ATLANTA (BP)–Stating “our evangelistic efforts have largely neglected the Jewish people” and “we are indebted to the Jewish people, through whom we have received the Scriptures and our Savior, the Messiah of Israel,” messengers to the 1996 Southern Baptist Convention resolved to “reaffirm that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” and “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”
While the resolution has created controversy, some Baptist churches are using it to reach out to Jews.
Jim Sibley, HMB national coordinator for Jewish ministries, is focusing on major metropolitan areas with large Jewish populations and is meeting with pastors and state directors of missions to determine needs and offer resources.
John Mulligan, pastor of Open Arms Fellowship, Schenectady, N.Y., works with Jewish believers through a home Bible study group. “We’re reaching out to individuals,” Mulligan said. “Through the Bible study, we’re developing relationships. One by one, the Jewish people in our community are coming to understand that we love them and their culture.”
Last fall, Mulligan began educating his congregation on Jewish traditions and festivals, pointing out the traditional feasts are foreshadows of Christ. For the Feast of the Tabernacle, Open Arms held its evening service at the home of a Jewish believer. Church members, neighbors and even Jewish non-believers came to observe the religious holiday.
“We have a large Jewish population in Schenectady, both Orthodox and Reformed,” Mulligan said. “We are trying to build a bridge from our church into the community.”
Mulligan and his congregation don’t want the Jewish people to change their culture, “but to put it into a New Testament perspective.”
Herschel Creasman is pastor of Coral Baptist Church, Coral Springs, Fla., a community in south Florida with a 30 percent Jewish population. “We have approximately 100 Jewish believers in our church,” Creasman said. “I have found over the years that Jews are not offended by a Christian witness if they know you love them.”
Creasman and his congregation have been sharing with Jews in their area through open dialogue sessions on Sunday nights. “These conversations are never adversarial,” Creasman said. “Yet, I never compromise my doctrine.”
According to Creasman, Southern Baptists need a “holy
boldness. Believers should be more concerned about offending Jesus by keeping quiet than of offending Jews by sharing their faith in love,” he said.
“Sharing Christ with our Jewish neighbors should come from a deep burden for their souls, not pride or superiority,” Sibley said. “Our approach should be born in humility, yet confident in the gospel.”
Phil Roberts, Home Mission Board director of interfaith witness, said Southern Baptists needn’t run from the criticism. On the contrary, his advice is to embrace the opportunity of sharing Christ with a lost world.
“Your ethnicity, religiosity or heritage has nothing to do with your salvation,” Roberts said. “Salvation comes through Jesus, through the cross and the resurrection. It’s true for Baptists, Jews, Catholics and Buddhists.”
Sibley’s advice to Christians who want to share their faith with Jews is twofold. First, he said, is not to be intimidated by the rabbinic community. “It is easy to allow their provocations to make you resentful and have a bad attitude.” Second is to recognize the obligation Christians have of sharing their faith with all the world. “Love them (Jews), yet hold on to your iron-will determination to be obedient to God.”