The Black Sheep of Christendom Part Three
Until the fourth century, Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire. Although Replacement Theology had overtaken the church and metastasized into anti-Semitism, the church had no authority to do anything other than speak against the Jewish people. All that changed in AD 313, and the catalyst was a ruler named Constantine.
Young Constantine, a member of Emperor Diocletian’s court, was preparing to lead his troops at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in AD 312 when he claimed to have a vision of a cross in the sun. So he prayed to the Christian God, put Christian symbols on his banners, and won an astounding victory over an older, more experienced general.
Soon Constantine became emperor of the Roman Empire and issued the Edict of Milan (AD 313) that legalized Christianity and brought the church under the authority of Rome. This was a dramatic turning point in church history. Clergymen were put on the empire’s payroll, and the church went from being ruthlessly persecuted to being part of the state.
Eight years later, Christianity became the official religion. And a mere 60 years later it became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire.
The Rise of Roman Catholicism
Because Rome was the seat of power, the church in Rome rose to prominence; and the bishop of Rome became the most powerful leader of the western half of the empire. Later he became known as the pope, with more power than the emperor. As the Roman Catholic Church spread in influence, it grew more powerful even than the governments of Europe. Believing the Jews to be cursed and the Christians to be God’s new chosen people (the teaching of Replacement Theology), it instigated the persecution of the Jewish people.
First, legislation arose outlawing synagogues and giving permission to burn Jews who broke the law. Jewish people were excluded from high office, restricted in other positions, and forced to shut their businesses on Sunday. Since religious Jews also closed on Saturday, the law helped Gentile merchants.
Furthermore, Jewish people were forbidden to live in Jerusalem, and Sunday was declared the Sabbath even though God’s Word makes the seventh day (Saturday) the day of rest (Ex. 20:9–11). The church also forbade Easter to be observed during Passover, when Christ actually died and arose. Jewish people were forbidden to sue Gentiles, and Christians were forbidden to give their children in marriage to Jewish people. Yet all these restrictions were not enough.
In 415 another turning point came, and anti-Semitism went from being merely verbal to being physical.
Violence and Death
In 415 Cyril, head of the church in Alexandria, led a brutal anti-Jewish riot in the city’s Jewish quarter. Christians beat Jews, raped women, murdered men, stole Jewish property, and drove the Jewish people from the city. From that point on, anti-Semitism mushroomed. It is literally impossible to count the number of cruel, violent, and merciless things done to God’s Chosen People.
During the Crusades in the 11th through 13th centuries, Christian armies marched across Europe murdering Jewish people, raping women, and burning Jewish villages. The church fabricated vicious lies about the Jews, persuading people they were the cause of every evil. When a plague broke out, the Jews were blamed. It was common to hear that Jewish people had poisoned the water or were somehow responsible for all Gentile illnesses and deaths.
It didn’t matter that the same proportion of Jews were dying. The Jewish people were still blamed. Logic and reason meant nothing. Outrageous lies flourished continually, such as the well-know libel that Jewish people stole Christian children, drained their blood, and used it to bake matzohs for their holidays. Never was one instance of such a thing ever proven.
But these lies flooded Europe. Jewish people became the scapegoat for every economic and political woe. And they were beaten, robbed, murdered, and mutilated. A particularly terrible time for them was Easter, when passion plays vilified the Jewish people as “Christ killers” and incited Jew-killing frenzies across the continent.
Jesus Himself, however, never blamed the Jewish people for His death. He declared, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (Jn. 10:17–18). In fact, it was a Gentile hand that nailed Him to the cross, not a Jewish hand. Scripture calls Jesus the perfect, sinless Lamb of God who died as a sacrifice for us all. We are all guilty of putting Christ on the cross.
But Replacement Theology had fomented such vicious anti-Semitism that more horrific, ungodly things were done to the Jewish people in the name of Christ than have been done to any other people in the history of the world.
Convert, Expel, Kill
We are all greatly indebted to Martin Luther. Luther and the other reformers stood against what was then the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church. When Luther left Roman Catholicism he founded what later became the Lutheran Church. At first it was friendly to the Jewish community because Luther believed Jewish people had rejected Christianity due to corruption in the Roman church. If they saw true Christianity based on faith alone, he thought, they would embrace it.
But they did not. And as Luther grew older, he became a hard-core anti-Semite. His books On the Jews and Their Lies and On the Ineffable Name condemned the Jews and encouraged people to burn their synagogues, destroy their homes, take their wealth, and put them to hard labor. Several hundred years later Adolf Hitler used the writings of Martin Luther, Germany’s favorite son, to justify his spiritual case against the Jewish people in his book, Mein Kampf. Hitler followed Luther’s suggestions to a tee. But he added one more: murder.
Jewish life in Europe was always precarious. The term wandering Jew evolved as a result of organized Christendom. Historically, the church had three ways of dealing with the Jewish people: convert them, expel them, or kill them.
When Jewish people first settled in an area, they would be accepted and shown kindness. But as time passed, things changed. Christians felt obligated to convert the Jews. Eventually, their offer went like this: “Would you like to become a Christian today, or would you like to die?” Many chose death.
Converting to Christianity did not mean acknowledging that you were a sinner, believing in your heart that Jesus willingly took your punishment on the cross, and putting your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sin––as we believe. It meant being baptized and taken into church membership. When Jewish people refused, they were expelled from the country. Often they wandered from place to place, homeless and persecuted, unable to put down roots.
Wrote Jewish historian Solomon Grayzel:
In theory, Christianity and Judaism should have lived together in friendly spirit. But…the Jews were subjected to attack and degradation. Large numbers were killed. Then, when deprived of opportunity and of no further economic use, they were expelled and made to wander in search of new homelands. All the lands bordering on the Atlantic Ocean expelled the Jews. In Germany and Italy they were compelled to live apart in ghettos.1
When expulsion failed to satisfy Christendom, elimination began. Thousands of Jewish people were murdered. Then came Hitler, whose “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” was to kill them all.
To this day, Jewish people believe the Holocaust of World War II was perpetrated by Christians. Even though Hitler himself was not a true Christian, many who worked for him were. They were guards at concentration camps. They were soldiers. They were members of the Hitler Youth. And most good Christians in Germany did not stand up against what was going on.
While not evil itself, Replacement Theology has been a dangerous tool in the hand of the Devil. It changed Christendom’s attitude toward Jewish people, fomented contempt for ethnic Israel, and recast the Scriptures from a Jewish book to a Gentile one. It also changed the meaning of Scripture, particularly when it comes to eschatology––the doctrine of future things––as we shall see.
- Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publications Society of America, 1968), 436.