The Ugliness of Anti-Semitism

The recent synagogue shooting in San Diego has made national headlines. Once again our nation has been shaken by tragedy and grief. But for us, this tragedy strikes closer to home. John Earnest, the shooter, is a member of a church in our denomination. His pastor, was quick and clear that this hatred of Jewish people is antithetical to what the church believes and preaches. Our denomination has posted a statement condemning the act and disavowing any such ideology. Such statements are necessary and important. 

However, a few other articles have probed deeper questions. Carl Trueman has written a heart-searching article for Christianity Today asking how our current culture of dismissive debate has contributed to our current environment of polarization and shootings. The Washington Post had a recent article where pastors ask how theology has been weaponized and used to sanction such acts of violence. These, I think, are the important questions for us to be asking right now. There is a vein of thinking out there that goes something like this—“Jesus came to the Jews and they murdered him. They are enemies of God. We must destroy them.” As with all lies, there is a faint kernel of truth here. Jesus did come to the house of Israel. He was rejected and put to death. But that is where the truth ends and Satan’s lies take flight. 

Jesus was not executed without the help of Gentile leaders in Israel. But more to to the point—as Christians, our deepest confession is that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. I remember a story I heard in my youth. It went something like this. An older Christian found a young man, new in his faith, weeping. “What’s wrong?” he asked. The young man said, “I just realized that if I was the only person on earth, Jesus still would have come to die in my place.” “That’s right!” the older man replied, “Isn’t that wonderful?” But the young man just dropped his head and said, “Don’t you understand? That means I would have had to be the one to pound the nails!”

What this story drives home is that if you are a Christian—if you trust in Jesus for your salvation—you have no one to blame for the death of Jesus but yourself. His life was not stolen from him, he laid it down of his own accord (John 10:17-18), according to the foreordained will of the Father (Acts 2:23). He did this because there was no other way to save you. To deny that it was your sin that put him on the cross is to say that he did not die for you. Such arrogance leaves you without any hope of salvation. 

At the heart of all such arguments is the tendency we as sinners have to use theology as a cloak for our own evil desires. Throughout history, people have tried to use God’s word to promote their own sinful ends. They sound pious. They sound like they love God’s word. This is but a thin veneer covering over a darkness that knows nothing of the gospel of God’s grace. While there are many ways sinners have done this, one way that shows up over and over is the attempt to pin all of life’s problems on a certain group of people rather than accepting that our greatest problem is the sin within our own hearts. 

Sadly, it is the Jewish people who have been the object of such hatred more than any other group. The Bible clearly and explicitly condemns all such antagonism. God gives priority to the Jews. This goes back to Noah’s prophecy over his three sons (Genesis 9:26-27). The blessings would come first to Shem, the father of the Jews (thus shemitic or semitic peoples). But Japheth was told that these blessing would one day include his descendants (the Gentiles) when they came to dwell in peace with the children of Shem. This is why the New Testament says that we Gentiles have been made members of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12) and that we are being built together into a spiritual house, the previous hostility being replaced with peace (vv. 14-22). Paul writes to his readers in Rome that Gods has not rejected the Jews, but has plans for their future blessing (Romans 11:2, 11-12). 

But it’s what he says next that should catch our attention. Turning to the Gentiles, Paul says that we are not to be arrogant toward the Jews, remembering that they are the root of the tree to which we have been added, upon whom we find our support (v. 18). The Bible specifically calls us to deference, love, and, yes, gratitude toward the Jews. This doesn’t mean that all Jews are saved by virtue of their ethnic lineage. It doesn’t mean that anyone is exempt from God’s judgment because of their family lineage (Romans 2:9). It does mean that we Gentiles have been invited to live in the house of Israel as the younger siblings. The blessings of God are for the Jews first and then the Gentiles (Romans 1:16; 2:10). The warning for the arrogant Gentile in this regard is that he will be broken off and cast out (Romans 11:19). 

Anti-semitism is a great evil that should never have existed, but continues to find a place in the hearts of angry sinners. It is an attempt to blame others for the pain in life, rather than to fall down before the God of glory and say, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner.” It should never find a safe place in Jesus’ church. If discovered it should be quickly and decisively disciplined as an offense against our God. More to the point, each of us should regularly take stock of the sinful lies that reside within our hearts and how we use God’s word of life for our own destructive ends. You might not deal with anti-semitism, but we are all far too quick to make judgments about others because they are different than us. May God enable each of us to take every thought captive to the word of Christ!

Pastor Brett

Brett McNeill

Brett McNeill has been our pastor since we began in 2004. He and Jen have been married since 1998 and have four wonderful daughters. Brett is a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California (Masters in Divinity, 2003). His desire is to clearly proclaim Jesus Christ from all of Scripture in a way that is clear, convicting and encouraging.

Bible Reading and the False-Trinity (of Self)

At the recommendation of Tim Draper, I am currently reading a book by Eugene Peterson called Eat This Book (A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading). In it, Peterson calls the Believer to what he calls a “Trinitarian Reading” of the Bible, which he describes this way:

We read in order to get in on the revelation of God, who is so emphatically personal; we read the Bible the way it comes to us, not in the way we come to it; we submit ourselves to the various and complementary operations of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; we receive these words so that we can be formed now and for eternity to the glory of God.

In other words we come to the Bible to be shaped by the God of the Bible, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Anything less is to miss the point of reading scripture.

In Peterson’s characteristically astute way, however, he identifies a false trinity that has shaped how we often read scripture. I realize that this a bit lengthy, but worth the time of a careful read.

A new twist on non-Trinitarian ways of reading the Bible has emerged in our times. It has reached the scale of an epidemic and requires special attention. It can be understood best, I think, as a replacement Trinity… this way is very personal and also very Trinitarian, but also totally at odds with what is achieved while reading in submission to the authority of the Holy Trinity. 

Trinitarian thinking praying before Holy Scripture cultivates a stance and attitude that submits to being comprehensively formed by God in the way God comprehensively and personally reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Holy Scriptures. The alternative to that is taking charge of our own formation. The most popular way of conceiving this self these days is by understanding the self in a Trinitarian way. This way of self-understanding is not as an intellectual interested in ideas or as a moral being seeking a good life or as a soul looking for solitary solace, but as a divine self in charge of my self. And this divine self is understood as a Holy Trinity. 

Here's how it works. It is important to observe that in the formulation of this new Trinity that defines the self as the sovereign text for living, the Bible is neither ignored nor banned; it holds, in fact, an honored place. But the three-personal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is replaced placed by a very individualized personal Trinity of my Holy Wants, my Holy Needs, and my Holy Feelings. 

We live in an age in which we have all been trained from the cradle to choose for ourselves what is best for us. We have a few years of apprenticeship at this before we are sent out on our own, but the training begins early. By the time we can hold a spoon we choose between half a dozen cereals for breakfast, ranging from Cheerios to Corn Flakes. Our tastes, inclinations, and appetites are consulted endlessly. We are soon deciding what clothes we will wear and in what style we will have our hair cut. The options proliferate: what TV channels we will view, what courses we will take in school, what college we will attend, what courses we will sign up for, what model and color of car we will buy, what church we will join. We learn early, with multiple confirmations as we grow older, that we have a say in the formation of our lives and, within certain bounds, the decisive say. If the culture does a thorough job on us—and it turns out to be mighty effective with most of us—we enter adulthood with the working assumption that whatever we need and want and feel forms the divine control center of our lives.

The new Holy Trinity. The sovereign self expresses itself in Holy Needs, Holy Wants, and Holy Feelings. The time and intelligence that our ancestors spent on understanding the sovereignty revealed in Father, the, Son, and Holy Spirit are directed by our contemporaries in affirming and validating the sovereignty of our needs, wants, and feelings. 

My needs are non-negotiable. My so-called rights, defined individually, are fundamental to my identity. My need for fulfillment, for expression, for affirmation, for sexual satisfaction, for respect, my need to get my own way—all these provide a foundation to the centrality of me and fortify my self against diminution. 

My wants are evidence of my expanding sense of kingdom. I train myself to think big because I am big, important, significant. I am larger than life and so require more and more goods and services, more things and more power. Consumption and acquisition are the new fruits of the spirit. 

My feelings are the truth of who I am. Any thing or person who can provide me with ecstasy, with excitement, with joy, with stimulus, with spiritual connection validates my sovereignty. This, of course, involves employing quite a large cast of therapists, travel agents, gadgets and machines, recreations and entertainments to cast out the devils of boredom or loss or discontent—all the feelings that undermine or challenge my self-sovereignty.

Well there you have it. Do you see hints… echos… shadows of your own tendencies in what Peterson has said? Do you come to the Bible to shape it your ends or to be shaped by God’s? Is He there to serve you or are you there to serve Him?

Let us always draw near to God’s word in order that He might increase and we might decrease.

Pastor Brett

Brett McNeill

Brett McNeill has been our pastor since we began in 2004. He and Jen have been married since 1998 and have four wonderful daughters. Brett is a graduate of Westminster Seminary in California (Masters in Divinity, 2003). His desire is to clearly proclaim Jesus Christ from all of Scripture in a way that is clear, convicting and encouraging.

The Yellow Brick Road and the Seven Churches

The Yellow Brick Road and the Seven Churches

Judy Garland’s performance in Frank Baum’s the Wizard of Oz will forever be a classic. It is one of those movies that has successfully crossed barriers and renewed its place in the hearts of each new generation for many decades. 

In the movie, Dorothy and Toto are accompanied on the road to Oz by three companions—the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. Each feels frustrated by the lack of something. For the Scarecrow, he longs to have a brain so that he can think deep thoughts. The Tin Man wishes he had a heart so that he can love. And the Lion wishes that he could be brave. What is interesting is how each of these corresponds to what we have been learning in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3. 

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