The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which represents nearly a third of the German population and is a federation of 20 Lutheran, Reformed and Protestant churches, has resolved not to attempt any more to convert people of the Jewish faith to Christianity.
The decision came at the end of a four-day synod of the EKD in Magdeburg.
Besides Jewish mission, the synod debated European solidarity and Donald Trump.
After decades of debate about the ethics of continuing to try to convert Jewish people after centuries of antisemitism, the synod agreed that Christians are “not called to show Israel the way to God and his salvation.”
The synod said: “Faithfulness lasts forever” and stated that noone can solve the contradiction between the different confessions of Christians and Jews: “We put God at home,” the synod said.
The delegates argued from the theology of the “permanent election of Israel”.
This is the conviction that God has first made a covenant with the people of Israel but then keeps faith with the Christians.
The historical argument that a Jewish mission is forbidden after the Holocaust was addressed by the synod.
It stated that the confession of “Christian responsibility” in the Nazi holocaust and the genocide of at least six million Jewish people, and the associated rethinking, “have consequences for a Christian testimony against Jews”.
The resolution came as churches – and some political parties – throughout Europe are confronting a resurgence of antisemitism in society.
Only this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “The national church has to own its own history of intolerance and deep-seated anti-Semitism – and we have to own that history.”
The issue is particularly sensitive in Germany at present because of the build-up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
The day chosen for the commemoration, 31 October next year, is the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther is said to have posted his 95 theses denouncing Catholic church abuses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Earlier this year, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands said it “absolutely disagrees” with Luther’s antisemitism, which it described as among the “dark pages” in Lutheran history.
Mark Woods wrote for Christian Today that the charges of antisemitism against Luther are absolutely true. “In his book On the Jews and their Lies, he describes Jews as “venomous beasts, vipers, disgusting scum” and “devils incarnate”.
Luther wrote: “Their private houses must be destroyed and devastated, they could be lodged in stables. Let the magistrates burn their synagogues and let whatever escapes be covered with sand and mud. Let them be forced to work, and if this avails nothing, we will be compelled to expel them like dogs in order not to expose ourselves to incurring divine wrath and eternal damnation from the Jews and their lies.”
In its resolution, the EKD said it had already distanced itself from Luther’s insults against Jews and held that his view of Judaism “is incompatible with the Biblical testimony of God to His people”.
Last year the synod identified the need for further steps of repentance and renewal and this led it to examine its mission to the Jews.
The synod said: “It is clear to us that this topic is linked to questions of identity both for Jews and for Christians, albeit in different ways. For the Christian Church their self-understanding is touched as the Church of Jesus Christ. Jews thus combine a long and painful history of forced conversions and the denial of their identity as a permanently chosen people of God.”
The synod said: “We reaffirm that the election of the Church has not taken the place of the election of the people of Israel. God is faithful to His people.
“When we, as Christians, adhere to the New Covenant, which God has made in Jesus Christ, we also hold fast to the fact that the covenant of God with His people Israel continues unreservedly. The confession of guilt against the Jews and Christian responsibility for the Shoah after 1945 has led to a process of rethinking which also has consequences with regard to the possibility of a Christian testimony against Jews.”
The resolution speaks of respect for the religious independence of Judaism.
“We reaffirm our opposition and resistance to old and new forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism. The coexistence of Christians and Jews is a common journey on the road to responsibility for justice, peace and the preservation of creation.”
The issue is to be reviewed again in three years.
The synod also “expressed its dismay” at the election of Donald Trump, who it said had “advertised with slogans of fear, hatred and the exclusion of whole groups of people” and had mocked democracy and its rules.
In Germany, the synod acknowledged there were hostile attitudes such as anti-Semitism, homophobia and Islamophobia in church communities but there are also “strong factors” of resilience. The synod has commissioned quantitative research to examine these phenomena more closely.