A formal decree drafted by the World Evangelical Alliance's (WEA) Theology Commission during a Berlin conference held in August, has world Jewish communities up in arms: The decree, which explores "Jesus’ individuality and Jewish evangelism," is meant, according to the WEA, to find ways in which Christians can profess their true love for the Jewish people, especially those residing in Europe.
The conference, which was attended by German Christians and Messianic Jews, ended with a statement calling for forfeiting the Christian-Jewish dialogue in favor of distributing the gospel among the Jewish people. This act, said the WEA, "should be made with a true concerns for the Jewish people's redemption."
The statement begins with the conference apologizing for the persecution of the Jews in the name of Jesus, especially during the Holocaust: "During the genocide of the Holocaust, when the Jewish people were in their greatest peril, most Christian believers remained silent.
"Many have apologized for the failure to speak out and for not doing more to demonstrate genuine Christian love to the Jewish people... Many more today feel embarrassment and shame for the general failure to protest.
"As a result, there is an evident insecurity about relations with Jewish people. Also, there is a tendency to replace direct gospel outreach with Jewish-Christian dialogue," said the statement.
Jesus' teachings, it continued, state that "genuine love cannot be passive. Jesus taught that authentic love could not be unfeeling when other human beings are in misery and need. Honest love must include an expression of Christ’s good news in word and deed.
"Therefore, Christians everywhere must not look away when Jewish people have the same deep need for forgiveness of sins and true shalom, as do all nations. Love in action compels all Christians to share the gospel with people everywhere, including the Jewish people of Europe."
As for the origins of the sin of anti-Semitism, the WEA stated that "we acknowledge within the sad record of European Christian history the teaching of contempt, intolerance toward Jewish people and Judaism, abhorrent acts of coercion, and anti-Semitism in attitude, word, and deed.
"The historical events of the Holocaust developed within a climate of anti-Semitism. The German Evangelical Alliance out of concern for that history has expressed shame and responsibility for Christian silence and too few attempts to stop the horror.
"In light of rising European anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, vigilance is necessary now... Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor warned that 'it has happened. Therefore, it can happen again.' The source of all genocide is sin. This sin affects all humanity, both the persecutor and the sufferer. God’s response to sin is the gospel. Therefore, this grace must be proclaimed to every human being."
Praise the Lord
Embracing Jesus Christ, they declare, will rid us all of sin: "We recognize that genocide illustrates the enormity of sin. God is not responsible for genocide; we humans are. God has provided the solution.
"It is often seen as unacceptable to challenge another’s religious views. However, we regard failure to share the gospel as refusing to confront the problem of sin. No one should ignore Jesus’ assessment of human sin. Everyone needs what God offers by his grace – forgiveness of sin and a transforming divine presence that lives in those who respond.
"Confessing Jesus as Messiah affirms Jesus’ uniqueness as a person, especially to Jews, because Messiah (or Christ) is a Jewish concept," continued the decree. "Jesus of Nazareth was more than a prophet or a religious teacher... He exercises the divine prerogatives of forgiving sin and receiving worship. This is why we confess Jesus as divine and human," said the statement.
"God calls believers to take the gospel to the world. Everyone needs to hear this message, including the Jewish people. Proclamation to Israel was Jesus’ priority. It also reflects the apostles’ practice of going to the Jew first. Nothing has occurred since Jesus came that changes the need of Israel and the nations."
The World Evangelical Alliance "invites the Jewish people and all others to consider the claims of Jesus. We share this gospel with Israel and all nations, not as an attack on the integrity of others. We uphold freedom of speech, freedom of religion and an open forum for all. While respecting the views of others, we still challenge them to consider the message of the Messiah."
Knowledge is power
The Christians, added the WEA, "have much to learn from the Jewish people. We recognize our need to hear Jewish concerns. We affirm the importance of dialogue in promoting mutual understanding and sympathy. Dialogue provides an opportunity to share deeply-held beliefs in a context of mutual respect. Dialogue and evangelism are not mutually exclusively.
"We reject the notion that evangelism is deceptive in claiming that Jews can believe in Jesus. We also reject the accusation that evangelism is the equivalent of spiritual genocide. We affirm the right of Jewish believers in Jesus to practice those traditions that affirm their identity, reflect God’s faithfulness to his people and uphold the Messiahship of Jesus.
"We recognize the important role of Messianic Jews in the work and witness of the Church. Their special contribution gives testimony to the Jewish origins of Christianity and brings understanding of our Jewish roots. They remind us of the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christians, and also remind us of the fulfillment of God’s promises to restore His people," concluded the statement.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) denounced the statement as well. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg, ADL Director of Interfaith Policy, issued the following statement: "Promoting a campaign to convert Jews away from their faith is a serious affront to the Jewish people and disrespectful to Judaism’s own teachings.
"Though the World Evangelical Alliance claims it seeks to convert Jews out of their 'love' for Jews, we believe that if the WEA really loved Jews, they would respect Jewish teachings and recognize the integrity of Jewish tradition.
"It is especially troubling that the WEA includes and validates the deceptive proselytizing tactics of Messianic Jews... to issue this declaration from Berlin, where the Nazis directed their Final Solution to exterminate the Jewish people, is the height of insensitivity.
"This Evangelical document is not an offer of love, but a prescription for hate. As long as the WEA teaches that Judaism is incomplete or misguided, anti-Semitism will continue.
"We urge on the WEA to withdraw its call to target the Jews of Europe for conversion and immediately begin serious dialogue with Jewish interfaith representatives, so they can understand the immense pain and anger they are causing with their ill-advised and theologically misguided position."