Dialogika

Ecumenical Christian Documents & Statements

Dialogue: a Contemporary Alternative to Proselytization

Preamble: a new awareness

From the very beginning God's Spirit has moved over the waters of creation, bringing order out of chaos, light out of darkness, life out of death.

It was indeed this same Spirit of God which inspired the ecumenical movement among the churches of Jesus Christ. In our time we have seen the effects of this movement. Today Christians of diverse traditions enjoy increased understanding among themselves because they have responded to this gift of God's Holy Spirit. Through dialogue we have eliminated much ignorance and prejudice. We share a common mission of witness and service to the world. We have rejected proselytism as unworthy of our relationship to each other.

There is little doubt that the Spirit of God is once again moving over the waters. From every direction there are reports of a new awareness, a new consciousness, a new understanding between Jews and Christians. In this statement we wish to respond to this newest movement of the Spirit of God and even claim it as our own.

The task of ecumenism is far from completed. The movement toward greater unity is still a task of the Christian churches. We believe, however, that today the interfaith movement is summoning us into a renewed relationship with the Jewish people.

The Spirit of God moves among us through the events of our day. The Holocaust, the systematic and deliberate killing of six million Jews by the Third Reich, is the most singular event of our time summoning the Christian churches to re-examine (and reform) their traditional understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people. Biblical scholars and theologians of both Jewish and Christian traditions are affording us new insights into our common origins. Vatican Council II in its 1965 document, "Nostra Aetate", encouraged and called for "mutual understanding and appreciation" between Christians and Jews (paragraph 4).

In issuing this statement, it is the hope of the Texas Conference of Churches to encourage and promote this latest movement of the Spirit of God in our times. This statement is intended as a basis of discussion between Christians and Jews. We hope, too, that it will lead us into a renewed relationship with the Jews, one characterized by both dialogue and shared witness to the world.

I. Judaism as a living faith

A. We acknowledge with both respect and reverence that Judaism is a living faith and that Israel's call and covenant are still valid and operative today. We reject the position that the covenant between the Jews and God was dissolved with the coming of Christ. Our conviction is grounded in the teaching of Paul in Romans, chapters 9-11, that God's gift and call are irrevocable.

B. The Jewish people today possess their own unique call and mission before God and their covenant. They are called to faithfulness in fulfilling the command to witness to the world of the holiness of God's Name (Ex. 3:15, 9:16).

II. Relationship between the two covenants

A. The Christian covenant grew out of and is an extension of the Hebrew covenant. We Christians cannot understand ourselves or our relationship to God without a thorough knowledge of Judaism. "Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee" (Rom. 11:18).

B. Jews and Christians share a common calling as God's covenanted people. While we differ as to the precise nature of the covenant, we share a common history and experience of God's redemptive presence in history. Both Jews and Christians are called to faithfulness to the covenant as they understand it.

C. We believe that the interfaith movement is one toward greater understanding and unity among all major religions of the world, especially among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The kinship of Jews and Christians, however, is unique because of the special relationship between the two covenants.

D. We confess thankfully the Scriptures of the Jewish people, the Old Testament of our Bible, to be the common foundation for the faith and work of Jews and Christians. By referring to the Hebrew Scriptures as the "Old Testament" it is not our intention to imply that these Scriptures are not timelessly new for both Jew and Christian today.

III. Dialogue, the road to understanding

A. In response to the movement of the Holy Spirit today, we believe that the desired and most appropriate posture between Christians and Jews today is one of dialogue.

B. Dialogue is the road to understanding between the two faiths and leads us to enlightenment and enrichment. We believe that dialogue will reduce misunderstanding and prejudice (on both sides).

C. In a dialogical relationship we dedicate ourselves to the observance of the following principles:

  1. The strictest respect for religious liberty.

  2. Respect for others as they define themselves in light of their own experience and tradition.

  3. Avoidance of any conversionary intent or proselytism in the relationship. This does not exclude Jews and Christians from affirming to each other their respective beliefs and values.

  4. An assumption of good will on both sides and a willingness to listen and learn from each other.

IV. Witnesses before each other and to the world

A. In the face of the growing secularizing and profaning of human life today, we believe that in their calling Jews and Christians are always witnesses of God in the presence of the world and before each Other.

B. We acknowledge the universal nature of the mission1 of Christian churches, and the need to witness,2 to all nations. However, because of our unique relationship to Jews and Judaism, we believe that a posture of dialogue and shared mission is the one appropriate to this singular relationship.

C. In particular, it is our belief that Jews and Christians share a common mission to work together in the accomplishment of these tasks:

  1. the hallowing of God's Name in the world;

  2. respect for the dignity and importance of the individual person as created in the image and likeness of God;
  3. the active pursuit of justice and peace among and within the nations of the world;
  4. to be a sign of hope in the future as promised by God.

D. In view of this shared mission, we eschew all forms of unwarranted proselytism3 between Christians and Jews. In particular, we as Christian leaders reject the following:

  1. anything which infringes upon or violates the right of every human person or community not to be subjected to external or internal constraints in religious matters;

  2. ways of preaching the gospel which are not in harmony with the ways of God, who invites us to respond freely to his call and serve him in spirit and truth;

  3. any kind of witness or preaching which in any way constitutes a physical, moral, psychological or cultural constraint on Jews;

  4. every sort of judgment expressive of discrimination, contempt, or restriction against individual Jews or against their faith, worship or culture;

  5. untrue and hateful forms of comparison which exalt the religion of Christianity by throwing discredit on the religion of Judaism;

  6. actions which, on educational, social or other pretexts, aim to change the religious faith of Jews by offering more or less overt protection and legal, material, cultural, political and other advantages;

  7. attempts to set up organization of any sort for the conversion of Jews.

V. Conclusion: a Messianic hope

Jews and Christians share a great common hope in a future and final coming of God' s reign in the world, a messianic age. While we differ in our understanding of whether and to what extent that promised age arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, we stand on common ground in hoping that one day there will be "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation, Isaiah). We believe that God's Spirit is moving over the waters once again. This statement is offered by the Texas Conference of Churches with the hope that it will facilitate the coming of that great day of righteousness and peace.


Notes

1. This part of the statement is intended to acknowledge the universal scope of the mission of the Christian churches. The church must evangelize all nations, in keeping with the command of Christ. While acknowledging this, the statement then goes on to address the special relationship between Christians and Jews and how this special relationship calls for dialogue and shared witness, rather than "unwarranted proselytism".

It is of interest that Prof. Tomaso Federici, in a paper presented at a meeting in Venice of the Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, expressed the church's mission, in reference to the Jews, in these words: " . . .renewed examination of Paul's text (in Romans) allows the conclusion that the church's mission to Israel consists rather in living a Christian life in total fidelity to the one God and his revealed word."

2. The word "witness" is an important one in defining the desired relationship between Jews and Christians. The word itself can mean many things. In this statement we, as Christians, use the word to mean the permanent activity whereby the Christian or the Christian community proclaims God's actions in history and seeks to show how in Christ has come "the light that enlightens every man" (May 1970 report of the Joint Working Group between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches). Witnessing in this sense can take three forms: a) the witness of a life lived in justice, love and peace; b) the witness of a more formal proclamation of God's Word to the world, to society (includes liturgical gatherings of the community); c) the witness of social action on behalf of justice.

This statement recommends that such witnessing by Christians be done with due consideration of the rights of human persons to religious liberty. It also recommends that, in view of the special relationship between Christians and Jews, a common or shared witness is most appropriate.

3. "Unwarranted proselytism" is a deliberately chosen expression, which defines proselytism in its pejorative sense, i.e. zeal for converting others to faith which infringes upon the rights of human beings.