If you’ve followed the past two posts, you now know something about the origins and character of the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism (LCWE). All of that was preparatory for this post. Now it is time to discuss the LCWE’s relationship with the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
A subgroup devoted to Jewish concerns developed with the LCWE. It is now called the Lausanne Committee for Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) The LCJE developed out of a subgroup “Reaching Jews” that was part of the LCWE sponsored Consultation on World Evangelization held in Pattaya, Thailand, 1980. Mission leaders in attendance sought to prolong their fruitful association, giving rise to the creation of a task force, which is now called the Lausnne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.
Speaking of the roots of the LCJE in the LCWE and the relationship between the two, missionary theologian and historian Kai Kjaer-Hansen, for many years International Coordinator of the LCJE, states “Even before LCJE (Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization) existed, LCWE was. . . . LCJE is part of this worldwide evangelistic movement which has the Lausanne Covenant (1974) as its basis. There is no reason to hide that, from time to time, there have been some tensions between LCWE and LCJE.”
By examining events at the Lausanne III (Capetown), we may guess the nature of these tensions, which have much to do with how the LCWE compares to the WCC, and much to do with how the LCWE understands the Church’s role and that of the Jewish people under the missio dei, the mission of God.
Major documents were crafted in connection with each of the Lausanne World Congresses: the Lausanne Covenant (Lausanne I), the Manila Manifesto (Lausanne II), and the Capetown Commitment (Lausanne III).
The Capetown Commitment takes pains to make clear the LCWE perspective on God’s mission and its relationship to the mission of Christians and churches in its Section 10, “We Love the Mission of God.” Here, in keeping with the writings of Christopher J.H. Wright, theologian of the LCWE and heir to the mantle formerly worn by John Stott, the Bible is represented as essentially a missional document: “The whole Bible reveals the mission of God to bring all things in heaven and earth into unity under Christ” and the related paragraph goes on to unpack what that consummational and redemptive unity will look like. In the first subsection of this portion of the Capetown Commitment, the mission of the church is explicitly related to the mission of God: “God calls his people to share his mission.”
But it is the very next sentences that tell us that the Lausanne Movement restricts the God-ordained mission of the Jewish people to a formative stage in the saga of redemption. “The Church from all nations stands in continuity through the Messiah Jesus with God’s people in the Old Testament. With them we have been called through Abraham and commissioned to be a blessing and a light to the nations. With them, we are to be shaped and taught through the law and the prophets to be a community of holiness, compassion and justice in a world of sin and suffering.” The only partnership the Church shares with Israel under the Mission Dei relates to Old Testament Israel. It is clear that this is a supersessionist document.
It would be a mistake to dismissively label this objection a form of ethnic chauvinism. A wide spectrum of theologians and textual scholars join in insisting on the continuing and eschatological role assigned to the seed of Jacob. Not only have the Jews not completed their divinely assigned task; the people of Israel is not nor can it be just like all the other nations.
Yet, a statement prepared by the Theology Working Group in connection with Lausanne III unambiguously positions itself in opposition to such conclusions, making unambiguous the supersessionist stance of the LCWE, demonstrating that when it comes to theologizing about the Jewish people and speaking of the Jewish State, any difference between the LCWE and the WCC is more a matter of style than substance:
The one Church that God has called into being in Christ is drawn from every nation, tribe, people and language, with the result that no single ethnic identity can claim to be ‘God’s chosen people.’ God’s election of Old Testament Israel was for the sake of the eventual creation of this multi-national community of God’s people … We strongly affirm, therefore, that while there are multiple ethnicities within the one church by God’s clear intention, no single ethnic group holds privileged place in God’s economy of salvation or God’s eschatological purpose. Thus, we strongly believe that the separate and privileged place given to the modern Israeli state, in certain forms of dispensationalism or Christian Zionism, should be challenged.
This statement met with vigorous protest from Jewish mission leaders present at Capetown. In a paper delivered at the meeting of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism on Meeting at High Leigh, Hoddesdon, England, on August 8, 2011, Mitch Glaser, Executive Director of Chosen People Ministries, pointed out that this statement cannot be embraced by a wide range of Lausanne delegates who come from churches and denominations that are premillenial, and/or that affirm some aspects of Christian Zionism. Glaser indicates that this is a rather divisive statement, especially for a conference emphasizing a commitment to unity through its study of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
He takes issue with the statement that “no single ethnic group holds a privileged place in God’s economy of salvation or God’s eschatological purpose.” Indicating that perhaps fifty percent or more of those at the Conference would disagree, holding on the basis of Romans 11:29 and other passages of Scripture that the election of the Jewish people stands, and has a God-preserved role in his eschatological purposes.
Glaser takes issue as well with the statement denying any “separate or privileged place given to the modern Israeli state, (as) in certain forms of dispensationalism or Christian Zionism.” While acknowledging that some might take rightful exception to some Israeli policies, Glaser decries the partiality of this statement, since there was no statement at the Conference about terrorism, calling upon perpetrators to repent. There was no statement at or from the Conference protesting the terrorism of certain Palestinian groups or Al Qaeda.
He views the statement of the Theology Working Group to be a clear violation of what has been called “the spirit of Lausanne. He rightly characterizes the statements as sectarian.
In addition, Glaser protested activities on the second day of the conference which focused on Palestine, and avoided calling the Jewish State by name. He points out how these moves “(revealed) a clear agenda that takes up the language and concerns of our Palestinian brothers and leaves Jewish Israelis in the cold.” And that night, a panel discussion was held on the Middle East, with five participants—but no Israeli. As in the case of the WCC, Israel is an inconvenience to those whose supersessionist theologies long ago consigned the Jews to the dustbin of history.
An evening session featured a brief film clip and a conversation between a Palestinian Christian and Messianic Jewish believer on the subject of reconciliation. However, Glaser points out that the brief film included statements that can be seen as “in some ways anti-Jewish as they are a suggestion by the scriptwriter that one of the casues of tension in the Middle East has been the post-Holocaust immigration of missions of Jewish people to what Jewish people around the world view as their rightful homeland.” In other words, the Jews were being portrayed as the problem in the area, unwanted outsiders, troublemakers. An old canard, echoing both in the WCC and the LCWE.
Glaser interprets the roots of these problems in a manner parallel to how I assess what has happened in the WCC: “Essentially, we believe they chose to ‘lend their public support’ to a stronger coalition of Arab believers, minimizing the role of Israel and the Jewish people in the congress. This is unfortunate and yet consistent with the theological statements made by the TWG.” Indeed.
The Theology Working Group is to be commended for having removed this problematic statement from the LCWE website. Still, that matters could be formulated in this matter is a cause for concern to many, and it not as if this theologizing itself has been retracted. Clearly, there is little difference between the WCC and the LCJE in the stance each takes when theologizing about the Jewish people and when speaking of the Jewish state. Although supersessionism, and the Church as the new Israel is not mentioned in the statement of the TWG, supersessionism lurks in the background. I contend that holding to supersessionist presuppositions incapacitates the Church’s theologizing about the Jewish people of today, while uprooting the foundations of a comprehensive, appropriate and even-handed view of the Jewish state.
When the Church thinks of itself as the new Israel, it should come as no surprise that she has great difficulty knowing what to do with the old one. A theology holding to the premise that once elect Israel has now been set aside has difficulty dealing with an Israel front and center.
 Kai Kjaer-Hansen, “What Do We Stand For? A Look at LCJE Statements 1980—2005, a paper presented at the Twenty-Fourth North American LCJE Meeting, San Antonio, Texas, April 16-18, 2007, accessed on line January 23, 2012 at http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Kjaer-hansen+%22what+do+we+stand+for%22&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8