Preaching in Israel
Preaching in Grace and Truth Church was a new experience. It was helpful to have been teaching a number of hours prior to preaching. When speaking with an interpreter, ideas must be broken into smaller sentences. I speak to them in English, the words are repeated in Hebrew, then in Russian (Signing is going on at the same time). The three of us get into a rhythm which becomes comfortable, and it is only broken if I use an English word unfamiliar to the interpreter. The interpreters are excellent. Two of these are Baruch himself and his wife Bracha. Incidentally, there was an error in the fourth letter. Bracha, though of Romanian descent, is actually a first-generation Israeli.
This system requires much more self-control and concentration by preacher, interpreters, and hearers. Thoughts cannot flow naturally in their development but must be held until ones turn to speak comes around. Also, hearers receive one sentence and must hold their thoughts on the subject until the next one is spoken in their language. The interpreter must concentrate on being precise. After a time this method can be used with feeling, although emotion and expression are always under more firm control of the mind, due to the process.
What may seem like an awkward system has been chosen for very important reasons. Most Israeli Jewish Christians are immigrants. Israel is a land of vast numbers of immigrant Jewish people and has been since the founding of this nation in 1947-48.
Adult immigrants often do not learn the new language of the country they enter well enough to be comfortable in study and worship with that language. Yet their children quickly become proficient in the new language and want to identify with the land in which they now live. Adults often choose a church with old world language and culture. Their children want the new. Immigrant families can thus, as you can clearly see, too easily become divided when the young reach teen-age years. Foreign language churches tend to die out in one generation, which is tragic. To hold families together and to have a vibrant church for years to come, the dual language services have been employed at Grace and Truth Church. Most others do not offer this, so those who immigrate have nowhere to turn. Actually, at Grace and Truth, there are sometimes even more languages being translated, such as Romanian and Yiddish. This method is tremendously effective in feeding hungry souls from other lands. The church is growing, and it is full of young people. To be worshiping in their midst is a great, great privilege.
At this time Grace and Truth Church has launched a search for a new pastor. Their present minister, Baruch Maoz, is 60 years old and would like to retire in 2008. Their search seems to be a difficult one, humanly speaking. They must have someone who will immigrate to Israel, which requires that he have a Jewish ancestry. The new man must also become proficient in preaching in Hebrew (within two years of his arrival in Israel). He must be committed to and must have studied Reformed and Baptist theology. This is a very specialized set of requirements. There are such men in the world. Their number will not be large. Availability and willingness to make such a move are the questions. The Grace and Truth Church would appreciate your prayers for this strategic need in Gods kingdom.
Sasha Seriapov, an elder of the congregation, publishes a quarterly magazine in Russian. At present they distribute 13,000 copies in 29 nations to Russian speaking Christians. It is helping to introduce many to Reformation teachings. Sasha is a rare jewel of a man who combines a gentle, humble spirit with an inflexible dedication to principle.
Eitan Kashtan began a 6 month class on biblical teachings about the family during adult Sunday School this week. Eitan was born in Israel and is an important leader within Grace and Truth Church. 30 years ago there was a 2% divorce rate in Israel, he told us in class. Jewish family life has tended to be stronger than that of most in western society. However, today 30% of Israeli marriages end in divorce within ten years. Israel is rapidly catching up with the decline of family life in the West, sadly. The moral causes of this weakening of family life are exactly the same in Israel as in the US. American exports are not all so helpful to distant nations, are they? Incidentally, Eitan himself is the happily married father of four children and is a delightful man, one who relates tremendously well to young people.
It is difficult to convey a sense of the unique place that Pastor Baruch Maoz holds in the small but vital nation of Israel. He was the first in the new nation of Israel to conduct sustained Christian evangelism. Many had lived in fear of doing so. His firm stand over the past 20 years for preaching the gospel boldly, for teaching Reformation theology, and for leadership among Israeli Christian congregations has given him a prominence we can not easily imagine. Rumours about him, printed warnings of his dangerous nature and graffiti (all spread by Orthodox Jews who oppose the rise of Christianity in Israel) have been present in the past and continue to exist. Any time Israeli Christians need a public spokesman or representative to speak with the government, Baruch is chosen.
For many centuries there have been, in the land of Israel, Christian churches of foreign denominations. What is completely new to the Israeli scene is that land has been purchased by Israeli Jewish Christians on which a Christian church building is being erected. Legal fights with opposition Orthodox Jewish leaders have gone through the legal system, ending with Supreme Court approval of the Grace and Truth Church building project. This is causing a national stir. It is precedent setting for all Jewish Christian congregations who aspire to build their own structures.
The Orthodox Jews watch Baruch closely; they seek to interrupt Baptism services of the church and to be generally disruptive. But under Baruchs leadership of the Christian community, battles have been won in the Knesset for Jewish Christians to be allowed to print and own Christian literature. Above all there has been no pulling back from the work of evangelism in the face of quite hostile opposition. Although the work is the Lords, Baruch is at the forefront of religious sea-changes in a young nation in whose territory religion has attracted the notice of the world for 3,500 years.
Our churches should be much in prayer for Grace and Truth Church and its pastor. In theology and in spirit they reflect the best of Reformed Baptist life in both Britain and the US.
Living in the World 6 November 2020
This article is the contents of an address first given in February 2020 at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle, UK. * * * LIVING in the world. How are Christians to live in the world? The question can be answered in many ways. The topic is potentially vast in scope — that becomes more […]
When coming to consider plagues throughout history and some Christian responses, it is appropriate to begin with this extract from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer: O Almighty God, who in thy wrath did send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also, in […]