A Southern Baptist Convention mission strategist and an expert in evangelizing Jews are scheduled speakers at this year’s meeting of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.
According to Baptist Press, Ed Stetzer, research team director and missiologist at the North American Mission Board, will discuss how NAMB and the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship can work together to start successful missions.
Stetzer says Messianic congregations are an example of a “missional” church, in that they are “indigenous to Jewish culture.”
Rabbi Sam Nadler, president of Word of Messiah Ministries, will speak on “apologetics from a Messianic viewpoint.” A past president of Chosen People Ministries, Nadler teaches that Jewish people must accept Jesus in order to be saved, but in doing so they don’t cease to be Jews.
“Yeshua”–the Hebrew spelling of Jesus–“is our Messiah, and trusting in Him is the most Jewish decision you can ever make!” explains an FAQ section of Nadler’s Web site.
In a play on words from the “Roman Road,” a famous tract for sharing the gospel with individuals with selected passages from the New Testament Book of Romans, Nadler offers “Isaiah Avenue,” Old Testaments passages arranged to persuade that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
Also at the meeting, scheduled June 9-11 in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., Connie Saffle from Shalom Adonai Messianic Baptist Fellowship in Wichita, Kan., will lead a training session in “Davidic worship dance.”
Saffle was the messenger last year who made a motion to recognize the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship the “as a formal evangelistic mission entity to the Jewish people worldwide.”
The SBC Executive Committee, which received Saffle’s motion as a referral, is recommending to this year’s convention that the International and North American mission boards jointly study the possibility of establishing a coordinated mission to Jews.
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League criticized the proposal as “deputizing” a Jewish Messianic group, which he views as “part of a deceptive movement that falsely claims they are interested in Jewish practices when the real goal is to convert Jews to Christianity.”
Foxman, a frequent critic of Southern Baptist attempts to target Jews for evangelism, said, “These efforts should be stopped once and for all.”
The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship isn’t the only group interested in tailoring the gospel message to Jewish people. Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., recently held a two-day interfaith evangelism conference on Judaism.
Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies at CriswellCollege, said by neglecting Jewish evangelism Christians have “sinned against the Great Commission.”
“If Paul is our model of ministry, then we have to acknowledge that both by precept and by practice Paul made it a priority for Jewish evangelism,” Sibley said.
Midwestern President Phil Roberts agreed. “Our denomination, seminaries and pastors must be educated on the strategic issues of Jewish evangelism, because Jewish evangelism is so intrinsic to the fulfillment of the Great Commission,” he said.
Some Jews, like Foxman, want Christians to avoid proselytizing altogether. Others respect Christians who believe evangelism is an essential part of their faith, but still oppose use of Messianic congregations, which borrow elements of synagogue worship, such as calling their pastor “Rabbi,” without publicly disclosing they are Christian missions.
At a BaptistCenter for Ethics luncheon in 2004 on fostering better relations between Baptists and Jews, Jonathan Levine of the American Jewish Committee said he viewed the approach as deceptive.
“I’m not going to say don’t do mission work if mission work is one of the roots of your faith,” he said, “but I will say this: Do it honestly and above board. We are not very fond of Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jews, because we believe it is dishonest.”
“Frankly, if you don’t do any mission work in the Jewish community, that’s fine with us,” Levine said. “Do what you must do, but do it honestly.”
Robert Parham, executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics, said Southern Baptists would do well “to think more broadly about the Jewish community than always in terms of targets for conversion and evangelistic crusades that verge on trickery.”
“In the Great Commandment, Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor,” Parham said. “We love our neighbor when we engage in honest speech, temperate actions and pursue justice in the public square that advances religious freedom for all. What we need today is a greater focus on preaching the gospel in ways that demonstrate good will for the common good.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.