RAYTOWN, Mo. – Some 2,000 Christians and Jews in Missouri put their differences aside as they came together to pray for the peace of Jerusalem at the First Baptist Church in Raytown – the state’s largest Southern Baptist Church. Entitled, “The Gathering 2,” it was the second meeting if its kind, striving to unite the Judeo-Christian community under the common thread of scripture and peace.
Paul Brooks, First Baptist pastor, spearheaded the gathering two years ago, while attending a rally at a Jewish school in Kansas City following a massacre in Israel.
"I didn't know anybody in the Jewish community at the time," Brooks said. "While sitting there, I felt like the Lord spoke to me. He reminded me that if we can come together politically -- Christians and Jews -- we can get together and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, setting aside our differences. We don't have to agree who the Messiah is to obey Scripture and pray for peace."
Since then, Brooks met with Jewish rabbis in the area to begin planning the first “Gathering.”
"The rabbinical association met and decided it was a good idea," Brooks recounted. "We held our first joint prayer meeting last winter and had about 1,700 people, 30 to 40 churches and five to six synagogues present. The second Gathering on March 1 brought in more than 2,000 people, and we had 50 or 60 churches.
"Everybody is really excited about this and wants to know when we can do it again," Brooks said.
"The Jewish people feel pretty alone in the world," the pastor said. "They've been driven out of country after country and slaughtered by many different maniacs. A lot of the anti-Semitism has come from the Christian community.
"I have made friends with several rabbis. I tell them I can't undo what has been done in Europe, but maybe we can make things better in Kansas City. And that's what we're trying to do -- make things better and get along better."
Brooks shared his experience talking with several Jewish Rabbis about Jesus.
"One rabbi said to me that when the Messiah comes we will ask Him, 'Is this the first or second time?'" Brooks said. "He went on to say that since we can't agree, we ought to set that aside and just be friends."
Brooks also said he understands why there might be a mistrust on the part of the Jewish community.
"I'm a Southern Baptist, and I know that not all Southern Baptists would agree with me," Brooks said. "I can only speak for myself and for many of my friends in Kansas City and say that we have no hidden agenda to try and convert the Jews. ... That's not our goal. Our goal is to be friends."
Brooks also told the Jewish publication that Southern Baptists are a "people of the Book" who recognize that Jews are a covenant people with a unique relationship with God.
"We believe that we are also a covenant people under a different covenant and that we have a unique relationship with the same God. ... Because we love the same God, we ought to love each other."
Brooks, however, said he does not agree with those who say there are two roads to heaven: the Abrahamic covenant for Jews and the New Covenant for Gentiles. Instead, he reinforces the truth that there is only one way to eternal life.
"It is true that God has a covenant with Jews," Brooks said, "but that does not change John 14:6 where Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.' The Book of Romans teaches us that the Jewish people have been blinded to the truth. It goes on to say that the Messiah will come and all Israel will accept Him and will be saved at some point in the future.
"Now, however, Jesus is the one and only way to heaven," Brooks emphasized.
While Brooks says he will try to establish friendships with the Jewish population, he will not attack them or force anything on them.
"I try to establish a friendship," he said. "I am very up front with all of my Jewish friends. I tell them that I believe Jesus is the Messiah. We agree to disagree.
"We are trying to be friends and be supportive. In the process, I share the Gospel message with a large portion of the Jewish population I have contact with, but I don't attack them or try to be offensive.
"When I began ministering to the Jewish community, I did receive some criticism, but none from my church that I know of. They [First Baptist] know that I don't compromise anything."