by Byron Spradlin
Infatuation with prophetic causes deters evangelicals from the main purposes of missions and church growth.
Israel is a long way from the United States, but the Israeli government draws many evangelical leaders closer and closer every year by hosting briefing tours. After spending eight days (June, 1983) on such a tour, I discovered a number of things that missions leaders ought to know.
The Israeli government courts American evangelical sentiment through these tours for a number of reasons. First, given the possible political clout of the American evangelical community, the Israeli government hopes that support by American evangelicals will generate positive sentiment in the U.S. towards Israel, resulting in continued political, economic, and military support. It is well demonstrated that Americans of liberal theological persuasion generally favor Arab causes. The government of Israel understands this. Therefore, they are success- fully ingratiating themselves to evangelicals and making their concerns our concerns.
It is not that I mind these trips. I don’t. Nor am I offended that the Israelis have their perspective and are pushing it. I expect it. My concern is that our lack of careful thinking about the Israelis’ purpose will deflect us from our real Christian agenda and hinder the indigenous Christian church in Israel at the same time. Instead of being gullible we should be skeptical.
Second, the Jewish community in general-as well as the Israeli government-wants evangelicals to stop evangelizing Jewish people. This is not well recognized by evangelicals. Yet the Jewish community continues to demonstrate a good deal of effectiveness in neutralizing efforts and focus on Jewish evangelism.
The Jewish community continues to wage a 4000-year-old battle against assimilation. It has assumed for at least 1,800 years that believing in Jesus means "assimilation." Therefore, the Jew who declares allegiance to Jesus is declared a "traitor" and a "non-Jew." It’s very hard for an evangelical to ask a Jewish friend to pay such a high price. Thus, the Jewish community, in dialoguing with evangelicals assumes that an acquaintance with evangelicals will result in neutralizing their evangelism among Jews.
I encourage evangelical-Jewish dialogue. But since most American Gentile believers are not accustomed to the pains born by Jewish believers when they accept salvation in Jesus, as friendships with Jews increase-in order to avoid the pain-evangelistic effort generally decreases.
Third, some evangelicals are infatuated with Israel because of their eschatology. Many evangelicals hold that the establishment of the State of Israel and the return of the Jews to their homeland is a harbinger of Christ’s return to earth. They see signs and signals in Israel’s day-to-day events that point to the Rapture.
Along with this general eschatological infatuation with Israel, some evangelicals also regard the building of the Temple as an essential event in their eschatological scheme. Midway through my trip we were carefully chaperoned to meet the self-described "Foreign Minister of the Temple Mount," a mysterious South African Jew named Stanley Goldfoot. The "Jerusalem Post" (June 17-24, 1984) describes Goldfoot as "a former South African who was once an ‘intelligence’ man in the Stern group underground. He was among those jailed by the young state of Israel in connection with the murder of United Nations envoy Count Bernadotte in 1948. In the early 1970s he was the publisher of a right-wing journal called ‘The Times of Israel,’ and was one of the founders of the Faithful of the Temple Mount…" Later in the article, the "Post" reports that Goldfoot, who Is not a believer in Jesus, "set up the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, whose board consists of himself and five U.S. evangelicals."
Our group was entranced to hear Goldfoot’s plans to work on the rebuilding of the Temple. He reported, "Central to our Jewish survival throughout the ages, the link between the Bible and now, and vital to the full redemption of the people and land of Israel – and hence mankind – is the Temple."
After a very charming time in his home, he directly guided our discussion towards how we could be a part of encouraging and financially supporting the rebuilding of the Temple. I was astounded at the seeming credulity among the scholars and prominent Christian leaders.
Though he didn’t state it directly, Goldfoot led me to believe that he would even use force (if possible and potentially successful) to wrest the Temple site from the Muslims. This is contrary to all present guarantees given and policies held by Israeli leaders.
Given the fact that issues like the Temple Mount are popular and alluring, involvement with such a side issue will shift the focus of evangelicals away from our primary mandate to bring the message of peace and the Prince of Peace to all nations, including Israel.
Fourth, equally appalling was the expression from some evangelical leaders in our group that perhaps Jews could be saved without receiving Christ. Since my trip I have learned that this view is growing in acceptance among evangelicals. They seem unaware of the implications of this viewpoint.
Others in my group seemed to torture their theology in stating that Jews could allegedly be saved through Christ even if they refused to claim him as Savior. In that way they allowed themselves to still maintain that Jesus is the only Savior.
A fifth major observation is that there are some organizations, such as the International Christian Embassy, that boast of their "non-evangelistic witness." That is, they don’t try to present Christ to Jewish people except when they are directly asked. I mused to myself, "Perhaps they think the Great Commission says ‘Go ye into all the world and wait around until someone asks you.’"
On a previous visit to Israel in the fall of 19811 met with leading indigenous Jewish believers to discuss ways and means of working together for the evangelization of their fellow Jews. Even then, the Israeli Jewish-Christian leaders were suspicious of these Gentile-led organizations whose chief thrust was "friendship evangelism."
The Jewish believers also resent the fact that missionary monies and interest are diverted away from what they consider to be the more legitimate evangelization agencies. Furthermore, they are unhappy over the fact that when organizations, like International Christian Embassy, plan such gatherings as the Annual Feast of Tabernacles – with legions of evangelical Christians attending from around the world-believing Israelis are seemingly shunted off to the side, lest they create embarrassment for the Israeli government leaders.
The leaders of the Israeli congregations are fearful that such organizations, with their toned-down gospel, are using the apparent involvement of government leaders to hype their own credibility to the worldwide evangelical community. Such hype does in fact syphon off worldwide evangelical support for indigenous Jewish believers and the Jewish-Christian congregations. Furthermore, the indigenous believers fear the inaccurate representations made by these friendship organizations.
The other problem related to the focus of these organizations is that they are apparently getting much support from evangelicals in Western Europe, Scandinavia, and North America. They are therefore beginning to have a major influence on evangelical understanding and energies relating to direct Jewish evangelism within the nation of Israel. My feeling is that these organizations directly develop an anti-missionary impact in Israel and neutralize evangelistic efforts among Jews in Israel.
But what of the church in Israel? Because of regular political, religious, and social opposition, believers have to speak in whispers and take care with whom they speak, while the professional friendship agencies serve as mouthpieces to proclaim the Israeli government’s party line.
In meeting with indigenous Jewish and Arab evangelicals, I found them to be reaching out towards each other and affirming one another in faith-while trying patriotically to support the positions of their own communities. Jewish and Arab believers love one another in Christ. In Israel I did not meet one Jewish Christian who wasn’t a Zionist or one Arab Christian who was not for the autonomy of the Palestinian people – yet these Jewish and Arab Christians are getting along with each other. But the Christian friendship organizations seem rather one-sided in their sentiment.
In conversations with members of my own tour of American evangelicals, I was surprised how many of them did not even know that there exists an indigenous Israeli evangelical movement. The leading indigenous Jewish believers are almost completely unknown to evangelicals in North America. Yet, American evangelicals, by virtue of their sentimental infatuation with Israel, are easily ingratiated to the secular Israeli state to the detriment of their support of the Israeli Christians, and the multiplication of Israeli Jewish-Christian congregations there.
Also, I believe that we should do nothing to prepare the way for the second coming of the Lord Jesus except to preach the gospel. I believe that God himself is able to rebuild the Temple without our help, according to his time plan. Though God will do everything that is prophesied, our present infatuation with Israel will only play into the hands and the aims of the secular Israeli state, while impeding the movement of God’s Spirit through the rapidly multiplying indigenous Israeli congregations.
When I was in Israel in October, 1981, Israeli Jewish believers themselves reported that there were some 20 congregations and somewhere between 400 and 800 adult Jewish Christian believers. In June of 1983,1 met some of these same leaders who reported to me that there were some 25 to 40 congregations and somewhere between 500 and 1,000 Israeli believers. When one really looks, it is obvious that God’s Spirit is moving and expanding the church in Israel. The problem is that many American evangelicals aren’t looking for or at the growth of the church there.
They are more concerned about "the land." They are looking for signs that will confirm their theological bias. They are befriending Jews hoping to win them, while losing their respect by appearing two-faced. They are dumping cold water on the indigenous, struggling Jewish-Christian congregations.
They are somehow infatuated with side issues-all of which syphon energy away from true church growth in Israel, bring hardship and frustration to Israeli believers, and do little to bring true glory to God in the land of his chosen people. May God lead us to pray for the Israeli congregations more than we pray for these expatriate friends of Israel or their causes.
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