Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

A Deep and Unfortunate Oversight

It is Saturday morning somewhere 32000 feet over the midwest part of America. I am on the last leg of my trip home from Israel. It has not been the typical “Holy Land” journey. I saw no biblical sites; I came to see something better–the church in Israel in action. I came to spend time with Dan Sered, who is leading an effort to reach Jews for Jesus. The experience has had a profound effect on me. I, as well as many evangelicals, have been too guilty of coming only to get our pictures, gain some new biblical insights on where Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, etc, and buy our trinkets–all the while oblivious to what is happening with the body of Christ. I am convinced this has been both a great oversight and a great sin.

Through the course I taught at Hebrew College, I was able to meet some 24 pastors, both Arab and Jewish pastors. A special program has been instituted to train the existing leaders of the church. For four intensive days, we discussed pastoral ethics–and lots of other pastoral issues. I came to fall in love with these men, as well as appreciate with greater depth what they face. On the surface, one could wonder why the church is not so strong in Israel, but that would be to miss the fact the church in Israel has only been in existence some forty years. Imagine what the church looked like in America, say in 1830! A church moving out of infancy into adolescence.

For the most part, these churches cannot support their pastors. Pastors must seek support from other places, including abroad. Some pastors have minimal training, still working through basic issues. Others are seasoned and knowledgeable pastors. That I could come and work with them and have a part in their future work was a great privilege. It was as taxing physically and mentally as anything I have recently done. Arriving last Saturday, speaking to groups over the weekend, teaching and preparing 18 hours a day, and now going home to preach this weekend is demanding. Thank God for health and Zipfizz!

On the last day of class, I asked these pastors to share from a list of required ethical texts they were to read and meditate on. One by one, they shared how a particular text impacted them, and what God was doing in their lives. Their transparency was moving, especially when you realize these are Jews and Arabs opening up to one another. Some shared of their temptations to love ministry more than their spouses, of not listening to God, of dealing with anger, of losing their churches, etc. Their challenges humble me. It’s part of the reason I do this. It is part of the reason I was in a refugee camp in the Bekaa four weeks ago. I am brought back to the larger realities we live in. I am grateful for a church and a seminary that let me.

Three years ago I led a study tour to Israel. It was the last night and I was waiting behind two ladies in a gift shop. They were part of some church group that had just come in, and they were already checking out the souvenirs. Gabbing away, they suddenly realized I was waiting behind them. One of the women said, “You go ahead honey. We’re waiting to Jew the price down.” It suddenly got real quiet, especially since they said it in front of the Jewish shopkeeper. It was offensive. It was also stupid, as they had lost sight of their immediate context. Hopefully, any future journeys I take to Israel will not miss the larger context I have suddenly entered. Lord willing, I will open my eyes to what God is doing through the body of Christ to bring Jesus to a really lost land and ask—how can I encourage you?

This small circle of pastors is only the first circle. One day, Lord willing, Arab pastors beyond Israel–Palestinian pastors, Lebanese pastors, Iraqi pastors, etc–will team with Israeli pastors–and why not? In Christ, the walls have come down (Gal 3:28). In Christ, there is forgiveness and reconciliation. If pastors can one day model this, there may be hope for a broader reconciliation of peoples in this fractured part of the world.

  • sewcreative
    3:41 PM, 10 December 2014

    When reading your blogs, I often times wish I could have been there to experience those same things that you were able to experience. I then am reminded of what the Lord said, "to whom much is given, much is required." I know you that give much of your heart and time to these precious people and become intimately concerned for their current situations. You have been entrusted with much….

  • Vaughn Longanecker
    4:05 AM, 26 January 2015

    Given the times it is a miracle of God that you, an American pastor, can be in the Land of Jesus, teaching Jews and Palestinian pastors, while wars rage all around the middle east, a grace and opportunity for the church, indeed.
    I too was struck and ashamed and shocked (realizing my own negligence/sin) to hear from Dan Sered how little the church was returning to bring back to Israel the very life that Christ has given to us (church of the west/gentiles). So when is Village going to have a mission to Israel?
    A historical matter regarding the church in America in 1830 AD, a better year might have been 1740’s or 1810’s, as the church had lost it’s vitality and America was fast after worldliness. Neither of these years were ones of infancy since the church in America started out strong James Town and one of the strongest of all American periods, Plymouth with the Pilgrims. In fact the year you chose is just after the second Great Awakening and one of the stronger, and certainly not beginnings of the Church in America. The most demonstrative evidence of the health of the church in the 1830’s was their readiness, their maturity, their decernment, and their willingness to respond to "The Macedonian Call of the West". When the four Nez Perce Indians came from the darkness of the west in a faith trek, similar to Abram’s, through enemy territory and plea for "The Whiteman’s Book of Heaven". The only time in all of church history when a people went out of their people/land to such an extent and request the gospel be brought to them. If the church was not already mature they would not have responded with the largest missionary out reach in the world, to that point ( in $ and numbers, ~200 missionaries, and more support staff responded).
    This does prompt me to ask, when is Village going to have mission to the metro area? I don’t mean supporting ministries already in place or doing social out reaches but two by two going out in the community to proclaim the gospel?
    In the sermon today 1-25-15 AD, you had mentioned this teaching opportunity and your encounter with the cab driver (sounds like a Providential encounter) who was so open and vulnerable ( I suspect it in part, or whole because of your vulnerability gentle manner) to share his fear and you had an opportunity to share the "Hope of the Ages", Jesus Christ.
    You went on to say something that I found confusing, you said, if my notes and memory serve me well, "the church is the hope of the world." I believe that I think you were referring to who the church’s hope is in, Jesus Christ, but in context it sounded like an over emphasis in church activity, duty, plan, purpose, and "hope". As Paul (God) reminds us in the verses just before today’s text (I Cor. 2:2) "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."
    Where are the scriptures that give us this hope in the church, I looked and could find any?

    In His service, Vaughn Longanecker

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