"Jews can't be Christians"

Recently an Israeli friend came to visit and agreed to watch a Christian video with me. It was filmed in Israel and presented by a Jewish evangelist. My friend was quite excited to hear a video in Hebrew and to see scenes and people from her home country. As I could understand only a few words of the dialogue, my friend translated it for me. Towards the end of the video when the presenter explained the gospel, my friend turned to me and in her strong Israeli accent asked, “You know him? Is he Christian, Israeli … Jewish
I answered: “I don’t know him personally but I know of him. He’s an Israeli, and a Jewish believer. He believes in Jesus the Messiah.”

“No, he can’t be Jewish! He’s talking about Yeshua – Jesus – all the time. Jews can’t be Christians!” she said.

Several years ago, I had a lengthy conversation with another Jewish friend who so wanted me to understand why Jews “can’t be Christians” that she described in depth the history of anti-Semitism, Jewish fears of assimilation, problems of Jewish survival and the need for Jewish identity. While listening to her, I began to enter her world of thoughts and fears. She told me of her hurt and pain, and explained in detail why her Jewish identity was so precious to her. She earnestly wanted me to understand that a Jewish person could not be a Christian and urged me not to evangelise her people. Because of our strong friendship, we were able to be frank and honest with each other and she was willing to hear my Christian testimony. She respected my firm commitment to the Bible and my conviction that it was necessary to include everyone in my witnessing. I’m encouraged by the fact that, over time, her attitude to the gospel has softened and become more positive, and that we remain close friends.

In my cross-cultural communication with Jewish friends, I have learnt to practise “active listening”, listening carefully to understand the true meaning of their words. For instance, when Jewish people say “Christian”, they usually mean “Gentile”. So I often ask my Jewish friends, “When you say Christians, do you mean Gentiles or do you really mean Christians?” Because they know me and know what I believe, they often reply, “Yes, we mean Gentiles, not Christians like you!” Therefore, when Jewish people say, “Jews can’t be Christians”, they often actually mean, “Jews can’t be Gentiles”! So we may need to explain what the word “Christian” really means and, more importantly, what it means to be a Christian.

Furthermore, a trusting friendship always helps in evangelism. We’re called to make disciples, and hence evangelism is about building relationships so that we are able to break down barriers to our witness. With both the people mentioned, it was because of our friendship that they were willing to hear and to understand me. They allowed me to take time to explain that the word “Christian” is a biblical word that simply means “a follower of the Messiah”.

I also explained to them what it meant to be a follower of Jesus the Messiah. I pointed them to the Scriptures and showed them, from Ezekiel 36 and 37 and John 3, that no one is born a Christian; we need to be born anew spiritually. I also made reference to the promise of the New Covenant, as found in Jeremiah 31.

We continue to meet Jewish friends who struggle because of their belief that “Jews can’t be Christians”. Pray that we may be effective witnesses who are always faithful to the Word as we press on, breaking down barriers to the gospel and endeavouring to persuade our Jewish friends that Jesus is the Messiah.

This article first appeared in the March 2005 edition of the Herald

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