My Correspondence with Andrew Sparks of Avodat Yisrael
In my reporting about Avodat Yisrael, I have documented the problems Andrew Sparks and his Avodat Yisrael have with the gospel and soteriology (beliefs about salvation).
After contacting Messiah Now Ministries' president Ben Sheldon in hopes that Messiah Now, known for loving the gospel, would confront Sparks, it became clear that not much (at least that I know about) was going to happen.
I did get a letter from Sparks. My reply is below. And, no, I did not get any responses to my questions.
I believe those questions are the most important thing. I want people to be aware of what is in the public record, beyond my the problems I encountered in my interview with Sparks. I am not interested in making him look good or bad. My interest in making this public is to get these issues out in the open.
You will notice Sparks references previous correspondence. In spring of 2003, I was looking for somewhere to go in order to attend a Messianic Passover seder. I had forgotten this and did not remember it was him I had contacted when the Avodat Yisrael controversy popped up.
If you haven't already, I would suggest reading this first.
Soli Deo Gloria,
--- Andrew Sparks <email withheld for publication> wrote:
> Dear Geoff,
> Unfortunately, you have misrepresented myself and
> others and have taken it as a personal mission to
> critique our work in Philadelphia. Since you are
> not a journalist, I will leave it at that, as far as
> the numerous inaccuracies. You have also made a
> number of unsubstantiated accusations that I believe
> have been unfair to myself and others and what is
> currently transpiring. You have used such tactics
> as guilt by association and have certainly not
> followed the procedures provided for within the
> Presbyterian Church for handling differences.
> I understand that you are trying to make a point,
> but you paint with a very broad-stroke brush,
> seemingly underinformed. I believe that someone who
> is familiar with the issues would fail to recognize
> a clear picture from your writing. I am also
> uncertain why you feel that you are qualified to
> address these issues to a broader platform. For
> example, in a national publication such as the
> Layman, you malign our work and put it under
> suspician. I am uncertain how you could think that
> you are advancing the work of the Lord by doing
> this. And, in fact, you may be, for whatever
> reason, inhibiting our work among Jewish people.
> Are you Jewish yourself? Do you have any
> association with CHAIM, the Presbyterian Church of
> America work among Jewish people since you seem to
> attend their events? Are you against Messianic
> congregations, or Jewish people living and
> worshipping as Jewish followers of Jesus?
> Please identify to me who your pastor is and what
> church you attend, since you did not provide that
> information to me when I asked you for it over the
> phone? In fact, I felt you were evasive when I
> pressed you on who you were and who you represent.
> Of all the interviews that I did, you have been the
> only one to do this. Yet, in a desire to be
> transparent with you, I spoke with you. Others who
> you interviewed have have had the same impression.
> They were unsure of who you were and who you
> represented. Are you a member of West Jersey
> Presbytery. Are you in fact ordained? As a member
> of a PCUSA church, I believe that your statements,
> conduct, and writings reflect on that church and
> I write this email to you in confidence encouraging
> you to desist from misrepresenting the work of our congregation and to
> remove your work from public view on the internet or by other means
> due to the inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and
> unsubstantiated accusations. And to refrain from
> calling and emailing people spreading your
> unsubstantiated claims concerning myself and our
> congregation. I believe that it is divisive and
> improper discourse fitting an ordained person,
> member of a Presbyterian church, or a Christian.
> You have my attention, but it is unfortunate that I
> need to expend my energies in this way, since we are
> only one month into the congregation plant, and
> there are so many ministry needs and people to
> Once again, please identify your church affiliation,
> and your qualifications to address these issues. As
> you can see in the email below, I invited you to one
> of our holiday activities in the past which you did
> not come to. In fact, I don't believe you have come
> to any service or activity, but you appear to speak
> with authority on what is happening with Avodat
> Yisrael. This development is sad, since you have
> had the opportunity to visit us, build a first hand relationship with
> us, but you chose to critique from a distance.
> I believe that you would have appreciated our Seder
> as many Messianic Jews and secular Jews experienced
> a Passover Seder centered on the Messiah. My wife
> actually gave birth to our third child immediately
> following the Seder and had to leave in the middle
> of the meal. It was an eventful night.
> I implore you to repair any damage that you may have
> done for God's sake, for Jewish people's sake, and
> for your own reputation. I am saddened that I
> needed to send this email. Please prayerfully
> consider your following actions.
> I hope that your following actions stay true to your
> "I've been involved with the Messianic community for
> a long time now, and I like to participate from time
> to time and do my little bit."
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Robinson, Geoffrey S
> To: 'Andrew Sparks'
> Sent: Tuesday, April 08, 2003 8:39 AM
> Subject: RE: Passover Seder
> Thanks for opening your seder to us. We already
> have things planned for the 19th, so we are going to participate in a
> seder run by Chaim.
> Do not use this email, but please keep me informed
> of the going ons of your congregation. My main email
> is firstname.lastname@example.org.
> I've been involved with the Messianic community
> for a long time now, and I like to participate from
> time to time and do my little bit.
> God bless,
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Andrew Sparks
> -Passover Seder Invitation-
> You are invited to a Seder Dinner on Saturday,
> April 19, at 5:00 p.m. at the worship site of
> Congregation Avodat Yisrael. We will be honoring
> Passover and the great themes of service,
> redemption, and freedom that it stands for. The
> messianic hope displayed throughout Passover will be highlighted. RSVP
> requested by April 15 (please leave a message at (215) 568-1030 or
> email email@example.com). Childcare and nursery
> Congregation Avodat Yisrael will be starting
> regular services in the fall. The time is drawing
> near and only the passing of summer lies ahead
> before we offer our worship to God through this new
> congregation. I believe that much blessing awaits
> those willing to take this step of faith and embrace
> the call of discipleship, service, and spiritual
I am an evangelical member of Bethany Presbyterian
church in Haddon Heights, NJ. My pastor is very new,
and her name is Alaina Walton. I am a new member at
this church as well, and I previously attended for
about two years Memorial Presbyterian Church in
Wenonah, NJ. I am willing to subject myself to my
session and presbytery's discipline if the need
If you are familiar with the Downgrade Controversy you
may recall that Spurgeon raised concerns about
heterodox beliefs within the Baptist Union.
Unfortunately for Spurgeon, he was attacked personally
and ancilliary issues were raised. He was not taken
to task regarding the theological substance of the
questions he was raising. Far be it from me to compare
myself with a great man of God like Spurgeon. But I
hope we can learn a lesson from that tragic episode.
I want us to deal with the substance of my concerns
and not get into personal attacks. I hope and pray we
can focus on those issues and clear things up.
As detailed in the article (http://www.geoffrobinson.net/avodatyisrael.html), my concerns began after reading the Philadelphia Inquirer article. If you believe you were quoted inaccurately from the article please let me know.
You must specify the inaccuracies you believe are
contained within my article. I stand behind my
reporting of my interviews, and I, of course, expected
people to question my analysis of those facts. But I
tried my utmost to report those interviews correctly.
I believe in my heart of hearts that I took accurate
notes of all my interviews, but I am still willing to
give you the opportunity to clear up any issues.
Here are the issues I would like resolved that pertain
to you (not Currie's or Jarvis' comments):
In that interview, you told me that you did not know
whether Jews need to believe Jesus for salvation. You
told me this question was "beyond you." This seems to
be corroborated by the article on your website which
questions the entire saved-unsaved schema at the
individual level (which in turn critiqued the PCA's
statement for evangelizing Jewish people). Is this
still your view?
In the Philadelphia Inquirer article you are quoted as
saying that you were not going to try to get people to
leave Judaism. This quote is what raised my initial
concerns and what prompter my research and our
interview together. Why aren't you trying to get
people to leave Judaism?
A related issue: In our interview you affirmed people
who wanted to stay in traditional Judaism. Is this
still your position?
Edward Gehres, executive presbyter of the Presbytery
of Philadelphia, said your congregation was approved
on the grounds that it would not evangelize Jews. Is
he incorrect in his assertion? If he is not, why
would you allow approval of your congregation on such
grounds? If he is, are you planning to evanglize
unbelieving Jewish people? If you are planning to
evangelize unbelieving Jewish people and you were not
approved with the condition you would not evangelize unbelieving Jews, are you going to inform your presbytery of your intentions to evangelize?
One further note since I had thought about this and I
want this clearly explained: As you may notice, I do
segue into soteriological problems within the UMJC.
However, I clearly mention you are not responsible for
Tony Eaton's heretical comments. My purpose in that
section was not to tie you with Eaton, but to show the
growing soteriological problems and concerns within
the UMJC, of which you are a part so this was
pertinent. As you may know, I received a confirmation
of those problems when I interviewed Russ Resnik. If
there was another quote on record besides Eaton's I
would have used that. A few of my sources in the
Messianic community (who will remain anonomyous) have
told me these views are not uncommon within the UMJC.
Since none of them wanted to give me the name of those
leaders on the record, I used the only on-record
source (before my Resnik article) which illistrated
the situation within the UMJC.
If you could affirm publicly that you plan to
evangelize non-Messianic Jews and that you affirm that
one needs to consciously believe in Jesus for
salvation from eternal damnation (and in accordance
with our historic confessions you are obligated to
uphold through your ordination vows), through a press
release to your presbytery's leadership, the
Presbyterian News Service, the Layman, the
Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Presbyterian Outlook, I
could be pursuaded to remove the article from my
website or at the very least amend my article to
reflect such an event. If you decide on that course of
action, I will also write a letter to every
publication I have written to explaining the turn of
events and explain my intentions. I wish for nothing
more than a soteriologically orthodox and
gospel-preaching evangelistic Messianic congregation
within the PC(USA).
May God richly bless you,
ps-I carbon-copied Ben since I saw you had my work
email and that more than likely came through him.
pps-Please excuse the poor spelling in my email.
ppps-Let's keep the emails via this email address.
Thanks a bunch.