Should Christians Evangelize Jews?
- 2004 2 Mar
Susan Perlman's passion doesn't play out on the silver screen, but in the day-to-day grind of trying to bring Jews to Jesus.
So it's no wonder that Perlman and her co-workers at Jews For Jesus think it's mostly a good thing that Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ is stirring up spiritual sentiments on both sides of the Christian/Jewish fence.
The way Perlman sees it, anything that gets the two camps to examine their own beliefs is a step in the right direction. And the New York native would like to see Christians speak out even more, in part because messianic Jews like herself are beginning to be muzzled by Jewish and Christian groups alike.
The source of this suppression is a growing trend among Christians who thinks evangelizing Jews is not so much wrong as it is pointless. They argue that God made one covenant for Jews and another for Gentiles and that it's just not necessary for Jews to accept Christ.
"It's called two-covenant theology," said Perlman, First Assistant to the Executive Director of San Francisco-based JFJ. "It's a teaching that's been going on for a long time, that there are two different ways to be saved. Gentiles are saved by the New Covenant and Jews by the Abraham or Mosaic Covenant and they don't need a new covenant."
A variation on that theme is the thinking, primarily among evangelicals, that Jews can be saved by Jesus without actually knowing him or even believing in him.
"This is not true to scripture and contradicts what Jesus said, that he is the way, the truth and the life and only through him can you be saved," Perlman said.
Another alarming issue, brought to light by controversy surrounding The Passion, is that Jews have suffered enough through the ages because of their faith and therefore should not be subjected to Christian witnessing.
Thus, JFJ is finding their ministry of preaching the gospel to Jewish people being ridiculed on several different fronts.
"I think sometimes people get confused between spiritual and moral," said Perlman, who grew up fighting social causes on the upper West Side of Manhattan. "I think Jewish people as a whole have a high standard of ethics or morals, so a Christian looks at that and says, 'They have the same integrity that I have.' But it's not heaven based. It's based on ethics and morals."
Not all Jews bristle when a Christian begins discussing Christ. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is involved in the Towards Tradition interfaith ministry, appreciates that Christians care enough to approach him with their beliefs.
"One of the mistakes Jews make is to regard an act of evangelism as an insult and assault," he said. "As a rabbi who is responsible for bringing thousands of young Jews back to the faith, when Christians proselytize me I thank them for sharing with me what is one of their great possessions. And, thankfully, we live in a country where a polite 'No thank you,' usually suffices."
No question that evangelizing Jews is a tough task for JFJ, but the ministry is not just about sharing the gospel with Jews. Perlman points out that for every Jew who is led to Christ, five Gentiles also come along.
Perlman offers some practical ways by which Christians can initiate spiritual conversation with Jewish friends and co-workers:
1. First, bathe the whole situation in prayer. You can always have a priestly ministry of prayer even if we don't have a prophetic ministry of proclamation;
2. Treat Jewish friends as friends and don't be a spiritual scalp hunter. Let them know you care for them as a person.
3. Share from you own life experiences. How has God answered your prayers? How has he worked in your life?
4. Offer to pray for them. Most Jewish people will accept such an offer.
5. Ask questions that lead to spiritual discussion, such as inquiring about a Jewish holiday that is coming up. Most Jewish people are not used to Christians listening to them.
6. Try to dispel some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that Jewish friends have of Christians. Say to a Jewish friend that you're grateful to God to the Jewish people because of the promises that come through scripture to all (Godly) believers.
7. Offer to sit down and share something out of a Jewish Bible. A lot of Jews think the Christian Bible is different, so they'll be more receptive to opening their own book.