Monday, January 5, 2004

The nation’s largest Messianic Jewish organization is criticizing leading evangelical Christians — including the Rev. Billy Graham — of caving into Jewish pressure to downplay the Gospel.

“There are those who have worked both overtly and subtly to demonize Jewish believers in Jesus and to make the work of Jewish evangelism seem unacceptable,” David Brickner, president of Jews for Jesus, wrote in a six-page letter titled “The War on Jewish Evangelism” sent to 110,000 donors.

“If you press [certain evangelicals], they will say, ‘We believe everyone needs Jesus to be saved, but we don’t want to be offending people,’” Mr. Brickner said in an interview. “Pastors are nervous about taking the heat, and a lot of churches, especially the megachurches, are looking for the big-tent philosophy. They do as little as possible to offend and as much as they can do to attract.”

Most damaging, he said, was a 1973 statement by Mr. Graham who said, “In my evangelistic efforts, I have never felt called to single out the Jews as Jews.”

Mr. Brickner wrote, “That comment … is still quoted by Jewish community leaders as proof that Graham does not approve of evangelistic ministry directed to Jewish people.”

Jews for Jesus — based in San Francisco with 240 staffers worldwide and ministries in 11 countries — is the largest organization of Messianic Jews, who believe Jesus was the Messiah foretold by Hebrew prophets.

About 3,000 churches host Jews for Jesus speakers each year and supply 10 percent to 15 percent of the group’s annual $15 million budget. But in 2003, there was a $371,130 drop in offerings and a 25 percent drop in speaking invitations.

The Rev. Lon Solomon, a board member of Jews for Jesus and senior pastor of the 9,000-member McLean Bible Church, the Washington area’s largest evangelical congregation, said the group had to speak out.

“I am deeply concerned about the growing tendency in evangelical Christian circles to accept the idea that Jewish people have a separate arrangement with God than gentiles,” he said, “and that Jewish people therefore don’t need personal faith in Jesus as their Messiah to go to heaven.”

Twenty years ago, “professors at Fuller [Theological Seminary in Pasadena,Calif.] were preaching this,” he said. “Back then, it was an extremely tangential position, but it’s gained an unbelievable following now. The slippage has been significant.”

Mr. Brickner cited several evangelicals whose endorsements appear on the Web site ( of Chicago-based Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), including former Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, American Values President Gary Bauer, singer Pat Boone, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

The IFCJ, which raised $34.9 million in 2002 mainly from evangelicals, funds several pro-Israel causes, including the resettling of Jews in Israel. Mr. Eckstein, in the past, has condemned efforts to convert Jews to Christianity.

Mr. Bauer is well-aware of Mr. Eckstein’s opposition to evangelizing Jews, but is “willing to work with anyone who’s willing to do good things for Israel,” spokesman Bill Walters said.

Mr. Falwell said he understands the “frustration” in Mr. Brickner’s letter, “but I think they are wrong in that frustration.”

“I highly regard the work of Jews for Jesus,” said Mr. Falwell, the pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va. “They are involved in front-line evangelism that spooks many of our Jewish friends. I’d disagree that we Christians cannot support Rabbi Eckstein or other Jewish leaders who are doing noble things.

“I have led many Jewish people to Christ, and many of them are members of the church I have pastored for 48 years. … Jews for Jesus should not interpret my friendship with other Jewish leaders as an affront to them.”

Mr. Eckstein dismissed Jews for Jesus as a “small group.”

“They feel we are taking funds from Christians they should be getting,” he said. “There’s a strong element of envy there. We have a quarter-million Christian donors. They believe the pie is only so small, and we’re taking a portion of the pie.”

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