Austrian Church Hosts Week of Reconciliation
Autumn, 1995

One of the moves of the Holy Spirit that is bearing fruit in the church today is a growing sense of Christian responsibility for reconciliation with the Jewish people. The historical church at best has neglected its Biblical mandate to stand with the Jewish people against their persecutors, and at worst it has been in the forefront of the systematic and unrelenting hatred that has targeted the Jews for violence and murder. This was particularly true in the Holocaust. On the one hand, those who organized and carried out the atrocities that resulted in the death of six million Jews (one million of them children) claimed to be Christians. On the other hand, most of the church was silent in the face of the growing reports of history's greatest atrocity. All the while, governments of the Christian West maintained a quiet conspiracy of denial, preferring to allow Jewish men, women, and children to perish in the gas chambers and crematoria rather than permit their immigration (which was perceived as a threat to economic stability).

The conspiracy of silence in the church is changing in many places. Reports that individuals and churches are taking personal and corporate responsibility for the church's historical role are increasing. A call is going forth for the church to affirm and support Israel and the international Jewish community, thereby fulfilling its Biblical mandate.

A wonderful example of this kind of reconciliation was manifest in May of this year in Wiener Neustadt, Austria. Ichthys, a local congregation, hosted a week of reconciliation. From around the world, forty-three Jewish guests and relatives were returned at church expense to the Austrian town from which they had been driven by the Nazis more than fifty years ago.

The plan was conceived some two years ago in a prayer meeting where members of the congregation asked God to reveal to them the reason for the apparent spiritual blight in the city. Through a series of events church leaders discovered that Wiener Neustadt had been notorious for persecuting the Jewish people for over five hundred years, climaxing with the Holocaust.

The church was convicted by the Holy Spirit that confession, face to face, of the sins of their nation against the Jews was essential to changing the spiritual climate of the city. Letters were sent all over the world to Jews from Wiener Neustadt, confessing the guilt of Austrian Christians in the persecution that the Jews had suffered and inviting them to return at the church's expense for a week of reconciliation.

The church operated under the scriptural banners of Isaiah 12:4,6: "Give thank of the Lord, make known His deeds among the peoples... shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel, " and 2 Corinthians 5:9: "God has committed to us the word of reconciliation."

The week included receptions for the holocaust survivors with the mayor and various representatives of the church and government. One of the highlights of the week was the day that the Jewish guests spent with the church, a day in which the Christians confessed their guilt and expressed the bond that they felt with the Jewish people.

Another highlight for the Christians and the Jews was the Sabbath service that the Holocaust survivors celebrated in the presence of the church congregation on a historic site in Wiener Neustadt. The Shabbat, led by the son of the last chief rabbi of Wiener Neustadt, was certainly historic, for such a service, with Christians and Jews, had never been conducted in the eight hundred years of the city's history.

It was reported that "throughout the week both Jews and Christians felt an overwhelming sense of the love of God that had brought them together." "God was calling the Christian community to be channels through which to pour out His love as a healing balm on the wounds of the past and to echo His words from Isaiah 40: 'Comfort, comfort my people, says your God, ".

A residual benefit of this reconciliation was that missionaries carried the news of reconciliation, along with information for promoting similar efforts, to some twenty nations around the world.


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