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Rabbi Singer: Why do (Messianic) Christians Evangelize Jews?

by Rabbi Tovia Singer, reprinted from www.Aish.com by permission

To bring about the Second Coming, fundamentalist Christians believe they must convert the Jews. Having failed in the past, they are now armed with a new arsenal of deceptive techniques.

No Sunday services take place here; this congregation meets only on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. You will never see a cross or an altar; there is an Aaron Hakodesh (holy ark) with a star of David adorning its velvet cover, and a Bimah (stage for prayer services) in the center of the sanctuary. The majority of the men who worship here wear kipot, and their tzitzit hang down the sides of their pants. This congregation’s rabbi, among many other functions, reads from the Torah and makes Kiddush every Shabbat. Most of the women are modestly dressed. Joyous shouts of “Shabbat Shalom” and “Baruch Hashem” can be heard as young couples greet each other. The sanctuary pulsates to a modern Israeli musical beat.

If this sounds like a description of a traditional Jewish house of worship, think again. The above is actually a description of any one of the hundreds of Messianic “synagogues” ……… which flourish throughout the world.

Confused? Many are.

Fundamentalist Christian churches use traditional Jewish symbols to lure vulnerable Jews.

Such congregations are designed to appear Jewish, but they are actually fundamentalist Christian churches which use traditional Jewish symbols to lure the most vulnerable of our Jewish people into their ranks. Messianic “rabbis,” many of whom are Jewish by birth, are committed to bringing the Jewish people to know Jesus. Their agenda is to make Christianity more palatable to the uneducated Jew, and to the astonishment and horror of the Jewish community, their marketing ploys are proving to be successful.

Twenty-two years ago, twelve Messianic congregations existed in the United States. Today, more than 300 actively attract and recruit Jews who, because they lack a sound Jewish education and support system, are buying the manipulative rhetoric and persuasive techniques of the Hebrew-Christian missionary movement.

Additionally, there are over 600 Christian missions dedicated to converting the Jewish people. It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 Hebrew-Christians in North America and Israel. As an exit-counselor who works with families to reclaim their Jewish family members from these churches, I can testify that the cost in terms of Jewish souls is dear.

WHO ARE THESE MISSIONARIES?

In order to understand the dynamics of the missionary problem, we must first understand who exactly these missionaries are.

To the Jewish community, the word “missionary” is a charged word, with a multitude of misconceptions attached to it. Typically, the word “missionary” is associated with those people who stand on street corners, annoyingly and ubiquitously distributing literature that tries to persuade individuals to believe in Jesus.

When we think of missionaries we might think of an organization with members, mailing lists, secretaries, and buildings to which we can point and say, “You see that building on 31st street, between Lexington and Park (New York headquarters of Jews For Jesus)? They are the missionaries.”

This is merely one of a variety of misconceptions we have about missionaries and how they operate.

A number of years ago I lectured at a large university campus in Ohio. In my conversation with a dean we began to discuss the work I do. He immediately reassured me that at his university, they did not have a missionary problem. He recalled how years earlier there were indeed missionaries on his campus who distributed pamphlets and misused traditional Jewish symbols for the purpose of evangelizing. “But we don’t have that here anymore,” he insisted.

“Tell me, are there any fundamentalist born-again Christians on your campus?” I asked.

A serious missionary problem exists on any campus where fundamentalist Christians are present.

He quickly snapped, “What? Are you kidding? This is the Midwest! We’re packed with them!” I then told him that indeed he had a serious missionary problem on his campus because, in reality, fundamentalist, born-again Christians are dedicated to the idea of bringing every Jew to a belief in Jesus.

Our second mistake is that we tend to view the Christian world as a monolithic group of gentiles who all essentially believe the same thing. In fact, the Christian world — with hundreds of variant denominations that differ on numerous fundamental theological issues — is far more diverse than the Jewish world. At a baseball game, it is sometimes difficult to know who the players are without a scorecard. Let’s break down the Christian world for a moment so that we know precisely to whom we are referring.

THE COMPLEX CHRISTIAN WORLD

The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest denomination in Christendom. Yet despite its past often-bitter relationship with the Jewish people, today Catholics are for the most part not interested in converting Jews. I need not worry that a Catholic priest is going to evangelize any of my patients at a hospital. If anything, he is one of the people who will show me where I can secure a kosher meal.

Another significant segment of the Christian world, especially in North America, is the Protestant community. For our purposes, we will over generalize and divide the Protestant world into two groups.

One group, the mainline or liberal Protestants (Methodist, Unitarian, etc.), is not at all interested in converting Jews. Liberal leaning Protestant denominations tend to shy away from any form of Jewish evangelism. It is, however, the other highly motivated and vocal segment within the Protestant community — the fundamentalist, born-again Christians — who are unyielding in their staunch commitment to convert the Jews.

There are two rules about Jewish evangelism that must always be kept in mind.

The first rule is that the Christian who makes the very first critical and successful contact with the Jew is never a professional missionary. It will not be a paid staff member of Jews for Jesus or Chosen People Ministries. Rather, it is almost always a layperson — perhaps a secretary at the office, a roommate in college or someone on the same swim team — who makes that initial connection. Only after the lay evangelical Christian has made this preliminary contact will the professional missionaries step in to the conversion process.

Secondly, the Christian layperson who makes that all-important first contact with the Jew is invariably a gentile. It is extremely rare for a “Hebrew-Christian” to successfully make that initial contact with a Jew. The perceived betrayal of the Jewish people by the Hebrew-Christian’s apostasy sullies his message in the mind of a Jew. Only after the lay gentile born-again Christian has made that first crucial and successful encounter with a Jew will the Hebrew-Christian missionaries step in to finalize the conversion.

In essence, the central role that Christian missions like Jews for Jesus plays is to act as a clearinghouse and support system for evangelical churches around the world. As a result, these “Jewish missions” spend much of their resources and manpower teaching lay missionaries in gentile churches.

How serious a problem are these Protestant fundamentalist Christians? How many born-again Christians are there in the United States?

Their numbers are not small. According to most estimates, there are well over 50 million Americans who identify themselves as born-again Christians. That is, approximately one in five Americans is part of this army of lay people dedicated to “share” their faith with a Jew. When I spoke in Nashville a number of years ago, an Assemblies of God minister bluntly told me that he would rather convert one Jew than 50,000 gentiles.

WHY THE JEWS?

A question that naturally comes to mind is: Why the Jews? Why are these fundamentalist Christians so consumed with bringing the Jewish people to “know Jesus?” Why has the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, passed numerous resolutions encouraging more than 15 million American members to target and evangelize the Jewish people?

There are several reasons.

Jesus said: “Go not into the way of the gentiles … but only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Firstly, the New Testament specifically prioritizes Jews for conversion. In the book of Matthew (10:5), when Jesus is instructing his apostles, he warns them, “Go not into the way of the gentiles … but only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The Apostle Paul echoes the identical sentiment in the first chapter of the book of Romans when he declares, “Go to the Jew first, then to the Greek (i.e. gentile).” We find a recurrent and unique emphasis on reaching the Jews in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, almost to the exclusion of the gentiles.

A second reason for this obsession relates to the Church’s fascination with eschatology, the study of the End of Times. Fundamentalist Christians are consumed by the prophecies surrounding the end of days. They want to know when the Messiah will come/return. How will this take place? To which nations did the prophet Ezekiel refer when he described how apocalyptic nations would wage war against Jerusalem before the final hour leading to the messianic age (Ezekiel 38-39)? Christian bookstores typically set aside an entire section dedicated to eschatological inquiry.

How does all this apocalyptic speculation and discussion relate to our subject?

At the end of the book of Matthew (23:39), Jesus is quoted making a very important statement. He says, “I will not return until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” Because Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience at the time he made this statement, Christians have always understood this statement to have one meaning: Jesus will not make his second coming until the Jews are converted.

The Jews, therefore, are holding up the show.

Fundamentalist Christians also believe that Jesus is going to make his second coming. Therefore, the Jews must be converted en masse, in order to enable Jesus to return.

(Bear in mind that there remains considerable controversy among Christians as to the year of Jesus’ birth. Many Christians — largely based on Luke’s narrative — place the 2,000th year from Jesus’ birth in the year 2007).

Finally, the most significant reason for the church’s preoccupation with the Jews stems from the credibility problem that the faith of a Jew presents to Christendom.

THE MESSIAH COMPLEX

Jesus was a Jew and Christians claim that he is the promised Messiah about whom the prophets spoke. The idea of the Messiah — who will come at the end of days to usher in a utopian society of love, peace, and the universal knowledge of God — is exclusively Jewish. Fundamentalist Christians insist that if the Jews would only look in their own Hebrew scriptures they would find Jesus literally bouncing off every page. It, therefore, stands to reason that the Jews should have been the first to embrace Jesus and his teachings, if in fact Jesus was the prophesied Messiah. Yet, the Jews were the very people who did not accept Jesus.

Jews should have been the first to embrace Jesus, if in fact Jesus was the prophesied Messiah.

This has always been a troubling reality to the Christian Church since its inception. It is for this reason that only the conversion of a Jew to Christianity can lend credibility — never the conversion of the gentile.

Peering back into world history, it would probably be quite difficult for any of us to think of another program that has been a more miserable failure than the church’s persistent effort to convert the Jews to Christianity.

Bear in mind that Christianity swept through Europe almost overnight. The same is true for Latin America. Yet the Jews, with all their problems of persecution and forced exile, still would not convert.

With the approach of the end of the second millennium, evangelicals were faced with a serious dilemma: How were they to finally bring the Jewish people to accept Jesus?

This quandary was no small theological challenge to the church. Two critical conferences were convened a little more than a quarter of a century ago. The first was held in Switzerland and the other in Thailand. The main questions that were asked at those two symposiums was: Why has the Church been so unsuccessful in their past efforts to convert the Jews, and what new techniques can be employed to attract masses of new Jewish converts to the church by the turn of the century?

It was at these two unlikely locations that devout evangelists placed the Jewish people under a microscope. Indeed, it was at these symposiums that those Christians understood that the church had a number of serious challenges with respect to converting the Jews.

PUBLIC RELATIONS PROBLEM

The first problem they discovered was that the church had a significant public relations problem. They concluded that Jewish people historically tend to equate Christianity with persecution. Jewish people often feel somewhat uncomfortable just hearing the words “Jesus Christ,” and when they see a cross or a church icon, it rarely conjures up warm, affectionate feelings. On the contrary, whereas Christians tend to feel quite comfortable in synagogues, or observing Jewish ceremonies, Jewish people tend to feel alienated by churches and their icons.

Taking this public relations problem head on, these evangelists initiated a unique approach. It goes something like this, “You’re Jewish? We Christians just love the Jewish people! Persecution? Oh, no! Any Christian who persecuted a Jew in the name of Jesus couldn’t be a real Christian. A real Christian only loves the Jewish people!”

This novel technique enables Christians to freely evangelize Jews by distancing themselves from their Christian forbears. In this way, potential Jewish converts will not feel alienated by Christendom.

Jews would not simply start converting to Christianity because evangelicals condemned anti-Semitism.

These evangelists realized, however, that simply smothering us with love could not in itself be totally effective. Jews would not simply start converting to Christianity en masse because evangelicals loudly condemned anti-Semitism. They understood that the essential reason why Jews do not convert is because they do not want to stop being Jewish, and Jews view Christianity as antithetical to Judaism.

With this realization, these highly motivated missionaries developed an entirely new and remarkably simple approach to Jewish evangelism. It goes like this, “When you’re becoming a believer in Jesus, you are not converting to another religion. On the contrary, you’re becoming a ‘fulfilled Jew’ or a ‘completed Jew.’ After all, Jesus was a Jew and his followers were Jewish; therefore, believing in Jesus must be the most Jewish thing you can do.”

Messianic “synagogues” do not observe Christian holidays. You will never find a Christmas tree or blinking colored lights around December in a Messianic congregation. Instead, these missionaries celebrate Jewish holidays with a “Christological” spin. Throughout the world, Messianic congregations hold elaborate and well-publicized Passover Seders.

A MESSIANIC “SEDER”

At first glance, a Messianic Seder table appears quite traditional, with all of the customary essentials: Seder plate, matzah, and wine. Once the ceremony begins to unfold, however, even the most uninitiated will immediately realize that something is askew. Participants are told that the wine at the Seder table represents the blood of Yeshua/Jesus, and the matzah represents his body. Do you know the real reason why Jews have three matzoth at the Seder table? To represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Do you know why the matzahs are perforated? Because Jesus was pierced through when he was crucified. Why does the matzah have stripes? Because Jesus had stripes across his back as a result of the beating he endured during his trial. Why is the middle matzah broken? Because Jesus was brutally broken on the cross. Why is the matzah wrapped in a white towel? Because Jesus was wrapped in a white burial shroud. Why is this middle matzah hidden? Because Jesus was hidden away in the tomb following his crucifixion. Why is the matzah brought back at the end of the meal? Because Jesus will return in the Second Coming at the End of Days.

Messianic congregations will never be listed in the Yellow Pages under churches. They are always listed with the synagogues. Additionally, the Messianic movement has created a remarkable tool for Jewish evangelism called a “communications card.” This card carefully guides evangelicals on how to talk to a Jew in a manner that will not alienate them as potential converts. A two-column card which is usually wallet-sized for easy transport and access reads:

“Don’t say Jesus Christ; Do say Messiah Yeshua,” “Don’t say convert; do say “Messianic, completed, fulfilled Jew.” Don’t say “Christian; do say Bible believer,” etc.

In essence, the Messianic movement’s fundamental approach seeks to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist a straightforward Christian message. To the horror of the Jewish world, it is a tactic that has achieved remarkable success with the most vulnerable segments of our community — the very young, the very old, and our Russian brethren.

Why are these at-risk Jews so desperately susceptible to this current missionary assault? Why do evangelicals cull our Jewish youth with relative ease? The answers to these questions will be discussed in Part 2 of this article.

PART 2

The Messianic movement’s fundamental approach seeks to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist a straightforward Christian message.

To the horror of the Jewish world, it is a tactic that has achieved remarkable success with the most vulnerable segments of our community — the very young, the very old, and our Russian brethren.

Why are these at-risk Jews so desperately susceptible to this current missionary assault? Why do evangelicals cull some of our Jewish youth with relative ease?

There could be little doubt that the intense and dogmatic obsession that fundamentalist Christians have with Jewish evangelism contributes to the success of groups like Jews for Jesus. If we were doing our job, however, a Christian mission to the Jews — no matter how creative, well staffed, and well funded — would pose little threat to the spiritual integrity of our community. But a lethal combination of circumstances and factors that contribute to the spiritual frailty of Jewish youth.

Young men and women are particularly vulnerable to evangelicals because so often these adolescents are unsure of themselves, the world around them, and the adulthood that awaits them. Teenagers and college-age youth are seekers by nature — they are searching for an identity of their own. They are wide open to spiritual suggestions that controvert and challenge the beliefs of their families. Moreover, adolescents are not renowned for being well-grounded or possessing an unflappable self-esteem.

Teenagers and college-age youth are seekers by nature — they are wide open to spiritual suggestions.

For most emerging adults, the university campus is the place where they experience full autonomy for the first time in their lives. A paltry few of our kids are sent off to a university campus armed with a strong Jewish education. Missionaries are well aware of how lethal this combination is for Jewish youth and, as a result, they devote a great deal of their vast energies to Jewish evangelism on campus.

JEWISH IQ TEST

Often, when I am lecturing at Hebrew Schools across North America, I give the young students a Jewish IQ test. “Tell me,” I ask, “what was Jesus’ mother’s name and what was Moses’ mother’s name?” They all know that Mary was the mother of Jesus, yet few know the name of Moses’ mother. Asking for the names of any two books in the Talmud, and any two books in the New Testament, will invariably get the same type of response. Typically, the kids could rattle off the names of all the Gospels in the Christian Bible and are clueless about the names of the Tractates of the Talmud. For the most part, we raised a generation of children who know little about the faith they are being asked to abandon.

A number of years ago, I received a hysterical phone call from a mother living in Long Island. She had just found a New Testament hidden between her daughter’s mattress and box spring. There was a terrible confrontation. The daughter stormed out of the house, and the mother knew she desperately needed help.

We spoke for quite a while. It turned out that her daughter was involved in a local Messianic congregation on Long Island called Olive Tree. I explained to her that if I were going to help, I had to meet with her daughter, so we set a date and time to meet. Elizabeth was not happy about meeting with someone like me, but after some well-placed motherly prodding and pressure, an appointment was arranged.

When I first met Elizabeth, she seemed friendly. Within five minutes, she began to tell me all about her new faith. She described how, when she attended Boston University, her roommate gave her a pocket-sized New Testament as a gift. She didn’t read it at the time, but just tossed it aside.

She told me how one night she was feeling depressed after an unexpected breakup with her boy friend and decided to look for some solace from her little New Testament. “I began to thumb through it, and I came upon a verse that moved me in a very special way,” she said. “It penetrated my soul to the point that I knew that this New Testament had to be the word of God.”

She quoted words of the New Testament that touched her so — these words were first spoken by Moses.

I asked her to tell me which verse she read that was so inspiring. She picked up the Bible from the table, and her index finger began to flip through the pages. Suddenly she said, “This is it!” She began to read this verse from the Book of Mark, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might… ”

This young woman had no idea that this sacred phrase is the most precious and celebrated creed of the Jewish people and is written in the Five Books of Moses. It wasn’t long after this memorable meeting with Elizabeth that she returned back to the faith of her ancestors. Less than a month later Elizabeth left for Israel to study at a women’s college for one year.

FUNDAMENTALIST RETREATS

Like Elizabeth, many Hebrew-Christians will tell you that the first time they considered believing in Jesus was in college. A university campus is one of the primary places that young people are invited to fundamentalist Christian retreats, prayer meetings, and Bible classes. What they will witness there is like nothing they have ever seen in their synagogue. People stand in their pews, crying to Jesus. Healings take place in the aisles.

Messianic Jews are exceedingly friendly. Visit a Messianic congregation: if you are a new face, members of the congregation, with big smiles and friendly words of introduction, will immediately approach you. They will want to know who you are, what do you do, and if you have a place to eat.

Messianic congregations abound in South Florida where many Jewish elderly reside.

The elderly are also perilously vulnerable to Jewish evangelism. It is little coincidence that there are more Messianic congregations tightly packed into the peninsula of South Florida than any other similarly sized region in North America.

Even more than from physical ailments, the aged suffer from bitter loneliness. The Christian missions volunteers who seek out and witness to the Jewish elderly in nursing homes are met with little resistance to their aggressive activities by these facilities or their residents.

A pretty smile and a warm touch are priceless commodities to those who are waiting to die. With minds that have slowed down due to the passing of time, and a soul hungry for comfort, our grandparents and great-grandparents are falling prey to the Jesus movement.

It is well known that Russian Jews are a prime target and easy prey for evangelical missionaries. Their upbringing in the former Soviet Union under communism robbed them of any Jewish education or understanding of their rich heritage. Few of these new immigrants are familiar with even the fundamental of their heritage, such as the Passover Seder or connecting with the State of Israel. This has proven devastating to the Russian Jewish community. As a result, Christian missions have invested extraordinary resources and manpower to large Russian communities in Israel and neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. It is ironic that although Jews of the former Soviet Union have endured Czarist and communist Russia, yet they rapidly succumb to Christian missionaries in the West.

A CRY FOR HELP

A number of years ago it became clear to me that although my lectures were being heard by many throughout the nation, and although there have been numerous young men and women like Elizabeth whom I have counseled away from these Christian groups over the years, the vast majority of the Jewish people have not been reached. Many former Hebrew-Christians complained that very few resources were available to them that would have helped them counter the persuasive arguments used by groups like Jews for Jesus.

More than 8,000 Jews will be crossing over to the Hebrew-Christian movement this coming year.

Something more needs to be done. It is for this reason that our organization, Outreach Judaism, works tirelessly with far-reaching and multifaceted outreach programs specially designed to counter the efforts of fundamentalist Christian groups and cults who specifically target Jews for conversion.

Our special Role-Play for teens is regarded as the most effective tool to inoculate adolescents against pernicious evangelicals who seek to rob these youngsters of their faith. For more information on this special program for teens, please see www.outreachjudaism.org/roleplay.html

If the estimates are correct, more than 8,000 Jews will be crossing over to the Hebrew-Christian movement this coming year.

Christianity is called “the church;” however, Judaism is never called “the synagogue.” The center of Jewish life has always been a Jewish home. This rich source of our heritage, along with a secure Jewish education, must be restored among our people. The place to begin is with our Jewish youth. They are our future.

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