Missions To The Jews

Except under Hadrian, the Jews in the Roman Empire down to the reign of Constantine retained their position as a tolerated cult and were therefore more favorably placed than the Christians. Much the same was true in the East under the Parthian and Sassanid dynasties. Hence the Church tended to be on the defensive against the Synagogue, except for efforts by Hebrew Christians, of which we know little. The only surviving evidence from this period of a genuine attempt to reach the Jews is Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho. Once Christianity had triumphed in the Roman Empire the only methods of dealing with Jews known to most in authority were discrimination, persecution, and sometimes forced baptism. During the Reformation and Counter-Reformation some little interest was shown by the Church in the conversion of the Jews, but not until the Moravians (1738) and Pietists did it become important. The work of Ezra Edzard (1629-1708), J.H. Callenberg (1694-1760) and A.H. Franke (1663-1723) led to the founding of the Institutum Judaicum at Halle in 1728.

A new era began when J.S.C.F. Frey (1771-1851), a Hebrew Christian from Germany, came to London. His work led to the founding of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (later Church Missions to Jews, now The Church's Ministry among the Jews) in 1809 as an interdenominational society. Christian opinion was not yet prepared for such an experiment, and it soon had to be reformed as a purely Anglican one. In 1842 Free Church supporters of Jewish missions founded the British Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (British Jews' Society, now International Jews' Society).

The first acceptance of responsibility by a church as such was in 1840 by the Church of Scotland, and its example was followed by the Presbyterian Church of Ireland the following year. Beginning with Norway in 1844, the new concern spread to Scandinavia and Finland and gradually to all the main Protestant churches of Europe, though in varying degree. Especially important was the founding in 1886 of the Institutum Judaicum Delitzschianum in Leipzig by F. J. Delitzsch.* This provided the necessary intellectual tools for the missionary and apologist. The Swedes set up a similar institute in Jerusalem in 1951. In the Roman Church the most important development was the founding of the Sisters of Zion by Father Marie Ratisbonne, a Jew converted in 1842 by a vision.

A second generation of missionary societies came into existence in the second half of the century, largely as an answer to the westward surge of E European Jews. England gave the lead, most of the societies being nondenominational. The most important were the Mildmay Mission to the Jews (1876), the Barbican Mission to the Jews (1889, Anglican in leadership), and the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel (1893). In America most missionary work was purely local in its nature, but in 1894 Leopold Cohn founded the American Board of Missions to the Jews, interdenominational and fundamentalist in nature, which has grown to be the largest Jewish mission in the world, both in resources and missionaries. The only other mission of this kind that needs to be named is The Friends of Israel (1938). Many of the larger denominations support some form of missionary activity, normally depending on local response; the Southern Baptists are the only one active outside America.

The International Missionary Council* had from the first envisaged including Jewish missions in its scope, but it was not able to set up its Committee on the Christian Approach to the Jew (IMCCAJ) until after its Jerusalem meeting (1928), and it was scarcely functioning before the Nazi holocaust changed the whole position of Jewry. Its chief contribution was its insistence on the “Parish approach,” i.e., in most countries the emergence of the Jew into the mainstream of life placed responsibility for Christian witness on the local church.

The effect of the holocaust on both Jews and Christians and of the coming into being of Israel led to an increasing stress on dialogue, which Vatican Council II declared to be the policy of the Roman Church. With the entry of IMC into the framework of the World Council of Churches, IMCCAJ became the Committee on the Church and the Jewish People (CCJP), and its main purpose has become the furthering of dialogue. In turn this has meant that active missionary work among Jews is being increasingly confined to conservative evangelical circles, which have all along been its mainstay. The list of converts is in every way an imposing one, but above all missions have succeeded in making Jesus a reality to His people.

R. Allen, Arnold Frank of Hamburg (n.d.); J. Wilkinson, Israel My Glory (1894, 1921); W.T. Gidney, The History of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews from 1809 to 1908 (1908); D. McDougall, In Search of Israel: A Chronicle of the Jewish Mission of the Church of Scotland (1941); G.H. Stevens, “Go, Tell My Brethren”: A Short Popular History of Church Missions to Jews (1809-1959) (1959).