John Richardson wonders if the CofE is still committed to evangelisation
THE RECENT appointment of Dr Margaret Brearley as honorary advisor on the Holocaust to the Archbishops’ Council has raised acutely the question of the relationship between Christians and Jews. The particular trigger for this concern was a question from a Church Times reporter who asked Dr Brearley what she thought were the implications of the Holocaust for mission to Jewish people, to which Dr Brearley replied frankly that such mission is ‘absolutely and always inappropriate’.
It was felt by myself and others, however, that such an outright rejection of evangelism directed towards Jewish people was inappropriate for an appointee of the Archbishops’ Council. Accordingly, I wrote to Mr Philip Mawer, the Secretary of the Council, to express my concern. Mr Mawer duly made a thoughtful reply, which included the following comment:
Within the Church of England, it is clear that at least three different positions on this complex question are held with integrity. Some – Dr Brearley among them – believe that mission to Jewish people is inappropriate. Others believe that Jewish people cannot be excluded from the scope of Christian mission. Others again believe that Christians have a particular responsibility to share the Gospel with Jewish people.1
Moreover, as Mr Mawer went on to observe, ‘This range of opinion is more fully described in a report from the Church of England’s Inter Faith Consultative Group’. By coincidence, my copy of this report, entitled Sharing One Hope?, had duly arrived through the letterbox a day or two earlier and, sure enough, the three positions identified by Mr Mawer are described in detail on pages 26-27. However, (as we should know by now) the fact that three divergent opinions are sincerely held by members of the Church of England does not necessarily mean that each is equally valid.
THE CHURCH’S MISSION
To assess Dr Brearley’s position, it must be remembered that the Archbishops’ Council was established by a Parliamentary Measure expressly ‘to co-ordinate, promote, aid and further the work and mission of the Church of England’.2 However, the ‘mission of the Church of England’ is essentially defined by the Canons which link the doctrine of the Church of England to Scripture and (insofar as they agree with Scripture) the writings of the Fathers, the Councils of the early Church, the 1662 Prayer Book, the Thirty-Nine Articles and the Ordinal. All of these sources, however, clearly endorse mission to the Jews, which is, ipso facto, the mission of the Church of England. Indeed, Sharing One Hope? recognizes the reality of this situation when it refers critically to the Good Friday prayer for the conversion of ‘all Jews, Turks, Infidels and Hereticks’. Although the report clearly wishes things were otherwise, it admits that ‘alteration of that 1662 text is not practically feasible’3
This comment is sadly typical and the report comes across as generally unsympathetic towards evangelism directed at Jewish people. For example, in the same paragraph where it recognizes the third of Mr Mawer’s positions of ‘integrity’, it nevertheless slips in the comment that,
… in 1992 the Archbishop of Canterbury, in declining an invitation to be Patron of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People distanced himself from mission organizations entirely directed towards specific other faith communities.4
And in a separate Appendix this decision is elucidated further:
Dr Carey noted in his letter to CMJ that he was committed to ‘the Gospel for all people’, but that in contemporary circumstances it was necessary for an Archbishop of Canterbury to be also a protector of religious freedom for all.5
Interestingly, in a personal conversation with me that same year, the late Harry Sutton, a former Secretary of SAMS and a leading light in post-war evangelicalism, confided that he felt Dr Carey’s decision was an unhappy symptom of the forthcoming battle regarding the deity of Christ. As Harry rightly reasoned, if Jesus is Lord in the sense that the Church of England has traditionally understood this statement, then he is Lord not only of all, but for all, regardless of their religion. Thus when Dr Carey chose, in the words of One Hope?, to distance himself from mission to other faiths, he simultaneously (if unconsciously) distanced himself from the absolute Lordship of Christ.
Of course, the overt reason for Dr Carey’s rejection of the patronage of CMJ was the desire to convey the positive attitude which underlay his simultaneous acceptance of the co-chairmanship of the Council of Christians and Jews. This position was clearly felt to be consistent with a ‘protective’ attitude towards Judaism, whereas targeted mission was rejected as ‘destructive’.
Unfortunately, the destruction, or at least the demise, of a particular faith is the inevitable result of successfully propagating a contradictory outlook. The rise of secularism in Western Europe, for example, has inevitably affected all faith groups – including both Jews and Christians. Hence whilst neutral dialogue between faith-groups is perfectly possible, and may be wise in the interests of communal peace, such dialogue cannot by definition become a monologue. On the contrary, it presumes not merely ongoing difference but disagreement.
This reality is clearly understood by Jewish individuals and groups opposed to targeted evangelism. It is not merely that they prefer to remain Jewish. Nor is it simply that they reject Christianity in the name of what Christians have done over the centuries (though that certainly plays some part in their thinking). Rather, the final position of such groups is that they reject Jesus himself. The organization ‘Jews for Judaism’, for example, states categorically that there is no truth in the Christian view of Jesus as the Messiah, his life as a fulfilment of Scripture, or his death as an atonement for sin.6
Similarly, Professor Daniel Cohn-Sherbok, although well-regarded for his willingness to engage with Christians, comprehensively rejects Jesus and not just Christianity. In an article in The Church of England Newspaper, Dr Cohn-Sherbok presented six ‘objections to Jesus’ which form the substance of his regular answer to the question, ‘Why do the Jews reject Jesus as Messiah and Saviour?’7 Specifically, these objections are
(1) the failure of Jesus to fulfil messianic expectations found in Scripture,
(2) his claim to a special relationship with God,
(3) his attitude towards sin and sinners,
(4) his otherworldliness,
(5) his attack on the family and social group and
(6) his interpretation of the law.
Cohn-Sherbok concludes, “The vision of messianic redemption brought about by Jesus is … at odds with traditional Judaism”, to which the only honest Christian response is, “Quite so”.
The particular significance of these examples of counter-apologetics, however, is that they call into question the apparent assumption of Dr Brearley and others that it is persecution in general, and the Holocaust in particular, which prohibits Christian evangelism towards Jewish people. One can recognize entirely the dreadful track-record of the church and the undeniable reality of the horrors of the Holocaust and lesser pogroms. Nevertheless, the removal of, or atonement for, these sins (if such a thing were possible) would not render Jesus more readily acceptable than he already is to Jewish people. For ultimately Jews are not less capable of faith in Jesus than their Gentile counterparts, they are simply more sophisticated in their objections to him.
In any case, as a matter of logical principle the atrocities committed by some do not necessarily invalidate the message commended by others. Consider, for example, the massacres in Rwanda between 1994 and 1995, where at times the rate of killing exceeded that which took place during the Holocaust. In April 1994 alone, between five hundred thousand and a million people were killed. Yet these killings were sometimes committed by Christians against Christians. At the Kibeho camp, where almost 4,000 people were killed in a single day, both those doing the killing and those being killed attended church services that morning.8 Yet does this mean that Tutsi can no longer evangelize Hutu? On the contrary, history has repeatedly seen situations where the grace of the gospel has reconciled people across literally murderous divides.
And what of atrocities carried out by Jewish people? I was recently disturbed by a videotape which showed three men in Israeli-army uniform repeatedly kicking an unarmed man lying on the ground. Does this mean that the state of Israel is a ‘pus ridden malignant boil’ as some Muslim publications claim?9 Not at all! But my acceptance of the doctrine of original sin means I am not surprised by such acts. I felt sorrow that the ideals I know Judaism represents were not being demonstrated towards that man, but ultimately all this incident proves to me is that Jewish people are human in every respect – including the ability to be the persecutors as well as the persecuted. As such, however, they are themselves part of someone’s sincerely-held demonology and hence any conclusions drawn from their own experience of persecution must apply equally to other’s perceptions of them.
Nevertheless, in the final analysis, the issue between Jews and Christians is not to be resolved by dialogue or by comparison of past achievements and failures, for the difference is not a matter of who has the better or worse religion, culture or track-record, but whether Jesus rose from the dead. New Testament Christology begins not with an analysis of Jesus’ words and deeds which draws us to conclude he would be just the kind of person to rise from the dead, but with the resurrection itself which illuminates the entire corpus of both Jesus’ own life and the preceding Scriptures.
The persecution of Jews by Christians does not prove Jesus failed to rise again, any more than the earlier persecution of Christians by Jews proves he did. On the contrary, it was the logic of the resurrection which first drove Jews to evangelize Gentiles and which today demands evangelism by the whole Church to all people. Evangelism is not something for the Church to give or withhold as it sees fit, because the gospel is not a message about Christianity but the good news of God’s own work in Jesus Christ.
John Richardson is Senior Assistant Minister at Henham, Elsenham and Ugley (yes, it really is pronounced ‘ugly’), in the Diocese of Chelmsford
1. Circularized e-mail from Philip Mawer
2. See The National Institutions Measure 1998, paragraph 1 (1).
3. One Hope?, 29
4. One Hope? 27
5. One Hope? 35. The illogicality of this argument is so glaring as to persuade me of the uselessness of attempting to dissuade those advancing it.
6. See www.jewsforjudaism.org
7. 12 December 1997, 8
8. Personal conversation with the Australian artist George Gittoes who was present at the time. The casualty figure is based on an immediate count by Australian Defence Forces medical personnel on the scene.
9. Khilafah Magazine, Vol 3, Issue 1, July 1992,