A Polemic Response to Arlene Bridges Samuels’ “Christian Zionists”

I’ve chosen today to highlight this article as an example of Dispensational theology in the media serving to bolster Israel:

https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/christian-zionists-who-are-we-and-what-do-we-think-and-do/

I will start off by stating that the focus of my blog has been and will continue to be the pervasive ecumenical attitude among conservative Christians who happen to agree with other religious folk about certain issues, as well as the importing of worldly philosophies where they are not scriptural. We think that because we find brotherhood on certain topics that we can cede ground in our Great Commission, and that just isn’t the case if we want to obey Christ.

We should identify briefly, unlike the author, the origins of the worldview she is holding to in order to reconcile herself to Christian Zionism, and that is called Dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is a relatively new (mid-19th century) eschatology that holds that the bible is split into seven “dispensations,” or agreements with certain people or groups, which may overlap from a timeline perspective. Unlike Covenantal views that see the church under one covenant extending to Jews and Gentiles alike, Dispensationalists hold that Israel has a separate dispensation and are a separate people of God from Gentiles, who must hold saving faith in Jesus Christ.

There are many problems with this worldview, and Reformed Forum has an excellent 13 (or 15 if you count the follow-ups) part series discussing this eschatology in depth if you are curious about its history and its difficulties. My biggest problem with Dispensationalism is that it causes Christians to think that they are not to evangelize Jews and that they do not need saving faith. Concluding a particular non-Christian group does not need to be saved amounts to a rejection of Mark 16:15’s admonition to preach the Gospel to all nations.

Arlene is an Anglican, a curious place for someone using an explicitly Dispensational eschatology, as John Nelson Darby left the Anglican church to start the Brethren, the original “denomination” (though a term he would have not used) holding to Dispensationalism.

Who Are we? I define Christian Zionism this way. Foundational to our value system, we endorse the biblical “deed” God transmitted through scripture written by Jewish hands. In my view, the deed codifies in a legal sense God’s ownership of the Land of Israel and delegates its management to the Jewish people. Millennia have passed yet the deed and delegation remain.

God’s people were Israel from Abrahamic times to when Jesus put on skin and walked the Earth. Christ provided the New Covenant to Jew and Gentile alike: Believe in Him and obtain eternal life. It’s important to note that God’s claim is not confined to the land of Israel: It is creation itself. (Genesis 1:31) God promised Israel’s land to the descendants of Abraham but the fulfillment of this was Christ’s return. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

We defend the historical fact that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We consider its modern establishment as part of God’s plan and embrace Isaiah 66:8: “Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Can a nation be established in a day?” We say a resounding “Yes.” Nineteen forty-eight fulfilled this statement when modern Israel experienced a rebirth unlike any other nation in history.

The peculiarity of supporting ethnic nationalism for Israel and liberal democratic diversity for everyone else is shared by a huge swath of liberals and conservatives, believers and unbelievers alike and I’ve never seen a substantive defense of it. Through the rest of the Western world, ancestral homelands are generally seen as an outdated concept.

 

How do we know that the bible wasn’t referring to the reestablishment of the literal State of Israel in Amos 9? Put the Dispensationalist’s interpretation of Matthew 24 to the prophet’s test found in Deuteronomy 18:22: Dispensationalists told us that Christ’s coming would be within a generation of the reestablishment of Israel, 25-33 years. It’s been 70 years since this event happened. This obvious refutation was ignored and rationalized by many believers and to this day, Christians still feel on an emotional level they are morally obligated to support the Jewish state. It’s also worth noting that according to the Matthew Henry Commentary Isaiah 66 is referring to the creation account. We should be especially cautious when we analogize works of God’s creation to this event because we are warned in Revelation about world governments and orders; it’s safe to say they are not positive things.

 

Decades ago mainline churches started divorce proceedings from Israel. The Presbyterian Church USA called for divestment from companies doing business in Israel. Now mainline Methodists and The Episcopal Church among others have lent their call for divestment, adding to the funeral pyre of classical Christian belief by demonizing God’s people, the apple of His eye. This hierarchy- which proclaims Christ and the Bible-slanders the nation that birthed our faith, giving us our Jewish Savior and the Old and New Testaments. That Jesus was a Jew is undeniable. That God passed the Bible to the world through Jewish scribes is a fact. That our Christian faith was birthed in the rich soil of Jewish culture and tradition cannot be denied.

This is rank emotional manipulation and uses language loaded with presuppositions. The issue of the liberalizing of Mainline churches is well-known and a topic covered better by other writers and the fact that they come in line with anti-Western sympathizers to Islam and Palestine has plenty of obvious problems. “Classical Christian belief” does not extend only back to Darby in 1833 and before that we have centuries of frustrated theologians attempting to evangelize and convert Jewish people. Heaping all these “Jewish” qualifiers onto the events of the bible is meant to distract from the fact that Jesus was sent first to the Lost Sheep of Israel (Matthew 10). He didn’t come to provide a separate covenant to Gentiles: He came for everyone. In Romans 11:12, Paul says “Now if [Israel’s] trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”

[Skipping over more talk about liberals and BDS because I covered it]

Christian Zionists are realists. First, due to our own faith, we understand the imperfection of humankind. This includes ourselves and all citizens of the world. It is valuable to pursue perfection, yet it is unattainable. We don’t idolize Israel; rather we choose to be a reliable friend in a world flowing with the sewage of anti-Semitism.

I find “anti-Semitism” to be a curious term. Conservatives have become acutely aware of the ways in which leftist secular humanists abuse descriptors of bigotry like “racist” to push a political agenda, but for some reason using “anti-Semitism” in this way is embraced wholly by most of these same conservatives, even being codified into law in South Carolina in a very conservative state that would never dream of Hate Speech laws of other kinds.

An overarching theme of the bible is Israel’s falling away and redemption. When the temple was destroyed and Jews scattered throughout the Earth, Israel had fallen away by failing to embrace the Messiah who fulfilled their many prophecies. While the State of Israel has been established by the UN, Jews did not come to penitent faith in Christ as Paul had admonished them to do, and so if we are to support them as “friends,” the basis cannot be theological.

Christian Zionists’ Biblical View 
Christian communities view scripture in a smorgasbord of ways. Some taste and savor every bite as literally spiritual food from Genesis to Revelation. Others pick and choose a flavor they prefer and dismiss parts they view as tasteless. Most, if not all, Christian Zionists view scripture literally. We accept as fact God’s ancient covenants with Israel and consider them as permanent despite the passage of time or any event. We fully reject Replacement Theology which states that Christians and the church have replaced the Jewish people. Christian Zionists often say, “God has not broken His covenants with the Jews and He graciously grafted Gentiles into the promises and covenants.” Replacement Theology-on the other hand- claims God has broken with the Jews when the “church” was birthed. When Jesus walked the earth, those “churches” were synagogues. He read from Old Testament scrolls. The New Testament didn’t yet exist. Unfortunately, a segment of evangelicals has embraced Replacement Theology.

Dispensationalists are known for taking the bible literally, even choosing literal interpretations when figurative language is explicit, and “Replacement Theology” is their slur for Coventantalism and is based on a wrong-headed view of the New Covenant. When Christ established the Church, it didn’t replace Israel; it encompassed it. Their view would suggest, again, that Christ and his apostles didn’t go first to Israel. God has indeed grafted Gentiles into his Covenant (Romans 11), but that view is at odds with with their own holdings about separate promises for Jews and Israel.

Christian Zionists’ Spiritual Parents 
People of faith express appreciation for parents, pastors, rabbis, and other spiritual mentors. Christian Zionists though embrace an additional mentor, ancient Judaism, as the midwife of our Christian faith. Our “spiritual” parents functioned as God’s heavenly dictation system to make His concepts known through Jewish minds and hands, first in the Old Testament, then throughout the New. We believe that God continued to connect with us through truths in the 27 books of the New Testament also transmitted through Jewish scribes. Christian Zionists treasure the bible as ONE whole book, not two. In other evangelical circles though, the Old Testament is often shoved aside with an emphasis only on the New Testament. We look at this neglect as a mistake. It’s like leaving a half loaf of delicious homemade bread uneaten.

In the same breath, Arlene boasts of her conservative biblical literalism and embraces the liberal, ecumenical term “people of faith.” There is only one people of faith and that is those who choose to embrace Christ’s promise to the world (Acts 16). Ancient Israel were indeed our spiritual forebears but that does not mean their modern equivalents are our cousins in the current age. Jews largely rejected the Messiah in the New Testament and to say that the whole of scripture was attributable to the communal acts of a certain ethnos is extremely misleading. “…also transmitted through Jewish scribes” is also misleading; they were composed in Koine Greek and were not communicated through the Masoretes charged with preserving the Tanakh (Hebrew Old Testament) but through the early Church in Alexandria, Rome and Byzantium (source).

I agree with her that Antinomianism, or wholesale abandonment of the Old Testament in favor of the new, is a worrying trend in Liberal/Mainline Protestantism and needs to be treated as a problem.

Christian Zionist Attitude of Gratitude
Since Christianity was born in the cradle of ancient Judaism, we draw from an immense deposit of gratitude which animates our viewpoint. If we are grateful to someone, we want to bless them back. Gratitude is a huge motivating factor for us when it comes to Israel.

God is the one that deserves the Glory, not a particular tribe he chose to bless in antiquity.

Christian Zionist Advocacy
Christian Zionist activism is not monolithic; it is multiple. I daresay thousands of Christian entities, large and small, are part of the tapestry of love and support toward Israel. The activism can include, for example, raising money for portable bomb shelters, making blankets for Holocaust survivors, weekly Israel-focused prayer groups, pro-Israel Christian media, advocating with US Congress, planning pilgrimages, reaching out to Palestinian and Israeli Arab communities, and sponsoring Jewish Aliyah. Christian outreach provides so many options that everyone can find their niche whether it’s sitting down at a sewing machine, writing a check, or advocating with a member of congress.

Here is where the real damage is done: Political action and alliances based on faulty scriptural reasoning is directly responsible for blood spilled on one half of a conflict that is not our own, and a particular love and desire for influence on our state on behalf of a nation that is not our own (from the perspective of American Christians). Israel is a primary influence in many of our interventions in the Middle East that have cost thousands of civilian lives and is pointing America towards conflict with Iran. We should love Jews and Muslims both as fellow image-bearers, not favoring Jews by recognizing some kind of separate arrangement with the same God.

Christian Zionists and Arabs
Misrepresentations are sometimes leveled against Christian Zionists from other co-religionists that we hate Arabs. Our faith calls us to live in kindness with all peoples. Many Christian organizations which are focused on Israel also make sure they have initiatives which bless and build relationships in the Arab community. Generalizations about any community are dangerous. We do not view Arabs as a monolithic people group. Christian Zionists have built many fine relationships with the Arab, as well as Ethiopian, Druze and other communities in Israel. We help and dialog regardless of religion or people group.

Except that she just explicitly supported favoritism towards Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and more broadly against Islam at large. Muslims trace their lineage back to Ishmael, even recognizing Jesus favorably as a prophet in a way that Jews do not, yet receive no special “co-religionist” recognition.

Christian Zionist Fact-Checking
We spend time collaborating, informing, and interchanging ideas and articles while sorting through lies versus facts. We stay abreast of issues on the ground in Israel, what’s going on in the United Nations, and the latest terrorist assaults. Our fact checking includes our knowledge about Israel as an “innovation nation.” We consider that Israel remains a light to the world, carrying out the cultural concept of repairing the world.

Finally, we press on despite our national and personal imperfections. We are better together, standing together, and working together to protect the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. We press on motivated by a Perfect God Who loves us-like we love our own children-despite our imperfections.

This is heretical language. Jesus Christ alone is the light of the world as clearly stated in John 8, not a government set up by the UN to serve as an ethnostate to those who rejected Christ. God’s love is for whom he had called to faith in Him (Ephesians 1), and that has nothing to do with either of our civil states. The matter of the ancestral homeland of the Jews will be handled by God in His time and it’s not our place to say that it should be preserved for an apostate ethnoreligious group.