A Church of England document calling for repentance from Christians for contributing to the Holocaust is welcome indeed, especially at a time of drastically rising anti-Semitism.
Also welcome is the unprecedented political intervention of South African-born Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s Chief Rabbi, in the run-up to the General Election, saying that the soul of the nation is at stake over the prospect of the opposition Labour Party winning power.
“Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe this is the same party that they proudly called their political home,” he wrote in The Times with reference to the ongoing scandal of anti-Semitic activity within Labour, before asking: “What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country?”
Meanwhile the C of E report, welcomed with reservation by the rabbi, acknowledges the substantial role played by mistaken Christian theology in the stereotyping and persecution of Jewish people over the centuries – for example, in attributing Jewish suffering as punishment for crucifying Christ when the Bible clearly states that it was God’s will for Jesus to suffer (Isaiah 53.10).
This is a much more helpful approach than that just taken by South Africa’s Anglicans in passing a resolution supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign – a wholly anti-Israel document promoting the lie that today’s Jews are responsible for oppressive apartheid-style policies.
With the worldwide Anglican communion on the brink of break-up over the authority of Scripture, particularly relating to sex and marriage, and church bodies queuing up behind the global move to isolate Israel through BDS, the C of E report is a surprising development.
For anti-Zionism is rife within today’s Western church, which means that repenting of the past must also convert to mending our modern ways of relating to Jews – as the report admittedly suggests. But we will never get rid of anti-Semitism while replacement theology – the idea that the church has replaced Israel in God’s purposes – continues to be widely taught. It’s not just Corbyn and his cronies who contribute to Jew-hatred, but also those churches who fail to see that a glorious future still awaits the chosen people!
So will this report, appropriately named God’s Unfailing Word, change the climate surrounding our pulpits, where Israel rarely gets a mention – except perhaps in terms of the lessons taught by her historical misdemeanors or triumphs? Yet the Bible is liberally strewn with references to Israel in the context not just of history but of present and future reality. It is the third most used name in all of Scripture, after Adonai and Elohim.
But we repeatedly ignore it. Why? Because we have allowed ourselves to be sucked into a worldly view that the oppressed have become oppressors and that the nation which arose from the ashes of the Holocaust is not to be confused with the Jews of the Bible. This is what the South African Anglicans now officially claim, but I know it’s also the view of many UK pastors – probably, in no small measure, due to the Bible Colleges they attended.
So let’s examine the full implication of the report. If indeed the church is responsible in part for the Holocaust – the extermination of six million Jews just for being Jewish – it calls into question the true nature of such an organization. Likewise, if the Labour leadership has allowed anti-Semites into its midst, it surely calls into question the ethos of the entire party.
It was when the early church severed its Jewish roots that we plunged into the Dark Ages, which lasted over a thousand years until the likes of Martin Luther saw the light. But even he perpetuated anti-Semitic tropes and caricatures as he wrote off the Jews as a despised people whom God had cast off, thus sowing the seeds of the Holocaust in the very nation he helped to create.
Yet without the Jews, we would have no Bible. no patriarchs, no prophets – and no Jesus! And God still has glorious plans for his ancient people, whom we Gentile Christians are commanded to support (Rom 15.27), pray for (Psalm 122.6) and share the gospel with. It is, after all, “to the Jew first…” (Rom 1.16).
It is of paramount importance that preachers urgently reconnect with the roots of our faith. For too long we have ignored Israel, with whom we share “the nourishing sap from the olive root” (Rom 11.17) without which we will wither and die. Yes, we will dry up like the rotten tree that much of the institutional church has become because, as the Apostle Paul scolded Gentile Christians: “You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Rom 11.18)
If we seek to proclaim the full counsel of God, we cannot possibly ignore the Israel factor. If we take the world’s side by cursing them, we will come under judgment. But if we rise up to encourage them, we will know untold blessing (Gen 12.3).
The Bible speaks of Israel – past, present and future – prophesying things to come which will surely take place there. Therefore, watch what is happening there so you can pray and preach in the light of Scripture.
We need to dig afresh into our Jewish roots. It should no longer be seen simply as an eccentric hobby engaged by zealous Zionists, but as an exercise to keep us alive!
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; and A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International