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Israel and Jesus

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The Tension of Jesus

For too long Jews and Christians have been engaging with each other by ‘dancing’ around the real issues. I have been involved in this field since 1975 and therefore can speak from experience.

Even though Christianity is an offshoot of the Jewish faith, the gulf between the two belief systems is great, and there is no reason for us to pretend otherwise. Judaism and Christianity have a lot in common, to be sure, but the stumbling point is most certainly Jesus and His mission to the world, including the Jewish world.

One of these ‘real issues’ confronting us is his command to His followers to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to "every creature" (Mark 16:15), even the Jewish ones. This is a major tenet of biblical Christian faith, but it is totally rejected by the Jewish world for many reasons, chiefly historical but theological as well. Sadly, the historical Christian obedience to this command was to persecute, harass and even kill Jews. One cannot therefore act surprised at the Jewish position on missionizing.

Nonetheless, you can still be in dialogue between the two distinctive systems if you dance around this issue as well. But such an approach is threatening to derail one of the greatest movements in history in terms of healing Jewish-Christian relationships.

Some Evangelical Christians say there can be no compromise and are publicly calling for aggressive missionary activity to be directed at Israel and the Jewish world. Others are so moved to engage with Israel that they feel a need to completely remove the ‘tension’ of Jesus from between us through Dual Covenant and other erroneous teachings.

Meantime, a small band of Jewish anti-missionary activists are trying to spoil the burgeoning relationship between Christians and Jews by attacking the Christian belief system and even calling for benevolence organizations like the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to be branded as missionary and thereby banned from Israel.

Now if I said to my Jewish friends that in order to have a meaningful relationship with me, they must stop celebrating Shabbat, they would be horrified and reject such a position out of hand. But this is what some Jews are doing to Christians! They assert that no relationship between Jews and Christians can take place unless the Christians disavow missionary activity.

The Jewish world must know that the call to be obedient to world missions, including the Jewish world, is not a small matter that can be compromised. No, this call is a major tenet of our biblical faith (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:18-20). It cannot be done away with easily, just as keeping Shabbat cannot be done away with easily. If pro-Israel Evangelicals reject this call they would be totally discredited in the wider Christian world.

So the question is: How do Christians obey their own Scriptures to preach the Good News everywhere and at the same time engage Israel in a non-offensive way?

First, by affirming who we are and not by trying to play at being Jewish. Though our ministry does not engage in traditional missionary activity in Israel, neither do we hide who we are as devout Christians, and we make clear all that we do is compelled by the love of Jesus in us. Thus our conduct itself is a “witness” to the transformation Jesus has done in our lives, and if someone then wants to ask me about it, I will tell them.

As the Apostle Peter instructed: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15) In other words if Jews do not want to know, they simply should not ask!

For nearly three decades now, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has embraced this position with integrity and been able to engage with Israel without compromising on our obedience to own faith. We have been sincere and honest and many Israelis know they can trust us because there is no hidden agenda. This is who we are as both committed Christians and genuine friends of Israel, and we have the track record to prove it.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Israel and Christians

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The following is taken from an interview of David Parsons, ICEJ Media Director, by Manfred Gerstenfeld for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs examing the complex cultural, theological and political relationship between the State of Israel and the worldwide Christian community. Scroll down to read more...

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Summary of the Interview

 

  • The Holocaust initiated a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in numerous Christian circles. To many it was clear that centuries of Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters. These crimes alone, however, could not have shifted the theological thinking of many Christians to such a large extent. Many would still have seen the Shoah as yet another example that Jews are forever cursed.

  • It was the theological shock of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that challenged the fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people. For centuries, the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews, who were blamed for killing Christ, were cursed to endless wanderings. This is the key distinguishing factor between Christian friends and foes of Israel: whether or not one believes the Jews still have an abiding covenantal relationship with God.

  • Within the pro-Israeli Protestant camp there are two major theological schools. The first is covenantal Christian theology, which is based on the belief that God eternally keeps his covenantal promises. The second is dispensationalism, which says that Israel was temporarily replaced by the church but-at the end of days-Israel will once again be God's main redemptive agent in the world.

  • Replacement theology, also called supersessionism, is the main theology of Israel's Christian foes. It is based on the idea that God's unique relationship with the church is the replacement or the completion of the promises made to the Jewish people, and thus Israel's "election" no longer stands. Palestinian liberation theology uses Jesus as a historic role model, identifying with him as the "first Palestinian revolutionary." Thus, it justifies Palestinian violence against Israelis as acceptable acts of the oppressed against the oppressor.


Full Transcript of the Interview

"The Holocaust brought about a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in many Christian circles. It was a major moral shock for them that, in the heart of Christian Europe, a genocide had taken place that aimed to annihilate the Jews. To many, it was clear that centuries of Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters.

"These crimes alone, however, could not have shifted the theological thinking of many Christians to such a large extent. Many would still have said: ‘The Shoah is yet one more example that the Jews are forever cursed.'"

David R. Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, senior producer of the weekly radio program Front Page Jerusalem, and contributing editor of the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. From 1991 to 1995 he served as general counsel for CIPAC, a Christian pro-Israeli lobby registered with Congress to advocate for strong U.S.-Israel relations.

A Theological Shock

Parsons observes: "It was the theological shock of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 that challenged fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people. For centuries the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews, who were blamed for killing Christ, were cursed to endless wanderings. The concept was that they had been dispersed around the world, never to return to the Land of Israel or play an important role in God's redemptive plan for humanity. In short, with the birth of the church, the Jews had served their purpose once and for all.

"Then after World War II, rather suddenly Jewish sovereignty was restored in the Land of Israel. This development did not square with mainstream Christian doctrines. Thereupon several Christian churches, of which the large Catholic Church is a good example, gradually steered their institutions toward new attitudes concerning the Jewish people.

"However, there also remain Christians who have refused to change their doctrines to fit this new reality of a restored Israel. They would rather try to retool the facts to fit their classic theology of a rejected Israel. This is perhaps a little-known, but large motivating factor, for many pro-Palestinian Christians in the Western world. By attempting to reverse history they want to do away with Jewish sovereignty in the Land.

"In addition they would like to whittle Israel back to a bi-national state, Jews and Arabs, and three religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This is an important source of the Christian involvement in the divestment campaigns, apartheid branding of Israel, and other anti-Israeli efforts. Although this activism has an underlying theological basis, it is also part of the wider ‘culture wars' between the Left and Right."

Christian Zionists

When asked to first analyze the various currents among Christian friends of Israel, Parsons replies that some of these supported the Zionist movement since its inception. "Theodore Herzl coined the term ‘Christian Zionists' at the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, in reference to such Christian figures as the Rev. William Hechler, the chaplain at the British embassy in Vienna, and the Swiss Protestant Jean Henri Dunant, who shared the first Nobel Peace Prize.

"Christian Zionism even predates the advent of political Zionism by decades if not centuries, as leading Christian ministers and politicians advocated the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland from the time of the Protestant Reformation. Its triumph was the Balfour Declaration, as six of the nine members of the British cabinet of David Lloyd George were professing Christian Zionists. The theological basis was their belief that the time had come for the Jews to return to their homeland. They also believed that Great Britain, with its worldwide empire, was uniquely positioned to help with the worldwide ingathering of the Jewish Diaspora. It was not only a matter of belief; great-power calculations also played a part in their attitudes.

"The roots of Christian Zionism start, however, with the Reformation. The Bible was put in the vernacular so that people could read it for themselves. They saw that God still loved the Jews. What they were reading did not accord with the teachings of the established churches, particularly Catholic doctrines.

"Today there are more Christian Zionists than ever. Many millions, all over the world, have a compelling love for Israel and the Jewish people. Eight thousand Christians came from nearly a hundred countries to participate in the recent celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. Among them were 1,500 Brazilians, but also people from Papua New Guinea and Fiji. None canceled despite the economic crisis, even if they were not well to do. Several hotels in Jerusalem have told us that they regularly refuse requests from other people to take over room reservations made by our Feast pilgrims for the Sukkot holiday, saying that ‘whatever happens here, we know the Christians will come.'"

Misrepresentations

"It is sometimes difficult to be a Christian Zionist, as even some Jewish and Israeli leaders claim we are no different from Christians in the past. There are many misrepresentations about us. One is that the Christian Zionist movement is a recent outgrowth of the Christian Right and has a variety of sinister motives. We even have fellow evangelical Christians who call us idolaters for worshipping secular Israel instead of Christ."

Parsons prefers to use the term "biblical Zionism" rather than "Christian Zionism," since it allows more room for Jewish and Christian agreement. He explains: "I am a Christian adherent to biblical Zionism, which can also have Jewish adherents. As a believer in the Bible and the God of the Bible, I believe that the Jewish people and the Land of Israel were both chosen for the purpose of world redemption. The modern restoration of the Jews to their ancient homeland is evidence of God being faithful to his covenantal promise to the patriarch Abraham to deliver the Land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to his descendants.

"All human beings are equal, but the Jews have a unique role in the world that we must respect. The worship of God, His word, His commandments, His covenants, and for us Christians, God's Messiah, were all delivered to us through the Jewish people. It is a biblical paradox that there is universality with God in that He loves all humanity, and at the same time also a particularity, or divine election. It is even the teaching of the New Testament that through the return of the Jewish exiles, God is still working out his plan of redemption for the whole world.

"As adherents of biblical Zionism, we support political Zionism, as the Jewish people need a homeland and safe haven, but we add the element of divine purpose. This sets us entirely apart from the anti-Israeli camp that believes the election of the Jewish people no longer stands. In their theology the Jews are now fair game for criticism and worse. This is the key distinguishing factor between Christian friends and foes of Israel-whether or not you believe the Jews still have an enduring covenantal relationship with God.

"Elements of covenantal theology can already be found in the writings of the early Church Fathers, including Irinaeus and Augustine. The reformer John Calvin was, however, the first to organize God's salvation concepts under this system of theology."

Perhaps 600 Million Protestant Evangelicals

Asked how many Christian Zionists there are, Parsons replies: "The Christian world comprises, to begin with, perhaps up to one billion Catholics. There are over 200 million Eastern Orthodox Christians and 200 million mainline Protestant parishioners.

"The Protestant evangelicals number perhaps as many as 600 million today-these are people who claim to have had a ‘born again' experience and who view the Bible as the inspired Word of God. The evangelical stream is the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. The Chinese government recently admitted that there as many as 120 million evangelical Christians in their country, more than the number of Communist Party members.

"These evangelicals generally tend to have a favorable view of Israel, and many are interested in exploring the Jewish roots of our faith. Time magazine recently called this effort to study our Hebraic roots one of the top ten trends in the world today. In a recent poll some 80 percent of U.S. Christians felt a moral obligation to stand with Israel. There are some anti-Israeli pockets among evangelicals but these remain small.

"Another great motivating factor is that we want to take responsibility for the bitter legacy of Christian anti-Semitism. Outside the United States much of our support base comes from Europe. We have strong branches in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and the Scandinavian countries.

"These Christians are familiar with the history of the Crusades, the medieval expulsions of the Jews, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. In the history of the evangelical Christian movement there are no instances of ‘convert or die' scenarios. Among those who now support Israel are people who have come out of churches that played major roles in Christian anti-Semitism. For them, supporting Israel is not a matter of guilt, but rather of taking responsibility for a bitter legacy and trying to remove the stain from the church's name.

"Within the pro-Israeli Protestant camp there are two major theological schools. The first is covenantal Christian theology, which, as noted, is based on the belief that God eternally keeps his covenantal promises made through Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. We believe the Hebrew prophets were servants of the covenants and tell us something about how God will keep his covenantal promises. The foundation of our pro-Israeli stance, however, is the Abrahamic covenant. The people in the Christian Embassy belong to this theological school."

Dispensationalism

"The other pro-Israeli Christian theology is dispensationalism. It is of more recent origin and focuses on prophetic passages in which Israel plays an important ‘end-time' role. Its origins can be traced to John Nelson Darby who was a preacher in the Plymouth Brethren Movement, which dates from the early 1800s. His ideas were later adopted by Cyrus Scofield in the United States, who published a popular reference Bible around 1900.

"Dispensationalism says that Israel was temporarily replaced by the church but-at the end of days-Israel will once again be the main redemptive agent for God in the world for a short season. This happens when the true church is ‘raptured' or caught up into heaven at the start of the seven-year Tribulation. Then, during this time of great turmoil on earth, two-thirds of the Jews in the Land of Israel will die and the other one-third, through their conversion, will bring back Christ.

"I believe this is based on erroneous interpretations of prophetic portions of the Bible, which contain passages that can be privately interpreted in many different ways. Still, it is a harmless belief system that Jews should not be too worried about. Even with these interpretations, most adherents of dispensationalism have a deep, abiding love for Israel. And it is not they who would be forcing Israel into some last, grand, convert-or-die scenario, since they would already be in heaven."

Israel's Foes

Replacement theology, also called supersessionism, is the main theology of Israel's Christian foes. The terminology dates back to the seventeenth century but reflects an older view that was already espoused by some early church followers. It is based on the idea that God's unique relationship with the church is the replacement or the completion of the promises made to the Jewish people.

"Some of those who believe in replacement theology are uncomfortable with the terminology and instead speak of ‘fulfillment theology.' It means that God has fulfilled everything He had promised to the Jews, and the new covenant substitutes the Mosaic one. Under this covenant the church replaces Israel as God's main redemptive agent in the world.

"Various strands have been identified within replacement theology. One is ‘punitive supersessionism,' which simply says the Jews are cursed to endure endless wanderings because they killed Christ. Another variant is ‘economic supersessionism,' which has nothing to do with money but means that in God's economy the church has essentially replaced Israel in His plan on a practical level.

"Yet another trend is ‘structural supersessionism.' This marginalizes the Old Testament as no longer being normative for Christian thought. It can be considered a modern-day revival of Marcionism. Marcion was a second- century heretic who maintained that Christians should not care about the Hebrew Bible, but focus only on the New Testament.

"Marcion thought that if one accepted both testaments, one was serving a schizophrenic God. He saw the God of the Old Testament as one of vengeance and war, while the God of the New Testament revealed himself through Jesus as one of mercy and love."

Parsons adds that many in the Christian world fail to understand the biblical paradoxes concerning, on the one hand, God's universal love for all mankind and, on the other, His sovereign election, both of Jews and Christians. Many Christians have had difficulty with the similar biblical paradox of "free will" versus "predestination." But he notes that in Romans 11, the Apostle Paul says, "Behold the goodness and severity of God." Parsons observes that this passage embodies these two paradoxical traits within God's character and that the "trick" for those of faith is learning to live between them, even if many Christians do not succeed at this.

"The basic problem with replacement theology is that it denies God's immutable nature. Replacement theology charges that God is untrustworthy and can change His mind. If God indeed had changed His mind, the Jewish people would have been wiped out long ago, according to Malachi, Chapter 3. If the covenant with the Jewish people has been nullified, Christians must ask themselves what value the new covenant has for us. Our view is that one can add a covenant, but that does not necessarily nullify an existing one.

"Christian Zionists get demonized together with the Jews by some of the mainstream churches, which believe in replacement theology. We consider it an honor to stand with the Jews."

Liberation Theology

Parsons remarks: "Liberation theology is one more Christian theology that is hostile to Israel. It overstresses and overidentifies with the historic figure of Jesus-as opposed to the glorified Jesus post-resurrection-in order to address modern social grievances. It sees the historic Jesus as the earliest role model of a revolutionary fighting against oppression. In his case it was Roman oppression; now it is used to justify struggles against today's purported oppressors-the Israelis, for example.

"Liberation theology started in Latin America where certain Catholic priests were trying to address legitimate local social problems. Its discourse has Marxist overtones. This caused the Vatican to come out against certain aspects of liberation theology.

"This theology also has several prominent versions. ‘Black liberation theology' got much public attention during Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of his church-Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago-is an adherent of it. The father of black liberation theology is the Rev. James Hal Cone, whom Wright considers his spiritual leader. Wright also hosted at his church a key proponent of Palestinian liberation theology, Rev. Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Center in Jerusalem.

"Liberation theology will use the teachings of Jesus to justify violence whenever someone undertakes it against a real or purported oppressor. In the case of blacks, that means the fight against slavery and segregation. When a liberation theologian speaks of ‘justice,' it is a very loaded term. It basically means ‘I want all my grievances resolved, and even then I am not satisfied because I am always the oppressed while the other is always the oppressor.' Ironically, this is much in line with what many Muslims think."

Palestinian Liberation Theology

"‘Palestinian liberation theology' bases itself on the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel. Adherents use Jesus as a historic role model, considering him the ‘first Palestinian revolutionary.' Thus they try to justify Palestinians blowing themselves up to kill the ‘oppressors.'

"No Christian theology can, however, preach violence, because Jesus in essence taught pacifism. He maintained that if one lives by the sword, one should be prepared to die by it. Jesus basically said ‘I didn't come to overthrow the Romans; my kingdom is not of this world.' Liberation theology sees a black-and-white world where the oppressed can get away with anything."

Parsons remarks, "I have seen so-called study missions from the World Council of Churches coming to Israel and using liberation-theology arguments to support the Palestinians. The international headquarters of the YMCA in Geneva sent a study mission at the height of the Second Intifada, which did the same. When reporters objected that they were somewhat biased, their spokeswoman's answer was: ‘Jesus taught us to root for the underdog.' This is a huge distortion of the message of the New Testament.

"Palestinian Christians are a small and dwindling, but highly symbolic community in the Palestinian territories. Some Christian clerics exploit that symbolic value to support Palestinian nationalism by distorting and denying the Jewishness of Jesus. By creating a Palestinian Jesus, they undermine the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith in order to serve the Palestinian narrative."

Edward Said and the Palestinian Jesus

"Prof. Edward Said, who taught Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University, often described Palestinian suffering under the Jews as ‘this endless Calvary, this constant crucifixion.' He thus deliberately drew upon classic Christian anti-Semitic motifs. Said's analogy was that Jesus suffered under the Romans and now the Palestinians were suffering under the Jews.

"Justus Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has exposed Said's biographical fallacy.[1] The Arab scholar falsely claimed that he had to leave Jerusalem because his family was expelled by Israel. In reality, he grew up in Cairo and was only an occasional visitor in Jerusalem.

"The Christian Embassy was located for some time in the house on Chile Square from which Said also falsely claimed to have been expelled. Once he hosted a BBC documentary and declared, ‘This is my beautiful old house from which I was kicked out. Now there is a rabid Christian Zionist organization there, headed by a South African.'

"Many enemies of Israel equate it with the Nazis. Said added that Israelis also are the successors of the Romans by oppressing Palestinians. The body of the Palestinians is now portrayed as the body of Christ, which is again being crucified in the same land. Thus traditional Christian anti-Semitic themes are used in the service of Palestinian nationalism. In this way Jesus has retroactively been made a Palestinian. Some scholars have noted that this cutting off of Christianity from its Jewish roots creates dangerous possibilities for infiltration by Islam, which has a tendency to backfill history.

"The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, based in Jerusalem and run by Palestinian Christians, held a conference in April 2005 specifically to attack Christian Zionism. After Said had passed away, their new main patron was South African Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. He could not make the conference and so they approached the new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, but he declined. One of his spokesmen said he did not want to be identified with the ‘wrong voices.' Instead he sent them a pastoral letter setting forth his view of Israel still having some sort of enduring covenantal relationship with God as a ‘light to the nations'; a paradigm nation for knowing the blessing and the correction of God. It was an interesting attempt at defining Israel's enduring election by a liberal Protestant theologian, who has been critical of Israel as well."

The Catholic Church

"The Catholic Church at Vatican II repudiated replacement theology, which had been its official teaching for many centuries. Later, Pope John Paul II tried to further reconcile the breach between Jews and Catholics, visiting synagogues and making a pilgrimage to Israel, including a visit to the Western Wall and Yad VaShem.

"Under Pope John Paul II, Catholicism also defined anti-Semitism as a sin. He even went one step further and equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, thereby also rendering the former a sin by extension. If a Catholic says ‘I'm not an anti-Semite, just an anti-Zionist,' one can reply to him that ‘You are a sinner according to the definitions of your own church.'

"Pope John Paul II also called the Jews ‘our elder brothers.' However, I haven't seen the Catholic Church clearly spell out their view on the nature of the enduring covenantal relationship between God and Israel. Although the church, to some extent, now recognizes some sort of covenantal relationship, its theology on this point remains vague. I think this reticence has to do with the church's ‘high view' of itself as the sole agent for salvation in the world."

Parsons cautions that the theological battles over Israel among the churches will have to be fought out within the Christian world. When the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently rescinded its divestment resolution, it was former CIA director James Woolsey, a practicing Presbyterian himself, who was brought in by Jewish groups and effectively opposed it. "Jews can challenge Christian adversaries on the facts, on history, and so on. But Israel and world Jewry would be well advised to stay out of the theological debates among Christians, since some will not take Jews seriously because they do not accept the New Testament as scripture."

Notes

[1] Justus Reid Weiner, "‘My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said," Commentary, September 1999.

David R. Parsons currently serves as media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, senior producer of the weekly radio program Front Page Jerusalem, and contributing editor to the Jerusalem Post Christian Edition. In these roles he writes and speaks on an array of historical, strategic, political, and biblical subjects relating to Israel and the Middle East. Parsons holds BA (history, 1981) and JD (1986) degrees from Wake Forest University. From 1991 to 1995 he served as general counsel for CIPAC, a Christian pro-Israeli lobby registered with Congress to advocate on behalf of strong U.S.-Israeli relations.

 

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Biblical Zionism

Tens of thousands of churches have a committed belief in the importance of standing with Israel and blessing the Jewish people. The verse most often referred to as their biblical mandate is Genesis 12:3 in which God tells Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 the theological error known as Replacement Theology has begun to decline and increasing is a theology of Christian Zionism that understands the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and the nation he would birth.

However, just as the term “Zionism” has been turned into a negative word by Israel’s enemies, so “Christian Zionism” is under attack and often misrepresented in the media and in some public discourse. For this reason, the ICEJ’s articles and monographs defining and clarifying the beliefs of Christian supporters of Israel and placing their “love for Israel” within its proper biblical context are proving invaluable.

Christian Zionists

"Zionism, [is] the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum." (Jewish Virtual Library).

If Zionism is the belief in the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland, then a Christian Zionist should simply be defined as a Christian who supports the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland. Under this broad and simple definition, many Christians would qualify no matter what their reasons are for this support. Just as Jews of all persuasions formed the Zionist movement then Christians of all persuasion can also fall within this broad definition of a Christian Zionist.

For this very reason, a myriad of answers may be given by a Christian when questioned about their support of Israel. Answers can include political, historical, and/or religious reasons.

Theology of Christian Zionism

The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds. The biblical foundation for Christian Zionism is found in God's Covenant with Abraham. It was in this covenant that God chose Abraham to birth a nation through which He could redeem the world, and to do this He bequeathed them a land on which to exist as this chosen nation.

Christian Zionism is confirmed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The major and minor prophets consistently confirmed this national calling on Israel, promised her future restoration to the land after a period of exile, and spoke of her spiritual renewal and redemption bringing light to the world.

Christian Zionism differs with Replacement Theology which teaches that the special relationship that Israel had with her God in terms of her national destiny and her national homeland has been lost because of her rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and therefore the Church has become the new Israel. The Church has then inherited all the blessings promised to Israel but the judgments and curses still conveniently remain over the Jewish people.

Instead, Christian Zionism teaches from the scriptures that God's covenant with Abraham is still valid today. There remains a national destiny over the Jewish people and her national homeland is her everlasting possession in fulfillment of God's plans and purposes for her. The New Testament scriptures not only affirm the Abrahamic covenant, but they confirm the historical mission of Israel and that Israel's gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Thus, Christian Zionism is not based on prophecy or end-time events. Most Christian Zionists would agree, however, that Israel's reemergence on the world's scene, in fulfillment of God's promises to her, indicate that other biblically-predicted events will follow.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Israel's Calling

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In Romans 9-11, the Apostle Paul deals extensively with the Gentile Christian’s response to Israel. While the passage has been debated by the best theological minds through the centuries, Paul still exhorts us to accept certain clear facts. The failure of the Church historically to do this sadly has allowed anti-Semitism to grow and flourish in many churches and traditions. We should examine these again in light of the following:

  1. The God of the Bible has never “cast away His people” (Romans11:1). This means He has a redemptive plan for national Israel. He has not forgotten them and has a surprise in store for all of us. Just as Elijah thought that all was lost and hopeless, so even today the Lord is allowing a remarkable miracle to unfold in Israel. He is more than active in Israel’s present journey.
  2. God has used Israel’s unbelief to bring salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). This has an element of mystery in it, yet the passage is clear that there is a Church in the world because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Paul encourages us to view this fact with gratitude and not disdain. Their fall, he says, “is riches for the world”. The Church should have shown kindness and appreciation to Israel. That is, we should have been a provocation to jealousy.
  3. God requires that we desist from arrogantly boasting against the Jewish people, because we have been grafted into their spiritual tree (Romans11:17-19). That is, our spiritual heritage is Jewish. Jesus said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Ours is essentially a Jewish faith built on the great lives of Moses, Joshua, Esther, David, Isaiah, Daniel, the Apostles and our wonderful Messiah Jesus.
  4. God calls us to fear Him; to show reverence and awe (Romans11:19-20). The Jewish world can easily be grafted back into their tree because they are “natural branches”, whereas we are “wild branches”. That is, we are in a way misfits and it is easier for God to graft His people back into their own tree than to place us there. We should therefore fear God and thank Him by showing love to the Jewish people. Our arrogance against them incurs His displeasure and He warns that this can lead to spiritual death (Romans11:21-22).
  5. God calls us to embrace mystery (Romans11:25-26). There is a glorious future for Israel. That is, her failure is only partial and one day all Israel will be saved. Her journey is fully bound up in the sovereign plan of God. His ways are past finding out but they are clear to the extent that out of Zion a deliverer will come and bring great blessing to Israel. This vision of Israel’s future will not fail. There is thus an “irrevocable” national destiny for Israel that began with Abraham and will conclude with the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them (Romans11:29).

All this means that God has not forgotten Israel and we should be a people filled with love and gratitude as we engage them. Though centuries of Christian anti-Semitism heap shame upon us, it is true that in recent decades a revolution in Jewish/Christian relations has taken place, with the ICEJ at the forefront.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Christian Zionism 101

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Tens of thousands of churches have a committed belief in the importance of standing with Israel and blessing the Jewish people. The verse most often referred to as their biblical mandate is Genesis 12:3 in which God tells Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 the theological error known as Replacement Theology has begun to decline and increasing is a theology of Christian Zionism that understands the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and the nation he would birth.

However, just as the term “Zionism” has been turned into a negative word by Israel’s enemies, so “Christian Zionism” is under attack and often misrepresented in the media and in some public discourse. For this reason, the ICEJ’s articles and monographs defining and clarifying the beliefs of Christian supporters of Israel and placing their “love for Israel” within its proper biblical context are proving invaluable.

Christian Zionists

"Zionism, [is] the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum." (Jewish Virtual Library).

If Zionism is the belief in the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland, then a Christian Zionist should simply be defined as a Christian who supports the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland. Under this broad and simple definition, many Christians would qualify no matter what their reasons are for this support. Just as Jews of all persuasions formed the Zionist movement then Christians of all persuasion can also fall within this broad definition of a Christian Zionist.

For this very reason, a myriad of answers may be given by a Christian when questioned about their support of Israel. Answers can include political, historical, and/or religious reasons.

Theology of Christian Zionism

The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds. The biblical foundation for Christian Zionism is found in God's Covenant with Abraham. It was in this covenant that God chose Abraham to birth a nation through which He could redeem the world, and to do this He bequeathed them a land on which to exist as this chosen nation.

Christian Zionism is confirmed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The major and minor prophets consistently confirmed this national calling on Israel, promised her future restoration to the land after a period of exile, and spoke of her spiritual renewal and redemption bringing light to the world.

Christian Zionism differs with Replacement Theology which teaches that the special relationship that Israel had with her God in terms of her national destiny and her national homeland has been lost because of her rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and therefore the Church has become the new Israel. The Church has then inherited all the blessings promised to Israel but the judgments and curses still conveniently remain over the Jewish people.

Instead, Christian Zionism teaches from the scriptures that God's covenant with Abraham is still valid today. There remains a national destiny over the Jewish people and her national homeland is her everlasting possession in fulfillment of God's plans and purposes for her. The New Testament scriptures not only affirm the Abrahamic covenant, but they confirm the historical mission of Israel and that Israel's gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Thus, Christian Zionism is not based on prophecy or end-time events. Most Christian Zionists would agree, however, that Israel's reemergence on the world's scene, in fulfillment of God's promises to her, indicate that other biblically-predicted events will follow.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding
ICEJ Spokesman

The Plight of Christians in the Holy Land

 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

By: David Parsons

The long-neglected plight of Palestinian Christians has finally hit radar screens in the US Congress, though there is still lots of clutter to clear up over the source of their distress and how to remedy it.

The unlikely catalyst was conservative commentator Robert Novak, who relishes any chance to spread dirt on Israel. In a Washington Post column in late May, Novak disclosed that veteran Congressman Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, sent President George W. Bush a private letter suggesting American support for Israel's security fence may involve "the affirmation of injustice" due to its "negative consequences on communities and lands under their occupation."

Accompanying Hyde's letter was a report compiled by his staff over recent years detailing the alleged impact Israel's security barrier is having on Arab Christians in the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

In response, House members Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) circulated a proposed resolution in June that blamed the Palestinian Authority's systematic abuse of Palestinians Christians for their continuing flight from the land where Christianity began.

A heated debate has ensued on Capitol Hill, fueled by Arab clerics and pro-Palestinian American clergy who fault the draft resolution for exaggerating the role Islamic radicalism plays in the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Three senior Arab clerics in Jerusalem (Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Anglican Archbishop Riah Abu al-Assal, and Lutheran Archbishop Mounib Younan) even invited McCaul and Crowley to visit the region and see for themselves how the "massive migration to other countries of Palestinian Christians [is] largely due to the illegal [Israeli] Occupation."

This debate is not new and all sides agree that the Palestinian Christian community is dwindling fast, from around 10% of the population in 1948 to barely 1.5% today. What remains in dispute is who should be held responsible for the decline - Israel or the Palestinian Muslims.

IT WOULD seem Chairman Hyde has fallen victim to that evil twin of divestment - namely the dismantlement campaign. Both are anti-Israel propaganda initiatives launched after the infamous UN conference on racism in Durban in 2002. While divestment made some in-roads in the Presbyterian and Anglican churches, the campaign to force Israel to dismantle its security fence has now penetrated the halls of Congress - thanks mainly to Arab Christian activism.

Yet it is farcical to pin the primary blame for the Palestinian Christian exodus on Israel's security fence or its "occupation," since the phenomena predates both by decades.

More than 60% of the native-born Palestinian Christians had already fled the land long before the fence started going up three years ago. And most of that emigration occurred prior to Israel's entry into the West Bank in 1967, when the area was under Jordanian occupation. The last British census in Jerusalem, for example, found 28,000 Arab Christian residents in 1948, while Israel's first official tally in 1967 registered only 11,000.

So for the bulk of the ancient Arab Christian community of the Holy Land, the current debate over the impact of the security fence is rather pointless - they fled long ago.

TRUTH BE told, Palestinian Christians have been driven out by the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, which arose from and is perpetuated by the Islamic world's bitter and unremitting rejection of Israel's very existence.

These Christians have wanted little to do with this conflict, which stymied economic opportunities in the land. More mobile and better educated than their Muslim neighbors, they sought a future elsewhere. Some crossed over into Israel proper, the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community has actually grown over the past 50 years, while scores of others started anew in such far off places as Toronto, Santiago and Sydney.

Those that remain suffer under the same hostile Islamic spirit battering Israel, which views Jews and Christians as followers of "inferior" faiths who are naturally destined to be subjugated by Muslims. Palestinian Christians - like other Christian minorities in Arab lands - have grown accustomed through the centuries to this sad state of dhimmitude, with most of their leaders maintaining a code of silence about it to protect their flocks.

It is a truism that the higher up the Palestinian Christian cleric, the greater their likely silence. The signers of the invitation letter to Cong. McCaul and Crowley are cases in point.

"The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims," Bishop Riah told The Washington Times at a time when Muslim gunmen were invading Christian homes in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo.

"[1]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians," Latin Patriarch Sabbah assured Newsweek at Christmas two years later.

BY PUSHING for dismantlement of Israel's security barrier, Palestinian Christian leaders seek to accomplish two goals:

First, they prove their nationalist credentials to the Palestinian Muslim majority. They have not given any sons as shahids (martyrs) in the jihad against Israel, but they are contributing to the cause and thereby appease the Islamist beast.

Second, they genuinely want to keep the door open to Israel, lest their parishioners get trapped beyond the wall without any escape hatch from the menacing Muslim masses.

Nonetheless, they would have us pretend that Palestinian society is the shining exception to the prevailing Muslim oppression of Arab Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands from the ancient Assyrian Christian community have fled the Sunni insurgency in Iraq over recent years. The proud Egyptian Coptic and Lebanese Maronite communities are wilting and fleeing under official and societal persecution. The practice of Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia. But all is fine in Palestine!?

I suspect Bob Novak probably cares more about smearing Israel than the fate of Palestinian Christians. By the same token, some probably highlight Muslim maltreatment of Palestinian Christians just to score points for Israel. But for far too many of them, it is much too late to play the blame game over who or what caused their exodus from the Holy Land. Rather, the pertinent question should be what can be done to preserve the embattled Christian remnant still clinging to the land. The answer to that, dear friends, lies largely in Israel's protective hands.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Of Silence And Scorn

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By: David Parsons

Though relieved over the end to the long standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, many Jews and Christians remain outraged that most Church leaders did not forcefully condemn the blatant Muslim desecration of a major Christian shrine. Here was a clear case of Islamic militiamen deliberately taking their battle against Israel into a revered church and taking clerics and youths as hostages. Yet most of Christendom seemed mysteriously silent! And many churches that did speak out chose to unfairly criticize Israel for its “siege.”

It is vital for Israelis to understand the reasons behind this moral imbalance of silence to Islam and open scorn towards Israel. In this regard, the Bethlehem standoff provides an unusually crisp portal into present Christian attitudes towards Israel and the enduring plight of Arab Christian minorities under Muslim domination.

First, not all Christians were silent. The Christian Embassy, for one, published a statement early on that “strongly condemned… this transgression on the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity,” deeming it “a premeditated offense by militant Muslim outlaws.” This was long before reports surfaced that the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem had previously met with the Abayat clan that heads the Fatah Tanzim in Bethlehem, offered them keys to the Nativity compound, and encouraged them to seek refuge there if the need arose.

Yet much of the mainstream media refused to pick up on such sober truth telling, since it did not fit their spin on the story, and thus they bear partial responsibility for the perceived silence.

Otherwise, the most obvious reason for the silence is classic Christian anti-Semitism both patent and latent. The standoff indeed unleashed a firestorm of anti-Semitic diatribes from numerous Arab clerics and Western pulpits. There is still much darkness to be purged from the Church. But there were other factors in play that warrant explanation namely self-preservation and self-enrichment.

This first concept is simple to grasp. Arab Christians in Bethlehem and throughout the Middle East have developed over time an ingrained survival mechanism never say anything bad in public about your Muslim neighbors since it could cost you dearly. With the rise of Palestinian nationalism, this penchant for self-preservation prompted some indigent Christians to wax more anti-Israel than the Muslim majority. In his excellent work The Siege, former Irish diplomat (and Catholic) Conor Cruise O’Brien describes it as “waving the bloody shirt” higher than the Muslims in order to show your loyalty to the cause.

Yet the price for demonstrating that loyalty is on the rise. In the first intifada, Bethlehem’s Christians were asked, “Why don’t your sons come throw stones alongside the Muslim boys?” Many Christian families packed up and left. In the current, more deadly intifada, the question being asked is, “Why aren’t you giving any of your sons as shaheeds?” The silence is ever more deafening.

Many church leaders abroad understand the dangers faced by local Christians and thus adhere to the same code of silence to protect these precious flocks. This was prominently on display in the recent standoff, and may be a responsible move to some extent, so long as you do not also unduly blame the Israelis for every wrong.

In addition, as local Arab clerics keep silent about their suffering under Islam, it limits their ability to appeal for vital outside support to meet real needs in their communities. Some respond by jumping at any chance to trumpet supposed sufferings under the “Israeli occupation,” knowing Israel does not bite back. Thus when the IDF first entered Beit Jala last August to quash Tanzim gunfire at Gilo, there was a tremendous outcry that Israeli forces were holding some 45 “orphans” in a Lutheran compound as “human shields.” Total nonsense, of course, and nothing as egregious as Muslim gunmen invading the Church of the Nativity. But it proved profitable nonetheless.

Some local clergy and foreign ministries aligned with them subtly compete for funding, and the winner is often the one who can scream the loudest against Israel. The same can be said about major elements of the so-called human rights movements. Blasting Israel can be good for business.

In a similar vein, many churches that minister in the Arab/Islamic world make the mistake of thinking they have to bash Israel in order to “get in good” with the natives. This has manifested even in Evangelical circles that otherwise would be predisposed to favoring Israel. Yet we can attest that it is possible to raise monies and assist the humble Christians of Bethlehem without compromising on the Bible’s mandate to “bless” the Jewish people.

Be that as it may, there are some very positive signs coming out of the Bethlehem standoff that augur well for future relations between Israel and the Christian world.

One Protestant source close to the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Vatican delegations involved in the Nativity negotiations insists they were “tremendously grateful to Israel for exercising restraint,” but had “disgust beyond words” for the Muslim gunmen and Palestinian officials they had to deal with. Christian and Israeli officials built a “trustful relationship” during the stretched-out talks, although it will remain problematic to express this publicly. The outrage against the Muslim actions is there, but it is still outweighed by the fears.

The question is whether it is time for responsible Church leaders to remove the gag, since it has done little to relieve the plight of Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere under the Palestinian Authority. The standoff may be over, but they are still living with a Muslim gun to their heads. And God forbid that the next standoff darken the door of the Holy Sepulchre.


David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

O, Troubled Town of Bethlehem

Sunday, December 24, 2000

By: David Parsons

Bethlehem holds a unique place in the Christian faith, not only as the home of young King David and the resting place of Rachel, but also as that small village of Judean shepherds visited from on high two millennia ago. Each Christmas, Christians worldwide sing carols honoring that "little town" lost in "a deep and dreamless sleep," that would become universally known as the birthplace of Jesus. But just as the Jordan River is not "deep and wide," so our songs about Bethlehem no longer reflect its reality today - a bastion of Islamic fervor on the front-lines of a holy war against Israel and infidels.

Bethlehem, along with Beit Jalla to the west and Beit Sahour to the east, have been predominantly Christian for centuries, but in modern times they have been invaded by PLO/Muslim elements bent on an aggressive agenda to retake Jerusalem and the Islamic waqf of Palestine. In one generation, the entire area has undergone a dramatic transformation, as 60% of its Christian families have fled and Muslims have taken over, now constituting three-fourths of the local population.

This agenda has been on full display during the current Palestinian uprising, as Fatah's "Tanzim" militiamen - Muslims - have infiltrated Christian homes and churches in Beit Jalla night after night to shoot at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. The IDF has reluctantly responded to snipers firing from buildings whose owners were chased away at gunpoint. This is not Israeli spin, but first-hand testimony from local residents. Their stories are chilling. We have listened to grown men in tears talking of the Tanzim. Hundreds of Christians have fled. Last month, one family with nine children hid in a cave until they could cross safely into Jerusalem. This is the reality of Bethlehem this Christmas.

The truth is, Beit Jalla was initially targeted by Muslims at an Islamic conference in Baghdad in 1978, which raised money to build mosques in a village that - alarmingly! - had no mosque. Actually, at that time it had no Muslims either. Over the years since, some 50,000 Christians from Beit Jalla and the Bethlehem area have moved to Chile alone. Likewise, Bethlehem went from one mosque to 70 in a span of thirty years.

When Israel handed over Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority three days before Christmas in 1995, Yasser Arafat flew in and delivered a speech to an overwhelmingly Muslim throng pressed into Manger Square under banners of the PLO chief and the "Engineer," revered Hamas bomb-maker Yihye Ayyash. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men," proclaimed Arafat, invoking the angelic message found in the Christian account of the Nativity. "In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!" answered the crowd.

Christian pilgrims visiting Manger Square that Christmas were handed flyers in English prepared by the Palestinian Ministry of Information that stressed, not the biblical significance of Bethlehem, but Islamic claims to Jerusalem. Instead of Joseph and Mary, the focus was on Muhammad tying his winged horse "Buraq" to the Western Wall in his mythical night journey - thus rendering it an exclusive Muslim holy site.

Two days after that first "PLO" Christmas, Arafat had an editor of the Al Quds newspaper kidnapped and jailed for not following orders to place on the front page of the Christmas Day edition a photo of him and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The picture was to be accompanied by a story comparing Arafat to the Caliph Omar, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem who was handed the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Sophronius. The editor's crime? He buried the story on page 7.

In years since, Palestinian officials admit tourism to Bethlehem has dropped and Christmas festivities have been marred by roving Muslim hooligans out to spoil Christian observances.

But this year may be saddest of all. The PA had worked with major production companies to stage Bethlehem 2000, with plans for a laser show and choirs from around the globe, to be beamed to a worldwide audience. The choirs cancelled weeks ago, due to the Palestinian uprising - and not any Israeli closure. Some traditional events will be held, but the Arab Christians of Bethlehem are in no mood for singing.

You will hear some Arab Christians - perhaps even in response to this column - telling a completely different tale, of Israeli abuses and good relations with the Muslims. But far too many of them have privately looked us in the eye and said they fear for their lives if they openly tell the truth. "We are forced to live with two faces," they lament.

So this Christmas, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should say a prayer for the dear Christians who have managed to survive in Bethlehem. And keep in mind, they are singing the same cherished carols heard round the world - but with a gun to their heads.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

 

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