Grafting in the natural branch
If any church in the world should be filled with Jews on Sabbath, it's the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The health message, the sanctuary, the Sabbath, and our unique eschatology give us great ties to the Jewish people. Indeed, if any message in the world should appeal to the Jews, it's ours.
Unfortunately, on Sabbath you can find Jews in synagogues, on the beach, at work, in Messianic congregations, and just about every other place you can imagine except in Adventist churches. Why?
The problem is not our message, but the way it is presented. Many people have no idea that a different approach is needed in reaching our Jewish friends. Ministers, in working for Jews, it's especially important to understand basic principles so you can share them with your members, who often know Jewish people but are at a loss to know how to reach them.
It shouldn't take you long to realize how sensitive a Jewish person can be to Christianity. And no wonder. The Jews have suffered endless persecution in the name of Christ. Thousands upon thousands have been killed, tortured, up rooted, and persecuted by the church.
They have suffered atrocity upon atrocity from "Christians." In seminars I give around the country on how to witness to Jews, I spend the first half hour listing church-inspired persecution of the Jews in Poland, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Russia, France, England, and on and on. The list is endless. Many of our people are not aware of all that has happened—but the Jews are, and so they are skeptical about the religion that has brought them so much suffering. Imagine how you would feel if someone tried to convince you to join a group that for centuries had murdered your ancestors.
Because of this historical experience, you must use extra tact and sensitivity. The Jew you are talking to probably feels some resentment about these persecutions. Show sympathy for what has happened. But most important he must see that you are different, and that if all Christians in history were like you and your church, then the Jews would have been treated with love and kindness instead of hatred and spite. For many years my greatest excuse against Christianity was "The Christians have murdered us." Yet when I met some wonderful Christians who exuded Christ's gentle, loving character, I realized these people would never harm a Jew. Suddenly the excuse that I had been using for years became void. In a short time a loving, self-sacrificing Christian can undo 15 centuries of hate.
Another point, perhaps the most crucial, is that Jews never want to forsake their Jewish identity. You must explain to the Jew that by accepting Jesus he is enhancing this identity. He is becoming a "completed" Jew. Avoid statements like "I knew somebody who was a Jew but is now an Adventist."
Don't initiate a religious conversation; your Jewish friend will automatically think you are trying to convert him. Be especially careful if his family or friends are present. Your contact may be interested, but at that point not want anyone else to know. If the subject of religion does come up, be humble, and listen to his points, but don't argue. If you get on the topic of Jesus, avoid emphatic statements like "Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah!" or "The Messiah has come." Instead, say that prayer, experience, and study have led you to believe that Jesus of Nazareth fulfills the Hebrew prophecies concerning the Messiah.
Certain words have negative connotations to the Jew and should be avoided.
Never use the word convert. Thousands of Jews have died because they have re fused to convert. For a Jew, to convert means to no longer be a Jew. In place of this term, use expressions like a "new life" or "change of heart." Instead of Christ, say the Messiah or Jeshua (Christ's Hebrew name). In place of baptism, say immersion; for church, say congregation; for saved, say redeemed; for Old Testament, say Hebrew Scriptures. After you have won his confidence and have talked religion with him, you can gradually introduce these words (though never convert.)
Never criticize Israel or its leaders. If you are not sympathetic to Israel, say nothing. If you are favorable, say so, and this will help establish a bond. For many Jews, their only tie to their Judaism is Israel, so we must avoid criticizing the nation. Many Jews see anti-Zionism as a modern manifestation of anti-Semitism, and if your Jewish friend suspects that you are anti-Semitic, you will only reinforce his notion about Christian hostility toward Jews.
Mention that you consider yourself a "spiritual Jew." Explain that you eat only clean foods and are a Sabbath-keeper. Unless your friend is religious, he might say something like "You're a better Jew than I am."
It is always better to say too little than too much. If you want to say something but are unsure, don't. The Jew is very sensitive, and the wrong words might lose him forever. Also, don't be quick to give him Ellen White's writings. They contain certain phrases and comments that your Jewish friends may completely misunderstand and be prejudiced by. Wait until he has had an experience with Jesus, and then you can start him with Counsels on Diet and Foods or Education. Don't, in your well-meaning zeal, run out and give him Patriarchs and Prophets or The Desire of Ages.
The best approach
Unquestionably, the best approach is through the health message. The Jew may reject everything you believe about the Bible, religion, the Messiah, and everything else Christian. He might not even be interested. But he will be interested in health. Most Jews first come in contact with Adventists, not through Revelation seminars or evangelistic series, but through some health program. Most Jews in the Adventist Church to day came in from a health contact (I met my first Adventist in a health food store). Cooking schools, stop-smoking clinics, stress seminars, and so forth are excellent ways to make contact with the Jew and win his confidence. He might not take any spiritual literature you have to offer, but he will take your health material (just make sure it doesn't have a cross or the name of Jesus on it).
If your friend shows an interest in Bible study, the book of Daniel would be an excellent place to start. Study with him the prophecies of Daniel 7 and show that the Bible warned against an apostate religious power that would make "war against the saints" (verse 21, NIV). Be sure to mention that among these saints were godly Jews. These prophecies were the first I ever studied in the Bible, and the realization that it was apostate Christianity that was the persecutor helped me to put the past persecutions in proper perspective. You might add, "Why, even the Christian Scriptures warn about this power," and take him to Revelation 12-14.
The Jew is extremely sensitive to anti-Semitism. He is especially fearful of what is happening with the New Christian Right in America. As Adventists we have a unique understanding of where all this could lead. Explain to him about the mark of the beast and the rise of intolerance in this country. The Jew will have no problem believing that the church could bring on persecution. Yet be sure as you explain these prophecies that you leave your friend with hope. Hope is what we have. He has none. Show him the assurances we have through God, despite the impending perils we all face.
If your friend wants to study about Jesus, take him to the Old Testament prophecies. Fascinatingly, the ancient rabbis applied to the Messiah almost every Old Testament scripture that Christians believe is Messianic. For example, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) identifies Isaiah 53:4 as a Messianic prophecy!
Order a subscription to Shabbat Shalom, a magazine designed to give the Jew principles of our message in a way that will not be offensive. Adventists themselves can benefit from this magazine also; they can see the approach we take in the journal and apply it as they work for their Jewish friends.
It's also very important to teach these principles (those in this article) to all your church members if Jews are visiting your church. The wrong word by a well-meaning member can send your contact fleeing. In one church a local saint, meaning no harm, said to me, "I feel so sorry for what you Jews have suffered, but you brought it all upon yourselves." Clearly, our people need some training.
The key to winning Jesus is that you must not offend them. If you can learn their sensitivities, learn to avoid offending them, then they can be brought in like anyone else. It just takes more time, more patience, more prayer, and most important—more unselfish love.
Ellen White has given many promises concerning the work for the Jews. She wrote, for instance: "The time has come when the Jews are to be given light. The Lord wants us to encourage and sustain men who shall labor in right lines for this people; for there are to be a multitude convinced of the truth, who will take their position for God. The time is coming when there will be as many converted [avoid that word]] in a day as there were on the day of Pentecost, after the disciples had received the Holy Spirit." 1 She also says that the Jews in the message will "proclaim the immutability of the law of God with wonderful power."2
What was the original rebellion in heaven over? God's law. What will the climax of the ages center around? God's law. Imagine the impact of all these Jews proclaiming God's law with "wonderful power." No wonder Ellen White writes that "converted Jews are to have an important part to act in the great preparations to be made in the future to receive Christ, our Prince."3 No wonder, too, that Satan does not want to see Jews join this church.
We have been given the mandate "To the Jew first, then the Gentile." There should be a hundred Jews in this church where there is now one. We need, in faith, to take up this important work. Before long many Jews will be where they belong—swelling the ranks of our churches on Sabbath.
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1 In Review and Herald, June 29, 1905.
2 Evangelism, p. 578.
3 Ibid., p. 579.