along for the ride or stand still and watch it go by."

Worshill was among more than two dozen leaders in Messianic outreach who met at the North American Mission Board to discuss ways to make the Good News known to the 6.5 million Jewish people in the United States and Canada.

Finding common ground was a key point of discussion during the two-day meeting of representatives of various groups involved in Jewish evangelism, including those associated with what is known as the Messianic Congregational Movement, which gives Messianic Jews places of worship where Jewish tradition and ceremony are respected.

Participants in the sessions included leaders from NAMB, the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, Chosen People Ministries, Word of Messiah Ministries, Joy of Freedom Publishing, New Covenant Forum, Light of Messiah Ministries, along with several seminary and college faculty members.

Years of conflict between Christians and Jewish people have made taking the Gospel to the Jewish community tenuous at best, leaders said. And some more recent disagreement about methodology among Messianic believers has made cooperative evangelistic efforts difficult to establish. But all sides agreed that more needs to be done to proclaim Christ to Jewish people.

The basic idea behind the Messianic Congregational Movement is that Christianity was a Jewish movement, so accepting Jesus as Messiah even today does not remove Jewish identity.

Not all those called to Jewish outreach fully accept the tenets of the congregational movement.

Daniel Richard Muller, general director of the New Covenant Forum in Toronto, agreed it's a complicated discussion.

"To make Jewish identity the primary focus of Jewish evangelism can lead toward a wrong focus," Muller said. "Our greatest concern is, 'Do my people get to hear the Gospel?'

"The problem we all agree on," he said, "is outreach to the Jewish people has declined."

Worshill, vice president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship and a Messianic congregation leader in Illinois, noted that the SBMF not only seeks to unite Southern Baptist Messianic believers but also to help all Southern Baptist churches understand and love the Jewish people.

"We're here to help advise them to reach the Jewish people in their Jerusalem. In their neighborhoods," Worshill said.

Worshill relayed his own story as reflecting the challenge of reaching Jewish people. "Before I came to faith in Jesus I was terrified of Christians because I was kind of a Paul," he recounted. "I was afraid they would steal me away from HaShem, from God."

Participants discussed a range of ideas for expanding Messianic outreach during the mid-May sessions, including the fostering of more diversity in outreach and church planting methods; seeking greater involvement from the church in general for outreach to Jewish people; and helping churches gain a greater understanding of the relationship between the Scriptures and ancient Jewish culture.

"There's an emerging sense among believers that the church has gotten disconnected from the foundation that existed at the time of Jesus. The first disciples were Jewish," said Bruce Stokes, professor of anthropology at California Baptist University. "To completely ignore that fact is going to affect interpretation and understanding.

"This is a difficult dance," Stokes added. "Jewish people are worried about being assimilated into Christian culture and Israel disappearing. Christians are uncomfortable because they feel like we're returning to Old Testament practices."

Rudolph Gonzalez, professor of New Testament at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the church must "capture the fullness of Matthew's Commission," while Michael Saffle, president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, noted, "The basics of the Gospel will always be 'Jesus is Lord' and that salvation is found only in Him.

"Does that mean it always looks the same and always sounds the same?" Saffle continued. "We have to be able to understand that as we come to Jewish people it's going to take a diversity of approaches to reach them."

"[W]e all have the same heart," Saffle said of a yearning "to see Jewish people come to know the Messiah."

Adam Miller is a writer for the North American Mission Board.