A widely circulated document by a study commission of a worldwide evangelical alliance has raised eyebrows with its call to abandon Christian-Jewish dialogue and instead seek to evangelize European Jews.
The World Evangelical Alliance’s theological task force developed a statement last month expressing regret for past persecution of Jews in the name of Jesus. But the statement went on to say that embarrassment over those atrocities has resulted in an unfortunate “tendency to replace direct gospel outreach with Jewish-Christian dialogue.”
“Christians everywhere must not look away when Jewish people have the same deep need for forgiveness of sin and true shalom, as do people of all nations,” the statement said. “Love in action compels all Christians to share the gospel with people everywhere, including the Jewish people of Europe.”
The statement called for a “renewed commitment to the task of Jewish evangelism.” It also recognized in particular the role of “Messianic Jews,” who believe Jesus was the messiah but still consider themselves to be Jewish.
“We reject the notion that evangelism is deceptive in claiming that Jews can believe in Jesus,” the statement said. “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.”
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called the statement “a serious affront to the Jewish people.” Foxman said he found it “especially troubling” that the evangelical group included and validated what he called deceptive proselytizing tactics by groups like Jews for Jesus. He also called issuing the declaration from Berlin, from where the Nazis directed their “Final Solution” to exterminate the Jewish people, the “height of insensitivity.”
Not all criticism has come from the Jewish community. David Gifford, chief executive of the Council for Christians and Jews in the U.K., told The Baptist Times that Christians should “hang their heads in shame” over the way that they have treated the Jewish people.
“We Christians just don’t have a good record here,” he said.
Gifford said he feared the declaration would fuel insensitivity, inappropriate evangelism and disrespect toward Jewish people. He also defended the notion of dialogue between Christians and Jews. “Our experience is that open and non-threatening interaction and relationships between Christian and Jewish people deepens the faith of both,” he said.
For such dialogue to take place, Gifford said, it must be understood from the outset that the motive is to promote understanding and not to proselytize. “Any suggestion that this interaction and relationship is part of a conversion intentionality devalues the relationship, causes suspicion and further divides us,” he said.
The “Berlin Declaration” is not an official document of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global ministry group that works with local churches in 128 nations and more than 100 international organizations representing more than 420 million evangelical Christians. It is the product of a five-day discussion by a group of 15 scholars from Europe, the United States and Australia. They included Darrell Bock, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
“It is often seen as unacceptable to challenge another’s religious views,” the statement said. “Nevertheless, we regard failure to share the gospel as ignoring the problem of sin.” It said confessing Jesus as Messiah is especially important to Jews, because the Messiah–or Christ–is a Jewish concept.
“We invite Jewish people and all others to consider the claims of Jesus,” the statement said. “We share this gospel with Israel and all nations, not as an attack on the integrity of others. We uphold everyone’s right to 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.”
The statement acknowledged that Christians can learn much from dialogue with Jews, but “dialogue and evangelism are not mutually exclusive.”
The WEA isn’t the first Christian group to create controversy with efforts to target Jews for conversion. In 1996 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling on the nation’s largest Protestant denomination to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”
In January the Baptist Center for Ethics released “Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationship With Jews,” a DVD and study guide aimed at improving the often rocky relationship between Baptists and Jews.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists’ Relationship With Jews