Christian Zionism of the premilliennial dispensationalist variety tells a dramatic tale: the rapture of believers, the rise of the Antichrist, and Jesus’ violent, triumphant Second Coming. Within this dramatic narrative the return of the Jews to the Holy Land plays a pivotal role, and the modern State of Israel thus becomes of great theological signifi cance to Christian Zionists; in fact, some Christian Zionists have suggested Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on the U.S. for failing to support Israel as it pulled its settlers out of Gaza in an attempt to create what they see as an unbiblical peace. The following articles—originally published in the July-September MCC Peace Offi ce Newsletter—offer a critical analysis of Christian Zionist theology and readings of Scripture. For more information about the peace offi ce, visit www.mcc.org/respub/pon/index.html.
On a pleasant Sunday afternoon in July 2000, members and pastors belonging to local Palestinian evangelical congregations from the Palestinian territories gathered at the Bethlehem Hotel to celebrate the formation of their council. An American woman who was present at the meeting approached one of the pastors and asked if she could say a few words to the assembly. When the lady took the microphone, I couldn’t believe the words that came out of her mouth. She professed to the Palestinian evangelical Christians assembled there that she had a word from the Lord for them. “God,” she said, “wanted them all to leave Israel and go to other Arab countries.” She added that they must leave to make room for God’s chosen people, the Jews. She warned the pastors and the audience that if they did not listen to the instructions that God had given her, God would pour his wrath on them. When her agenda was recognized, one of the pastors came and whisked her away from the pulpit, but not before she had served the whole assembly a mouthful of what is known today as Christian Zionism.
What are the theological and eschatological (end time) beliefs of Christian Zionism?
• Jews have special favour with God, and neither time, history nor the religious conditions of Jews can affect or alter that favour.
• The Holy Land belongs to the Jews. It always has and it always will. Neither history, nor the passing of centuries, nor the religious or moral condition of Jews today, can alter this fact.
• Jews today are an extension of the Israelites in biblical times. Therefore, just as the nations during the Old Testament era were judged as to how they treated ancient Israel, the same is true today.
• Old Testament prophecies, although uttered thousands of years ago, are being fulfi lled in Israel today and have been since 1948, when the state was born.
• God’s “end time” plan is directly connected with modern Israel. Christians can speed up the coming of Christ as they help bring about the fulfillment of prophecies that pertain to Israel. Most adherents of Christian Zionism are not aware of the destructive theological, religious and political implications of these ideas. Theologically, Christian Zionism is a contradiction in terms. Zionism is a secular political movement that has clear political goals and has been nonreligious from its conception. Zionism deviates from the heart of the New Testament. New Testament Christianity proclaims, “For God so loved the world,” while Christian Zionism proclaims, “For God so loved modern Israel.” According to the Book of Acts, Jesus made clear to Peter in a vision that God no longer favours one nation over others: “Then Peter began to speak: ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favouritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right’” Acts 10:34-35. In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul confronted a group in the churches of Asia Minor who wanted to drag the new believers back to Judaism: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” Galatians 3:26-29. Christian Zionism infl uences its followers to be indifferent to the biblical mandates on peace and justice. Hard-line Christian Zionists teach that peace between Israel and her neighbours could only be established by the Antichrist, the archenemy of Christ. Consequently, religious or political leaders or organizations that endeavour to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, can be seen as a tool of the Antichrist. Thus the more turmoil and suffering that the nations of the Middle East undergo, the greater the evidence that God is carrying out his eschatological program. Eschatology for many Christian Zionists is far more important than Biblical teachings on peace and justice. Christian Zionism is adding fuel to the tension between Christians and Muslims. Many Christian Zionists, especially after Sept. 11, 2001, began to see Muslims as enemies of God. TV evangelists went on the air publicly denouncing Muslims and Islam. Christian Zionists continue to talk about reaching the world for Christ. How can they do so when they are alienating and building walls of mistrust between them and over a billion Muslims? Palestinian Christians havve existed in the Holy Land since the day of Pentecost and have kept the torch of Christianity burning faithfully for the past two thousand years. If the Christian Zionist agenda is carried out, it will mean the death of Christianity in the Holy Land. The erosion of Christianity in its birthplace is a loss for the Body of Christ everywhere. Unlike the prophets of the Old Testament, Christian Zionists have no prophetic words of rebuke for the State of Israel when the Jewish state indulges in oppression. Christian Zionists do not call for the State of Israel to do justice. Israel confiscates Palestinian land, demolishes the homes of the poor, destroys their agricultural land and siphons off their water resources, while many Christian Zionists continue to bless Israel and sing her praises. There are Israelis today, however, like the brave prophets of ancient Israel, who do not hesitate to call their compatriots to pursue justice. Jeremiah reflected that courage when he said: “O house of David, this is what the LORD says: ‘Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fi re because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it” Jeremiah 21:12. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls all his followers to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). His teachings are often referred to as the good news. They are God’s good news for the entire human race. Can we intentionally proclaim his teachings as good news for some, but bad news for others? When the Bible is used to endorse the theft of countries and the suppression of nations, then the good news becomes bad news and the Bible is twisted into a manual for occupation. —Rev. Alex Awad
The author is pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and professor at Bethlehem Bible College