Monday, April 19, 2010

About A Shameful Past, Repentance And An Unprecedented Revival

As two Sundays ago marked the annual  Holocaust Memorial Day,  I decided to reread a book I read many years ago: "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood: The Tragic Story of the 'Church' and the Jewish People" by Dr. Michael L. Brown, a Jewish believer in Jesus.  There are three main topics Brown guides the reader through to convince his readers that the accepting of Jesus as the Messiah by Jews will mark an unparalelled spiritual revival in God's Church.  However, this unprecedented revival will never happen until Christians repent of its sins against the Jewish people.  Brown states: "I am convinced that international Christian repentance for the Church's past (and present) sins against the Jews will lead to international Jewish repentance for Israel's past (and present) sins against Jesus.  It is the Church's tears of repentance that will wash away the stain of blood." (p. xv)

The first topic, one many Christians are unaware of and one many Christians would rather avoid, is the history of Christian anti-Semitism.  Here is a quote concerning synagogues from one of the Church's most revered Church Fathers, John Chrysostom: "...[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 and abyss of perdition." (Brown, p.10)  Chrysostom goes on to comment on the Jewish people themselves: "I would say the same thing about their souls...As for me, I hate the synagogue...I hate the Jews for the same reason." (Brown, p. 10-11)  That anyone would make such a public pronouncement is disturbing enough, but what should make any genuine Christian lament is that these words came from one who was not a Christian in name only.  By all accounts, Chrysostum was a mighty disciple of Jesus Christ who endured much persecution from the enemies of the true Gospel. 

How did the spirit of anti-Semitism infiltrate the Church? Brown examines the main reasons most commonly given to explain anti-Semitism throughout history in and outside the Church.  He demontrates why each of these explanations are inadequate to account for anti-Semitism in general and the Holocaust in particular.  Then Brown identifies the real culprit, Satan, whose hatred of the Jews reflects his hatred of God and seeks to annihilate them to discredit God who has promised multiple times to preserve them as a distinct people.  So how did the Church allow this hatred to inflame the hearts of believers in Jesus?  Brown quotes Old Testament scholar Reinhold Mayer to explain the beginning of this tragic history: "The path of Gentile Christianity turned from Judaism and led to Gentile anti-Semitism, which was on the increase after the [destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E..]  The prophets' criticism of Israel was misunderstood as anti-Jewish and repeated irresponsibly.  Even when the words were kept their meaning was distorted to imply the opposite, and this served to sharpen the Gentile hatred of the Jews." (Brown, p. 134)  Brown chronicles the lies about the Jewish people propogated by and believed by the Church.  His depiction of the Spanish Inquisition is just as disturbing as his account of the Holocaust.  Protestants can't smugly contend that this aspect of Church history is just a Catholic phenomomen.  Luther initially had high hopes for the Jews' accepting Christ as their Messiah.  But that unfulfilled hope led to hatred toward them in his old age: "First their synogogues should be set on fire...Secondly, their homes should be likewise broken down and distroyed...Thirdly, they should be denied of their prayer-books and Talmuds...Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under threat of death to teach anymore...Seventhly, let the young strong Jews and Jewesses be given the flail, the ax, the hoe, the spade, the distaff,and spindle, and let them earn their bread by the sweat of their noses...We ought to drive the rascally lazy bones out of our system...Therefore away with them..." (Brown, p. 14-15)  Both Catholics and Protestants are equally quilty of crimes against the Jewish people.  Brown points out that Germany, where the Holocaust was planned, was equally divided between Catholics and Protestants.

Christians may protest the linkage between the Church and the Holocaust.  After all, the roots of Nazi ideology are in pagan thought, not Christian.  That is true.  Yet the anti-Semitism of the Church rooted in the Middle Ages provided a climate that made the melding of Christian anti-Semitism and German pagan Romantic Nationalism possible. Brown quotes noted Holocaust scholar, Raul Hillberg, to explain this historical process: "Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: [forced] conversion, expulsion, annihilation.  The second appeared as an alternative to the first, and the third appeared as an alternative to the second...The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect: You have no right to live among us as Jews.  The secular rulers who followed proclaimed: you have no right to live among us.  The Nazis at last decreed: you have no right to live...The German Nazis, then, did not discard the past; they built upon it.  They did not begin a development; they completed it." (Brown, p. 8)

A Gentile Christian may ask, "This is ancient history; what does this have to do with me?  After all, I committed none of these sins against the Jewish people, nor am I related to anyone who did.  What can I do about it?"  First Christians have to recognize how the Church's anti-Semitic behavior has become a major stumbling block to the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah by the Jewish people.  Brown quotes Israeli writer Benjamin Shlomo Hamburger: "Instead of bringing redemption to the Jews, the false Christian messiah has brought down on us base libels and expulsions, oppressive restrictions and burning of [our] holy books, devastations and destructions.  Christianity, which professes to infuse the sick world with compassion, has fixed a course directly opposed to this lofty rhetoric.  The voice of the blood of millions of our brothers cries out to us from the ground: 'No! Christianity is not a religion of love but a religion of unfathomable hate!  All history, from ancient times to our own day, is one continuous proof of the total bankruptcy of this religion in all its segments." (Brown, p. 89-90)   Yes, Jewish religious leaders oppressed Christ's followers when they were a small minority.  Yes, the Jewish people by and large have rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  But the sentiments expressed by Benjamin Shlomo Hamburger are rooted in the oppression of Jews by the "Church" over the centuries.  The persecution of the Jews done in the name of Christ has been the only brand of Christianity most Jews have ever been exposed to.  According to Nicolai Berdyaev, "Christians set themselves between the Messiah and the Jews, hiding from the latter the authentic image of the Savior." (Brown, p. 92)

 You may not have persecuted the Jewish people, or are related to anyone who has, but as Christians, we claim all the glories of Church history as our inheritance.  If we claim these as our own, we must be willing to atone for actions perpetrated against others in the name of Christ throughout history.  While many Jews today are discovering that Jesus is their Messiah, the Church must engage in a sincere collective repentance for what has been done to the Jewish people in Christ's name before most Jews will be prepared to follow Jesus. Until this happens, the Church will never be complete, as it is the Father's will that the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile be broken down and the two be made one (Eph. 2) As past history becomes less of a stumbling block to the ingathering of Jews into the Church, the Church will experience a revival greater than it has ever known before.  Bishop H.C.G. Moule expressed this hope this way: "The great event of Israel's return to God in Christ, and His to Israel, will be the signal and the means of a vast rise of spiritual life in the universal church, and of an unexampled ingathering of regenerate souls from the world." (Brown, p. 25)

The two other main topics Brown addresses is the scriptural case for Israel's right to the land God promised to the Jewish people and an an irrefutable rejection of Replacement Theology, that the Gentile Church is now the new Israel.  To examine both of these topics here would make this post too long.  Perhaps these points can be examined at a later time. "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood" can be purchased at Amazon or at Dr. Brown's website, both of which are linked to above.

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