Given the church’s checkered past in her relationship with the Jews, Christians shouldn’t expect an instant welcome to their overtures, cautions Bobby Bell, senior pastor of Tree of Life (Odessa 2 Foursquare Church) in Odessa, Texas.
“You’re not going to develop a relationship in a day; you’re not going to do it in a week,” he says. “They are going to make it tough. They are waiting to see that bad side of you, because that is all they know.”
Bobby began developing relationships with members of his local Jewish community after his mother and son took Hebrew lessons. He became intrigued, studied some himself, and discovered more about the Jewish roots of his faith.
When his new friends needed a different meeting place for their Shabbat (Sabbath) services and Hebrew studies, Bobby opened the doors of his church. Around 30 Jewish people are now members of his congregation. Others visit for the services he leads that celebrate the Old Testament festivals, such as Passover.
These observances provide a great opportunity for building bridges, agrees Hylan Slobodkin, the senior rabbi at Beit Tikvah Messianic Congregation (Newcastle SE Foursquare Church) in Newcastle, Wash. “Most people think of them as Jewish holidays, but in Leviticus 3, God calls them His appointed times,” he notes.
Rather than rushing to explain to Jews where they have missed it in rejecting Jesus as Messiah, Christians would do well to become the learners, asking more about the Hebrew roots of their faith.
“Ask them into your home for a Passover Seder,” suggests John Siu, a cantor, or worship leader, at Adat HaMashiach Messianic Congregation in Mission Viejo, Calif., who is currently pursuing Foursquare credentials. “Look to ask about their heritage. Seek common ground.”
Listening and Learning
J. Montanari, an ordained Foursquare pastor who is affiliated with the national Messianic movement, believes Christians would get a warm welcome at a local synagogue if they went with questions rather than answers.
There is a time and a place for showing how the Hebrew Scriptures point clearly to Jesus as the Messiah; typically Jews have not been taught about the Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ.
“But if they are approached with dogma, they are very turned off by that,” explains John Siu. “When approached with love, compassion and concern for their spiritual wellbeing, without the whole confrontation of, ‘You have to give up being Jewish,’ they are quite receptive.”
Hearing from other Jews who have found Jesus to be their Messiah is a major entry point. Howard Diamond, senior pastor of Newlife (Mesa II Foursquare Church) in Mesa, Ariz., has seen many come to faith through his own testimony.
Having grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home and studying to be a cantor, he drifted from faith as he pursued success in the beauty industry. Then his wife, who is also Jewish, discovered she had cancer—but after being prayed for by Christian friends, the couple found that the cancer was benign.
“I was a pot-smoking hippie, and God cleaned up my act and healed my wife,” Howard says of his personal story. “Jewish people love to argue, but they can’t fight that.”
Personal prayer is another key.
“If you let the Holy Spirit move in your church, you don’t have to prove a point,” says Bobby Bell. “The Holy Spirit doesn’t need any help.” Noting that Jews “don’t know the Holy Spirit is for them,” Bobby says that in praying for Jewish people he knows, he has seen “some wonderful miracles.” Some have visited Tree of Life and have been baptized with the Holy Spirit. “It may be 2,000 years later, but it still works the same way,” Bobby affirms.
Knowing What to Say
Christians need to be careful about the language they use when speaking with Jews. That would include using the name Yeshua, rather than Jesus, and avoiding talk of conversion.
“We never use that word [conversion],” says Howard Diamond. “We talk about being completed. When you say ‘converted,’ they think about having left or denied something.”
Both Howard Diamond and Bobby Bell host visitors for the Jewish festivals they celebrate at their churches. But congregations that feel ill equipped to do the same could simply partner with a Messianic fellowship for such events.
Messianic believers have more open doors to take part in local Jewish community events, J. Montanari believes. He is part of Adat HaMashiach, where members, for example, have taken their dance and music to local Jewish celebrations, and gone out distributing Hanukah candles, inviting people to their services.
With the significant end-times place the Jews occupy in mind, Jeff sees another reason for churches to link with a Messianic congregation. “Many of them are small and struggling,” he says. One reason for that, he believes: “The devil hates Christians, but he really hates Jews. They are a double target.”
As leader of one of the larger Messianic fellowships in the country, Hylan Slobodkin recommends Don Finto’s book Your People Shall Be My People as a great primer for anyone wanting to learn more about God’s heart for the Jews. It’s essential, he says, that Christians get a big-picture understanding of the significance of the Jews in God’s plans and purposes.
“Many of my Foursquare friends view us as another ethnic church, like Hispanic or Korean,” Hylan comments. They don’t understand “the Israel piece” and the significance of the apostle Paul’s description in Romans of Gentiles being a branch grated into the original, Jewish tree.
“They think, ‘Another ethnic group, how do we reach them?’ We should speak Spanish and maybe celebrate Cinco de Mayo,” Hylan states. “But this is different. It’s not just ethnic; it’s biblical. There’s more to it.”
The Messianic movement has some critics, who say it emphasizes superseded Old Testament law too much for Christians, and is likely to be dismissed as a kind of bait-and-switch by Jews.
“I don’t see a differentiation,” says John Siu. “It’s all about God. Our relationship may differ here and there, but if your heart is sided with God’s heart, I don’t care what you call yourself. ‘Messianic’ means ‘like the Messiah,’ and ‘Christian’ means ‘like Christ’—it’s the same thing. People get caught up in semantics. It’s all about serving Him.”