Dialogika

European

Reflections on the Problem 'Church-Israel'

 

Foreword

The Central Board of the Schweizerischer Evangelischer Kirchenbund (Swiss Protestant Church Federation) is deeply interested in the destiny of the Jewish people as the Covenant People of God in the Old Testament, the people from whose ranks were descended Jesus of Nazareth, the early apostles and the oldest Christian community. The history of the church as well as the history of the Jews down to the present time questions us about the relationship of church and Israel and about the stand taken by Christians to Jews.

The ingathering of many Jews in parts of the Land promised them in the Old Testament causes the church in her thought and action to share with burning concern in the problems of the Near East in which Jews and Arabs confront each other.

Through these problems and through the religious-historical links with Judaism and also through the options made inside the church, which range from solidarity with the State of Israel, over theological dialogue, to a call for missions to the Jews, the Board is being asked questions which claim the attention of all Christians.

The Board therefore commissioned a working group consisting of Prof. Robert Martin-Achard of Geneva, Martin Klopfenstein of Bern and the president of the Council of Christians and Jews, Pastor Heinrich Oskar

Kuehner of Basle, in whose work Dr Walter Sigrist, president of the Federation, has also taken part. The texts submitted by this working group were discussed by the Board itself and are herewith offered to the public as "Reflections on the Problem Church-Israel" in order to stimulate personal thinking.


I. The people of God's covenant

"Has God rejected his people? By no means" (Rom. 1:11).

The people of the Old Testament of which present-day Judaism considers itself the heir, is still in existence and lives partly again in the Land of its Fathers -- this in spite of its own aspirations at assimilation. This fact earnestly reminds the church of its duty to be concerned with this people. This duty, which is based upon what Paul calls "the mystery of Israel", is independent of the existence of the State, it confronts the church permanently.

We state the following points:

1. According to the witness of the Old and New Testaments God called the people of Israel to be his covenanted people. This election is but a free choice of grace, i.e. is not based upon any special quality which Israel might possess. The object of the election is to bear witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the face of the world and to serve him. According to Gen. 12:3, God will thereby let his blessing come upon all nations. This alone constitutes the specific character of the people of Israel. There is no biological explanation for this specificity.

2. This covenant relationship should become manifest in the whole life of this people. This intention conforms to the will of God "to become flesh and dwell among us", and "to let his kingdom come to us", and "to let his will be done in heaven and on earth". This intention has finally become fully realized in Christ Jesus -- a Jew.

3. Indeed the Jewish people all through its history has often broken the covenant and failed to fulfill God's will. Yet this does not annul God's fidelity to the covenant. Nor does the non-recognition of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ by the majority of the Jews repeal the covenant promise given to the Jewish people according to Rom. 9-11.

4. Because God has not rejected his people, there is no question that the church has taken the place of Israel as "the new people of God". Although the church, already in the New Testament, applied to herself several promises made to the Jewish people she does not supersede the covenant people, Israel. Rather, Israel and the church stand side by side and belong together in several ways, while being at the same time separate on essentials. It should be important for us, Christians, to recognize what links us to the Jews and what separates us from them. We are conscious that there are clearly different views on this point within the church.


II. Christians and Jews belong together

"The faith of Jesus links us together"... (Shalom Ben Chorin).

1. Jesus was a Jew, "born of a Jewish mother". He was sent to the Jews first (Matt. 15:24). His message is of value for "the Jew first and then also for the Greek" (Rom. 1:16 and elsewhere in Rom.).

2. The teaching of Jesus is rooted in Jewish thinking, in Jewish teaching and in Jewish life.

3. The church has included the Old Testament in her canon. The New Testament cannot be fully understood without the help of the Old.

4. Historically the Christian church has grown out of Judaism. This existing relationship must be respected at all times.

5. The early Christians were Jews and understood themselves as members of the Jewish people who believed in Christ Jesus.

6. The Christian church has taken over many customs from Judaism, e.g. the celebration of the Seventh Day, Passover, Pentecost, the pattern of public worship with readings and prayers from the Bible, singing and praying in the words of the psalms etc.


III. Christians and Jews have been separated from one another

..."Faith in Jesus separates us..." (Shalom Ben Chorin).

1. The attitude to Jesus is the central point of parting between Judaism, and the church. This was manifest already in the New Testament and is so still today.

The rift has grown deeper through the following facts:

-- that on the part of Christians, the crucifixion of Jesus is often ascribed to the Jews as a collective guilt;

-- that on the part of Christians. the Jews are often blamed for choosing their own righteousness as the way to God instead of the grace of God.

2. Added to this comes the fact that in the eyes of the Jews it is unthinkable to belong to the people of God unless one observes their own religious prescriptions (e.g. circumcision, dietary laws, sabbath, etc.).

From the Jewish point of view the ill-treatment of Jews by Christians (cf. 3:1), their defamation and outlawing down to physical extermination over 1700 years have weighed heavily upon every attempt at a rapprochement on the part of Christians.

The silence of many churches on the persecutions of Jews in the twentieth century and on the threat to the State of Israel in our days has been a cause of bitter disillusionment for them.

3. The persecutions have caused theologians and lay people in Christian churches to rediscover the link between Judaism and Christianity, and led to a new understanding of their belonging together.


IV. Who are the Jews and who are the Christians?

We, Christians, have often had no idea at all of Judaism, or else a false one. It is an urgent task for Christian communities to correct our partial knowledge or ignorance of Judaism.

1. (a) This particularly concerns the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of both young and adult. It is urgent to amend the wrong concept of the collective guilt of the Jews for the death of Jesus on the cross.

(b) The real cause of the separation of Jews and Christians in the first century' should be correctly investigated.

(c) It is part of the program of Christian communities to learn about Judaism through reading and personal contacts.

2. (a) Such efforts lead also to the self-knowledge of Christian churches. Many things which are commonly regarded as typically Christian (e.g. neighborly love) are recognized as also typically Jewish, as taken over from Judaism and therefore as common good. On the other hand, what is really essential in the Christian faith will become clearer.

(b) The meeting with Judaism helps Christians better to understand Jesus and his message.


V. Mission also to the Jews?

1. "A church which is not missionary has resigned" (demissioniert) (Emil Brunner). Without a mission Christianity would have remained a sect within Judaism.

2. Mission means the proclamation of Jesus Christ, just as the Jews on their part have borne witness to us of the unity and holiness of God and still do so. Mission is not conversion to Christian culture and customs.

3. Christians have to bear witness of their faith in Christ also to the Jews. We regard the Jews as men whom "God so loved that he gave his only Son for them" (John 3:16).

4. The New Testament gives Christians unequivocal directions as to how they have to bear witness to their faith: "In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord! Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you. Yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3:15-16a). We have also to consider that God alone can make converts, not we, men and women. This attitude as witnesses is also binding for Christians in their dialogue with Jews.

5. The phrase "mission to the Jews" puts Jews on a par with heathens and undervalues the specific position of the Jewish people among the nations (cf. 1:1), as well as the fact that Judaism has known the God of the Bible and believed in him long before the birth of the church.

6. The Christian witness cannot be exhausted by dialogue alone nor by proclamation of the Word. It is credible only if everyone, including the Jews, is convinced through deeds.


VI. Zionism - State of Israel

Zionism is a movement rooted in biblical as well as post-biblical traditions. The Jewish tradition has always included and still includes in various forms the hope that the Jewish people would return to the land of their fathers (e.g. festivals, prayers, worship, etc.). The hope of Zion has been handed down and remains alive in the Jewish people to the present day.

Ever since the second half of the nineteenth century the political movement founded by Theodor Herzl has been able to inspire the Jews because, among other things, his modern Zionism was related to the traditional Jewish self-awareness. It strove to obtain a legally established home in the land of the fathers in order to guarantee an existence worthy of men in their own state to the Jews who were again and again being threatened and persecuted. It was also intended to facilitate for the Jewish people the realization of their right to self-determination.

1. The outcome of this movement was the foundation of the State of Israel, decided upon by the United Nations in Resolution 181(II) on 29 November 1947, and proclaimed on 14 May 1948.

2. Some Christians and many Jews see in the foundation of the State of Israel the fulfillment of the biblical promises. Others, among both Christians and Jews, regard it merely as a political deed which like every' historical change entails political and human problems. The appreciation and the preservation of the Jewish people should determine our reflections between two standpoints.

3. This new state has become a homeland not only for many victims of West European persecutions, but also for emigrants under the pressure of East European, North-African and Oriental states.

When considering these problems we must take into account all these root causes which have led to the formation of the State of Israel and its present situation.

4. As often happens in world history, in this political growth of the new state the good fortune of some has become the misfortune of others. Together with the anxiety for the Jewish people we feel painfully concerned for the Palestinian Arabs who live inside and outside Israel.

5. We are conscious that antisemitic elements of European politics past and present are partially responsible for the present situation and that extreme hate propaganda, terror and the cold calculation of the great powers threaten the life of the Jews in the State of Israel, while in spite of all the lot of Palestinian Arabs is not being improved.

6. We consider it the duty of the Christian churches and all Christians to intervene in defense of the right to existence of the Jewish people, which is especially linked with us (cf. 1:4; 2:1-6) and to stand by Israel in her growing isolation.

7. We regard it also as a duty for Christian churches and all Christians to intervene so that the right to live and the conditions of life of Palestinian Arabs be appreciated. In this connection we regard it as an urgent task to work out a clarification of the concept "Palestinian" and to examine their possibility of self-determination.

8. Above all it is our duty to break down hate, to keep ourselves from the influence of one-sided propaganda and to serve reconciliation and peace. We reject every form of anti-Judaism, but also every form of anti-Arab feeling.


VII. Jerusalem

1. Various Christians, including evangelicals, identify the historically and topographically located city of Jerusalem with "the new Jerusalem", described in Revelations 21, and "the heavenly Jerusalem" in so many songs.

2. Most Christians have a special feeling of belonging to Jerusalem because she is the city of the beginnings and the place of the great events of salvation.

3. According to the churches of the Reformation neither the fulfillment of the promise nor the reality of faith in the events of salvation are linked to geographically and historically located "holy places".

4. The Reformed churches also are longing for the dignified and respectful preservation of the places where the events of salvation took place.

5. We are conscious that Jerusalem represents a complex cultural, political, religious and emotional problem. At the same time we recognize that the Israeli government is making great efforts to deal fairly with this situation, although these efforts cannot lead to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

We recognize:
a) that in Jerusalem today under Israeli administration the monuments connected with historical events are as much as possible maintained and kept in repair with respect and care;

b) that the Christian denominations as well as the Islamic and Jewish communities practice today their religions freely under Israeli administration and are able to fulfill their rites, as well as marriages, children's rights, burials and religious instruction, each according to their own religiously determined legislations;

c) that freedom of religion is granted more extensively today than in Mandate times and also better than under Jordanian rule. (In the latter phase of the Mandate the Israelis were barred access to the Western Wall. Under Jordanian rule Christians living in Israel could visit the Holy Sepulcher only on definite festivals; Jews were not permitted at all to go to the Western Wall; Muslims from the Gaza strip could not travel to Jerusalem.)


Conclusion

We consider that it is an urgent duty for the Christian church to pray for Israel, for her neighbors and for peace in the Near East as well as the whole world. This prayer of intercession however does not absolve us of the above-mentioned tasks. It renders them all the more binding.