Preparing a year’s worth of events worldwide to commemorate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary, Germany’s main Protestant church has officially renounced its mission to convert Jews to Christianity. As a rabbi I applaud this statement, however I hope they will next stop trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.
In practice, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), mostly gave up efforts to convert Jews in the decades after the Holocaust, and closing that chapter should have been a formality. But still officially abandoning the “Judenmission,” or Mission to the Jews, turned out to be theologically complicated.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gave his Apostles the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations.” And small groups of evangelicals in a few member churches have long opposed an official statement against conversion, despite calls from Jewish groups to issue one.
The EKD finally drew up a resolution that was passed unanimously on November 9, 2016 that stated Christians: “are not called to show Israel the path to God and His salvation.” “Since God never renounced his covenant with the Jews, his chosen people, they do not need to embrace the new Christian covenant to be saved”, it said. I also do not think Muslims need Christian salvation to go to heaven.
Perhaps Christians should follow the Qur’an injunction: “To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intends] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [compete in all that is] good. To Allah you all return together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ. (5:48)
“All efforts to convert Jews contradict our commitment to the faithfulness of God and the election of Israel,” the resolution read. That Christians see Jesus as their savior and Jews don’t is “a fact we leave up to God,” it said. This can and should also be said about Muslims.
Although Martin Lither initially expressed concern about the Catholic Church’s discrimination against Jews in medieval Europe, and hoped to bring them into the Christian fold, Luther changed tack later in life when Jews did not start converting to his reformed form of Christianity,.
In a treatise titled “On the Jews and Their Lies,” he urged his followers to burn down the Jew’s homes and synagogues and confiscate their money. The EKD had already last year denounced the “undisguised hatred of Jews” in Luther’s writings; and acknowledged that his anti-Semitism had inspired the Nazis centuries later.
In fact, the EKD synod broke with traditional theological anti-Semitism in 1950 by declaring that God’s covenant with the Jews was still valid. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that most member churches came out clearly against evangelization efforts.
Will it take a large scale European Crusader massacres of Muslims, like what happened to Jews in 1096, for churches to accept the concept that Muslims do not need the Christian religion for their salvation?
The EKD wasn’t alone in changing its approach to Jews very slowly. The Roman Catholic Church renounced its theological anti-Semitism in 1965 at the Second Vatican Council. Yet it took another 50 years before the Vatican issued a clear statement in December 2015, that it “neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” Will Muslims be Next?
But the conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S., which has also denounced Luther’s diatribes against Jews, still follows the injunction of Jesus “to pray for them, so that they might become converted.”