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A Reformed Heritage: Jewish Global Missions

By Anthony English, Dec 14, 2021

A Forgotten Heritage

As a new fan of The Lord of the Rings film franchise, one of the themes that stands out to me is that of heritage. Aragorn is descended from a kingly lineage and part of his story is overcoming his fear and coming to terms with the responsibility he has to take his rightful place as king. Seeing his struggle as he wrestles with his destiny, his heritage, pulls me into the story and is what makes him one of my favorite characters in the franchise.

Thinking on the theme of heritage in The Lord of the Rings makes me think of an important, yet largely forgotten aspect of our Reformed heritage. When some within our theological circles read or hear the words “Jewish Missions,” what often comes to mind is dispensationalism (and thank God for the great work being done by our dispensational siblings in Jewish missions). However, we also have a rich, Reformed and Presbyterian heritage regarding Jewish missions! 

According to Stephen Atkinson, PCA missionary to the Jewish people for Christian Witness to Israel North America, “Presbyterians were always at the forefront of Jewish mission.” We see this wonderful truth expressed in the life of Scottish Presbyterian pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne. M’Cheyne was unashamed in his love for Israel and his passion to see her embrace her Messiah. He made comments such as this during his sermons

Shouldn’t we participate with God in His exceptional affection for Israel? Shouldn’t we engrave Israel upon the palms of our hands, and resolve that through our mercy they also may obtain mercy?" The Bible does not say that we are to preach only to the Jewish people, but "to the Jew first." All that we plead for is that, in sending out missionaries to the heathen, we may not forget to begin at Jerusalem! 

In 1838, M’Cheyne went on sabbatical due to health issues and during this time, he and fellow Scottish Presbyterian pastors, Alexander Keith and Andrew Bonar, took a trip to Israel to see the state of the Jewish people and to minister to them. In 1839, he and Bonar published their findings and experiences in Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland. Their trip resulted in the formation of an increased interest in Jewish missions and ministry among Reformed Presbyterians. 

Pastors M’Cheyne, Keith, and Bonar weren’t the only ones who spoke about the need to reach the Jewish people with the gospel of their Messiah. Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge wrote, “As the restoration of the Jews is not only a most desirable event, but one which God has determined to accomplish, Christians should keep it constantly in view even in their labors for the conversion of the Gentiles." And what was part of the reason our Reformed forefathers had such a love for and focus on global missions to the Jewish people? It was their view of covenant theology and how it related to the Jewish people. Presbyterian theologian John Murray wrote, “Israel are both ‘enemies’ and ‘beloved’ at the same time, enemies as regards the gospel (Rom 11:28), beloved as regards the election ... ‘Beloved’ thus means that God has not suspended or rescinded his relation to Israel as his chosen people in terms of the covenants made with their fathers.” 

A passionate love for and missional focus on reaching Messiah’s family according to the flesh is part of our Reformed heritage and our covenantal framework, as seen in John Murray’s quote, and gives us a solid theological foundation upon which to engage in global missions to the Jewish people (Romans 1:16; 9:1-5; 11:28-29). It’s time to remember our Reformed heritage.

A Heritage Founded Upon the Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 191, which is one of the standards we hold to here at Mission to the World, teaches that when we pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask that “Thy kingdom come,” what that means is “the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in …” (emphasis mine). As Reformed Christians, we believe that there are two calls when it comes to salvation. The first is the external call which is what our missionaries do when they go, preach the gospel, and invite those who hear to repent and place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their justification. The second is the inward call which is what the Holy Spirit does when He takes the preached gospel and with it, effectually calls the elect to the Father through the Son. So when we pray that God’s kingdom come to Earth, we include in that prayer that the Jewish people be effectually called to salvation through the preaching of missionaries for the gospel is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Embrace Our Reformed Heritage

In light of these truths, we must embrace this aspect of our Reformed heritage once again. How? 

First, we pray and seek the heart of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. As He wept over His people, so we too must weep for them (Matthew 23:37-39). As He came to His own people with the good news of His salvation, so we too go to the Jewish people overseas with the good news of their Messiah (Matthew 4:19; John 1:11; Romans 1:16). 

Second, we ask the Lord to give us a passion to see Israel saved like the Apostle Paul had when he wrote that he has “great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites …” (Romans 9:1-5). Do we have great and continual sorrow and grief that the vast majority of (as John Calvin called the Jewish people) the first born in God’s family are spiritually lost? Do we have a holy passion to see the Jewish people saved? To the point that, with Paul, we would even be willing to be cut off from Christ if that meant the salvation of Israel? 

Third, love should drive us to our knees in prayer where we ask God to save His chosen, covenant people and then love should drive us upward and outward to humbly, passionately, and sensitively go cross-culturally and overseas and speak with the Jewish people about the salvation their Messiah alone brings (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 1:16; 3:19-31). Like King Aragorn, we take up our responsibility to lovingly and humbly provoke the Jewish people to jealousy and we engage in global missions so that unbelieving Jewish people are grafted back into their own olive tree through faith in Jesus (Romans 11). We remember and hold to the missional priority of the gospel to the Jewish people first (Romans 1:16). We don’t forget Jerusalem (the Jewish people) as we reach the nations (the Gentile peoples). We remember with gratitude that “salvation is of the Jews” and we as the Church, out of a thankful obedience, take that same message of salvation back to the Jewish people (John 4:22). 

Finally, we have a great promise that fuels our global outreach to Israel: that their future national salvation and regrafting in to their own olive tree will be like life from the dead (Romans 11:15). What a glorious promise that should inspire and motivate a renewed Reformed phase of Jewish missions! May the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob continue to be pleased to use MTW in this new Reformed phase!

Anthony English is the assistant director of the MTW West Coast Hub.

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