Welcome to my October blog. If you are visiting for the first time a special welcome to you. Please consider signing up to the Romans 15:8 leaders network if you agree with the core convictions and would want to affirm these publically in your ministry.
As I wrote in September’s blog, it is always encouraging to have conversations or correspondence with network members - however can I encourage you if you want to make a comment or share some insight please consider doing this publically via the ‘add a new comment’ option on this page of the website. I realise some may want to contact me privately and I am happy about this, yet a public conversation does mean others can engage with it and benefit from the insights and wisdom (or lack of wisdom!) shared.
Ministry News Update
At the end of October it is good to be able to welcome back three key CMJ colleagues from extended furlough. I am sure all three despite current covid restrictions will be able to contribute significantly to the ongoing ministry of CMJ.
Also, this month (14th) CMJ hosted the lecture by Paul Hocking. Paul spoke on ‘How does God write?’. This was linked to the giving of the Ten Commandments. I found this a fascinating and insightful time of teaching. Paul has done some extensive research on this (linked to his PH D studies). I urge you to listen to this talk (it’s available from this website - link) – it really is worth investing in.
I am currently reading He Will Reign Forever by Michael J. Vlach (published by Lampion House, 2020). This is a ground breaking study and provides an overview of a Biblical theology of the Kingdom of God.
Vlach argues (convincingly in my view) that there are many great themes in the Bible, such as “covenant”, “glory”, “salvation” and the “people of God”, however the reality of the Kingdom of God provides most fully a coherence to theology. He then in depth explores the understanding of the Kingdom in the Old Testament (focusing on ten texts), the understanding of the Kingdom in the New Testament (focusing on seventeen texts) before concluding with segments on the theological issues arising from these Biblical texts.
Vlach promotes a literal pre-millennial eschatology, yet does so in a careful and balanced way. For us within CMJ there is a very positive affirmation in his writing about the significance of Israel’s restoration. In many ways this is a very good antidote to the eschatology promoted by key scholars such as N.T. Wright and others who take different lines of interpretation often drawing upon a preterist reading of Revelation and other prophetic texts.
In some ways this sounds a ‘heavy book’ and it certain demands some carefully reading, yet Vlach writes with passion, a passion rooted in the goodness, justice and faithfulness of God.
Monthly Memory Verse
From His mouth comes a sharp sword - so that with it He may strike down the nations – and He shall rule them with an iron rod, and He treads the winepress of the furious wrath of Elohei-Tzva’ot. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “King of Kings, and Lord of lords.” Revelation 19:15-16 - text from the Messianic Jewish Family Bible - Tree of Life Version.
Teaching reflection of the month
Following on from my September blog I now include the second (of three) part of my draft chapter for the major new writing project overseen by the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). My chapter covers The History of Jewish Evangelism. Once again I would value any comments from Romans 15:8 members.
The History of Jewish Evangelism - Part 2
The ‘Parting of the Ways?’
Within the early years of the emerging Church, Jewish Believers in Jesus and their wider faith community were largely seen by other Jews (and by the wider Roman authorities) as a ‘party‘ or ‘movement’ within Judaism. This was possible in part because of the way in which many Jewish Believers in Jesus maintained key Jewish practices and beliefs, and partly because the wider Jewish community was far from uniform, and many diverse Jewish groups and identities existed. In order to reflect this diversity it is better perhaps to speak of Second Temple Judaisms, rather than a single Judaism.
The journey by which Rabbinical Judaism and Christianity emerged as institutionally and theologically separate religious realities was complicated. There was no defining event or moment in time or place when the ‘parting’ occurred. The book of Acts chronicles the rejection of the Gospel message in a number of synagogue contexts, and following the Fall of Jerusalem (67-70) and the various developments leading up to, and immediately following, the Bar Kochba revolt (135), the ‘demarcation lines’ between Jewish Believers in Jesus (and the wider Church) and emerging post-Temple Rabbinical Judaism became much clearer, sharper and much more widely established. This ‘parting’ is widened and deepened as the Church became progressively ‘more Gentile’ in terms of numbers of Believers, and in their subsequent cultural identity and practice; and also as emerging Rabbinical Judaism redefined Jewish faith and practice in ways which began to marginalise, or fully reject, the legitimacy of Jewish Believers in Jesus.
As a consequence of this the Church became more isolated from its Biblical roots and New Testament practice. It is as if the truth and beauty of the Gospel was slowly being poured into moulds of thought and practice from the second century onwards, that subtly subverted the Gospel, and redefined Christianity as ‘alien’ to Jewish life. This fuelled a growing conflict based upon a ‘contested identity’ between the Church and Rabbinic Judaism. In this conflict there was much polemic and wider disputes (from both sides) over who the true keepers of Biblical revelation are, and who is now truly ‘God’s chosen people’. The largely persecuted Church also becomes in some contexts the persecutor (in the post-Constantine period), and new expressions of status and power in favour of Christianity, began to change many of the dynamics within ongoing relationships between Christians and Jews.
There is clearly much disputed history over how and why the ‘parting of the ways’ took place and how this should be interpreted (1). Yet what is clear is, although Jewish evangelism continued and Jewish Believers continued their discipleship, by the end of the fourth century there were no obvious expressions of vibrant Jewish identity and community life within the Church, and the separation between Church and Rabbinic Judaism was almost complete. The Church representing Christianity became seen as a separate religion from Judaism, and Jewish Believers in Jesus were a marginalised group, often misunderstood and at times persecuted by both Church and Synagogue.
This ‘parting of the ways’ resulted in subverting Jewish evangelism from the New Testament pattern and made the evangelistic Jewish call often appear to be an ‘alien scream’ motivated at times by a theology distorted by supersessionist teaching. This teaching was fuelled by a number of factors such as; a moving away from a ‘Hebraic worldview’ and adopting a more ‘Greek focused’ way of thinking, anti-Semitic agendas and the misuse of power. In all of this the ‘hope for Israel’ was cast aside. However, despite all of this Jewish Believers in Jesus can be identified in every century of the Church’s history, often providing a testimony to God’s faithfulness and providing a challenge to both Church and Synagogue.
A new beginning and a renewed call?
The Reformation awakened in parts of the Church a love for and a commitment to the teachings of the Bible. As Christians read (often in their own languages for the first time) and reflected upon the message of the Bible, minds and hearts were stirred in many ways. One clear way such minds and hearts were stirred was in receiving a calling to engage in evangelism, and in wider mission in new and dynamic ways. Part of this included a focus upon reaching out to the Jewish people, who were scattered among the nations. This focus on Jewish people can often be linked to an emerging philo-Semitism, and within this love for Jewish people was the core theological belief that Jewish survival, renewal and restoration is the will of God.
This renewed interest in Jewish people and this underlying philo-Semitism was not however something held by, or was intrinsic to all Reformers. This should not be surprising as one considers Luther’s polemics against the Jewish people (2), and the indifferent attitudes in much Reformation history and theological writings towards Jewish issues (and associated wider Christian issues), such as Jewish focused evangelism and 'Israel-centred’ eschatology.
Furthermore philo-Semitism and ongoing engagement with the Scriptures fuelled the desire in some Christians to pray for and to seek the restoration of the Jewish nation. The vision of restoration for the Jewish nation can be seen clearly in the writing and preaching of some of the early Reformers, such as Andrew Willett (1562-1621), Thomas Brightman (1562-1607) and Pierre Jurieu (1637-1713). Brightman’s book published eight years after his death was titled: Shall they return to Jerusalem again? This book argued strongly for the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land in fulfilment of the Scriptures. It was seen by many as pioneering in its advocacy and it was greatly influential in many Christian circles.
Jewish evangelism and Israel’s restoration (often within a specific Biblical eschatological context) were for many Protestant Christians the ‘two foundational pillars’ on which new and emerging Jewish mission initiatives and institutions were to be built. Much initial pioneering work was done in Germany, drawing upon both pietistic Lutheran and Moravian networks. In 1656, Esdras Edzardus opened in Hamburg a mission initiative which sought to provide Christian teaching, discipleship and practical assistance for Jewish people. This initiative inspired later Lutheran mission workers such as Philipp Jakob Spener (1663-1705) and August Hermann Francke (1663-1727).
In 1728, the Institute Judaicum was established in Halle. This pioneering mission institute had three main missionary aims; to establish a printing press, to provide pastoral and practical support to Jewish Believers in Jesus and to appoint and resource travelling Jewish evangelists. Although the Institute closed in 1791, it was considered to be the ‘catalyst’ for a number of later projects, including the Berlin seminary in which Joseph Levi (1771-1850) was a missionary student. Joseph Levi (Frey) was the son of a rabbi and came to faith in Jesus in 1798. Joseph Levi (Frey) went on to be the founder of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews (LSPCJ) in 1809 (3).
Another important Jewish evangelistic work in this period was established and led by Johann Dober in the Netherlands, this work began in 1738. A quote from the History of the Moravian Church(4), gives a useful glimpse into this historically and theologically significant ministry:
...he was a master of the Hebrew tongue, he was expert in all the customs of the Jews, he was offered a professorship at Konigsberg; and yet, instead of winning his laurels as an Oriental scholar, he preferred to settle down in humble style in the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam, and there to talk to his friends the Jews about the Christ he loved so deeply. His method of work was instructive. He never dazed his Jewish friends with dogmatic theology. He never tried to prove that Christ was the Messiah of the prophecies. He simply told them, in a kindly way, how Jesus had risen from the dead, and how much this risen Jesus had done in the world; he shared their hope of a national gathering in Palestine; and though he could never boast of making converts, he was so beloved by his Jewish friends that they called him, ‘Rabbi Schmuel’.
The re-emergence of ‘Jewish-Christianity’
It is of interest to note in reviewing some of these new emerging evangelistic ministries and the various associated agencies and institutions, to see the relatively high percentage of Jewish Believers in Jesus, who held significant leadership roles in these ministries. This number grew significantly throughout the nineteenth century (5). Joseph Levi (Frey) has already been noted, and space in this chapter does not allow for any complete list to be presented, yet the following fifteen names (6) are a worthy place to start: Michael Solomon Alexander, Joseph Wolff, August Neander, Isaac Da Costa, Alfred Edersheim, Ferdinand Ewald, Aaron Stern, John Moses Eppstein, Paul Cassel, Samuel Isaac Schereschewsky, Isaac Hellmuth, Mirza Norollah, David Baron, Leon Levison and Arnold Frank.
Following on from this relatively high percentage of Jewish Believers in Jesus within these evangelistic ministries was the associated question about the validity and desirability of developing a distinctive ‘Hebrew Christian’ identity within (or beyond) existing ecclesiastical commitments and structures. This question challenged both the Church and Jewish communities that held the strongly established view that faith in Jesus and Jewishness were mutually exclusive. The first stirrings of this Hebrew Christian identity can be traced back to the initial meeting of the ‘Sons of Abraham’ in London in 1813 (7). Many within the emerging Hebrew Christian movement held ‘inclusive’ views of identity as Jewish Believers in Jesus and sought to be conciliatory in regard to relations with existing Church commitments and structures. Yet others pursued a more ‘separatist’ and ‘independent’ agenda.
Those who championed the vision of Hebrew Christian identity beyond existing ecclesiastic commitments and structures sought to work towards a Hebrew Christian community which was ethnically Jewish, and theologically, liturgically and institutionally independent from the wider Church. It was argued that such independence would allow for the freedom of Jewish Christians to be faithful to their national customs, to create new liturgical and theological expressions of their faith, and to allow for closer links to be forged potentially with various other Jewish groups. This would possibly also act as a vital catalyst for new Jewish evangelistic initiatives. Within this emerging vision there were many different models of religious and community life and, from some of these models, embryonic forms of some of today’s Messianic Jewish congregations can be traced.
The majority of these Jewish Believers who sought to champion renewed forms of Hebrew Christian identity came from traditional (observant) Jewish religious homes. At the heart of their calling were two core epistemic priorities: firstly, the continued election of the Jewish people, and secondly, the faith declaration that Jesus is the risen Messiah and the eternal Son of God. At the heart of all of this is the profound insight that, If Jesus is not the Messiah for Jews, He is not Christ for the Nations. Significant momentum to this emerging vision was also given by a range of other factors, such as the relative ‘success’ of Jewish evangelism (8), the continuing support from many Gentile Christians (9), the growth in Christian Zionism, the establishing of the first modern Jewish bishopric (Anglican) in Jerusalem, the influence of key figures such as Ridley Haim Herschell, Stanislaus Hoga, Joseph Rabinowitz, Carl Schwartz and Paul Levertoff, elements of Jewish emancipation, and the overall increase of the world-wide Jewish population.
The debate over the legitimacy of this vision raged in many Church circles (10), and those opposed to such a vision felt that pursuing this vision would be impracticable, would undermine true unity and would significantly distract many away from the prime focus of Jewish evangelism. Also, many established Church groups were much more ‘comfortable’ with Hebrew Christians who placed their Church allegiances before their Jewish identity. In such cases Jewish identity would often be ‘lost’ (11) in the following generations. In addition to this there was the theological conviction held by some within the Church that all the civil and ceremonial aspects of the Torah had been abrogated by the coming of the Gospel.
1. There is much helpful literature on this theme, for example see the following; Verus Israel, by Marcel Simon (Littman Press, 1986), God’s Unfailing Word,(especially part 1 (1)- A Difficult History ) by The Faith and Order Commission of the Church of England (Church House Publishing, 2019),The History of the Jewish Christianity, by Hugh Schonfield (Duckworth Publishers, 1936- republished in 2009 by Bruce Booker – Biblical Life College and Seminary), The Jewish People and the Church, by Jakob Jocz (Baker Books,1949), The Early Centuries-Jewish Believers in Jesus, edited by Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik (Hendrickson, 2007) and The Parting of the Ways, by Alex Jacob (Olive Press Research Paper, 2017)- free to download from The Churches Ministry among Jewish People UK website- cmj.org.uk
2. For further study of this see Luther and the Jews, by Richard Harvey (Cascade Books, 2017).
3. This mission agency continues today and is known as The Churches Ministry among Jewish People. Following on from the LSPCJ – many other mission agencies among Jewish people were established, often with particular denominational and national links and with specific theological convictions. Mission agencies such as The Irish Presbyterian Mission to the Jews (1840), Christian Witness to Israel (1842), The Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel (1844), The Mildmay Mission to the Jews (1876), The Danish Israel Mission (1885),Chosen People Ministries (1894), Christian Testimony to Israel (1897), The Christian Jew Foundation (1948) and Jews for Jesus (1973). Many of these mission agencies (and many others) with a clear focus on Jewish evangelism continue today and are active within the Lausanne movement.
4. History of the Moravian Church, (Book 2), by J Hutton – first published in 1923, republished by BiblioLife in 2008.
5. For example in the 1830’s there were only 8 Jewish Christians in Holy Orders within the Church of England, by the end of the century the figure had risen to around 200 –statistics sourced from The Emergence of the Hebrew Christian Movement in the Nineteenth –Century Britain, by Michael Darby (Brill, 2010).
6. All these people and their ministries are discussed in the book Jewish Christian Leaders by George Stevens (Oliphants, 1966).
7. See Three Sons of Abraham, by Kelvin Crombie (Heritage Resources, 2013).
8. Figures indicate that at the beginning of the nineteenth century in London only 0.2% of Jews were Believers in Jesus, but at the end of the century the figure was around 2.5%. See footnote 13, for statistical source information.
9. See for example the ministry and theological insights of the Gentile Anglican clergyman John Oxlee (1799- 1854) who was arguably the main theological forerunner of Joseph Rabinowitz.
10. This debate continues today in many circles and takes on new forms with the emergence of Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism plays a key role in helping Jewish evangelists and wider mission practitioners to study, reflect and engage within this on-going debate.
11. This loss of Jewish identity was not often a deliberate choice, but was often the ‘unintended consequence’ of on-going Christian allegiances.