There has been progress in general with regards to the relationship between Jews and Christians, after a long history of bloodshed at the hands of the Church. Today in western countries Jews and Christians have come to coexist peacefully, sometimes engaging in successful inter-fath activities and encounters aimed at increasing respect for one another through a greater knowledge of each others faith and looking to find common ground on teachings that are shared rather than on focusing on things that divide, but this emerges from a belief of not wishing to convert one another, and respecting the boundaries that differentiate the two faiths and aim simply to learn together and understand how the other side sees things.
Of the Christian groups who continue in their efforts to evangelize Jews, they have come to adopt new, more sophisticated tactics in their attempt to encourage Jews to embrace Jesus. These tactics are deceptive, offensive and disturbing when we look at how low groups like Jews for Jesus and the fast growing Messianic Jewish communities have gone in this effort. What these and similar missionary groups do is deny Judaism, and set themselves up in place of it, claiming that what the Church believes is the true Judaism, claiming it to be authentic Judaism by mimicking and making a total insult and mockery of Rabbinic, Jewish traditions and practices, and attributing christological or “hidden” meanings to their purpose and what they mean.
At least when traditional Christian missionaries try to evangelize Jews they are honest, they appear as a Christian, selling a Christian message. They respected the boundaries, and differences even though they disagree with us. There is nothing Jews have against a Christian or anyone trying to proseletize about their beliefs, but then of course Judaism has a right to respond to those claims, challenge them and is not willing to accept them uncritically, without questions.
The fact that they want to try through peaceful means to convert people is their business, Muslims do the same. The issue is not with missionary efforts per se, its the deceptive methods and false claims that infuriates Jews. These groups deliver a very clear Christian message but insist they aren’t Christians, that the message is Jewish and not Christian, that they are proud to be Jewish and that its just a different denomination of Judaism. These groups claim to be victimized by the Jewish community and sometimes by Christians.
Lets try to recreate the equivalent scenario of this so that a Christian can understand how a Jew must feel by the activities of such a movement if they were encountering them attempting to convert them.
Imagine that there is a new movement called ‘Christians for Mohammed.’ This movement is made up of mostly Christians by background or tradition who were not raised in a particularly observant home, as well as a few Muslims. It is supported and financed by Mosques, they accept the Koran as a sacred text, also read the Old and New Testament, and adhere to all the beliefs of Islam. If there were an area of dispute between what Christians believe and Muslims believe they would always side with the Muslim position but insist that they are not Muslims and that the Koran’s teachings and accepting of Mohammed is completely compatible with Christianity.
These Christians who believe in Mohammed do not call themselves Muslims, they insist that they are Christians, nor do they pray in Mosques, they pray in a Church, they call their Imam’s Priests and Pastors, who however are not recognised, ordained Priests or Pastors but nonetheless call themselves Priests or Pastors, but are in fact ordained Imam’s who have been given special training on witnessing to ordinary Christians about Mohammed.
They go to what looks just like a Church on Sundays, they only use Christian symbols, they do not live according to the Muslim calendar. They do not use Arabic prayers as this may make Christians feel like this is alien to them and discourage them from joining their Church. They don’t even refer to Mohammed as Mohammed but give him a nice English name, ‘Michael!’ That’s nicer, it doesn’t give Christian’s the fear that the room is about to explode. So for example, when they pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit they will add a line mentioning the prophet Michael to the list.
Their argument with “other” Christians who have not yet come to accept Gods final prophet is that they believe in Jesus, but that other Christians are wrong, he’s not part of a Trinity, he’s not divine at all, he was a prophet. Christians have descended into Idolatry and it was necessary for God to send another prophet to correct the errors that Christians made about who Jesus was, his purpose and what his true message was. So they are not only believers in Mohammed/Michael but the true believers in Jesus, to be a ‘real’ or ‘complete’ Christian you have to accept Mohammed.
Other Christians mean well and they love them, but they are in error and haven’t opened their eyes to the truth of Jesus and Mohammed and are not complete Christians until they do so, the most Christian thing you can do is believe in Mohammed as God’s final messenger and accept the divine authority of the Koran.
They will as a result of not celebrating Muslim festivals, attribute new or additional meanings to Christian festivals, so Lent will become like Ramadan, where incidentally for Lent Christians for Mohammed will give up eating during daylight hours for a month. And Christmas becomes a joint birthday for both Jesus and Mohammed, after all, we all know that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, but then neither was Mohammed, but that’s no reason not give the two prophets a shared birthday together.
If you are a Christian and found this offensive or abhorrent, this is how Jews feel when confronted by groups like Jews for Jesus. Not because I have any desire to offend anyone, only to make a point about deceptive missionaries. Such groups go even further, and then try to claim that our Rabbis even up to the modern era, taught a Christian message and not a Jewish one.
Attempting to deny Jews the ability to even draw from our own leaders throughout history, portraying it almost as if it was perfectly acceptable to hold all of these Christian beliefs and still be a Jew, even a Sage up until very recently, where all what we say now is quite recent, but in the past many Jews, if not the majority believed in Christian concepts which are alien to Jewish thought.
Its like saying that Tertullian, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Jerome were really teaching Judaism or Islam not Christianity, the opposite of what Christians learned from studying the teachings of these Churchmen in their own words.
Obviously a Christian would object to the scenario I gave above of such an Islamic missionary group. A Christian would reject their claim that they too believe in Jesus, because they believe he was divine and not simply a Prophet. A Muslim missionary may point out that not all Christians believe he is divine or are trinitarians, there are today Unitarian Christians such as Jehovahs witnesses for example, why is it ok for them to reject the trinity and still be considered a denomination of Christianity but not they because they also accept Mohammed. There is also compelling evidence to suggest that in the first and second centuries there were many Christians who did not accept the claim that Jesus was divine. The same could be said of the Mormons, who accept all the Christian texts plus an additional book, but a Christian would not consider Mormonism to be a form of Christianity.
Clearly Christians too have some sort of consensus of what is and is not Christian, there are many divisions, and many lapsed Christians, but I would be quite confident were the group that I described above to exist nearly all Christians would object unanimously to them calling themselves Christians.