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Currently Browsing: Gary Burge

Is Israel the New Evil Empire?

Introduction

When I picture an Evil Empire, Darth Vadar, Star War’s devious leader of the Dark Side, prowls across my mind.  Throw in a squadron of Imperial Stormtroopers clashing with Rebel Alliance combatants, and we have an accurate description of an Evil Empire.  

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash



But the modern nation of Israel as the “new Evil Empire”?  No way!  Yet some Christian leaders are accusing the Jewish nation of playing the role of ambassadors for the Dark Side in the Middle East.

This article was originally written for The Messianic Times in 2007. Since the accusation of Israel as an apartheid nation continues in some evangelical circles, I thought it would benefit the readers of Scripture Solutions to take a look at the issue once again.

My major concern is not only with the politics involved in the incrimination of Israel but also with the fact this indictment stems from anti-Israel evangelicals.

I presume some evangelicals cited in this article have either changed or eschewed their position or doubled down on their viewpoint. It is not the purpose of this reprint to update the negative views held by these evangelicals towards Israel. This piece is a reflection of what was taking place 14 years ago among Christian leaders in their perspective on the modern state of Israel.

One further observation. Many of the links included in the first article are no longer operable. So I have deleted them from the text and retained the links that are still active.

What Christian leaders would possess the chutzpah to assign this sinister caricature to the Jewish state? 

An evangelical call to unmask the so-called Evil Empire

Rev. Donald Wagner, director for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Chicago’s North Park University, addressed the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) held in Birmingham, Alabama in June 2006.  Though Wagner offered his remarks on Father’s Day (June 18, 2006), his vilification of Israel could hardly have pleased the Heavenly Father, the Holy One of Israel. 

Wagner, the founder of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, referred to Israel as part of a “globalized empire” that employs such things as “weapons and the international media for its gain.”

Appealing to an evangelical audience, the Chicago professor challenged his listeners, “We have to unmask the face of the evil empire.”

Wagner, who had recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land declared,  “It is time that we start using the word apartheid. In fact, it is worse than apartheid.”

Other Christian leaders have unfortunately provided the fodder for Wagner’s biting words towards the Jewish nation.   

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Did Jesus Give Away the Land of Israel to Christians? (Matthew 5:5) Pt 1

Photo courtesy of The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation

Most evangelical supporters of the modern state of Israel MUST become familiar with the biennial conference Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC). This symposium is organized by Palestinian Christian pastors and leaders in conjunction with Bethlehem Bible College, a non-denominational Evangelical school located in the West Bank and a source of anti-Zionist propaganda. The major mission of this controversial forum is stated in the “About” Section of the CATC website, “We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

On the surface the Christ at the Checkpoint mission statement appears acceptable. The commitment to apply Christian principles to navigating and addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is appealing to Christians who want to reflect the principles taught by Jesus. To clarify their viewpoint regarding the Middle East conflict, the CATC “About” field continues, “We feel compelled to address the injustices that have taken place in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, particularly the Palestinian lands under occupation.”

However, after listening to the CATC talks posted online, one notices the lecturers are quick to condemn the Jewish state, but are strangely quiet about the atrocities committed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza. Dexter Van Zile, a writer for C.A.M.E.R.A. (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis), reflects in an article about the CATC gatherings, “all the problems and suffering associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict are placed at the feet of Israel, America and the West while the misdeeds of Palestinian leaders are ignored.”

The Role of CATC in Denying God’s Promises of the Land to Israel

Checkpont West Bank
Ahmad Al-Bazz

In this article the alleged injustices occurring in the Palestinian territories will not be addressed. Rather, our goal is to deal with the underlying agenda of CATC in questioning and opposing any theology that advocates a divine plan for Israel’s future.

CATC’s adversarial position concerning theologies that are supportive of Israel is stated as follows ” . . . we reject theologies that lead to discrimination or privileges based on ethnicity. Worldviews that promote divine national entitlement or exceptionalism do not promote the values of the Kingdom of God because they place nationalism above Jesus.” Any attendee at CATC is soon made aware the majority of speakers do not believe the God of the Bible has a plan for the nation of Israel that includes both the title and possession of the Promised Land.

In contrast, one who maintains God DOES have a future plan for Israel believes the divine program for the Jewish nation has NEVER been based on ethnicity. The Lord’s planned blessings for Israel is founded solely on His elective choice as seen in Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping rthe oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteroomy 7:6-8 (ESV)

The true intent of the CATC conferences can be missed in the slew of many messages that obfuscates their agenda. From the One for Israel website this intention is spelled out:

The conference claims to be “theology in the service of peace and justice” but its true purpose is to fundamentally change the way that Evangelicals in the West read the Bible in order to fundamentally change their political stand regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict-and through them, to affect their political leaders. Instead of reading the Bible in its historical and cultural context in order to understand what the inspired prophets and apostles communicated as the Word of God, organizers of CatC want us to read the Scriptures only “in the shadow of the occupation”, that is, filtered through the Palestinian Arab’s POV and political aspirations. 

https://www.oneforisrael.org/bible-based-teaching-from-israel/christ-at-the-checkpoint/

Of course, the leaders involved in CATC will demonstrate a desire for Israel and the Jewish people to experience salvation through Yeshua. Still, the denial of God’s promises of the land to the nation of Israel lies at the heart of the CATC agenda.

The Role of CATC in Altering the Fingerprint of the Nation of Israel

It is tempting to only see CATC as an evangelical effort to right injustices and to take a stand for the oppressed Palestinians. Yet we must keep at the forefront the deeper aim of CATC as stated by a One for Israel position paper: “to sway Evangelical believers worldwide away from belief in the eternal promises of God to Israel by slandering the Jewish people and delegitimizing the Jewish state . . . “

fingerprint
Free photo 2737531 © Andy Brown – Dreamstime.com

The Jewish News Syndicate chimes in with a similar understanding of the theological underpinnings of this evangelical anti-Israel effort, “CATC includes a heavy emphasis on replacement theology, which teaches that the Christian church has replaced Israel or the Jewish people regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God. Adherents of the theology believe that the Jews are no longer God’s ‘chosen people’.” Those who hold to any form of replacement theology are asking its adherents to believe the fingerprint of Israel in the Jewish scriptures has been altered. Like a thief who uses acid or a surgical technique to change his fingerprints, these RT theologians have attempted to file off the fingerprint of Israel from Old Testament promises so that the nation’s identity is replaced with that of the Church.

In Palestinian replacement theology, some of their theologians see the land of Israel as a type of heaven and not a geographical destination; many opt for a replacement theology in which the Church is the spiritual “New Israel”. A growing number of New Testament theologians hold the promises given to Israel are now fulfilled in Jesus. He is the goal of the Old Testament prophecies and He is the “new Israel”.

The variations of Replacement Theology are manifold and cannot be covered in this piece in their entirety. Yet the essential conviction of RT that replaces the nation Israel with the NT Church and the land with spiritualized interpretations will be discussed throughout this article. In addition, every attempt will be made to address the passages cited by Replacement Theology that are used to diminish the commitment of the God of Israel to His nation.

The perspective on Israel by CATC organizers is well stated by Palestinian Salim Munayer, head of Musalaha a non-profit organization which works towards reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. In response to a concern about God’s promises of the land to Israel, Munayer responded,

“CATC interprets them via a new “theology of the land”. This theology teaches that “the blessing of the Promised Land has been stretched over the whole earth.” God has gifted every people with a homeland, on condition that they behave morally. The Jews behaved immorally and lost their land to the Palestinians. If the Jewish people will become moral, God will let them share the land with the Palestinians (italics mine).

https://news.kehila.org/the-controversial-christ-at-the-checkpoint-a-beginners-factual-guide/

The Role of Christians in Grasping Israel’s Role in God’s Plans

Most non-RT scholars will argue against the general theological statements which support the stance God has replaced Israel with the Church. Yet when texts used by RT proponents to support their theology are carefully examined, we discover the tedious work of exegesis of these verses has oftentimes been neglected. Two results are noticed:

RT is built on a foundation of poorly interpreted biblical texts.

blowing up balloon

Throughout the Tenach God is inflating Israel like a giant balloon with blessings and promises concerning the future of the nation. To defend the position that sees the continuation of God’s promises to Israel, the proponents take into account the many texts that support this position.

For example, according to Psalm 2:6 and Zechariah 14:6-7 the Messiah will rule from Jerusalem during the Messianic kingdom. The nations of the earth will come to Zion to worship the Messiah King of Israel (Isaiah 61:10). Because of God’s commitment to Israel, the nation is preserved by Him throughout the ages. In the Hebrew scriptures and post-biblical history, the “balloon” nation almost floats above all attempts to wipe them out by the enemies of God’s chosen people.

In contrast, Replacement theologians use their anti-Israel doctrine to deflate the special position Israel has in the Word of God. These advocates fail to interact honestly with the many Old Testament passages that reinforce God’s continued relationship with Israel.

For instance, most conservative biblical scholars view Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Valley of the Dry Bones, as a prophecy of the regathering of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and the ensuing spiritual regeneration of the Jewish people. RT interpreters view Ezekiel 37 as referring to the gathering of redeemed people-Jews and Gentiles-into the church. The latter interpretation ignores the details of these fourteen verses in favor of a general interpretation that is indifferent to the specifics of the prophecy. Ezekiel 37:12 declares to a scattered Israel throughout the earth, “And I will bring you into the land of Israel.” Where is this geographical location God promises to bring the replacement “new Israel” (the Church) to?

By the time we get to the NT, these RT teachers have redefined Israel or ignored the promises God gave to the Jewish nation. This is because these scholars have built their theology on poorly interpreted passages from the Hebrew Bible regarding Israel.

RT often overlooks the entire scope of OT prophecies about Israel.

RT maintains if an OT prophecy regarding Israel’s future is not mentioned again in the NT, the passage is to be ignored. Oddly, these neglected specifics of OT prophecies about Israel form the greatest argument against Replacement Theology.

It is true Ezekiel 37 is not mentioned in the New Testament. However, where does it teach in the New Covenant scriptures that Ezekiel 37 is no longer applicable because the text is not mentioned in the NT?

The NT does not mention God’s covenant promise to Noah in Genesis 9:11 to never destroy the earth with a worldwide flood again. Because this commitment to Noah is NOT repeated in the NT, does that mean God can once again destroy the earth with a universal flood?

The “Israel” of RT is an Israel devoid of the important connection to the Hebrew roots of the nation. Israel has become gentilized and christianized according to these scholars. It is an Israel unrecognizable to the Old Testament student and to the majority of Jewish people.

However, the most confusion initiated by Replacement Theology is seen in the way they interpret many passages in the NT about Israel. One important passage often misinterpreted by RT is Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (ESV). This is not a text most Christians would associate with a denial of God’s promises of the land to Israel.

In contrast to popular belief, Matthew 5:5 has become one of the major New Testament passages used by Replacement theologians to prove the New Testament does not teach the land of Israel is promised to the Jewish people.

Some biblical scholars who have bought into Palestinian replacement theology contend in this verse Jesus is removing the land of Israel from the Jewish nation and giving the land-figuratively-to His followers-the Church. In essence, Yeshua is universalizing the Abrahamic promises to Israel to spread out over the entire gentile world and is excluding Israel save for the Jewish believing remnant in Yeshua.

Since Matthew 5:5 is not only in the famed Sermon on the Mount and one of the first times Jesus supposedly refers to the land of Israel in His teaching, one can see why understanding this passage is so essential.

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Christ at the Checkpoint Position Paper by Israeli Messianic Jews

 

 A Position Paper of the Messianic Jewish Community regarding the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference (CatC) 

 1. The Word of God: the Tanakh and the New Covenant Scriptures together, are the one true, infallible, and unalterable standard of truth and life for all believers. As Yeshua our Messiah declared, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17) and “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Therefore we affirm that “all the promises of God are ‘Yes’” and ‘Amen’ (not abrogated) in Yeshua (II Cor. 1:20), and that “the gifts and calling of God” for His chosen people, Israel, “are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28b-29 in context). “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew!” (Romans 11:2). Rather, “to them belong [present tense!] the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises” (Romans 9:4).

2. The Messiah Yeshua’s calling for His Body — in the Land of Israel and throughout the world — is to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19) by proclaiming “repentance for the forgiveness of sins…in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Every movement or activity which does not promote or which, on the contrary, distracts us from that central purpose and calling is not of God, no matter what biblical or spiritual language may be used to describe it. Yeshua never commanded, or even suggested, that His followers were to “bring in” the Kingdom of God on earth. Yeshua Himself promised to establish His Kingdom upon His return (Matthew 25:31, 34), and we, who are heirs of His Kingdom and proclaimers of it in the present age (James 2:5; Acts 28:23, 31), are instructed to pray for that day to quickly come (Matthew 6:10; cf. Philippians 3:20-21).

3. Christ at the Checkpoint is, therefore, a false messianic movement, arrogating to itself the role of Messiah in establishing the Kingdom while promoting a humanistic, political “liberation theology.” [All the “evangelical” CatC speakers reflect the same approach and goals, as is evident from the Kairos Document which Yohanna Katanacho, CatC Committee member, helped compose and Bethlehem Bible College endorsed]. Although cloaking its “mandate” in biblical language (“the teaching of Jesus on the Kingdom of God”) and using seductively positive terms (“Peace, justice, and reconciliation”), this movement has one overriding purpose: to sway Evangelical believers worldwide away from belief in the eternal promises of God to Israel by slandering the Jewish people and delegitimizing the Jewish state; painting Israel as a wicked, oppressive, apartheid “entity”—especially in contrast to the supposedly ‘democratic, tolerant and peace-seeking’ Palestinian Authority and people. There is no Gospel here! (more…)




The True Seed of Abraham: Jesus or Israel?

I was enjoying a friendly discussion with a Christian at a local coffee hangout.  This well-learned and articulate believer quickly let me know that she holds ot the Reformed position – another way of telling me she believes the Church has replaced Israel. We engaged in a friendly conversation for a brief period. One statement she shared has stuck with me when I asked, “What do you do with all the prophecies made concerning Israel in the millennial kingdom after the Second Coming?” and she replied, “All those prophecies are fulfilled in Christ.”

Galatians 3:16-17 is one of the major passages that is used by replacement theologians to support the idea Jesus has become the “greater Israel” and all those who follow Jesus are now the true Israel.  Some Christians might call themselves “spiritual Jews.” I usually cringe when I hear my fellow Gentile believers make this statement and beg them not to tell any Jewish people.

Imagine if God chose to work with Africa as His chosen nation and in the New Testament age, Africa was replaced by the Church.  Then we would experience Christians telling others, “We are the new Africa.  We are ‘spiritual blacks.'” That is how ridiculous it sounds when Christians make statements that have no roots in the Word of God but are based on misguided theology or by people who have not dealt in depth with the passages they use to broadcast their beliefs.

Galatians 3:16-17  says:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.

From  Galatians 3:16-17 we are to conclude, according to replacement theologians, that the Abrahamic promises were not spoken to the nation of Israel, but God’s commitment to Israel find their fulfillment in the one true seed of Abraham – the Messiah Jesus – rather than the nation.

Seed of Abraham

Since believers belong to Jesus, then Christians are the true seed of Abraham through the one true seed-Jesus of Nazareth.  If one reads this passage without asking questions or checking out the surrounding context of Galatians 3, I can understand this conclusion.  However, upon deeper investigation, the student of the Bible discovers Paul’s intention was not to teach that the Church has replaced Israel or that Jesus is the true Israel. (more…)




The Seed of Abraham and the Middle East Part 3

Christians are confused about the place of Israel in the New Testament.  Some believers are not sure if  God has a plan for Israel as He did in the Jewish Scriptures. Others think the only plan God has for Jewish people is their salvation and nothing further.  Still some Christians do not think Israel is a legitimate entity, having been replaced by the Church aka replacement theology.

Fact it, Christians are confused because their pastors are confused and pastors are confused about Israel because their seminary professors are confused.

God’s Promises to Israel Are Not Cast Aside in the Face of Israel’s Unfaithfulness

The assumption of many anti-Christian Zionist advocates is that Christians who believe God has promised the Jewish people the land of Israel as their homeland also maintain the government of Israel can do no wrong. As one anti-Zionist advocate told me,  Israel seems to think since God gave them the Ten Commandments they can now make up any law they want  . . . . Most of this comes from fear which they need not have since American is their number one protector and God is also on their side, according to Christian Zionism (paraphrased).

It is the belief of anti-Christian Zionists since I believe God promised the Jewish people the land of Israel that no matter what they do, God will always back Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. The nation is still accountable to God.

When the Bible student reads through the Jewish Scriptures, he discovers the Lord God of Israel never ignored the sins of Israel. Even in the face of the Lord’s  commitment to give the title deed of Israel to the Jewish people, He also removed the people of Israel from the land on many occasions due to their transgressions.  In spite of the Assyrian Captivity in 721 B.C.,  the Babylonian Captivity in 586 B.C. and the conquest of Jerusalem and Israel in 70 A.D. by the Romans, there is no place in the First nor the Second Covenants of the Bible where the God of Israel revokes His promise to the Hebrews to give them the land and to expand the nation as stated in the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,

and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,

and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

will be blessed through you. ” (more…)




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