WITH JEWISH MISSIONS AND EVANGELISM David Brickner, Executive Director, Jews for Jesus Presented at the 26th Annual Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism-NA
March 2-4, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona
The theme of our conference, Jewish Evangelism Against All Odds, establishes an appropriate context for a discussion of Christian Zionism’s impact on Jewish evangelism today. It is indeed an odd thing that something so seemingly positive towards the Jewish people and so apparently Christian on its face would, in fact, be at odds with Jewish evangelism. That is the contention of this paper. Let me unpack it a bit further:
Christian Zionism, as it is often expressed today, dilutes the gospel message by offering comfort apart from Christ. Furthermore, it diverts gospel resources, in terms of people and funding, which could be channeled toward Jewish evangelism. And it also discourages evangelical Christians from witnessing to their friends.
Much has been written of late both pro and con regarding Christian Zionism, and it is not the purpose of this paper to rehash all those arguments. Just last year Mishkan gave over Issue 55/2008 to the subject, “Israel the Land and Christian Zionism” and I commend it to all of you for its current critique. My purpose here, however, is to provide an update on recent trends within Christian Zionism and their impact on Jewish evangelism in North America.
It is helpful to set the current situation in context by providing some definitions and a brief overview. Christian Zionism is the belief that the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land and the establishment of the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of God’s purposes and Bible prophecy and that it is a Christian duty to support and provide aid and comfort to the nation of Israel as well as to help encourage Jewish immigration to Israel from around the world.
Early Christian Zionism
Historically, Christian Zionism was not antithetical to Jewish evangelism. In its nascent form Christian Zionism, known as Restorationism, inextricably linked the hope of Israel’s physical restoration with that of her spiritual restoration in Christ. The history of Restorationism, which I will call biblical Christian Zionism, has been well documented. As scholar Paul Merkley has said,
Christian Zionism is not the creation of 19th century freelance theologians. Its ultimate source is mainstream Protestant theology of the 16th and 17th centuries, renewed in Anglican circles in England in the late 18th century and appearing as a significant emphasis in the preaching of the great revival and subsequent revivals which produced the mainstream evangelical churches of the 19th century in the United States. Christian Zionists adhere to a wide range of hermeneutic schools and belong to churches all across the spectrum.1 As far back as 1560, one can find comments in the marginal notes of the Geneva Bible on Romans 11:26 that Paul “showeth that the time shall come that the whole nation of the Jews, though not everyone particularly, shall be joined to the church of Christ.” John Ross documents quite a bit of this historical background in his 1990 Mishkan article, “Beyond Zionism: Evangelical Responsibility to Israel,” citing in particular Michael Pragai’s Faith and Fulfillment: Christians and the Return to the Promised Land as well as Ian Murray’s The Puritan Hope.2
More recently Stephen Sizer, whose criticism of Christian Zionism is deeply flawed, has nevertheless developed good historical material on 19th century biblical Christian Zionists who supported Jewish evangelism.
In fact, Sizer, points out the first evidence, it would seem, of a shift from biblical Christian Zionism to what I will call political Christian Zionism in the influence of the Reverend William Hechler, who despite being the son of London Jews Society (LJS) missionaries became an acquaintance of Theodore Herzl while serving as chaplain to the British Embassy in Vienna. Writes Sizer:
Although sympathetic to the evangelistic ministry of the LJS, Hechler’s advocacy and diplomacy marked a radical shift in Christian Zionism away from the views of Way and Simeon who saw restoration to the land as a consequence of Jewish conversion to Christianity.3 Sizer quotes from an 1898 letter from Hechler to a missionary in Jerusalem:
Of course dear colleague you look for the conversion of the Jews, but the times are changing rapidly, and it is important for us to look further and higher. We are now entering, thanks to the Zionist Movement, into Israel’s Messianic age. Thus it is not a matter these days of opening all the doors of your churches to the Jews, but rather of opening the gates of their homeland, and of sustaining them in their work of clearing the land and irrigating it and bringing water to it. All of this, dear colleague, is messianic work; all of this the breath of the Holy Spirit announces.4
Sizer’s overall assessment of Christian Zionism seems to be based on a visceral antagonism and mischaracterization of dispensationalism. While there is no doubt that dispensationalism in America provided a significant platform for the development of Christian Zionism, it hardly served as its only theological proponent and indeed if properly understood would provide an appropriate corrective to the rise of political Christian Zionism. Nevertheless, the dispensationlist movement gave birth to the most prominent of biblical Christian Zionists, William E. Blackstone, whose life and work has been the subject of numerous articles, including Blackstone’s Vision: The Influence of a Humble Friend of Israel presented at last year’s LCJE North American conference by Wes Tabor. The well-known Blackstone Memorial Petition of 1891 called for the U.S. to facilitate the restoration of Jewish people to the land of Israel and was influential in garnering American political support for the establishment of the State of Israel.
Having said all this, it is very hard to find among the restorationists of the 19th century and the early biblical Christian Zionists of the 20th century any who separated out their desire to see the Jewish people back in the land of Israel from their fervent desire to see Jewish people embrace Jesus as Messiah. It was only after the establishment of the State of Israel and indeed after the recapture of Jerusalem in 1967 that we began to see the rise of a non-biblical or rather a political Christian Zionism that divorced itself from Jewish evangelism.
Christian Zionism in Recent Times
Political Christian Zionism really came into its own in North America and was best represented early on by two organizations: Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem founded in 1976 and 1980, respectively. Both of these groups called upon Christians to support Israel as their biblical responsibility before God. Sadly, both organizations disavowed Jewish evangelism as well. These facts have been well documented, not only by Sizer, but in Issue 12 (1990) and Issue 55 (2008) of Mishkan as well as in a cogent paper on the Christian Embassy5 given at the 1985 LCJE North American conference by Harold Sevener, then President of the American Board of Missions to the Jews.
Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy continue their activities to this day and have expanded significantly around the world.
Bridges for Peace, long led by Clarence Wagner, is now under the direction of Rebecca Brimmer who is their international president and CEO. According to Guide Star, their 2007 budget was just over $4,500,000, of which $3,000,000 was used for assistance to Jewish immigrants and $944,000 for the producing of television programs, prayer and teaching letters and other periodicals. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s 2007 reporting included $1,700,000 in donations here in the U.S., of which $472,000 was spent on their educational program teaching Christians about the Jewish roots of their faith and the Biblical significance of Israel, $231,000 on their Feast of Tabernacles program in Jerusalem, $198,000 for the programs of their main branch in Jerusalem and $117,000 for general assistance for the needs of children, elderly, disabled, lone soldiers, new immigrants and needy families. Malcolm Hedding, an Assemblies of God ordained minister from South Africa, is the current executive director. Susan Michael is the USA Director though she doesn’t appear to receive a salary from the organization.
I’ve provided this detailed program and financial information to demonstrate that while these two organizations have been by far the best-known and most prominent Christian Zionist organizations in the latter part of the twentieth century, the fact is that the landscape of Christian Zionism has changed significantly in North America. This century has seen the rise of two powerful organizations whose influence far outstrips Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. They are the most sophisticated, financially powerful and prominent Christian Zionist organizations today. They, more effectively than their forebears in the ’80s and ’90s, have diluted the gospel message, diverted gospel resources and discouraged a balanced perspective toward the Israeli/Arab conflict. In fact, unbelieving Jewish men run both organizations.
International Fellowship of Christian and Jews
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is the Founder and President of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). He received his Orthodox rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. For 2007, the Fellowship received total revenues of over $78,000,000, most of which is funneled to relief agencies like the United Jewish Appeal and the Jewish Agency where Eckstein serves on their Boards of Directors. Eckstein’s annual salary was reported to be over $824,000 in HaAretz6. Yet in a recent Christianity Today feature article, “The Ultimate Kibitzer,” Eckstein claimed that his annual salary was $400,000. CT did mention that IFCJ contributed another $400,000 into a pension fund on Eckstein’s behalf, so perhaps that explains the discrepancy. That same CT article indicated that IFCJ has 800,000 donors today, 98% of whom are Christian.7
It is interesting to note that this feature article on the pages of CT, the premier U.S. evangelical Christian magazine couldn’t have been more positive if his own publicist had written it.
Recently appointed as goodwill ambassador for Israel, Rabbi Eckstein is also an unofficial advisor to the Prime Minister and works with Keren Hayesod, which is a quasi-governmental agency that serves as Israel’s liaison to evangelical Christian communities throughout the world. Despite the fact that Rabbi Eckstein is an Orthodox rabbi, his organization is prominent in shaping Christian attitudes towards Israel and the Jewish people. Sadly, the majority of his donors, who are evangelical Christians, may be unaware that Rabbi Eckstein is not a believer in Jesus or that the moneys that he funnels to Jewish organizations are not given in Jesus’ name. At the same time, a significant number of Christians do understand that he is not a Christian; yet continue to give because of the quality of his educational programs.
One pastor pointed out to me that he supports Rabbi Eckstein because of his On Wings of Eagles program. This program offers education to churches and individuals on subjects ranging from anti-Semitism to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Rabbi Eckstein’s instruction to Christians and churches, however, is not limited to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict or issues of anti-Semitism. In his book What Christians Should Know About Jews and Judaism as well as in other printed material, he attacks Messianic Jews as “Judaizers” and suggests “the rejection of Jesus as Messiah is the key to Jewish survival.” At a local rally in support of Israel hosted by Raytown Baptist Church in the Kansas City area, Rabbi Eckstein stated, “The Jewish community and evangelicals are to cooperate whenever possible . . . but if they (evangelicals) are involved in targeted missions toward Jews, like Jews for Jesus, we won’t work with them.”8
Christians United For Israel
A second organization competing for Christian Zionist affections is the more recently formed Christians United for Israel. Though headlined by well-known charismatic pastor and preacher John Hagee, CFI’s executive director is David Brog, an unbelieving Jewish attorney who served in various positions in the Senate including chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter. Brog, author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State,9 has been quite plain about Christians United for Israel’s rejection of evangelism. In an interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez on Beliefnet he states,
The important question is this: is evangelical support for Israel merely a tool in the effort to convert Jews? Is this merely some scheme to soften up the Jews so that they can better sell Jesus to them? And the answer to this question is absolutely not. If anything, the opposite is true. I and others who have worked with Christians in support of Israel all report that no one has ever tried to convert us. In fact, Christians who support Israel tend to know more Jews and to understand their sensitivities better than Christians who do not. Thus, they have learned that Jews find ‘Jesus talk’ offensive, and they tend to leave it out of the dialogue.10 He even went so far as to say that, “While there is no evidence that the Christian-Jewish alliance in support of Israel [aka CUFI] facilitates the conversion of Jews, there is evidence that the alliance actually works to impede efforts to convert Jews.11
Brog made it clear in an interview in the Washington Jewish Week that “all Christians United for Israel events are strictly non-conversionary and that the group will have no Jewish converts as speakers at events or on the organization’s Board.”12 Brog went on to say; “The group tells people that if you cannot put aside your desire to share the gospel with Jews there’s the door.”13
Of course this would be expected policy coming from any organization run by unbelieving Jews. The fact that the organization states that it is Christian yet excludes fellow Jewish Christians from participation is both racist and unchristian. Tuvya Zaretsky tells the story of having been invited apparently accidentally to a program sponsored by Christians United for Israel and the Israel Christian Nexxus, a pro-Israel lobby group. When he called to confirm participation, Patricia Johnson, who was working on the event, told him that he was invited by accident and because he was a Jewish believer in Jesus was not welcome. Said Zaretsky,
“Somehow these Christians do not realize that if they want to bless Israel, they must extend that blessing to all of Israel – including those within the Body of Messiah and those who still need to be introduced to Him.”14 Sadly, it is not just that Jewish believers are not welcomed in Christians United for Israel. Neither is the gospel. And not just because of the Jewish unbelievers. The well-known figurehead of CUFI and perhaps the most prominently known Christian Zionist today is John Hagee. Hagee’s profile, I would dare say, is larger than that of the late Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson in this regard. I know of no instance where either Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell renounced evangelism to the Jewish people despite one story in the Jerusalem Post to the contrary, which Falwell repudiated. In his new volume, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism, Stephen Spector documents some instances where both Robertson and Falwell strongly advocate evangelizing Jewish people.15 But with Hagee there are numerous statements from his own lips strongly advocating the opposite. Here are a few:
“I’m not trying to convert the Jewish people to the Christian faith,” he said. . . . In fact trying to convert Jews is a “waste of time,” he said. “The Jewish person who has his roots in Judaism is not going to convert to Christianity. There’s no form of Christian evangelism that has failed so miserably as evangelizing the Jewish people. They (already) have a faith structure.” . . . Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus, he says. But not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity, he says.
“The Jewish people have a relationship to God through the law of God as given through Moses,” Hagee said. “I believe that every Gentile person can only come to God through the cross of Christ. I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption.”16 In one of Hagee’s latest books In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State (2007), he contends the Jewish people as a whole did not reject Jesus as Messiah. Jesus did not come to the earth to be the Messiah. Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah. And the Jews cannot be blamed for accepting what was never offered. As Michael Brown notes in his critique of the book,
Although Pastor Hagee has consistently stated that he does not teach Dual Covenant theology referring to the false concept that Jews can be saved outside of faith in Jesus, his new teaching certainly aids and abets that error. After all if ‘the Jews did not reject Jesus as Messiah’ (as stated in bold print in his book) and if ‘Jesus refused by word and deed to be the Messiah’ (be it the ‘reigning Messiah’ or not), then, not only can it be said that ‘the Jews [in Jesus’ day] cannot be blamed for not accepting what was never offered’ but that the Jews in any day cannot be blamed for not accepting Y’shua.17 To his credit, when confronted with the serious problems of the assertions in his book and at the insistence of Steve Strang his publisher and the Reverend Jack Hayford, John Hagee apparently agreed to a revision for the second edition. Michael Brown was also involved in that revision. However, at this point I do not know if another edition has actually been published; and there’s certainly been no recall of the 2007 edition.
Unfortunately it’s not easy to tell what the scope of resources is behind the Christians United for Israel group. They have not filed a form 990 with the IRS. Hagee’s Global Evangelism Television Inc. does have filings, but only as recently as 2004. At that time they had an annual income of over $10,000,000 and Hagee’s compensation from the company was $500,000 a year. Of course the 18,000-member church that he pastors, Cornerstone, is separate from the television ministry. One presumes he receives a salary from the church as well as whatever royalties his more than a dozen books provides.
Christians United for Israel, as I said, has not registered any financial information, although news articles can give us an indication. In October of 2007, according to the Jewish News Weekly, CUFI raised 8.5 million dollars for Israeli causes at Hagee’s “Night to Honor Israel” event.18 If you look on the CUFI website you will see several “Night to Honor Israel” events scheduled each month.
CUFI does identify its regional directors, some of whom are well known political Christian Zionists. One of the better known is Robert Stearns of Robert Stearns International Incorporated, doing business as Eagles’ Wings Ministries. Stearns’ organization is best known for organizing the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. It reported income of $2,800,000 for the year 2007, and states its purpose is to “promote the message of Christianity.” However, Eagles’ Wings Ministries does not encourage prayer for the salvation of Israel, the only true hope for peace.
Hear it from a rabbi’s lips: Rabbi Clifford Kulwin related his encounter with Stearns at a Night To Honor Israel rally in Cranford, New Jersey in September of 2007. “His [Stearns] remarks could not have been more blunt: “Let’s talk about the 600-pound gorilla in the room. I am not here to convert you.”
Kulwin went on to show how Stearns further assured his Jewish audience: “He [Stearns] explained that Evangelicals view Christians and Jews alike as having a specific role in God’s plan. Besides, he simply has ‘too much respect’ for the Jewish people ever to suggest that any individual Jew should become something else.”19
I got to know Robert Stearns a little bit more in connection with the publication last year of the Gospel and the Jewish People, an Evangelical Statement. This statement, sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance, received the endorsement of scores of well-known Christian leaders including Chuck Colson, R.T. Kendall and John Piper. Before the statement was actually published and made available to the public I received a call from Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, the International Director of the World Evangelical Alliance. He was in a bit of a panic due to the fact that WEA offices in Canada and the U.S. were being flooded with e-mails and phone calls protesting the release of the statement, which hadn’t even been published yet. He wanted my advice as to what to do. It was readily apparent that one of the Christian leaders who had been approached in advance to sign the statement had made it known what the WEA was about to do and was organizing the e-mail and phone-in campaign.
I asked Dr. Tunnicliffe to send me a sampling of some of the e-mails that they had received. As we started to google the names he sent we began to see a common thread. They were all in one way or another connected to Robert Stearns and his organization Eagles Wings. I called Robert Stearns to ask him, on behalf of Geoff Tunnicliffe, what he was up to and why. He initially denied any involvement in orchestrating the protest. Soon after that I was provided with evidence to the contrary.
When I called Robert Stearns back to confront him with the evidence, he admitted to “making a few phone calls and sending out a few e-mails.” Thankfully, Geoff Tunnicliffe and the World Evangelical Alliance were not cowed.
We can all be grateful for the willingness of men like Geoff Tunnicliffe and others who signed that statement to take a public stand. But to this very day they do so not only with the disdain of Jewish leaders and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League but also and most specifically against the wishes of political Christian Zionist leaders. By the way, one of the letters of protest that the WEA received was from Susan Michael who is the Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, USA branch.
It’s evident that the stakes have been raised in the conflict between political Christian Zionism and Jewish evangelism. Whereas in its earlier expressions (Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem) there was a benign neglect of the biblical responsibility to share the gospel with Jewish people, in this first decade of the 21st century neglect has turned into antagonism and a not so subtle opposition. The question, “How should we respond?” remains for us as individuals and organizations committed to Jewish evangelism. The following are a few suggestions and perhaps the wisdom of this group will provide many more.
1. We must engage political Christian Zionist leaders to the best of our ability and seek to persuade them at the very least not to oppose direct Jewish evangelism. Even if they themselves choose not to engage in it, they must see the rightness of ceasing their opposition to the proclamation of the gospel to our people and they must stop instructing their Christian constituency to refrain from sharing the gospel with their Jewish friends.
2. We should also challenge these political Christian Zionist organizations to be more transparent in stating that they do not evangelize Jewish people and oppose those who do. Despite some of their public statements to that effect, most who support them are not fully aware nor are they aware of the unbeliever status of Yechiel Eckstein or David Brog.
3. We should make it our business to inform influencers of the Christian public such as Christianity Today, Charisma, World Magazine and others that Eckstein and his ilk oppose the proclamation of the gospel. I want to commend The Messianic Times on its piece on Eckstein this past year. Would that mainstream Christian publications follow suit.
4. It might even be more helpful to encourage those not directly involved in our field to make their voices heard. A letter I was copied on from a Peter Benson to Christianity Today last August, reads:
Do you realize that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, whom you are running advertisements for, is an anti-missionary organization that directly opposes Messianic Jewish evangelism around the world and in Israel. I strongly protest the ads you are running for this organization. Messianic Jewish believers around the world are spreading the word about Yeshua haMeshiach (Jesus Christ) being the Messiah of the world, and of the Jews. They are strongly opposed to IFCJ. Please be more discriminating about who you allow to run advertisements.20
5. We can also be proactive in alerting churches who host CUFI events as to some of what I’ve outlined in this paper. A visit to the events section on the CUFI website will reveal upcoming pastor’s luncheons and CUFI rallies in cities across the country. Sponsoring churches are also listed, some of which would want to be better informed.
6. We need to avoid the temptation of competing for funds with these groups by tailoring our own ministry and message to take advantage of the obvious generosity of those who support Christian Zionist causes. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try and gain the support of those individuals, but we need to guard our own integrity and protect our own focus of ministry on evangelism. I have noticed a trend in some Jewish evangelistic ministries toward promoting relief work and mercy ministry almost to the exclusion of evangelism. Yechiel Eckstein is not our competition, he’s our opposition.
Recently I was at a gathering of mission leaders from across North America. A well-known missiologist pointed out that an increasing percentage of Christian giving is being diverted from direct missions to mercy ministries. His admonition was that we needed to find ways to tie our missions work to mercy ministries; otherwise we might miss out on the gravy train of Christian giving in the coming years. Does anybody see a problem with that kind of approach? I can understand the need to develop alternative approaches to mission in restricted access countries. But when the freedom to proclaim the gospel directly and openly is there and we invest a lot of our energy in mercy ministry simply because we expect that Christians will more generously support such efforts, we undermine the integrity of our witness. Moishe Rosen’s aphorism still stands. “It’s easier to raise money than it is to be worthy of it.”
1 Paul C. Merkley, “Christian Zionism 101,” January-February 2009, http://www.think-israel.org/merkley.christianzionism.html. Merkley is Professor Emeritus of History at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
2 John S. Ross, “Beyond Zionism: Evangelical Responsibility to Israel,” Mishkan, Vol. 12, 1990.
3 Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2004) p.76. Pagination is taken from a pre-publication PDF version.
5 Harold A. Sevener, “The Christian Embassy: a Viewpoint of a Jewish Mission,” LCJE North America, April 9-12, 1985.
7 John W. Kennedy,“Ultimate Kibitzer—Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein wants Jews to trust evangelicals, and evangelicals to love Israel", Christianity Today, February 2009.
8 Rick Hellman, “Rabbi reassures Jews about evangelicals,” Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, February 17, 2006.
9 David Brog, Standing With Israel (Frontline Publishers, Lake Mary, FL, 2006).
10 Kathryn Jean Lopez, “Jews & Evangelicals Together: Why Some Christians Are So Pro-Israel,” http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2006/05/Jews-Evangelicals-Together-Why-Some-Christians-Are-So-Pro-Israel.aspx
11 David Brog, Standing With Israel, pp. 188-189.
12 Eric Fingerhut, “Educating on Evangelicals,” Washington Jewish Week, July 5, 2007.
14 “Jewish Believers ‘Dis-Invited’ from Dialogue with John Hagee,” Jews for Jesus Realtime, June 15, 2006, http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/realtime/36/know.
15 Stephen Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009) p.118.
16 Julia Duin, “San Antonio fundamentalist battles anti-Semitism,” Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1988.
17 Dr. Michael L. Brown, “Is there Serious Error in the New Book, In Defense of Israel?” http://www.icnministries.org/israel/defenseIsrael.htm.
18 “Evangelicals raise $8.5 million for Israel”,The Jewish News Weekly, San Francisco, October 26, 2007.
19 Clifford M. Kulwin, “A rabbi comes to terms with a Christian Zionist,” New Jersey Jewish News, March 27, 2008.
20 E-mail sent by Peter F. Benson to Christianity Today, Letter to the Editor on August 14, 2008 and blind copied to firstname.lastname@example.org