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Jewish Mission Then and Now

Dear Fellow Workers,

Over thirty years ago (on 3 July 1979 to be precise), IVP published Michael Green’s slim but important volume Evangelism: Now and Then. The cover featured two cartoon panels, the first of which portrayed a very nervous young man on a soapbox, with a 1970s state-of-the-art public address system and other must-have evangelistic paraphernalia, clasping a ‘How To Evangelise Kit’. In the second panel, a beaming apostolic figure holds a scroll while joyfully preaching the gospel. Talk about one picture being worth a thousand words!

In November, CWI will be 170 years old. In terms of culture and technology, more changes have taken place in the last seventeen decades than took place in the previous seventeen centuries. In 1842, Judaism had remained virtually unchanged for a millennium and a half, and through that same period the Jews had been maligned and persecuted as ‘Christ killers’. Modes of transport had remained largely unchanged since the first century, people still believed there were concepts such as truth and untruth, and communication still took place through speech and the written or printed word. In the mid-nineteenth century there were no cars or planes, and there were no radios or TVs, let alone iPads, iPhones and the World Wide Web. The dissemination of the gospel still took place primarily in the same way as when the apostles proclaimed it.

In the seventeenth century, English and Scottish Puritans regarded the Jews as the people of God and began to pray for their salvation. The end of the eighteenth century witnessed the birth of the modern missions movement, and hundreds of intrepid missionaries left these shores to convert the heathen, many of them never to return. Before long, evangelistic attention began to focus on God’s elect people, the Jews. In 1796 The Evangelical Magazine lamented that ‘amongst all the benevolent plans which have been formed to secure the salvation of sinners, how little attention has been paid to the state of the Jews! They have lived and traded with us, and we have scarcely reflected on their melancholy state, as outcasts of God.’

In 1809, the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, now the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People, was founded, and in 1839 four Church of Scotland ministers – Robert Murray McCheyne, Dr Alexander Black, Dr Alexander Keith and Andrew Bonar – set sail on a six-month Mission of Enquiry to explore the possibility of establishing a mission to the Jews in what was then Palestine. The work amongst the Jews that resulted from the Mission of Enquiry commenced not in Palestine but in Budapest in 1842. The following year, a disruption in the Church of Scotland led to the founding of the Free Church of Scotland, under whose wing the mission in Budapest afterwards operated.

At the same time thousands of Jews fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe were arriving in London and, on 7th November 1842, a number of eminent London ministers met at the Scottish Church in Regent Square, to form The British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews. Nineteenth century mission founders weren’t into brevity, nor for that matter were some in the twentieth century. After becoming The International Society for the Evangelisation of the Jews in the 1960s, the mission became Christian Witness to Israel when it joined with the Barbican Mission to the Jews in 1976.

So, here we are 170 years later. Are we any nearer to seeing the salvation of the Jewish people? Consider the following statistics. It has been estimated that there were about twelve Jewish believers in the land when the state of Israel was founded in 1948. Twenty years later there were still so few that they all knew each other. In 1988, the number of believers was still only a few hundred. Today, a little over twenty years later, no one knows for sure how many Jewish believers there are in Israel; the estimates range from 12,000 to 20,000. On Google’s Israel search engine, the most frequently Googled words are ‘Yeshua’ (Jesus) and ‘Brit Hadashah’ (New Covenant). At New Age festivals, increasing numbers of Jewish people come for ‘Life Readings’ at The Jesus Experience.

All this is, of course, encouraging but the bulk of the nation is still without Messiah. We rejoice in the great number of Jewish people turning to Messiah but they are still a minority. Added to that, Christian opinion is swinging against Israel and the Jewish people. Also there is also a move taking place within evangelicalism that is undermining not only Jewish mission but also mission as a whole, and I will be addressing that issue in the next edition of the Herald.

The nineteenth century greats who laid the foundation of our mission were successful because the Holy Spirit was with them. We intend to use every tool, every piece of technology, every means we can while at the same time acknowledging we can accomplish nothing without the Holy Spirit. The great work that started 170 years ago was preceded by prayer. Each year when I travel to Scotland for the annual tour of churches, a retired minister assures me that he prays daily ‘with tears’ for the salvation of Israel. Imagine if that were true of us all! I’m making a decision, even as I write, to never let a day go by when I don’t pray for the salvation of Israel. And may God grant it to be with tears. 170 years after the founding of this great work I’m asking you to join me as watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, who ‘never hold their peace day or night’ and who ‘give him no rest till he establishes and till he makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth’ (Isaiah 62:6,7).

Yours for the salvation of Israel.

This article was first published in the Autumn Herald 2012

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