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Catholic neglect of Jewish evangelism called ‘extreme form of anti-Semitism’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A Catholic assertion that Jews do not need to be evangelized has prompted Jim Sibley, Southern Baptists’ coordinator of Jewish ministries, to respond:

“There can be no more extreme form of anti-Semitism” than a pronouncement that has “targeted the Jews for exclusion from gospel proclamation.”

On Aug. 12, a longstanding Catholic-Jewish dialogue group issued a joint statement, recounting:

“A deepening Catholic appreciation of the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people, together with a recognition of a divinely-given mission to Jews to witness to God’s faithful love, lead to the conclusion that campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.”

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a separate lengthier statement, added that the Catholic Church “now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church’s experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of Jewish people to Christianity.”

The Jewish perspective in the dialogue was represented by the National Council of Synagogues, encompassing two groups within Conservative Judaism and one within Reform Judaism. The council also issued a separate amplifying statement in behalf of its member groups, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Sibley, who works under the auspices of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, said in comments to Baptist Press: “The Roman Catholic Church has not demonstrated for centuries an understanding of the gospel or of the task of gospel proclamation.”

Centuries ago, Catholics sought “to force Jews to embrace Catholicism — to the point of suffering, expulsion and death,” Sibley said, noting that “biblical faith must be uncoerced to be valid” for a Jew or a person of any cultural background.

The Catholics’ Aug. 12 statement, Sibley said, is a restatement of a growing Catholic consensus expressed since the Second Vatican Council and in a 1965 declaration, “Nostra Aetate,” in which “the Roman Catholic Church presumes to be able to decide who does, and who does not, need to hear the gospel.”

But, Sibley said, “gospel proclamation is not under the authority of the church; the church is to be under the authority of the risen Lord” in keeping with Jesus’ command in the Great Commission, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20, to carry the gospel to all people.

Sibley continued, “It is never good for the Jews whenever the Roman Catholic Church fails with respect to the gospel.

“When they used coercion, the Jewish people suffered horribly and were hardened against the good news of their messiah. Now, in singling out the Jewish people for evangelistic exemption, they are withholding the hope of Israel. There can be no more extreme form of anti-Semitism,” Sibley said, reminding of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:24 that he was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The Catholic statement “unequivocally says that the bishops have abandoned any semblance of biblical authority,” Sibley said. “Throughout this document, the Bible is used in an almost flippant manner. It is made to say whatever the bishops want it to say. Only the most biblically illiterate would be persuaded by their proof-texting.”

Concerning the idea that Jewish evangelism is “no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church,” Sibley said, “The goal of the Christian should be the approval of the Lord — ‘Well done, thy good and faithful servant’ — not the approval of the Roman Church.”

Citing Christian history, Sibley noted, “Originally, the only form of evangelism was Jewish evangelism. The audience on the day of Pentecost, Shavu’ot, was entirely Jewish, and the church was birthed in the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. To the religious leadership of the Jewish people, Peter declared in Acts 4:12, ‘There is salvation in no one else’ — that is, Jesus — ‘for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.'”

Just as Jews see themselves as a people under a divine covenant, Christians likewise understand themselves to be under the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus, Sibley said, and thus Christians have “the obligation of gospel witness. Asking Christians to abandon evangelism, even for a single ethnic group, is akin to asking Jews to eat ham and cheese sandwiches.”

Including Jews in evangelistic efforts is not just a Baptist belief, but one held in many sectors of Christianity, Sibley said, citing a response to the Catholic statement sent out by the rector of a prominent Anglican church – himself a Messianic Jew – who requested that his name appear in this news story.

The rector had reacted, “What a shocking thing” upon hearing about the Catholic statement.

It is shocking, he wrote via e-mail, because it opposed Jewish evangelism “not for the usual anti-Semitic reasons, but for a more subtle one, and one based on a misrepresentation of Scripture at that!”

“To state that the Jewish people are already in a saving relationship with God is untrue; I am a Jewish believer, saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Yeshua ha Mashiach),” the rector wrote. “I am not saved by my Jewishness, which [has] nothing to do with faith … that my mum and dad were Jewish and loved each other and had me as a son.

“I am not saved by my racial background, nor by my Jewish cultural background,” he continued.

“If the Word of God is to be believed (and the Catholic church uses the same Bible as I do!) then there is no other name by which we must be saved — Acts 4:12 — than the name of Yeshua (Jesus).

“It is theologically, Christologically and ecclesiologically incorrect to leave the Jewish people out of the evangelistic thrust of the church. Romans 1:16 tells us that the Gospel is the power of God for all which believe, first for the Jew! then for the gentile.

“Ignore that at our peril, church, and we will face the judgment from God for racism,” the rector wrote.

Describing the Catholic statement as anti-Semitic, the rector wrote that it “should be resisted by all Christians, not in the name of political correctness, in which it is possibly birthed, nor in the name of syncretism, which appears to have nurtured it, but in the name of the Saviour of the world, who came to the Jew first (Matthew 15:24).”