Learning From the Enemy
Posted by: penina
Pirkei Avos asks the question, “Who is wise?” The answer, which so simple and yet so profound is. “He who learns from all people, as it is said: 'From all those who taught me I gained understanding'” (Psalms 119:99).
When trying to figure out how to deal with the missionary problem, perhaps the best answer is to look directly at the missionaries and what they are doing. It has been said, “know your enemy” but perhaps more importantly one should “know what your enemy knows”.
It used to be that even the most Jewishly uneducated among us knew to stay away from missionaries. We associated missionaries with the crusades, the inquisition and the holocaust. We understood that these were people who wanted to destroy us as a people and that when they were unable to destroy us spiritually (through conversion) they attempted to destroy us physically. We knew what they were about and wanted nothing to do with it.
In the early 16th century, a Catholic priest-turned-Protestant named Martin Luther realized that this was a problem. He himself said that if he had been a Jew witnessing the treatment that Christians had been meting out over the centuries, he wouldn’t want to convert either! So he promoted a new, softer approach to Evangelism. But Martin Luther had a short fuse. After 20 years of trying to win over the Jews with love, he grew weary and capitulated. He ordered that our synagogues be burned, our homes destroyed and our bodies be tortured.
Over the next 400 years not much changed. The Jews were constantly being persecuted and driven from our homes. Then came the holocaust. While many Christians in Europe were horrified at what was happening to the Jewish people but felt helpless to do anything about it, others turned a blind eye, and through their silence allowed things to escalate to unfathomable levels.
Following the holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel threw the Christian world into a frenzy as it was forced to consider something it had understood as impossible according to the Scriptures – with the establishment of the State of Israel, maybe God wasn’t finished with the Jews yet, and maybe it was more important than ever to expend significant amounts of time and money to share Jesus with the Jewish people.
But what to do about that collective memory of the Jews? Crusades, inquisitions, the holocaust – surely the Jewish people would never en masse believe in the Christian messiah. Slowly the Christian world, eager to see Jews convert to Christianity and help welcome Jesus back and guilt ridden because of the complicity of most of the Church in the atrocities of the holocaust, realized that Jesus needed a facelift. “Putting a new face on Jesus” became the mantra of the missionary world and gave birth to the modern Christian Zionist movement. Convincing the Jewish people that they were not the Christians of the past atrocities was at the forefront of all their interactions with Jews. “Real Christians don’t act like that,” they said. “Well, was Martin Luther a real Christian?” We asked. To put their money where their mouths are, missionary organizations began loudly proclaiming their unconditional love and support for the nascent Jewish state and established soup kitchens and other humanitarian aid organizations, hoping to convince us that they are our best friends.
Frank Eiklor, founder of Shalom International, an Evangelical organization dedicated to Jewish outreach spelled it out very clearly when he said, “Every time that we absorb some of the hate aimed at Jewish peoples, every time we rush to their side when they are lied about, every time that we are the first gentiles to identify with their fears and pain and loneliness…they see another Jesus! The real one! I want to see Christians all across America wake up and stand up for the Jewish people. Only then will Jews be impressed and one day want Jesus as their Messiah”
Many Jewish leaders have expressed grave concern over the general Jewish distrust of Christian Zionists. After all, they retort, “we need all the friends we can get.” But the question must also be asked, what is friendship if it comes with strings attached? The strings may be made of invisible thread, but they are still there. What is the real motivation behind much of the support and aid of missionary organizations in Israel? Joe Dean, founder of Christians for Israel, a missionary organization that operates in Israel put it this way: ““By standing with the Jewish people in love and support, we can provoke them to jealousy, as the apostle Paul said, so as to win them to Christ. Not by cramming the Gospel down their throats, but by showing that our faith produces fruitful works. I have told the Jewish agencies that we’re not an evangelical group as such, and this is true. We are not actively trying to win Jews over to Christ – but by taking this stand, the Jewish people don’t run away from us, and we are able to witness to them indirectly.”
The Church has learned how to “put a new face on Jesus” and they are winning Jewish souls in record numbers. So what can be done about this? Well, as the Church has had to learn over the last 2 millennia that violence and persecution doesn’t make us want Jesus, we must recognize that such behavior doesn’t make us want Judaism, either. What our enemy now knows we would do well to learn. We, the Jewish people, need to “put a new face on Judaism”. The old ways of dealing with the issue don’t work anymore. What does work is a warm, alive and relevant Judaism that speaks to the heart of the Jew seeking to connect to God. It’s not like we don’t have it already, it’s just that sometimes we are not so good at expressing it. And we need to learn. Missionaries have learned how to manipulate our scriptures to convince us that Jesus is the Jewish messiah; we need to learn how to explain that this is manipulation and what exactly the Jewish Scriptures really do say about the messiah.
We have the keys to unlocking the Jewish heart already in our hands, but we need to make use of them. The way to fight the missionary threat is not by running around yelling “missionary”, it’s not by punching them out on the street, but rather, by making our Judaism so alive and attractive that our Jewish brothers and sisters would experience a relevant and meaningful relationship with God within the context of Judaism and no one would feel the need to look elsewhere.
By Penina Taylor