To the member churches of the World Council we recommend:
— that they seek to recover the universality of our Lord”s commission by including the Jewish people in their evangelistic work
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is an international fellowship of Christian churches, built upon the foundation of encounter, dialogue and collaboration. The WCC was formed to serve and advance the ecumenical movement – the quest for restoring the unity of the church – by encouraging in its members a common commitment to follow the gospel. The prayer of the churches which belong to the WCC is for the renewal and faithful response of the people of God in witness and service to the world.
In 1937, church leaders agreed to establish a World Council of Churches, but its official organization was deferred by the outbreak of the second world war until August 1948, when representatives of 147 churches assembled in Amsterdam to constitute the WCC.
FIRST ASSEMBLY OF THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES | 05.09.1948
The Christian Approach to the Jews
THE FIRST ASSEMBLY OF THE WORLD
COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
The Assembly, held at Amsterdam from 22 August to 4 September 1948, received the report of Committee IV “Concerns of the Churches” with its chapter 3,
“The Christian Approach to the Jews”.
A concern for the Christian approach to the Jewish people confronts us inescapably, as we meet together to look with open and penitent eyes on man’s disorder and to rediscover together God’s eternal purpose for His Church. This concern is ours because it is first a concern of God made known to us in Christ. No people in His one world have suffered more bitterly from the disorder of man than the Jewish people. We cannot forget that we meet in a land [Holland] from which 110,000 Jews were taken to be murdered. Nor can we forget that we meet only five years after the extermination of 6 million Jews. To the Jews our God has bound us in a special solidarity linking our destinies together in His design. We call upon all our churches to make this concern their own as we share with them the results of our too brief wrestling with it.
1. The Church’s commission to preach the Gospel to all men
All of our churches stand under the commission of our common Lord, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” The fulfilment of this commission requires that we include the Jewish people in our evangelistic task.
2. The special meaning of the Jewish people for Christian faith
In the design of God, Israel has a unique position. It was Israel with whom God made His covenant by the call of Abraham. It was Israel to whom God revealed His name and gave His law. It was to Israel that He sent His Prophets with their message of judgment and of grace. It was Israel to whom He promised the coming of His Messiah. By the history of Israel God prepared the manger in which in the fullness of time He put the Redeemer of all mankind, Jesus Christ. The Church has received this spiritual heritage from Israel and is therefore in honour bound to render it back in the light of the Cross. We have, therefore, in humble conviction to proclaim to the Jews, “The Messiah for Whom you wait has come.” The promise has been fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. For many the continued existence of a Jewish people which does not acknowledge Christ is a divine mystery which finds its only sufficient explanation in the purpose of God”s unchanging faithfulness and mercy (Rom. 11:25-29).
3. Barriers to be overcome
Before our churches can hope to fulfill the commission laid upon us by our Lord there are high barriers to be overcome. We speak here particularly of the barriers which we have too often helped to build and which we alone can remove. We must acknowledge in all humility that too often we have failed to manifest Christian love towards our Jewish neighbours, or even a resolute will for common social justice. We have failed to fight with all our strength the age-old disorder of man which anti-semitism represents. The churches in the past have helped to foster an image of the Jews as the sole enemies of Christ, which has contributed to anti-semitism in the secular world. In many lands virulent anti-semitism still threatens and in other lands the Jews are subjected to many indignities. We call upon all the churches we represent to denounce anti-semitism, no matter what its origin, as absolutely irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith. Anti-semitism is sin against God and man. Only as we give convincing evidence to our Jewish neighbours that we seek for them the common rights and dignities which God wills for His children, can we come to such a meeting with them as would make it possible to share with them the best which God has given us in Christ.
4. The Christian witness to the Jewish people
In spite of the universality of our Lord’s commission and of the fact that the first mission of the Church was to the Jewish people, our churches have with rare exceptions failed to maintain that mission. This responsibility should not be left largely to independent agencies. The carrying on of this mission by special agencies has often meant the singling out of the Jews for special missionary attention, even in situations where they might well have been included in the normal ministry of the church. It has also meant in many cases that the converts are forced into segregated spiritual fellowship rather than being included and welcomed in the regular membership of the church. Owing to this failure our churches must consider the responsibility for missions to the Jews as a normal part of parish work, especially in those countries where Jews are members of the general community. Where there is no indigenous church or where the indigenous church is insufficient for this task it may be necessary to arrange for a special missionary ministry from abroad. Because of the unique inheritance of the Jewish people, the churches should make provision for the education of ministers specially fitted for this task. Provision should also be made for Christian literature to interpret the gospel to Jewish people. Equally, it should be made clear to church members that the strongest argument in winning others for Christ is the radiance and contagion of victorious living and the outgoing of God”s love expressed in personal human contacts. As this is expressed and experienced in a genuine Christian fellowship and community the impact of the Gospel will be felt. For such a fellowship there will be no difference between a converted Jew and other church members, all belonging to the same church and fellowship through Jesus Christ. But the converted Jew calls for particular tenderness and full acceptance just because his coming into the church carries with it often a deeply wounding break with family and friends. In reconstruction and relief activities the churches must not lose sight of the plight of Christians of Jewish origin, in view of their special suffering. Such provision must be made for their aid as will help them to know that they are not forgotten in the Christian fellowship.
5. The emergence of Israel as a state
The establishment of the state “Israel” adds a political dimension to the Christian approach to the Jews and threatens to complicate anti-semitism with political fears and enmities.
On the political aspects of the Palestine problem and the complex conflict of “rights” involved we do not undertake to express a judgment. Nevertheless, we appeal to the nations to deal with the problem not as one of expediency–political, strategic or economic–but as a moral and spiritual question that touches a nerve centre of the world’s religious life. Whatever position may be taken towards the establishment of a Jewish state and towards the “rights” and “wrongs” of Jews and Arabs, of Hebrew Christians and Arab Christians involved, the churches are in duty bound to pray and work for an order in Palestine as just as may be in the midst of our human disorder; to provide within their power for the relief of the victims of this warfare without discrimination; and to seek to influence the nations to provide a refuge for “Displaced Persons” far more generously than has yet been done.
We conclude this report with the recommendations which arise out of our first exploratory consideration of this “concern” of the churches. I
- To the member churches of the World Council we recommend:
— that they seek to recover the universality of our Lord’s commission by including the Jewish people in their evangelistic work;
— that they encourage their people to seek for brotherly contact with and understanding of their Jewish neighbours, and cooperation in agencies combating misunderstanding and prejudice;
— that in mission work among the Jews they scrupulously avoid all unworthy pressures or inducements;
— that they give thought to the preparation of ministers well fitted to interpret the Gospel to Jewish people and to the provision of literature which will aid in such a ministry.
- To the World Council of Churches we recommend:
— that it should give careful thought as to how it can best stimulate and assist the member churches in the carrying out of this aspect of their mission;
— that it give careful consideration to the suggestion made by the International Missionary Council that the World Council of Churches share with it a joint responsibility for the Christian approach to the Jews;
— that it be resolved:
that, in receiving the report of this Committee, the Assembly recognize the need for more detailed study by the World Council of Churches of the many complex problems which exist in the field of relations between Christians and Jews and in particular of the following:
(a) the historical and present factors which have contributed to the growth and persistence of anti-semitism, and the most effective means of combating this evil;
(b) the need and opportunity in this present historical situation for the development of cooperation between Christians and Jews in civic and social affairs;
(c) the many and varied problems created by establishment of a State of Israel in Palestine. The Assembly therefore asks that these and related questions be referred to the Central Committee for further examination.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for this strong and well-judged statement from the first meeting of the World Council of Churches, which bridges cultural, theological and historical concerns immediately after the tragedies of the Shoah and the Second World War. May we today live out its concerns, as we share the Good News of the Messiah of Israel to all nations, including the Jewish people. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
* From: The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches, official report, New York, Harper & Bros, 1949, pp. 160-164