Messianic Jews: Informal Dialogue

The Experience of the Catholic / Messianic Jewish dialogue

I have been involved for the last 9 years in an informal dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Messianic Jews. I want to share some things from this dialogue as I think it may be helpful both for how the Orthodox Church will relate to the Messianic Jewish movement and for the Messianic Jews at this meeting.

Background

This dialogue has been informal, because it has no official status. Unlike the dialogues between the Catholic Church and the various Christian Churches and traditions, it has not been commissioned by any authorities on either side, and so it has no official “reporting back” function about the meetings and their fruits. However, this dialogue is between the Catholic Church and the Messianic Jews because it is more than a group of Catholics meeting with Messianic Jews in a private capacity. At the beginning, the dialogue was proposed by Fr Georges Cottier, OP, then the theologian to the papal household, and has deliberately involved some Catholic bishops. I am sure that this dialogue and the episcopal participation reflected the desire of Pope John Paul II. More recently, Pope Benedict XVI has told some participants that he wants this dialogue to continue. For the Messianic Jews in the dialogue it has been very important to know that this dialogue although unofficial does engage the Catholic Church in some way. When it was clear that Cardinal Cottier could not continue much longer for age and health reasons, the Messianic Jewish team made clear how important it was that he was replaced by a high-ranking Catholic of comparable standing. So last year, the place of Cardinal Cottier has been taken by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, who is well-known in the Orthodox world.

Toubled Beginnings

Another facet of this dialogue has been the effort to engage Messianic Jews from several nations. At the start in 2000, there were 5 Messianic Jews from Israel and 2 from the USA. Within two years, there were 4 from Israel and 3 from the USA. In 2003, a brother from England joined the Messianic team, and we are joined by the main Messianic leader from Germany as well. We also made deliberate efforts to have the wide spectrum of Messianic Jewish understandings represented. This required both Americans and Israelis, those involved in the charismatic movement (in fact a majority in the Messianic movement) and those not so involved. Initially there were strong divergences between the Americans and the Israelis, with the Americans being more sympathetic to forms of continuity with traditional Judaism and the Israelis being less sympathetic. For the first eight years, we often had to have two Messianic papers, one from USA and one from Israel, to each Catholic paper. There were fierce struggles, particularly between some Israelis and two Americans, so we always had papers to present both sides. In fact, relations were so strained and the divisions among the Messianic Jews were so marked, that I was asked on behalf of the Catholic team to tell the Messianic team that they had to accept each other and to recognize that they were all equally part of the Messianic movement, whether they liked it or not. The Messianic team responded in a very positive manner to this challenge. They decided to meet together a day earlier in the following years, so as to pray and to seek the Lord together before the Catholic team arrived. This change brought dramatic changes so that the following year there was a totally different atmosphere and a real acceptance of each other. The fruit of this was seen last year when for the first time there was one Messianic paper, primarily the work of one American, but to which all contributed and to which all agreed. This development encouraged the Catholic leadership to propose that this Messianic paper be published in a Catholic journal to promote discussion of the issues raised by the Messianic Jews more widely in the Catholic Church.

Part two of this article coming soon…

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