Replacement Theology, Medieval Anti-Semitism And Modern Terror

May 25th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

In late April 2019, before he walked into a synagogue in Poway, California, and opened fire, John Earnest wrote a seven-page manifesto spelling out his core beliefs:  That Jewish people, guilty in his view of faults ranging from killing Jesus to controlling the media, deserved to die; that his intention to kill Jews would glorify God.  John Earnest — the 19-year-old man who entered that Southern California synagogue—killed a 60-year-old woman and injured several more people, claiming to have acted, in part, to avenge the death of Simon of Trent.  “You are not forgotten Simon of Trent, the horror that you and countless children have endured at the hands of the Jews will never be forgiven,” said a manifesto in Earnest’s name.  It also casts the slaughter of Jews as a noble act against a cruel foe: “I would die a thousand times over to prevent the doomed fate that the Jews have planned for my race,” it says. The hatred evidenced in Earnest’s manifesto was plucked directly from the 15th century.   [This frightening manifesto was uploaded to the text repository Pastebin and posted on the anonymous message board 8chan. The dissemination of the manifesto was instantaneous, reaching thousands of readers around the world.]

Days later, reporter Julie Zauzmer states, “the Rev. Mika Edmondson read those words and was stunned. ‘It certainly calls for a good amount of soul-searching,’ said Edmondson, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a small evangelical denomination founded to counter liberalism in mainline Presbyterianism.”  John Earnest was a member of an OPC congregation and attended regularly.  His father was an elder.  His manifesto spewed not only invective against Jews and racial minorities but, strangely, it also espoused an informed branch of Reformed theology.

How should we think about John Earnest and his perverted view of Christian theology?

  • First of all, some history. Who is Simon Trent?  Talia Lavin helps us understand:  “On Easter Sunday, 1475, the body of a 2-year-old Christian boy named Simon Unferdorben was discovered near a Jewish home in the northern Italian city of Trent, then a province of the Holy Roman Empire. Immediately, authorities arrested every Jew living in the city. Even as they awaited sentencing, a mythic narrative sprang up around the dead toddler: that he was a saintly martyr, a victim of ritual murder by the Jews, who had killed him to use his blood in the baking of their Passover matzohs.  After prolonged torture, eight Jews were beheaded or burned at the stake for their alleged roles in the boy’s death. The late-medieval Christian networks of communication broadcast the myth of Simon’s martyrdom at the hands of a cabal of evil Jews across languages and countries. Simon’s tomb became a magnet for pilgrims from across Christendom, who claimed that the saintly boy had granted them miraculous healing from hernias, stabbings and other ailments. The bishop of Trent financed the writing of poems and hagiographies that both praised the martyred child and denounced the perfidy of Jews.”  If, Talia Lavin argues, in the 1400s, “anti-Semitic myths were transmitted by means of beatific poetry, legends of martyrs and claims of miraculous healing, today such lies are transmitted far more easily.”
  • Earnest’s manifesto also addressed the issue of salvation: “I did not choose to be a Christian. The Father chose me. The Son saved me. And the Spirit keeps me,” Earnest said, espousing a rather standard Reformed theology. He also wrote that his salvation was based not on his actions or lack of sin but on God’s will.  In the manifesto, “you actually hear a frighteningly clear articulation of Christian theology in certain sentences and paragraphs. He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church,” said the Rev. Duke Kwon, a Washington pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, another evangelical denomination which shares many of its beliefs with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Kwon also said that “the shooting should lead other pastors to be more aware that they need to explain to their congregations what the Bible means when it says Jews killed Jesus.” To Kwon, it means some “specific Jews alive 2,000 years ago were involved, alongside Roman officials, in Jesus’ death — not that Jewish people today bear any guilt for the crucifixion.”  But that nuance often gets lost, Kwon said. “There’s a deep and ugly history of anti-Semitism that’s crept into the Christian church, that needs to be continuously addressed, condemned and corrected,” he said.
  • OPC pastors’positions on Israel tend to differ sharply from other evangelicals: “The political/geographical entity known as Israel is not significant in and of itself,” one OPC pastor declared.   Another OPC pastor states on the OPC website:  “We pray for the blood descendants of Abraham, the Jews that they might also believe in Jesus.”  That Israel is of no significance to Christians represents a theological view called Replacement Theology.
  • What does this system teach about Israel? Replacement theology (aka Supersessionism) contends that, in God’s plan, the church has replaced Israel.  God is done with Israel and the Jews have no prophetic role in God’s plan for the future.  The church inherits and fulfills all of the covenant promises God made to the patriarchs.  In other words, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant have no application whatsoever to the Jewish people.  God’s covenant promises to the Jewish people are fulfilled only in the church.  A dimension of this teaching is that when the term “Israel” is used in the New Testament after Pentecost, it means the church.  In effect, the church now constitutes God’s chosen people.

Two giants in the early church best explain the theological origins of Replacement Theology:  1. Augustine (354-430) taught that God was done with the Jews and he rejected any type of premillennial teaching.  He vehemently rejected any persecution of the Jews, but he believed they had no remaining place in God’s plan.  2.  A contemporary of Augustine, John Chrysostom (347-407), preached and then published a series called “Homilies on the Jews.”  This series of messages characterized the Jews as killers of Christ, rapacious, greedy and worthless.  God hates the Jews and so should Christians, he argued.  Such teaching became institutionalized in medieval Roman Catholicism (AD 600-1500) and the Roman Catholic Church officially adopted a form of Replacement Theology as the official dogma of the church.   A corollary of this teaching is that God will not restore the Jews to their land; He will not fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham; and the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36-37 do not apply to the Jews but to the church.

The dastardly deeds of John Earnest at the California synagogue in Poway have no justification and find no support in any expression of genuine, biblical Christianity.  A perverted, medieval replacement theology is still being used to justify the slaughter of Jews.  It is being used in white nationalist groups of the alt-right as well.  Whether Christians believe God is done with the Jews or not, no Christian should ever condone the persecution or killing of Jews as glorifying to God.  John Earnest was motivated by a perverted distortion of Christianity.  We who know and love the Lord should be willing to forthrightly condemn such acts.  Any form of white nationalism that seeks harm to Jews does not represent Jesus Christ.

See Talia Lavin, “The San Diego shooter’s manifesto is a modern form of an old lie about Jews,” in the Washington Post (29 April 2019); and Julie Zauzmer, “The alleged synagogue shooter was a churchgoer who talked Christian theology, raising tough questions for evangelical pastors” in the Washington Post (1 May 2019).

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