If God be for us

On 7th November, Christian Witness to Israel was officially 170 years old. The founders of the Society were not into brevity and the ‘British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews' was born at the National Scotch Church, Regent Square in London. At that founding meeting were some of the best known names in English evangelicalism including the Bible commentator John Cumming, the evangelist James Chalmers Burns, Robert Murray M’Cheyne and the remarkable Jewish minister/evangelist Ridley Herschell. The Society developed into ‘The British Society for the Evangelization the Jews’ more than a century later but it was not until the Society joined with the Barbican Mission to the Jews in 1976 that CWI, as such, came into being.

But what’s in a name. The founders of the Society, like Moses, had been to the mountain and had seen the promised land. CWI is now fifty years older than Moses was when he died and stands at a juncture in its history where it could go in one of two ways. With few young missionaries and an aging support base, the Society’s future direction would appear to be downwards. But if we believe that Jewish mission is a priority and that Biblical truth is God’s truth we have reasons to be optimistic about the future: ‘If God be for us, who can be against us?’ In this article and through the next few issues of the Herald, I want to share with you the challenges that face us as a mission and what we are doing to meet those challenges so you can pray for us.

The first challenge is the sheer number of Jewish people in the world. Although they represent less than 2% of the world’s population, for those of you who like statistics, the world Jewish population currently stands at almost 13.5 million, of which 5 million live in Israel and 8.5 million in the Diaspora. Of the Diaspora Jews, just under 5.3 million live in North America and 1.5 million in Europe. We have less than 20 missionaries to reach them. The second challenge is the diversity of Jewish culture today. According to Rabbi Lionel Blue, Jews are just like everyone else, only more so! He’s right.

Is everyone atheistic? The Jews more so. Many of those who have come to faith in Leeds had to be persuaded that God exists; secondly that faith in Jesus does not erase their Jewishness; and thirdly that Jesus is the Messiah.

Is everyone religious? The Jews more so. Although many Jewish people are essentially secular, ultra-Orthodox Judaism is growing. Orthodox Jews are traditionally the most difficult Jews to reach because of their pride in being Jewish and Judaism, not to mention their commitment to tradition and their insularity. In the nineteenth century many Orthodox Jews became believers in Jesus but today the Orthodox are the most resistant to the gospel.

They live in close-knit communities, such as Stamford Hill and Golders Green in London and Broughton Park in Manchester, and are therefore constantly under the scrutiny of their neighbours and rabbis. Without access to newspapers, magazines, television, radio or the Internet, the majority have little communication with the outside world. They believe Christians hate them for being ‘Christ killers’. Is everyone into New Age mysticism? The Jews more so. Judaism in all its forms fails to satisfy the deepest longings of the Jewish heart. Many Jewish people, therefore, have either rejected it or attempt to incorporate practices such as yoga and transcendental meditation into Judaism. Every year, 40,000 Israelis head to India in search of peace and spirituality. Other young people, after their time in the Israeli Army, head for New Zealand and Australia. Typically, these backpackers are sensitive, intelligent, thinking people who are very willing to discuss spiritual issues. Actress Goldie Hawn, for example, identifies herself as a ‘Jewish Buddhist’, while singer Leonard Cohen, who has for many years practiced Buddhism, still states that his religion is Judaism.

Is everyone post-modern? The Jews more so. But although post-modern Jews are more willing to listen to ‘new ideas’ and tend to be more willing to consider the gospel than the Orthodox, because they are relativists they have a tendency to pick and mix their religion. The miracles of Jesus may appeal to post-modern New Agers but not his penal substitutionary death and physical resurrection.

In coming issues of the Herald, I’ll share with you the specific challenges we face and how we are meeting them. Thank you for standing with us through your support and prayers during 2012.

Yours for the salvation of Israel,

This article was published in the Winter Herald 2012

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