Thursday 18 November 2010

The Uniqueness of Christ, Post-Holocaust Theology and Jewish Mission

From 15th to 18th November 2010, 84 participants from 18 countries, including Israel, met in Krakow, Poland under the auspices of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). They gathered to exchange information and reflect on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in relation to the evangelisation of the Jewish people in post-Holocaust Europe at a time when anti-Semitism continues to be a factor even within some churches.

It was significant that the delegates should gather in a land where, in living memory, so many Jewish people lost their lives on such a monumental scale. Papers presented covered a diverse range of subjects relating to the conference theme and it was particularly gratifying to have Polish evangelicals participating in the event. At the conclusion of the conference, the delegates issued the following statement:

We, the participants of the 9th European Conference of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, as Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus the Messiah, rejoice in

• The growing number of Jewish people coming to faith in their Messiah in places that witnessed some of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust period.

• The renewed interest of Eastern European churches in reaching Jewish people with the gospel.

• The renewed desire of the mission organisations represented at the conference to cooperate more closely to make Messiah known to Jewish people.

Furthermore, we, the participants, affirm

• The Jewishness of our Saviour, Jesus (Yeshua), the Messiah and Redeemer of Israel.

• The uniqueness of Jesus the Messiah as the only way to God for both Jews and Gentiles.

• The necessity of formulating, in the shadow of the Holocaust, a biblically authentic understanding of the Jewish people and their relationship to God.

• The obligation to oppose more firmly than ever all expressions of anti-Semitism, particularly among professing Christians.

We therefore call upon the churches of Europe not to be ashamed of the gospel of Messiah but to proclaim it boldly as “the power of God for the salvation of all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”.

Papers from the 9th LCJE conference will be posted on the LCJE website (

Friday 12 November 2010

The Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Mission

Next week I will be in Krakow, Poland at the European Conference of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE).

There, I will be presenting a "non-German, non-Jewish" response to the 2008 "Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". This is what I will be saying.

From 18-22 August 2008, an international task force of the World Evangelical Alliance Theological Commission met in Berlin to consider the uniqueness of Christ and Jewish evangelism. The task force, which included German Christians and Messianic Jews, issued The "Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". Echoing the more detailed 1989 "Willowbank Declaration", the Berlin Declaration endorses the proclamation of the gospel to Jewish people as an act of love incumbent upon all Christians. The authors mourn the history of Christian anti-Semitism and complicity in genocide, which they see as evidences of the reality of sin, a reality that can be overcome only through the transforming grace of Jesus the Messiah. Jews and all other people need to hear this message, declare the authors, cautioning that the proclamation of the gospel should not be disrespectful or coercive. The Berlin Declaration also affirms the positive value of dialogue in conjunction with – but not as a replacement for – evangelism.

As an English Protestant Christian who has been actively involved in mission to Jewish people for more than a quarter century, I heartily affirm the declaration, though I wish the document had defined its terms more clearly and that its argument had been more coherent and nuanced. Though acknowledging the need for respect, dialogue and vigilance, each point in the declaration immediately proceeds to evangelism. To Jewish people this may well sound like an exercise in sweeping the dust of past wrongs under a very large carpet in order to justify what they perceive as an anti-Semitic project: the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Indeed, Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, condemned the declaration as insensitive and misguided: “To issue this declaration from Berlin, where the Nazis directed their Final Solution to exterminate the Jewish people, is the height of insensitivity … 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.”

The Declaration concludes with a call to action under five heads, each of which in itself could be the subject of a paper. I wish to comment on the points in more, or less reverse order.

1. The paper calls for a “Renewed commitment to the task of Jewish evangelism.” The call is particularly relevant to the English churches. It is ironic that missionaries from across the globe are coming to England, the country where the modern missions movement originated. If English churches are able to regain a vision for Jewish evangelism it will inevitably result in a greater commitment to world mission.

2. “Reconciliation and unity amongst believers in Jesus.” This is somewhat vague; the writers presumably have in mind the unity of Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians rather than a vague ecumenism. In England there exists among the Reformed churches in particular a suspicion of the “Messianic movement”, an unwillingness to understand the difficulties some Jewish believers have trying to integrate into predominantly gentile churches and an insensitivity to the feelings of Messianic Jews. This will remain a challenge for many years to come and the Berlin Declaration’s call is welcome.

3. “Recognition of the uniqueness of Christ as the crucified, resurrected and divine Messiah who alone can save from death and bring eternal life.” This point is the crux of the declaration; everything else stands or falls on the truth or falsity of this proposition.

4. The call for “Respect for religious conviction and liberty that allows frank discussion of religious claims” follows from the declaration’s affirmation of “the importance of dialogue in promoting mutual understanding and sympathy”.

S.C.H Kim defines “Dialogue” as “a conversation which proceeds both from a commitment to one’s own faith and an openness with genuine respect to that of others”, adding that “Openness and respect do not presuppose agreement, or a search for a compromise, but do mean the willingness to listen.”

Pragmatically, it makes sense to listen to those we wish to persuade. It is a capital mistake, in any evangelistic encounter, to presume one knows what the other person believes even if that person is wearing peyot, a streimel and a long black gabardine coat. “Where there are two Jews”, goes the joke, “there will be at least three opinions”, and when speaking about matters of faith with Jewish people the opinions multiply.

The Jewish people are heirs to an intellectual and spiritual heritage that was intended to bias them against the message of Jesus. The sages of blessed memory fenced not only the Torah but also Judaism itself with emotional and prejudicial barriers that make it difficult for Jewish people today to respond positively to the gospel even if they cannot refute it.

Dialogue implies a willingness to listen but Jewish-Christian dialogue often takes place on the assumption that Judaism (presumed to be a “living” faith, older and richer than Christianity by a millennium-and-a-half) has little to learn from its “daughter”. At times dialogue is predicated on an “I’m OK, you’re OK” assumption as in, for example, Harrelson & Falk’s Jews and Christians: A Troubled Family. Rabbi Falk is prepared to say to Christians: “Glory in the teachings of Jesus. Pray his prayer daily, follow in his footsteps to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and extend a helping hand to all who have lost their way in the world. Strengthen the church, that its clarion call to salvation may be heard in the market place, and in the high places of government and commerce. Challenge bigotry and oppression, greed and lust for power, through your missions on every continent. Lead the way for men and women of every race and nation and creed to discover the glorious heritage we share and to build on its sturdy foundations a civilization committed top freedom and to peace”. The Christian message is wonderful, so long as it is not preached to the Jews.

I welcome the declaration’s carefully worded call to dialogue but dialogue, if it is to be meaningful, must be honest, frank and tough-minded, as in R T Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen’s The Jew and the Pharisee, in which both parties vigorously defend their own beliefs while allowing themselves to be challenged by the claims of the other.

5. “Repentance from all expressions of anti-Semitism and all other forms of genocide, prejudice and discrimination.” I address this particular call first as a Christian and then as an Englishman because English anti-Semitism has expressed itself in both religious and secular forms and has contributed to genocide, prejudice and discrimination beyond its own coasts.

Anti-Semitism in England was initially a Roman Catholic phenomenon. The two major pretexts for the persecution of England’s Jews in the Middle Ages centred around an alleged Jewish thirst for non-Jewish blood. First, the Church accused Jews of stealing the consecrated host – which, according to Catholic dogma, had been transformed into the actual body of Christ – in order to torture it. Allegations of host desecration served to simultaneously bolster the belief that the eucharistic wafer, when consecrated, was literally transmuted into the body of Christ and to demonstrate beyond peradventure that Jews were eternal and implacable enemies of Christ.

Secondly, in mid-twelfth century England, a new and more insidious variation of the blood-libel developed. At Passover, it was said, Jews abducted and crucified Christian children in order mix their blood with matzah. Accusations of ritual murder became common in England and led to violent riots against Jewish communities often leaving Jews dead.

Having never been a Catholic I find myself unable to identify with a form of anti-Semitism founded on the theology of that church. As an Englishman, however, I am conscious that the blood-libel, which is now common in many countries, particularly Islamic lands, originated in my own country. I am also conscious that England gave birth to and nurtured a particularly urbane and sophisticated anti-Semitism that has continued to the present day, traces of which may be found in the Church.

In 1290, England made history by being the first country to expel all its Jews, an example emulated by France in 1306 and Spain in 1492. Though there would be few Jews in England for another 150 years, the idea that Jews lusted after the blood of Christians, in particular children, would remain a potent image in the minds of English people for many centuries, reinforced by the writings of Chaucer (The Prioress’s Tale), Shakespeare (The Merchant of Venice) and Dickens (Oliver Twist). The blood libel became a staple of Nazi German propaganda5 and on 17th May 1934 an entire edition of the rabidly anti-Semitic Der Stürmer was dedicated to “The Jewish murder plot against non-Jewish humanity”.

Though few English people today believe that Judaism requires the mixing of the blood of Christian children with Passover matzah, the blood libel has been adapted by anti-Zionists. Scottish writer Tom Paulin’s poem “Killed in Cross Fire”, which appeared in The Guardian newspaper in 2001 following the death of Muhammad al-Durrah charged “the Zionist SS” with gunning down “another little Palestinian boy.” In 2009, The Guardian claimed that an Israeli doctor had admitted harvesting Palestinian organs in the Gaza conflict, a claim the paper would later retract, and when Israel set up a field hospital in Haiti, rumours quickly circulated on the Internet that the IDF was there to harvest the organs of Haitian children.

Echoes of the new form of the blood libel have appeared on the blog of Rev Stephen Sizer, the evangelical vicar of Christ Church in the Surrey town of Virginia Water9. In March, Rev Sizer’s blog carried a report of a visit he and Colin Chapman made to “Ghetto Bethlehem”. The checkpoint they passed through, said Sizer, “reminded” him of Apartheid South Africa, of Nazi Germany and of a “cattle abattoir”. On his website, under the heading “Herod's Soldiers Operating in Bethlehem Today”, Sizer posted several photos of Israeli soldiers. In an email, I asked Rev Sizer if the title suggested that the Israeli Prime Minister was Herod and that Israeli soldiers were the murderers of Bethlehem's children.

Sizer responded quickly: “I didn’t say that so please don’t put words in my mouth.”
I pointed out that I had put no words in his mouth; I had simply asked a question and, if the caption was not an allusion to Matthew 2:16-18, what did it mean? I received no reply.

Another peculiarly English contribution to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (albeit an unwitting one) was Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which provided a “scientific” pretext for the oppression of the weak by the strong. Robert E.D. Clarke notes that “Evolutionary ideas―quite undisguised―lie at the basis of all that is worst in Mein Kampf―and in [Hitler’s] public speeches”. Though England’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, while recognising that “Hitler was a great admirer of Darwin”, feels Darwin “would have been horrified at this perversion of his ideas” (my emphasis), the full title of Darwin’s best-known work was The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (my emphasis). In The Descent of Man Darwin was even more forthcoming about the meaning of natural selection or “the survival of the fittest” as it is commonly known: "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world” (italics mine).

In Hitler’s Germany the philosophy of “the survival of the fittest” was inculcated into the people. The Aryan race was superior to all other races and the Jews were the lowest, being almost “pure ape”, and in a speech at Nuremberg in 1933, the Führer declared a higher race would always defeat a lower race.

Evolutionary thinking percolated into every academic discipline in the German universities, including biblical studies and Julius Wellhausen's evolutionary approach to the study of the Bible undermined the divine origin or Scripture and Israel’s status as Yahweh's "chosen people". That the Jews were inferior was thus confirmed not only by science but also by religion.

For me as an English Christian, therefore, the Berlin Declaration’s call to repentance resonates. The issue is not theoretical. In February this year I sat next to a fellow Englishman man on a plane, “a Methodist” who had read Mein Kampf and was of the opinion that “if Hitler had been able to kill all the Jews the world would be a far better place”. However, for Christians who have never expressed prejudice or discrimination, the term “repentance” is inexact and inappropriate. It must be the duty of Christians to repudiate, denounce and expose anti-Jewish attitudes and sentiments where they exist in both the world and the Church.

Christian Witness to Israel recently adopted as its mission statement: “Sharing the Good News of Jesus with the Jewish people, combating anti-Semitism and to making the Church aware of its material and spiritual debt to the Jews.”

Respect for the Jewish people and their beliefs (however much one might disagree with them), repudiation of anti-Semitism, dialogue without compromise, affirmation of the core principles of the gospel message and a commitment to evangelism are values I endorse wholeheartedly and to which I, with the formulators of the Berlin Declaration, commit myself.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

PA is free to break agreements with israel

“Moderate” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced last Sunday that the Palestinian Authority is to break its agreements with Israel at any time.

Addressing the first annual Sir Bani Yas Forum on Peace and Global Security in Abu Dhabi, Abbas declared: “We met our obligations, but [Israel] did not, and so we are free from obligations”.

Israel has complied with many previous agreements. The very fact that that Abbas’ Palestinian Authority today rules the Arab population in Judea and Samaria (the West bank), that the PA has an armed military force and that Israel fully evacuated all Jews from the Gaza Strip proves Israel’s compliance with previous deals.

Abbas’ tactic is to ignore the concessions Israel has made and its compliance with previous deals by focusing solely on his favourite current demand, which at the moment is that Israel cease all construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. As long as Israel fails to satisfy that demand, Abbas will claim that Israel is non-compliant and always has been.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has never fulfilled its earliest peace process commitments to disarm and dismantle the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, end anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media and to educate its public for peace and coexistence. If anything, the Palestinians have moved in the opposite direction.

Abbas spoke in Arabic in Abu Dhabi, so his inflammatory rhetoric has gone unreported ignored by the international media, and will not in the least influence US-led international peace brokering in the region.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 Qassam rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel over the past ten years. More than 600 Israelis have been injured and 28 lives have been lost as a result of the constant bombardment. The IDF cannot respond effectively to the attacks because almost all the rockets are fired from densely-populated civilian areas in Gaza, often near to schools, hospitals, and mosques. Since the so called “cease-fire” of February 2009, more than 250 Qassam rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into Southern Israel.

In spite of all that Hamas is doing to destroy Israel and kill innocent people, some Israeli citizens that are responding in a very different manner. In fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 2:4, that the day will come when men will beat their swords into ploughshares”.

In an interesting spin on Isaiah 2:4, members of Moshav Yated, led by Yaron Bob, are beating Qassam rockets into objects of beauty. The “Peace Rose” (above) was made from the remains of a Qassam missile. You can view and purchase some of the work of the Moshav Yated artists at the Jerusalem Depot.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

If pigs become kosher

Hamas’s interior minister Fathi Hammad (above) has admitted that Israel was right about the casualties in its assault on Gaza two years ago, “Operation Cast Lead”.

Hamas has maintained that the vast majority of casualties were civilians but in interview with the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Hayat, Hammad admitted that the 250policemen Israel killed on the first day of the Gaza conflict were combatants, just as Israel had claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly dismissed Israel’s claim that the policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. Hamas’s interior minister now, admits: “On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.”

“Factions” is a standard Palestinian euphemism for their armed militias.

Fathi Hammad also revealed, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades (Hamas’s main fighting force), as well as 150 security personnel.”

Now do the sums: 300 Qassam Brigade members + 150 “security personnel” + 250 policemen = 700; a figure as near-as-makes-no-difference to Israel’s estimate of 709.
So why has Hamas lied about its casualties for almost two years? Because, for terror organisations, lying is standard practice. After all, if someone wants to kill you, it’s not outside the bounds of possibility that they’d lie about you.

Speaking at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federation of North America’s in New Orleans on Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report on the conduct of the conflict “a modern day blood libel.” The report accused Israel of targeting Palestinian civilians and also accepted at face value the inflated Palestinian casualty figures. The international community, said Prime Minister Netanyahu, owes Israel an apology for accepting without question Hamas' propaganda about the Gaza conflict and using it to accuse the Jewish state of war crimes.

Will Israel get the apology it deserves? I suspect pigs will become kosher first.