No other faith group is simultaneously closer to and further away from Christianity than the Jewish people. Like long-lost relatives, the two have been separated by generations of mistreatment, misunderstanding and mistrust.
But there are signs that bridges burned long ago are being rebuilt, and Foursquare is poised to play a significant role in that new crossing. Realizing that opportunity will require greater understanding of what unites and separates Christians and Jews, and creativity in overcoming long-held prejudices of both sides.
Though Christians may think of being Jewish as a religious identity, it is much more cultural. Jews are overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes, says Howard Diamond, senior pastor of Newlife (Mesa II Foursquare Church) in Mesa, Ariz.
Having grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, Howard notes: “Although there are a few who follow the traditions, most of them don’t go to temple regularly. They don’t really know the Scriptures. Israel is a secular state, and the religious Jews there are few in number and generally looked down on.”
While they may not live their faith daily, they do hold firmly to the values it has rooted in them, says Bobby Bell, senior pastor of Tree of Life (Odessa 2 Foursquare Church) in Odessa, Texas. “Family is very important,” observes Bobby, who has been given the honorary title of rabbi by members of the local Jewish community for his befriending of them.
“It's very unusual to find a Jewish divorce,” adds Howard Diamond, who in addition to pastoring serves as divisional superintendent of the West Phoenix Metro Division. “They are very dedicated to family and children, committed to providing well for their families. Committed to education and good schooling. They love fellowship.”
Politically, Jews in the U.S. skew heavily liberal, many having arrived in the country during the civil and human rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, notes J. Montanari, an ordained pastor who is part of Adat HaMashiach Messianic Congregation in Mission Viejo, Calif. and is affiliated with the national Messianic movement. But they appreciate Republicans’ support of Israel, he adds.
Understanding the Differences
Centuries of anti-Semitism, some of it from the church, have made many Jews leery of outsiders. “Their motto is, ‘Never again,’ ” says Howard Diamond, who has identified some of his own family members in photographs at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. “There is a wariness of strangers; trust is very difficult.”
When they do consider issues of belief, Jews are scandalized by the idea that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They also balk at the concept of the Trinity.
“Most Jewish people think that Christians believe in three gods [Father, Son and Holy Spirit]. They don’t know that Christianity is monotheistic,” explains Hylan Slobodkin, the senior rabbi at Beit Tikvah Messianic Congregation (Newcastle SE Foursquare Church) in Newcastle, Wash.
Hylan came to Christ at Francis Schaeffer’s famous L’Abri center in Switzerland in 1970, at the end of a spiritual quest that had led him from his Jewish roots through drugs and Hinduism. He believes Christians need to learn more about their faith’s Hebraic heritage.
Most Christians don’t know that the early church was all Jewish for up to the first 20 years after the resurrection of Jesus, Hylan says. “Today the church is primarily Gentile, and the question is, how did we get from Acts 15”—the record of the first Gentile converts—“to today?”
Unfortunately, the gospel is too often presented to Jews as a completely new direction they have to choose, rather than the completion of a journey they have already started. Consider how objectionable the idea of denying who they are is to a people who have endured repeated attempts to wipe them out, suggests John Siu, a cantor, or worship leader, at Adat HaMashiach Messianic Congregation in Mission Viejo, Calif., who is currently pursuing Foursquare credentials.
“All through the years,” John explains, “they have struggled to preserve their identity as Jewish, and now here comes a group of people that tells you that you can no longer be Jewish? That’s a big turnoff.”
However, a proper reading of Ephesians Chapter 2 reveals a reversal of that thought. It shows the gospel to be about Gentiles, non-Jews, becoming citizens of Israel with the Jews, not Jews joining the church, says Hylan Slobodkin. “That’s mind-boggling for most of my Christian friends,” he adds.
Communicating the Truth
Because of the way the message of the New Testament has been distorted, though, many Jews believe “that Jesus is against them; if they come to church, they are told they have to forget everything they have learned their entire lives—their traditions and heritage,” says J. Montanari. “It is very unrealistic for a Jew to do that.”
Church culture as well as church teaching is often off-putting, as well.
“To Christians, the cross is forgiveness for our sins, salvation. It is a thing of beauty,” points out Hylan Slobodkin. “To a Jewish person, it means the Crusades, when they had crosses on their shields; the Spanish Inquisition, when they were told to convert or die; the swastika—the broken cross of the Holocaust. So to walk into a church and see a cross would be anathema.”
J. Montanari and others in the Messianic movement see reaching Jewish people as pivotal for world history, noting how the Bible foretells how many of God’s chosen people will come to embrace Jesus as their Messiah in the end times.
“Understanding God’s heart for Israel and the Jewish people is key to worldwide revival,” affirms Hylan Slobodkin.
Foursquare churches seeking validation of a heart for the Jews need look no further than Foursquare's own Pastor Jack Hayford. A longtime champion of the need for Christians to recognize the Jewish roots of their faith and supporter of Israel, he sparked the vision for Foursquare’s 2007 international convention being held in Jerusalem as a symbol of the church’s unbreakable link to the land and its people. As founder and chancellor of The King’s University in Southern California, he was instrumental in its offering a groundbreaking Messianic Jewish Studies program.
For J. Montanari, such moves are signs that “we are on the cusp of a great period of time that, if we are good stewards of this calling and ministry, could see it grow in leaps and bounds.”
This is Part 1 of 2
Read part 2 of this story, in which we share some practical advice.
By: Andy Butcher, a freelance writer living in the Orlando, Fla., area