Last week, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago issued a statement to the Southern Baptist Convention regarding the denomination's plans to bring 100,000 missionaries to the Windy City next summer. "While we are confident that your volunteers would come with entirely peaceful intentions, a campaign of the nature and scope you envision could contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes," the letter said. According to the Chicago Tribune, the statement was "prompted by the concerns of local Jewish leaders" who are already upset about the Southern Baptists' September campaign to pray specifically for the conversion of Jews during the Jewish High Holy Days. And, though Southern Baptist leaders have been careful to promise the missionaries will not target specific religious groups, many of the negative comments about the plan focus on targeted evangelism.
Targeted evangelism, particularly targeting Jews, has always been controversial. The archives of Christianity Today are filled with discussions of the topic. Today we publish one of our earliest editorials on the subject, "Christmas and the Modern Jew," an unsigned editorial from the December 8, 1958 issue of the magazine. In that same issue, we ran an article by Rabbi Arthur Gilbert, then director of Interreligious Cooperation for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, on the "Christian Approach to the Jew." In today's ChristianityToday.com postings, we turn again to a well-known rabbi, Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, to help us as Christians tounderstand the Jewish perspectiveon targeted and general evangelism. (We are also republishing Billy Graham's famousstatementin a 1973 issue of CT that he "never felt called to single out the Jews" for evangelism and his reiteration of that stand in aspeechbefore the American Jewish Committee four years later.)
During the sacred seasons of the year, whether Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, or the Hebrew Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), the question of the Christian witness to the Jew inevitably comes to special focus. The current articles in Christianity Today recognize the awesome implications of the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the unique incarnation of the living God. So extraordinary is this claim in its involvement of the whole race that the Christian dare not muffle its pronouncement, nor dare the Hebrew ignore it. It is as impossible for the Christian missionary to hide the Light of the World in a Gentile cellar as it is for the spiritually-concerned Jew to evade the question of the promised Messiah.
Yet in our era the Christian witness often seems to lack both good missionary strategy toward the Jew and a sensitivity to his situation in life. However compelling they may be, evidences of Jesus' Messiahship are not necessarily the best point of contact with the twentieth-century Hebrew. He sometimes wonders why, since New Testament times, Christians so often have treated the Jews so much like the Jews treated the Old Testament Canaanites and other Palestinian pagans (since the Hebrews then considered themselves under divine command, whereas Christians profess devotion to Jesus Christ, who taught that love fulfills the commandments and who required the love of enemy and neighbor alike). The long story of persecution of the Jew in the so-called Christian West has only too often dropped a silencing curtain over the Christian witness.
In the twentieth century, however, the Jew is increasingly aware that not all who call Christ Lord need really be identified with his Kingdom, any more than all who call Abraham father need really be Jews. The conflict between faith and secularism among Jews regathered in Israel has reiterated the spiritual problem with new impact. Even many a Jew in the West, who has no desire to surrender the culture and comfort of the New World, and therefore invests money rather than muscle in the Palestinian vision, nonetheless also recognizes the seeming worthlessness of life today. Most men are now convinced that doing things faster holds no guarantee that life becomes better. Actually the age of speed seems the more swiftly to have deteriorated morality and spirituality.
It is at this point of the emptiness of life that the Christian witness finds its most direct point of contact with modern Jewry. Christ's capacity to banish the drab monotony of existence by restoring confused, lost souls to the fellowship of the Father, and by meeting life's deepest spiritual needs, is today's most fruitful Christian contact with the Hebrew world. The greater percent of Jewry has lost its Old Testament heritage just as fully as the Gentile world has forsaken its Christian inheritance. It becomes strategic therefore to approach the Jew today first as a modern man rather than as a Hebrew. In a world fraught with anxiety and fear, nobody need doubt that the crucified and risen Christ is ready and able to satisfy the needs of all who put their trust in him. This fact explains the refusal of the Hebrew martyrs of the Apostolic Age to be silenced. They knew that the Lord who had redeemed and commissioned them not only views this world's struggle from his glory but also keeps ceaseless watch over his own.
Jew and Christian who in the past have persecuted each other under the pretense of piety, in modern times have both come to grief through persecution by pagans. In apostolic times it was Saul against the Christians. In medieval times it was the Roman hierarchy against the Jew and the dissenting Christian. In modern times it has been Stalin persecuting first the Christians, then the Jews, and Hitler persecuting first the Jews, then the Christians. More than ever, an hour has struck in world affairs for all to draw near whose religious vision is Semitic, and who wait for Messiah's coming.
An existential approach to the modern Jew, however, by no means rules out the importance of Christian evidences. Basically, mankind's religious fate hinges upon the authenticity of revealed religion; the heart of that revelation is the promise of a supernatural Redeemer. The answer to Jesus' question (recorded in Matthew's Gospel, 22:42), "What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he?" even still determines spiritual destinies. It is no accident of Hebrew history that since the repudiation of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, Jewish religious conscience has found its peace mainly by repudiating also the God of Old Testament promise; for trust in a Redeemer it substitutes works as the hope of justification. Religious history has indeed validated Christ's words: "He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him" (John 5:23, RSV).
If Christmas serves to accent today's emptiness of the Hebrew heart, it reveals even more tragically the emptiness of the Gentile heart. While the New Testament opens with the Jewish rejection but the Gentile acceptance of Jesus of Nazareth, multitudes of Gentiles today regard the label of Christian as simply a negative means of distinguishing themselves from the non-Christian world. By such perversion of the name of Christ they actually betray an identity with, rather than a distinction from, the non-Christian masses. The spiritual plight of our times concerns Jew and Gentile alike. All the world needs to hear and to heed the Gospel of the Savior's rescue of fallen men from the guilt and penalty and power of sin. Through many long centuries it was appropriate indeed to stress, as did Saul of Tarsus ("an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee," Phil. 3:5): " ... I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first ... " (Rom. 1:16). In our period of spiritual sloth, however, it has become equally imperative to emphasize the closing words of text: " ... and also to the Greek." A very real tragedy of Christmas today is that while once it was the Jew who was the unresponsive object of the biblical witness, today most of the non-Jewish world shares the Hebrew's emptiness of soul and his lack of heart for life.
It is sobering to remember, however, that when the Babe of Bethlehem was born, neither Jew nor Gentile knew God at close range. While the Gentiles were whoring after false gods, the Jews, as Jesus of Nazareth so incisively reminded them, were crumbling under formalism and externalism. It was a lowering day for the religion of redemption. But the star that rose over Bethlehem glowed with the light of new hope. That star is shining still, not in the physical heavens to be found by worldly wisdom, but in the eyes and hearts of those who have unburdened their sins on the Lamb of God who "taketh away the sin of the world."
See today's top story about evangelism and the Jews, "Witnessing vs. Proselytizing," by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, and two other CT Classics:, "Billy Graham: 'I have never felt called to single out the Jews' " (March 16, 1973), and "Graham Feted By American Jewish Committee" (Nov. 18, 1977).
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