The Catholic Statement and “Converting the Jews”

There’s a new op-ed piece on the Forward website entitled, “What New Vatican Memo Really Means for Jews for Jesus – and Us.”

The author, J.J. Goldberg, corrects the report that the Vatican announced that “Catholics should not try to convert Jews.” Instead, he says that the “New Vatican Memo” rejects “specific institutional mission work” aimed at Jews, but does advocate witnessing of faith in Jesus to all people, including Jews. Goldberg continues,

Still, you can see why the “no conversion” headlines would get people excited. For Jews, it means that the 2,000-year scourge of persecution and forced conversion is finally over. Not that this has been a major issue for the past four or five centuries, but still. Jews have long memories.

It’s an even bigger deal for missionary groups like Jews for Jesus. Converting Jews is what they do. If this thing spreads, it could put them out of business.

But the notion of conversion represented here is all wrong for Jews. There are Jews who honor Yeshua as Messiah, as the Jewish Messiah in fact, and do so as Jews. We don’t “convert.” We have much in common with Christians through our belief in Yeshua, and more in common with other Jews in our religious practice, culture, and even many beliefs as well. Just as the Post-WWII Catholic Church renounced centuries of error about the Jewish people without losing its core identity, so we are freeing ourselves from centuries of Jewish denial about Jesus as Messiah without losing our Jewish identity.

The traditional mindset of both church and synagogue has a hard time adjusting to this new reality. (Actually I’d say this renewed reality, because the early Messianic community, AKA the early church, included a major component that embraced Yeshua as Messiah without diminishing its Jewish identity.) The article rightly notes:

The fact is, the Vatican itself has difficulty explaining how it can reconcile its belief in the continuing Jewish covenant, which seems clear in the Romans [11:29] passage, with the equally clear principle appearing elsewhere in the New Testament that salvation comes only through Jesus. The new document puts it this way: “That Jews are participants in God’s salvation is unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”

We need to embrace the mystery. As my friend Rachel Wolf puts it, “God’s love for and ongoing faithfulness to the people of Israel has fully as much depth and mystery, and is both parallel to and melded together with, Yeshua’s sacrificial act of love revealed in the cross.”

At the same time, Messianic Jews take a different tack on reconciling the “continuing Jewish covenant” and the salvation that comes only through Jesus. We participate in the continuing Jewish covenant and we explicitly confess Jesus as Messiah. We believe that these two great truths of Scripture are not incompatible, and our lives themselves point to a reconciliation between them.

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