A Christian woman outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)
Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Aryeh Stern says that he has received guarantees from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem that there would be no missionary activity at the organization’s Feast of Tabernacles celebration, which starts next week.
Stern’s office has been in touch with ICEJ in order to seek this clarification, after several anti-missionary groups objected to the organization’s forthcoming event, and Stern wrote to one of these groups explaining his position on the issue.
“We have spoken with those who are responsible for the conference and agreed with them that the event this year will not be a repeat of last year. Even though there was no clear missionary activity, it nevertheless caused great resentment among Jews,” Stern wrote to the Yad L’achim organization.
The ICEJ is a well-established evangelical Christian Zionist organization, explicitly pro-Israel.
It funds a range of Jewish charities, including an old-age home for Holocaust survivors, and has always insisted that it does not carry out or permit any proselytizing activity.
Anti-missionary groups objected strongly to an occurrence during the 2014 Feast of Tabernacles, now in its 36th year, in which IDF soldiers were invited to the “Israeli Night” of the festival, where they were brought on stage.
Well known preacher, Robert Stearns addressed the audience that evening https://www.youtube.com/ watch?t=2&v=og16-sP4bOw, mainly on political issues in which he criticized US policy towards Iran, and his speech was simultaneously translated by a translator on stage with him.
Stearns said that everyone in the auditorium of the Pais Arena in Jerusalem “was gathered together to worship the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob,” and that the Church had committed crimes against the Jewish people in the past, which was against the “spirit of the true followers of Jesus.”
“I want to let us know tonight Jesus is not a Christian. He is Jewish and we follow the Jew, Jesus,” he said.
This comment was translated by the translator as “we follow the Jewish messiah, Yeshua.”
Anti-missionary groups have also pointed to several Messianic Christian preachers who have participated in ICEJ conferences in Israel recently.
Pastor Wayne Hilsden founded the Messianic King of Kings Community Jerusalem. In 2014, he spoke at the ICEJ Envision Pastors and Leaders conference about his work “planting congregations” in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Peter Tsukahira, another wellknown Messianic preacher, also spoke at the same conference, about his work “reach[ing] out to both sides of Abraham’s family, both to the Jews and the Arabs” and “planting” a Hebrew-speaking congregation and a Russian-speaking congregation for immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union.
Tsukahira will also be speaking at the Feast of Tabernacles.
Spokesman for the ICEJ David Parsons said in response that “none of these speakers are organizers of the Feast and they will not be using the Feast to proselytize,” adding that their sessions during the six-day event are closed to the Israeli public.
Parsons said that Messianic Jews (Christians) have been present at the ICEJ’s Feast of Tabernacles for over thirty years, and said that the organization would not exclude them from its events.
“We’re not hiding who we are, we are Christians who believe Jesus is the messiah, and we believe Messianic Jews to be part of the body of the Christ,” he said.
Parsons said however that Messianic leaders are not allowed to preach to non-Christians and said that their sessions are closed to the Israeli public, as is all but one evening of the Feast. Israeli citizens are only allowed to attend if they demonstrate that they are already part of a local Messianic congregation he added.
That evening open to the general public is the “Israeli Guest Night” where Parsons again said that proselytizing is not permitted.
Hanoch Gertman, head of the anti-missionary department of the Yad L’Achim group, said that his organization, which has been accused of radicalism, was “extremely disappointed” in the ICEJ because of the 2014 event with the IDF soldiers, saying that “our trust in them was broken.”
The organization is not taking any further steps at present but would be observing this year’s event closely, he added.
Last week Chief Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef issued a strongly worded letter against ICEJ’s event and warned Israelis not to attend.