A most constructive mix
By Ruud ter Beek, Minister in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands
Apart from Helsinki (2003) I have attended the LCJE Conferences in Zeist (1991) and New York (1999). So what I experienced in Helsinki, was not new to me.
The attraction of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism is that you come across just about every sector of that sort of evangelism work; those involved in the organisations, directors, advisers, people involved in messianic congregations, church leaders and believers, and especially the field workers, evangelists and youth workers.
Their backgrounds are different too. There are organisations linked with a certain denomination. Some have their origins in the traditional churches back in the 19th century and have undergone various transformations since. They moved across Europe, crossed the ocean to America, or settled amongst Jewish people in Israel and Jerusalem back in the 19th century. In more recent years they have set to work in Eastern Europe.
Other organisations have no specific church background and work across the denominations. Their inclination is to seek to work more and more with the local churches. The organisation offers the specific skills and the workers, while the local church welcomes the new believers and takes care of their education.
There are the churches where Jews confess the Messiah, especially from the United States and Israel, each with its own character and context. They fight for the positions of Jewish Christians amongst their own people and offer a spiritual home to fellow people who seek their salvation in Christ. An area of interest: how important is it to be and to stay exclusively Jewish?
There are churches which have set up their own evangelisation projects directed at Jews. There are churches which have become aware of the Jewish believers in their midst. An upcoming area of study: the place of messianic Jews in a non-Jewish church.
These ingredients are kept together, first and foremost by a mutual conviction that Jesus Messiah, first came to save his own people from their sins. And this conviction stands firm in the belief that the books of the Old and New Testament form the reliable and authoritative word of God, which proclaim Messiah Jesus as the only Saviour of the whole world.
This mix is a most constructive one. It was a cry heard often enough: evangelists amongst the Jewish people and communities of Jewish believers need spiritual strengthening, methodical reflection and theological direction. Trustworthy company and a safe environment are necessary for this, since the relationship with Judaism and with the Christian world are not without tension. The LCJE offers such an environment and makes the most of it for interchange and furthering of knowledge.
Nevertheless the practice is never far away. We all need that, so that we do not forget the Jewish inhabitants of the world when we proclaim the gospel. Churches and organisations are stimulated by what they hear and see from the practice in the widest sense. There is attention given to the target group, the modern Jewry. But the theological stops are pulled out as well.
In short, there was missiology, sociology and theology; there was study and critical evaluation; the content of the gospel and reflection on methodology. The evangelisation work is given no chance to evaporate into a hunt for converts. The honour of God and Christ is sought, people want to do justice to His Word. There is attention for the obstacles which can block the way of the Gospel into the Jewish heart, a human heart.
There was no time to be bored. On the last day, Gerald H. Anderson from New Haven began by saying he was glad to be able to present the 54th speech of the conference – and a hearty applause greeted him. And that is genuinely how it was. Every day there were 10 to 12 talks, some of which were followed by discussion.
The contributions varied enormously in intention and content, but they were all addresses. The set up could have allowed more variety – workshops, more discussions in smaller groups, more exchanges and dialogue, more specialisation according to preference. As it was, the business meetings were the only alternative. And of these, the meeting about the final declaration was the most interesting…
Susan Perlman led the evening meetings. Her news reports, tips about the Finnish national character and teasing of the speakers kept things light. Don’t be mislead, the atmosphere was always very good. The music, the singing and the prayers helped us to keep our hearts on the matter throughout the day: we must make Jesus’ name known also to the people of Israel, to the glory of God’s mercy and faithfulness.
Kai Kjær-Hansen’s opening address on “Jesus and Jewish evangelism” with the enlightening variations on “replacement thinking” were significant for me. I was impressed by Oscar Skarsaune’s contribution, “From the Jewish Messiah to the creeds of the church”. For the first time I so strongly realised, that according to the Creeds, the work of Christ was appointed to start as soon as he was seated at the Father’s right hand. Risto Santala’s guide through the Jewish processing of Isaiah 53 was most interesting as it was to hear how Andrew Bartelt reset Isaiah 53 between the other Songs of the Servant and in so doing made room in the taut dilemma “is the servant the Messiah of the people?”. Interesting and promising was Richard Harvey’s study on “Jesus the Messiah in Messianic Jewish Theology”; encouraging were the stories told by Samuel Awelda, Alexey Shepelev, and Stan Telchin and surprising was the contribution from Moishe Rosen, read by Tuvya Zaretsky on “The Fact of Failure”.
Involvement by the Netherlands
This time from the Netherlands there was a representation of the Deputies for Israel of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands and North America and from the Reformed Church (liberated) in Ommen.
The Reformed Congre-gations (Gereformeerd Gemeenten) constitute a church association of 100,000 members. Since 1995 they have had a board of deputies for Israel, for the proclamation of the Gospel and diaconal help among the Jewish People. In 1998 a full time general secretary was appointed, in 2002 a second full time helper for the distribution of Bibles and other literature. They de-veloped a Bible correspon-dence course (in Dutch, English and Russian) and publish a quarterly maga-zine for the members of their denomination, Israelbode (Israel Messenger). In Israel they support the work of HaGefen Publishing and various other messianic projects. In Eastern Europe they started to work in Ukraine and Moldova.
The Reformed Churches (liberated) in the Nether-lands have approximately 127,000 members. In 1985 the Foundation for the furthering of the proclama-tion of the Gospel to the Jews (Stevaj) was set up within these churches. This foundation was intended to renew the impulse of the Reformed Churches (lib.) in their proclamation of the Gospel to the Jewish people. Between 1870 and 1940 the Reformed Churches were very active in this particular form of evangelisation. Before World War II they had three missionaries at work in the Netherlands and Belgium. Several Jewish families found a place in these churches. But since the War, little of this work has been picked up.
Now one of these churches, that in Ommen, has taken up this aspect of church missionary work. The Stevaj has ‘moved’ to Ommen. Rev. Henk J. Siegers is one of three ministers in this church. Since the start of 2002, this congregation has studied ways of furthering the Gospel amongst the Jewish people.
I think that Helsinki was my last LCJE conference. I shall turn my attention to other matters, but I hope most sincerely that in the years to come more people in the Netherlands, and certainly in the Reformed Churches (Liberated) will be involved with Jewish evangelism. And I hope the LCJE will help them to dedicate themselves to this divine assignment as it helped me to keep going.
Ruud ter Beek