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LCJE Response to Vatican’s “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable”

According to a Vatican commission document released Thursday and characterized as “far-reaching” by the New York Times, Jewish people do not have to believe in Jesus to be saved.

Titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable,” the document’s release received broad global news coverage this week, even though the document itself states that is only a “reflection” of the views of the Vatican’s Commission of Religious Relations with Jews and is not “a doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church.”

“There is nothing substantively new in the document that we haven’t seen in past years in Jewish-Catholic dialogues,” said Jim Melnick, international coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (or “LCJE”), part of the broader worldwide Lausanne Movement, which seeks to bring the Gospel to all people around the world. That movement asserted in its 1989 manifesto in Manila: “It is sometimes held that in virtue of God’s covenant with Abraham, Jewish people do not need to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah. We affirm that they need him as much as anyone else, that it would be a form of anti-Semitism….to depart from the New Testament pattern of taking the gospel ‘to the Jew first’…” (A.3)

That same year the Willowbank Declaration on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish People declared that “it is unchristian, unloving and discriminatory to propose a moratorium on the evangelizing of any part of the human race, and that failure to preach the Gospel to the Jewish people would be a form of anti-Semitism, depriving this particular community of its right to hear the gospel.” (IV.23) More recently, in 2010 the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment proclaimed: “We affirm that, whereas the Jewish people were not strangers to the covenants and promises of God, … they still stand in need of reconciliation to God through the Messiah Jesus.” (II. B)

“While we applaud the Vatican’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to show love and honor to the Jewish people – one area where the document succeeds,” Melnick continued, “we strongly reject how it has turned the Scripture of Romans 11 on its head in order to end up with the exact opposite meaning of what the Apostle Paul intended regarding the salvation of the Jewish people. When Paul wrote that ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable,’ he was saying that the Jewish people remain beloved in His sight – not that they can find salvation without faith in Yeshua (Jesus).”

The LCJE is a global network of evangelical Messianic Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus from nearly thirty countries and six continents, representing a variety of denominations, missions and ministries. The group held its 10th international conference in Jerusalem in August. Its official conference statement affirmed “the special importance of taking the gospel to the Jewish people as an ever-present obligation on the Church, in accordance with Romans 1:16.” That statement also proclaimed “the Jewishness of Jesus, who, as Israel’s Messiah, is the Savior of the world.”

Jim Melnick
Jim is the International Coordinator for Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE).

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  • HannahW54

    I’ve seen a lot of online comment in this direction, but since reading the Vatican document for myself, I’m confused. The document *denounces* the idea that it is accused of *promoting*. I came across it several times. Three examples:

    — “Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression ‘Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ’. Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind.”

    — “The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith…. ”

    — “It is the belief of the Church that Christ is the Saviour for all. There cannot be two ways of salvation, therefore, since Christ is also the Redeemer of the Jews in addition to the Gentiles.”

    I’m no fan of the Vatican, but other than that last statement getting Rom.1:16 backwards (the Gentiles are “in addition to” the Jews), I see sound theology. In fact, I can’t see the difference between these statements and the LCJE quote that was meant to set them straight:

    — “It is sometimes held that in virtue of God’s covenant with Abraham, Jewish people do not need to acknowledge Jesus as their Messiah. We affirm that they need him as much as anyone else…”

    It seems to me that the Vatican was not renouncing bringing Yeshua to the Jews but rather “institutional missionary work” in bringing Him. Their stated reasons:
    (a) the continuing validity of the Torah Covenant means that Jewish evangelism should be different from the institutionalized world evangelism (unlike the nations, Israel has been promised a national “salvation” which is reaffirmed in Romans 11);
    (b) individual believers testifying of Yeshua to individual Jews is a more acceptable way of sharing the gospel than “an institutional Jewish mission” setting out to “evangelize” them (something that most MJs would confirm from experience).

    Both are valid Scripture-based reasons – unless you believe in replacement theology and don’t care a fig for Jewish sensitivities. And this is why much of the document was taken up with denouncing those two historical Christian mistakes.

    I can understand that institutional Jewish missions would have a problem with being told they are not necessary for the salvation of Israel. I can understand that non-Messianic Jewish groups missed the salvation message, because they also equate “Jewish evangelism” with “institutional missionary work”. And I can understand that the document caused confusion by seeming to negate all of the above with this statement:

    — “That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”

    But that’s not saying that being saved without confessing Yeshua IS possible – they spent a lot of time saying that it’s NOT possible. They are just being honest: they don’t see how God is going to fit the two together.

    But the operative word is “explicitly”. Apparently the Vatican realizes that many Jews who receive Messiah might be confessing Him in Torah-based ways which Catholics find mysterious, not easy to recognize – therefore a bit suspect. As Messianic confessional rites and concepts move back to the original 1st-century Jewish expression (there was no other!), they will become less familiar to the Church world. Even now some churches deny that MJs are saved because they don’t use traditional Christian terms and customs.

    What a WHOLE NATION of such believers will look and sound like, as they confess and celebrate Messiah in ways that are natural for them but foreign to the Church, cannot be imagined. But the Vatican folks are anticipating it as an act of God (at least according to this document).

    At any rate, Messianic believers are advised to read the whole thing, and decide for themselves if it’s as heretical as the evangelical outcry implies.