Recently I participated in a conference sponsored by Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU). The purpose of the conference was to bring Middle Eastern Christians to the attention of the Church in the Western world. Originally, EMEU had forgotten that the Church in the Middle East includes Jews who love Jesus. Therefore, I was invited to participate and bring that perspective.
They asked me to bring an address on Armageddon, Eschatology and Peace in the Holy Land.” I had to pray that the Lord would help me not to be cynical about this topic. I have seen terrible excesses on two extremes with regard to the subject of what God is doing in the Middle East. One extreme takes the form of Christian Zionism and the other a “Christianized” version of human rights. Both result in a diminished emphasis on evangelism.
The Christian Zionist sees God’s time clock as somewhere close to the final seconds before the curtain will lift on His last act in human history. For some, this viewpoint translates into unquestioning support for any political move the state of Israel makes as an effort to participate in what God is apparently doing in the end times. Unfortunately, for some Christians, the price for such support of Israel is the disavowal of evangelism and the advocacy of anti-Arab sentiment.
Years ago, Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Jewish Defense League, wrote a column for the Jewish Press in New York. In one article, “Christians for Moses,” Kahane advocated that the Jewish community seek the political and financial support of the American Evangelical Christian Right. He pointed out that they were eager to give it but also warned that the Jewish community should not succumb to conversionary efforts. Evidently many Jews read that column, and most Christians did not. Increasingly those who wanted to take a position of supporting the Jewish State did so—at the expense of their evangelical commitment to proclaim the gospel. While some Christian supporters of Israel quietly whispered that they had the ear of Israeli leaders, giving the impression that a witness was going out, something else was happening. In truth, while money and political support were accepted, any mention of the gospel was merely tolerated as the appropriate cost for benefits received. Certain groups, one of which provided sea transportation to Israel for Russian Jews, have quietly, but not publicly, disavowed any evangelistic efforts toward Jewish people.
On the other extreme, we find the Christian human rights advocates. They are compassionate Christians who hold a low view of eschatological theology, including the return of Christ. They focus on reforming cultures and reshaping the political state in order to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. They regard justice, mercy and the advocacy of human rights as tools to realign society. Their “ministry” is to lobby for change in U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and to bring about governmental change in the Land to provide a Palestinian homeland. Among such groups, the proclamation of the gospel as the way to peace for both Jews and Arabs is seldom, if ever, mentioned.
Into this highly charged arena at the EMEU conference came the voice of one Jewish Christian—mine. I am only one of many who could have presented a much-needed, but often neglected, perspective. I said that American evangelical Christians need to know that whether or not these are the very last days, we should evangelize both Jews and Arabs!
If these are the last days (many of us think they are, though no one can know for sure until events have taken place), then we need to hasten all the more to bring the gospel to the peoples of the Middle East. If we truly believe that Christ is the only hope of eternal life for everyone, we need to make Him known among those peoples. If, on the other hand, our Christian conviction leads us to believe that these are not the last days, then by all means, it is still incumbent upon us to fulfill the mission of God to make disciples of all nations. That’s the task of the Church, no matter what the age in which we live.
Those who seek political solutions must remember that we Christians are not called upon to reform cultures. We are charged with calling those cultures and their people to measure themselves by the Bible. The Bible states that there is only one name given under heaven by which we must be saved, and that is the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10-12). Faith in Him, therefore, is the only true hope for peace among the peoples of the Middle East.
We need to remind Christians who say “Israel, right or wrong” that we cannot extend truly Christian support for Israel without linking it to the gospel of salvation. Christians who denounce evangelistic efforts to the Jewish populace of Israel as an affront are, in essence, saying that they are ashamed of the gospel.
The centrist position says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel under any circumstance. It is God’s power unto salvation for everyone who will believe it, to the Jews first, but also to the Gentiles.” Jewish and Arab peoples need the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Messiah Jesus will end all the political strife when He establishes His throne on earth at His appointed time. In the meantime, He brings peace to the United States and to the Middle East and wherever He reigns as Lord and Savior in the hearts of individuals.