For this writer, a sidebar to the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s was what might best be termed the Messianic Movement. As a young Christian, I remember hearing the middle-eastern-flavored music of the groups Lamb and Liberated Wailing Wall, and as someone trying to find relevant resources to communicate the Christian worldview, I was intrigued by a series of rather crudely drawn tri-folded 8 1/2 X 11 tract-substitutes called ‘broadsides’ which tended to be reflective of current events and trends.
The common thread between the music and the literature was an organization called Jews for Jesus. But it turned out there were many groups involved in evangelism to the Jewish community where I lived. In later years I would attend a Friday night service in Toronto as part of a congregation whose worship style was not much different than the synagogue I’d passed a mile down the road, but whose belief in Jesus Christ as the Messiah constituted a great divide. I would later learn the difference between Messianic Jews (the type of service I’d attended) and Hebrew Christians (whose worship style was more like any given Baptist group on a Sunday morning.)
But when Jews for Jesus came to Toronto and held a major rally in a Toronto high school, I knew I had to be there.
It turned out I was not the only type of person who wanted to attend. The event was met with protests by the Jewish Defence League. Shouts of “Jews don’t switch” greeted attendees, and once the event itself got underway, it was constantly interrupted by high-pitched whistling that may have come from human or mechanical sources, or both.
Unfortunately, I’d made the mistake of inviting my parents to join me, and in all their years of attendance at church and evangelistic meetings, they had never had to deal with counter-protests, and their discomfort throughout the entire meeting was evident; though I think we were all a bit on edge that night.
Flash forward several decades: When an opportunity to review a new biography of Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, I was not to let the opportunity pass by. The book Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus is written by his daughter, Ruth Rosen with the intimacy and passion that only an immediate family member can bring, and published by Thomas Nelson.
Like so many others, Moishe Rosen and his wife experience estrangement from their families when they ‘come out’ as believers in Yeshua and begin attending a local Baptist church. But the calling to ministry takes place over a number of years, and Rosen actually serves 17 years with another mission before spinning JFJ off as a separate entity.
Early chapters of the book highlight something my wife and I felt after twice attending Missionfest: While this type of ministry is unique, there are in fact dozens of organizations tripping over themselves trying to reach the Jewish community with the good news of Jesus. The zeal is common to all, but the methodology often differs greatly.
The book also presents the challenges a Christian leader faces when their vision places them as leader of a team. With my previously mentioned acquaintance with the ministry, I always viewed Rosen’s greatest strength as frontline evangelism, but the book shows him struggling with administration, staff recruitment and training and organizational politics.
While the Bible promises that all who endeavor to live Godly lives in Christ will face persecution, this multiplies many times over when the stated goal of the mission is to convert people steeped in a belief system so very foreign to Christianity, yet joined by a common book (the ‘first covenant’ of our Christian scriptures) and history. I actually learned a term I had not encountered before: The word “antimissionaries” describing those bent on preventing groups like JFJ from delivering their message.
I very much enjoyed reading Called to Controversy, though some background familiarity with this type of ministry is somewhat necessary to fully appreciate Moishe’s story, since some details are narrated but not fully explained.
Despite the opposition, Moishe Rosen believed that doing ministry should be fun. Yes, fun. He was fully energized by what he did and all that Jews for Jesus accomplished and could accomplish in the future. While Ruth Rosen does not hide her father’s faults and foibles, there is no denying is qualification as a great 20th century Christian leader.
Thanks to Book Sneeze, a program of Thomas Nelson Publishers for a print copy of Called to Controversy.
Here’s a link to a video of vintage (1973) Liberated Wailing Wall performing Blessed Be the Lord. While the group Lamb wasn’t directly a part of JFJ, their music was better known than LWW among ‘goyim’ like myself. This is their song The Sacrifice Lamb.