Is There Antisemitism in Your Theology?

Antisemitism and the Folly of Replacement Theology

Editor’s note: The King’s University has announced a new concentration in antisemitism and Jewish Advocacy.

“Their rotten and unbending stiff-neckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.” 

Can you imagine a pastor saying this from their platform today? What if one of the modern leaders of the Christian community wrote a book and said this? Worse yet, what if a sentiment like this informed the theologies of a majority of Christians for centuries? Shockingly, the author of this quote was John Calvin, the famous 16th century reformer. And the people he is so wincingly attacking are the Jewish people. For many followers of Jesus, this type of glaring antisemitism comes as an alarming surprise. How could one of the most respected theologians in Christian tradition spout off something so toxic? 

Others might wonder if I am simply framing Calvin unfairly, taking his quote out of context. With that in mind, here’s one of the many quotes of Calvin’s contemporary, Martin Luther: “Set fire to their synagogues or schools and bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians.” Brutal.

The Christian Church’s relationship with the Jewish people is marred by wounds and atrocities. Most scholars conclude that Hitler’s violent antisemitism was enabled by the anti-Jewish theologies of Church heroes like Calvin and Luther. Living in a post-Holocaust world, it is difficult for modern Christians to believe that antisemitism was flowing in the lifeblood of the Church for thousands of years. Yet, it was. Why? 

The basis of Christian antisemitism begins with the simple idea that the gentile-majority Church has “replaced” the Jewish people as God’s redemptive people. This is, aptly, called Replacement Theology. If I polled 100 pastors today and asked them if they believed this, 90 of them would say “no way.” Since World War II and the reestablishment of the State of Israel, it’s become harder to accept that one group of people simply “replaced” another. Unfortunately, Replacement Theology has spawned numerous offshoots. All are equally as destructive and unbiblical. 

Here’s the bottom line: replacement theology—or any derivative of it—turns Israel and the Jewish people into “God’s ex-wife.” Think about it. God chose one group of people—the Jewish people—and made an eternal covenant with them. (Gen. 17:7). If He simply changes His mind due to shortcomings on the part of his “spouse” (Israel), and then takes a new covenantal partner (the gentile Church), it’s an absolute assassination of His faithful character. 

At this point, you might be thinking, “I’m glad I don’t buy into that garbage!” I want to encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to dig around in the soil of your heart. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: 

  • Am I okay with my personal Savior being Jewish? 
  • Is my theology haughty in any way towards the Jewish people? 
  • Have I ever asked God to give me His heart for the Jewish people? 
  • Do the Jewish people concern me at all? 

In 2003, I asked myself the first question. Sadly, my initial answer was, “He’s not Jewish!” As soon as I had this thought, the Holy Spirit told me, “You have antisemitism in your heart.” I was shocked. There was no way! I didn’t hate anyone. Immediately, God reminded me of a conversation I had when I was young. Someone I looked up to told me that “Christians are the new Jews.” I innocently agreed, and this became a seedbed for unhealthy theology, which took the form of innocent antisemitism. I’m not accusing you of this. I simply want to provoke you to dig in the soil of your heart, and mine out any places that have anti-Jewish sentiment. 

The Apostle Paul saw antisemitism on the horizon when he penned the book of Romans: “Do not be arrogant toward the branches (Jewish people); but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18 NASB) At Gateway Center for Israel, we have numerous resources available to you as you discover God’s heart for Israel and the Jewish people. I invite you to join me on this lifetime journey of rooting out any anti-Jewish sentiment in your theology and heart and to replace that with a vibrant, sincere love for God’s covenantal people—Israel.

Nic Lesmeister
Nic Lesmeister
Nic Lesmeister is the director of the Gateway Center for Israel at Gateway Church. He is the former president of the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI).