The Southern Baptist Convention’s coordinator of Jewish ministries is leaving his post at the North American Mission Board after 10 years to direct a program at Criswell College training Christians in “Jewish ministry.”
According to Baptist Press, Jim Sibley on Friday was named director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at Criswell College, which he helped organize in 2004. “It’s the only accredited master’s degree program in the country that I’m aware of to train people in Jewish ministry,” Sibley says in the Winter 2006 issue of Southwestern News, a publication of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he is working toward a Ph.D.
Sibley made headlines in 1996, both as author of a Southern Baptist Convention resolution urging “that we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people” and for being appointed a full-time missionary to Jewish people in the United States.
In his job at NAMB, Sibley, who previously served 14 years as a Foreign Mission Board “representative” in Israel, has worked to “motivate and equip” Southern Baptists to share the gospel with Jewish people by teaching courses at seminaries, leading workshops in churches and writing articles.
“By whatever means, I want to try to stimulate Southern Baptists to share the gospel with Jewish people,” Sibley said in the Southwestern News.
In 2002 Sibley criticized a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement that “Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God” and therefore shouldn’t be evangelized by Christians. “There can be no more extreme form of anti-Semitism,” he said in Baptist Press, than a pronouncement that “targeted the Jews for exclusion from gospel proclamation.”
“Those who would deny the Jewish people access to the gospel and contradict Jesus’ claims espouse a form of anti-Semitism which, in the light of eternity, makes the horrors of Hitler’s ovens pale into insignificance,” Sibley said in an interview in 1995
Sibley, who says God called him to minister to Jewish people when he was only 14 years old, was appointed by the SBC Foreign Mission Board [now called International Mission Board] to live and work in Israel in the 1980s. He took part in the first public evangelism campaign in Tel Aviv in 1986 and helped to start congregations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
While teaching courses at Southwestern Seminary on furlough, Sibley spoke with Phil Roberts, at the time director of Interfaith Witness at the SBC Home Mission Board and now president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, about coming to work at the agency, a forerunner of NAMB.
“He said, ‘Jim, there are at least nine or 10 career missionaries working with the Jewish population in Israel,” Sibley recalled. “‘The United States and Canada has a larger Jewish population than Israel, and the Home Mission Board has no one designated to Jewish ministry here.'”
In 2002 Sibley took part in a Jewish Evangelism Summit at Criswell College, where Southern Baptist representatives working with Jews both overseas and involved in planting “Messianic” congregations in Chicago, New York and Atlanta met to evaluate current outreach efforts among Jewish people.
According to Baptist Press, participants said all Jews should be considered a “people group” to frame a more “unified approach” to evangelization than taking it state by state and country by country.
They hoped to improve communication through stronger ties with the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, a group formed in 1990 to encourage evangelism of Jewish people and proclaim to “Jewish believers that their ethnic and historical heritage need not be lost upon their commitment to Yeshua (Jesus).”
The SBC Executive Committee will recommend in June that the International and North American mission boards “jointly study the possibility” of recognizing the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship as “an evangelistic mission to Jewish people in the United States and throughout the world.”
Sibley told the Associated Press in October that the Jewish Anti Defamation League was overreacting in criticizing Southern Baptists for using Jews who have converted to Christianity “to go after other Jews.”
“Personally, I don’t really see this (recommendation) going anywhere,” Sibley said.
The 2002 Jewish Evangelism Summit also explored the starting of “Messianic” congregations in the United States. Recognizing that 400,000 Jews live in Chicago, with no established messianic work, NAMB in 1999 planted B’nai Ohr Beth Tefilah (Children of Light House of Prayer) in Lindenhurst, Ill.
Described on its Web site as “a community of Gentile and Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua,” B’nai Ohr Beth Tefilah celebrates the Sabbath on Saturday mornings and celebrates Jewish festivals and holy days. It performs Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and refers to leader Steve Barack as “rabbi.”
But what it doesn’t say is that B’nai Ohr is not a Jewish group, but is rather a church listed as belonging to the Southern Baptist Convention, Illinois Baptist State Association and Lake County Baptist Association.
Jews for Judaism, a group formed to counter about 400 such “Hebrew Christian synagogues” around the country, say they use deception to attract Jews by masquerading Christian beliefs in the guise of Judaism.
According to Jews for Judaism, such groups welcome Jews into the church and tell them they can believe in Jesus and still retain their identity as Jews. They purposely misquote and mistranslate Hebrew Scripture to prove that Jesus was both the Jewish messiah and God, and further confuse potential converts by exploiting Jewish symbols, religious artifacts and music.
“Most Jewish people view Christianity as a gentile religion that has no relevance to them,” Sibley wrote in a North American Mission Board Interfaith Witness Belief Bulletin on Judaism. “When a Jewish person places his trust in Jesus for salvation and is baptized, the Jewish community considers that he has turned his back on his people and become a gentile. It is therefore important to communicate that our desire is not that our Jewish friend would become a gentile, but that, as a Jew, he or she would find atonement for sin and discover a personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
The brochure suggests use of “terminology that emphasizes the Jewishness of our faith. For example, instead of ‘Christ,’ which is based on the Greek word for ‘the Anointed One,’ use ‘Messiah,’ which is based on the Hebrew. Instead of the ‘Old Testament,’ refer to the ‘Hebrew Scriptures.’
“Use verses from their Bible in discussing topics like sin (see Ps. 14:2-3, 51:5; Eccl. 7:20 and Isa. 59:1-2), atonement (see Lev. 17:11 and Isa. 53:5-6), Messiah (see Isa. 53, Dan. 9:16 and Mic. 5:1, or v. 2 in our Bible), and faith (see Gen. 15:6; Num. 21:7-9, and Joel 2:32),” Sibley wrote.
While many Jewish leaders recognize that evangelicals believe it is their responsibility to share the gospel with all people, including Jews, they insist it should be done honestly and in a straightforward matter. One reason Jews can’t be for Jesus, rabbis say, is the Christian notion of the Trinity, that Jesus mediates between humanity and God, violates Judaism’s sacred tenet that “the Lord is One,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4.
NAMB isn’t going to replace Sibley, according to Baptist Press, but will continue to use him on a contract basis.
With a broader assignment at Criswell College to develop leaders for Jewish ministry and through continued NAMB-related workshops across the country, Sibley told BP he hopes to see an even greater concern for Jewish people among Southern Baptists.
While personally disappointed that his position at NAMB will not be filled, Sibley said he believes the decision “was sincerely motivated and may yield even greater opportunities for cooperation in Jewish ministries in the future.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.