I need to add an important follow-up to last week’s story about the Nazis who made their peace with God after confessing their heinous sins.
It seems only fair to point out that the man behind the Reformation, and indeed the Lutheran movement through which most of these men heard the gospel, was himself partly responsible for the Holocaust.
Exasperated by his failure to win Jews to a reformed version of the Christianity which had persecuted them for centuries, Martin Luther spent his last years furiously denouncing them, even calling for the burning of synagogues and their banishment from Germany.
So the Nazis, though themselves strongly influenced by atheism and the occult, were thus able to use Luther – widely regarded as the father of a united Germany – to trap the churches into their web of deceit and destruction.
Julius Streicher, one of the most notorious Jew-baiters, cited Luther’s book The Jews and their Lies as part of his defence at the post-Holocaust Nuremberg Trials, declaring: “Dr Martin Luther would very probably sit in my place in the defendants’ dock today if this book had been taken into consideration by the prosecution.”
As Holocaust expert Dr Susanna Kokkonen pointed out in an online presentation hosted by the Church’s Ministry among the Jewish people (CMJ) last week, ‘theological’ persecution of the Jews dates from the early Church Fathers who sought to break away from the Hebraic roots of the faith.
But the Apostle Paul had warned that this would lead to spiritual death. For when the early Roman Christians showed signs of moving in this direction, he scolded: ”You do not support the root; the root supports you.” (Rom 11:18)
Not surprisingly, a thousand years of darkness followed, broken only by intermittent beacons of light before the truth of the gospel – yes, via Luther and others – finally broke through again.
Today’s church is clearly divided between those who love the Jews and those conforming to the world’s pattern involving a new kind of antisemitism which targets the State of Israel as illegitimate, abusive and corrupt. Yet in fact, as the region’s only democracy, it has become a global leader in medicine, technology and agriculture to whom we owe enormous debt for innumerable developments including valuable assistance with COVID.
The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37) has risen from the ashes of the Holocaust to be a major player on the world stage in fulfilment of numerous Old Testament prophecies. Unfortunately, the devil seemed to know more about biblical prophecy than many preachers, and did his damnedest to prevent this happening – hence the Holocaust.
And yet many continue to maintain that the modern Jewish state has no connection to biblical Israel, which is now somehow replaced by the Church. This would surely mean that God would have broken his eternal covenant (Gen 15:18) and could no longer be trusted – which, of course, is nonsense. God’s desire is for “one new man” – both Jew and Gentile – reconciled both to God and each other (Eph 2:14-18).
With serious concerns over projected church decline precipitated by the pandemic, this is a good time to reassess our priorities. Jesus said “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22) and Paul placed a priority on preaching the gospel “to the Jew first” (Rom 1:16).
Germany came in for severe judgment for their merciless treatment of the Jews. This was certainly the view of Mother Basilea Schlink who, after witnessing the terrible bombardment and destruction of Darmstadt on the 11th September 1944, recognised the hand of God and founded the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, which has since grown into a global mission of love and intercession for the Jewish people.
Out of the ashes of Darmstadt, appreciation and understanding of Israel has taken root in the Church. But there is much ‘gardening’ still to be done if we are to see a more widespread example of the ‘one new man’ already present in many Israeli congregations, where Arab and Jew worship together in harmony.
But church, or denominational, tradition often blurs our vision, whereas the unadulterated Word of God gives us a clear view. This is notably evident in Iran, where the underground church has grown to an estimated one million people, risking their lives in a country where conversion from Islam is forbidden. With little or no church tradition to blur their vision, the theology of Iranian believers is thus gleaned from the Book which tells them how precious the Jewish people are to God.
Not surprisingly, this has given them a special love for those deemed by the ayatollahs to be their enemies, for whom they are constantly in prayer – for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for their salvation through Jesus, their Messiah.
Is there a connection between Iran’s revival and their love for Israel? Well, at a CMJ conference in 2013, Anglican clergyman and author Rev Simon Ponsonby suggested that our attitude to Israel would certainly make a difference. “If we turn our affections on the Jewish people, we’ll see more of God’s blessings on the church,” he said.
It is undoubtedly true that an enlightened attitude towards the Jews from the Puritans onward led to a revived church under John Wesley and others in the 18th and 19th centuries. And with anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce among its founders, CMJ played a significant role in restoring the Jews to the Holy Land by urging the British Government to take up the cause.
Do we want life or death in the Church? Choose life, and re-connect with the Jewish roots of the Christian faith.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.