Lambeth Palace

Jews for Jesus respond to Church of England's repentance of anti-semitism and Chief Rabbi's comments about evangelism

Thu 21 Nov 2019
By Cara Bentley

A Q & A with Dr Richard Harvey from Jews for Jesus on the Church of England's apology for centuries of Christian anti-semitism and the topic of evangelism. 

A document called 'God's Unfailing Word' has been published by the Church of England, outlining the theological and practical implications of Christian-Jewish relations. 

In the Afterword by UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, he said: "I must, though, convey a substantial misgiving I have with this document, despite the progress it undeniably represents and articulates. Namely, that it does not reject the efforts of those Christians, however many they may number, who, as part of their faithful mission, dedicate themselves to the purposeful and specific targeting of Jews for conversion to Christianity."

Speaking to Premier, Dr Richard Harvey from Jews for Jesus explained his response to the apology and the Chief Rabbi's comments. 

What was your initial response to this repentance from the Church of England?  

Well, I was very pleased because I was asking for more repentance to be demonstrated in the document - that the Church of England realises that Christian anti-Judaism has led to anti-semitism and needs to be repented of. The Archbishop of Canterbury was absolutely right when he said there seems to be something in the DNA of Christianity that from its early years its anti-Jewish emphasis led to the virus of anti-semitism being nurtured by it.How has that manifested itself?Well, of course, there's been a tradition of Christian anti-Judaism for thousands of years, perhaps culminating in Martin Luther's work 'On the Jews and Their Lies' - 65,000 words of virulent anti semitism, which was reprinted by the Nazis led to the attempt at the final solution of genocide. And sadly, in many Christian traditions, and the Anglican Church is not without this, there has been a strong anti-Jewish elements which really prevents my people from saying Yeshua is not only the greatest Rabbi who ever lived, but the Messiah of Israel. 

 

And have you noticed it in the last 30-10 years as well? 

 My family are German Jewish and Polish Jewish people who came escaping anti-semitism in Europe, I became a disciple of Yeshua, Jesus as my Rabbi, in the 1970s, I think it's true that increasing anti-semitism both in the UK and in Europe needs to be counteracted. It's in our political discourse. It's in some of the social attitudes that some people have towards Jews and Judaism and sadly, it can still be found in some of the churches. So, I think it's a very healthy thing for this report to really call for honest thinking and reflection to respect the relationship that Christians should have with Jewish people to recognise that they've been guilty of promoting negative stereotypes of Jewish people and then to seek a new way forward. 

 

The Chief Rabbi has suggested in this document that evangelising to Jews has been harmful. What do you make of that? 

 Well, where you have two Jews you have two opinions. One Chief Rabbi says it's wrong to evangelise, but my Chief Rabbi is Rabbi Jesus and he said to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, beginning with the house of Israel. So, of course, I fully understand why Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis as the Chief Rabbi of the UK feels the responsibility to call on Christians to stop sharing the gospel both with Jewish people and with others, but I think he's wise enough and I think he's also sensitive enough to know that this isn't really a realistic ask. In fact, if you read the whole document and his whole contribution he's simply giving an honest response and an honest reflection to the document. So if I was him, I would say exactly the same thing. But I think as a Messianic Jew, that's a Jewish disciple of Yeshua, I would also call on the Church to be far more loving and sensitive and relevant in it's communication, not just for Jewish people but with everyone else. If we don't have good news for Jewish people, we don't have good news for anyone else. But I do very much appreciate the Rabbi's honesty in saying this quite forthrightly, and I also appreciate Justin Welby's responses to the normal Jewish reaction. It's quite bold of a Chief Rabbi to to say these things publicly because most Jewish people don't want to rock the boat. We are aware of rising anti-semitism in the UK and we don't always feel that we get a good hearing anyway. So, in one sense, I think that what the Chief Rabbi is calling for is something that every Christian should carefully consider and I think this report tries to do that. He actually says that there was a place for sharing the gospel with Jewish people. It points out there's an increasing number of Messianic Jews, that's Jewish disciples of Jesus, and it also recognises the difficulties that this poses for Jewish-Christian relations. 

 

Is there a dangerous at all that a document like this could scare people off saying "there is only one way to heaven?" 

 I think the main danger is that people don't read the document. I would thoroughly recommend that your listeners actually look at the whole document for proper study of it and then I think that what they'll see is: here is a group of concerned Christians, who are Anglicans, trying to understand God's ongoing purposes with Israel and the Jewish people and trying to understand their commitment to accepting Yeshua Jesus as Messiah, saviour of all nations and the one who is coming again to restore Israel. I think the danger is that people won't actually read the document, they'll just be lost in the sound bites and for me as a Jewish disciple of Jesus, I welcome this document, there's a lot of good in it. There's some parts I don't particularly agree with but I think it's important to have this conversation.

 

Which bits do you not agree with?  

I think that they left out the whole question of Messianic Jews. If you look carefully, there's reference to Messianic Jews on page 55 and footnote 81. But for me, Jewish believers in Jesus, Paul calls us 'the remnant saved by grace' so in a way we are the missing link between the church and Israel and the document says that it's beyond the scope of what we're trying to do, to write about the theological significance of Jews who believe in Jesus, but I think this can't really be ignored, especially in a document that's dealing with the theology of Jewish-Christian relations because when Judaism and Christianity parted company, in a way the truth was divided and Messianic Jews are the missing link to that truth.

 

For those who wants to evangelise to the Jewish community, how can they do so sensitively and considerately? 

 I would say be more like Jesus. I think that even the words like 'mission' and 'evangelism' for Jewish people - they speak of the crusades, the inquisition, forced sermons - it's not really the right language and I think we should really be much more sensitive in saying we found the Messiah, he's the greatest Rabbi, he's the greatest Jew who ever lived and he calls us to be his followers, his disciples and the best way is just to show the love of the Messiah to everyone we meet.

 

To listen to this interview, click here: 

 

  

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