I got a phone call late in February by a religion reporter named Lilly Fowler, who writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She wanted an interview for an article that she was writing about the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and its outreach efforts to reach Jewish people with the Gospel.
My first inclination was to be wary, but, under the rubric of “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” I met her for coffee one afternoon. That precipitated visits by her and two photographers to our worship services on a Sunday, and then on Ash Wednesday. I truly didn’t think it would amount to much, because, who are we after all? Well, while I was in Portland, Oregon, preaching and leading a Seder at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Sherwood, the article came out in the paper. What I didn’t realize, since I hadn’t seen the paper, was that it ran on the front page with a color photograph of me applying ashes to the foreheads of my grand daughters and my wife. It was continued to the third page with another photograph of our congregation, and it was captioned by some over-zealous copy editor as a “SPIRITUAL INCURSION.”
Now I don’t care how you slice it, the word “incursion” does not have many positive attributes! So, needless to say, it got a lot of attention. It got picked up and ran nationally in several papers around the country, as well as on the internet. Apparently it appeared in papers in Toledo, OH, Broward County, FL, and even The Washington Post:
The Religion News Service:
Media critics got involved:
and I have been invited to be on the radio three times since then, two different programs on KFUO www.kfuo.org , Law and Gospel with Rev. Tom Baker and Reformation Rush Hour with Rev. Craig Donofrio, and on Dr. Michael Brown’s syndicated radio show Line of Fire lineoffireradio.com.
We were the target of much criticism, along with some who expressed their agreement with our ministry focus. There were comments galore, and many opportunities for conversations on-line, and thankfully others got involved, because I got busy. All this during Lent, a Purim party, and our annual St. Patrick’s Day outreach. The anti-missionaries got involved too. I was called several things…a bigot, anti-Semitic, deceptive, a liar, etc. You get the point.
During this same period of time, I received an e-mail from someone that said (and I did get his permission to share this!):
I also have a question which you are uniquely positioned to answer. As you know, Luther had a controversial side to him when it came to the Jewish people. If you ‘google’ this you will quickly see a lot about it. “On the Jews and Their Lies.” I had studied Luther in college years ago…but somehow this evaded me.I find this incredibly out of step with the rest of Luther’s character and it seems quite sad. Maybe there is a good answer out there but I am not sure what it is. Perhaps it is a question of Luther’s time and place (being a medieval man)? Was he suffering dementia? Was he just a cranky old man when he wrote this stuff? Clearly, it was ingrained in the German psyche. I even wondered if this was actually his writing.I realize he was no saint but I expected more from him.
So this was my response to him…
I have to deal with this question all the time. The writer of the blog you linked is wrong. Luther did not hate the Jews. He did, however, hate anyone who preached a false gospel or attacked his faith. While “On the Jews and their Lies” is unconscionable for Luther to have written, I do understand it. Everyone always wants to look at his later writings without the context of his earlier writings, so I will turn you to “That Jesus Christ was born a Jew,” written in 1523 by Luther. You will find a very evangelical and loving approach to the Jewish people. But by 1543 Luther was being attacked on many fronts. One of those fronts were the Jewish anti-missionaries in Wittenburg at the time. Luther had been faithful in proclaiming the gospel to the Jewish people there, so some rabbis got together and published tractates that called Luther a false teacher, Christianity a false religion, and Jesus a false messiah. This infamous document of Luther’s was a response to them. Unfortunately, he got out of control, wrote such hateful words and then, in a seeming attempt to apologize for them in a sermon three days before he died, he was less than confronting.
It would have been much easier to deal with had Luther been less stubborn and more forthright in rejecting his own writings. But it was the Middle Ages, and students were writing down and circulating every word Luther said and wrote. None of us could stand under such a microscope! But it is important to deal with Luther, the whole man, saint and sinner, and also in the context of all of his writings. This is what he said on February 15, 1546 (2+ years after “On the Jews…”), “We want to act in a Christian way toward them [the Jews] and offer them first of all the Christian faith, that they might accept the Messiah, who, after all, is their kinsman and born of their flesh and blood and is of the real seed of Abraham of which they boast… We still want to treat them with Christian love and to pray for them, so that they might become converted and would receive the Lord.”–Luther, 1546.
With regard to “On the Jews and their Lies,” our ministry presented Convention Resolution 3-09, St. Louis, 1983 which, among other “resolves,” stated “That while, on the one hand, we are deeply indebted to Luther for his rediscovery and enunciation of the Gospel, on the other hand [sounds very Jewish, doesn’t it?], we deplore and disassociate ourselves from Luther’s negative statements about the Jewish people, and, by the same token, we deplore the use today of such sentiments by Luther to incite anti-Christian and/or anti-Lutheran sentiment,” and “That, in that light, we personally and individually adopt Luther’s final attitude toward the Jewish people, as evidenced by his last sermon: … (Weimar edition, Vol 51, p. 195). The St. Louis convention adopted this resolution. So we have dealt with this issue at a synodical level too.
I think it is interesting that this is all happening during Lent, because my personal focus for Lent was to be disciplined in the fruit of the Spirit of self-control. By no means am I comparing myself to Luther as a scholar and reformer, but as a sinner I am the same man. With all this opportunity that I am having to respond publicly to those who would attack the Gospel, Jesus, our ministry and even me personally, my prayer is that I will not say something publicly that will undermine our ministry. I hope you will pray that prayer with me.
Finally, it occurs to me that the attention we are receiving for the cause of the Gospel is such that some might be scared off of witnessing to their Jewish friends and relatives. I just want to say that while many are hard-hearted to the Gospel, let me assure you that many too are seeking God, and open to His Word. I have had several good conversations too, so please do not fear and keep on sharing. In the mean time, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers [and sisters], whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2-3).