22 May 1966 Harcourt Samuel reflects on 100 years of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain #otdimjh
Talk given by Rev. Harcourt Samuel, O.B.E. (Office of the Order of the British Empire, and the IHCS Executive Secretary) at the centenary celebration of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain (now British Messianic Jewish Alliance).
[Harcourt Samuel was the son of Elijah Bendor-Samuel, Director of the Messianic Testimony after David Baron. Harcourt was General Secretary of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance (now IMJA) and Pastor of Ramsgate Baptist Church ,1934-49 and of Birchington Baptist Church, 1951-78. He was Mayor of Ramsgate.]
The 22nd May 1966, has long been a red-letter day in our diaries, for it marks the Centenary of the oldest of the Hebrew Christian Alliances that are now found in all parts of the world, that in Great Britain. It goes without saying that this special anniversary will be kept with great rejoicing by members of our Alliance. Its significance, though, will not go unmarked in other lands, for out of its work their Alliances grew. It will be a day on which we shall all unite in thanksgiving to God and for His blessing during one hundred years, and dedicate ourselves to Him afresh for whatever the next century may bring.
The Alliance came into existence in answer to a need that had been felt by converted Jews for quite a long time. They knew that the baptism that brought them into the Christian Church had banished them from their own people, but they refused to accept that banishment; they were convinced they became true Israelites when they put their faith in Christ and were born again of His Spirit.
Whilst in many instances they felt completely at home in the churches they joined, they realized the necessity of emphasing their oneness with their people, that it might clearly be seen that in Christ is both Jew and Gentile and they have been made one. They felt, too, that by standing together their corporate witness would make a greater impression on their Jewish brothers and sisters than any of them, scattered throughout churches, could make alone.
Photo of the 100th anniversary conference in 1966 – Harourt Samuel wearing his distinctive bow tie, middle row, centre, with Jacob Jocz on the left and Eric Lipson on right
Efforts to meet this need had been made before 1866. As far back as 1813, a group of forty-one Hebrew Christians formed an association to which they gave the name of Beni Abraham. This was at the Jews‘ Chapel in Palestine Place, the institution founded by the London Jews‘ Society (now known as the Church‘s Ministry to the Jews), to help converts by teaching printing and bookbinding. Its members promised to attend Divine Worship at the Chapel and to meet for prayer twice in the week, as well as to visit each other in times of sickness. Twenty-two years later, this association merged into the Episcopal Jews’ Chapel Abrahamic Society, which is still in existence, though in a very attenuated form, and it extends help as is possible to Jewish converts in need.
In 1855, an American Hebrew Christian Association was formed in New York; we have a record of the inaugural meeting and the terms of the founding resolution, though we know nothing of its subsequent history. We note with interest the object of the Association:
…the promotion of the spiritual interest of its members, the relief of those of their brethren, who for confessing Christ are suffering want and distress, the stirring up of the dry bones of the house of Israel, and the rousing of the Christian Church to more earnest prayer and increased effort for the salvation of Judah.
The members promised to know nothing among themselves save Jesus, their common Redeemer, and to cherish love to all that bear His image, by whatever name they may be called. Our object in the International Hebrew Christian Alliance could not be better expressed, and this true ecumenicity is our earnest desire as well.
In Britain, the need for such a fellowship continued to be felt. What was wanted was something wider than the Episcopal Jews’ Chapel Abrahamic Society could possibly be. In 1865, Dr. Carl Schwartz, Minister of Trinity Chapel, Edgware Road, London – founded by another Hebrew Christian, the Rev. Ridley Herschell – formed the Hebrew Christian Union, and commenced to edit the first Hebrew Christian magazine, The Scattered Nation. He chose the motto that has been our watchword ever since, ― Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psa. 133:1).
Next year came the great step forward: Dr. Schwartz and seven other Hebrew Christians issued a circular letter inviting ― as many Israelites who believe in Jesus as can be brought together, ‖ to meet in London. Eighty met on the appointed day, and unanimously resolved that a Hebrew Christian Alliance be formed.
They explained the choice of the term ― Alliance‖ quite simply: ―As there exists an Evangelical (World’s Evangelical Alliance) and a Jewish (Alliance Israelite Universelle) a Hebrew Christian Alliance might also be formed.‖ Two things they emphasized: first, their identity with their people:
When we profess Christ we do not cease to be Jews. Paul, after his conversion did not cease to be a Jew; not only Saul was, but even Paul remained, a Hebrew of the Hebrews . . . As Hebrews, as Christians, we feel tied together, and as Hebrew Christians, we desire to be allied more closely to one another.
Secondly, a fellowship that leaped over denominational boundaries:
Though the members of the Alliance belong to different churches, they all feel united in Christ, and they declare before their Jewish brethren that they have found in Jesus the Messiah, to Whom the Law and the Prophets bear testimony, that they have peace in His blood, and look for His coming in glory as the Hope of Israel.
Small wonder that so soundly based a fellowship has endured and reached its centenary when more narrowly based associations have passed away.
Yet another Hebrew Christian organisation came into existence in 1882. Dr. H. A. Stern, who had rendered great service as a missionary to the Jews in Bagdad and Constantinople, and had spent four-and-a-half years in prison in Abyssinia, founded the Hebrew Christian Prayer Union. The members promised to join in a bond of private prayer each Saturday, and to join in general prayer meetings from time to time. It grew quickly, but after a time amalgamated with the Hebrew Christian Alliance which thereafter was known as the Hebrew Christian Alliance and Prayer Union.
At the turn of the century, the desire began to be felt for a similar Alliance on the American Continent, and a committee was formed in May 1901, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Hebrew Christian Alliance in Britain.
Its labours bore fruit in a great Conference, the first Hebrew Christian Conference in the United States, at Mountain Lake Park, Maryland from the 28th to the 30th July, 1903. The British representative at this Conference was the Rev. E. Bendor Samuel, the father of the present writer. The decision was taken to organize a Hebrew Christian Alliance of America. Over the next twelve years, some preliminary conferences were held, but not till April 1915 did it come into existence. It, too, has flourished, and its Golden Jubilee was celebrated last year.
The International Alliance
After this, the formation of an International Hebrew Christian Alliance was inevitable. The American Alliance conceived the idea, but felt that the proper place for the inaugural conference was London. Its members commissioned the Rev. Mark John Levy, a Londoner by birth, but an American citizen by naturalization, to journey to London and lay the project before the Hebrew Christian Alliance and Prayer Union. The suggestion was taken up with enthusiasm.
It was widely felt that the time was ripe. The First World War of 1914-1918 had wrought tremendous changes in Jewry: it abolished the Pale of Settlement within which some 6,000,000 Jews were virtually confined, and it opened the doors of the ghettos.
There followed a great turning from traditional thought and ways: some turned to Communism, some to a nominal Christianity, some found true faith in Christ. There were stories of ― seekers after God‖ in Russia, and ― Christ-believing Jews‖ in Hungary, which had come into existence quite apart from the witness of the churches and missionary organizations. Palestine had been snatched from under the heel of the Turks, and the Balfour Declaration had promised the Jewish people a national home in the land of their fathers.
The call to the first International Hebrew Christian Conference, signed by Samuel Schor, J. J. Lowe, and E. Bendor Samuel, expressed the faith that faced that stirring hour:
We believe that the times of the Gentiles are being fulfilled and that the God of our fathers, according to His gracious promise, is about to restore Israel to her ancient heritage. We also believe that as Hebrew Christians, though a remnant weak and small, we have a share in the building up of “the Tabernacle of David that is fallen down.”
Very gladly did the Alliance in Britain take on the tremendous task of organising this conference without having any machinery in hand, and its members rejoiced wholeheartedly when the conference met on the 5th September, 1925, and when the International Hebrew Christian Alliance was born. The choice of London for the headquarters of the new Alliance followed naturally. To avoid confusion, the Hebrew Christian Alliance and Prayer Union changed its name again and became, as now, the Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain.
The two affiliated Alliances (Britain and America) quickly grew to fifteen, but the upheaval of the Second World War (1939-1945), and the coming of the Iron Curtain reduced the number to five; more have since been added and there are ten today, spread over all five continents. These look to the Alliance founded in London in 1866 as the mother of them all; all have sent messages to mark the centenary day.
It is not easy to review the work and witness of a hundred years within the compass of a short article, specially when by its very nature much has been done quietly and unobtrusively. It must suffice to contrast the world of 1866 with the world of today: how much has befallen the Jewish people in this century, how much they have endured, how different their circumstances now.
Through all these changes the Alliance has held quietly on its way, its ranks constantly increased by men and women who have come to know Jesus as their Savior and Messiah, and who acknowledge two great loyalties, to Him as their Lord, and to their people, His and theirs. Its objects are unchanged; its ministry continues in deepening the spiritual lives of its members, in encouraging them to bear their witness bravely, in caring for them in times of special need. When so much has altered, it is something to have survived and maintained the testimony. Humbly we would say with the great apostle, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day.”
Founders and Presidents
If we cannot say more about the long years of steady labour we may, perhaps, recall the honoured names of some whose leadership was a means of grace within the Alliance and to the Church as a whole. Amongst the founders were Moses Margoliouth and C. D. Ginsburg, both of whom were members of the Revision Committee responsible for the English Revised Version of the Old Testament issued in 1885, and Adolph Saphir, Minister of St. Mark‘s Presbyterian Church, Greenwich, and gifted writer and Bible teacher.
The roll of presidents includes Maxwell Ben Oliel, well known on both sides of the Atlantic; Isaac Levinson, secretary of the British Jews Society; and David Baron and C. A. Schonberger, founders of the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel.
The list continues with Samuel Schor, also remembered for his Palestine exhibitions that brought a knowledge of the Holy Land to many before it was possible to visit the country as easily as it is today. Serving as well, were E. Bendor Samuel, who had previously served for many years as secretary; I. E. Davidson of the Barbican mission to the Jews; and H. C. Carpenter, who before his retirement had been president of the Polish Hebrew Christian Alliance. Dr. Arnold Frank was a loved vice- president.
The recital of these names gives some idea of the caliber of those who created and maintained the Alliance, as well as of the breadth of the knowledge and experience they brought to it. They are an inspiration to us today.
And what of the future? The aims of 1866 remain those of 1966. The years ahead may bring greater changes even than those behind, but until the glad day comes when all Israel shall be saved, those aims will remain.
Neither a church nor a missionary society, neither a congregation nor a sect, we are a fellowship in Christ, ready to help one another spiritually, and if needs be, materially too, the better to bear our God-given witness towards our Jewish brethren, and within the Christian Church.
To the former, we confess ― “we have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets did write, Jesus”; to the latter we offer visible proof that ― “God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew,”1 that ― “at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.”2 We celebrate the Centenary with humble gratitude and with a renewed consecration, and we joice that in that gratitude and consecration so many Christian friends throughout the country share.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the vision, aims and history of the Hebrew Christian Alliance, from its founding in 1866 to the present. May you give wisdom to it today, and to Jewish believers in Yeshua throughout the world, as they continue to unite in the bond of sympathy and prayer, for the blessing of Israel and the nations, and to the glory of your name. Amen.
Years Elected: 1944, 1955, 1956, 1957
Eldest son of London Minister, Rev. Samuel was brought up under the
influence of the church. However, before entering the Ministry he had
held a business position in London, giving him valuable experience.
Travelled extensively visiting Italy, Egypt, Palestine & the United States.
Lived in Ramsgate for eleven years prior to 1944 during which time he
has lived through peace and war time.
Rev. Samuel began his ministry in Lambourne End, Sussex.
After 8 years in Lambourne End moved to Ramsgate to carry on his
ministry at the Cavendish Baptist Church.
Elected vice-president of the Kent and Sussex Baptist organisation in
In 1937 he was co-opted as a member of the Ramsgate Education
Member of the town council from 1941 for Central Ward.
Elected Chairman of civil defence committee in 1942.
1943 held vice-chairmanship of the housing and town planning
committee. Actively involved with work of the General Hospital.