The day I found out Martin Luther Hated Jews

Martin Luther visits Dresden
photo © 2006 Robert Wirrmann | more info(via: Wylio)

So on Saturday I learned that the great Reformer, Martin Luther, was an anti-Semite. 

And I mean a real, burn-down-their-houses-and-cut-off-their limbs anti-Semite. He called for violence, dismemberment, arson, expulsion, and death, and provided material that would later be used by Nazis to stir up anti-Jewish sentiment among the German people. 

In a book entitled On Jews and Their Lies, Luther wrote:

“My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...Second, that all their books-- their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible-- be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted...Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country...Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it…The rulers must act like a good physician who, when gangrene has set in proceeds without mercy to cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. Such a procedure must also be followed in this instance. Burn down their synagogues, forbid all that I enumerated earlier, force them to work, and deal harshly with them. If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs."

I had no idea. 

I know, I know. I’ve been a Protestant all my life and a politically correct progressive for the past five years, so this is something I should have known about.

But I didn’t, and the news hit me hard.

I fumed. 

I cried.

I ate an entire plate of leftover pasta at 3:00 in the afternoon. 

I had to put five pennies in the jar

It’s a bit like finding out that your favorite uncle deals drugs, or that your most beloved poet killed herself, or that your childhood pastor defrauded the congregation for years. It throws off your equilibrium, rocks your sense of security somehow. 

I already knew that Luther had some skeletons in his closet. I’d read his strong words about women, Catholics, and those “fools” who proposed that the earth moved around the sun, but I chalked all that up to context and figured he was ahead of his time in every other way. 

But the kind of hate found Luther’s writings about the Jews is so visceral, so contrary to the teachings of Jesus, it made me wonder.  Didn’t the Apostle John teach that “he that loves not knows not God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8)? 

 So I mentioned this on Facebook (because that’s how I roll), and was a little surprised by how quickly many of my friends rushed to defend Luther’s reputation.  They said that everyone was anti-Semitic in those days, that Luther was frustrated after trying to convert the Jews, that this was all based on a misinterpretation of Scripture. Luther should not be remembered for this “flaw,” they said, but for his great contribution to Christian theology. 

The response was so dismissive at times, it sounded like the familiar evangelical refrain—“Oh we’ve already figured this one out. It’s got an easy answer. No big deal”—to which I wanted to plead, “Please remember, if just for a moment, the horror you felt upon learning this for the first time, before all the scholarly articles dulled the blade and blurred the faces of actual human beings into flat, emotionless ideas. Please, if just for a moment, remember the tension and admit that this sucks.”

 Because once again I am living in the tension—my compassion, my conscience, and my convictions in tact—and I’m not so sure I want to get talked out of it again. 

The Apostle Paul  said: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 

How can we say that Luther had good theology when he failed to love? 

And what about the Anabaptists? Doesn’t their legacy prove that followers of Jesus do not have to be violent in a violent culture? Luther had as much access to the Gospels and the history of the early church as they did, and yet he chose violence while the Anabaptists practiced peace. 

Maybe I just need a little time to process this—to file it away in that same part of my brain where I keep Joshua 6:21 and Psalm 137:9. 

But for now I have a heavy heart, a disquieted spirit…and yet another plate of pasta to consume.

But I’d rather live in the tension that pretend that it doesn’t exist.

 ***

So how do you process information like this? Does it affect the way you feel about Protestantism or Christianity? Is there a constructive way to talk about this skeleton in Luther’s closet?

(Check out Wylio.com, where I got the photo above. It's a project that Dan and some friends have been working on so that  I and other bloggers could use photos easily and legally.)

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Six Questions for John Piper

As much as I disagree with John Piper’s theology, I was sad to see the popular Reformed theologian and pastor join the ranks of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson by claiming that a natural disaster was the result of God’s wrath regarding homosexuality.

In a blog post entitled, “The Tornado, The Lutherans, and Homosexuality,” Piper confidently proclaims that the tornado that hit downtown Minneapolis yesterday was a result of divine judgment on a group of Lutherans meeting in a local church to discuss, among other things, a “social statement” that could make it easier for the church to accept homosexual unions. The tornado did significant damage to the church’s steeple.

I’m sure that the blogosphere will erupt with responses to Piper’s extraordinary claim, so I’ll try keep mine simple, with six questions to correspond with his six points.

Dr. Piper:

1. Citing the Apostle Paul, you argue that the unrepentant practice of homosexual behavior will exclude a person from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Jesus said that greed will exclude a person from the kingdom of God (Luke 14:33;  Luke 18:24-25). Were inclement weather conditions to flood or destroy the Christian bookstore at the downtown campus of your mega-church, should we interpret that to be an act of God in judgment of materialism?  

2. You say that “the church has always embraced those who forsake sexual sin but who still struggle with homosexual desires.” Do you think that blaming a tornado on homosexuality is the best way to reach out to the gay community and show them the love of Jesus Christ?

3. You argue that “official church pronouncements that condone the very sins that keep people out of the kingdom of God, are evil” and then conclude that the tornado must have been God’s response to such evil. And yet Jesus said that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:45) Do you believe that homosexuality is so extraordinarily evil that it warrants special divine intervention while little children dying of famine and lack of water do not?

4. You claim that Jesus “controls the wind, including all tornadoes.” While the Bible includes stories in which God does alter weather conditions, such things are not always linked to divine intervention. In fact, the book of Job indicates that Satan was behind the storm that killed Job’s family…and the Gospel of Mark never states that God started the storm that Jesus calmed.  Do you believe that God orchestrates every natural disaster, and that the death and suffering that occurs is always a result of God’s wrath upon the people involved?

5. Your example of Jesus’ perspective on the tower in Siloam is a curious one, seeing as Jesus was responding to the hypocrisy of those who assumed that disasters happen to people who are “greater sinners” than they.  I am reminded of the incident in which the disciples, having been rejected by the people of a Samaritan village, asked Jesus, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”Jesus rebuked them and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:51-56)  And so I will ask you the question that Jesus asked—Do you suppose that the Lutherans meeting in that church were greater sinners than you?  Perhaps the point of Jesus’ question was not to make a general statement about natural disasters, but rather to evoke a response similar to that of the Pharisees, who after being asked a similar question, turned and dropped their stones.

6.  In  your last point, you speak on behalf of God, confidently concluding that “the tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin.” A wise man once said, “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve…No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.” (Ecclesiastes 8:14) What makes you the exception? How can you be so certain that you know exactly what God is up to in extra-biblical circumstances such as these?

Okay, so maybe I asked seven questions.

I could ask a hundred more.

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The Justification Debate - Discussion Starter

I wanted to share this summary from Christianity Today about the current debate between theologians N.T. Wright and John Piper regarding the nature of justification.  I’m almost finished working my way through Wright’s book on the subject, and am pretty convinced (as I expected I would be) that his Scriptural support is abundant.

In a second article about the practical implications of the justification debate, this question was asked:

“Which is more scandalous? The multitudes of Christians who think they need to earn their salvation by being good? Or the throng of Christians who think that holy living doesn't matter so long as they have prayed the sinner's prayer?”

I’m not sure that this is the best question to ask, as both Wright and Piper would most certainly deny either extreme. But I thought it would be a good discussion starter.

Which extreme have you encountered most often? With which did you grow up? Do you think that either Wright's or Piper's position naturally leads to one of these conclusions, or are these essentially straw man arguments?

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Reforming My Attitude: How a Little Church Made Big Impact

Those who know me well know that I’ve had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Reformed theology and Reformed churches over the years.  A few bad experiences left me with a chip on my shoulder and festering wounds I like to nurse every now and then with a snarky comment or critical post.

I’ve written about some of my experiences before—meeting a six-year-old forced to memorize and recite the Westminster Confession at dinnertime, nearly losing my faith over the notion that God created the majority of the human population for no other purpose but to suffer in hell for eternity, and encountering the famed ‘Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy” T-shirt in the midst of the so-called “Calvinist resurgence.”

Other experiences have been too personal to write about extensively. When some of my Reformed friends learned that I was reading Clark Pinnock’s work on inclusivism, for example, they called me a “cotton candy Christian” and an “enemy of the Church.” For not embracing all the petals of the TULIP, I’ve been asked, “How can you call yourself a Christian?”

For years, I was under the impression that the Reformed approach to the gospel was best summarized by Mark Driscoll, who has said, “The gospel starts with ‘God hates you’ and it’s going to go really really bad forever” a conclusion that is disturbing, yet pretty faithful to the writings of many Reformed theologians throughout history. 

The Reformed approach to women in leadership, I assumed, was best represented by John Piper, who claims that women are designed by God “to affirm, receive, and nurture the strength and leadership of worthy men,” and that “the Bible summons men to bear the burden of primary leadership, provision, and protection in the home and in the church.”  [In light of his position on gender roles, Piper could not bring himself to endorse Sarah Palin as a vice presidential candidate in the 2008 election, but conceded that “defending abortion is far worse a sin for a man than serving as Vice President is for a woman.”]

So when my mother-in-law invited me and Dan to attend The Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone(New Jersey) with her on Mother’s Day, I did so a bit begrudgingly, bracing for an hour of hellfire and damnation among the “frozen chosen.”

Not only was pleasantly surprised, I was moved to tears.

Founded in 1766, The Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone meets in a beautifully restored Federal-style building.  Of the Dutch reformed tradition, it is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America.  The congregation follows the Church calendar, and services are generally traditional in style and format.

I liked that the announcements at the beginning of the service revealed that the church members prioritized care for the poor and suffering and that they participated in regular Bible study. I liked that the congregation said the Lord's Prayer in each service. My interest was further piqued when we sang a beautiful hymn, “O God of Every Nation,” a hymn I rarely hear in the conservative, nationalistic churches down South. The lyrics are incredible:

O God of every nation,
of every race and land,
redeem the whole creation
with your almighty hand;
where hate and fear divide us
and bitter threats are hurled,
in love and mercy guide us
and heal our strife-torn world.

From search for wealth and power
and scorn of truth and right,
from trust in bombs that shower
destruction through the night,
from pride of race and nation
and blindness to your way,
deliver every nation,
eternal God, we pray!

Lord, strengthen all who labor
that we may find release
from fear of rattling saber,
from dread of war's increase;
when hope and courage falter,
your still small voice be heard;
with faith that none can alter,
your servants undergird.

Keep bright in us the vision
of days when war shall cease,
when hatred and division
give way to love and peace,
till dawns the morning glorious
when truth and justice reign
and Christ shall rule victorious
o'er all the world's domain.

And then, to my complete surprise, a woman approached the pulpit to deliver the sermon! Student Minister Pam Bakker preached on Acts 8:26-40—the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Meticulously well-researched, carefully written, and beautifully delivered, the sermon highlighted why the eunuch’s interest in the writings of Isaiah were of particular significance to his own life story, illustrating the inclusive and deeply personal love that God has for all people. It was both encouraging and challenging, both moving and informational.  For Mother’s Day, it was a strange and yet delightfully appropriate message, communicated by a most fitting messenger. 

Bakker preaches regularly, but because she is a student minister (still in seminary, I presume), the congregation filled out a questionnaire critiquing her sermon. As I filled it out, I marveled that anyone could deny such an intelligent and capable woman the chance to share the gospel before her peers simply because she was a woman. It was genuinely one of the best sermons I had heard in years. 

The Lead Pastor, Rev. Dr. Fred Mueller, concluded by quoting the apostle Paul from Galatians 3, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” He said it with such warmth and enthusiasm, it brought tears to my eyes. 

I had finally found a church that emphasized care for the poor, that studied Scripture, that celebrated an end to nationalism, war, and hate, that provided equal opportunities women in leadership, that stayed out of politics, and that spoke of God’s inclusive love for all people....and it was in New Jersey....and it was Reformed! 

God indeed has a very good sense of humor. 

Needless to say, the experience humbled me and forced me to re-examine my own prejudices and assumptions. I’ve been doing some research, and have found that not all Reformed churches are the same and that Mark Driscoll and John Piper do not speak for all of my Reformed brothers and sisters. However, I’m still trying to sort through the differences between PCA, RCA, and CRC...so if you have any insight on this, please post a comment or a link.  I could use your help! 

The truth is, I’ve been making general statements about something I do not understand that well. My dismissal of all things Reformed came from a place of hurt and frustration, and served as a sort of defense mechanism that protected me from seriously engaging those with whom I disagree.  

The truth is, deep down, I wanted all Reformed churches to be the same. I wanted them all to fit neatly into a box so I could pack them away and label them as “bad” or “sexist” or “other.” Labels make life so much easier. Unfortunately, they are seldom entirely accurate.  

So while I obviously have no plans to subscribe to Mark Driscoll’s blog or buy a “Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy” T-shirt, I’m going to try to be more patient with the Reformed perspective.  It seems I haven’t really heard it in its entirety.

What experiences have led you to re-think old denominational prejudices? What is your understanding of Reformed theology and the Reformed tradition?

Note: Just to clear up some possible confusion - I'm working on reforming my attitude, not my theological position! :-) I remain decidedly Arminian in my perspective. To see why, check out my comments (entitled "Why People Like Calvinism" and "Why I Don't") that follow an older post.) 

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A Comeback for Calvinism?

A couple of things caught my eye this week concerning what has been called a “Reformed resurgence” among young people.  The first is Collin Hansen’s book  Young, Restless, and Reformed (Crossway 2008), in which the Christianity Today reporter details what he calls “a Calvinist resurgence” among twenty-something evangelicals. The cover boasts an illustration of young guy wearing a T-shirt that says “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy.” (You can actually buy that T-shirt, by the way!)

The second item generating some buzz in the blogosphere is the New York Times article entitled “Who Would Jesus Smack Down?” about Pastor Mark Driscoll. 

In it, the author writes, “Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos.”

As I mentioned in my last post, those who know me know that I’m not a fan of Calvinism. Those who know me well know that this is quite an understatement. Honestly, the idea of a militaristic  “Calvinist resurgence” among young people literally makes me lose sleep at night. And the notion that Mark Driscoll represents the future of the faith is worrisome.

Here’s what Mark Driscoll says about Jesus:

  •  “Some emergent types want to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pity Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes....I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”

I liked how, in “Jesus for President,” Shane Claiborne slyly placed this quote of Driscoll’s next to the Apostle Paul’s words “I preach Christ crucified.”

Newsflash to Driscoll:  Jesus did get beat up.

And here are a few savory quotes from our “homeboy” Jonathan Edwards:

  •  “The misery of the damned in hell is one of those great things that the saints in their blessed and joyful state in heaven shall behold and take great notice of throughout eternity.”
  •  “Some may be ready to think that it’s incredible that God should bring miseries upon a creature that are so extreme and amazing and also eternal and desperate. But the dreadfulness and extremity of it is no argument against it, for those that are damned are entirely lost and utterly thrown away by God. As to any sort of regard that he has to their welfare their existence is for nothing else but to suffer.”
  • “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider; or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes than the most hateful venomous serpent is in yours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet, it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.”

Are twenty-somethings really going for this stuff? Why might that be?

* See my responses below in the comment section.*

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