Recently a number of leaders in the Protestant community of the United States have urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments. To strengthen their endorsement, several of these leaders have also insisted that they speak on behalf of the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.
It is good and necessary for evangelical leaders to speak out on the great moral issues of our day in obedience to Christ’s call for his disciples to be salt and light in the world. It is quite another thing, however, when leaders call for commitments that are based upon a serious misreading of Holy Scripture. In such instances, it is good and necessary for other evangelical leaders to speak out as well. We do so here in the hope that we may contribute to the cause of the Lord Christ, apart from whom there can never be true and lasting peace in the world.
At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.
In what follows, we make our convictions public. We do so acknowledging the genuine evangelical faith of many who will not agree with us. Knowing that we may incur their disfavor, we are nevertheless constrained by Scripture and by conscience to publish the following propositions for the cause of Christ and truth.
-from the introduction to
“An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties:
The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel”
Also known as the “Knox Seminary letter”
found at BibleResearcher.com
A few days ago, I had a private email conversation with someone over a number of issues and the name of a well-known Evangelical Christian Pastor came up in connection with the letter I quoted above (he’s supposed to be one of the later — but not one of the original — signatories). The association wasn’t complementary and having looked up and read the letter after finishing the email dialog, I can understand why.
From an Evangelical Christian point of view, when you read the ten points listed plus the rest of this letter’s content, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye. Nothing would seem amiss in the text of the letter and you’d probably think of it as standard, Evangelical Christian doctrine.
Sadly, it is standard Evangelical Christian doctrine and thereby hangs a tale.
I’m writing this “meditation” several days before you’ll read it. I’ve set it to publish automatically early (in my time zone) on Sunday morning, when millions of Christians across the country are getting ready to go to church. Today is also Purim, the celebration that is commanded of the Jews of Ahashuerus’ ancient Persian Kingdom, ”their descendants and all who joined them…” (Esther 9:27 – NRSV).
”All who joined them” is an interesting phrase because it seemingly refers to the objects of the following statement:
In every province and in every city, wherever the king’s command and his edict came, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a festival and a holiday. Furthermore, many of the peoples of the country professed to be Jews, because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them. (emph. mine)
–Esther 8:17 (NRSV)
I mentioned before that we aren’t quite sure exactly what that statement means except that obviously many non-Jews became strongly affiliated, perhaps even to the point of conversion, with the Jewish people. They were the ones who ”joined them” and thus they, along with all their descendants, have received a commandment to perpetually celebrate two days of Purim each year.
The descendants of the Jews in that ancient Persian land are considered today to be all Jews everywhere, but what about the descendants of the Gentiles who joined with the Jews? If they were only converts to Judaism, then their descendants are also Jews. If ”professing to be Jews” however, meant pretending to be Jewish or perhaps coming alongside the Jewish people in fellowship and solidarity, then they are something else. Modern day Iranians perhaps, since King Ahasuerus’ kingdom realm is part of modern-day Iran? Those Gentile descendants could have traveled far and wide in the thousands of years since Esther (Hadassah) and Mordechai walked the earth. Today, they could be anyone.
I don’t think I can expand the concept so far as to “command” all Gentiles everywhere to celebrate Purim (although, why not, since it’s such a fun holiday?). So assuming we’re not just talking about born-Jews and proselytes today, who joins or comes alongside the Jews today?
The most obvious answer are the Gentiles participating in the various streams of Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots. None of the Gentile populations in the numerous branches of those two movements directly claims to be Jewish (with the exception of adherents to Two-House Theology) but all have an affiliation with the Jewish people and Israel to one type and degree or another. In my little corner of Messianic Judaism, it is common to say that Gentiles have come alongside Israel, we have joined them, not as Jews, but maybe like the Gentiles in Shushan.
Then it’s obvious that we non-Jews who are in some way among Jews in Jewish communities (or primarily Gentile communities who affiliate with Jewish or Hebrew practices in the case of Hebrew Roots) are, along with the Jews, commanded to celebrate Purim. And again, as I said before, I think there are excellent reasons for all Christians everywhere to celebrate Purim as well.
But obviously not all Christians will agree with that statement. Probably most Christians won’t agree with that statement, and certainly the original and later signatories of the aforementioned open letter would absolutely not agree with me.
I was tempted to go over each point of the letter and write a rebuttal, but since that letter has been around since 2002, plenty of other rebuttals already exist, including an article at pre-trib.org and the Rapture Ready discussion forum (not that I’m likely to agree with all the points or perspectives of either population, but I do want to illustrate that not all “normative” Christians go along with the Knox Seminary letter).
Just a few days ago, as I’m writing this, Tim at the Onesimus Files blog, wrote a short but powerful article with accompanying links in support of Israel as remaining in God’s promises and refuting that the Gentile Church has replaced “earthly Israel” as the “spiritual” or “new Israel.” A day or so later, Judah Himango at his blog Kineti L’Tziyon wrote Purim: 5 unusual lessons for Yeshua’s disciples (and for those of you who may not know, “Yeshua” is the original Hebrew name for “Jesus”).
I don’t always agree with either Tim’s or Judah’s perspectives on certain things, but we do agree that God has not done away with the centrality of Israel in God’s prophetic, Messianic promises, and that the non-Jewish people of the world must come alongside the Jewish people by becoming disciples of “the King of the Jews,” who came once as Yeshua ben Yosef and who will return in power as Yeshua ben David, and through the worship of the God of all, the One God, Israel’s God.
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
–Genesis 12:3 (NRSV)
That’s God speaking to Abram (later named Abraham) and blessing him with an eternal blessing that applies to all of his descendants through Isaac and Jacob who today are the Jewish people. God not only promises to bless the nations who bless Abraham and his descendants and to curse those who curse them, but He inserts a veiled promise that all the families, the nations of the earth shall be blessed by Abraham’s seed, Messiah.
Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.
–Galatians 3:16 (NASB)
So we non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah come alongside Israel through Messiah, the seed of Abraham through whom the entire world will ultimately be blessed.
We can say that those people who are not Jewish and who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ have no obligation to observe Purim. However some atheists and agnostics and people of other religions do “bless” or support the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state and who think well of the Jewish people, though it’s popular in secular society worldwide to refer to Israel as an “apartheid state” and to demand a boycott of Israel’s products and services, thus bringing themselves under a curse (they don’t believe the God of Israel exists and thus that the curse exists, but the Messiah hasn’t returned yet).
But are any authentically believing and faithful Christians under the same curse?
Bad Christian theology regarding the “Holy Land” contributed to the tragic cruelty of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Lamentably, bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine, with the consequence that the Palestinian people are marginalized and regarded as virtual “Canaanites.” This doctrine is both contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and a violation of the Gospel mandate. In addition, this theology puts those Christians who are urging the violent seizure and occupation of Palestinian land in moral jeopardy of their own bloodguiltiness. Are we as Christians not called to pray for and work for peace, warning both parties to this conflict that those who live by the sword will die by the sword? Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring both temporal reconciliation and the hope of an eternal and heavenly inheritance to the Israeli and the Palestinian. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know peace on earth.
-from point ten of the Knox Seminary “open letter”
This is in direct contradiction to God’s giving the land of Israel to the Jewish people in perpetuity (see Genesis 15:18 and 17:8 … also see ”The Bible on Jewish Links to the Holy Land” at Jewish Virtual Library).
To Challenge Evangelicals To Take Responsibility To Help Resolve the Conflicts in Israel-Palestine By Engaging With the Teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God.
That sounds very nice, except under About Us/Manifesto, one of the twelve points listed states:
Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
I have no idea how any Christian who reads and understands the Bible can make such a statement, but I said before that recent news articles report Evangelicals pulling away from supporting a Jewish Israel. Sadly, it actually makes sense for Evangelical Christians to turn a cold shoulder toward Israel and the Jewish people. It took Hitler’s ghastly Holocaust to shock the Christian church out of centuries of anti-Semitism and supersessionism, but World War Two ended nearly seventy years ago, and if I know one thing about human beings, we’re very shortsighted and of limited memory.
Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.
It seems that even those who (probably) do know the history of the Holocaust are (unfortunately) destined to repeat it as well, at least to the degree of denying that Israel is a Jewish state in accordance to the promises of God, and agreeing that it is not only reasonable but Biblical to carve up Israel into Israel and “Palestine.”
I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse…
–Genesis 12:3 (NRSV)
The Rosh Pina Project has been running a rather lengthy series on the 2014 Christ at the Checkpoint (CaTC) event (which ended on Friday the 14th) from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Several authors on this blog have posted detailed commentaries and multiple videos of this year’s event, so if you want to learn more, the Rosh Pina Project is the place to go.
I find it ironic that the image in the banner at the CaTC homepage quotes Matthew 6:10, ”Your Kingdom Come.” I can only imagine that the folks at Bethlehem Bible College and the other CaTC supporters and allies believe that when God’s Kingdom comes upon the return of Jesus, the way they, and the folks who signed the Knox Seminary open letter, view God’s Kingdom lines up with the complete elimination of Jewish possession of Israel. The fact that point nine of the open letter states, The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the “Holy Land” cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” is, to me, a clear indication that the letter’s writers and signatories have no idea what God has promised Israel or what “Thy Kingdom Come” means.
I realize that makes me sound arrogant beyond belief. All of the signatories are Pastors and theologians with doctorate degrees up the wazoo, and I’m just one guy with no doctorate degrees and just a heck of a lot of chutzpah (and with chutzpah in mind, I invite anyone who agrees with the Knox Seminary letter and/or CaTC’s mission to watch The First Fruits of Zion episode Thy Kingdom Come for a bit of illumination).
I know it seems strange to say that there are Christians, well-known Christian Pastors even, who could be cursed by God because these well-known (and probably lots of not well-known) Christians believe ”the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament were fulfilled under Joshua,” and that ”bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine.” Really. They should just join the BDS Movement and be done with it. I bet they’re big fans of Roger Waters’ vile opinions on Israel.
If these Christians are banking on ”He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved,” (Mark 16:16) they should remember Jesus also said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’”
–Matthew 7:21-23 (NRSV)
Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). I used to think it was about being judged by how we do or don’t show kindness and compassion to others, especially strangers, but a year or so ago, I heard an alternative interpretation from a teacher at the church I attend, that Jesus is specifically addressing those Gentile believers who did not care for the disadvantaged, the hungry, thirsty, or naked of Israel, the Jewish people.
I really hate to say this since I know it will hurt a lot of people’s feelings and make a lot of Christians mad at me, but the only conclusion I can pull out of all of this is that the “Spirit of Haman” not only roams the Islamic mosques and madrassas (seminaries) but that “Spirit” can also be found in some of our churches and seminaries. It breaks my heart to say that because there are a lot of good people in the church who indeed to love Israel and believe it is for the Jews only, but the evidence has been mounting that much of Christianity is turning away in the “Spirit of Haman” and bringing upon themselves the curse promised in the Abrahamic covenant, and the curse of Haman and his ten sons.
I wish I could have written a light, comedic “meditation” for today as a celebration of life and joy, but I discovered I’m not a comedy writer. I’m just a voice in the wilderness calling the churches of the nations back from where they’ve wandered off, pleading with them to repent of their ways, begging them to return to God before it’s too late.
John was a prophet in the wilderness and he called many Jews back to repentance in his day. I’m just a guy with a blog and I’m no prophet at all.
My friend Dan Hennessy is building an educational venture using “smart technology” to inform secondary and college-age students about the Holocaust. He’s developed a slogan for this “underground operation:”
“Education is resistance. Support the resistance.”
Humans have a strength that cannot be measured. This is John Connor. If you are listening to this, you are the resistance.
Like the scattered remnants of humanity all but decimated by the machines in John Connor’s fictional future world, I’m just a man alone or among a small group of partisans, fighting against a much larger and imposing force. But, like those celluloid (though movies aren’t on celluloid film anymore) resistance fighters, I’m just listening to a contraband radio set, so to speak, listening to words of freedom that have been all but forgotten, cherishing allies that have been thrown under the bus of “Christian political correctness.”
But I can hear a voice and because I’m listening, I am the resistance. Learn about Purim. Learn why the Knox Seminary open letter and Christ at the Checkpoint are tragically wrong about what the Bible says. I did so by becoming a student of Messianic Judaism but that’s not the only way. Become part of the resistance by blessing Israel and not cursing it, for surely we will all be judged by how we have treated Christ’s “little ones.”
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
–Psalm 137:5-6 (NRSV)
And I say with some irony, Chag Sameach Purim. Have a joyous Festival of Purim.