“Points for Orientation on ‘Christians and Jews'”
Synod of the Evangelical Church of Berlin (West)
On 27 April 1950 the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany at its session in Berlin-Weissensee passed a “Statement on the Guilt against Israel” in which, under the heading of Romans 11:32:
- it reaffirmed its belief “in the Lord and Savior who as a person came from the people of Israel”;
- confessed “to the Church which is joined together in one body of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and whose peace is Jesus Christ”;
- and emphasized as a part of its belief “God’s promise to be valid for his chosen people even after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ”. On the basis of these statements of belief and confession the members of the Synod expressed their indignation “at the outrage which has been perpetrated against the Jews by people of our nation” caused “by omission and silence before the God of mercy”. They warned against all balancing of guilt and injustice, asked all Christians to reject any antisemitism and to resist it and called them “to encounter Jews and Jewish Christians in a brotherly spirit”. They shaped their certainty of Israel’s sharing the hope of the gospel into a prayer to “the Lord of mercy that he may bring about the Day of Completion when we will be praising the triumph of Jesus Christ together with the saved Israel”.
On 28 January 1960, the Provincial Synod of Berlin-Brandenburg, on the occasion of antisemitic riots, reaffirmed this statement explicitly and unanimously. The members of the Synod confessed that they had “only insufficiently fulfilled” the obligations contained in it and passed a number of conclusions including in particular the following new points: — the appeal to work out the biblical recognition “that our salvation cannot be severed from Israel’s election”;
- the encouragement in preaching, joint work of congregational groups, and teaching to the youth, to struggle for the recognition of God’s will for Israel;
- the request to parents and educators to break “with the widespread embarrassing silence in our country about our share of the responsibility for the fate of the Jews”;
- the request to seek for an encounter with the surviving Jewish fellow citizens;
- the encouragement to bear witness to our own life out of forgiveness towards the Jewish brothers and sisters by changing our ways, “so that they can forgive as well”;
- and the exhortation to pray “for God’s peace with Israel”, “for Israel’s peace among the nations, at the borders of its state and in our midst”.
Since then the work towards an improvement of the Christian-Jewish relations in the Protestant sector has been further stimulated and promoted, regionally and nationwide, by a number of studies and statements. In spite of these and other efforts it still has not got beyond its first beginnings. Till today the burden of the centuries-old enmity against the Jews, in the church and in the political arena, has not been overcome.
Out of the recognition of the fundamental importance of Christian-Jewish relations for the church’s teaching and life, in readoption of the above-mentioned documents, and in the awareness of the permanent latent or acute danger of attitudes and expressions of enmity against the Jews, the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg (Berlin West) on 20 May 1984 affirmed:
- Our relations to the Jewish people are still overshadowed by the centuries-old attitude of enmity against the Jews in church and society, as well as by the persecution and murder of the Jews in the years 1933-45 in Germany and in the occupied territories. All the following generations have to face this guilt, even if no personal guilt for events before their life-time is to be attributed to them. The Holocaust remains a part of the history of our nation and of our church. Particularly in the Christian community whose members are closely linked to each other through the ages, the question of dealing with this guilt is of crucial relevance. Therefore, with our witness to the truth we oppose any denial and playing down of the Holocaust. After all that happened, the teaching, the education and the life of the church even more has to be shaped in a way that the history of guilt will not find a continuation, but that conversion and a new attitude will become possible.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are determined by the common heritage of the Old Testament or Tanakh and by the search for its adequate interpretation. This heritage constitutes the firm common ground for Jews and Christians. The Old Testament (Tanakh) tells about the life with the God of the patriarchs and bears witness to this God’s promise for Israel and the nations. Thus it joins the Christian community and the Jewish people together by the common hope in the victory of God’s rule. Therefore, the Old Testament has to be read and heard more intensely as a witness which the Christian community shares with the people of Israel. In it the Christian community meets the God of the patriarchs as the father of Jesus Christ, as well as Israel as the people of God.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are determined by the parting of the ways of Christians and Jews, already in early times. The mutual estrangement has obscured in many respects the view of the living unique character of the other. Therefore, endeavors have to be strengthened to approach with understanding, in service, teaching and education, the teaching and the life of the Jewish people in history and in the present and to describe them on their own terms.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are characterized by the conviction of the Christian community that Jesus Christ has commissioned her with the witness of the gospel for Israel and for the nations in respectively different ways. Israel knows herself to be commissioned by God as well with the witness to all nations (Isa. 43:10). Admittedly, the church’s witness to the Jewish people has been distorted in history because Christians, against the gospel, did not live it as a witness of love. Therefore, to bear witness to the Jewish people today means first of all to live a Christian life that makes discernible God’s Yes to the permanent election of Israel; thus the community of Jesus Christ can prove to be the one that is reconciled with the God who has elected Israel.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are often influenced by the anxiety that an understanding approach to its life, its history and its tradition might endanger the Christian identity. Opposite to such an anxiety, however, stands the experience that meeting and understanding biblical Jewish life rather enriches the Christian faith instead of curbing it. Listening to and learning of Jewish traditions of faith, to which Jewish Christians substantially can contribute, therefore offers a chance to comprehend the Christian faith itself in a deeper and richer way.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are also to be seen against the background of the establishment and the existence of the State of Israel in our days. Our affirmative stand towards the existence of this state is connected with the concern for a peaceful solution in the Near East which also includes the rights of the Palestinian Arabs and the Christians among them. Only as far as the specific circumstances of the emergence of the State of Israel, the differentiation of the Israeli society and the difficulties of a judgment from the outside are kept in consideration, discussions in Christian circles could be of any help for the forming of political opinions among the people concerned in Israel and in the Near East.
- Our relations to the Jewish people are characterized by the fact that in Germany, after the persecution and the murder of the Jews during the years of 1933-45, there are only a few and small Jewish congregations. Therefore, even more is it part of the task of the church to search for the contact with the Jewish congregations and to promote encounters between Christians and Jews in this country and in Israel.
For the reasons named the Synod confirms its intention to support the activities of those Berlin church institutions and groups which — as e.g. the Evangelical Academy, the Working Group on Christians and Jews, the Permanent Committee of Jews and Christians, the Institute for Catechetic Service, and the Institute on the Church and Jewish People at the Kirchliche Hochschule Berlin — particularly work for an improvement of Christian-Jewish relations.
It asks the Berlin Missionswerk to report to all concerned on the discussions about these questions in and with the partner churches in the Near East.
It asks the congregations to make use of the opportunities existing with these institutions and to make the work for better relations with the Jewish people, according to the spirit of the points explained, one of their permanent tasks.
It asks the future Synod to make the continuation of the work on the issue “Christians and Jews” on the synod level its own concern, if necessary, to set up a working group, and to make available working material to the congregations.
It asks the various institutions concerned with tasks of education to give the issue of the renovation of the Christian-Jewish relations a firm place in teaching and education.
It asks the ministers to use more frequently Old Testament texts in service and education, and in this connection to give expression to the permanent election of Israel and to the permanent solidarity of Christians and Jews.