I recently read a paper by Laurence A. Turner of Newbold College— Reading the Bible After the Holocaust: A Seventh-day Adventist Reflection. This paper is one from a collection of fourteen papers presented in 2008 at a conference of Seventh-day Adventist members and leaders held in Jerusalem (Comfort, Comfort My People). It nicely distills some of the more challenging theological issues that arise from a study of the history of Christian anti-semitism, especially from the perspective of its logical conclusion— the Holocaust.
The paper begins with a look at the general impact of the Holocaust on the interpretation of Scripture, but then focuses on the implications for Adventism on some new thinking arising from these studies.
The conclusion of the paper focuses on the assumed supersessionism— the belief that God rejected Israel and replaced it with the church— that can be found within Adventism.
One prominent Adventist theologian who argues that Adventists should reject supersessionism is Jacques Doukhan.
... he posits that, ‘the imperative and primary vocation of the Seventh-day Adventist Church should be to work toward reconciliation between the church and Israel.’
... most Adventists would never have seen producing reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism as part of the Adventist mission at all, let alone suggesting it is our ‘primary vocation’, as Doukhan does.
I have often wondered why we focus intensely on the Sabbath— and I fully support its central importance— but tend to neglect the total cultural shift of church rejection of Israel and Law that lead to Sabbath rejection. Would it not be more productive if we focused on the entire package of rejections rather than just one piece of it?
”… the most radical argument in the debate – that Christian supersessionism must be dropped as an article of faith – is the one inspired most radically by the Holocaust, for, it is argued, Christian supersessionism ultimately inspired the Holocaust. Indeed, supersessionism is seen by many as the source for all kinds of evil. It led to willful ignorance of Judaism, and from ignorance numerous species of damaging stereotypes emerged. One general and obvious offspring has been anti-Semitism, broadly defined, which has affected the way in which Christians have read the Bible. For example, some argue that Christian theologies of the Old Testament (and Old Testament theology is a peculiarly Christian enterprise), often display an anti-Judaic bias. Israelite religion has been frequently presented as defective.”
If, as argued, Christian supersessionism inspired the Holocaust, is it not a moral imperative that we discard it? Or, at the very least study it and understand how it was instrumental in creating this catastrophe?
“As we have seen, the Holocaust has made a major impact on the doctrine of supersessionism. It is obvious to any reader of Adventist authors – academic, devotional or evangelistic – that we have been firmly in the supersessionist camp. A brief account of two influential works will set out the ‘standard’ position. The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary is unequivocal: When the Jewish leaders rejected Christ they were acting as ‘agents of Satan’ and they cancelled the special status that Israel once had in God’s purposes.‘With the crucifixion of Christ they forever forfeited their special position as God’s chosen people’ This divine rejection of Israel had been predicted by Jesus himself in Matt. 21 in his parable of the vineyard. Thus there was a transition from literal Israel (the Jews) to spiritual Israel (the Church), set out in detail in Rom. 9-11. ‘Paul ... makes it plain that the Christian church has replaced the Hebrew nation in the divine plan.’ This does not mean that individual Jews cannot find salvation. They clearly may. But the Jews, as a people, no longer have any salvific role in the world, ‘When the Jews rejected Christ as the Messiah, God in turn rejected them and commissioned the Christian church as his chosen instrument for the salvation of the world.’ In making these claims the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary was not breaking new ground, but simply rehearsing the long-held consensus of Adventist thought.”
I sense that there is some awareness that “supersessionists” is not an attractive label that we desire to apply to ourselves and I have heard some arguments attempting to disassociate the Seventh-day Adventist church from this doctrine. However, this paper is emphatic that an honest appraisal places us in the supersessionist camp.
This is not the place to present an argument against the highlighted point above, but how do we reconcile the point quoted from the SDA Bible Commentary and “has God rejected his people? By no means!... God has not rejected his people” (Romans 11:1–2 NRSV)? Ellen White makes a similar point— “Even though Israel rejected His Son, God did not reject them” (AA 375.2)— but we could also add that every member of the early church was of Israel.
“… perhaps the Holocaust should give Adventists food for thought. Have we simply absorbed the presuppositions of our general Christian culture without submitting our position to rigorous biblical and theological scrutiny?