03 March 2006

"Proselytism" -- "to the Jew first"

by Dan Phillips
In many portions and in divers ways, the issue of Christian "proselytizing" keeps coming up.

In some countries, it is illegal; in ours, it is disdained as being in bad taste. "I don't care if he's a Christian, so long as he keeps it to himself" -- which is not unlike, "I don't care if he's a chef, so long as he never serves any food."

Whoever says this reveals that he knows nothing about Biblical Christianity. It is tantamount to saying, "Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength -- just don't let it affect the way you think or talk about anything, and don't tell anybody about your first and greatest love. Love your neighbor as yourself -- but learn to be OK with him going to Hell without you telling him the Word by which he might hear and be brought to saving faith."

In other words, "Be a Christian... just don't be a Christian!"

I'm thinking about this in connection with the Jerry Falwell incident. By now, you probably know about the initial Jerusalem Post (false) report that Falwell had been persuaded that Jews had an alternate way to Heaven that didn't require faith in Jesus. Frank Turk immediately did what I then immediately wished I'd done, which was to email Falwell directly. I've learned from Frank yet again, and am humbled and grateful for it.

Falwell put out A GRACIOUS CORRECTION OF THE JERUSALEM POST, in which he very clearly affirmed the exclusivity of the Gospel.

Thursday, the Jerusalem Post cleared the record. In fact, one wishes that the Washington Post and the NYT would learn from the objectivity and thoroughness with which the Jerusalem Post reports Falwell's categorical denial of their misreporting.

But my attention was caught by how WorldNetDaily reports this. In this unsigned article, the wording caught my eye and set me to thinking. To me, it reflects (not maliciously, I assume) the same perspective that fueled the original mis-reporting. Here is part, emphases added:
Evangelist Jerry Falwell has a beef with the Jerusalem Post after the newspaper published an article suggesting he's changed his beliefs about salvation, now thinking Jews can get to heaven without becoming Christians first.

"Falwell: Jews can get to heaven," is how the headline read on a story by Ilan Chaim, with its lead sentence stating: "An evangelical pastor and an Orthodox rabbi, both from Texas, have apparently persuaded leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell that Jews can get to heaven without being converted to Christianity."
The wording is of the sort that reflects the thought that what Christians are trying to do is get Jews to stop being Jews. This plays into the frequent charge that evangelism is anti-Semitic, or almost genocidal. The assumption is that "you can't be a Jew and a Christian."

Now of course, behind this lies the greater and long-debated issue: "What is a Jew?" Even Jews have differing views on this.

But let's reflect a moment on the perspective that what Christians are saying is that a Jew has to stop being a Jew, and be a Christian instead, to go to Heaven. The original story reflects that it is shared by many in Israel; you and I know from experience that it is shared by Jews and others everywhere.

I think of a Jewish lady I know and like. When I mentioned in passing "a Jewish friend at my church," she stopped me right there. There is no such thing, I was told, with some mild profanity for emphasis. If he believed in Jesus, he wasn't a Jew anymore. "What is he, then?" I asked. "Mexican?"

We then had the start of an interesting talk. Think of it: here is a woman who does not believe that the Old Testament is the inerrant Word of God, but who does define herself as a Jew, and does feel herself in a position to pronounce against the Jewishness of a man who does believe that the Old Testament is the Word of God. Others have no problem calling atheists "Jews." But not Jews who admit that Jesus is the Messiah. They're not Jews anymore.

There's something wrong with that.

By starkest contrast, as a Christian who -- unlike most Jews -- actually and emphatically believes in the Divine origin of every word of the Old Testament, I would say you can't be a Jew (except ethnically) without being a Christian.

Being a Christian by definition means believing what Jesus taught. Jesus taught that the Old Testament was the inerrant Word of God, and that it pointed to Him. Therefore, being a Christian necessarily and definitionally involves believing every word of the Old Testament, and believing that it finds its fulfillment in Christ.

Jesus claimed, emphatically and repeatedly, to be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. I'm sure you share my wish that you could have heard Him opening up the Word to the men on the road to Emmaus, and to the disciples afterwards (Luke 24:25-27, 44-49). If He isn't the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, then Jesus was wrong. If Jesus were wrong, I wouldn't believe in Him.

But I do believe in Him. This necessarily means that I believe that the Old Testament legitimately and actually reveals and points to Him. I do not believe it was a secret codebook; I do not believe that Jesus or the apostles rewrote it, or altered its meaning. I don't believe that the relationship of the Old and New Testament is "bait and switch."

Plain enough? Painfully?

This all means that, as a Christian, I believe that if someone reads the Old Testament and is not pointed to Jesus, he is reading it wrongly. Put another way, I believe that anyone who reads the Old Testament rightly will believe in Jesus. Affirming the truth of the Old Testament necessarily involves affirming the truth of Jesus.

In other words, I really do believe Jesus. (Breaking news! Christians believe Christ! Film at eleven!)

Let's be even more specific. If I believe Deuteronomy 18:15-22 (especially v. 19), then I must believe that a Jew must believe Jesus, or he is in the exact same category as the Jews in the wilderness who (A) refused to enter Canaan when Yahweh told them to go in, and then (B) refused to stay out when He said to start wandering in the desert (Numbers 13-14). He is ethnically a Jew, but he is an unbeliever (see Isaiah 1:4ff.).

The issue is not being a Jew, per se, any more than it is being a Christian, per se. It isn't a matter of religious self-categorization, much less ethnic identity.

The issue is what it has always been: what you and I do with God's Word. And God's Word points to Jesus.

So the issue is what you and I do with Jesus.

So when I call Jews to believe in Jesus, I'm not calling them to stop being Jews, per se -- depending on what you mean by "Jew." I do not accept the definition of a "Jew" as "someone who doesn't believe in Jesus." If a Jew (or anyone else) does not believe in Jesus, he does not believe in the Old Testament, among other things. And I have a problem with saying that someone is a "Jew," other than ethnically, if he does not believe in the Old Testament.

Whether for Jews, Mexicans, Americans, Russians, or anyone else, the issue is Jesus. Everything else grows out of that one central reality.

Where did I get that idea? Same place I ultimately get all my best ideas: from Jesus.

Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
(John 5:45-47)


IB Dubbya said...

Good stuff, Dan.

I wonder if it would be profitable to send this post to an "ethnically Jewish" co-worker (who doesn't like being called "Jewish," because he sees that classification as having distinctly and directly religious implications, the which he doesn't believe accurately characterizes him, since he is decidedly non-religious. Consequently, he'd rather be called "American," or "of English decent," or some such thing).

Sorry...I hope that parenthetical note won't waylay the focus of your post for future commenters...


FX Turk said...

I have no idea how a racially-Jewish person could "stop being a Jew". I do know that Abraham saw the day of Christ, and he was glad -- and in that, Jesus thought that being a Jew meant specifically that one accepts the actual Messiah.

Without opening a can of worms re: messianic Judaism, I really have no interest in making sure that any Jew "stops being a Jew" any more than I am interested in a German or Chinese person abandoning their ethnic/racial identity (Holy Marxism, batman!). What I am interested in is that the Jew, and the German, and the Chinese, and the American all come to know and believe in the Christ.

Chris Meirose said...

Again, it returns to one's view of Scripture.

Big Chris
Because I said so blog

stauf46 said...

Well put, Dan. I'm sure we readers wouldn't all agree on the finer points of eschatology, but we must agree on this much.


Momo said...

I am a Jew.

Galatians 3:7 (NKJV)
Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.

Dan B. said...

Great article. As history shows, many early Christians were Jews that had believed in Christ, and the Scriptures indicate in no way that they had abandoned anything, save attitudes or practices which led to a reliance on self-righteousness rather than reliance on Christ. It didn't seem that the apostle Paul wanted the Jews to stop being Jews, but to in fact not bar admission into the Christian faith for those who were not first Jews (ethnically, through Jewish circumcision, etc.).

It is rampant today, even among some in Christianity, that faith or belief in something is not to be "forced" on someone else, but when such truths hold eternal implications, the argument does not hold water.

Just my two cents.

donsands said...

Profound thoughts to ponder for sure. Thanks.
"Not all Israel is Israel"

"The words of a man's mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook." (Pr. 18:4)

Gordon said...

Excellent point, Dan. I'm glad that I have been grafted in.

4given said...

A Jewish Christian friend of mine sent me this after we discussed your post:
"The muddied line when defining the Jew and Judaism...
Judaism is a Jewish religion.
A Jew is an ethnic group.
THerefore a Jew can be a Christian."
Then he sent this: A rabbi and a priest get into a car accident and it's a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished but amazingly neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest's collar and says, "So you're a priest. I'm a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There's nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from G-d. G-d must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days." The priest replies, "I agree with you completely." "This must be a sign from G-d." The rabbi continues, "And look at this. Here's another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of Mogen David wine didn't break. Surely G-d wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune." Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest. The priest asks, "Aren't you having any?" The rabbi replies, "No...I think I'll wait for the police."

donsands said...

Hey, is that story Kosher?
I enjoyed that.

4given said...

My Jewish Christian friend explained the purpose of this story was to show the futility of claiming to "live together in peace"... being there is always an underlying motive that does not glorify God when compromising truth to "live in peace", but the motive is really quite selfish. I hope I did not offend anyone by posting it.

DJP said...

4given --

:: shrug ::

I liked it, I chuckled. Sadly, my memory's such that I can hear the same joke periodically, and enjoy it each time. (c:

It's still hard to feature that, to many Jews, they can conceive of an atheist Jew, but not a Christian Jew.