by: Rev. Cheryl L. Hauer, Vice-President
As the old adage says, nothing remains constant but change itself, and a few years ago, the world’s prognosticators began to fill cyberspace with predictions that 2017 and 2018 would prove it. Politically, economically and socially, the world would change dramatically, they projected, and the past two years have seen tumultuous global readjustment, just as predicted. However, the forecasters failed to recognize the incredible changes on the horizon in the religious arena, or more specifically, that of Jewish–Christian relations.
To fully understand the magnitude of recent events, a short look at history is necessary. The change actually began in the latter half of the 20th century with a wholesale reevaluation of the Christian attitude toward Jews and Judaism. For centuries, the relationship between these two faith systems had been informed by replacement theology: the belief that God had reneged on his promises to the Jewish people, granting the Church special status as the new “spiritual Israel.” Christians became the recipients of all the blessings promised to Israel, while the Jewish community became the inheritors of every curse. In this theological paradigm, Israel would never again be a player on the world stage. Supersessionist heresy became the soil in which Christian anti-Semitism would grow, poisoning the minds of Christians against Jews and destroying any hope for meaningful relationship between the two.
It all began to unravel, however, with the rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948. Suddenly, the Church came face-to-face with a very real Israel, a dynamic and determined little country, born of the miraculous and making prophetic fulfillment very difficult to deny. Coming on the heels of the Holocaust, Christians from across the theological spectrum were forced to reexamine their beliefs about and interactions with Jews. Questions needed to be asked and answered. What role had Christian anti-Semitism played in dehumanizing Jews, helping to create an environment in which Jewish people could be slaughtered en masse? What role had the silence of the Church played in perpetuating the Holocaust? Was a future relationship between Israel and the Church even possible, and if so, what should it look like?
As more and more Christians began to answer these questions with a profound sense of regret for the past and a hope for future reconciliation, the difficult process of building relationships began. For much of the 20th century, such relationships were shaped mostly by dialogue between Jewish leaders and the Catholic Church or the more liberal mainline Protestant denominations.
It was Pope John Paul II, however, that redefined the relationship between Catholics and Jews. Fueled by the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which rejected the charge of deicide and called for mutual respect between Catholics and Jews, Pope John Paul II’s papacy was a game changer. Elected in 1978, he was the first pope since ancient times to visit a synagogue. He established diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Israel and visited Israel in 2000. He also issued a sweeping apology for the sins of the Church. However, it was his widely quoted statement that Christianity could not have come into being without Judaism that profoundly impacted the relationship for all of Christianity and Judaism.
Forty years after Pope John Paul II, the landscape has changed dramatically. The last two decades of the 20th century saw the tentative beginnings of relationship between Jews and Evangelical Christians under the pioneering leadership of men like Dr. G. Douglas Young, founder of Bridges for Peace, and prophecy teacher Dr. David Alan Lewis. Today, those relationships continue to strengthen. Millions of Bible-believing Christians worldwide have come to love and respect the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, using their prayers, finances and political leverage to show their support. In 2017, nearly 2 million Christians came on pilgrimage to Israel, 25% more than in 2016. It is estimated that the number will continue to grow, as the Christian hunger to understand the Bible in its proper Hebraic context intensifies. Christian Zionism, a movement of those followers of Jesus who recognize Israel’s right to their ancient homeland, is a growing phenomenon, and Israel’s steadfast commitment to religious freedom and protection of holy sites only serves to cement the loyalty of Christians around the world.
Of course, these relationships would be impossible were it not for courageous Jews who are willing to enter into friendships of trust and respect with Christians. David Nekrutman, Executive Director of the Center for Jewish and Christian Understanding and Cooperation, is one such individual. In a recent interview, he made it clear that he is not alone in his desire for reconciliation. Orthodox Judaism is warming to the idea, Nekrutman says, and there are increasing numbers in that community who express their approval for the efforts of the center to reach out to Christians.
In June 2018, Christian leaders and pastors from 70 nations made their way to Jerusalem for the second annual Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast, held at the invitation of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) Christian Allies Caucus, a group of Jewish leaders within the Knesset who have been working to strengthen the relationship between Israel and the Church for nearly two decades. For two days, leaders from both communities came together to celebrate what Judaism and Christianity have in common and to pray together for the peace of Jerusalem and the future of the State of Israel.
None of the issues that have traditionally separated Jews and Christians have disappeared entirely. Misconceptions, misunderstanding and mistrust remain all too often the order of the day. But today, sincere relationships are being forged that were unheard of even a decade ago. Stereotypes are being corrected and fear of one another replaced with heartfelt, sincere respect. Only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could have facilitated such a miraculous change of heart in both communities. And only He can keep this fledgling relationship safe. Our role is to pray, participate and love.
For more in-depth study of Jewish-Christian relations, Bridges for Peace offers an excellent resource: Israel & the Church: God’s Road Map. Click here for more information.
Photo Credit: Michio Nagata/bridgesforpeace.com
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