The Vatican Vetoes Mission to Jews

Last month we saw some interesting developments in relations between the Catholic church and some Orthodox rabbis. At the beginning of December, the Vatican issued a document entitled, “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable”[1], in which it officially rejected “supersessionism” or replacement theology (the idea that the church has now taken the place of Israel) and stated that God’s covenants with Israel are still valid.

At the same time, in early December, a group of Orthodox rabbis signed an official document affirming Christian brothers and sisters, and even honouring Yeshua as one who strengthened the Torah of Moses! [2]

But as encouraging as these developments may seem on the surface, the need to call Yeshua Lord and Messiah for the Jewish people as well as for the Gentiles was sadly sidestepped by both documents. The Vatican rejected mission to the Jewish people, and the rabbis welcomed Jesus, but not as God’s means of salvation.

The Vatican’s document comes 50 years after their ‘Nostra Aetate’ declaration, which included the decision to exonerate the Jewish people from deicide (killing God). Previously, the Catholic church held all Jewish people collectively responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. The Nostra Aetate declaration argued against this previously held position, and broke new ground by proclaiming that ‘the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God’, as they (shockingly) had been up until that point. The dialogue that has occurred in the 50 years since this decision, and particularly in the last few years, has brought the rabbis and leaders of the Catholic church closer together, and created a lot more trust both ways.

It is good and right that those representing religious Judaism and Catholicism can talk openly about the painful past and about their varying beliefs, and in many ways these two documents represent some good steps in the right direction. But on what basis is this new connection being formed?

The rabbis wrote, “Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes.” Indeed, they felt no need to fear being evangelised because the Catholic document expressly rejected the notion of mission to the Jewish people!

The Vatican’s paper concludes, “The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews”, going on to emphasise their, “principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission”.

Equally, the rabbis’ document, “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians”, expresses appreciation and respect for Yeshua but stops quite clear of making him Lord and Messiah. For them, Yeshua is only a Jewish man, even if they might now admit that he was a good one… and Christianity may have become less dangerous and offensive to them than it used to be, but is no more appealing than before. However, it is very heartening to see more and more Orthodox Jewish rabbis begin to appreciate Yeshua rather than rejecting him outright.

The statement quoted Rabbi Jacob Emdem who said that, “Jesus brought a double goodness to the world. On the one hand he strengthened the Torah of Moses majestically… and not one of our Sages spoke out more emphatically concerning the immutability of the Torah. On the other hand he removed idols from the nations”. The paper contains several other statements of appreciation of Yeshua and his legacy, but many other faiths also revere Yeshua as a great man and even a prophet, without making him Lord. But in the end every knee must bow, and every tongue will confess that that is who he is. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The only way to the Father.

Only God knows whether these steps taken by both sides towards the other will lead to salvation of Jewish people, which is our main concern: that all may be saved. Dave Brickner wrote a statement for Jews for Jesus saying, “We believe that the Apostle Paul, whose name is invoked frequently in the Vatican document, would be horrified at this repudiation of the words with which he started his letter in Romans: ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.'” Brickner added that perhaps the Catholic authors of the Vatican document “need to be reminded that they first received that gospel message from the lips of Jews who were for Jesus.”[3]

Salvation is found in no one else. There is no other name by which we may be saved – and that applies to both Jews and Gentiles. Since the Vatican document does assert this truth, it seems discriminatory to be willing to take the God’s offer of salvation, the Good News of the Gospel of Yeshua, to everyone except the Jewish people. That seems to be slipping back into the anti-Semitism that they have been trying so hard to put behind them.

Whatever may be written in these official documents of men, we will never stop proclaiming the good news of Yeshua to the Jewish people. He is the promised Jewish Messiah who can save us all from sin and its terrible consequences. He is the only one who can lead us all into the Father’s embrace. With him and him alone is the power of salvation, and we echo Paul the Apostle’s heart when he says, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the people of Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).

[1] Vatican document on Christian-Jewish dialogue: “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable” 

[2] Orthodox Rabbinic statement on Christianity: “To do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership Between Jews and Christians
[3] Jews for Jesus Leader Denounced Vatican Statement on Jewish Evangelism

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