Jews who follow interfaith are always asking: what are those Presbyterians saying today? Unlike Lutherans or Catholics in which there seems to be a clear course of reconciliation, Presbyterians are more hesitant, cautious, and less in common cause.
In 1987, the Presbyterian Church in US issued “A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews.” where following Catholics and the majority of mainline American Protestants they repudiated supersessionalism, antisemitism, and any condemnation of Judaism. But by 2004, Jews found the Church’s views on Israel/Palestine not to their liking
The Canadian Church recently issued a statement that reiterated the 1987 statement as understood by recent documents and discussions. They also affirmed their recognition of Israel, prided themselves over the role which Presbyterian countries played in offering Jews religious freedom, yet it concluded by calling for mission to the Jews and messianic synagogues.
A Presbyterian minister married to a Reform Jewish academic offers a full analysis as well as what he wished the document to have actually said.
The proposed statement does very well in making explicit certain Presbyterian beliefs, such as that Christians and Jews worship the same God, that both Jews and Gentiles are included in one covenant of grace which God makes with humankind, and “that Jews have not been supplanted or replaced by Christians” (A&P 2010, 355). The call for solidarity and dialogue and the common pursuit of peace and justice make extremely positive inclusions. The drafters of the statement have also made the important step of formally repudiating anti-Semitism while offering contrition for the church’s “complicity in the persecution, exclusion and expulsions of the Jews” (A&P 2010, 356).
Here are some selections from the document:
Statement of The Presbyterian Church in Canada on our Relationship with the Jewish People
In stating our relationship with the Jewish people we reaffirm a central tenet of our Reformed faith expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, that there is one covenant of grace embracing Jews and Gentiles and therefore, not “two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations” (VII, 6).
Accordingly, we affirm that the Jewish people have a unique role in God’s economy of salvation and healing for our world. Jesus himself taught that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) and the Apostle Paul stated: “to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5). The Jewish people have a pre-eminent place in God’s covenant, John Calvin finely said, for they are “the firstborn in God’s family.”
We affirm that God has graciously included Gentile Christians, rightly called “posthumous children of Abraham” (J. Calvin), by engrafting them into the one people of God established by God’s covenant with Abraham. This means that Jews have not been supplanted and replaced by Christians in the one covenant. As Paul teaches, God has not rejected or abandoned them: “I ask, then has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1).
We believe that both Christians and Jews worship and serve the One Living God.
We confess God’s grace, mercy and faithfulness in the miracle of Jewish survival and the continuing existence and witness of the Jewish people. We are grateful that the State of Israel is a place the Jewish people can call home and we express our commitment as The Presbyterian Church in Canada to their right to live in peace, both in the Middle East and throughout the world. We also commit ourselves to pray for the peace of Jerusalem so all the children of Abraham may freely worship and live in a place they call holy.
It is always good for us to confess our sins to God. We acknowledge with shame and penitence the Church’s long complicity in the persecution, exclusion and expulsions of the Jews through the “teaching of contempt”, beginning in the first centuries of the Christian era, gathering strength during the Crusades and culminating in the Shoah or Holocaust. As Christians we have failed to demonstrate to the Jewish community and to individual Jews that love which Jesus Christ commanded us to show. Of this lack of love and teaching of contempt and the attitudes and acts which proceeded from it, we humbly repent.
It is also, however, a matter of historical record that countries in which the Reformed tradition and its “one covenant of grace” theology took root have provided refuge for this persecuted people. The Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community has lived in the Netherlands (and Dutch colonies like Curacao) with full citizenship rights since the 17th century. There were no pogroms in Scotland. During the Puritan Commonwealth Jews were re-admitted to England and have flourished as a community both there and in what became the United States. We are thankful for Christians, of all traditions throughout the ages, who have stood in solidarity with Jews. We call upon our people to eschew the use of language and innuendo which may disparage, slander and harm Jews and we urge Christians to show solidarity with Jews when acts of hatred, such as the desecration of graves, synagogues and schools are perpetrated against them.
Both Christians and Jews look forward in hope to God’s full redemption which Christians believe will occur in the Second Advent when Jesus Christ returns, a hope which includes the Jews, for as Paul teaches in Romans 9-11, in Jesus Christ there will be an ingathering of people, whether of Jewish or Gentile background: “so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). The Presbyterian Church in Canada has sought to serve Jewish people in Canada in the name of our Lord through specific mission efforts in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. The most well known of those was the Christian Synagogue in Toronto which evolved into the Scott Mission. Finally we encourage our congregations and people to take the initiative and to reach out in friendship and hospitality to neighboring synagogues and Jewish people and where they can, to engage in Jewish Christian dialogue to promote better mutual understanding and to pursue and ensure the establishment of peace and justice and the good and betterment of the wider community. Read the full version here.