By Brian Cox
The Toward Jerusalem Council II movement seeks reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, drawing its vision from the first Council of Jerusalem. This global movement has offices in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States. My experience with this movement began with two people, a laywoman in Germany and a rabbi in Texas, more than 20 years ago.
While participating in an ecumenical charismatic conference in 1991 I met Christa Behr, a Lutheran from Hamburg who organized services of repentance at former Nazi concentration camps in Germany and Poland. Christa invited me to participate in one such service at Sachsenhausen Camp near Berlin in 1994. Led by the Rev. Paul Toaspern from East Berlin and Rabbi Benjamin Berger from a messianic congregation that meets at Christ Church in Jerusalem, 300 older Germans confessed, wept and asked God for forgiveness for taking loyalty oaths to Hitler, crying “Sieg Heil,” and doing nothing when their Jewish neighbors were beaten or arrested by the Gestapo. While this was happening, the Holy Spirit drove me to soul-rending sobs. Finally, I turned to Peter Dippel, a West Berlin pastor sitting next to me, and said, “Peter, I don’t understand what is happening to me!” He simply smiled and replied, “Brian, the Lord did the same thing to me when he gave me a supernatural love for the Jewish people.”
In the weeks that followed I realized that something had changed inside my heart. Previously I had been indifferent toward my Jewish neighbors; not hostile, but indifferent. I found myself beginning to seek Jewish friends. I became friends with a rabbi and with two Holocaust survivors.
A few months later I received a short note from Barbara Bolte Smith, a parishioner at St. James, Newport Beach, where I had served as senior associate. Her note simply said that the Holy Spirit had guided her to write to me about the vision that the Holy Spirit had given Marty Waldman, the rabbi at Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue in Dallas. As I read the vision, which Rabbi Waldman called “Jerusalem Council II,” my heart leapt with joy.
I spent two weeks praying about this vision. When he and I finally spoke, we quickly sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence in our conversation. A month later the rabbi invited me to attend an initial meeting of messianic Jewish and Gentile Christian leaders. This group evolved into the Executive Committee of Toward Jerusalem Council II, on which I serve.
What does our group hope to achieve? The first Jerusalem Council, as recounted in Acts 15, was called as a result of a crisis in the early messianic movement. We should remember that the first followers of Jesus were not Christians but messianic Jews. They retained their Jewish identity but recognized Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah. Once they began to share the Abrahamic blessing with the Gentiles it created a crisis. Some of these messianic Jews believed that the Gentiles must take on Jewish identity. There were good reasons for this; it would create less tension with mainline Jews who tolerated “messianic Jews” as another sect. Instead, the Jerusalem Council decided to honor Gentile identity, requiring converts to “abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood” — practices that would grieve observant Jews. God honored this decision and the gospel spread among Gentiles. Over time Gentiles began to outnumber Jewish believers, eventually to today’s wildly disproportionate numbers. The Church was intended, theologically speaking, to be the missionary arm of Israel and, through the Messiah, to carry the Abrahamic blessing of faith-based reconciliation to the nations.
The Church was not raised up as a replacement for Israel, but as a branch to be grafted into the olive tree (Rom. 9-11). As a result of Gentile arrogance the Church began to detach itself from its Jewish roots and the virus of anti-Semitism began to grow within our DNA. It became a widespread assumption that God had rejected Israel and the Jewish people for killing the Messiah and that the Church was “the replacement” which inherited all the blessings intended for Israel.
In A.D. 787 the second Council of Nicaea adopted Canon 8, which declared:
Since some of those who come from the religion of the Hebrew mistakenly think to make a mockery of Christ who is God, pretending to become Christians, but denying Christ in private by both secretly continuing to observe the sabbath and maintaining other Jewish practices, we decree that they shall not be received to communion or at prayer or into the church, but rather let them openly be Hebrews according to their own religion; they should not baptize their children or buy, or enter into possession of, a slave. But if one of them makes his conversion with a sincere faith and heart, and pronounces his confession wholeheartedly, disclosing their practices and objects in the hope that others may be refuted or corrected, such a person should be welcomed and baptized along with his children, and care should be taken that they abandon Hebrew practices. However if they are not of this sort, they should certainly not be welcomed.
The Church and Jewish leaders came to agree on one thing: you cannot follow Jesus and remain a Jew. That agreement prevailed for almost 1,200 years.
God seemed to have a different idea. Beginning in the late 19th century, Jewish belief in Jesus experienced resurrection in such places as Moldova, Bulgaria, Poland and the United States. During the Jesus Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s many Jewish hippies became followers of Jesus. For them it created a predicament: I’m Jewish, but I believe that Jesus is my Messiah. What do I do now?
Many were rejected by their families as having “gone over to the Nazis.” But in 1967, as Israel was taking possession of the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in 2,000 years, the messianic Jewish movement was born. It is a small but growing movement. In Israel there are more than 10,000 messianic Jews. There are more than 200 messianic congregations in the United States. There are also messianic congregations in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Russia, and Ukraine.
Toward Jerusalem Council II is a movement of prayer, repentance and relationship-building with an eye toward reconciliation of the Jewish and Gentile parts of the Body of Messiah (Christ). It is a targeted initiative that seeks to address the most ancient rupture in the Body of Messiah that preceded the rupture between East and West and the Protestant Reformation. Since the center’s beginning in 1995 there have been prayer journeys to Israel, Poland, Rome, Spain, and Turkey. There have been diplomatic initiatives to Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Conferences have met in Addis Ababa, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Dallas, Gnadenthal, Jerusalem, and Nairobi.
Roman Catholic leaders have welcomed our work. In 1997 Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, became our patron. In 1998 a small group of us met at the Vatican with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who has since become Pope Benedict XVI. He welcomed the rise of the messianic Jewish movement as an important eschatological sign and, through papal theologian Georges Cardinal Cottier, began a dialogue with messianic Jewish leaders.
Archbishop Rowan Williams has met at Lambeth Palace for half a day with messianic Jewish leaders from Israel and England. Our vision has met the most enthusiastic reception among Anglicans in Africa and Latin America. A TJCII team spent two days with the West Africa House of Bishops. There are invitations to meet with the Houses of Bishops in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Many African Christians consider reconciliation with Israel a precursor to experiencing the fullness of God’s blessings on Africa.
One year ago Rabbi Waldman and I convened a small summit in Chicago of Episcopal and messianic Jewish leaders. It is easy enough to recognize Jewish congregations in our neighborhoods and cities as our elder brothers and sisters in faith. I believe it is time for the Episcopal Church to join other provinces of the Anglican Communion in acknowledging the same of our messianic brothers and sisters.
The Rev. Canon Brian Cox is rector of Christ the King Parish in Santa Barbara, California. He welcomes email inquiries (firstname.lastname@example.org) about forming TJCII clergy groups.
Toward Jerusalem Council II has proposed this seven-point affirmation of the messianic Jewish movement
Consistent with the principle established in the original Jerusalem Council of Acts Chapter 15 regarding respect for diversity in the Body of Christ concerning Jewish and Gentile identity, we do make the following affirmations:
- We affirm the election of Israel, its irrevocable nature and God’s unfinished work with the Jewish people regarding salvation and the role of Israel as a blessing to the nations.
- We affirm that Jews who come to faith in the Messiah, Jesus, are called to retain their Jewish identity and live as part of their people in ways consistent with the New Covenant.
- We affirm the formation of Messianic Jewish congregations as a significant and effective way to express Jewish collective identity (in Jesus) and as a means of witnessing to Jesus before the Jewish community. We also affirm Jewish individuals and groups that are part of churches and encourage them in their commitment to Jewish life and identity.
- We affirm our willingness as an ecclesiastical body to build bridges to the Messianic Jewish community, to extend the hand of friendship, and to pray for their growth and vitality.
- We affirm our willingness to share our resources with Messianic Jewish congregations, mission organizations and theological training institutes so as to empower them to fulfill their God-given purpose.
- We affirm our willingness to be a voice within our own ecclesiastical structures and spheres of influence against all forms of anti-Semitism, replacement theology (supersessionism) and teaching that precludes the expression of Jewish identity in Jesus.
- Finally, we affirm that as Jewish and Gentile expressions of life in Jesus grow organically side by side with distinct identities that God will be glorified, that the Kingdom of Heaven will be advanced, and that the vision of “the one new man” in Ephesians 2 will unfold as part of the original Abrahamic blessing to the nations.
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