Evangelicals renew calls to convert Jews

By Simon Rocker, October 3, 2008

A major British evangelical movement, which last year hosted the Chief Rabbi as a guest speaker, has endorsed a call to spread the gospel among Jews.

The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) urged members to renew their "commitment to the task of Jewish evangelism" in a document issued after a recent meeting of a special task force.

Justin Thacker, head of theology of its British affiliate, the Evangelical Alliance (EA) - which represents around 750,000 out of the UK's estimated two million evangelical Christians - confirmed: "As a body, we support it."

Last November, Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks was the keynote speaker at an EA event, giving the annual "Temple Address" at the launch of its campaign on tolerance. Sir Jonathan was unavailable for comment this week.

The WEA's document is known as the Berlin Declaration - the venue of a four-day meeting to discuss the "uniqueness of Christ and Jewish evangelism in Europe today".

The declaration regrets "the all-too-frequent persecution of Jewish people in Jesus's name" and states that most Christian believers were silent during the Holocaust.

It also acknowledges within the "sad record of European Christian history" the teaching of contempt, and intolerance towards Jewish people.

It says that Christians should stand in solidarity with Jews, "opposing antisemitism, prejudice and discrimination", commenting: "This sinful behaviour is irreconcilable with the calling of Christ's disciples."

But it also mentions that because of recent history, "there is an evident insecurity about relations with Jewish people. Also, there is a tendency to replace direct gospel outreach with Jewish-Christian dialogue."

It goes on: "Christians everywhere must not look away when Jewish people have the same deep need for forgiveness of sin and true shalom, as do people of all nations. Love in action compels all Christians to share the gospel with people everywhere, including the Jewish people of Europe."

Dr Thacker explained that, while he rejected "coercive proselytism", he believed dialogue involved sharing one's beliefs. "We can't pretend that all the different faiths have exactly the same view of Jesus Christ," he said.

"Christians believe one thing about Jesus, that he was the Messiah, that he was Lord, that he is son of God, indeed that he is God. Jews don't believe that about Jesus. There is a genuine difference of opinion. Part of dialogue is exploring that difference."

He added: "In the same way that a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu will be trying to persuade me that their view of Jesus is the right one, then I would also want to try and say that these are the reasons why I believe these things about Jesus."

But David Gifford, the chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, decried the document as "unfortunate". He said: "In the past, the Christian churches have had a chequered history in their relations with the Jewish community on the issue of conversion. Although we have made a lot of headway, there are still groups who see the Jewish community as needing to accept Jesus Christ."

He said it was time for the Evangelical Alliance to "move on" and recognise modern theological thinking which accepts "the validity of the Jewish faith and its relationship with God".


Last updated: 11:24am, October 2 2008