News Articles

Prayer guide for Jews stirs attention, yet reflects SBC parallel to Lausann

WASHINGTON (BP)–The news media and various Jewish leaders have taken note of a new prayer booklet for the Jewish people published by the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
The Associated Press circulated an article nationally during the Labor Day weekend and among subsequent articles was one in The Washington Post Sept. 9. IMB Executive Vice President Don Kammerdiener, in addition to giving interviews by telephone to local and national media, was contacted by the CBS’ “This Morning” show about the possibility of a live interview during its Sept. 10 broadcast, which airs from 7 to 9 a.m. The network was to make a final decision on the interview during the afternoon of Sept. 9.
The news media reports, not unexpectedly, have included quotes from Jewish leaders critical of the pocket-sized prayer booklet.
The booklet, however, is reflective of the belief among evangelicals that the Bible instructs followers of Jesus Christ to share the gospel with all people, including Jews.
The Sixth International Conference of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, for example, issued a statement to the world’s churches during its Aug. 12-17 meeting in New York City, noting, “We are deeply grieved that, in recent decades, some churches and denominations have stated that Jewish people do not need to hear the gospel.”
At the same time, “We rejoice in the renewed emphasis some churches and denominations have placed on Jewish evangelism and we urge all churches to recognize their responsibility to witness to Jewish people.”
The Jewish evangelism conference, which is part of the Billy Graham-initiated international Lausanne evangelism movement, drew 130 participants from 16 countries.
The statement by the Lausanne Consultation included separate sections from Jewish and gentile believers in Jesus Christ, or Yeshua haMashiach, as Jesus the Messiah is known among messianic believers.
The Jewish section stated: “Those of us who are Jewish share in the challenges confronting our people and stand with them in the need to strengthen and preserve our God-given identity. We also recognize that our faith in Yeshua is seen by many as a threat to Jewish identity and survival. Yet we believe that the core of Jewish identity is tied to a purpose and a divine calling that is fulfilled only in Yeshua — to be reconciled to God and to be a light to the nations for his glory. We therefore reject the commonly held view that Jews who believe in Jesus are no longer Jewish.”
The gentile section stated: “Those of us who are Gentiles affirm that Jews who believe in Yeshua do not forfeit their Jewish identity; indeed, our own identity as Christians is also found in Yeshua the Jewish Messiah. Through him our identity is linked to the destiny of the people Israel. We do not wish to see our brothers and sisters lose their identity. We are enriched and encouraged by their distinct identity within the body of the Messiah.”
Among the Jewish critics of the new Southern Baptist booklet, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, told The Washington Post, “There’s a kind of theological arrogance that pervades all of this, a certain willingness on their part to play God, and an absence of awareness that these sorts of statements throughout history are associated with coercion, hatred and violence.”
Kammerdiener, interviewed for a Sept. 9 article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, reminded that Southern Baptists “take Jesus’ message to preach the gospel to the world seriously. We are simply bearing testimony to what we believe.”
Kammerdiener, who authored the prayer booklet’s introduction, wrote, “The Bible is clear in giving Christ’s followers guidance regarding the necessity of sharing the gospel with the Jews. Jesus and all the apostles were Jews. Jesus stated clearly that his followers were to begin their witness to him in Jerusalem and Judea, the heartland of the Jews.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in response to a Baptist Press request for comment, noted that the prayer booklet may be “clearly out of step with postmodern culture” and “off the charts on the scale of political incorrectness. Nevertheless, it is deeply rooted in Southern Baptists’ passion to see all persons come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. …
“While liberal churches have largely abandoned all conversionist missions, evangelical Christians remain committed to tell all persons, regardless of racial, ethnic or religious background, of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler wrote. “This is the great evangelistic mission of Christianity, and it is as old as Jesus’ command to go and make disciples.”
Mohler added, “Cries of ‘theological hatred’ are unfair and out of place. Southern Baptists have not launched a crusade to coerce conversions. … Having felt the sting of persecution, Baptists are staunch defenders of religious liberty. But this liberty does not mean that it is ‘intolerant’ or ‘imperialistic’ to tell others the best news we know.
“The real enemy of Judaism is not Christianity, but the corrosive secularism that has so poisoned American culture,” Mohler noted. “… Jewish protests against this prayer guide ring hollow when a majority of American Jews no longer express belief in a personal God. Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has warned that Judaism could effectively disappear in the next century — not because of conversion to Christianity, but due to Jewish assimilation into the secular culture.”
The IMB prayer booklet focuses on the “Days of Awe,” a 10-day period beginning on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when Jewish tradition teaches that God opens his Book of Life to inscribe the names of the righteous and remove the names of the wicked. The book remains open for 10 days, during which Jewish people recall the sins of the previous year and pray to God for forgiveness. The observance, also known as the Days of Repentance, ends with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
Rosh Hashanah is Sept. 11 this year; Yom Kippur, Sept. 20.
In a resolution adopted by messengers to the 1996 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in New Orleans, Southern Baptists were called to prayer for the salvation of Jewish people and to direct more energies and resources toward proclaiming to Jewish people the good news of salvation in Jesus, the Messiah.
That resolution also drew national attention and was denounced by various critics, some of whom said efforts to evangelize Jews amounted to “spiritual genocide.” A Southern Baptist leader at the time responded that the intent was not to convert Jews into Gentiles, but “to convert them from being Jews who do not have a relationship with the God of their fathers to Jews who do.”
An estimated 130,000 to 150,000 Jews worldwide follow Jesus, according to missiologists’ estimates, with about 5,000 Messianic Jews in Israel in about 80 congregations and 110,000 in the United States in more than 100 congregations.
Perhaps 75 percent of the world’s 15 million Jews no longer practice Rabbinic Judaism, and most are secularists or atheists, according to one missiologist’s study.
The International Mission Board’s prayer guide contains 10 vignettes of Jewish life during the Days of Awe, along with brief sketches of Jewish populations around the world and suggestions about how to pray for Jewish people as they seek God.
“Pray each day for Jewish individuals you know by name,” the booklet, for example, suggests. “Build authentic friendships with Jewish people. Love them as you would an unsaved relative.”
The IMB has published a similar guide to help Christians pray for Muslims during the annual holy days of Ramadan. Guides also are planned for prayer efforts focusing on Hindus and Buddhists.
With about 4,800 missionaries working among 336 ethnic people groups and in 127 countries, the International Mission Board’s work is supported by nearly 16 million Southern Baptists in more than 40,000 congregations in the United States.
To order the Days of Awe prayer guide, e-mail the IMB resource center at [email protected] or call toll free 1-800-866-3621.