The Bloody Trail of “Christian” Anti-Semitism
THIRD IN A SERIES
One of my early mentors, Ernie Reisinger, loved to read and study the writings of the old-school theologians, and also the theological treatises and polemical writings from church history. However, he was always careful to remind me to “call no man master,” meaning the Word of God is our final authority, not any theologian, no matter how sound and articulate he is. Another gentle admonition was in the same vein: “The best of men are but men at best.” Martin Luther is an example of that.
Toward the end of his life, Luther wrote some of the most hateful and utterly nasty things about the Jewish people. His words are bristling with hostility and a mean spirit. Am I being harsh? You judge for yourself.
Three years before his death in 1546, Luther wrote a 65,000-word treatise titled “On the Jews and Their Lies.” He describes Jews as a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” He wrote that they are “full of the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.”
In the treatise, Luther advises Christians to carry out seven remedial actions: (1) Burn down Jewish synagogues and schools; (2) refuse to let Jews own houses among Christians; (3) confiscate Jewish religious writings; (4) forbid rabbis from preaching; (5) offer no protection to Jews who are traveling; (6) for usury to be prohibited and for all Jews’ silver and gold to be removed, put aside for safekeeping, and given back to Jews who truly convert to Christianity; (7) to give young strong Jews flail [a threshing tool], axe, spade and spindle, and let them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow.
During WWII, copies of this book were commonly seen at Nazi rallies. Some believe Luther’s writings at the end of his life fueled the Holocaust.
Anti-Jewish Animosity in the Early Church
It was relatively easy for some in the early church to develop an increasing hostility against the synagogue and its Jewish worshippers. Several developments were viewed by church leaders as indicating that God was done with Israel. Jewish revolts against Rome in which Jews were savagely beaten by Gentile armies were indications to many that God had turned from His chosen people and was establishing “the new Israel,” i.e., “the church.”
In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, written perhaps around AD 150, Justin argues his case against Trypho by stating that the Jews are getting just what they deserve, “for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him, and now you reject those who hope in Him.”
Many others promoted the view that God had rejected Israel because of Israel’s rejection of Christ. In the third century, Origen wrote: “And these calamities they [the Jewish people] have suffered, because they were a most wicked nation, which, although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished so severely for none, as for those that were committed against our Jesus.”
Animosity in Rabbinic Judaism
There were several factors that produced a growing division between Jew and Christian. For one thing, the Lord Jesus Christ did not meet the expectations of the Jewish masses who were looking for a different kind of Messiah than Jesus presented Himself to be. In John 6:15, the people wanted to make Jesus king by force, but He fled.
Secondly, the success of the church in reaching both Jews and Gentiles and bringing them together caused dismay in the Jewish religious establishment. Because the Apostle Paul championed the cause of Gentile freedom from circumcision and Jewish holy days, the door had been opened for the formation of a new and distinct religious community. Devout Jews were finding it increasingly difficult to live in peace with those who believed that they had no obligation to observe the ritual requirements in which many Jews put great stock.
Thirdly, Jewish Christians refused to take part in the two Jewish revolts against Rome (AD 66–73 and 132–135). This led Jewish nationalists to look upon Christians with disdain. Christians were viewed as having no allegiance to the Jewish nation. Consequently, following the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70, “a new Judaism emerged. Rabbinic Judaism, as it came to be called, was a separate religion and considered all Jewish Christians personae non gratae in relation to the synagogue” (Marvin Wilson, Our Father Abraham, p. 93). What had begun as a dispute within the company of believers now became a permanent breach between two opposing religious groups, Jews and Christians. It was in this context that a “new Israel,” devoid of any connection with the Israel of the Bible, began to take shape.
The Post-Reformation Era
Churches and denominations claiming to be rooted in the theology of the Magisterial Reformation (the reformation of the church is to be carried out with the help of the magistracy, the civil government) naturally promote replacement theology. They are simply trying to be true to their religious heritage, and the reformers were generally in the replacement camp. This is certainly true of historic Presbyterianism and Lutheranism. Luther, Calvin, Knox, and the other reformers did not see a place for Israel in God’s plans, nor did they acknowledge that such a place existed.
“To date,” writes Thomas Ice, “I have not been able to find any reformers who supported the restoration of the Jews back to their land in Israel” (Thomas Ice, “Lovers of Zion: A History of Christian Zionism,” a paper presented at the Pre-Trib Study Group, Dallas, Texas, Dec. 6–8, 2004, p. 4).
With the coming of John Nelson Darby and C. I. Scofield, however, prophetic conferences began to teach premillennial eschatology. Doctrines like the Pre-Trib Rapture and the restoration of Israel began to impact churches and communities. The stage was being set for a coming clash of prophetic theologies that continues into the present, a clash between futurism and preterism.
Counting the Cost
I consider myself a “Christian Zionist,” and by that term, I mean that I am a born-again believer in Christ who believes that God has given Israel a land by unconditional covenant. For some, however, “Christian Zionist” means far more than I, and others who use the term, mean.
Palestinian Christianity. “Palestinian Christianity” is a growing movement that has a number of advocates and organizations. It is strongly opposed to Zionism and what it calls “Israeli occupation of indigenous Palestinian lands.”
Dr. Stephen R. Sizer, a priest in the Church of England who has been banned from serving as a priest until 2030, is known for his opposition to Christian Zionism, which is the basis of his 2004 Ph.D. dissertation. In 2012, The Board of Deputies of British Jews lodged a complaint against Sizer with the Church of England, alleging that he had made anti-Semitic statements and published links to anti-Semitic websites. Although he did not admit culpability, at a conciliation meeting in 2013, Sizer agreed to have his online web usage monitored.
Sizer says he is convinced that: (1) God does not bless those who bless Israel; (2) the Jewish people are no longer God’s chosen people; (3) the land of Israel was not given exclusively to the Jewish people; (4) Jerusalem is not the exclusive, eternal, undivided capital of Israel; and (5) the Jewish temple must be rebuilt before Jesus returns.
Sizer also said: “There are certainly churches in Israel/Palestine that side with the occupation [by the Israelis], that side with Zionism. One of my burdens is to challenge them theologically and show that they’ve repudiated Jesus, they’ve repudiated the Bible, and they are an abomination” (Michael L. Brown, Christian Antisemitism, p. 96).
Kairos Palestine is an organization primarily known for its issuance in December 2009 of the Kairos Palestine document, “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope, and Love From the Heart of Palestinian Suffering.” Kairos is a Greek word that means “a decisive moment.” The document claims that the Israeli occupation is a “sin against God,” and argues that any theology that tolerates it cannot be Christian “because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed, a call to justice and equality among peoples.”
A solution satisfactory to all parties appears virtually impossible to reach. The continual barrage of rockets from the Palestinians adds nothing constructive, nor does the involvement of organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran and its steady supply of munitions.
Indeed, the words of Psalm 122:6 provide a fundamental responsibility for all Christians: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”