Last month the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made profound comments about anti-Semitism. In strong language he described it as the 'insidious evil' and 'perverted and absurd.' In an article for the Holocaust Educational Trust Justin Welby placed anti-Semitism 'at the heart of racism.'
He pinpointed early church teaching as erroneous. "It is a shameful truth that, through its theological teachings, the Church, which should have offered an antidote, compounded the spread of this virus," he wrote.
"The fact that anti-Semitism has infected the body of the Church is something of which we as Christians must be deeply repentant. We live with the consequences of our history of denial and complicity." he emphasized.
Let us look at a brief history of the first four centuries of Christianity, which established a "legacy of hatred" towards the Jewish people, which was against the clear teaching of the New Testament.
In the first century AD, the church was well connected to its Jewish roots, and Jesus did not intend for it to be any other way. After all, Jesus is Jewish and the basis of His teaching is consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew chapter 5, verses 17-18 He states: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."
Before the First Jewish Revolt in AD 66, Christianity was basically a sect of Judaism, as were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.
After the Second Jewish Revolt (AD 133-135) put down by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, theological and political power moved from Jewish Christian leaders to centers of Gentile Christian leadership such as Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch. It is important to understand this change, because it influenced the early Church Fathers to make anti-Jewish statements as Christianity began to disconnect itself from its Jewish roots.
Righting a hideous wrong
As the Church spread far and wide within the Roman Empire, and its membership grew increasingly non-Jewish, Greek and Roman thought began to creep in and completely change the orientation of Biblical interpretation through a Greek mindset, rather than a Jewish or Hebraic mindset. This would later result in many heresies, and the Archbishop of Canterbury has boldly made an effort to right a hideous wrong.
At the end of the 4th century, the Bishop of Antioch, John Chrysostom, the great orator, wrote a series of eight sermons against the Jews. He had seen Christians talking with Jewish people, taking oaths in front of the Ark, and some were keeping the Jewish feasts. He wanted this to stop. In an effort to bring his people back to what he called, "the true faith," the Jews became the whipping boy for his sermon series.
To quote him, "the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it is also a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. No Jew adores God... Jews are inveterate murderers, possessed by the devil, their debauchery and drunkenness gives them the manners of the pig. They kill and maim one another..."
The result of these anti-Jewish teachings continued onwards throughout Church history, manifesting itself in such events and actions as the Crusades, the accusation of communion host desecration and blood libel by the Jews, the forced wearing of distinguishing marks to ostracize them, the Inquisition, the displacement of whole Jewish communities by exile or separate ghettoes, the destruction of synagogues and Jewish books, physical persecution and execution, the Pogroms. Ultimately, the seeds of destruction grew to epic proportions, culminating in the Holocaust, which occurred in "Christian" Europe.
We Gentile Christians are told that the Jews are "beloved for the sake of the Patriarchs" (Romans chapter 11, verse 28). They are a chosen people who fulfilled their calling and brought the Gospel to the world. They were chosen to:
1. Be obedient to God's Word and demonstrate to the world as "a light to the nations."
2. Hear God's Word and record it - the Bible.
3. Be the human channel for the Messiah.
The Jewish people have fulfilled their role. The promise to the world through Abraham was that, "in you will all the nations on the earth be blessed" (Genesis chapter 12, verse 3). They were to be a light unto the nations and, while they made mistakes as we all do, they did demonstrate the power of God on earth, they did hear God's Word and record it so that we have the Bible, and they were the human channel for the Messiah, who was born, ministered, died, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will return to Jerusalem, Israel, in a day yet to come.
God made an everlasting covenant between the land of Israel and the Jewish people that must be fulfilled and completed or His Word, the Bible, will be proven a lie, which it is not.
God will never forget or annul His ancient people. If God will not fulfill His promises to Israel, what guarantee do we have that He will fulfill His promises to the Church? (See Jeremiah chapter 31, verses 35-37).
Had the Church understood this very clear message from the beginning, then the sad legacy of anti-Semitic hatred from the Church may have been avoided. Yet, it is not too late to change our ways and rightly relate to the Jewish people and Israel today. Not only do we need to learn and do for ourselves, but we need to teach others so as to counteract the historical error that has been fostered in the Church for 2,000 years.
For more on this topic please visit www.bridgesforpeace.com.
Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was radio news editor for Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem, Israel.
His career started at WINTV (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ron Ross' previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/ron-ross.html