Do you work to proselytize or evangelize Jews into becoming Christians?
This is a loaded question that deserves a careful reply. On the one hand, as Catholics we wish to remain faithful to the Church's mission of evangelization. On the other hand, we also wish to be mindful of the difficult history of Jewish-Christian relations, and be respectful and appreciative of the Jewish faith.
The following response is not a "Catholics for Israel" position on Jewish evangelism, but rather the official position of the Catholic Church according to her authoritative magisterial documents. Let us respond in seven points:
- As Catholics we believe of course that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah that God promised to Israel and to the Jewish people through Moses and the prophets (see Messianic Prophecies*, The Messiah in the Tanakh and Who Do You Say I Am?*):
- Christ’s own mission was directed exclusively to the Jews. He said "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Mt 15:24)
- The proclamation of the early Church was also exclusively directed to the Jews. (cf. Acts 2-4; 7)
- The apostle Paul wrote: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom 1:16)
- Although the Torah is God-given and good, the New Testament and the Church teach that Torah observance is not sufficient for salvation. It is true that those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church but seek God with a sincere heart and try to do His will to the best of their ability can be saved; nonetheless, the fullness of the means of salvation can be found only in Jesus the Messiah and in the Church He founded (CCC 846-47):
- "Nor is there salvation in any other [than Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
- "A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ… for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Gal 2:16)
- "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Gal 2:21)
- "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also." (1 Jn 2:23)
- "The Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door." (CCC 846)
- "Jesus affirms that ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’ Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all." (Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church I. 7, Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 1985)
- The Church teaches, therefore, that it is the obligation of Catholics to witness to the Messiah's offer of forgiveness and salvation to all people - Jews and Gentiles (CCC 849-56). Anything less would be a betrayal of our Lord's will and our own faith. To say that some people do not need Jesus for salvation is simply contrary to the Catholic and Christian faith.
- On the other hand, we are well aware of the troubled history of Jewish-Christian relations. We recognize that Christian missionary endeavors to the Jews were often carried out using inacceptable methods that were disrespectful, coercive and sometimes even violent. Worse, not a few of those who called themselves Christians have persecuted Jews in abominable ways throughout history. The Church today not only condemns such acts of violence against the Jews and humbly asks for forgiveness for the sins of her sons and daughters; she also rejects any efforts at proselytism which do not respect the freedom of conscience and dignity of each person.
- The Church also teaches that "the permanence of Israel (while so many ancient peoples have disappeared without trace) is a historic fact and a sign to be interpreted within God's design... It remains a chosen people, 'the pure olive on which were grafted the branches of the wild olive which are the gentiles'" (Notes 25). Therefore, it would be wrong to wish for the conversion of Jews into Christianity and their assimilation into the Church if this would result in the dissolution of their Jewish identity. The survival of the Jews as a people is a sure sign and witness of God's faithfulness. If Jesus the Messiah is calling them to Himself, and this within the one Catholic Church which He has established, then we should invite and welcome the Jewish people into the Church, yet at the same time we should encourage them to retain and cherish their Jewish identity, heritage, traditions, and observance of Torah.
- In light of these points, we do not actively proselytize and seek to "convert Jews into Christianity." We are faithful to the Church's mission of evangelization by extending an invitation to all people, Jews and Gentiles, to come to a living communion with Yeshua the Messiah and to receive his offer of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. This invitation is extended by the publishing of material on our website presenting the reasons why life in abundance can be found in Yeshua and in His Church. But we do not carry out organized missionary activities or campaigns.
- In summary: YES we believe like all Christians that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of Israel and YES that He is lovingly calling his people, the Jewish people, to himself; but NO, we do not actively engage in proselytism for the sake of "converting Jews to Christianity;" and we tend to view favorably those baptized Jews who wish to continue living an Torah-observant Jewish lifestyle, in imitation of the first Christians who were all Jews and did not see faith in Jesus as a break with their Jewish heritage.