by Moishe Rosen
God has a formula for world evangelization, which, if we follow it, will have the gospel going forth in power until there will not be a segment of any society that remains unaffected.
God has a formula for world evangelization, which, if we follow it, will have the gospel going forth in power until there will not be a segment of any society that remains unaffected. His formula does not have so much to do with the ingredients as it has to do with the sequence in which they are added.
According to our human formulas, two segments of our world society are the most likely to be evangelized, those who live within the framework of a Christian society and those who live in primitive areas. The first because they are near and dear, the second because they best fit the image of missions and evangelism.
But God’s formula is to bring the gospel to the Jews first (Rom. 1:16). The apostle Paul not only reveals the formula, but also the reason for it: power. Think about power formulas, particularly gunpowder. The ingredients are nitrates and sulphur, separated by carbon. Ignite them and you have an explosion. Now, following this chemical metaphor, the church bringing the gospel to the Jews produces an explosion. This is not a destructive explosion, but it moves mountains; this explosion can be heard far and wide because of its power.
But the church doesn’t like explosions; they are too loud and they unleash too much power. Power can be dangerous. But in our analogy, we must not think of destruction. We should think of this explosion as power at the center moving outward at a fast rate.
I don’t know how the nitrates and the sulphur feel when they explode, but I do know that in the encounter with the church, the Jewish community does not want that kind of spiritual power unleashed. But is that any reason why the church should not seek this kind of interaction with the Jewish community?
At most of the denominational conferences in the U.S., when the subject is evangelism, you hear people described as "unchurched," but never as "unsynagogued." Why? Because these denominations are so wary of offending Jews. By calling people "unchurched" they put the Jews beyond "churchability."
At the Second International Congress on World Evangelization (Lausanne II at Manila, July, 1989), we heard people discussing "unreached" or "hidden" people. Well, Jews are neither unreached nor hidden. They are reached, but not touched. They are not hidden, because there has hardly been a people since the time of Abraham whose goings and comings have been so carefully observed by outsiders. The Jews are not hidden, but they are hiding-hiding their hearts.
As we enter the last decade of the second millennium of the Christian era, we must face a simple, obvious fact: the church has won all of its easy victories. Missionaries have won almost all of the easily winnable people. In turn, they are preaching to their own brethren after the flesh in Africa, South America, Asia, and throughout the world.
At times the church has made a mistake in looking for the easily reportable, highly visible victories, rather than digging in and doing the toughest part of evangelism. Our spiritual muscles have grown flabby; the sinews of the spirit of the churches are not able to stand the stress of pulling the weight.
Engineers tells us that the correct way to succeed in a project is to use the initial energy to do the toughest tasks at the beginning. That’s because if we start at the easy part and then try to do the difficult procedures, we have a tendency to quit because difficulty means slower progress. Less progress signals failure. We think the work is sending us failure signals, but it is only saying that it needs more effort.
How one starts a task shapes the worker as much as the work. When you begin with the difficult section of the work, you take the measure of the work in a certain way that sets a flow and an energy pace and prepares you for the resistance of the work and for all you might encounter. Starting with the difficult part gives reasonable expectations of progress.
Reasonable expectations of progress have been lacking in our missionary efforts; our triumphalism makes reasonable progress seem too little. Reports of progress usually bring accolades and cheers. If we exaggerate them and misunderstand what is really happening, you get misguided strategies.
What does this have to do with evangelizing Jews? From the time of the early church, the Jews have been the most gospel-resistent people. They represented then, and they still do, the hardest part of our world missions task. But whereas the early church and the apostles attacked the toughest part of the work first, the contemporary church has not followed that strategy. My thesis is that if we plan a strategy to reach Jews, we will have a strategy to reach anyone.
When we follow the proper formula of world evangelism, the body of Christ builds itself and consolidates its strength, but when we take supposed short-cuts, or easy ways, the church builds weakness into its structure. For example, where the church holds a wrong view of its role and relationship toward the Jews it opens itself to weak doctrine and confession. A weak view of the role of the Jewish people leads to a weak theology. A low view of Jewish evangelism leads to a defective missiology. Logically, the reluctance to evangelize Jews leads to universalism, the belief that no one needs to be evangelized.
The devilish camel of universalism is trying to sneak into the camp of the church and he has poked his nose into the Jewish tent first. If that camel of universalism comes into the camp, he will bring in a whole herd of camels, each one representing a different heresy, and then the church will have nothing but camels and we will become outcasts.
The camel I see has two humps, each one supposedly containing a different covenant. This two-covenant heresy is being pushed into the Jewish tent of the church by rabbis eager to prove that the evangelization of the Jewish people must stop.
The World Evangelical Fellowship in 1989 gathered 15 theologians from around the world and they soundly condemned the two-covenant heresy. They reasserted once again that Christ is the only way of salvation. Nevertheless, some Christian leaders question whether or not Jews need Christ, while others question our giving priority to evangelizing Jews. By not following God’s program for world evangelization, that is, beginning at Jerusalem, or to the Jews first, we not only develop a bad theology, we also develop poor missiology.
Generally, our strategies in the past dictated that we take the gospel to people with inferior cultures. But what happens when we face the Jewish community with a continuous history that has developed institutions that make for a stronger society? Although a minority, Jews generally represent a higher percentage of physicians, educators, and leaders in music, dance, graphic arts, and drama. Because of their hard work and communications skills, Jews seem to have a disproportionate influence as opinion makers.
In the past, our mission strategies have dictated that we use education, medicine, agriculture, and so on, to open doors for the gospel. But when we face the Jews, none of these door-opening goodies work. To the Jews, evangelical Christian communities seem impoverished culturally. So, we have just one thing to give to the Jews, the knowledge of Christ. The church must ask itself a very tough question: Is Jesus enough?
More and more, I’m finding such wide definitions of evangelism and mission that their original meanings are diluted. If we say that our mission is to preach the gospel, people respond: "There are many understandings of what it means to preach the gospel and how it should be done." We complicate what should be simple. We need simple truths.
For example, some say that the church must earn the right to speak to the Jews after the Holocaust. For example, at the International Missionary Council’s 1947 meeting at Whitby, when it came to a discussion about Jews, it was said that because of what the Nazis did, the church has lost the possibility of speaking to the Jews. Many spoke about the need for a moratorium on Jewish evangelism.
Here again the church headed in the wrong direction. Instead of starting with God’s word and fulfilling his imperatives, they started with man’s feelings about himself and their human perceptions about the Holocaust. God had said, "Take the gospel to the Jews first," but now some church and mission leaders are saying, "We can’t do that because the Jews hurt too much."
What the Jews needed to know was that the hatred of the Jews had nothing to do with what Jesus taught or did, but this Gentile anti-Semitism was contrary to all he said and did. Persecutions done in the name of Christ were against what he wanted. So, persecution of the Jews, instead of becoming a reason to cease telling Jews the gospel of God’s love in Christ, should have become an impetus to do that.
But the priority of Jewish evangelism goes far beyond the spiritual needs of the Jews. Looking at the church’s missionary strategies in the past, the church came to the crossroads of procedure. One sign said, "Take the easy way;" the other said, "Take the right way." The easy way was smooth and went downhill. The right path offered obstacles and was a hard climb. Which way did the church choose? The shortest, easiest path to evangelism.
Now we must begin to backtrack, back past the points where we coasted into the easy way. But even as we turn around, we must recognize that the way back to the right way continues to be uphill. But God will help us and strengthen us to go uphill, because it’s the right way.
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