Tag Archives: evangelism

Why All Our Arguments Will Never Whisper To The Soul

faithIn the comments section of my previous meditation, a number of people debated over their various theological beliefs and offered a number of “proofs” to support their points of view. At about the same time, I read an article called “Why is there no evidence of G-d” at Chabad.org. This inspired a few thoughts about the nature of “truth” and why (probably) no one person or religious organization has the complete corner market on truth. But in the sidebar of the aforementioned article was a series of links to related articles. I clicked the one that said What Does it Mean to “Believe in G-d”?.

The statement, “I believe there is a G‑d” is meaningless. Faith is not the ability to imagine that which does not exist. Faith is finding relevance in that which is transcendent. To believe in G‑d, then, means not that you’re of the opinion that He exists, but that you have found relevance in Him. When a person says “I believe in G‑d” what s/he really means is “G‑d is significant in my life”.

In discussing our relationship with G‑d, the question we first need to ask, is, Who cares? In what way is He relevant?

For some people, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the origins of existence. For others, G‑d is relevant because they are concerned with the afterlife, and faith is a prerequisite for getting to heaven. Finally, for others, G‑d is relevant because they believe that life has purpose.

Certainly Christians convince others to come to faith because of the promise of the afterlife (“If you died tonight, do you know what would happen to your soul?”). The Church convinces “sinners” to convert to Christianity based, at least initially, on the fear of going to Hell and suffering for all eternity, and that by being “saved,” they are promised they’ll avoid Hell and ascend to Heaven when they die to be with Jesus.

That seems kind of cheesy. It’s like we have faith in God because it’s all about us and our salvation. Even coming to faith so we have some “grounding” in the origins of the universe, people, and the existence of everything still seems kind of self-centered.

But what about believing because we want life to actually mean something?

In Judaism, particularly in Chassidism, the interest in G‑d comes from the conviction that life has meaning. The recurring question in Chassidic thought is: Why is a soul sent into the world to suffer in a physical body, for 80, 90 years? We know there is a purpose, that G‑d is the author of that purpose, and we want to know and understand it.

One who lives by his heart exclusively, trusts only what he feels. One who lives by his mind exclusively, trusts only what fits. But neither of these tells you the truth. The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah. Because the soul is a part of the Divine — and that is truth. When we have faith, when we find relevance in G‑d, we are trusting that instinct in the soul that tells us that G‑d is the purpose of life.

In pragmatic terms, the mind, the heart and the soul must each fulfill their function: when we know all that can be known, when we come to the edge of knowledge and logic itself tells us that we have reached its outer limits and it cannot handle what lay beyond this point, faith enters. Where the mind is no longer adequate, the soul responds to truth. This is faith.

Let’s look at the central message:

The mind demands that logic be trusted, the heart demands that the emotions be trusted. Yet both can be mistaken. They do not reveal inherent truth. For that, we turn to the soul, the neshamah.

soulIn an ultimate sense, we can use evidence to support facts but not the truth. Being nice or being smart don’t really lead us to truth, but then we have a problem. How can you or I convince another person of “the truth” since that exists only in the purview of the soul?

This is why in Chabad-Lubavitch it is our approach to invite a Jew — even one who claims not to believe — to do a mitzvah, before we engage them in a discussion on faith. Because in consideration of the existence of the soul, we can assume that we don’t have to convince people of life’s Divine purpose. We just have to get them started, and with each mitzvah they do, their neshama asserts itself more, and questions become answered of themselves. By way of analogy, if a woman’s maternal instinct appears to be absent, you don’t argue the philosophy of motherhood with her. Just put the baby in her lap and her maternal response will emerge.

I can’t even imagine how a Christian would evangelize using this method. In Christianity, doing only matters after believing and is only a reflection of believing. Granted, the Church has a strong practice of charity and service to others, but it’s not the driving force that causes a person to convert to Christianity in the first place (could you imagine being a Christian and approaching a “sinner,” inducing them to join the Church with the promise of a lifetime of service to God and humanity?).

However, that’s more or less what Rabbi Manis Friedman is suggesting in his article. That’s why the Chabad will ask a Jew who is not at all religious to perform at least one mitzvah. Because the mitzvot are what connects a Jew to God.

To encounter God is a transcendent experience that goes beyond thought or emotion, but in order to “operationalize” that encounter, a Jewish person “does”. That is, he or she connects the soul to the author of the soul by performing mitzvot. This isn’t to say that prayer and worship don’t connect Jewish people to God, but at least from the Chabad’s perspective, it all starts with performing a single mitzvah, and then another, and then another, until they are living an increasingly Jewish life.

Christianity has the opposite approach in that reading the Bible, praying, and worshiping come first, and then eventually as the believer’s life is transformed by their faith, they come to the place where they are “doing” Christianity by helping other people.

argumentWhen we argue with each other for the supposed purpose of correcting what we believe others have gotten wrong about the Bible, about God, and about Messiah, and we say we are doing so because we care about those people, we are missing a vital element. We can’t reach their soul, at least not directly, with logical arguments or by appealing to their emotions.

Whether it’s by a Christian having a person they’re evangelizing praying to be saved, or by a Chabad representative having a Jew lay tefillin, the appeal is to the soul, and although we have different actions we put people through to make this happen, it’s really God who is speaking to the neshamah. That’s why, except in very rare instances, our blog conversations will never really be able to convince someone to admit that their theology is wrong, to change their minds, and to adopt a different religious discipline.

Speaking of changing religions, I found this article and it seemed relevant.

Messianic Evangelism

Some people object to this. When they see Messianic Jews declaring the Gospel to other Jewish People and to Gentiles, they say, “Why are you doing that? That’s not Jewish. We Jews are not a proselytizing faith.” Well, that may be a popular notion to many people, but it isn’t true. In Matthew 23:15, Yeshua says, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees. You hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and, when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” Clearly, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were proselytizing. They were telling people about God. They were winning converts, Yeshua says. So, sharing our faith is definitely Jewish. Not only was it true in the First Century, and before Messiah came, but it is also true today.

-Jonathan Bernis
“Good News for Israel”
Jewish Voice Ministries International

Last Sunday afternoon, I had my regular “coffee meeting” with a friend of mine. We meet every other week to talk about all sorts of things, but mainly to maintain relationship, friendship and community in Messiah. My friend is one of the few people in my life (face-to-face or online) who can really challenge me and present me with questions that make me stop and think. It’s not always comfortable but is it always inspiring.

Over lattes, he asked me how I’m personally sharing the good news of Messiah to the people around me as a Messianic Gentile. He didn’t word it exactly like that, but I have a reason for expressing the query this way.

Just about anyone I can think of who is involved in either Messianic Judaism or some aspect of the Hebrew Roots movement entered these movements by way of a Church experience. Before I entered Hebrew Roots and then became more Messianic in my practice and study, I came to faith in a Nazarene church here in Southwestern Idaho. Even the Jewish people I know, with rare exception, entered Messianic Judaism after coming to faith in Jesus (Yeshua) as Messiah within normative Christianity.

In other words, it wasn’t a Messianic Jewish or Messianic Gentile evangelist who shared the good news of Moshiach and the coming Kingdom of God with any of these folks. For me, a more traditional Christian evangelist (in my case, a youth Pastor and friend of my brother-in-law) asked me that standard question, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where your soul would go?”

share the gospelThat’s a horrible introductory line in my opinion, and the actual process of me coming to faith took a large number of specific steps and encounters over a six month to one year period of time. But in the end, I made the initial baby steps of coming to faith and then my life fell apart.

But how would a person with a Messianic Gentile perspective on the Bible come to evangelize, not Christians in the normative Church, which is what we’re used to doing, but atheists or even people from completely unrelated religious traditions, telling them of the plan of personal salvation through Christ?

It’s not an easy question to answer, because I believe the “good news” of Messiah is so much more than just a plan for personal salvation. Scot McKnight expanded on this idea in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited and I agree that we (the Church) have reduced the actual gospel message down to a bullet list of talking points centered around individual salvation so that a person may be forgiven of their sins and go to Heaven when they die.

The gospel message of Jesus is often simplified down to believe in Christ and your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven when you die. In episode eight this common misconception will be challenged. Viewers will discover that the main message of the gospel is one of repentance and entering into the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is not the place we go to when we die but rather God’s kingdom coming down here on earth. The gospel message is about preparation for the Messianic Age.

from the introduction to Episode 8
The Gospel Message
from the First Fruits of Zion television series
A Promise of What is to Come

The episode is only about thirty minutes long and free to view by clicking the link I provided. It offers a more expanded understanding of what the good news or gospel message of Messiah is really all about.

The Gospel MessageBut that story is aimed at people who already have faith in Christ and who are looking for a deeper understanding of what that faith actually means based on a Hebraic examination of the scriptures.

How do you introduce this sort of stuff to people who have no background in it at all? If I go up to someone, tell them I’m a Christian, and ask if they would like to talk about Jesus, they may say “yes” or they may say “no,” but they’ll at least have some idea of what I’m talking about. If I go up to that same person and tell them I’m a Messianic and ask if they would like to talk about the coming Kingdom of God and the blessings of the Messianic Age, they’d have no idea what I was saying and would probably think I’m some sort of religious cult nut.

The Sunday before Easter, one of the Pastors at church announced from the pulpit the opportunity for anyone who desired, to join with others on Good Friday to go door to door in the neighborhood offering to share the gospel message and to pray with people. For a brief instant, I imagined myself doing such a thing, but then all the questions about the true nature of the gospel I mentioned above came flooding in.

I want to share my faith, but it doesn’t always have a lot in common with the doctrinal position of Evangelicals, so how could I employ Evangelical religious tracts and Evangelical language and concepts in any program of sharing faith as I understand it?

Arguably, there are only two populations that Messianics attempt to engage: normative Judaism and the Church. Messianic Jews attempt to communicate to wider Judaism about the Moshiach, Yeshua HaNazir, and the New Covenant promise of a restored Israel and a reunited Jewish people as the head of all peoples and nations of the Earth. Messianic Gentiles and Hebrew Roots Gentiles tend to try to convince people in the Church or people who are disaffected and who have left the Church, that the Messianic and/or Hebrew Roots perspective on scripture tells a more authentic and accurate story about the relationship between God and humanity.

But how do we (or do we ever) communicate our message to people outside of those frameworks, people who don’t have the theological background we usually require of our audiences, and help them understand what it is to be a disciple of the Master?

I know of only one, single missionary effort currently operating, in this case in Uganda, that works to evangelize unbelieving populations directly from a Messianic perspective: Acts for Messiah. As the introductory text regarding their mission states:

ACTS for Messiah serves to follow in the footsteps of Yeshua and the apostles, providing for the needy, feeding the hungry, and providing a home for the children left in the streets. Our current area of operation is in Tororo, Uganda, where Emily Dywer brings ministry to small villages and runs an orphanage rescuing children from desperate and dangerous situations, giving them hope and a future…

That might be the answer or at least part of it. It’s not just what we say, but what we do and how we live. The answer may not be in the differences in perspective between Christians and Messianics (and of course, Messianics are Christians who simply view scripture from a different and more Hebraic perspective), but the similarities. At the end of the day, it’s all about humble obedience to the teachings of the Master, following the path, feeding the hungry, providing clothing, offering comfort, showing kindness, even to the unkind, for they are the ones who need kindness the most.

the missionary next doorI’m not a big fan of knocking on doors and offering to share the good news with strangers. I’ve been at the receiving end of door-to-door evangelists of one type or another and an unanticipated visit is usually an interruption. On the other hand, I am discounting the Holy Spirit and encounters previously arranged outside human awareness.

We have to start somewhere. We can’t just talk to ourselves about what we already know and we can’t just target limited populations if we really believe we have a good message that people need.

But where to begin? If you call yourself a Messianic anything, do you share your message with strangers or at least with atheists with whom you’re acquainted? How do you talk to someone about faith in a Jewish Messiah within the context of Messianic worship and faith?

The comments section is now open.

Bless Someone Today

ancient_journeyAnd there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city.

Acts 8:1-8

As I mentioned in yesterday’s extra meditation, the theme of last Sunday’s sermon and Sunday school teaching, based on the above-quoted scripture, was evangelism; the declaring of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world around us. This is a significant mission among most churches and is carried out to one degree or another by Christians around the world. Not every Christian stands on a street corner with a Bible in one hand and a bunch of leaflets in another preaching to everyone who passes by, but based on the Master’s initial directive in Matthew 28:18-20, all believers understand that we have a mandate to, in one way or another, announce the Gospel to people in our world.

As I mentioned, this is a significant mission among the church, but there are bodies of believers where this mission isn’t apparently being enacted.

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I separate Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots (One Law, Two House, Sacred Name) as distinctly different religious traditions, although they have some superficial areas of overlap. And yet, these two movements seem to talk to each other quite a lot, if the blogosphere is any evidence, while all but ignoring (with certain exceptions I’ll explain in a moment) the much larger body of believers that exist on the earth today: Christians.

Beyond this, (although there may also be exceptions) there is another large population of human beings both of these movements fail to engage: everybody else.

I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts an article written by Tsvi Sadan for Messiah Journal called “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty.” In his write up, Sadan provides a small history of how Israeli Jews have come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah through the Evangelical church. That process is changing and more recently, other Messianic Jews are spreading the message of the Messiah to their fellow Jews in the Land, but these Jews continue to operate largely from an “evangelical” mindset. This has resulted in what we see described in a recent news article for the Atlantic as “Messianic Jews…assiduously attempting to, essentially, redeem Israel from its Jewishness.”

The “good news” of Jesus Christ is being preached to the Jews but with the Jewishness of their faith omitted or significantly watered down.

Fortunately, Sadan offers an alternative as I recently mentioned but that doesn’t address the issue of Gentiles. Then again, in today’s age, are Messianic Jews obligated to spread the “good news” to the nations as a duty with which they were charged in ancient days?

I asked that question, perhaps as long as two years ago, and received an answer that, in terms of the dynamics of the different believing communities today, the most reasonable response is “no.” Given Sadan’s article, I can see that it might be a better idea to allow actual Messianic Jews who live a completely halakhic, ethnic, and religious Jewish lifestyle to employ keruv as the method of bringing Jews near to the Moshiach. Does that mean only the church speaks to the Gentile unbelievers?

jewsI mentioned Hebrew Roots before, which is primarily a Christian/Gentile owned and operated movement within larger Christianity (although many Hebrew Roots congregations refuse to claim the church as their own and prefer to bill themselves as “Messianic Judaism,” though most of their groups cannot be defined as “Jewish” by any reasonable halakhic standard). Who do they talk to? Besides the inevitable debates between Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism, Hebrew Roots rarely if ever engages in what we would typically think of as “evangelism.”

This was a source of frustration to me when I was involved in the One Law movement, but the whole system of One Law seems to be designed to approach people who are already Christians and who are, in one way or another, disillusioned with their churches. Once accessed, One Law proceeds to convince these Christians that they must take on board the total mitzvot of Torah and redefine themselves as “Messianic.” If anything, One Law, Two House, Sacred Name, and so on, are dedicated to “evangelizing” Christians to “convert” to their particular variation of “Christianity,” rather than performing the task Jesus commissioned his Jewish disciples with in Matthew 28:18-20 and doing what the Jewish disciples were doing in Acts 8:4-8.

It’s not like this hasn’t occurred to me before and it’s not like this topic hasn’t been discussed in the blogosphere before, so why am I bringing it up now?

In my Sunday school class, we talked about the general reluctance of Christians to fulfill the evangelical mission in their (our) personal lives. Sure, not all of us are going to go into the “foreign mission field” and preach the Gospel in places like the Congo, but we all live in the world, and the world is filled with people who, while they’ve heard of Jesus Christ, do not honor God and have no real awareness of His Presence. A traditional Christian might say, the world is full of “unsaved” people, but to me, salvation is just the beginning of the journey, not the whole point of existence.

If I can accept that Messianic Jews have a specific mission to address Jewish people and not the general population, and if I can accept that the church has a specific mission to address the general population, what mission does Hebrew Roots have? Do they just “feed” their own internal desires and consume their own theology and doctrine, or should they be reaching out as well? I don’t mean necessarily reaching out to take traditional Christians and recreate them in their own image, but to actually try to communicate the core message of the Gospel (Torah or non-Torah observance aside), and to “make souls for the Kingdom,” so to speak (if you can excuse the “churchy” language here).

As much as many Hebrew Roots groups denigrate and disdain the church, they seem to have left it to the church to do the “heavy lifting” of spreading the Gospel message. After all, how many One Law or Two House groups send missionaries into the Congo, to Tonga, to the Philippines, or anywhere else? How many Hebrew Roots congregations and organizations sent relief teams to Haiti after their devastating earthquake?

OK, I understand that Hebrew Roots groups are rather small and resources are limited. For that matter, the same can be said for Messianic Jewish groups. The traditional church as a whole is much larger, more organized, and better designed to render the sorts of assistance I’m talking about. I’m sure you must also be aware that Israel traditionally renders aid to other nations when disasters occur and Jewish groups provide tzedakah as a matter of course.

making_ripplesBut rather than pick on any one religious group (as I have been up until now), I’d like to suggest that whoever you are reading this and whatever sort of context you worship in, what are you actually doing for people, both in the area of giving aid and charity, and in sharing your faith with those who have no faith and hope in the world? The church sends the members of its body to visit the sick, provide clothing, medical supplies, and food to the needy and the suffering, and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the four corners of the earth. Are your groups and your people doing that too? If not, why not?

Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel of Slobodka would sometimes sit near the window of his house and quietly bestow blessings and prayers on all those who passed by.

Once when Rabbi Finkel was walking down the street, he turned toward a house and said, “Good morning.” Rabbi Finkel explained: “Most people only wish someone a good morning when they see them face to face. But even when we do not see them, we should still develop good will toward them.”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Daily Lift #663, Bless Others”

I’ve mentioned many times before that I believe we Christians have a specific responsibility to bless the Jewish people. However, I also believe that all of us are duty and honor bound to bless the world.

Bless others. Bless someone today.