The Tension of Jesus
For too long Jews and Christians have been engaging with each other by ‘dancing’ around the real issues. I have been involved in this field since 1975 and therefore can speak from experience.
Even though Christianity is an offshoot of the Jewish faith, the gulf between the two belief systems is great, and there is no reason for us to pretend otherwise. Judaism and Christianity have a lot in common, to be sure, but the stumbling point is most certainly Jesus and His mission to the world, including the Jewish world.
One of these ‘real issues’ confronting us is his command to His followers to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to "every creature" (Mark 16:15), even the Jewish ones. This is a major tenet of biblical Christian faith, but it is totally rejected by the Jewish world for many reasons, chiefly historical but theological as well. Sadly, the historical Christian obedience to this command was to persecute, harass and even kill Jews. One cannot therefore act surprised at the Jewish position on missionizing.
Nonetheless, you can still be in dialogue between the two distinctive systems if you dance around this issue as well. But such an approach is threatening to derail one of the greatest movements in history in terms of healing Jewish-Christian relationships.
Some Evangelical Christians say there can be no compromise and are publicly calling for aggressive missionary activity to be directed at Israel and the Jewish world. Others are so moved to engage with Israel that they feel a need to completely remove the ‘tension’ of Jesus from between us through Dual Covenant and other erroneous teachings.
Meantime, a small band of Jewish anti-missionary activists are trying to spoil the burgeoning relationship between Christians and Jews by attacking the Christian belief system and even calling for benevolence organizations like the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to be branded as missionary and thereby banned from Israel.
Now if I said to my Jewish friends that in order to have a meaningful relationship with me, they must stop celebrating Shabbat, they would be horrified and reject such a position out of hand. But this is what some Jews are doing to Christians! They assert that no relationship between Jews and Christians can take place unless the Christians disavow missionary activity.
The Jewish world must know that the call to be obedient to world missions, including the Jewish world, is not a small matter that can be compromised. No, this call is a major tenet of our biblical faith (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:18-20). It cannot be done away with easily, just as keeping Shabbat cannot be done away with easily. If pro-Israel Evangelicals reject this call they would be totally discredited in the wider Christian world.
So the question is: How do Christians obey their own Scriptures to preach the Good News everywhere and at the same time engage Israel in a non-offensive way?
First, by affirming who we are and not by trying to play at being Jewish. Though our ministry does not engage in traditional missionary activity in Israel, neither do we hide who we are as devout Christians, and we make clear all that we do is compelled by the love of Jesus in us. Thus our conduct itself is a “witness” to the transformation Jesus has done in our lives, and if someone then wants to ask me about it, I will tell them.
As the Apostle Peter instructed: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15) In other words if Jews do not want to know, they simply should not ask!
For nearly three decades now, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has embraced this position with integrity and been able to engage with Israel without compromising on our obedience to own faith. We have been sincere and honest and many Israelis know they can trust us because there is no hidden agenda. This is who we are as both committed Christians and genuine friends of Israel, and we have the track record to prove it.
Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.