by Robert L. Niklaus
ISRAEL: CONFLICTING TREND Two significant and somewhat conflicting trends concerning Jesus Christ are emerging in Israel. Jews are showing more open interest and less animosity toward the historical Galilean than in centuries past. At the same time opposition to Christian missions within Israel is growing.
ISRAEL: CONFLICTING TREND
Two significant and somewhat conflicting trends concerning Jesus Christ are emerging in Israel. Jews are showing more open interest and less animosity toward the historical Galilean than in centuries past. At the same time opposition to Christian missions within Israel is growing.
The prime minister’s chief press officer startled a group of evangelical editors touring Israel by telling them there is little resentment among the younger Jews toward Jesus. “Give us one more generation,” he promised, “and we may be able to say that Jewish young men and women are raised without any prejudice at all toward Jesus.”
This open attitude may be influenced in part by a government move which has resulted in a more favorable picture of Jesus, once a taboo subject. A new booklet and teacher’s manual for junior high schools portray Jesus and the early Christians with more understanding than some would have thought possible just a few years ago.
Rev. Alexander Wachtel, a “completed” Jew pastoring the Church of the Nazarene in Jerusalem, spoke of this significant shift during the Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy. “I remember how vehemently the Jewish people hated the name of Jesus years ago. They felt that He was demon-possessed. Recently I conducted a one-man poll. I asked some of my friends (their) position on Jesus . . . Practically all those to whom I spoke took the position that Jesus was misunderstood . . . . This may mean little to you, but it means much to me. It means that the Jews are taking Jesus back to themselves.”
At the same time the Jews are pushing Christian missionaries away from themselves. Approximately one hundred missionaries work in Israel under supervision of two dozen mission agencies.
Missionaries were never really welcome in the country. Proselytizing of any kind, overt or indirect, is absolutely forbidden. The famous Proclamation of May 14, 1948, promises only that members of a particular religious persuasion are permitted to practice their own beliefs within their own community. Missionaries have tried to honor these restrictions by practicing “presence evangelism” while concentrating on humanitarian efforts.
Then came the “Jews for Jesus” movement and its aggressive evangelism spreading to Israel from the United States. Offended Jewish leaders urged more strict measures against foreign missions in the nation. The Minister of Religious Affairs, Dr. Zerah Warhafting, recently suggested to the Prime Minister that he take action against “Christian Jews for Jesus” (Christians “converted” to Judaism in order to witness from within the Jewish community, according to Dr. Warhafting). The Minister of Religious Affairs also supplied the Cabinet with information compiled by Orthodox Jewish volunteers who posed as prospective converts and infiltrated Christian groups.
Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren broadened the criticism of “Jews for Jesus” to include all missionaries. He urged both the public and the government to act against them for “trying to extend their activities.” But the rabbi ruled out violence or illegal action.
Some Jewish youths did not get the message about eschewing violence. They burned the literature stock of a Christian bookstore on Mount Olives and tried to set fire to a missionary printing shop in Jerusalem.
A Southern Baptist missionary said in April, however, that the so-called crisis of missions has been exaggerated. “Government officials have recently assured Baptist leaders that no change in official attitude toward established churches is envisioned anal that religious freedom. will continue.”
This view is substantiated by a report on the thinking of Justice Minister Ya’acov Shimshon Shapiro who opposes new legislation. He thinks the “Jews for Jesus” phenomenon is a passing fad and told Orthodox leaders, “If you want to rule Jerusalem you must accept this kind of thing.”
The heightened interest in Jesus and deepened resentment toward missionaries may indicate that Israel wants to rediscover Jesus in its own time and way.
VIETNAM: THE CEASE-FIRE AND AFTER
The cease-fire in Viet Nam has benefited missionary work, at least for the present.
Approximately 125 Protestant missionaries in ten missions and supporting groups work in Viet Nam. Over half belong to the Christian and Missionary Alliance which began work in the country in 1919. The 53,400-member Tin Lanh (C&MA) Church is the largest Vietnamese Protestant group.
Some effects of the cease-fire have been immediate and beneficial. Missionaries are able to travel roads once closed by land mines and ambushes. Air travel has slackened sharply as buses and trucks move freely along the roads.
Rural areas and isolated mission posts are being reoccupied. One well known location re-entered is Hue, the ancient royal capital so bitterly fought over during the war. During their 1972 field conference, C&MA missionaries listed fourteen methods to achieve their goal of a gospel witness in all parts of Viet Nam. One plan is to place systematically teams of missionaries in every major tribal area to do evangelistic work.
Meanwhile the Tan Lanh Church continues its “Deep and Wide” evangelism campaign much as it did during the fighting. Six new churches were added last year to the twenty already organized in Saigon; the campaign goal is to open eventually 200 churches among the city’s three million people.
Withdrawal of American forces has removed foreign missionaries from whatever line of fire continues between opposing Vietnamese forces. It appears unlikely more names will be added during the ceasefire to the list of twelve murdered by the communists. Threat of capture has also lessened. There is no longer any value in seizing foreigners. Three missionaries captured in 1962, however, are still unaccounted for by the Hanoi regime.
Although missionaries are no longer targets of war, some mission workers feel a heightened sense of personal danger. No longer can they count on U. S. Army helicopters to lift them out of potentially dangerous situations.
None of the missionaries are willing to predict what will happen to the cease-fire and prospects for peace. A feeling of deceptive calm seems to prevail. But if the United States keeps out of renewed conflict there might be little danger to the missionary force. The situation would have to become very serious before the Saigon government would request military action by the Americans.
Even should the communists succeed in taking over Viet Nam, some mission leaders think missionary work would be gradually halted through political maneuvers rather than violence. Missionaries are generally held in esteem by the Vietnamese population.
Harming them would lose points for the communists among the people, a price not worth paying since the same result could be achieved by other means.
AFGHANISTAN: CLAIM TO FAME
Afghanistan, one of the most resistant nations to the gospel, has again proved this claim to fame. Although proselytizing is strictly illegal, the government has permitted various nondenominational organizations to carry on medical and educational work. By early 1973 over ore hundred Christians administered a medical assistance program, an eye hospital and two institutes for the blind, a day school and community church.
Erection of a Western-style church in Kabul, the capitol, apparently presents a profile too obnoxious for some Afghan officials. Troops were sent to knock down the building but were then recalled. Negotiations are now going on concerning the eventual fate of the building.
The pastor, Dr. J. Christy Wilson, was granted no such reprieve. He and his wife were expelled from Afghanistan in March. The medical assistance program, the eye hospital and institutes were also closed; their personnel were asked to leave the country. The charge cited by the government was “illegal actions.” Although the Christians refrained from active evangelism, they did witness to numerous Afghans who asked questions concerning Jesus Christ.
Apparently this witness, even discreet, was too effective for the government’s liking.
AFRICA: CONSENSUS CHRISTIANITY
Mr. Byang Kato, a Nigerian Ph.D. candidate, was elected Executive Secretary of REAM (Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar). Mr. Kato will take office upon completion of his studies at Dallas Seminary this summer.
The AEAM met for its second General Assembly last February in Nairobi, Kenya. Twenty-six African nations were represented among the 162 participants. The Assembly formed two permanent commissions: one for theology and one for Christian education.
Speaking of theological trends developing in seminary-level schools throughout Africa, Mr. Kato observed, “The basic philosophy of many of these departments appears to be a search for peaceful coexistence between religions in Africa. After interviewing several students and professors in these universities I discovered the general feeling to be that all men will be saved regardless of what they believe.”
Mr. Kato warned that this type of compromising theology will find wide acceptance in Africa unless evangelicals are prepared to do fresh studies in theology to state the evangelical position in the context of Africa today.
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