The assemblies of God make a greater effort to convert Jews, and
apparently are more successful at it, than any other major Christian
But while their success among all sorts of ethnic groups is a
factor in making the Assemblies one of the fastest-growing religious
movement in the country, efforts among Jews also have made it
Members of the church believe they are carrying out the mandate
found in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15 in the Bible. Called "the
Great Commission," it says, "Go into all the world and
preach the gospel to every creature."
"We have sought to be obedient to that commission,"
said Dr. Thomas F. Zimmerman, general superintendent of the 1.9-million-member
The denomination runs a formal outreach ministry from church headquarters
in Springfield, Mo. It is the only major denomination with such
a program specifically oriented toward converting Jews. The church
has named dozens of "ministries to the Jews;" most of
them with personal roots in Judaism.
As a result, the number of messianic Jewish congregations within
the denomination has grown from 19 to 47 in the past five years.
Two of them are in South Florida. The Assemblies account for
more than half the 80 messianic Jewish congregations of all denominations
in the country.
But another result has been a growing animosity in the Jewish
Unlike some older evangelistic efforts by Hebrew Christians who
operate within established church congregations with typical Christian
rhetoric and worship, Assemblies Jewish congregations emulate
synagogue activities. They told their main services on Friday
night and on Jewish holidays, make use of the menorah and other
synagogue furnishings, and use many of the traditional Jewish
prayers, often in Hebrew.
Rick Ross, a social worker who is a member of the national committee
on cults and missionaries for Reform Judaism's Union of America
Hebrew Congregations, calls the practice fraudulent.
"Not only are they trying to get the people to convert to
fundamentalism, but they are hoping to establish their own form
He views the work of the missionaries as "setting up a scenario
for anti-Semitism. What happens when the Jews don't come through?"
he said of efforts to convert them.
Even the Rev. Warren Jacobs, a Methodist serving with the National
Council of Churches, consider the work of the evangelists to be
Some efforts to combat the work of the evangelists have themselves
provoked anti-Semitism, according to the Rev. Harvey Koelner,
pastor of Temple Aron Kodesh, an Assemblies congregation of 400,
more than half of them Jews, in Lauderdale Lakes. He cited the
pieces of literature fraudulently bearing his picture that were
distributed throughout the community and to churches across the
That literature attributed to Koelner derogatory statements about
Christians and the Christian church.
"I'm concerned that it is causing anti-Semitic feeling in
the Christian community," said Koelner, who was reared as
an Orthodox Jew in Chicago. He now describes himself as a Jew
who believes that Jesus - or Yeshua - is the Jewish Messiah.
Similar literature bearing the picture of the Rev. Allen Kerzweil
of Temple Hatikvah Israel, an Assemblies congregation in Miami
Beach, also was circulated.
Other literature "tries to make the Assemblies look like
Nazis so as to keep Jews away," charges the Rev. Edwin Cordero,
the denomination's presbyter for Dade, Broward and Monroe counties.
He said the church's General Council is considering some kind
of legal action.
Pressure to Convert Jews