"Why We Should Be Concerned About Christian Zionism," publicized nationally in a Dec. 12 news release, was developed by the NCC Interfaith Relations Commission. The brochure was introduced during meetings of the National Council of Churches Governing Board and the General Assembly of the NCC and Church World Service in November.
NCC broadly defines Christian Zionism as "any Christian support for the national revival movement of the Jewish people realized through the establishment of the modern State of Israel." The brochure focuses its warning on a more narrow description of "an ideology grounded in beliefs which consider the State of Israel to be divinely ordained and scripturally determined with a central role in ushering in the end of history." The commentary caricatures the end-times scenario embraced by many evangelicals "where unconverted Jews and unbelievers (including Christians who are considered to be of questionable status) are judged by God's wrath."
The NCC assigns the label of "misguided ideology" to the belief that the state of Israel has a divinely ordained role in ushering in the end of history. "The danger of this ideology is that it is a manipulation of Christian scripture and teaching," said Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC senior program director for interfaith relations. "Unfortunately it has influence in American churches, to the point where many well-meaning Christians are swayed to support particularly destructive directions in U.S. foreign policy with regard to the Middle East."
Christian Zionism in its narrowest form, according to the NCC brochure, advocates preserving control of historic Palestine, including Gaza and the West Bank, for the Jewish people alone and rejecting any peace settlement based on a two-state solution. Citing scholars who find no roots in traditional teachings for Christian Zionist ideology, the NCC supports the security needs and rights of both Israelis and Palestinians.
Sibley acknowledged that some Christian Zionists support a two-state solution, but he questioned the viability of that solution as long as the Palestinians and their leaders are committed to terrorism and remain intolerant of Israel. "Certainly progress would be much more rapid were the Palestinians to renounce terrorism and be willing to sit with Israelis in a context of mutual respect," Sibley said, noting that the Palestinians have not demonstrated the same openness to negotiations and concessions as has Israel.
As the director of Criswell College's Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies in Dallas, Sibley has written and spoken extensively on relations between Christians and Jews and believes most evangelicals are philo-Semitic (friends of Israel) and support the return of the Jewish people to Israel.
Sibley agreed that questionable positions are held by some within the Christian Zionism movement who give unqualified support for every action taken by the Israeli government. At the same time, others avoid sharing the Gospel with Jewish people for fear of offense, he said, adding, "One should not have to choose between love for the Jewish people and love for the Jewish Messiah."
The NCC, in accusing Christian Zionism proponents of promoting negative stereotypes of Muslims and Middle Easterners, including Middle Eastern Christians, stated in the brochure, "They often accuse these Christians of siding with Muslims against the U.S. and the State of Israel in a cosmic battle of good and evil, thus questioning their Christian faithfulness." By encouraging Christians in the United States to harbor suspicion and enmity toward Muslims and non-westernized Christians, "the movement negates Christ's command to love our neighbors as ourselves," the NCC charged, quoting Matthew 22:39.
Sibley, who formerly served as a Southern Baptist representative in Israel, said he saw "the true brotherhood of Jewish and Arab Christians" as both came to know the Messiah, the only one through whom true peace can be found. Sibley said he was surprised to find no mention in the NCC brochure of the peace and reconciliation that Jesus brings, nor any reference to Messianic Jews in Israel.
"Palestinian Christians are leaving in droves, not because of Israeli oppression, but because of the intolerance and violence of Palestinian Muslims that has been directed toward them," Sibley added.
Sibley took particular offense at the NCC's accusation that Israelis and Palestinians are dehumanized by Christians who hold to the special role of Israel in the end times. As stated in the NCC brochure, "The conclusion of this drama involves the death of all non-Christians, including Jews, through apocalyptic warfare or divine judgment. Given these beliefs, even many Jews wonder if the movement promotes proper Jewish-Christian relationships and question the nature of the movement's support for Israel."
Sibley, however, said the love expressed by Christians is based on God's love for the Jewish people "because the Bible is Jewish, their faith is Jewish and their Savior is the Jewish Messiah." Educational and social services have been offered by Christians to aid new immigrants to Israel and others, including Palestinians who have been the recipients of Christian compassion, he said.
Rejecting the NCC description of Christian Zionism as a recent innovation, Sibley said it was part of the restorationist movement in England and found among the Moravians in Germany and Holland at least 350 years ago. He charged the NCC with drawing on "replacement theology" for their characterization.
"In this view, Israel has been rejected because of the crucifixion of Jesus and has been replaced by the church," Sibley said in explaining replacement theology. "Therefore, all of the promises of God to Israel have been transferred to the church." Sibley turns to Romans 11:1ff to demonstrate the Apostle Paul's unequivocal denial of that conclusion.
Sibley said he regards replacement theology as a teaching of contempt that has consistently led to anti-Semitism. "This leads to a position regarding Zionism that is very close to that of Islam," he noted. "In Islam the Jews are destined by Allah to always remain oppressed and in a second-class status. It is therefore an affront to Allah for the state of Israel to exist."
In contrast, Christian Zionism did not begin with dispensationalism and is broader than any eschatological position, Sibley said, adding, "Certainly it is much older than the liberalism of the National Council of Churches."
Sibley said the concerns raised by the NCC brochure strike at the very character of God. "Our God is a faithful God who keeps His Word. When He makes an unconditional covenant, He will surely keep His Word. God's faithfulness to Israel should inspire confidence that God will also keep His promises to Christians, in spite of our sin and unfaithfulness," Sibley said.
"We should share the Gospel with both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and pray for the day when "all Israel will be saved," Sibley reminded, quoting Romans 11:26.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN. The brochures can be downloaded and reproduced in English and Spanish for those who wish to know more about the ideology. Go to http://www.ncccusa.org/pdfs/christianzionismbrochure.pdf For more information and resources from the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies visit www.pascheinstitute.org or call 214-818-1309. Bachelor's and master's studies are offered with a minor or major in Jewish studies through the Criswell College.
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A similar re-classification and misrepresentation of the beliefs of historic denominations was found in a Jerusalem Post article "The essence of Christian Zionism" by Elwood McQuaid.
The historic denominations don't hold to a "Replacement Theology". This term was invented by evangelicals to denigrate the historical denominations that did not accept popular end-times theology and did not accept American evangelical political leadership on Middle East issues.
Americans cannot comprehend that a political Israel may not be the same as a spiritual Israel. If political Israel = spiritual Israel, then why did 19th century Zionists reject Judaism and replace it with a secularized and socialist Jewish identity? This was the beginnings of Zionism, after all. In addition, embracing the Jewish heritage is a recent phenomenon in American evangelicalism.
If political Israel = spiritual Israel, then why have Palestinian Christians died, even when being faithful to the Messiah? Are they not grafted in just like the gentile American Christians?
In order for American Protestants to believe that "replacement theology" is a sinister and anti-Semitic defect of historic denominations, then there are certain aspects of Israeli history that need to be kept from them.
A more accurate description of historic doctrine concerning Israel can be found by contacting the Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Christian priest Fr. Alexander Winogradsky, who leads a Hebrew-speaking parish in Jerusalem.
"the Palestinians have not demonstrated the same openness to negotiations and concessions as has Israel."
It's interesting to understand what by 'concessions' he means. If he means by this giving to someone what does not belong to him in the first place, I agree. but in fact Jews and later the state of Israel occupied, and still annexing, lands from the Palestinians.
Israel's 'oppenness' was only in the Media, but in fact Israel even while it was negtioating with the Palestinians kept on doing the following: 1) Stealing Land, 2) Stealing Water, 3) Demolition of houses, 4) Human Rights Abuses. Is this openness Mr. Sibley?
Concession means giving up what is yours or what you have the right of possessing, it is NOT the case here.
You can see those as 'concessions' only if you perceive Israel as the stronger country and thus as the one holding the right to do whatever it wishes. Now when Israel does what it should (returning certain rights to whom they belong) you see those as 'concessions.' In this same, twisted, logic, one can see the withdrawal of US Army from Iraq (when it happens), or Afghanistan, as a concession as well.