Sad history of anti-Semitism stained Christian church

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By Mervyn Tilley —

Martin Luther



It is shocking to discover that Adolf Hitler justified the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews, including more than a million children, on the back of the teachings of Martin Luther the great reformer.

Luther was quite sympathetic towards the Jews in his early days, but in his later years he was beset by ill health and completely turned against the Jews, becoming extremely vociferous against them.

Asking the question: “What shall we do with this damned rejected race of Jews?” Luther said, “Firstly, their synagogues should be set on fire; secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed; thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer shawls and the Talmud; fourthly, their rabbis under threat of death must be forbidden to teach any more; fifthly, passports and traveling documents should be absolutely forbidden to the Jews; sixthly, they ought to be stopped from charging interest on loans; seventhly, let the strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the axe, the hoe, the distaff and spindle and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses – we ought to drive the rascally last bones out of our system. Therefore, away with them… to sum up dear princes and nobles who have Jews in their domain, if this advice of mine does not suit you then find a better way so that you and we may all be free of this devilish burden of the Jews.”

In fact, the Holocaust was the culmination of almost 2,000 years of relentless anti-Semitism at the hands of the church of Jesus Christ.

What makes this doubly shocking is that Jesus was a Jew, the early church was entirely Jewish, all the apostles were Jews, and the Bible is a thoroughly Jewish book with 65 of the 66 books being written by Jews.

Anti-Semitism began to rear its head not long after the early church age, and from the church’s perspective, the basic reason given to justify the violence is that the Jews crucified Jesus, which constituted the unforgivable sin in their minds. As a result of this, Christians then began to take the view that the church had replaced the Jews, and the church became increasingly Gentile in its make-up.

This situation was not helped when the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, alienating the Jews still further.

BAD THEOLOGY

Quite apart from the fact that Jesus forgave his brethren whilst he hung on the cross – like his ancestor Joseph, who told his brothers “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” – the church made a serious theological error in blaming only the Jews for the death of Jesus. Acts 4:27-28 clearly states that the Gentiles, and even God himself, were implicated in the death of Jesus.

Where God himself is implicated, we must also remember that according to the Scriptures Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the world, long before the Jews even existed.
Despite this, a very spiteful attitude towards the Jews continued to prevail over many centuries and there are some shocking examples of the sort of things they suffered.
Here are just three examples:

Chrysostom was one of the early church fathers and was such an eloquent preacher that he was called ‘the golden tongued’. But that didn’t stop him from demonizing the Jews: “The synagogue is worse than a brothel, it is a den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts, the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults, the refuge of brigands and debauchers and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews, a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ, a house worse than a drinking shop, a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf of abyss and perdition.”

He also said, “As for me, I hate the synagogue. I hate the Jews for the same reason.”

The Roman Catholic Church has a long history of demonizing the Jews, particularly during the Spanish Inquisition which resulted in the deaths of many thousands.

In fact, the Yellow Badge of Shame forced on the Jews during the Holocaust was actually created by the Roman Catholic Church in 1215. The word ‘ghetto’ was first used by the same church when the Jews of Venice were forced to live in one contained area.

The Crusaders, under the banner of the cross, killed many thousands of Jews as they rampaged across Europe. On one occasion in Jerusalem, they herded hundreds of Jews into a synagogue and set fire to it whilst outside they sang the hymn “O Christ we adore thee”.

GREAT DISSERVICE

Today, anti-Semitism is on the rise at an alarming rate all over the world and some of the largest church denominations are fully supporting it, particularly through the so-called BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment project), not least here in the UK.

Considering what the Jews have given us and indeed the world, it is incredibly sad that we have treated them in this way. After all, they gave us our Bibles and our Savior, two of the most precious things we could ever have. And Paul, in his letter to the Romans, highlights in chapters nine to eleven the immense benefits we Gentiles have received as a result of Jewish rejection.

In fact, he says that we should be so grateful that we ought to make the Jews jealous because of what we have in Jesus. Do they deserve it? Of course not. Do we deserve it? Of course not. It has everything to do with the grace and mercy of God.

My prayer is that we, the largely Gentile church, will come to recognize that we have done the Jewish people a great disservice by our vindictive attitude towards them. And the only answer to that is to offer them genuine sorrow and repentance. There is certainly a case to answer.

And we Gentiles should never forget that it was Jewish rejection of Jesus that opened the door of salvation for us. That being said, it was always God’s plan that the Gentiles should be included in his plan of salvation and, in an ideal world, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance wasn’t the best way for it to happen. However, God had anticipated that very scenario long in advance.

We also need to take on board the words of Paul in Romans 11:28-29: “As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are beloved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

If God has not finished with Israel and the Jews, who are we to say otherwise?

God help us acknowledge the debt we owe to God’s ancient people and take steps to right the wrongs of history.

 

Mervyn Tilley

With grateful thanks to New Life Publishing for permission to re-print this article.

Retired Elim minister Mervyn Tilley has visited Israel more than 100 times, leading tours on 40 occasions. On his 100th visit, he was honored by the nation’s Ministry of Tourism.

Recommended for further reading: ‘Our hands are stained with blood’ by Michael Brown.