Baptist-Jewish relations: some observations from a German point of view.
One may object that such a statement may be true for Jewish history as well as the history of Germany, but why is this event relevant for church history, and why must it also concern Baptist unions, conventions, or even individual congregations outside Germany or Europe? Why is this an event for the worldwide Baptist community? Is it of central theological importance for Baptists to establish and maintain sound relationships with Jews?
The Holocaust must first be seen in historical perspective. It is necessary to recognize that Jews were murdered in cold (German: eiskalt) bureaucratic fashion for no other reason than that they were Jews by birth. The German authorities at all levels, including the Wehrmacht (Army), used every conceivable means to detect, round up, and "exterminate" (German: vernichten) the Jews. Even the baptized among them were persecuted and brutally killed. Many German Jews who had bravely risked their lives for their fatherland during the First World War wrongly thought that they were safe. Even high war decorations did not help them. The racist ideology based on a crude form of social Darwinism, a distorted concept of human biology, and a "blood and soil" (Blut und Boden) approach inspired the perpetrators in their gruesome job to "hunt" Jews and treat them as vermin (Ungeziefer).
A large proportion of the German people were bystanders who watched, perhaps from a distance, but did nothing to prevent the catastrophe. For the Nazi ideology, Jews were not only subhuman, but considered the source for every conceivable evil in German society and the international community. They were thought to be responsible for communism as well as capitalism, for the outbreak of the war, and the humiliation of Germany through the Versailles Treaty. The national socialists claimed that Jews had captured leading positions in German theaters, in the national as well as the international film industry, the press and publishing houses, and were held responsible for the so-called distortions in the arts and humanities. Through their ingenuity and positions in society as lawyers, judges, and doctors, Jews were "undermining" German culture as defined by the national socialists.
Their "blood and soil" ideology demanded a "final solution to the Jewish question" (Endlosung der Judenfrage), so that the ultimate aim was to rid the world of Judaism. Although the Holocaust was unique, it nevertheless was an event in history, and what happened once may happen again. It is, therefore, of prime importance that the event must not be mythologized but must be recognized in its historical dimensions so that, perhaps, an international early warning system (Franklin H. Littell) to prevent future catastrophes may be developed. For this reason and some others that follow, Baptist congregations as well as the Baptist World Alliance and its affiliates must be concerned with the Holocaust and its lessons. It may be appropriate to remind Baptists of their obligation "to remember this event" during this decade of "Baptists against racism."
A crucial question must be asked: Does the Holocaust carry theological weight? TWo particularly significant reasons may be cited why the Holocaust must be remembered precisely because of its theological implications:
(1) The perpetrators had been reared in a "Christian" country. They were for the most part "baptized" Christians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. Most Nazis, including Hitler himself, had not left the church. As obvious perpetrators they were not put under discipline by the churches. No church--be it "established" or "free," "Roman Catholic" or "Protestant"--applied its regulations or canonical laws to deal with heretics. Thus, the German part of the church universal--including the Baptist community--became sick. At the time of the perpetration, the entire ecumenical community did very little to document that it was suffering.
(2) The church universal and all denominations had in almost two thousand years contributed to the growth and widespread acceptance of anti-Semitism/anti-Judaism. The term "anti-Semitism" was coined only late in the nineteenth century by a German journalist. The hatred of the Jews was thus given "scholarly" respectability as it was widely argued that Jews and Germans belonged to different "races" and should be kept apart. By their very existence, Jews threatened the well-being of the German "race." Anti-Semitism is a "modern" phenomenon. German theologians of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both pastors and university professors, were quick to point out that "race," "blood," "soil," and "nation" or "Volk" were not accidental but expressions of God's "orders of creation" (Schopfungsordnungen). Baptists jumped on that bandwagon early on, for example, Paul Schmidt in speeches at the BWA Congresses in Berlin (1934) and again in Atlanta (1939). (1)
That is not to say that the generations before did not practice "hatred of the Jews." The Jews throughout Christian history were under severe pressure from Christian churches. The pressure was especially oppressive when churches had aligned themselves with worldly powers which, according to Baptist standards, was wrong. That did not prevent even Baptists from despising Jews. In the long history of anti-Judaism/anti Semitism, the contribution of the Christian church is a constant factor. When anti-Semitism became powerful enough to instigate and organize the Holocaust, the churches were not prepared to resist or help even those Jews who had converted to Christianity.
The guilt of the churches is not only to have been silent, but to have actively contributed to the catastrophe by a century-old tradition of the teaching of contempt of Judaism. The central myth was that with the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish people had lost their role in God's salvation history and that their contribution to history was finished with the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70. Most Christian theologians failed to notice the continued existence of the Jewish people as God's eyeball under His covenant. If their role in salvation history had come to an end, for some it apparently mattered little what happened to them physically. In light of this thinking, it is not surprising that too many Christians have both failed to take note of the importance of the Holocaust and its theological implications and have also not noticed the Jewish "return into history" (Emil Fackenheim) with the establishing of a Jewish state in 1948.
The churches, after having been forty years in the wilderness, as renowned Holocaust scholar Franklin H. Littell (2) has repeatedly pointed out, have begun to reconsider their relationship towards the Jews and to perceive Jews and Jewish life not as antagonisms to their own existence but as necessary parts of their own traditions. As all Christians and Christian churches rely on the Bible--including the Hebrew Scriptures--for their identity, Christians share an important part of their authoritative writings with their Jewish fellow citizens. Christians cannot dismiss holy history as recorded in the First Testament as irrelevant to their faith. If they do, they need to look for other sources to establish their identity. This is a very critical point when churches today speak about their task to inculturate the gospel into their own cultures. To be sure, such contextualization is essential to transmit the gospel to people of various cultures and traditions. The point, however, is that this be not done in such a way as to exclude the stories of the First Testament.
The German experience may serve as a warning. The so-called "Faith Movement German Christians" (DC = Deutsche Christen), wanted to eliminate the "Jewish" Testament and purge the New Testament of Jewish references to obtain a "pure" Christian Bible. Instead of the First Testament, the DC opted for the Germanic religious traditions. Holy history was replaced by an ancient Germanic mythology, and the motivation for doing so was the anti-Semitism that required getting rid of the Jewishness of the Christian faith. The so-called "Confessing Church" that issued the now famous Barmen Confession directed its efforts against the attempt of the DC to infiltrate the church.
Baptist mission work should take the following lesson into account: The contextualization of the gospel is a basic imperative. However, the gospel is never incarnated in a culture without changing the gospel to a considerable degree, if not completely. The gospel must not become a pillar of the prevailing culture. Rather, the followers of Christ are endowed by the Holy Spirit to be engaged in counter-cultural activities. This is of prime importance in all cultures. Asian, African, and some Latin American cultures must be warned not to let their own religious traditions replace God's holy history in his dealings with the people of Israel.
In the West, where the gospel has been misused for centuries to support worldly powers, a fresh attempt needs to be made to present the gospel, and it seems that Baptists could play a central role. Because of their minority status in many Western societies, Baptists have often been advocates of countercultural activities. Thus, in the midst of religious persecutions or mere toleration, Baptists were champions of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, the freedom of the press, and of popular government. One of the early Baptist leaders in Germany, Julius Kobner, stated that there was no natural affiliation between Christianity and aristocracy. Today, countercultural activities are required in areas such as "life" sciences, economic globalization, or environmental and justice issues.
A particular problem comes into focus as one looks further at missions, an area so dear to the hearts of Baptists. Baptists are known and perceive of themselves as "mission people." They claim that they follow the "Great Commission" to evangelize all the world. The question becomes acute whether or not the Great Commission also applies to the Jews. The Southern Baptist Convention, in its 1997 annual meeting, felt compelled to appoint a missionary to the Jews. The Jews were "targeted" (3) as recipients of its missionary efforts. The SBC, therefore, openly engages in Judenmission.
Missionary efforts towards the Jews may be defined as a deliberate and organized attempt on the part of the church to missionize Jews in order for them to be baptized and become members of the church. Judenmission intentionally presupposes that the church of the Gentiles may deny that Jews can live as Jews. To "target" Jews as missionary objects not only disregards Jews as human beings, but assumes that God's covenant with his chosen people has ceased. There may be the case that an individual Jew because of his/her association with Christian friends will accept Jesus as Israel's Messiah, the Christ. The testimony, by life and word of Christians, cannot and must not be denied, of course. This is completely different, however, from a purposeful, organized missionary effort on part of the church to "win" Jews.
Theologically speaking, Judenmission denies:
* that God's covenant with the Jewish people continues (cf. Rom. 9-11); and
* that the Jewish people have a right to live as the chosen people of God by themselves and as "elder brethren" (Pope John Paul II during his visit to the synagogue in Rome) of the church. Instead Judenmission presupposes:
* that God's salvation history with the Jews came to an end with the destruction of the second temple;
* that the church replaced and became heir of Israel;
* that the New Covenant of"grace" superseded the Old Covenant of "legalism";
* that the Church of the Gentiles must missionize all people, including Jews;
* that therefore Jews are on the same level as any heathen or any adherent of a non-Christian religion; and
* that the Jewish people are not the "elder brethren" of the Christian people, but theologically irrelevant.
Baptists and the Contempt of Jews: Kobner
Churches with close ties to worldly powers in particular were actively engaged in the persecution of Jews and in the teaching of contempt of Judaism. Baptists, generally devoid of power, nevertheless could follow other Christians in theologically denouncing Judaism. This may be illustrated by one of the first leaders of the Baptist community in Germany.
The pioneer of Baptists on the European continent, Johann Gerhard Oncken (1800-84), had two companions who are less known but had equal influence in shaping the Baptist community. One was the Baptist leader in Berlin, Gottfried Wilhelm Lehmann (1799-1882), who had converted from the Moravians; the other was Julius Kobner (1806-84), the son of a rabbi from Odense, Denmark. He had been baptized by Oncken in 1836; served as Baptist minister in Hamburg, Barmen, Kopenhagen, and Berlin; published the Baptist hymnal Glaubensstimme der Gemeine des Herrn [Voice of Faith of the Church of the Lord], and was actively engaged in spreading the Baptist message, including the concept of religious liberty. During the revolution in 1848, he published his Manifesto of Free Primitive Christianity to the German People. In this important booklet that appeared a few months after the Communist Manifesto, he persuasively argued for political as well as religious freedom and called on the German people to opt for honesty (Redlichkeit) in public life so that one's position in society was not dependent on one's outward form of religious affiliation without an inner conviction.
Kobner was convinced that Baptist ecclesiology, the concept of the relationship of church and state and the emphasis on the individual's freedom would appeal to the more educated people to whom he tried to address some of his writings. Having said all this to his credit, one is surprised to find that the son of a Jewish rabbi followed the traditional Christian lines of thinking about the Jews. He constructed a (pre-Darby) dispensational view of history, made use of the superseding theory, and showed little concern for Jews and Jewish life of his day. Even though in his plea for religious liberty, he rightly contended that this implied the same rights for "Christians, Jews, Muslims, or whoever lives on the soil of the fatherland," (4) yet for him the Jews had presently no theological significance. Their time would only come at the end of history when they would convert as a nation to the Messiah and be again the covenant people.
To be sure, Kobner's writings were not concerned with Baptist-Jewish relations, but it is noteworthy that Kobner followed a traditional theological bias that, after the formation of the church at Pentecost, the Jews no longer played any part in God's history of salvation until the end-time. It must immediately be added that had Kobner's idea of religious liberty been enacted and put into practice, Jewish life would have become more visible and the process of emancipation would have been immensely promoted. As it was, however, the reactionary elements of society crushed the revolution of 1848, Kobner's Manifesto was pulped, Baptists and Jews as religious minorities were persecuted by the authorities, and the activities of both communities were decisively curbed.
In some cases, Jews were in a better position than Baptists. They had certain privileges of old whereas Baptists as a "new religion" in Germany were totally without fights. Jews in Berlin could build their widely visible synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse whereas Baptists were normally granted permission to build houses of worship only in backyards.
The Baptist Heritage
The Baptist movement, when it first emerged early in the seventeenth century among some English people, had a better start in relation towards the Jews than churches on the continent. This may be illustrated by taking a look at early Baptist confessions that display remarkably little anti-Judaistic language.
The early confessions emphasized the three-fold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king. (5) These titles can only be understood as deriving from Old Testament tradition. The confessions, by assigning these titles to Christ, operated on the basis that in Christ these authoritative offices have found their ultimate fulfillment. Priests are no longer necessary for Christ has given himself as the sacrifice once and for all. Through Moses and the prophets, God declared his will to the people of Israel, but now, in the last days, he has spoken through his promised Prophet and revealed the mystery of salvation to his people. If prophets still function in the church, they stand under the authority of that one Prophet. As Christ was also worshiped as the heavenly King, Baptists were courageous enough to criticize worldly kings for claiming authority in "soul matters." (6) Nowhere, however, do the confessions explicitly use anti-Judaistic language. The commitment to Christ, apparently, does not go hand in glove with polemics against Judaism.
The confessions do reveal an implicit anti-Judaistic tendency which has to do with the traditional Christian view of holy history as being divided into promise (Old Testament) and fulfillment (New Testament). One cannot expect the early Baptists to differ from the tradition at this point. It is, then, particularly noteworthy that John Smyth's Short Confession of Faith of 1609 is an exception even in this regard, for Smyth makes no reference to Israel, Jews, or the "old covenant"; consequently, not one anti-Judaistic sentence can be found in that short declaration of faith. (7)
Thomas Helwys's Short Confession of Faith of 1610 and subsequent Baptist statements are different. In Helwys's confession, the traditional scheme of promise and fulfillment is used to underline the authority of "the only Mediator, King, Priest and Prophet, Lawgiver and Teacher." (8) Priesthood, temple, altar, and sacrifices are no longer necessary. It seems that the antagonism of "law" and "grace," as had been massively expounded by the Lutheran Reformation, made inroads into Helwys's statement. The law of Moses is an "intolerable burden" that has been lifted from the believers by the High Priest of the new covenant. Similarly, the Propositions and Conclusions concerning True Christian Religion (1612-14) state that "the law of commandments in ordinances (Eph. ii.15; Colos. ii.14) which was against us (Deut. xxxi.26)" was canceled by Christ (No. 33). (9)
At the same time, this confession argued that those who partake of the promises of God and are thus made new creatures (Art. 58) are "above the law and scriptures" and yet "can do nothing against the law and scriptures, but rather all [their] doings shall serve to the confirming and establishing of the law (Rom. iii.31)." This means that for the regenerate the law is no longer a "burden," but a protection against "all fleshly libertinism" (Art. 63). The antagonism of law and grace is thus removed and cannot be used as a theological weapon against Jewish reliance on "work righteousness."
This is as far as early Baptist confessions go. No mention is made of the Jews as being responsible for Christ's death on the cross, nor is there any other language that would point to anti-Jewish feelings. It is noteworthy that in the articles that deal with the "last things" Jews again are not mentioned. This is a strong indication that early Baptists did not read the Bible from a distorted "dispensational" point of view which John Nelson Darby (1800-82), the father of modern fundamentalism, introduced.
The new covenant is "everlasting." It, therefore, precedes the covenant with Israel and supersedes it. Such language cannot be understood chronologically, but must be seen as a theological statement that is made to underline the deity of Christ. Christ as the only mediator of the new covenant is the everlasting Son of God and was foreordained by the Father for his three-fold office. The new covenant is consequently "older" than the old covenant with Israel. Likewise, the new covenant supersedes the old covenant. This supersession does not mean a "replacement" of the old covenant, but it suggests that all saints, including those of the "old" covenant, will be gathered together under Christ who will then deliver all into the hands of the Father for him to be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24-28). (10)
The remarkable lack of anti-Jewish sentiments in Baptist confessional writings demands an explanation. From 1290, England had been "free of Jews" as 16,000 Jews were by royal decree of Edward I (1271-1307) driven out of the country. (11) From then on, Jews were denied the right to live in England. Therefore, English society knew nothing about Jews or Jewish life from first-hand experience.
The anti-Jewish pogroms and the anti-Jewish propaganda during the late Middle Ages that so deeply distorted Jewish-Christian relations on the continent were not part of English history. Even literary productions reflect the absence of Jews. Christopher Marlowe's Jew of Malta or Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice are not portrayed in a realistic fashion but represent "types" of Jews as tradition would have it.
In contrast to writers on the continent, their English counterparts could not rely on everyday experiences with real Jews as there were none. Marlowe's Jewish protagonist is called Barabas, a name which reminds readers of the lawbreaker who was released by Pontius Pilate. Barabas speaks of Agamemnon's love of Iphigenie as a model of fatherly love which is a very unlikely comparison for a Jew to make. He also swears "by the beard of the prophet" which indicates that Marlowe could not differentiate between Jews and Muslims. These few examples may serve to indicate that in English society existing anti-Jewish feelings had no basis in real life, but reflected traditional biases.
Things changed in the course of the English revolution. Under Oliver Cromwell, a remarkable development occurred. The Amsterdam Chief Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel took advantage of the revolutionary situation in England and complained in a letter to the Lord Protector that the English, by not allowing Jews in the country, were actually preventing the return of Christ. (12) The Rabbi referred to such verses as Deuteronomy 28:64 or Daniel 12:7 and argued that before Israel's Messiah could come or the Christ of the church could return--both events are presented as identical--Israel would have to be dispersed throughout all nations. The English had through the royal decree of 1290 prevented this event from taking place. Now, however, that the commonwealth had replaced the monarchy, the royal anti-Jewish restrictions imposed by King Edward I should be lifted. The chief rabbi appealed to Cromwell to let Jews enter England to hasten the coming of the Lord.
Cromwell was so impressed by these arguments that the "resettlement" of England by Jews became a reality. Once Jews were settled, anti-Jewish acts broke out in England as had been the case on the continent. Many Baptists embraced the revolutionary ideas of Oliver Cromwell, John Milton, and others and played a significant role in the Army. It cannot be ruled out that they had knowledge of these developments.
Even prior to these events, Old Testament traditions had been more deeply ingrained in some sections of English society than was the case on the continent. People who longed for a more thorough introduction of Reformation principles during the reigns from Henry VIII to James I heavily relied on the Old Testament. One of the outstanding indications is the names of children. In the Roman tradition, children were named after the saint(s) of the day of their birth or baptism. As this was associated with "Catholic" custom and as many of the saints had New Testament names, parents with Protestant sentiments selected Old Testament names for their newborn as a way of silent protest and confession to evangelical or Puritan principles. It is highly likely that Baptists in the Puritan tradition thus acquired a pro-Jewish attitude.
The strict keeping of the Sabbath in Puritan England was another indication for not developing anti-Jewish sentiments. The Book of Sports which allowed certain pastimes to take place on the Sabbath was a very controversial issue between King James I and the Puritans. It proved to be a stumbling block between his successor Henry II as well as his archbishop and was one contributing factor to the beheading of both.
Under Cromwell, Baptists enjoyed the same freedom as was granted to the Jews. The London Confession of 1644 reflected the breaking of a new day when it says (Art. L) that the "tyranny and oppression of the Prelaticall Hierarchy" had been thrown down and that Baptists now were enjoying "some breathing time." As the revolution progressed and the Commonwealth was organized (1650-59), the breathing time lasted only to give way to persecutions again after the monarchy was reestablished. On the continent, neither the "philosemitism" of the time of Cromwell nor the "breathing time" for dissenting groups had been known. Toleration hardly existed, and when emancipation came for the Jews in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Baptists were still under heavy pressure for their dissension or for what was called their "sectarian" religion.
Baptists in seventeenth-century Britain and Baptists in the nineteenth century on the continent had very different experiences and found different cultural conditions vis-a-vis the Jews. Nineteenth-century Baptists everywhere in Europe participated in missions to the Jews. A very effective missionary was Jewish-born pastor Naphtali Rudnitzky, who was born May 4, 1869, in Nikolajev and who devoted his full time to this task under the tutelage of the German Union. He protested against the onslaught by the Nazis and published as early as 1933 opposing Nazi atrocities. (13)
When the Fifth Congress of the Baptist World Alliance met in the summer of 1934 in Berlin, a Commission on Racialism had carefully drafted an important document that undoubtedly caused the Nazi authorities considerable discomfort. In one section, the commission rejected the notion that anti-Semitism was an expression of religion. If that were so, then Baptists as followers of Jesus Christ would have to declare that there is no other faith "for which we have more reverent honour" than that of the Jews. The report unequivocally declared "the long record of ill-usage of Jews on part of professedly Christian nations" as a violation of the teaching of Christ and expressed "to the Jews by word and act the spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord, their Saviour and ours." (14) Even though the last words of this sentence imply that the Gentile church has an obligation to evangelize the Jews, its pro-Jewish sentiment is obvious. This deserves special mention, given that the Nazis were now systematically depriving Jewish citizens of their rights. The German delegates, about half of the 2,400 messengers, voted to approve of the report.
Unfortunately, one must record the total absence of resistance on part of the Baptist congregations in Germany. Fellow Baptists of Jewish birth were asked not to attend church anymore so as not to harm congregational life. The virtue of civil disobedience had never been learned, so almost all German Baptists became bystanders as the catastrophe unfolded.
Paul Schmidt, who became the chief executive officer of the Baptist Union in 1937 and served in that capacity until 1957 made no mention of German guilt in his first postwar report, but took pride that the work of evangelism had been carried out all through the Nazi period. When Stewart Herman, until 1942 chaplain of the U.S. embassy in Berlin, visited Germany in 1945, he reported that "the most alarming thing was that no changes at all--even of heart--were perceptible in the leadership" of the Baptists. (15) Only decades later did it dawn on some people that something had gone terribly wrong.
Largely owing to the work of layman Egon Maschke and his wife Friedegard, an attempt was made to come to terms with the past. Egon and Friedegard Maschke began in 1964 to train young Baptists and others to do service work in Israel. Service in Israel [Dienst in Israel] became an organization in the Baptist Union and has since its inception devoted its energies to working for reconciliation between Israelis and Germans, Christians and Jews. Service in Israel depends on young people between the ages of eighteen and thirty years who volunteer to spend between three months and a year in Israel. They go through a period of intense preparation; are provided with food, lodging, and some pocket money while in Israel; and are expected to work in a kibbutz or in senior citizens' homes and other such institutions. The German government recognizes this time as alternative service instead of the compulsory military service for male conscientious objectors. Eighty young people now participate in this service each year. An annual follow-up program brings together these volunteers so they can share their experiences and find out how to continue the reconciling work.
The organization operates on the basis that a renewed Israel is a sign of God's covenant faithfulness to his people, that it is therefore not the job to convert Jews, and that it is essential for Christians to understand the Jewishness of Christian faith. When nonreligious Jews engage the young people in conversations on religious topics, the Germans are supposed to point their Jewish partners to their religious roots rather than Christianity. In Israel, the organization is known as Hagoshrim, the bridge builders.
During the Gulf War, this organization left its volunteers in Israel whereas all others withdrew. The volunteers and, in some cases, their parents, were asked by the Maschkes, and all agreed that they should stay in Israel. This sign of entire solidarity was highly appreciated by the people whom the young people served and the government of Israel. When the Maschkes retired, they were replaced by Gerhard and Irene Endrass who now conduct this program from an office in Hannover.
When German Baptists in 1984 celebrated 150 years of existence in conjunction with a Congress of the European Baptist Federation in Hamburg, the birthplace of German Baptists, the German Union issued a statement of guilt that had been unanimously approved by the annual convention. "we are filled with shame and grieve," the statement said, "particularly as we think of the persecution and mass-killings of Jews." In 1997, the executive committee suggested the first Sunday of September should be held as "Israel Sunday" in the services of all congregations.
A Baptist-Jewish Dialog?
In view of the negative and sometimes positive Baptist-Jewish history and in view of the Holocaust, the present relationship must be based on other assumptions than Judenmission. As Christians in general, and oftentimes Baptists in particular, follow a sick approach to Judaism, it is now time to pursue a healthy path. Some of the factors that make up a healthier approach should be worked out together so that a major leap in Baptist-Jewish relations would be an official dialog that would have to be organized on a world level through the Baptist World Alliance.
The dialog with Judaism is further necessitated by the notion that all intra-Christian ecumenical dialogs thus far failed to take the Jewish history into account. To put it another way, a Jewish-Baptist dialog would be of prime importance because Christian identity cannot be reached without Judaism as an integral and, in fact, an indispensable part of Christian life and theology. For the self-understanding of the church, God's history with the people of Israel is of essential significance. The church was grafted into the olive tree to share the richness of that tree. The branches do not support the root, but the root supports the branches (Rom. 11:17 f.). The church, therefore, rests on Judaism and not vice versa. At the same time, Judaism cannot be dismissed as a "past" religion that has no significance for the present church.
Some very important issues can be isolated that need to be emphasized or reemphasized in a Baptist view on Judaism:
The Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth.--How far have Christians adjusted Jesus to their own needs and thus have taken him out of his own context? One need not make reference to the so-called "German Christians" who distorted all Christian traditions to prove that Jesus was an Aryan. The process of acculturating him to various contexts has sometimes assumed alarming proportions and has--for the North Atlantic context-created a "mild," "sweet," "blond," "undemanding," "adjusted" Savior. How far have Christian theologians gone methodologically to bring out the "real" Jesus by favorably contrasting him with the allegedly false legalism of Pharisees or other "negative" groups in Judaism? How were controversies in Judaism distorted by Christians from the Gentiles as anti-Jewish weapons?
Jews as well as Christians, in particular Baptists, look to the Scripture for guidance.--The record of God's election and covenant with his people, as handed down to us in the Hebrew Scripture, was readily adopted by Baptists as a portrayal of their own spiritual pilgrimage. In particular, black Baptist churches, in their outstanding way of preaching and their beautiful and rich spirituals, have made wide use of the biblical narrative, particularly the exodus. Baptists are, generally speaking, New Testament people as much as they are Old Testament people ("old," here does not mean obsolete, nor does "new" mean superseding). This has to do both with theology and with their position in society. Baptists, generally speaking, are heirs of the Reformed tradition that much more than Lutheran or Catholic theology devoted itself to the Hebrew Scriptures. This was particularly true in Puritanism of which the Baptist movement may be seen as its left wing.
As a minority religion Baptists read the exodus story and other such accounts with a sense of immediacy to their own situation. A sociological aspect should be added immediately. Many Baptists were not of the educated classes of society but were part of the lower classes. For them, the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures could be told and retold over and over again because they were much more concrete than an abstract theological discussion of, let us say, justification in Paul's letter to the Romans. This seems to be the root of the black Baptist experience: the slaves or the former salves could immediately relate to the experience of the slaves in Egypt. Moses who told "old Pharo" "to let my people go" became their hero more so than Paul. Baptists would need to reemphasize this tradition in the new post-Auschwitz context.
For Baptists the notion of covenant is at the heart of their theology.--Baptists are a covenant people. Many conventions or unions are organized so as to express or reflect the idea of a covenant. What are the commonalities and differences between the two faith communities in their understanding of covenant and what can Baptists learn from the Jewish approach?
In all dialogs, the ultimate goal must be for Baptists to come to an unqualified assent to the survival of Jews as Jews. That is, Baptists must be sensitized not to instrumentalize Jews as objects of missionary efforts or as a people who reveal God's step-by-step acts as brought forth in a dispensationalist reading of Scripture. Baptists throughout the world must be alerted to the everpresent danger of anti-Semitism that is so firmly rooted in the Christian tradition.
Dedicated to James E. Wood, Baptist statesman, untiring champion of liberty for all, scholar, and friend.
(1.) J. H. Rushbrooke, ed., Fifth Baptist World Congress. Berlin, August 4-10, 1934. Official Report (London: Baptist World Alliance, 1934), 63-65. In the English text, the German terms Heilsordnung (order of redemption) and Erhaltungsordnung (natural order) were retained in parentheses. J. H. Rushbrooke, ed., Sixth Baptist World Congress. Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., July 22-28, 1939. Official Report (Atlanta: Baptist World Alliance, 1939), 203-06.
(2.) Cf. his important book The Crucifixion of the Jews. The Failure of Christians to Understand the Jewish Experience (New York: Harper & Row, 1975).
(3.) NATO used the same term to identify objects of its bombing campaign in Serbia.
(4.) Quoted in Erich Geldbach, Freikirchen-Erbe, Gestalt und Wirkung (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1989), 148.
(5.) Cf. A Declaration of Faith of English People, Nr. 9, in William L. Lumpkin, ed., Baptist Confessions of Faith (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1969), 119. The very influential London Confession of 1644 also referred to the three-fold office of Christ; cf. Articles XIII-XX, ibid., 159-62.
(6.) Cf. Article 9, Of Christ's perfect rule: "no Prince, nor anie whosoever, may add to, or diminish from ... ," Lumpkin, 119; or page 146: "That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience.... "
(7.) Lumpkin, 100f.
(8.) Ibid., 105.
(9.) Ibid., 129.
(10.) Propositions, Article 100, Lumpkin, 142.
(11.) Cf. Herbert Schoffier, Abendland und Altes Testament. Untersuchung zur Kulturmorphologie Europas, insbesondere Englands (Bochum-Langendreer, 1937).
(12.) The letter is quoted in Wolfgang Philipp, ed., Des Zeitalter der Aufklarung (Klassiker des Protestantismus Bd. VII), (Bremen: Schunemann Verlag, 1963), 44 f.
(13.) Cf. Ronald Hentschel, "Europaische Judenmission. Naphtali Rudnitzky," Freikirchenforschung 10 (2000): 387-401.
(14.) J. H. Rushbrooke, ed., Berlin Report as ft. 1, p. 41.
(15.) As quoted in Andrea Strubind, Die unfreie Freikirche. Der Bund der Baptistengemeinden im 'Dritten Reich' (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1991), 303.
Erich Geldbach is professor of ecumenical studies, Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, Bochum, Germany.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Baptist History and Heritage|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2003|
|Previous Article:||Christian ecumenism and Judeo-Baptist relations in Savannah, Georgia.|
|Next Article:||Understanding Romans 11:26: Baptist perspectives.|