Monday, November 08, 2021

Anonymous Asks (170)

“How should Christians regard Jews?”

This is a fairly important question to consider. Historically, there has been little agreement within Christendom about it. Today, there is increasing polarization within the evangelical ranks concerning both the religion of Judaism and the nation of Israel.

The two “poles” look something like this.

North Pole

On one hand, there was Martin Luther. He advised Germans to burn and bury synagogues, raze the homes of the Jewish minority in Germany, take away their prayer books and Talmuds, forbid their rabbis to teach Judaism, strip them of their wealth and put them to forced labor. It’s hard to argue that the prevalence of this sentiment among the German people did not contribute to the mistreatment of Jews during WWII. To call Luther antisemitic is an understatement.

Luther’s prescriptions may have been drastic, and he certainly misunderstood and misapplied scripture, but his concerns for his nation were not without some basis in reality, and they were not entirely due to the theological differences between Christians and Jews. As with all people groups, Jews have been a mixed blessing to the world both before and since the diaspora of the last two millennia. They have given the world the laser, the pacemaker, the polio vaccine, the Old Testament and Christianity, but they have also given the world nuclear weapons, Google and genetic engineering, and have afflicted America with Hollywood, the porn industry, neoconservatism and The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965, each of which has contributed heavily to its moral, political or demographic unraveling.

The fact that Jewish contributions to the broader culture have not been uniformly positive should not surprise Christians. The book of Revelation makes reference to a “synagogue of Satan”, Jews who slandered and persecuted the early church, and of which the apostle Paul was once surely a member. Any nation or religion that officially rejects the love of Christ is bound to produce a harvest of bitter fruit.

As a result, large numbers of Christians today insist God is forever done with Israel as a nation, and that the only hope for Jews is salvation in Christ. In this they are half right.

South Pole

On the other hand, support for the nation of Israel and goodwill toward Jews remains higher among evangelical Christians than any other religious group, particularly in the southern U.S. Reasons for this vary from believer to believer, and include the belief that the Jews are “God’s chosen people”, feelings of cultural and religious affinity with Jews, frequent exposure to positive messages about Israel, and negative attitudes toward Muslims in general and Palestinians in particular.

Support for Israel is strongest among older evangelicals, which may have something to do with the inroads made by Reformed theology among the younger set. Dispensational theology teaches there is a place for national Israel in the plans and purposes of God, and a biblical distinction to be observed between Israel and the church. Reformed theology blurs these lines, teaching that Israel is the church and the church Israel, that there is no future for national Israel outside the church. “Spiritual Israel’s” blessings, they teach, are not to be realized literally.

Evangelical support for Israeli politics and affection for Jews generally depends largely on misunderstandings about what Talmudic Judaism actually teaches, something Martin Luther, for all his Grinch-like pronouncements, understood very well indeed. The failure to correctly identify its Messiah is far from the only thing wrong with the current iteration of Judaism. Catholicism, with all its priests, altars and legalism, is closer in spirit to the Old Testament than modern Judaism, which has replaced its Torah with the traditions of men, some of which teach the very opposite of what we find in our Old Testaments. It is one thing to support the existence of national Israel and believe God has plans for her in the future, and another to blanket-endorse the policies of its government, to wax sentimental about imaginary “Judeo-Christian” commonalities in belief, or to call other people antisemitic when they point out specific instances of Jewish misconduct.

To the extent that uncritical support of Jews, Judaism and Israeli politics by evangelicals doesn’t demonize an entire people group for the actions of some of its members, it is certainly preferable to antisemitism. Nevertheless, it too is only half right.

How Should Christians Regard Jews?

The best and most balanced view of Jews is found in the word of God, naturally, and may be summarized in two sentences. In Romans 11, Paul writes, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

God has a future for the nation of Israel. The book of Romans assures us that the present Jewish unbelief is a temporary situation, and that ultimately not just individual Jews but “all Israel will be saved”.

So then, a biblical view of Jews supports the continued existence of the nation of Israel in its present location not because they are “God’s people” or because they have a divine right to the land they possess, but for the same reason it supports the existence of any other nation: because love demands that everybody has to live somewhere. A biblical view of Jews rejects antisemitism but refuses to hold Jews to a lower standard of behavior than others for fear of being called racist. It neither demonizes nor beatifies Jews and Jewishness; after all, Jewish sins are just as sinful as Gentile sins. A biblical view of Israel does not confuse it with the church: God has both an earthly people and a heavenly people. A biblical view of Jews recognizes that they are indeed nationally responsible for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, but beloved of God because of the promises he made to the patriarchs.

A biblical view of Israel recognizes that while in God’s eyes they are currently “not my people”, one day soon it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”.

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