Déjà vu?

Last Saturday—the Shabbat, as Jewish believers call it—my friend and I attended a conservative Jewish synagogue service. The Jews believe in meeting all morning long, so from 9:15 until noon, they read from the Torah, prayed Hebrew prayers, and even meditated on Psalm 150. (“Why don’t we use musical instruments in our service?” the rabbi asked. “Because if the string on our instrument broke, we might be tempted to fix it and thus break the Sabbath.”)

Afterwards, we ate lunch with the congregation, actually consuming the stereotypical bagels and lox along with herring and tuna. Then, thanks to our decade-long relationship with the rabbi, we were invited at 1 p.m. to share Christianity with about 50 Jewish believers. After about 35 minutes of a prepared talk where we were very transparent, we opened the floor for questions.

What followed was what I would have expected in a Mormon ward. In fact, there was one instance where I—no kidding—had to literally remind myself that we were answering Jews and not Mormons. Here were just some of their many questions:

  • “Are you saying that, unless we accept the Jesus of the New Testament, we will go to hell? But doesn’t God want everyone to go to heaven?”
  • “What do you mean, we are sinners? I’m 85% good!” (My reply: “Well, you’re doing better than I am, and yet you’re still failing 15% of the time.”)
  • “How can you say lusting after a woman is adultery? I still like to look at the ladies.” –said by a man in his 80’s
  • “How is it possible that Jesus is God Almighty? Doesn’t the Bible say God is one?”

There were three or four Holocaust survivors in the audience, and they pointed out the sin of anti-Semitism, even referring to times when they personally had been called “Christ-killers.” Humbly, we read from the recent WEA declaration (“The Gospel and the Jewish People: An Evangelical Statement”) that begins, “We sadly acknowledge that church history has been marred with anti-Semitic words and deeds and that at times when the Jewish people were in great peril, the church did far less than it should have.” And, yes, we must admit that some throughout history have also unfairly treated or attacked the Mormon people.

When the scheduled one-hour talk stretched into an hour and a half, the rabbi finally closed the meeting. Much to our surprise, we did not receive any negative reaction afterward, and a dozen folks waited patiently to talk to us individually. I was able to hand out eight The Case for Christ books (Lee Strobel), while three or four others told me that their friends had already given them copies! (Christian, you’re doing your job!) One elderly Jewish man even asked the rabbi if we could return for further discussion—wow!

But the biggest smile of the day came when a septuagenarian gentleman put his hand on my shoulder and quietly asked, “Do you know how you are a success with our group? You watch how many fall asleep. I always say you are successful with only 10 percent who fall asleep. But nobody fell asleep today!” Those who don’t understand Christianity might disagree with us, but many want to hear what we have to say, even if they don’t agree. And if we don’t have answers to these very fair questions, then we are not doing what 1 Peter 3:15-16 commands us to do.

To every man an answer.

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5 Responses to Déjà vu?

  1. Michael P says:

    Yes, we need to have a response, indeed.

    And if you notice, the criticisms are all very similar. The questions and objections seem to center around the same issues.

  2. falcon says:

    This really blows my mind! I love the cordiality with which you and your friend were able to interact with the Jewish group. I keep thinking about the Book of Acts and the interaction of the disciples with their fellow Jews. I would have loved to be there especially with the discussion about being lost without Jesus. How do we say that in a way in which people won’t take offense? The Cross of Christ is an offense to many.
    Turning to our Mormon friends. How many of them would leave Mormonism if 1) the didn’t believe they’d end up in outer darkness 2) it wouldn’t cost them their families 3)it wouldn’t cost them their jobs. When I came to Christ it didn’t cost me anything.
    I was watching a portion of Frontline on PBS last night and they did a report on the growing evangelical church in China. Some of these folks, especially the house churches, still face harrassment. And they just keep growing despite the cost.
    Many who turn to and follow Chirst pay a price. But Jesus paid the ultimate price. And for that I’m grateful and forever in His debt.

  3. Brian says:

    Thanks for telling us about this, Eric. What an excellent account. I, too, have found there is a similarity between those whose hope of heaven is themselves. Their religious backgrounds may be quite different, yet belief in one’s innate goodness and merits is a great equalizer. (And remember, this is the boat many were in before they became Christians, so I don’t wish to infer that I’m speaking down to others. No, many of us were in that very place ourselves.)

    This reminds me of something I once heard on a Truths That Transform radio broadcast. The episode featured a guest speaker named James Walker, founder of Watchman Fellowship. He spoke of how Martin Luther explained that there are really only two religions in the world (the parentheses contain my original notes on the broadcast):

    1. Religion of works (Do something to get a prize; a price tag on the Cross; Jesus did not do it all, you must earn your salvation through a given set of laws established by the religion.)

    2. Religion of grace (Biblical Christianity is the only one that teaches this.)

    It was such a simple, clear delineation that I would often think back to this point. Only two. It was influential in changing my thinking, and was one of seeds that compelled me to begin studying the Bible, beginning with the Book of Romans. Speaking of Martin Luther, I recommend his writings most highly, including his commentary on Galatians. An online edition of this is available at:


    In his commentary, Martin Luther speaks of the society of his day, and its commonly held beliefs concerning how forgiveness is obtained, and how one may be found righteous in God’s sight. Many times, while reading his commentary, I’ve thought, “Wow. It’s almost as if he was writing about me specifically, describing me as I once was.”

  4. Rick B says:

    When you end it with, To every man an answer, It is really to bad the Mormons either Never read that verse, or do not believe it. Rick b

  5. Arthur Sido says:

    Brian, that Luther quote is perfect. Every other religion in the world: mormonism, Judaism, Islam, I would even add Catholicism to an extent, all ask what we can do to earn God’s favor. Christianity in contrast tells us what He was done to grant us God’s favor.

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