Late last summer something happened at Easneye, a small quiet London suburb, that will undoubtedly leave its mark on the destiny and direction of Jewish evangelism. Nearly 160 participants from 17 nations met at All Nations Christian College, a missionary training institution, for the Third International Consultation of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). The nine-day conference was the largest international gathering of its kind since a similar meeting in Warsaw, Poland, in 1927.
The LCJE traces its beginnings to the 1980 conference in Pattaya, Thailand, which was sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. One of the chief purposes of the LCJE is to raise the voice of concern" for reaching Jewish people with the gospel. It publishes a quarterly bulletin about issues and methods in Jewish evangelism.
The 1986 LCJE meeting attracted more than three times the number of delegates who attended the second conference in Newmarket, England, in 1983. Conference participants included missionaries who work among the Jewish people, directors and board members of Jewish evangelism agencies, scholars, denominational executives and pastors of Jewish-Christian congregations. More than half of the participants were themselves Jewish Christians. Several members of our Jews for Jesus staff and board of directors were able to attend.
Participants attended workshops and seminars on various subjects, including missionary ethics, evangelistic literature, answering the anti-missionary and handling hostility. Case studies in Jewish evangelism were presented, and national and regional reports were received on the status of Jewish Christian concerns in various parts of the world, including Argentina, France, Eastern Europe, Israel and New Zealand.
In the opening address Mitch Glaser, Jews for Jesus director of recruitment and training, cited the phrase "to the Jew first" used by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans. "The same Holy Spirit who inspired the Great Commission of Matthew 28…inspired the Jewish priority emphasized in Romans," Glaser pointed out. "Jewish evangelism has become the Great Omission of the Church."
While delegates agreed on the need to make Jewish evangelism a priority, they also emphasized the importance of reaching the rest of the world. "To the Jew first, yes—but then to all nations and peoples, including Arabs and Muslims," said Martin Goldsmith, noted author and lecturer in missionary studies.
Rev. David Harley, principal of All Nations Christian College and international coordinator of the consultation, said, "We are not meeting for the sake of meeting, but to call the Jewish people to their Messiah, Jesus Christ." He told the delegates, "One cannot be consistent with Scripture and neglect the evangelization of the Jewish people." Acknowledging that Christians cannot talk about evangelizing the Jews without addressing the issue of Christian theology and the Holocaust, he added, "It is not the Cross that should be reexamined in the light of the Holocaust, but the Holocaust in the light of the Cross."
In a move that may surprise some evangelical Protestant Christians, the consultation came out in support of dialogue with the Jewish people, albeit within carefully defined parameters. Asserting that dialogue is "valuable and essential," delegates expressed "regret that Jewish Christians have often been excluded from current Jewish-Christian dialogue." They called on the churches to insist that Jewish Christians be invited to enter into the dialogue, but maintained that such participation is not a substitute for active Christian witness to the Jewish community.
Rev. Walter Riggans, former pastor and teacher in Israel and now a lecturer in Hebrew and Semitic Studies at All Nations Christian College, said, "Increasingly we find Jewish partners in the dialogue demanding that Christians formally renounce any desire or intention to see Jewish people accept Jesus as Messiah. The Church must bear witness to Jewish people, and our message must be unashamedly Christocentric in content."
The consultation expressed solidarity with "the plight of Soviet Jewry and of Jewish minorities in other countries where their freedom is limited." It urged the Church to pray and act responsibly to secure their freedom.
One of the regional reports brought before the conference the plight of the Falashas, a tribe of Jewish Ethiopians who number 25,000. Of these, 12,000 have migrated to Israel via the Sudan because of the ongoing famine in Ethiopia. Many are in "absorption centers" in Israel, and initial contact shows that "sizeable numbers" are Christians, though accurate figures are unavailable.
As one of the U.S. delegates, Jews for Jesus staffer Susan Perlman brought a report on the Y'shua Campaign as an example of using a negative situation as a spur for positive outreach. She pointed out that this media ministry was launched after the name of Jesus Christ was desecrated on the outside wall of the San Francisco headquarters building. "We took that desecration and turned it around to glorify God," she said. "Every Christmas since 1982 we have placed fullpage advertisements in major newspapers and magazines around the U.S.A., including such publications as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek. In 1982 the ads reached a readership of some 13 million. By 1986 that figure topped 50 million. Since the media campaign began, Jews for Jesus has handled nearly 15,000 inquiries from Jews and some 17,000 from unbelieving non-Jews."
The conference issued a statement urging "the Church to uphold the legitimacy of Christian witness to the Jewish community." The statement, in the form of an open letter to the Church, called for continuing evangelistic outreach. While expressing grief over the "discrimination and suffering which have been inflicted on the Jewish people in the name of Jesus Christ," it added that past history cannot be used "to silence the Church in her witness to the Jewish people."
The closing address was delivered by Bishop Jack Dain of Sydney, Australia. He said that he was "impressed by the tremendous scholarship represented here which provides a solid theological basis for the consultation." He applauded the "wide-ranging decisions to network, which will lead to an interchange of ideas, materials and programs for Jewish evangelism."