Assemblies' evangelism of Jews creates animosity

The Miami Herald/May 17, 1985
By Adon Taft

More than half the messianic Jewish congregations in the country belong to the Assemblies of God denomination.

The assemblies of God make a greater effort to convert Jews, and apparently are more successful at it, than any other major Christian denomination.

But while their success among all sorts of ethnic groups is a factor in making the Assemblies one of the fastest-growing religious movement in the country, efforts among Jews also have made it controversial.

Members of the church believe they are carrying out the mandate found in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15 in the Bible. Called "the Great Commission," it says, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

"We have sought to be obedient to that commission," said Dr. Thomas F. Zimmerman, general superintendent of the 1.9-million-member denominations.

Outreach ministry

The denomination runs a formal outreach ministry from church headquarters in Springfield, Mo. It is the only major denomination with such a program specifically oriented toward converting Jews. The church has named dozens of "ministries to the Jews;" most of them with personal roots in Judaism.

As a result, the number of messianic Jewish congregations within the denomination has grown from 19 to 47 in the past five years. Two of them are in South Florida. The Assemblies account for more than half the 80 messianic Jewish congregations of all denominations in the country.

But another result has been a growing animosity in the Jewish community.

Unlike some older evangelistic efforts by Hebrew Christians who operate within established church congregations with typical Christian rhetoric and worship, Assemblies Jewish congregations emulate synagogue activities. They told their main services on Friday night and on Jewish holidays, make use of the menorah and other synagogue furnishings, and use many of the traditional Jewish prayers, often in Hebrew.

Hard feelings

Rick Ross, a social worker who is a member of the national committee on cults and missionaries for Reform Judaism's Union of America Hebrew Congregations, calls the practice fraudulent.

"Not only are they trying to get the people to convert to fundamentalism, but they are hoping to establish their own form of Judaism."

He views the work of the missionaries as "setting up a scenario for anti-Semitism. What happens when the Jews don't come through?" he said of efforts to convert them.

Even the Rev. Warren Jacobs, a Methodist serving with the National Council of Churches, consider the work of the evangelists to be "subtle anti-Semitism."

Some efforts to combat the work of the evangelists have themselves provoked anti-Semitism, according to the Rev. Harvey Koelner, pastor of Temple Aron Kodesh, an Assemblies congregation of 400, more than half of them Jews, in Lauderdale Lakes. He cited the pieces of literature fraudulently bearing his picture that were distributed throughout the community and to churches across the country recently.

Anti-Semitic feeling

That literature attributed to Koelner derogatory statements about Christians and the Christian church.

"I'm concerned that it is causing anti-Semitic feeling in the Christian community," said Koelner, who was reared as an Orthodox Jew in Chicago. He now describes himself as a Jew who believes that Jesus - or Yeshua - is the Jewish Messiah.

Similar literature bearing the picture of the Rev. Allen Kerzweil of Temple Hatikvah Israel, an Assemblies congregation in Miami Beach, also was circulated.

Other literature "tries to make the Assemblies look like Nazis so as to keep Jews away," charges the Rev. Edwin Cordero, the denomination's presbyter for Dade, Broward and Monroe counties. He said the church's General Council is considering some kind of legal action.

Pressure to Convert Jews

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