Jesus told Pilate, My Kingdom is not of this world” (John.18:36). Nevertheless, debates have raged almost ever since over how Christians should expect their religious convictions to play out in government.
I’m not talking about Christians voting their faith-based conscience. That is a simple and obvious responsibility, whereas the overall subject of politics mixed with religion is complex. A battle is brewing among Bible believers over the ascendancy of what many call Christian Zionism. Lines are being drawn, positions are becoming hardened and I am concerned that in this battle, the cause of Jewish evangelism will be the loser. As passionate and divergent as opposing sides are in their politics and Bible interpretations, the one thing they seem to have in common is a diminishing concern for the salvation of Israel.
Interest in “Christian Zionism” stretches beyond Christian communities. Muslims are scandalized by what they view as unqualified Christian support of the Jewish state, while many Jewish people suspect Christian Zionists of ulterior motives.
The premise of Christian Zionism is that God promised the land of Israel to the Jewish people and that this promise is inviolate. Therefore it is the duty of Christians not only to believe this promise but also to work for the safety and security of Jews living in Israel today. This work takes many forms, including political support of Israel’s current government, funding for both civil and humanitarian projects in the Land, funding for Jews to immigrate to Israel and lobbying their own governmental agencies on behalf of the Jewish state.
The political power this movement wields is viewed with growing alarm by Christians who do not read their Bibles in the same way. Earlier this year, key evangelical leaders (mostly from the reformed theological persuasion) signed political statements placed as full-page ads in the “New York Times” and other newspapers. These statements called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and informed President Bush that not all evangelicals agree with the views espoused by Christian Zionists.
Some have endeavored to persuade entire Christian denominations to denounce Israel’s policies toward Palestinians, or to champion disinvestment from companies that do business in Israel. In a recent PBS special by Bill Moyers, Dr. Timothy Weber and Rabbi Michael Lerner joined hands to denounce Christian Zionism on national television. Dr. Weber’s views come as no surprise to those aware of his book, “On the Road to Armageddon: how evangelicals became Israel’s best friend,” which clearly articulates why he opposes Christian Zionism.
Rabbi Lerner’s position on the other hand may surprise RealTime readers. One might think that Jewish people, especially Jewish leaders, would welcome Christian support for the State of Israel–and many do. But Rabbi Lerner represents a large swath of the Jewish community that suspects the motives of Christian Zionism. He described Christian Zionists as “those people whose primary agenda is conservative politics in America and [who] are using the issue of Israel as another part of their support for conservative politics. And if the United States moved away from Israel, they might move away from it. The second part are people who are dispensationalists, who believe that getting Israel into a huge battle with the Arab states is going to be good for bringing Jesus back onto our planet… in which the Jews will be cast down into eternal damnation and to the fires of hell. And only those Jews who convert to Christianity will be okay.” (http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/10052007/watch3.html)
I don’t know of any Christian Zionists who actually believe it is possible to hasten the return of Christ through pitting Israel against her Arab neighbors, and few if any who believe that His Second Coming is contingent upon Jews coming to faith in Him. If the latter were the case, more people might be doing the kind of forthright gospel proclamation that Rabbi Lerner is worried about (though perhaps for the wrong reasons). Unfortunately, many Christian Zionists exert far more energy on building political alliances and lobbying efforts than anything remotely related to telling Jews about Jesus. Many seem to regard evangelism as a distraction or detraction from the politics of supporting for Israel.
Unfortunately, many Christians who genuinely love Israel have a hard time understanding that political efforts cannot take the place of the more difficult, seminal and enduring work of Jewish evangelism. Many Christian organizations that support Israel gain friends and allies by agreeing not to talk about the gospel.
In contrast, many Christians who disagree with and perhaps fear the power of the Christian Zionist lobby distance themselves from anything having to do with Jews and Israel for fear of being lumped together with them. The result of all of this sniping and political lobbying diminishes zeal on both sides for any concerted support of a gospel witness to Jews and to the land of Israel. This can hardly be pleasing to the Lord who told us to begin our great commission efforts in Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 1:8).
The September edition of “Christianity Today” addressed this topic directly in the lead editorial, entitled “What it Means to Love Israel,” with the subtitle: “Beware giving the nation too much theological meaning and the Jews too little.” (http://www.ctlibrary.com/49598)
The editorial raises questions concerning eschatology and Christian Zionism, then answers its own question of what it means to love Israel by suggesting rigorous theological work to address the following concerns:
- The need to learn how Judaism and the Jewish people understand themselves;
- The fundamentally Jewish character of God’s revelation in Jesus;
- What justice means for a Jewish state and its neighbors;
- What kind of theological and ethical significance evangelicals can give the State of Israel before the return of Messiah Jesus.
I have no quarrel with seeking answers to the above concerns. But what I found chilling is that in this great Christian magazine, which I find worth every penny of the price of subscription, not once, not even in a throw-away line, does this editorial suggest that loving Israel requires declaring the love of God in Jesus Christ.
I wrote the following letter to the editor in hopes that they will print it:
“I commend your effort at a balanced approach to this controversial subject, and your call for more ‘rigorous theological work on the part of evangelicals in relationship to Judaism, to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel.’ Caricatures of dispensationalist and reformed positions do not help to bring greater understanding. When it comes to God’s love for the Jewish people and His promise of a future hope, there is a lot more common ground than advocates of each pole may be willing to grant.
“However, a glaring omission in your editorial is the matter of evangelical responsibility to a loving and uncompromising proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people. We desperately need some rigorous theological work on this issue as well. A growing number of evangelicals seem willing to avoid this biblical command in the interest of better relations with Jewish leaders here and in Israel. Those of us who are Jewish believers in Jesus are often left out in the cold in this process. Evangelicals must affirm the ongoing obligation to share the love of Jesus with all people including the Jews. It would also help for the Church to affirm that Jews who believe in Jesus are not being (as we are often accused) deceptive by continuing to identify as Jews. When Arabs and Jews love one another in Jesus’ name the whole world will see the reconciling power of the gospel. Jesus is the only hope for peace in the Middle East, and if the Church doesn’t get this right, who will?”
The Bible instructs us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), but true peace can only come to the people of this city through the Prince of Peace. Let’s pray for discernment among Bible-believing Christians to sort out the basic principles of relating to Jewish people and the people of Israel today. Let’s pray that people with varying viewpoints on politics and eschatology will find it in their hearts to agree with the Apostle Paul on a matter that can have but one interpretation: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans10:1).