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Sibley: Jews harmed by theological error

KESZTHELY, Hungary (BP)–Jim Sibley, head of Criswell College’s Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies, has been elected as the North American coordinator for the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.

Sibley, former consultant on Jewish evangelism for the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, was elected to the post by the LCJE’s North American members during the eighth international LCJE conference in Keszthely, Hungary.

The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism is a network of organizations and individuals that share information on trends, strategies, theological thinking and missiological research on outreach to Jewish people worldwide.

In a paper on obstacles to Jewish evangelism in America and Europe, Sibley noted that the Christian community tends to rush past the promised blessings to Israel in confusion over the interpretation of key biblical texts.

“Too often, Christian faith is built on a kind of Gentile midrash — that is, on a manner of understanding Scripture that is superficial, devotional and spiritualizing,” Sibley noted. American Christians often apply promised blessings to Israel to their own lives as though that were the original meaning, he recounted, reinterpreting the text of 2 Chronicles 7:14 to speak of “my land,” for example, Jeremiah 29:11 to speak of “my life” and Acts 1:8 of “my Jerusalem.”

In most pulpits, “superficial, topically oriented sermons” have replaced more substantive, expository preaching, Sibley continued. “In such a context, motivation for Jewish evangelism is severely weakened, for the voice of Scripture has been muffled.”

Regarding various types of theological error that lead to poor missiology, Sibley took note of an inclusivism driven by religious piety and emotion that eclipses a scripturally based doctrine of salvation in Jesus alone.

Ecclesiology — the doctrine of the church — is damaged, meanwhile, by the view that “the church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God,” sparking confusion and contradiction when Christians claim to worship the God of Israel but neglect the people of Israel, Sibley noted. “To deny God’s interest in the Jewish people,” he declared, “is to deny the God of Israel.”

With these theological errors, Sibley warned that the foundational storyline of the Bible -– and the basic impetus for missions — is suppressed and Israel is inaccurately assumed to be “God’s failed Plan A.”

“At most, the Jewish people are simply one of thousands of other people groups, with absolutely no biblical, theological or missiological uniqueness,” Sibley noted. A church-Israel replacement theology “renders most Christians oblivious to the fact that the two most basic ethnic categories in Scripture are ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ and to the fact that the two forms of missions in the New Testament are Jewish missions and Gentile missions.”

“At worst, the Jewish people have had their chance and are no longer to be on the agenda of the church at all,” Sibley lamented.

“This neglect of the Jewish people by mission leaders is reinforced by Western pragmatism that often reduces missions decisions to a ‘cost-per-soul’ type of calculation,” Sibley noted. “In such a calculus, resistant groups in general, and the Jewish people in particular, do not generally fare well. It is not viewed as good stewardship of mission resources to invest in groups where the anticipated ‘return’ is not very great.”

This mentality would be very foreign to the prophets of Israel or the apostles of the early church, Sibley noted, citing Ezekiel’s obedience in spite of being told his message would not be received and the Apostle Paul insisting on going “to the Jew first” not out of expediency but because it was necessary as indicated by Romans 1:16 and other passages making Jewish missions a priority through the centuries.

Aware that the obstacles are real, Sibley reminded his audience of the victory promised by God when offering salvation to the Jewish people. “It will not come without struggle, but we must not lose heart.”

During their Aug. 19-24 sessions in Hungary, LCJE participants adopted a statement which called “the whole Church to join in presenting the whole gospel of Messiah Jesus to the Jewish people worldwide.” While rejoicing over an increasing number of Messianic congregations, the statement warned against denying an evangelical witness to Jewish people as “the worst possible Christian injustice.”

“We affirm the good news of Jesus is the only hope for the salvation of the Jewish people,” the statement said, adding, “If Jesus is not the Messiah for the Jewish people, then neither is He Christ for the nations. Either Jesus is the Messiah for all, or He is not the Messiah at all.”

The group also denounced contemporary expressions of anti-Semitism and prejudice against the state of Israel while encouraging “evangelism to all the children of Abraham according to the flesh” and prayer “for efforts toward reconciliation between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews in Christ.”

Tuvya Zaretsky, LCJE president and an adjunct faculty member of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies in Dallas, noted that “on the eve of the state of Israel’s 60th anniversary, we rejoice in the stories of an unprecedented openness and opportunity as the Gospel is penetrating Israeli society. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is as relevant and as unique a spiritual hope today for the Jewish people as it ever has been.”

Among LCJE’s North American members, in addition to Sibley, are various Southern Baptist representatives who work with Jewish people in Russia and Israel.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, online at www.sbtexas.com. For more information on various facets of Jewish evangelism, see Mishkan, a publication of the Pasche Institute of Jewish Studies. Numerous resources are available online at www.pascheinstitute.org.

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter