Letter to the Churches (Easneye 1986)
WE, THE MEMBERS OF THE LAUSANNE CONSULTATION ON JEWISH EVANGELISM, conclude our third world-wide conference with this letter to the churches. Recently there has been widespread media criticism of evangelisation among Jewish people, and church bodies have also expressed opposition to such ministries. In this situation, we desire to share with you our convictions and concerns relating to the Jewish people.
God’ Irrevocable Call
God’s call to the Jewish people is irrevocable. We rejoice that God chose Israel to reveal his mercy and grace to all the world. God’s choice of his people is still in force. The New Testament stresses that they are beloved for the sake of the fathers, and that to them belong “the adoption as sons, the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of he law, the worship and the promises … the patriarchs … the human ancestry of Christ” (Romans 9:4-5, 11:29). In his love for the world, God has faithfully and graciously watched over his people through the centuries. The salvation of ‘all Israel’ is also included in God’s purposes for the world and will bring rich blessing to the nations (Romans 11:12,26).
During the turbulent years in which Yeshua lived, there emerged among the covenant people those who loved him and willingly confessed him as Lord and Messiah. Since those first decades, God’s reconciled community has always included both Jewish and non-Jewish believers. We are grateful that this is indeed the case in the 1980s! We see this as a sign of God’s continuing work of redemption.
We grieve over the discrimination and suffering which have been inflicted upon the Jewish people in the name of Jesus the Messiah. These deeds constituted a denial of God’s love for his people and a misrepresentation of the person and work of Jesus. We denounce all forms of antisemitism as contrary to the gospel and to the content of the New Testament. We must protest, however, when past history is used to silence the church in her witness to the Jewish people. To withhold the gospel from the Jewish people would he an act of gross discrimination. We believe that it is time to renew our obligation to share with the Jewish people, both in word and deed, the good news of reconciliation in Jesus the Messiah.
Our generation has witnessed the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land Israel. We view this as an act of God’s mercy and faithfulness. God’s covenant with the people of Israel embraces his promises concerning the land, just as his covenant with mankind embraces all creation. We realise that Israel’s salvation a not to be thought of primarily in territorial or political terms, and that there are differences in our understandings of the theological significance of the State of Israel. But we delight in the life of the Jewish people as a nation in their ancestral homeland. We are also grateful for the presence of a vital community of Jewish believers in Yeshua in Israel, and call upon the official authorities to acknowledge their rightful place within the Jewish people. At the same time, we are concerned about unbiblical attitudes to minorities in Israeli society; the Hebrew Scriptures make it clear that minorities are to be treated with respect and dignity. We echo this for the sake of these people themselves and for Israel’s sake who is called to be a light to the nations.
We also bring the church’s attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry and of Jewish minorities in other counties where their freedom is limited. We express our concern for their spiritual and physical well-being, and urge the church to join us in praying and acting responsibly to secure their freedom.
“To the Jew First”
We believe that the Jewish people and Jesus the Messiah are fundamentally bound to one another in God’s purposes of salvation for the world. God’s call to Israel to be a light to the nations was, is and will be fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah (2 Corinthians 1:20, Romans 11:15).
Today, therefore, we call upon the Body of Christ to restore vigorous evangelistic outreach to the Jewish people to the same, natural and central place as it had in the ministry of the Early Church. The words of Paul are still in force: “The gospel. … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes: to the Jew first, and also the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
It is frequently asserted that the church has no evangelistic obligation to the Jewish people, and that there are two covenants: the Jewish people are accepted by God through the Sinai Covenant and non-Jews through the New Covenant in Jesus the Messiah. On the contrary, it was before the highest council of the Jewish people that the early Jewish apostles claimed: ‘‘There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We uphold the apostolic witness that salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone: there is only one covenant of salvation. If the gospel is not the power of salvation for the Jewish people, to whom it was first addressed, how can it be Good News to people from other nations? Biblically, the gospel proclamation to the Jewish people is the foundation stone upon which Christian mission to all nations is built We therefore urge the church to uphold be legitimacy of Christian mission to the Jewish community and to he obedient to God in the fulfilment of this witness. Likewise, we call upon Jewish Christians to fulfil their evangelistic responsibility to be a light to the Gentiles.
Within die context of Christian witness, dialogue with the Jewish people is valuable and essential. Dialogue can help to promote mutual understanding and respect and to break down stereotypes. But it is more. Dialogue can enhance our understanding of the church and Israel because the church in its roots and in its hope is intimately linked to the Jewish people. For that reason, we regret that Jewish Christians have often been excluded from the current Jewish-Christian dialogue, and we call upon the churches to insist that Jewish Christians be invited to contribute to that dialogue. However, dialogue must not replace our concern to witness positively to Yeshua as the Messiah, nor detract from our call to the Jewish people to embrace him as Saviour.
Enriched by Diversity
We are greatly encouraged to share the news about considerable growth in the number of Jewish believers in Jesus, both in Israel and elsewhere in the world. These Jewish believers are variously known as Hebrew Christians, Jewish Christians, Christian Jews or Messianic Jews, depending on personal preference or the culture in which they live. Some of them have joined established denominations or congregations, whereas others have been incorporated into Messianic Jewish congregations. This latter category of congregations emphasises the Jewishness of the gospel and its application to contemporary Jewish life.
Today Christian communities in various parts of the world are developing their cultural distinctives. Jewish believers are also developing Jewish expressions of their faith in Jesus and of their life with him. This includes the use of music and the arts and creative patterns of worship and celebration. As Jewish believers share their biblical heritage with the church, they have enriched many congregations.
We therefore call upon the churches to affirm the Jewish identity of die Jewish believers in their midst and to provide an environment in which new believers can develop that Jewish identity on a sound, biblical basis.
We affirm the unity of Jews and non-Jews in Jesus Christ. This unity is fundamental to the gospel: Jesus has brought reconciliation between God and man, and has broken down the barriers between Jew and non-Jew (Ephesians 2:14).
How Shall They Hear?
It is urgent that each individual Christian make every effort to share the Good News of Jesus the Messiah with all people. As we look and long for Christ’s return and for a new heaven and a new earth, we remember that the gospel must first he brought to the fullness of the nations and to the Jewish people for their salvation. We therefore call upon all who are in Christ to be faithful, obedient, expectant and prayerful in the proclamation of the gospel to Jew and non-Jew alike (Romans 10:12-15).