The Basis for Jewish Evangelism
By Charles Klingensmith, Pastor, Senboku Lutheran Church, Sakai, Japan
Shalom in Messiah from Japan to all brothers and sisters throughout the LCJE!
My wife Satoko and I went to the LCJE seventh international conference in Helsinki privately, out of a personal love of Jews and a desire somehow to share in the work of Jewish evangelism. But we returned to Japan convinced that Jewish evangelism must be more than merely a personal interest of ours; it must be a public mission of the whole Body of Messiah in Japan. The Helsinki 2003 conference taught us ways in which Japanese churches could actively engage themselves in Jewish evangelism.
That Japanese churches should do Jewish evangelism is by no means obvious, or accepted even among evangelical churches here. Out of a population roughly of 120,000,000 Japanese, less than one percent is Christian. Some place the Christian population at 500,000; others at 600,000. The great Japanese growth expected in the last decade did not happen. Actually, the opposite is increasingly a danger. Across the spectrum of denominations, confessions and styles of worship, similar crises are occurring: retiring leadership is not being replaced in time, many congregations are without pastors or even responsible lay leadership, seminaries are struggling to maintain accreditation, giving continues to plummet as Japan remains in financial and economic stagnation after a decade. When numbers are as small as they are here in Japan, little scratches to the Body tend to hurt a lot. To almost any Japanese Christian, the solution to these problems is obvious: put all available resources, personnel, finances, and prayer and ministry, into the evangelization of Japan. Jesus sent his disciples to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8); we here in Japan and Asia are at the ends of the earth; let us do His work He has given us here . Then there’s the numbers of Jews in Japan. One figure available says there are 500 Jews in Japan, and let us not forget that there are only two synagogues. How can you even begin to find 500 people in a land of 120,000,000?
Helsinki 2003 reminded us that the basis for Jewish evangelism is not numbers, nor even a personal love of Jews. Rather, the basis is the Word of God. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, “for the Jew first”, even in a land overwhelmingly Gentile. Romans 1:16 is true in Jerusalem, it is true in Odessa, it is true in Crown Heights and Skokie, but it is also true here in Sakai City in the south of Osaka Prefecture, where I pastor. This Word too is our Great Commission. The gospel is for the Jew first, and Japanese churches must make His Mission, not only to Gentile, but to both Jew and Gentile, their own mission. We do thank God that among Japanese Christians there nevertheless are many privately like us who have wanted to do something in Jewish evangelism, even when the churches here are in need too. Helsinki 2003 will help those private prayers become public work.
How can Helsinki 2003 help Jewish evangelism here in Gentile Japan? In three areas what we learned at the conference might be useful here, namely, providing financial help, praying across the miles, and connecting together in partnerships to do actual Jewish evangelism here. About providing financial help, Japanese churches can share out of their own funds to help those men and women who actually engage Jews on behalf of Messiah. It is greatly encouraging for us here in Japan in these days of shrinking finances to remember that the impoverished Macedonian Church was praised thus “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”(2 Cor 8:2) Like many churches we have always used Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians to encourage generosity to our own church, but we need to remember that he is speaking of a Gentile church contributing to the needs of Jewish believers back in Judea! LCJE Japan sees this as fundamental to its work here; we have a Romans 15:27 fund. But there is much more room for congregations and believers to share in giving to organizations and workers, and I want to spread the news about some of the workers I met doing Japanese evangelism in Russia, Israel, the USA, and other places.
Praying together: Japanese churches must learn to pray for Jewish evangelism as a regular part of public and private prayer. There is much praying for Israel in Japan, for Jews going up to Israel, to live in peace there; this is good and it must continue.
But praying for Israel is not praying for Jewish evangelism, and it is not doing Jewish evangelism. Many of the Helsinki 2003 presentations talked about the diversity of today’s Judaism and Jews, Russian Jews in Germany, Israeli Jews in India, Lubavitchers in Crown Heights, and Generation J’s in suburbia, and these presentations showed us how to pray more intelligently and lovingly. Satoko and I are praying now to start a public and regular intercessory prayer ministry among our own small Japanese Lutheran church groups for Jewish missions workers outside Japan, and for Jewish evangelistic work that we ourselves can do here.
Connecting together in partnerships to do actual Jewish evangelism. I had been praying that Senboku Lutheran Church, the congregation (about 40 active members) I pastor, might somehow start its own Jewish evangelism here in Osaka. Helsinki 2003 has connected us to large and experienced organizations that can teach us how to start. And I pray that this congregation would also be a welcoming home for Jews who already believe in Jesus, and who are in Japan for some reason. You always have a warm home here! Pray that we can make these good intentions a blessed reality.