Preying on the Jews
No Sunday services take place in this church. This congregation meets only on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. You will never see a cross or an altar. Instead, there is an Aron Kodesh (holy ark) with a star of David adorning its velvet cover, and a Bimah (stage for prayer services) in the center of the sanctuary.
Evangelical Christian churches use traditional Jewish symbols to entice vulnerable Jews.
The majority of the men who worship here wear kipot, and their tzitzit hang down the sides of their pants.
Most of the women are modestly dressed.
This congregation’s rabbi, among many other functions, reads from the Torah and makes Kiddush every Shabbat.
Joyous shouts of “Shabbat Shalom” and “Baruch Hashem” can be heard as young couples greet each other. The sanctuary pulsates to a modern Israeli musical beat.
If this sounds like a description of a traditional Jewish house of worship, think again. It is actually a description of any one of hundreds of Messianic “synagogues” which flourish throughout the world.
Many Jews are.
Such congregations are designed to appear Jewish, but they are actually fundamentalist Christian churches which use traditional Jewish symbols to lure the most vulnerable of our Jewish people into their ranks.
Messianic “rabbis,” many of whom are Jewish by birth, are committed to bringing the Jewish people to know Jesus. Their agenda is to make Christianity more palatable to the uneducated Jew, and to the astonishment and horror of the Jewish community, their marketing ploys are proving to be successful.
If the estimates are correct, more than 8,000 Jews cross over to the “Hebrew-Christian” movement each year!
Only a few decades ago, there were only a handful of Messianic congregations throughout the United States. But today, many hundreds actively attract and recruit Jews who, because they lack a sound Jewish education and support system, are buying the manipulative rhetoric and persuasive techniques of the Hebrew-Christian missionary movement.
In addition, there are over 1,000 Christian missions dedicated to converting the Jewish people. It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 Hebrew-Christians in North America and Israel.
As an exit-counselor who works with families to reclaim their Jewish family members from these churches, I can testify that the cost in terms of Jewish souls is dear.
In order to understand the dynamics of the missionary problem, we must first understand who exactly these missionaries are.
To the Jewish community, the word missionary is a negatively-charged word, with a multitude of misconceptions attached to it. It typically brings to mind people who stand on street corners, annoyingly and ubiquitously distributing literature, seeking to persuade individuals to believe in Jesus.
What comes to mind is a well-organized missionary group, highly centralized, clearly identifiable organization with zealous members, large mailing lists, secretaries, and a building to which we can point and say, “You see that place on 31st Street, between Lexington and Park Avenue? That’s the New York headquarters of Jews for Jesus. They are the missionaries.”
This is merely one of a variety of misconceptions we have about missionaries and how they operate.
Who are these missionaries?
A number of years ago, I lectured at a large university campus in Ohio. In my conversation with a dean, we began to discuss the work I do. He immediately reassured me that there was no missionary activity at his university. He recalled how years earlier there were indeed missionaries on his campus who distributed pamsphlets and misused traditional Jewish symbols for the purpose of evangelizing. “But we don’t have that here anymore,” he insisted.
“Tell me,” I asked, “are there any fundamentalist born-again Christians on your campus?”
He quickly snapped, “What? Are you kidding? This is the Midwest! We’re packed with them!” I then informed him that in fact he had a serious missionary problem on his campus because, with rare exceptions,1 fundamentalist, born-again Christians are dedicated to bringing every Jew to the Cross.
A serious missionary problem exists on any campus with evangelical, fundamentalist Christians
Our second mistake as Jews is that we have a tendency to view the Christian world as a monolithic group of gentiles who all essentially believe the same thing.
In fact, the Christian world is composed of hundreds of varying denominations that differ on numerous fundamental theological issues. Simply put, the Church is far more diverse and fractured than the Jewish world.
At a baseball game, it is sometimes difficult to know who the players are without a scorecard. So let’s break down the Christian world for a moment so that we know precisely to whom we are referring.
Sorting out the complex Christian world – Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants are generally not interested in Jewish evangelism
The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest denomination in Christendom. Yet the irony is that despite Rome’s past bitter relationship with the Jewish people, today’s Catholic Church is, for the most part, not interested in converting Jews.
I need not worry that a Catholic priest is going to evangelize a Jewish patient at a hospital. If anything, he is one of the people who will show me where I can secure a kosher meal!
Another significant segment of the Christian world, especially in North America, is the Protestant community. For our purposes, we will over generalize and divide the Protestant world into two groups:
Mainline or liberal Protestant denominations (Methodist, Episcopalian, Unitarian, etc.) are not at all interested in converting Jews. Liberal-leaning Protestant denominations tend to shy away from Jewish evangelism.
The other group within the Protestant community, however, is highly-motivated and vocal. These are the fundamentalist, “born-again” Christians, who are unyielding in their staunch commitment to convert Jews to their zealous brand of Christianity.
There are two rules about Jewish evangelism that must always be kept in mind.
The first rule is that the Christian who makes the very first critical and successful contact with the Jew is almost never a professional missionary. It will not be a paid staff member of Jews for Jesus or Chosen People Ministries.
Rather, it is most likely to be a lay-person – perhaps a secretary at the office, a roommate in college or someone on the same swim team – who makes that initial, effective connection. Only after the lay evangelical Christian has made this preliminary contact will the professional missionary step into the conversion process.
Second, the Christian layperson who makes that all-important first contact with the Jew is invariably a gentile. It is extremely rare for a “Hebrew- Christian” to successfully make that initial contact with a Jew.
Lay, gentile parishioners are most effective in evangelizing the Jews
The perceived betrayal of the Jewish people by the Hebrew-Christian’s apostasy discredits his message in the mind of a Jew. Non-Jewish Christians, on the other hand, do not repel Jews.
Only after the lay, gentile born-again Christian has made that first crucial and successful encounter with a Jew will the Hebrew-Christian missionaries step in to finalize the conversion.
In essence, the central role that Christian missions like Jews for Jesus plays is to act as a clearinghouse and support system for evangelical churches around the world. As a result, these Jewish missions spend much of their resources and manpower instructing lay missionaries in gentile churches in the art of Jewish-evangelism.
How serious a problem are these Protestant, fundamentalist Christians? How many born-again Christians are there in the United States? Their numbers are not small. They are the largest voting block in the United States. According to most estimates, there are well over 70 million Americans who identify themselves as “born-again Christians.” That is, nearly one in five Americans is part of this army of lay people dedicated to share their faith with a Jew. When I spoke at a Nashville synagogue a number of years ago, an Assemblies of God minister bluntly told me that he would rather convert one Jew than 50,000 gentiles!
Several reasons why fundamentalist Christians are obsessed with converting the Jews
The question that naturally comes to mind is: Why us? Why the overzealous effort to convert Jews? Why are these fundamentalist Christians so consumed with bringing the Jewish people to know Jesus? Why has the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, passed numerous resolutions encouraging its more than 15-million American members to target and evangelize the Jewish people?
Christian Bible prioritizes the Jews
To begin with, the New Testament specifically prioritizes Jews for conversion. In the book of Matthew, when Jesus is instructing his apostles, he warns them:
“Go not into the way of the gentiles…but only go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The Apostle Paul echoes the identical sentiment in the first chapter of the Book of Romans when he declares:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek [gentile].”
We find a unique emphasis on reaching the Jews in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels, almost to the exclusion of the gentiles.
A second reason for this obsession relates to the Church’s fascination with eschatology, the study of the End Times. Fundamentalist Christians are consumed by the prophecies surrounding the End of Days. They want to know when the Messiah will come/return. How will this take place? To which nations did the prophet Ezekiel refer when he described how apocalyptic nations would wage war against Jerusalem before the final hour leading to the messianic age (Ezekiel 38-39)?
Christian bookstores typically set aside an entire section dedicated to eschatological inquiry.
Of course, the Jewish people eagerly await the “End of Days,” and the coming of The Messiah. This faith is one of Maimonides’s “Thirteen Fundamental Principles of Faith.” However, the Jewish concept of The Messiah (Mashiach in Hebrew) is entirely different from that of Christians.
Evangelical Christians widely believe that the mass conversion of the Jews will bring about Jesus’ “second coming”
How does all this apocalyptic speculation relate to our subject?
At the end of the book of Matthew (23:39), Jesus is quoted making a very important statement. He says,
“I will not return until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Because Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience at the time he made this statement, Christians have often understood this proclamation to have one meaning: Jesus will not make his second coming until large numbers of Jews embrace the Church.
The Jews, in a sense, are holding up the show. These evangelicals believe that Jesus’ second coming is imminent and the Jews must be converted posthaste and en masse in order to enable Jesus’ return.
Finally, the most significant reason for the Church’s preoccupation with the Jews stems from the unique credibility problem that only Judaism presents to Christendom.
Jesus was a Jew, and Christians claim that he is the promised Messiah about whom all the prophets spoke.
The idea of the Messiah – a man who will come at the End of Days to usher in a utopian society of love, peace, and the universal knowledge of God – is an exclusively Jewish idea.
Fundamentalist Christians insist that if the Jews would only look in their own Hebrew Scriptures, they would discover that Jesus is bouncing off every page.
It stands to reason, therefore, that if in fact Jesus had been the prophesied Messiah, the Jews should have been the first to follow Jesus and his teachings. They should have overwhelmingly embraced the claims of the Church.
Instead, the very people who brought the idea of a Messiah to the world, and the only people who can read their Scriptures in its original language, are the very people who rejected the claims of the Church. This has always been a troubling reality to Christendom since its inception.
Only the conversion of the Jew to Christianity lends credibility to the Church
It is for this reason that only the conversion of a Jew to Christianity can lend credibility to the Church – never the conversion of the gentile.
Peering back into world history, it would probably be quite difficult to imagine another program that has been a more miserable failure than the Church’s persistent effort to convert the Jews to Christianity.
Bear in mind that Christianity swept through Europe almost overnight. The same is true for Latin America. Yet the Jews, despite the unyielding persecution and forced exile that they endured rather than embrace Christianity, still would not convert.
Why has it been so difficult for the Church to persuade Jesus’ coreligionists to embrace the Cross?
Evangelicals sought to understand why it was so difficult to convert the Jews
In recent times, with the approach of the end of the second millennium, evangelicals were faced with a serious dilemma: How could they successfully induce the Chosen People to choose the Cross? This quandary presented a considerable challenge to the Church.
With the year 2000 in sight, two critical conferences were convened during the mid-1970s. The most significant symposiums were held in Switzerland and Thailand. The mystery they sought to unravel at these gatherings was simple:
- Why has the Church been so unsuccessful in their past efforts to convert the Jews? And more importantly,
- What new techniques can the Church employ to finally attract masses of new, unclaimed Jewish souls?
Christian leaders grasped that the Church had a significant PR problem with the Jews
It was at these unlikely locations that devout evangelists placed the Jewish people under a microscope. Indeed, it was at these symposiums that those Christians grasped that the Church had a number of unique, serious challenges with respect to converting the Jews.
The first problem they discovered was that the Church had to overcome a significant public relations problem.
They concluded that Jewish people historically tend to equate Christianity with persecution. Jewish people often feel somewhat uncomfortable just hearing the words “Jesus Christ,” and when they see a Cross or a Church icon, it rarely conjures up warm, affectionate feelings.
On the contrary, whereas Christians tend to feel quite comfortable in synagogues, or observing Jewish ceremonies, Jewish people tend to feel alienated by churches and its rituals.
“We love the Jews!”
Tackling this public relations problem head on, these evangelists embarked on a nearly unprecedented, completely opposite strategy. It goes something like this: “You’re Jewish? We Christians just love the Jewish people! Persecution? Oh, no! Any Christian who persecuted a Jew in the name of Jesus couldn’t be a real Christian. A real Christian only loves the Jewish people!”
Evangelicals recognized that Jews did not want to stop being Jewish
This novel technique enabled Christians to freely evangelize Jews while distancing themselves from their Christian forbears. In this way, potential Jewish converts will not feel repelled by their aggressive evangelism.
These evangelicals realized, however, that Jews would not simply start converting to Christianity because evangelicals condemned anti-Semitism and are staunchly pro-Israel. Smothering us with love would not go far enough to achieve their ambitious goals.
They concluded that the essential reasons why Jews resist conversion are that:
- We are proud of our ethnic identity and do not want to stop being who we are, and
- We view Christianity as completely alien to the Jewish faith.
Armed with these new insights, these zealous and innovative Christians developed an entirely new, and remarkably simple approach to Jewish evangelism.
The new sales pitch sounds like this: “When you’re becoming a believer in Jesus, you are not converting to another religion. On the contrary, you’re becoming a ‘fulfilled Jew’ or a ‘completed Jew.’ After all, Jesus was a Jew and his followers were Jewish; therefore, it stands to reason that believing in Jesus is the most Jewish thing you can do!”
They also developed the slick idea of “Messianic synagogues,” which are designed to look nothing like a church. They are deliberately built, furnished, and decorated to resemble a typical synagogue.
Their members make it clear that they do not observe Christian holidays. A Messianic congregation never features a Christmas Tree or blinking colored lights around the end of December. Instead, these missionaries celebrate Jewish holidays with a Christological spin.
Christian doctrines were meticulously inserted into every Jewish tradition.
For example, throughout the world, Messianic congregations hold elaborate and well-publicized Passover Seders.
The Messianic “Passover Seder”
At first glance, a Messianic Seder table appears traditionally Jewish, with all of the customary essentials: Seder plate, matzah, and wine.
Once the ceremony begins to unfold, however, even the most uninitiated will immediately grasp that something is askew.
Participants are told that the wine at the Seder represents the blood of Yeshua/Jesus, and the matzah represents his body. “Do you know the real reason why Jews have three matzoth at the Seder table?” they are asked. “To represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”
Other Christian doctrines that are typically inserted into the Messianic Passover Seder include: “Do you know why the matzahs are perforated? Because Jesus was pierced through when he was crucified. Why does the matzah have stripes? Because Jesus had stripes across his back as a result of the scourging that he endured during his trial. Why is the middle matzah broken? Because Jesus was brutally broken on the cross. Why is the matzah wrapped in a white towel? Because Jesus was wrapped in a white burial shroud. Why is this middle matzah hidden? Because Jesus was hidden away in the tomb following his crucifixion. Why is the matzah brought back at the end of the meal? Because Jesus will return in the Second Coming at the End of Days.”
Messianic congregations are rarely listed in the Yellow Pages as “Churches.” They try their hardest to be listed with the synagogues. Additionally, the Messianic movement has created a remarkable tool for Jewish evangelism called a “communications card.” This card carefully teaches evangelicals how to talk to a Jew in a manner that will not alienate him as a potential convert. A two-column card which is usually wallet-sized for easy transport and access reads:
“Don’t say ‘Jesus Christ’ – Do say Messiah ‘Yeshua.’ Don’t say ‘convert’– do say ‘Messianic, completed, fulfilled Jew.’ Don’t say ‘Christian’ – do say ‘Bible believer’”
To the horror of the Jewish world, this is a tactic that has achieved remarkable success with the most vulnerable segments of our community – the very young, the very old, and our brethren of the former Soviet Union.
Why are these at-risk Jews so extremely susceptible to this current missionary assault? How do evangelicals cull our Jewish youth with relative ease?
Christianity had to be portrayed as Jewish
The Messianic movement’s fundamental approach seeks to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist a straightforward Christian message.
There is little doubt that the intense obsession fundamentalist Christians have with Jewish evangelism contributes to the success of groups like Jews for Jesus.
Teenagers amd college-age youth are seekers by nature – they are open to spiritual suggestions
If we were doing our job, however, a Christian mission to the Jews – no matter how creative, well staffed, and well funded – would pose little threat to the spiritual integrity of our community. But, a lethal combination of circumstances and factors contribute to the spiritual frailty of Jewish youth.
Young men and women are particularly vulnerable to evangelicals because all-too-often these adolescents are unsure of themselves, the world around them, and the adulthood that awaits them. Teenagers and college-age youth are seekers by nature; they are searching for an identity of their own. They are wide open to spiritual suggestions that controvert and challenge the beliefs of their families. Moreover, adolescents may not be emotionally well-grounded, and they often struggle with a low self-esteem.
For most emerging adults, the university campus is the place where they experience full autonomy for the first time in their lives. A paltry few of our kids are sent off to a university campus armed with a strong Jewish education. Missionaries are well aware of how lethal this combination is for Jewish youth and, as a result, they devote a great deal of their vast resources to Jewish evangelism on campus.
Jewish IQ Test
Ifrequently give the young students a Jewish IQ test when I lecture at Hebrew Schools. “Tell me,” I ask, “what was Jesus’ mother’s name and what was Moses’ mother’s name?”
They all know that Mary was the mother of Jesus, yet few know the name of Moses’ mother.
Asking for the names of any two books in the Talmud and any two books in the New Testament will invariably elicit the same type of response. Typically, the kids could rattle off the names of all four Gospels in the Christian Bible, yet, are clueless about the names of the Tractates of the Talmud.
For the most part, we raised a generation of children who know little about the faith they are being asked to abandon.
A number of years ago, I received a hysterical phone call from a distraught mother. She had just discovered a New Testament hidden between her daughter’s mattress and box spring. A terrible confrontation followed. Her daughter stormed out of the house, and the mother knew she desperately needed help.
We spoke for quite a while. It turned out that her daughter was involved in a local Messianic congregation on Long Island called “Olive Tree.”
I explained to her that if I were going to help, I had to meet with her daughter, so we set a date and time to meet. Elizabeth was not happy about meeting with someone like me, but after some well-placed motherly prodding and pressure, an appointment was arranged.
When I first met Elizabeth, she seemed friendly. It didn’t take her long before she began to tell me all about her new-found religion. She was a freshman student at Boston University, and it didn’t take long before her roommate gave her a pocket-sized New Testament as a gift. “I didn’t read it at the time,” she said, “I just tossed it aside.”
She told me how one night she was feeling depressed after an unexpected breakup with her boy friend, “and it was then that I decided to look for some solace from her little New Testament,” she quipped. “I began to thumb through it, and I came upon a verse that moved me in a very special way,” she explained. “It penetrated my soul in such a unique way that I knew that this New Testament had to be the word of God.”
“Which verse in the New Testament did you read that was so inspiring?” I asked.
She quoted words of the New Testament that touched her, yet these words were first spoken by Moses!
Elizabeth picked up the Bible from the table, and her index finger began to flip through the pages. Suddenly she said, “This is it!” She began to read this verse from the Book of Mark, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might….” This young woman had no idea that this sacred phrase is the most precious creed of the Jewish people, and is written in the Five Books of Moses.
It wasn’t long after this memorable meeting with Elizabeth that she returned to the faith of her ancestors. Less than a month later, Elizabeth left for Israel to study at a Jewish women’s college for a full year.
Fundamentalists Prey on the Vulnerable: The Young, the Elderly, and Russian Jews
Like Elizabeth, many Hebrew-Christians will tell you that the first time they considered believing in Jesus was in college.
A university campus is one of the primary places that young people are invited to fundamentalist Christian retreats, prayer meetings, and Bible classes. What they will witness there is like nothing they have ever witnessed in their synagogue. People stand in their pews, crying to Jesus. Healings take place in the aisles.
Messianic Jews are exceedingly friendly. Visit a She quoted words of the New Testament that touched her, yet these words were first spoken by Moses! Messianic congregation – if you are a new face, members of the congregation, with big smiles and friendly words of introduction, will immediately approach you. They will want to know who you are, what do you do, and if you have a place to eat.
The elderly are also perilously vulnerable to Jewish evangelism. It is little coincidence that there are more Messianic congregations tightly packed into the peninsula of South Florida than any other similarly-sized region in North America.
Even more than from physical ailments, the aged suffer from nagging loneliness. The Christian mission’s volunteers who seek out and witness to the Jewish elderly in nursing homes are met with little resistance to their aggressive activities by these facilities or their residents.
A pretty smile and a warm touch are priceless commodities to those who are waiting to die. With minds that have slowed down due to the passing of time, and a soul hungry for companionship, our grandparents are falling prey to the Jesus movement.
It is well known that Russian Jews are a prime target and easy prey for evangelical missionaries. Their upbringing in the former Soviet Union under communism robbed them of any Jewish education or understanding of their rich heritage.
Messianic congregations abound in South Florida where many Jewish elderly reside
Few of these new immigrants are familiar with even the fundamentals of their heritage, such as the Passover Seder or connecting with the State of Israel. This has proven devastating to the Russian Jewish community.
As a result, Christian missions have invested extraordinary resources and manpower in large Russian communities in Israel and neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.
It is Ironic that although Jews of the former Soviet Union resisted harsh spiritual conditions under both Czarist and communist Russia, they rapidly succumb to Christian missionaries in the West.
The Cry for Help from Fellow Jews is Heard –
What You Can Do
Estimates are that more than 8,000 Jews will be crossing over to the Hebrew-Christian movement this coming year
Anumber of years ago it became clear to me that although my lectures were being heard by many throughout the nation, and although there have been numerous young men and women like Elizabeth whom I have counseled away from these Christian groups over the years, the vast majority of the Jewish people have not been reached.
Many former Hebrew-Christians complained that very few resources were available to them that would have helped them counter the persuasive arguments used by groups like Jews for Jesus.
Something more needs to be done. It is for this reason that our organization, Outreach Judaism, works tirelessly with far-reaching and multifaceted outreach programs specially designed to counter the efforts of fundamentalist Christian groups and cults who specifically target Jews for conversion.
Our special Role-Play for teens is regarded as the most effective tool to inoculate adolescents against pernicious evangelicals who seek to rob these youngsters of their faith.
For more information on this special program for teens, go to OutreachJudaism.
Preventive medicine is always preferred to doing surgery after the patient has become ill, and keeping Jews Jewish by helping them develop an “immunity” to unhealthy outside forces is no different.
Christianity is called “the Church;” Judaism, however, is never called “the synagogue.” The center of Jewish life has always been a Jewish home. This rich source of our heritage, along with a secure Jewish education, must be restored among our people. The place to begin is with our Jewish youth. They are our future.
1. Not all conservative Christian support attempts to convert Jews. There are some conservative Christians who espouse a theology often referred to as “Dual-covenant Theology,” which teaches that Jews should not be evangelized but rather remain obedient to the Law of Moses.
This belief gained some acceptance among a few fundamentalist Christian leaders who hold that the “covenant” between God and the Jewish people is everlasting, and therefore insist that Jews should not convert to Christianity.
The vast majority of the evangelical world strongly rejects this idea.
One pastor who is strongly opposed to evangelizing Jews is Kenneth W. Rawson, pastor of the Bible Students Congregation of New Brunswick for over 40 years, is a strong proponent of this theology. Rawson wants to challenge Jews who are assimilating to embrace their Jewish heritage. Pastor Rawson is an outspoke critic of Jews for Jesus and other such organizations which engage in Jewish evangelism.
It is widely speculated that Reverend John Hagge, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, and founder of Christians United for Israel, embraces Dual-covenant Theology.
Fundamentalist Christian organizations strongly criticized Hagee’s recent book, In Defense of Israel (2007), for apparently arguing that Jesus did not claim to be the Messiah for the Jews, only the Savior for the Christian Church, and therefore attempts should not be made to convert Jews. Hagee issued a statement denying the first of these allegations and revised one chapter in a new edition of his book.
Apparently, as a result of harsh criticism and strong pressure emanating from evangelical leadership over the years, the Christian Zionist pastor has had to retract numerous statements articulating his strong opposition to Jewish evangelism and his apparent support for Dual-covenant Theology. In a Houston Chronicle interview, however, Hagee said:
“I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption… In fact, trying to convert Jews is a waste of time.”
“The Jewish person who has his roots in Judaism is not going to convert to Christianity. There is no form of Christian evangelism that has failed so miserably as evangelizing the Jewish people. They (already) have a faith structure. Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus,” he says. “But not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity.”
(“San Antonio Fundamentalist Battles Anti-Semitism,” Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1988, sec. 6, pg. 1)