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bullet"The Jews are a nervous people. Nineteen centuries of Christian love have taken a toll." Benjamin Disraeli

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Jewish Prayer Guide:

The SBC have passed many resolutions acknowledging that an evangelical outreach to Jews is a part of their Great Commission mandate. At the SBC meeting in 1996-JUN, a resolution on this topic passed by an overwhelming majority. It urged the membership to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews." It criticized "an organized effort on the part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah, Jesus, to be saved or to claim, for whatever reason, that Christians have neither the right nor obligation to proclaim the gospel to Jewish people." 1,2

These policies are derived from a historical theological belief called "supercessionism" (a.k.a. replacement theology, displacement theololgy, etc), This is the concept "that Christianity replaced Judaism and that God no longer has a covenant with the Jewish people." 3 It relegates Judaism to an inferior position and "regards the Christian Church as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel." This concept was first developed by Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE). It was largely accepted within the church by the 4th century. It has since been abandoned by more liberal Christian faith groups, who feel that God's covenants in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) are still in force. This is called "two-covenant" theology. One logical consequence of this belief system is that the Jews already have a route to salvation, as explained in the Hebrew Scriptures and guaranteed by God's eternal covenants. Thus, Jews do not need to be converted to Christianity in order to be saved.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr. emphasized that the SBC is determined to not follow the direction of more "liberal denominations [which have] declared a moratorium on witnessing to Jewish persons...This is not a case of religious imperialism or intolerance. Jewish persons--and all other persons--should know this: The greatest act of respect, love, and honor a Christian can extend to a non-Christian is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ." 4

Don Kammerdiener, executive vice president of the International Mission Board defended the guide, saying that "Jesus stated clearly that his followers were to begin their witness to him in Jerusalem, the heartland of the Jews. Obedient Christians have no choice except to invite Jews and all other peoples to come to faith in Christ." 5

Jewish groups do not share this view. They regard the covenants and promises made by G-d in the Torah to be firm, permanent and still valid today. It is their belief that the Torah talks about salvation and forgiveness for sins for the Jewish people through rituals and other acts. Observant Jews observe the Days of Awe when they pray to God for forgiveness for their sins during the previous year. The Days start with Rosh Hashanah, which is the Jewish New Year, and the anniversary of creation. They end ten days later with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement -- the most sacred day of the Jewish year. Eight days before Rosh Hashanah on 1999-SEP-11, the SBC's International Mission Board announced on its website the distribution of a prayer booklet to "guide Southern Baptists as they intercede with God on behalf of his chosen people." 6,7 The guide said, in part, "As Jewish people attempt to purge themselves of spiritually crippling attitudes, pray that they will find the spiritual wholeness available through the Messiah.'' The Messiah mentioned in the pamphlet refers to Jesus Christ, not the Messiah that Jews anticipate will arrive in the future.

Randy Sprinkle, director of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board's prayer strategy office commented: "God calls on his children to reflect his deep heart love for his chosen people, the Jews. Evangelical Christians are responding by harmonizing their hearts with his so his love can be reflected toward Jewish people...Intercessory prayer is an act of love. Christian intercessors are people of love. They love the Jewish people, even scattered across the earth as they are, because God first loved the Jewish people."

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Responses to the Jewish prayer guide:

At the core of the friction over the Jewish prayer guide is a difference in belief about salvation:

bulletSouthern Baptists generally believe that the natural destination for humanity is eternal punishment in Hell. The religious beliefs and practices of Jews will not save them from this fate, because God has unilaterally terminated his covenants with the Jewish people. Only those individuals who have trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior will attain heaven. They believe that God has assigned the Great Commission to Christians; they are to save as many people as possible from eternal punishment. 
bulletJews generally believe that God's covenants are still in force and that one may attain heaven by leading a moral life, following the laws of Moses.

Some responses to the Jewish prayer guide:

bulletFrom outside the SBC: Some responses were highly negative:
bulletAbraham H. Foxman, spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League accused the Southern Baptists of projecting "a spiritual narrowness that invites theological hatred..."It is pure arrogance for any religion to assume that they hold 'the truth,' especially on the eve of the holiest days for the Jewish faith." 8
bulletRabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee has called efforts to evangelize Jews "spiritual annihilation." 8
bulletDavid Friedman, president of Temple Emanuel in Winston-Salem NC stated: "To do this at this time of year is a little bit startling...I find it rather sad that they place their emphasis on converting Jews, rather than looking for common ground and discourse among all faiths." 9
bulletMark Briskman, the Southwest regional director for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, stated: "Baptists have a right to believe what they believe. But we find this offensive. It shows an element of arrogance because they are specifically targeting Jews during the holy season." 9
bulletRabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, leader of Congregation Beth-El, a Reform synagogue in Fort Worth TX commented: "When they come to my holiest day of the year and suggest God is not listening, I think that is offensive and very un-Christian."
bulletRabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations said: "We'd like a little less love and a little more respect.There's a kind of theological arrogance that pervades all of this, a certain willingness on their part to play God, and an absence of awareness that these sorts of statements throughout history are associated with coercion, hatred and violence." 5
bulletThe Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ said: ''It's offensive ... when we have been part of a long history of abusive behavior ultimately leading to the Holocaust.'' He feels that it is arrogant to claim that Christianity offers the only path to truth. ''Christians are called upon to bear witness to their faith in Jesus... But proselytizing and evangelizing needs to me more of a dialogue in which we both share and receive. It doesn't mean we are timid about sharing our faith or making judgments about the relative value of faith understanding. It means we have a kind of humility in our witness.''  10
bulletFrom inside the SBC: At least one pastor was critical of his denomination's prayer guide:
bulletMohler quoted a pastor in the liberal wing of the SBC as saying that: "the Jews are, as they always have been, a people with a very special relationship to God." The pastor called the SBC prayer guide "an appalling lack of sensitivity to Jewish sensibilities." 8 Curiously, Mohler did not mention the name of the SBC pastor. 
bulletOn the "Larry King Live" show: R.Albert Mohler appeared on the 2000-JAN-12. Other guests were: Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Schmuley Boteach, executive director of the Oxford L'Chaim Society , and David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus. The latter forms the largest group within Messianic Judaism - a religious movement of ethnic/cultural Jews who have accepted Yeshua (Jesus Christ) as the Messiah and whose belief system is essentially identical to that of Evangelical Christianity. 11
bulletMohler said: "All I know is that the only way to heaven is through personal faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior...No matter how good or bad by human estimation, the fact is before God we are all sinners in need of a Savior. There is not one who is good, no, not one, says the Scriptures."
bulletAccording to Maranatha Christian Journal: "The Jewish rabbis essentially said that being a good person is enough to get into heaven, regardless of religion or belief." Boteach said: "Who would have thought that in the new millennium we would once again see the prevalence of spiritual dictatorship and totalitarianism? I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don't see how that is anything different than spiritual racism...I thought I was living in an enlightened world where people respected each other and had tolerance."
bulletBrickner, from Jews for Jesus, was supportive of the Southern Baptists: "I'm proud of them. I applaud their efforts, because they care enough to love my Jewish people. And the most loving thing that you can do is share the love of God in the Messiah, Jesus."

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Southern Baptist focus on evangelization of Jewish people drawing media attention," The Louisiana Baptist Message, at: http://www.lacollege.edu/baptist/message/6.27.96/
  2. Christine Wicker, "Southern Baptist convention vows to convert Jews," Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, 1996-JUN-14
  3. "Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL, at: http://www.bham.net/shofar/1996/0796/ss0796.html
  4. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Against the Stream: The Southern Baptist Resolutions," "Fidelitas: Commentary on theology and culture," at: http://www.sbts.edu/fmohler.html 
  5. "Southern Baptist prayer campaign aims to convert Jews," Washington Post, 1999-SEP-9, at: http://www.seattletimes.com/news/nation-world/ 
  6. Mark Kelly, "Call to pray for Jews mirrors God's heart, prayer leader says," at: http://www.sbc.net/Articles/1999/09/03/BPA2.asp 
  7. According to the SBC website, one can order a Jewish prayer guide from the International Mission Board's resource center at resource.center@imb.org  or call toll free at 1-800-866-3621
  8. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Do Jews really need Christ? Controversy over Jewish Evangelism" "Fidelitas: Commentary on theology and culture," at: http://www.sbts.edu/fmohler.html 
  9. "Jews offended at Southern Baptist Convention's prayer for Jewish conversion," The Pluralism Project, at: http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~pluralsm/html/news17.html The article originated at the Tampa Tribune, 1999-SEP-10, Nation/world section, Page 2.
  10. Julia Lieblich, "Proselytizing: Christian critics call for limits on Southern Baptist tactics," Associated Press, 1999-OCT-30, at: http://www.ardmoreite.com/stories/103199/new_bap.shtml
  11. "Outreach to Jews defended on CNN 'Larry King Live,' " Maranatha Christian Journal, 2000-JAN-13, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000113b.htm 

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Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JAN-7
Latest update: 2006-MAR-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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