Southern Baptists, whose 1996 Resolution on Jewish Evangelism provoked anger and charges of anti-Semitism, are once again at the center of a controversy over whether Jews may come to God only through Christ.
The recent protests against the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) began after the denomination's International Mission Board published a booklet in September titled Days of Awe: Prayer for Jews. "The Bible is clear in giving Christ's followers guidance regarding the necessity of sharing the gospel with the Jews," the booklet states, urging special prayers during the first 10 days of the Jewish calendar, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur.
The prayer guides have prompted heated responses from the American Jewish community. "It is pure arrogance for any one religion to assume that they hold the truth," says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "The call to prayer among Southern Baptists is doubly offensive and disrespectful in light of the High Holidays."
In a related event, a summer advertising campaign by Jews for Jesus also sparked public ire. The Internet search engine Lycos decided not to renew a Jews for Jesus banner ad after complaints from the Jewish community. Joan Rivers publicly denounced the Messianic Jewish organization after a Jews for Jesus ad was aired during a live broadcast of her radio show in July. "I am a Jew, I was born a Jew, and I plan to die a Jew," Rivers said. "How dare you advertise on my show!"
MILLENNIAL STRATEGY: Despite pockets of public opposition to Jewish evangelism efforts, the SBC's actions garnered strong support among many evangelicals during "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism," September 23-25 at Calvary Baptist Church in New York.
"There needs to be a renewed commitment by the general church to Jewish missions," says Mitch Glaser, president of the Charlotte, North Carolinabased Chosen People Ministries, which sponsored the conference.
During a press conference with Paige Patterson, SBC president and co-convener of the conference, Glaser thanked Southern Baptists for the prayer guide.
"I love being prayed for by Southern Baptists," says Glaser, who is a Messianic Jew. "If my people knew what I know about Jesus—or Yeshua—then they wouldn't be threatened by what I thought was a sensitive, educational prayer guide."
Jay Sekulow, a Messianic Jew and chief legal counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, acknowledges, "The SBC has been very courageous on this issue and has taken a lot of heat."
Despite the public attention, Jim R. Sibley, coordinator of Jewish ministries for the SBC's North American Mission Board, denies Baptists have allocated an inordinate amount of resources to reach Jews with the gospel. Instead, he insists, Jewish evangelism is just one part of the SBC's overall missions objectives.
SENSITIVITY NEEDED: Even as most Messianic Jews close ranks with Southern Baptists, most American Jews oppose the SBC strategy—with some exceptions.
Jeff Jacoby, a Boston Globe columnist, says he is grateful for Southern Baptist prayers. "As a Jew, I cannot share the Baptists' belief in Jesus," Jacoby writes. "But I can certainly acknowledge that by their lights they are offering the Jewish people something incalculably precious: eternal salvation."
Conference speakers acknowledged that Christians have often lacked tact in presenting the gospel to Jews and urged sensitivity to cultural differences.
"There are those in the field of Jewish evangelism who gauge their success by the extent to which the Jewish community gets upset," observes Stuart Dauermann, rabbi of Ahavat Tzion, a Messianic Jewish congregation in Beverly Hills, California.
Calling such efforts perverse, Dauermann cautions that "what Jewish people want to avoid most is not Jesus but pathology, disruption of family structures, incursions into their communities by uninvited zealots, and erosion of the Jewish community."
David Epstein, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in New York, notes the deep hurt some Jews feel toward Christians. "Often it's the heart that has been damaged so deeply," says Epstein, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose grandfather was Jewish. "We need to realize that our Jewish friends and relatives are hurting. They identify much of Christendom with hatred of them."
TWO COVENANTS? Southern Baptist evangelism efforts are fueled by a rejection of two-covenant theology—a doctrine developed by Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig (18861929), who claimed the Jews have their own covenant with God and therefore do not need Christ.
"It is true that a doctrine of two covenants to many has the ring of good news," says Kai Kjaer-Hansen, international coordinator in Denmark for the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism. "But if the gospel is not or no longer for Jews, then it is no longer good news for Gentiles."
This rejection of two-covenant theology holds significant end-times importance. The SBC's Patterson told conference attendees that he believes 144,000 Jews—12,000 from each tribe—will spread the gospel during the period of tribulation after the Christian church is raptured. "The gospel will not be raptured; only people are raptured," Patterson says.
Conference speakers largely rejected replacement theology, which defines the church as the new Israel. "It has become commonplace among more recent theologians to regard the Christian church as the new successor and replacement for the Israel of Romans 911," says Walter C. Kaiser Jr., president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. "[But] Paul proposes no new definition for Israel. For him there was only one Israel."
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