In 1523, Martin Luther wrote That Christ Was Born a Jew and it was revolutionary in the day – preaching love towards the Jews and encouraging their conversion. But the Jews were not interested in a Messiah who was a lawbreaker and who looked nothing like a Jew but instead like a Gentile. Luther’s professed love turned to a vitrolic hate and in 1543, 20 years later, he published On the Jews and Their Lies – considered by many to be Adolf Hitler’s 60,000 word blueprint for their extermination.
So what happened, and how can we learn from it? And how can we avoid doing it?
Doing it? Yes indeed – I see it on a daily basis. I saw it just this morning on a facebook thread, where a self-proclaimed Messianic Rabbi was preaching hatred and slander against other Messianics who disagree with his brand of theology, they were weirdos who just weren’t getting it and he painted his opposition with as wide and insulting a brush as he could manufacture (and misrepresenting just about everyone I know in the process). And I have seen it against Christians from Messianics as well, and from Christians against Catholics, Catholics against Christians, etc.
So what happens? We come into what we believe is the truth and we get super excited – we want to share that truth and relieve others of their blindness – and when those people don’t want to hear it, our “love” for them quickly turns to contempt, anger, and bitterness, and then slander and wrath if we don’t learn to control ourselves. And step by step, we feel justified in that contempt, anger, bitterness, slander and wrath – it starts to feel like righteousness when it is in fact the exact opposite.
You see, opposition reveals our heart, and our fruit – if our fruit is bad then opposition will reveal it. If we cannot have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control when people aren’t “getting with the program” – then it’s just a sham the rest of the time. Even tax collectors are good to their friends, as Yeshua (Jesus) said. Martin Luther had a great revelation, but his fruit was bad. That revelation should have changed his heart, not just the company he kept. When Luther turned his hatred on the Jews, it wasn’t because the Jews weren’t believing God – it was because the Jews were not believing Martin Luther. And I see that everyday with new believers – they go out in pride, wanting to convert the world, but people don’t want to follow them. A lot of people get over that and remember that their blindness had to be removed by God Himself, but others just keep becoming more and more hateful and more and more insulting. They become worse because their minds are depraved with discord, they are divisive and love controversies, they have no patience or compassion for those who are blind (if they truly are – sometimes it is actually the preacher “of truth” who is blinded), and they have no tolerance for opposition.
Can we disagree without insults, without manipulation, without passive aggressive attacks? Can we wait upon others with the patience that God expended upon us? Can we acknowledge the things that those who disagree with us are right about, the things that they do excellently, the ways they perhaps reflect God’s character better than we do? Or are we, like Luther, going to stay focused on their real or imagined faults and descend into the pit of blind hatred and depraved cruelty?
No, we are called to good fruit, to die to ourselves – to be opposed and yet still hope, still love, and still have faith. We can’t afford to hate those who aren’t walking in the fullness of truth because none of us are. If we judge others for how short of our expectations they fall, how are we to justify ourselves before God? As the man who was forgiven a great debt went after the man who only had a small debt, and was thrown into prison for it, how can we tempt the gracious mercy of our King in not extending compassion and patience to others?
Becoming Martin Luther is easy, it’s the easiest thing in the world. We just need to get prideful about what we have been given, and then persecute everyone else who hasn’t received that gift yet. Martin Luther didn’t receive revelation because he was better than everyone else, it doesn’t work that way – he got that revelation because God was generous with him. God was also generous with me, but the moment that I start to forget His generosity and imagine that I am here by my virtue – I’m just 60,000 words away from becoming just as hateful and vengeful as the man who could have chosen to love the Jews and end the rift between Protestant Christianity and Judaism – and in so doing, save us from almost 500 years of antisemitic futility.