|Israeli and American flags fly as Secretary|
of Defense Robert M. Gates arrives in
Tel Aviv, Israel, April 18, 2007.
First, a little background is needed. Christian Zionism is a predominant belief among Evangelical Christians in the United States, particularly in the Bible Belt (but certainly not limited to it), and has a following among many Evangelical communities worldwide. The ideology has spread to other Christian traditions as well. One can find Christian Zionism among some mainline Protestants and even a growing number of Roman Catholics. This is likely the result of promotion by Conservative Talk Radio along political terms; ranging from Israel being the "only democracy in the Middle East," to "supporting our ally Israel in the War on Terror," to "Israel is the only safe place for Jews after the Holocaust." From this comes the Christian Zionist notions that God has given the Holy Land to the Jews and that we must support Israel unconditionally in order to be "good Christians." Christian Zionists preachers have been noted as claiming that God will bless those who bless the modern State of Israel and he will curse those who curse the modern State of Israel. Among some extreme Christian Zionists, the notion is promoted that the standard of a "true" Christian is measured by his level of support for the modern State of Israel. Consequently, many Christians (particularly Evangelicals) are afraid not to support the State of Israel, for fear that they will lose their blessing from God if they fail to bless Israel or object to anything Israel does. As a result, American Evangelicals are known to staunchly support American politicians who advertise their "unwavering support for the Nation of Israel." Many of these politicians are usually found in the Republican Party and frequently display small Israeli flags on their desks, or other prominent locations where their constituents can easily see them. Their voting records usually reflect this as well, wherein such politicians often support American financial aid packages to Israel that help Israel maintain its occupation of the Palestinian territories and build up military strength. Thus Christian Zionism does have a direct impact on American politics, and that in turn has an influence on international politics, particularly when it comes to the State of Israel. It should be noted that one reason why the Israeli government usually ignores international pressure to end the Palestinian occupation is because it knows it will receive unconditional support from Christian Zionists in the United States, and that in turn will always translate into ongoing American support of Israel regardless of their policies.
Christian Zionism began in the middle 19th century, but the term wasn't coined until the middle 20th century. It is believed that Zionism itself may have been spawned by Evangelical Christian influence on 19th century Jews, urging them to return to the Holy Land and reclaim their ancient Biblical heritage. Such prodding likely came from the heresy of Dispensationalism which I have refuted HERE. Dispensationalism is characterised by the teaching that God has two separate covenants for two separate peoples. The Jews have the Old Covenant which they claim is still ongoing and irrevocable. While Christians have the New Covenant. The logical conclusion of this heretical notion is that if God has two different covenants for two different peoples, then the Old Covenant must be fulfilled by returning the Jews to their ancestral homeland. Once that happens to God's satisfaction, it will result in the culmination of history and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. So in a way, Christian Zionism was (and still is) a way of attempting to force God's hand, according to the Dispensational belief system, to expedite the Return of Jesus Christ, to "rapture" his Church by fulfilling the Old Covenant Israel in modern times. The commonly accepted idea today is that when God has brought modern Israel into full possession of the "promised land," Jesus Christ will return to "rapture" his Church out of this world. Then God will turn his full attention to the Nation of Israel. At that point Israel will begin to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which will lead to the coming of Antichrist and the final seven years of hell on earth. Thus it is commonly believed that Israeli Jews will follow the Antichrist for a while, before he turns on them and declares himself to be God. When that happens they will all realise that they've been wrong for 2,000 years and accept Jesus Christ as their King and Saviour en mass. That in turn will prompt the return of Jesus Christ with his "raptured" Church to destroy all evil on earth, judge the world, and bring about a 1,000 year kingdom wherein Jesus Christ will rule the earth as King from Jerusalem. There are of course variations to this belief system, and each group will have its own spin, but this reflects the basic idea.
I'll say it again, and I don't use this word lightly. Christian Zionism is heresy. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong using Scripture or the teachings of the Catholic Church. It cannot be done. There is nothing in Scripture that leads us to the conclusion that God wants Christians to be Zionists, and likewise there is nothing in the teachings of the Catholic Church that supports this notion. That doesn't mean that Christians can't support the State of Israel in some measure. They most certainly can! There are both legal and moral grounds for this. I'll explain more on that later. What Christians cannot do is use Scripture to demand the unconditional support of Israel based on religious grounds.
The heresy of Christian Zionism is centred around a flawed understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As stated above, most Christian Zionists are Evangelicals, and as Evangelicals it should be understood that they DO NOT believe the Old Testament Law (Torah) is meant for today. However, they have no problem citing the Law (Torah) to back their Zionist claims. It begins in Genesis 12 and 13. In particular they cite the promise of God to Abraham...
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ -- Genesis 13:14-17 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)
Now, because God said he would give the land to Abraham and his offspring "forever" the Christian Zionists interpret this to mean that God gave the land forever to the Jews, because they are descendants of Abraham, and since he did not attach a condition to the promise, the promise is unconditional. Therefore, according to Christian Zionists, if you're a Jew, you have a divine right to possession and control of the Holy Land. Of course, any serious student of Scripture can see two glaring problems with this interpretation. The first has to do with the descendants of Abraham themselves, and the second has to do with the so-called "unconditional" part of the promise.
Let's deal with the first problem regarding the descendants of Abraham. The promise was originally made to Abraham in Genesis 13, and it specifically says the land would be given to the descendants of Abraham. It doesn't specify which descendants, it just says his "offspring." That's important because Abraham had two sons by two different women -- Hagar and Sarah -- who gave birth to Ishmael and Isaac. Now Isaac became the father of Jacob and Esau, while Jacob became the father of the twelve Israelite tribes, otherwise known as the Hebrew people, later to be called "Jews." Ishmael became the father of the Arab peoples. So right from the start, when we interpret Genesis 13 at face value, we can see that God is keeping the "forever" part of that promise. The descendants of Abraham have always held on to the Holy Land. Jews are descendants of Abraham and so are Arabs. That is an indisputable fact of Scripture and history (Genesis 16). So when the descendants of European Jews live in the Holy Land, they are living in the fulfilment of this promise. Likewise, when Palestinian Arabs live in the Holy Land, they too are living in the fulfilment of this promise. God said the land would be taken away from the ancient Canaanite peoples, which it was, and be given over to the physical descendants of Abraham (Jews and Arabs), which it was. Based on Genesis 13, the Arabs have just as much of a divine title to the Holy Land as Jews.
However, specific promises and requirements were given to the Israelites (Hebrews or Jews) in order for them to retain possession and control of the Holy Land. In other words, a higher responsibility was given to the Israelites. Arabs could inhabit and control the land by virtue of no other reason than just be descendants of Abraham. Israelites could inhabit it too for no other reason. However, inhabiting and controlling are two different things, and in order for the Israelites to control the land, they had to abide by the Law of Moses, which set specific conditions. For example; In Genesis 17:9-14 the Israelites were warned that they must keep the Old Testament covenant or be cut off from God's people.
In Leviticus 26:40-45, the Scriptures tell us that the Israelites must forsake their sins to maintain the covenant. While Deuteronomy 7:12, Exodus 19:5-6 and 1st Kings 9:6-9 all teach that this covenant was conditional (not unconditional). Finally, Joshua 23:15-16 and 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 not only teach that the covenant was conditional, but they also specify that the Israelites would lose their title to the land if they broke this covenant. No such requirements were placed on the Arab descendants of Abraham through Ishmael, only the Israelite descendants through Isaac and Jacob would be held to this higher standard. Why? Because it was through the Israelite descendants that the Messiah (Jesus Christ) would come. Saint Paul tells us that this Law (Torah) was designed to be a tutor to them, to prepare them for the Messiah, help them recognise him, and lead them into his everlasting Kingdom. God had a higher purpose for the Israelite people. For them it was more than just owning a piece of real estate. Rather, it was about saving the world! The real estate was just an added bonus.
We see this conditional promise played out during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities as an example of a much more serious transgression that would happen later. During the decades leading up to these captivities, ancient Israel fell into idolatry and immorality. This caused the nation to split into two separate kingdoms. Israel became the northern kingdom, while Judah became the southern kingdom. The northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria in about 730-740 BC (read more here). This led 10 of the 12 Hebrew tribes into diaspora, from which they would never return. The "lost tribes of Israel" are now extinct, having been intermingled with other peoples in the Middle East. The remaining 2 tribes (Levi and Judah) remained intact in the southern Kingdom of Judah for a while. Incidentally, this is about the time the remaining Hebrews/Israelites started referring to themselves as "Jews" in reference to the southern Kingdom of Judah. However, it wasn't long before their infidelity to the Old Covenant led to their own defeat, and subsequent enslavement, to Babylon in about 600-580 BC (read more here). This enslavement lasted about 70 years, before the Jews were allowed to return to the Holy Land. Once they returned, they took possession of all the land where the northern and southern kingdoms once stood, but they were a shell of what they used to be. After that their possession of the land remained firm, but their control of the land was tenuous and intermittent for centuries. Eventually the Roman Empire obtained control of the Holy Land in about 6 BC. The Romans remained in control during the time of Jesus and the early Church. Finally, all Jewish control and possession of the Holy Land ended after the Bar Kokhba revolt in AD 132-135 (read more here). While some Jews remained in the region, they were left as an impoverished and broken people. Most were scattered throughout the Roman Empire as slaves, where they remained in Europe for centuries. The survival of Jews, as a distinct people, throughout this period is nothing short of a miracle, and should be seen by Christians as an obvious sign that God loves them and wants them to remain a distinct culture. Their return to the Holy Land over the last century can also be seen as a sign of God's love for them, but more on that later.
It was widely believed by ancient Christian scholars that the Roman genocide of the Jewish people, which began with the destruction of their Temple in AD 70 and concluded with their banishment from Jerusalem in AD 136, was God's punishment upon them for refusing to accept their Messiah/King -- Jesus of Nazareth. While this may be religiously speculative, it does have some strictly historical merit. The 1,800-year diaspora was the direct result of a poor choice of the ancient Jewish people between two men who claimed to be the Messiah. The first was Jesus of Nazareth, who offered them a spiritual Kingdom that surpassed anything they had previously imagined. If embraced, they would have lived peacefully under Roman occupation, eventually outlasting the Roman Empire, and regain possession of the Holy Land by default after the fall of Rome. (Oh, and did I mention they get to save the world too?) If however, it was rejected, it would result in the destruction of their Temple, followed by their embrace of a false messiah (Simon Bar Kokhba), who would lead them into absolute ruin, exile and enslavement. The majority of Jews, living in the Holy Land at that time, chose the latter, rejecting Jesus' spiritual Kingdom in exchange for rebellion, a false messiah, and the human catastrophe that followed. This is not a religious statement. Nor is it an anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish statement. This my friends is just a statement of historical fact, based entirely on historical observation of the historical record. Like it or lump it, that's the way it is, and nobody can change history.
As I said above, the occupation and control of the Holy Land was dependent on the Jewish observance of the Old Covenant. The Christian understanding of that covenant is radically modified under the advent of the Messiah King Jesus. Under King Jesus, the Kingdom of Israel is expanded to the ends of the earth, encompassing all who follow King Jesus and are part of his Church. The reign of the King, is lived out in the hearts of his followers (Christians), and is not dependent on physical ancestry (neither Jew nor Gentile). It is simply dependent upon faith and trust in Jesus Christ and the sacraments of his Church. Therefore, the Kingdom of God, the New Israel of God, is the Church, and exists anywhere on earth wherever Christians live. Furthermore, Saint Paul tells us that Christians are adopted children of Abraham by virtue of their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, who is the promised Jewish Messiah...
For not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named after you.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants. -- Romans 9:6-8 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)
In Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. -- Galatians 3:14 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)
For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. -- Galatians 6:15-16 (NRSV-ACE, emphasis mine)Here Saint Paul clearly teaches us that the promises of Abraham are given by adoption to those who have the faith of Abraham, specifically Christians, who are the spiritual heirs of the promises, and he even goes so far as to call Christians (the Church) the new "Israel of God." It helps to understand that the version of Old Testament Scripture the apostles quoted from most often was the Greek Septuagint (Alexandrian Canon), in which the word ecclesia (meaning "church") is used to describe the ancient Kingdom of Israel. From the apostles' perspective, the New Testament ecclesia ("church") was simply a continuation of the ancient ecclesia ("church") Kingdom of Israel.
When we understand Christian teaching on Israel, the Kingdom and the promise of the Holy Land to Abraham, it becomes apparent that Christians have just as much a divine deed to the Holy Land as Jews and Arabs. The point here is that while anyone can live in the Holy Land, regardless of race or religion, the notion of Christian Zionism is absolute heresy! Modern Jews (religious and secular) have no more Biblical right to the Holy Land than modern Arabs (Christian, Muslim and secular), but of all people who would have the most right, based on the Biblical mandate of a divine title, it would be Christians (both Jewish Christians and Arab Christians especially). My point here is that a Christian simply cannot use the promises to Abraham and his descendants to justify Zionism. Modern Jews do not have any more Biblical mandate to rule that land than modern Eskimos. That is, not from a Christian religious perspective anyway.
That being said, it is still possible for a Christian to support the modern State of Israel, but he must do so according to modern international law not Biblical mandate.
Throughout the early 20th century, millions of European and Russian Jews legally immigrated to British controlled Palestine. They did this under British law, and the Brits allowed them to do this in charity. There was nothing wrong with this, so it can be supported by Christians. Could this be looked at as a sign of God's charity and compassion upon the Jewish people? Absolutely! Can this be seen as some kind of sign of the times and the latter days? Sure. Why not? Then on May 1st, 1949 the United Nations recognised Israel as an independent nation. Christians can again support that, because it's a matter of international law. Since its founding however, the United Nations Security Council has adopted no less than 79 resolutions directly critical of Israel for violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Conventions, international terrorism, or other violations of international law. Christians obviously cannot support Israel on these issues. Furthermore, Israel occupies Palestinian territories not recognised by the United Nations or international law. Christians cannot support this either. To do so would be to support lawlessness and that violates the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So in summary, Christians can support Israel in charity, and should support the Jewish people in charity as well. However, such support should never entail the approval of lawlessness. Christians should approach the modern State of Israel like they would any other nation.
That being said, Christians should also respect Palestinians, the emerging occupied State of Palestine, and most especially stand in solidarity with Palestinian Christians who suffer under Israeli occupation. I think it is inappropriate for Christians to choose sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but at the same time, Christians should expect both sides to abide by U.N. Security Council resolutions and international law. Now this may not be what some Christians want to hear, and I would expect some Christians to be rather cynical of this conclusion. However, the modern State of Israel (which has no connection whatsoever to the ancient Kingdom of Israel) has no right to break international law and violate the dignity of the people living in the lands they illegally occupy.
That being said, I will close with the following declaration signed by some very notable people below...
"THE JERUSALEM DECLARATION ON CHRISTIAN ZIONISM"
Statement by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem
"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." (Matthew 5:9)
Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.
We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.
We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!
We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.
We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.
Therefore, we commit ourselves to the following principles as an alternative way:
We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honor the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.
We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.
We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.
We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.
With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.
God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.
"What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)
This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the
peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace - and working for peace makes us children of God.
"God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." (2 Cor 5:19)
His Beattitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
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