Since Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate 4 (1965)
The extensive Vatican II Council’s document that sets forth the Roman (Latin) Catholic Church’s beliefs and practices for modern times was released in parts at various times from 1963 through 1965 and contains a smaller document entitled, “Nostra Aetate” (meaning, “in our time”). Released in 1965, the declaration is a statement of how the Catholic Church understands non-Christian religions…. More specifically in section 4 of Nostra Aetate one finds numerous paragraphs explaining the Church’s relationship in particular to the Jewish people and to their religion that is called Judaism.1
Though largely unknown to evangelicals, this document has sparked an unprecedented sea change in relationships between Jews and the Roman Catholic Church and numerous Protestant mainline churches. Evangelicals also have in the same period developed a growing parallel response of their own influenced by the Holocaust (shoah) and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. A part of this more recent narrative is presented in the following brief summary of evangelical-Jewish faith relations over the last 40 to 50 years and a description of some of the main documents issued by various evangelical organizations and denominations related to the Jewish people.2
Current Evangelical Discussions with the Jewish Religious Community since Vatican II
The first major evangelical denominational meeting was with the Southern Baptists in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1969. Jointly sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the conference was held at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The first evangelical national interdenominational meeting was held in 1975 in New York at the Calvary Church under the joint sponsorship of the AJC (Marc Tannenbaum and A. James Rudin) and the Institute of Holy Land Studies, an evangelical study institute located in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. There was some uneasiness on both sides as we were not sure of what motives brought our dialogue partners to such a meeting. Most of us left sensing respect and trust toward those we met, while at the same time we realized also and articulated matters of deep difference.3
Christianity Today and the AJC (A. James Rudin and Marc Tannenbaum) sponsored the second national meeting at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, in 1980. Different formats were introduced but with the same wide variety of topics and responses—with both continuing and new participants.
In 1984 a third national gathering of similar composition took place at Gordon College in Massachusetts under the joint sponsorship of A. James Rudin, from the AJC, and Professor Marvin R. Wilson, a distinguished evangelical Old Testament scholar from Gordon College and a participant in the two previous national meetings. All three of these proceedings were published and have been widely read and cited.4
As a participant in these three discussions, I can testify that they were stimulating, eye-opening, very fruitful, sometimes tense, but friendly and trust building. At no time did I feel inhibited in expressing my own reading of Scripture and my faith commitment. Yet we all learned to do this in a way that respected the other’s understandings.
There were local and regional attempts to foster evangelical-Jewish discussions across America in the nineties. For example, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, then with the Chicago office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), brought evangelicals together with representatives of the Jewish religious community from the greater Chicago area for regular discussions around numerous topics of mutual interest for several years. I myself was one of the members of this helpful interchange.
National meetings between Jews and evangelicals were again resumed in 2009 in Washington DC, convened under the leadership of evangelicals David Neff, Ron Sider, and Joel Hunter; and from the Jewish side by Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Ethan Felson, and Rabbi Steven Gutow. These yearly meetings continue, including plans for 2015. There are between 20 and 25 participants from each community drawn from institutions, organizations, churches, and synagogues across America and broadly representative of the different branches of each community. The agenda in some ways has revisited previous discussion topics, but new ones as well, and with almost a totally new group of persons on both sides from those involved in the earlier conferences. Among other topics, two discussion documents were presented at the 2013 meeting: one titled “An Evangelical Statement on the Jewish People,” and the other, “A Jewish Statement on Evangelical Christianity.” These were draft discussion statements, and with a number of comments voiced on each will no doubt undergo changes before any final documents are accepted.
Additionally, the national group has discussed a preliminary-guidelines document on how the Palestinian-Israeli discussions can go forward without anti-Semitic or anti-Judaism statements and yet with openness to criticisms of specific Israeli government policies. Finally, we have not yet found a way acceptable to both parties to include Messianic Jewish participants in the discussions.5
PART II Evangelical Documentary Statements about Jews and Judaism Since Vatican II
Statements on evangelical relations to Jews and Judaism exist but are not plentiful. This probably can be related to the lack of any centralized authority except where there is an evangelical denominational identity, such as the Assemblies of God, or the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Presbyterian Church of America.6
The following descriptions are representative and are not intended to be exhaustive. Several documents have emerged in evangelical circles, which were generated due to the rise of Jewish evangelicals who engaged in both the formation of Messianic congregations separate from Gentile churches and in Jewish-led evangelism to non-Messianic Jews.
An earlier but seminal Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization (LCWE) operational report (LOP-4-1980) originating from the newly established Lausanne Consultation for Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) continues the discussions of the historic Consultation on World Evangelization (COWE) held in Pattaya, Thailand, in June 1980.7 Most of the themes mentioned in this seminal document are picked up and elaborated in the following document.
The Willowbank Declaration on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish People is also an early and much longer piece formulated by an international Consultation on the Gospel and the Jewish People (LCJE) in April 1989 at Willowbank, Bermuda, and also sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and more recently endorsed (2008) by the Lausanne Consultation for Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). These men and women were prominent evangelical leaders and scholars from around the world, from different churches and theological traditions. The main concern as expressed in the introduction to the declaration was explained as the confusion in Christian communities about whether Jews needed to be evangelized equally along with other Gentile peoples of the world. In a lengthy series of 27 affirmations and denials, the document strongly supports Jewish evangelism and denies the two-covenant view that would argue that Jews have their own separate covenant and do not need the gospel for their salvation. Further, it fully supports Messianic Jews and their right to follow Jewish practices and worship styles in their communities even though they may differ from the largely Gentile congregations.
However, there are also strong statements condemning anti-Semitism in any form as “wicked and shameful” and acknowledging that “the church has in the past been much to blame for tolerating and encouraging it and for condoning anti-Jewish actions on the part of individuals and governments.” “We pledge ourselves to resist every form of anti-Semitism.” The declaration also calls for God’s and the Jewish people’s forgiveness for Christian complicity in the Jews’ past unjust sufferings and exhortations to show genuine love to Jews “in every possible way” because of God’s gift through them of the Jewish Messiah and Savior. There is an important statement parallel to Nostra Aetate: “We deny that it is right to single out the Jewish people for putting Jesus to death.” “WE AFFIRM THAT Jewish people have an ongoing part in God’s plan.”
The document also contains helpful references to the land controversy: “Concerned about humanity everywhere, we are resolved to uphold the right of Jewish people to a just and peaceful existence everywhere, both in the land of Israel and in their communities throughout the world.”
Yet it calls for justice in land issues:
WE AFFIRM THAT the Jewish quest for a homeland with secure borders and a just peace has our support. WE DENY THAT any biblical link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel justifies actions that contradict biblical ethics and constitute oppression of people-groups or individuals.
On the other hand, there are statements that will not be as welcome in the Jewish community:
WE AFFIRM THAT the concern to point Jewish people to faith in Jesus Christ which the Christian church has historically felt and shown was right. WE DENY THAT there is any truth in the widespread notion that evangelizing Jews is needless because they are already in covenant with God through Abraham and Moses and so are already saved despite their rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. WE AFFIRM THAT all endeavors to persuade others to become Christians should express love to them by respecting their dignity and integrity at every point, including parents’ responsibility in the case of their children. WE DENY THAT coercive or deceptive proselytizing, which violates dignity and integrity on both sides, can ever be justified…. WE AFFIRM THAT the existence of separate churchly organizations for evangelizing Jews, as for evangelizing any other particular human group, can be justified pragmatically, as an appropriate means of fulfilling the church’s mandate to take the Gospel to the whole human race.
The following may be read as anti-Judaism:
WE AFFIRM THAT much of Judaism, in its various forms, throughout contemporary Israel and today’s Diaspora, is a development out of, rather than as an authentic embodiment of, the faith, love and hope, that the Hebrew Scriptures teach. WE DENY THAT modern Judaism with its explicit negation of the divine person, work, and Messiah-ship of Jesus Christ contains within itself true knowledge of God’s salvation.
As to dialogue and discussions with the Jewish community, the document says,
WE AFFIRM THAT dialogue with other faiths that seeks to transcend stereo-types [sic] of them based on ignorance, and to find common ground and to share common concerns, is an expression of Christian love that should be encouraged. WE DENY THAT dialogue that explains the Christian faith without seeking to persuade the dialogue partners of its truth and claims is a sufficient expression of Christian love.8
This is an important document that I feel would embody the thinking and beliefs of many of today’s Protestant evangelicals about Jewish and evangelical relations and Messianic Judaism. The Declaration is not, however, above some points of criticism, especially by those evangelicals who have had sustained contact with the Jewish religious community in America over a number of years.
Other lengthy evangelical statements that also raise the above concerns are the Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization publication, “Occasional Paper (LOP) No. 60” titled “Jewish Evangelism: A Call to the Church” (2005).9 This paper is a response to the statement issued by the Jewish community called “Dabru Emet [Speak the Truth]: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,” signed by more than two hundred Jewish scholars and published in First Things (November 2000).10 The Dabru Emet statement, which affirms many commonalities of the two communities, also states that from the Jewish viewpoint Christianity and Judaism are two separate religions, each with their own covenants, and that both are valid ways of relating to God.11 This evangelical and Messianic Jewish document (LOP 60) should be read by all Jews as well as evangelicals, because it clearly sets forth why evangelicals cannot accept the two-covenant understanding. Likewise the Dabru Emet statement is also must reading to understand the current Jewish consensus.
Another more broad and recent evangelical statement was issued by the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in March 2008, signed by over fifty evangelical leaders and institutions, and titled “The Gospel and the Jewish People: An Evangelical Statement.” It affirms in briefer form the main points of the previous evangelical statements.12
A few statements from evangelical denominations can be found. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has issued periodic “Resolutions,” beginning in 1873 with a Resolution on Anti-Semitism, which reads: “RESOLVED, that we do gratefully remember this day our unspeakable indebtedness to the seed of Abraham, and devoutly recognize their peculiar claims upon the sympathies and prayer of all Gentile Christians, and we hereby record our earnest desire to partake in the glorious work of hastening the day when the superscription of the cross shall be the confession of all Israel ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’”13
The most recent statement of the SBC was occasioned by the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel in June 2008:
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, 2008, rejoice with Israel in this milestone achievement, and be it further RESOLVED: That we join in prayer for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6–7), calling upon world leaders to renounce the growing tide of anti-Semitism; and be it finally RESOLVED: That Southern Baptists express our appreciation and pledge our prayers for Israel, the birthplace of our Lord and a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.14
A rather remarkably balanced premillennial statement from the Assemblies of God denomination is on their website; while affirming the church’s belief that in the Jews’ return to their land prophecy heralding the last days is being fulfilled, nevertheless the statement calls for denouncing supersessionist or replacement views, anti-Semitism, and extreme Christian Zionist views that posit “an unqualified support for a non-Christian nation to be interpreted by Palestinians as setting aside our basic Christian principles of justice, love for enemies, respect for human life, honesty, and fairness.” It is one of those few evangelical statements that takes into consideration the present Israeli and Palestinian conflicts and does so with sensitivity to both sides.15
Finally, but not comprehensively, there are two statements that have been drafted, discussed, but not finalized from the unofficial meeting of the National Evangelical-Jews discussions in Washington, D.C of over forty various national and local Jewish and evangelical organizations at the 6th annual session in Washington, DC, in June 2013.16
1Gilbert S. Rosenthal, A Jubilee for All Time: The Copernican Revolution in Jewish-Christian Relations (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014), 106.
2Summarized from a larger piece by Alan F. Johnson, “Nostra Aetate at Fifty, an Evangelical View,” in Rosenthal, A Jubilee for All Time, chap. 9, pp. 106–53. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. www.wipfandstock.com.
3Evangelical leaders, among others, included Professor Marvin Wilson (Gordon College) and Dr. Douglas Young, founder and president of the American Institute of Holy Land Studies on Mt. Zion, Jerusalem (now The Jerusalem University College). About 25 Jewish representatives and a like number of evangelicals gathered.
4Marc H. Tanenbaum et al., eds., Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation on Scripture, Theology, and History (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978); Marc H. Tanenbaum et al., eds., Evangelicals and Jews in an Age of Pluralism (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984); A. James Rudin and Marvin R. Wilson, eds., A Time to Speak: The Evangelical-Jewish Encounter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Following these conferences Dr. Wilson published his highly read and respected book Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).
5This first section and the next are abbreviated versions of Johnson, “Nostra Aetate at Fifty,” 122–28.
6Rosenthal, A Jubilee for All Times, 124.
7“Christian Witness to the Jewish People,” LOP 7, on the Lausanne Movement website: http://www.lausanne.org/content/lop/lop-7.
8“The Willowbank Declaration,” Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism website, Statements & Documents, http://www.lcje.net/Willowbank.html.
9“Jewish Evangelism: A Call to the Church,” on the Lausanne Movement website, http://www.lausanne.org/en/documents/lops/877-lop-60.html.
10Available on the First Things website: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2000/11/dabru-emet-a-jewish-statement-on-christians-and-christianity
11The two-covenant view was originally proposed by the German Jewish philosopher of religion Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929) in Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption (1922), as cited by Nahum N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Schocken, 1961), 341.
12See the World Evangelical Alliance website: www.worldea.org/
13Mobile, Alabama, 1873, on the Southern Baptist Convention website: http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/652/resolution-on-antisemitism.
14Southern Baptist Convention, “In Celebration of Israel’s 60th Anniversary, Indianapolis, Indiana, 2008,” http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1186/in-celebration-of-israels-60th-anniversary/. Also see nos. 479, 914, 437, 653, 654, 1112, 1116, 1186.
15See http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/topics/sptlissues_israel.cfm/. For The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today, see http://www.worldevangelicals.org/commissions/tc/berlin.htm.
16The statements have not received any formal ratification.