Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Between Prophetic Vision and Politically-Induced Myopia

October was a significant month for the relationship between Israel and the Church.  It began with a relatively low-key event in a hotel in Missouri, and ended with a high-profile gathering of key leaders in the heart of the Church.  Both events managed to generate controversy - the first (in my humble opinion) because of its remarkable prophetic vision, and the second because of the astounding short-sightedness of one of its participants.

Although the two controversies seemed related to two very different issues, I believe that both, in fact, are closely related, and I will tell you why below.

The first event was the conference hosted by the Association of Hebrew Catholics in St Louis from October 1-3.  The second event was the Synod of Bishops of the Middle East that took place in Rome from October 10-24.  I had the privilege of being present at the AHC conference, but I was not in Rome for the synod.

AHC Conference

The AHC conference hosted a variety of speakers from widely different backgrounds.  All found their way to the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church, albeit with a way there unique to each one.  Some were Jews, some were Gentiles.  Some came from agnostic, atheistic or communist backgrounds, others had been raised as religious Jews, while others had previously served the Lord in the Messianic Jewish movement or in other Christian denominations.

Some gave their testimony and shared how they found their way to the Lord and to His Church (Mark & Sue Neugebauer, Mark Drogin, Ken Wilsker).  Others spoke on biblical or theological topics such as the mission of the Jewish people in salvation history and their role in the Church (Roy Schoeman), the salvation of Israel and the Second Coming (Larry Feingold), the biblical reasons why the Church today is based in Rome and not in Jerusalem (Taylor Marshall), or the connection between the Jewish people and Land of Israel today (myself).

Despite the variety of backgrounds, there was a remarkable convergence and unity in the common longing to work towards the reconciliation between Israel and the Church and to overcome centuries of division and separation that were never meant to be (though mysteriously permitted by divine Providence for the sake of a greater purpose).

Perhaps the most remarkable moment of the conference was the showing of the video interview with Archbishop Raymond L. Burke, former archbishop of St Louis, now Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, and recently appointed cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI.  In this fascinating interview, conducted by David Moss, president of the AHC, Archbishop Burke spoke about the continued election of the Jewish people who are baptized and enter the Catholic Church, about the legitimacy for Catholic Jews to continue celebrating their Jewish traditions in the light of Christ within the Church, about the relationship between Old and New Covenants, and about the life of Hebrew Catholics in the Church today.

Most extraordinary was Archbishop Burke's positive disposition towards baptized Jews who wish to continue to observe Jewish traditions and customs in the Church in the light of Christ.  What better sign could there be than this to affirm the fact that the Catholic faith does not represent a break with the Jewish faith but rather is its fulfillment? Archbishop Burke demonstrated remarkable prophetic vision in encouraging the preservation (or restoration) of Jewish identity in the Church as one way to make Jews feel at home while being in full communion with the Body of Messiah.  You may view the complete interview here.

Rather predictably, the conference generated some amount of controversy, apparently ruffling the feathers of the local Jewish community who suspected that the conference had a secret agenda to proselytize Jews. Some of the local media got involved, fanning the flames of the controversy, and all of it was brought to the attention of the Archbishop of St. Louis, Robert J. Carlson.  Although the conference, in fact, had no such hidden agenda and none of the speakers spoke in favor of proselytism, I noticed that there seems to be a fair amount of confusion going around as to the distinction between proselytism (which the Church rejects), and evangelization (which is not only encouraged by the Church but is the reason why She exists).  This, however, is a big topic that deserves a newsletter of its own, and so I will save it for next time.

Synod of Bishops

A week after the end of the AHC conference, the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of the Bishops began in Rome. Intended to deal with pastoral rather than political questions, it touched upon the many problems, challenges, and hopes of the dwindling Christian population of the Middle East. The synodal work proceeded relatively peacefully until the very end, when the synod's final statement condemned the Israeli "occupation" of the Palestinian territories, and Greek Melkite Archbishop Cyris Bustros added that
"we Christians cannot speak of the 'promised land' as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people."
This offensive and heretical denial of the core of Jewish identity of course set off a storm of protests from not only Jewish individuals and organizations around the world, including the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister and Israeli Embassador to the Holy See, but also from many Christians.  Personally, I was quadruply - no, make that quintuply - frustrated by the whole affair.

First, I was irritated by the archbishop's statement, an unsophisticated rehashing of the old heresy of supersessionism (replacement theology), bluntly contradicting the official teachings of the Catholic Church which state that "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues" (Vatican II Declaration Nostra Aetate, echoing Rom 11:28-29).

Second, I was annoyed at the poor reporting in some of the media who confused the bishop's opinion with the official Catholic position. One article, for example, carried the dismaying headline: "Catholic Church: Christ Nullified God's Promises to the Jews".  (After a day of heated email exchanges with the journalist he finally relented and changed 'Catholic Church' to 'Catholic Cleric').

Third, I was vexed by the online comments of many readers who uncritically swallowed the misleading headlines and used them as a pretext to go on rambling about the "spiritual darkness" of Catholicism that (allegedly) made void God's covenant faithfulness to His people.

Fourth, I was aggravated by the tepid and indecisive response that came from the Vatican, limited to a bland clarification from Holy See Press Office director Federico Lombardi who denied that the synod had an anti-Israel bias, and urged the public to stick to the officially promulgated text rather than focus on personal declarations that are not representative of the synod at large.

Fifth, I was exasperated by the attitude of local clergymen here in Jerusalem who lightly brushed aside the matter, showing little or no concern that an archbishop could publicly proclaim with impunity such a distasteful heresy which reflected, as the Jewish representative at the synod Rabbi David Rosen stated, "either shocking ignorance or insubordination in relation to the Catholic Church's teaching on Jews and Judaism."


One cannot help but ask: why is it so hard for the Vatican to clarify a doctrine that is firmly established officially, yet not sufficiently well-known or assimilated by the faithful and common people, and therefore still prone to attacks of this sort?

Consider the result of the controversy: the archbishop got away with murder, gravely undermining the essence of God's covenant faithfulness to His chosen people; advocates of replacement theology wrongly think they are right; anti-Israel political activists are delighted that the Church is "on their side"; Jews are angry; the average Catholic faithful are confused; anti-Catholic fundamentalists are triumphant at yet another (apparent) manifestation of Catholic apostasy; and the Muslims who oppress Christians in the Middle East are satisfied that Catholic clerics will go to any length to avoid saying anything positive towards Israel in order not to offend them. 

I may be exaggerating a bit - but only slightly so.  Concerning the last point: note that none of the Middle Eastern Muslim countries where Christians are severely persecuted (or even massacred) is mentioned by name in the synod's final report.  Only one country is explicitly singled out for criticism and - quite absurdly - it happens to be the one where Christians can practice their religion freely and where the Christian population is actually growing. You guessed it - it's the usual suspect: Israel.

What, then, might be the connection between controversy nr. 1 (the AHC conference) and controversy nr. 2 (the synod), you ask?  Well, both have the effect of blocking the way to salvation of the Jewish people and the reconciliation of Israel and the Church.  The first - by neutralizing the Church's work of evangelization of the Jewish people.  The second - by denying or rejecting their divine election and calling, resulting in their further disillusion with and alienation from the Church.  Both are driven by political correctness: in the first case, by not wanting to offend our Jewish friends by proclaiming the Messiahship of Jesus; in the second, by not wanting to offend the Muslims by showing any affirmation or support of the Jewish people's biblical connection with the land of their forefathers.  In both cases, what begins - perhaps - out of a good intentions ends up causing more damage than good.

Perhaps it is time for new approaches that will be a little less politically correct and a little more bold in affirming both the Gospel message of salvation and the permanent divine election of Israel?

1 comment:

  1. Great and perceptive comments on the ACTUAL teaching of the Church -- which is the ongoing and eternal election of the Jewish people and our link to the Land of Jesus, and on the two conferences, and the wrong-headed controversies, spawned by typically leftist types of political correctness.
    However, neither the article nor the controversies surrounding the conferences, seem to be aware that Qur'an says in 10:91-94 that: "WE, (God) have established for the children of Israel a secure dwelling in the Land of Canaan"
    and further in 44:29-30, that "WE (God) have consciously chosen the children of Israel above and before all peoples".
    So the Muslims have absolutely no Qur'anic basis for their hostility to Jews, Israel, or the Zionist State.
    But as for the Philastinians, many sources proclaim them the main body of the "ten lost tribes of Israel", so they have a right to be on the Land, but only insofar as they return to their primordial Judaism -- but as Hebrew-Catholics, as most, being Muslim now, accept Y'shua as Messiah, tho' Qur'an, true to its Othamnite perversion and suppression of both Old and New Testaments , as well as of itself -- has no notion whatever of what the Messiahship of Y'shua actually entails -- the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Y'shua, His crucifixion and His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, as well as His Headship and continual presence in His Church and in the Eucharist ( which Qur'an calls "the miraculous food of the miraculous table" 5:115-118), while failing to provide any access to that food by its adherents.

    Much of this and more is available in my e-book described at www.awpj.info , entitled:

    "Peace Process in the Holy Land, World Peace and Justice, and the Future Architecture of the Universe: Qur'an Guarantees the Children of Israel's Right to Exist Securely in the Holy Land, (Jonas 10:91-94; Smoke 44:29-30; The Night Journey 17:104) Jesus Christ as Very Incarnate Allah / Eloha / Amita Buddha, the Most Mericful, the Basis of "Tikkun Olam", of the Third Way Between Communism and Capitalism, of the Resurrection of the Dead, and of the "new heavens and new earth"..... 1982-2010 Letters to Judah (Israel) and Ephraim (Philastina, improperly called "palestine" by many)"

    The paper-back would have been published weeks ago, but our publishing tool gives two consecutive page'7's, each with binding on the left side of the page, so it renders askew all subsequent pagination. And we shan't be able to fix that till January or February.

    But the e-book is available already at: www.powells.com under the author: James Jacob or just Jacob, and the press: Peace Works Press James Jacob (a.k.a Thomas Kuna-Jacob)

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