Thursday, 4 August 2011

Luther, Antisemitism and Scripture

Martin Luther's attitude to Judaism is addressed in a recent Jerusalem Post blog by David Turner.  The Reformer's polemic is undeniably stomach-churning.  How could a man who began by taking an enlightened and appreciative approach toward Jews (in That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew, 1523) end up writing crude material, railing against "the embittered, venomous, blind heart of the Jews," polemic that would be used to justify the 'final solution' four hundred years later?
[Luther] originally sought to attract the Jews toward conversion by presenting a more humane and accepting alternative to the Church’s anti-Judaism... Luther believed that the Jewish condition, their debased survival, was the result of persecution by the Church. He believed that freed of the burden of the Church they would welcome conversion to his “reformist” Christianity. His failure to attract converts produced an emotional reaction similar to that of Paul, fifteen centuries earlier. 
And what a reaction.  Disturbingly, he grounded his vitriol solidly in scripture.
But he also gives sources for his charges: Paul, for “Jews as blind” regarding Jesus; John, for identifying the Jews with Satan; and Matthew, for charging them, and justifying their punishment as deicides.
The question that few seem to want to address is whether the New Testament is inherently antisemitic.  Antipathy to Jews has been the church's constant companion since the parting of the ways; pogroms, crusades and inquisitions viciously targeted Jews long before the Reformation.  John's gospel has always been particularly problematic, and it isn't surprising to find that Luther drew more heavily on it than any other.
Therefore John's gospel is the one, fine, true, and chief gospel, and is far, far to be preferred to the other three and placed high above them. (NT Preface)
In fact, Louis Ruprecht maintains: "Luther argues against the Jews precisely as John's Jesus did.  They possessed the scriptures that anticipated Christ's coming, they saw him face to face, and they were given the chance to believe in him.  Their failure to do so invited their complete rejection and abandonment by God... Jews became, in Luther's later years, symbolic of everyone who had been given the chance to accept the evangel and then rejected it.  This is precisely how John saw the Jews..." (Ruprecht, This Tragic Gospel, 166-167.)

Isn't maintaining that the New Testament is "merely" anti-Judaic to strain at gnats; the distinction is barely relevant in light of the way it has been read down the centuries until some seventy years ago.  Is it acceptable to simply interpret the problem away with a little exegetical flourish?  Is it enough to plead that these passages are regrettable "wartime literature" from a time the church was trying to distance itself from the Jewish rebellion?  What comfort is there in maintaining that the New Testament writers were largely ethnic Jews themselves, and that the polemic was a misunderstood 'in-house' spat?

One of my more 'evangelical' lecturers a few years ago asked the question - and it was meant to be a rhetorical one eliciting a knee-jerk 'nay' - whether the Holy Spirit could possibly let the church be misled on a significant matter.  He was referring to doctrinal development.  It was an incredibly weak argument in that context, and seems even weaker if it's redirected at the portrayal of Jews and Judaism in the New Testament.  Is anti-Judaism part of a 'take it or leave it' package deal along with the 'love chapter' and the beatitudes?  Can we "twink it out" without doing irreparable damage to the whole?

Uncomfortable questions deserve honest answers too, not just apologetic waffle.

Or is it ethical to just ignore the issue, as most of us do, read our Bibles selectively, and hope that the problem will just fade away?

15 comments:

  1. You're so right, Gavin. This is also an issue I deal with on my Danish blog Kristendommens Mangler [Missing Dimensions in Christianity] - and I have also created a blog entitled "Judaica - Judaism - Fighting Against Antisemitism".

    The first blog is focused on dealing with all elements relating to xtianity whereas the latter is focusing directly on subjects from a pro-Jewish perspective.

    I have said exactly the same, and therefore applaud you also speak out on this issue. In Denmark it has become a very xenofobic atmosphere where people condemn one another from all sorts of perspectives. The church (lutheran) is silent on this matter in this country because they don't have the guts to speak out FOR Israel, but against the members who harbor what most would agree were less than positive sentiments against other people.

    Let's face it: we are all equally created in the image of God, and beliefs (religions, doctrines etc) are a personal issue. We SHOULD be able to relate to one another even if we don't agree on every single iota of either the Law, co-existence etc.

    In fact, co-existing would be much easier if everyone realized just how much xtianity drew AWAY from both principle and intention of law into a pick-and-choose much like some drive-in at the local burger joint. :-)

    Thanks for mentioning Luther. He was indeed the precursor of attitudes that caused the world's biggest tragedy, the Holocaust.

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  2. One of the natural propensities of human nature seems to be to lift words from context, to attach either more weight than they deserve, or the wrong kind of weight. As an example, we watched Armstrongism choose "Let the dead bury the dead" as an all purpose paradigm for dealing with people who were not part of WCG, rather than the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    John's comments are tempered by Paul's passion for the Jews, his own people. If we take the Bible at face value, it could be argued that the Jews of Jesus' time fully deserved some chastisement. However, that chastisement should never have been used as justification for persecuting Jews, or for the genocide perpetrated in the holocaust by a mad man, and a nation which temporarily lost its sanity.

    Although Jesus said that He laid down his life willingly, indicating that neither the Jews nor the Romans should be exclusively singled out for blame or persecution, history seems to have held the Jews responsible in ways that the Romans were not. This is probably due to the massive conversion of Romans to Christianity, although some have indicated that Hitler himself both had Jewish blood in him, and was Christian.

    I hate genocide, and all massive cruelty. However, the holocaust did galvanize world opinion, leading to the rebirth of Israel, an event which only certain Arabs would see as having been inherently bad.

    Books have been written demonstrating that since 1948, blessings have been bestowed upon nations when they do something to aid or benefit Israel, and calamities have hit nations when they act in enmity to Israel.

    History is what it is. However, to me, if nothing else, the Jewish people provide another proof of God's existence. Their presence and brilliance in every field has been extremely well documented. And, I'm a skeptic, not a Judeophile.

    BB

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  3. Truth be known, by the time the first Jewish war was over, the gentile Xians were frustrated by not having been able to convert the Jews. Especially frustrating was the Jews leaving the Pauline churches because of the false prophecy that Jesus would return in that generation and Paul's teachings that were against the law of Moses.

    The original Jews of the church had left off the Pauline teachings against the law of Moses and gone over to "James" and became known as the Ebionites. That is, what few there were left that still considered themselves Xian.

    The hatred for the Jews can be seen in everything written by Xians beyond the authentic 7 letters of Paul. That's why 1 Thess. 2:14-16 is considered by many scholars to be an interpolation after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD when "the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost".

    Or, as the NET says, "but wrath has come upon them completely" (v.16b)

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  4. A German -- racist?

    What a shock!

    What's with that?!?

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  5. As for Christian churches being unwilling to address the anti-Semitism inherent in their "Christ-killers" rhetoric, one Grace Communion International pastor has actually decided to tackle the subject, for his master's thesis.

    Obviously, I agree more with the bulk of the paper, and disagree with Mr. Redmond's rather weak conclusions, personally. But this, combined with the Ottawa and Edmonton pastors giving sermons along the same lines, suggests that there is at least one "denomination" that is willing to address the issue.

    In Canada, at any rate.

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  6. As for the comments vis a vis "Israel" and "the Jews" please be aware, there is a very distinct separation between the State of Israel, and the Jewish religion.

    Now. Before BB "congratulates" me, as he did once before, "on becoming a Jew," let me advise all and sundry that this was originally brought to my attention, by way of the Friends (Quakers) who are involved in this issue, at the grassroots level.

    It might also be helpful to read the quite shocking book, Holocaust Victims Accuse, which makes the very clear case for why the State of Israel, has no relation to Rabbinical Judaism at all, at least in the opinion of more than a few Rabbinical Jews.

    Short summary of the opinion stated in the book: Zionist organizations were actually responsible for the ghettoization and blockading of Red Cross humanitarian supplies and food, to Jewish citizens of the European nations who were experiencing genocide during WWII.

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  7. For the record, over the majority of my life, I have admired the Jews. I don't believe that being a New Covenant Christian causes hatred of Jews, or singles Jews out as "Christkillers" (we all are responsible for that). I do believe that most of the Torah's 613 laws were intended specifically for Israelites in Old Covenant times, and have been superceded by a much better covenant which concerns itself more with the tranformation of the human heart rather than with a legalistic ritualism which can be practiced without impact on the heart.

    BB

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  8. Byker Bob > I remember the article written in The Good News on the subject of the killing of Christ - and that article could have been very useful for those christians who do claim it was the Jews who killed Jesus.

    On the other hand, one good article can't vouch for the rest of the content of Armstrongism, but I am willing to pay credit where credit is due. :-)

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  9. "I do believe that most of the Torah's 613 laws were intended specifically for Israelites in Old Covenant times, and have been superceded by a much better covenant which concerns itself more with the tranformation of the human heart"

    And, Bob, if you were to attend services with the Church in Canada, you would be perfectly, 100% entitled to believe that.

    Here's the catch. You would not be allowed to insist that anyone else besides you believe that. Far cry from 1994, wouldn't you agree?

    Obviously, I believe there is, always has been, and always will be, one covenant -- but "the 613 laws" come from Maimonides, Bob, not "the Old Testament." In fact, it was that very Rabbinical Judaism (Pharisaism) that a certain first-century itinerant preacher of both our acquaintances, actively preached against. Not because they preached "the old covenant" and because "God is never-changing, always and forever...except NOW this once yuk yuk" but because "the 613 laws" added to the Torah. There were a fair number of sects in first-century Jerusalem which disagreed with the Pharisaic Rabbis for the very same reason; these include the Karaites, and the Samaritans.

    Something to consider, at least, when making blanket statements about "the Christians" or "the Jews." Neither are a 100% unified, centralized religion, even though professing Christianity and Rabbinical Judaism would both like the world to believe that they are.

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  10. My research has led me to diffent conclusions, Velvet. I, too, am informed by Maimonides. I'm also aware of added Pharisaical dos and don'ts which largely were added during the intertestamental period, preceding Herod's Temple. And, since our church has been reading the Bible cover to cover this year, in January and February I re-aquainted myself with the laws of the Torah, raw and unfiltered by other thinkers.

    I've also been considering what you have been sharing about the Canadian version of GCI. Seems that you are currently enjoying a honeymoon situation with them, and honeymoons are always quite exciting. It is my belief that since GCI has acknowledged the Trinity, and knows the role and function of God the Holy Spirit, they are in a much better position than was old school WCG to analyze Old Covenant Law and New Covenant grace, prophecy, and other key areas in which WCG was clearly in error. They hopefully are aware that God's government is from the bottom-up, transforming one individual Christian heart at a time.

    However, because Armstrongism has a very blighted history in terms of looking out for the best interests of members, I do not trust them as spiritual guides. I believe they could probably adequately fill the role of "halfway house" for people who are in transitional stages of growth, but eventually their limitations will become very obvious.

    I guess we'll just have to see what happens in time. I'm eagerly looking forward to your sharing over the coming months and years! I just love the fact that you are no longer alienated from God!

    BB

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  11. "It is my belief that since GCI has acknowledged the Trinity, and knows the role and function of God the Holy Spirit,"

    The Church in Canada also acknowledges that regarding this (orthodox) teaching as "the only true truth" is just as much of an error, as it was to regard our old traditions and teachings as "the only true truth." Obviously, that's where the Church and I diverge, theologically, but diverging from the exact views stated by the Church is no longer as much of an offence, as it used to be.

    So, yes, you will hear ministers in GCI who use the same term you have, Bob; you will also find ministers in GCI who refer to "the Power of the Holy Spirit." And both are perfectly acceptable, as are members who hold to the old teachings, perfectly acceptable.

    Thing is, they are no longer so insistent upon "the right words" or "doing (or not doing, in our case) the right things" as they were during the early days of the changes.

    "...they are in a much better position than was old school WCG to analyze Old Covenant Law and New Covenant grace, prophecy, and other key areas in which WCG was clearly in error."

    They appear to be moving even beyond that, Bob, and coming back around to a more well-rounded view, of the areas where the Church was actually right...areas which, I note, mainline "liberal" professing Christian denominations and sects are only now waking up to, seven and a half decades after the Church began teaching those very same truths. The Church in Canada is once again teaching from the Old Testament, and expounding upon various areas of the Bible, as viewed through the lens of the context of the time and the society in which those texts were written. Hardly something you'll find in the NAE "Statement of Faith!"

    "However, because Armstrongism has a very blighted history in terms of looking out for the best interests of members, I do not trust them as spiritual guides."

    Perhaps that is the case for the American leaders of the Church (perhaps it always has been); I did not have that experience at all, growing up in the Canadian Church.

    As for "spiritual guides" --- the Church has always taught (and continues to teach) that there is one Guide we all must rely on; they are starting to teach, again, a version of the idea that only God can call people back to the truth (they say "reconcile," "reconciled," and "reconciling" instead of "call," "called," and "calling," these days, but in practice, it means exactly the same thing). They are teaching, again, that needless "evangelism" is only going to drive people away, since it is only God who draws people to the truth. A lesson they learned the hard way, no?

    That is the theory. In practice, I have found this to be the case, as well. I have yet to be "evangelized" or given the "Are you saved by Jesus?" inquisition that was so popular, between 1994 and 1996. Other than a scattered member or two (hardly the majority) making a passing minor reference that they hold to the new teachings, there is none of that self-centred "brag-a-mony" lunacy in the Church that one tends to find, amongst the rabidly professing Christians.

    "I just love the fact that you are no longer alienated from God!"

    Can't eat your cake, and have it too, Bob; on the one hand you claim I have "returned to Armstrongism," yet on the other hand you rejoice that I am "no longer alienated from God." I take it you do not mean that I am no longer alienated from Christ, who is the head of the Church, as you call that Church "Armstrongism" -- yet that is the very God who has guided my feet along the path, every step of the way...including when I was an atheist, in order to spare me from falling prey to the very false gospel that belongs to the god of this world.

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  12. Well, just keep sharing. I'm anxious to learn more. I've also been watching the UCG situation, as it appears that they have been moving in a more mainstream direction. It is very possible that God is answering the prayers of sincere individuals within these groups, and some of our own, and turning what has largely been a Pinocchio church into a real live body of Christ. That's what God does. He answers prayers and reconciles.

    This is just a personal curiosity on my part, and there is no need to answer if you're not comfortable. Have you been baptized? This is something I wrestled with myself, the possibility or need of being rebaptized. NT Wright was able to help me out on that one, though, when he explained that while a person can go prodigal from his relationship with God, and Jesus Christ, an individual cannot become "unbaptized". In recalling the sincerity surrounding my original WCG baptism, I decided that rebaptism was not necessary. Forgiveness, and rededication, yes, but rebaptism, no.

    Unfortunately, it's human nature for people to put people who go through sudden spiritual changes on a kind of probation. That has happened to a number of us over the past several years. Sometimes that can be both painful and confusing. Some of my original fellow atheists and agnostics who are now Christian have actually left the internet. It'd be nice if they'd pop in to share once in a while!

    BB

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  13. "Have you been baptized?"

    No, I haven't, actually. I was too young to seriously counsel for baptism before the changes, and there was so much upheaval after them, and with my family falling away, I never was baptized.

    I did request counselling for baptism, long before the changes, when I was much younger, but the pastor at the time rightfully sussed out that I was much too young for that, at that time, or at least that's what I thought he was thinking. (Should I happen to run into him again, I must ask, I suppose.) For whatever reason, God did not want me baptized, and has not provided me with any clear indications, so far, that I am to be baptized, in this life.

    The Americans, with the advent of their infant-sprinkling-Original-Sin-motif, are quite derogatory towards baptism, but at least one congregation in this province still baptizes adults, properly. Make of that what you will.

    "...the possibility or need of being rebaptized..."

    So long as the local churches still follow the correct form, i.e., "I do not baptize you into any sect or denomination of this world but I baptize you into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, by and through the authority of Jesus Christ for the remission of all of your sins." I don't see what the issue is, really. Unless you want to be baptized into a particular professing Christian denomination....I don't know what the term "rededication" means, sorry, is that some particular ritual that binds you to a particular sect?

    As for the Internet thing, meh. Between catching up on sermons, and travelling out of town every other week for services, and based on the fact that I want to distance myself from the negativity to be found here...that I quite actively engaged in, I'm moving away from the Internet, too. Looks like I won't be finishing "the right purple hymnal" site...besides which, the current WCG hymnal is blue, and they tend to favour pieces by Ross Jutsum that used to be relegated to special music, or the Festival Choir! :-P

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  14. "I'm moving away from the Internet, too. Looks like I won't be finishing "the right purple hymnal" site..."

    I will say this, though; out of all the ex-WCG sites on the Internet, Gavin's are the ones I keep coming back to. Including when I end up on the wrong side of the editorial "Law!"

    I first laid eyes on The Painful Truth about 1996 or so, whereupon I quickly came to the conclusion, "They're very bitter." Would that I could have maintained that objectivity, all the way through....However, there was something about Ambassador Watch, both the no-holds-barred revelations on the various ins and outs of the rapidly fractalizing splinter groups, and a refreshing look at some topics that I otherwise would have avoided, that kept me returning, year after year, month after month, week after week and, eventually, day after day.

    Even when I was going through my own personal tribulation in 2007, thanks to Jeff Miller and the Shadows of WCG, I always came to this water cooler, for a break from it all...even if it was only to post as the "Anonymous" caricature of some of the more, er, zealous Worldwiders, that we've all known one or two of, and that three or four of us (I think) impersonated, humourously, of course.

    When everyone disagreed with me over here, at least it was with dialogue and ongoing conversation, not just a nasty private message, and a notice of deletion / removal / moving of the message to a "safe" area that wasn't "offensive to Christians and Christianity."

    In a surreal way, Ambassador Watch, and its successor, Otagosh, and all of the commenters here (not in any particular order), Gavin and Corky and BykerBob and Tom and Tony and Questeruk and Dennis and Lochinvar (and all of the other names that presently escape my mind, after a ten-hour bus trip), all of you kept me attached to the Church (the small part of it that still exists in each one of us, at least). If I had not been reading / commenting here since 2007, I honestly don't think I would be where I am today, back attending services, again, and fellowshipping with like-minded brethren.

    Given the last couple of years I've had, though, I would definitely be in a much worse place....My time here, though, has been (again, not in any particular order) challenging, amusing, upsetting, reflective, horrifying, enlightening, joyful, sorrowful, engaging, provocative, intelligent, and sometimes just sheer laugh-out-loud fun. (I will never, so long as live, get the propellor-beanie picture out of my mind.) :-D More than any of that, though, it was exactly the place that I needed to be. For which I thank all of you, for putting up with me, for so long as you have! I also apologize if, over the course of the past four or five years, I have offended anyone, in any way. Please know that, at the deepest level, that was never my intent.

    Further to my turning over a new (old) leaf, and trying to eliminate the last vestiges of my own personal negativity however, I am actually deleting the Sing Songs of Praise to Him blog, after I send this comment. So, no Gmail account, no WordPress blog, no other OpenID I can use to comment, that's it, folks!

    Thanks for everything!

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  15. Velvet,

    Baptism to me is baptism into the body of Christ, not some sect. I attend an evangelical church, but will not become a member because they ask you to sign a covenant membership. So, I attend, sing praise music, take communion, and give them occasional offerings, but otherwise just keep it all personal between myself and God.

    BB

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