A Taste of Christian Zionism

A neighboring church hosted a pastors’ brunch this morning with John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. The purpose was to introduce Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Most of those attending were Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Baptist. I went mainly to get acquainted with my neighbors–I knew going in that my theology goes in a very different direction, and this was confirmed throughout the two hours.

I’m going to comment on two issues. First, the relationship between Israel and the Church. Through much of Christian history, the model of supercessionism, or replacement theology, was dominant (as illustrated by cathedral front depictions of two women, the triumphant Ecclesia and the humiliated Synagoga). In this model, there’s a radical separation between Israel and the Church, between Law and Gospel, with the Church and the Gospel something distinct from and superior to Israel. The Church’s mission is to convert Jews to Christianity; if they refuse to convert, they must be rendered voiceless and powerless. In the 19th century John Nelson Darby introduced another approach, Dispensationalism, which is also rooted in a radical distinction and separation between Israel and the Church. Only in this model, Israel is not humiliated. Instead, it is the focus of prophecy and of God’s plans. Those plans were disrupted by Israel’s refusal to accept Jesus as Messiah, so God had to come up with a Plan B, and created the Church. But God will fulfill his original plan; to do this he will take the Church out of the way before the end (the “Secret Rapture”) so that he can finish his plan for Israel. Thus, for Christian Zionists, Israel has meaning without regard to whether Jews accept Jesus; Christians are under no obligation to convert Jews, but they are obliged to support the secular state of Israel without question.

I don’t see either of these models in Scripture. Instead, I see the model in Romans of the single olive tree–unfaithful branches were cut out, while other, wild branches (the Gentiles) were grafted in. God has one people; Israel was the repository of God’s promises until Christ came; now God’s covenant, rather than being abrogated, is made universal, and all who have faith are heirs of the promise, whether or not they keep the Torah. The 144,000 sealed of Israel in Revelation are not a separate group of people than the great multitude of every nation, kingdom, tongue and people, but are one and the same. All of God’s promises meet their fulfillment in Christ and his Church–this is not an afterthought, a “Plan B,” but is the mystery of faith, revealed in the preaching of the Gospel. Law and Gospel are not opposed, but are both God’s word to men.

The other issue has to do with Hagee’s insistence that “Bible-believing Christians” (limited, he suggsts, to Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and some congregational Methodists) must uncritically support the secular state of Israel and its policies. Let’s suppose for a moment that modern Israel is the heir to the Biblical promises. If so, it is also subject to the conditions of the covenant, clearly spelled out in Deuteronomy and the rest of the Torah and in the Prophets. It is obligated to do justice, to love mercy, to care for the alien, the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the oppressed; God will judge it on its faithfulness to these terms of the covenant. This understanding of a covenantal faithfulness characterized by justice undergirds Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats–those rewarded are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the imprisoned. But Hagee takes that parable and twists it. In his distortion, Jesus is saying “the least of these my brethren” are the Jewish citizens of modern Israel. If we Gentiles care for and protect them and defend them and excuse them at all times, we will be blessed by God. This is a jaw-dropping, mind-boggling, perversion of the text.

It was an eye-opening morning.

3 thoughts on “A Taste of Christian Zionism

  1. Thanks Bill, for a clear, coherent elucidation of this topic. I see things a lot more like you than like John Hagee. I applaud your commitment to be in relationship even with folks with whom you don’t hold all things in common.

  2. Interesting article, Bill. Some very good insights there. The dynamic between spiritual “Israel” and “Israel according to the flesh” is an important one. We (Gentiles) have been grafted in (or adopted) to Israel – the Olive Tree. (Rom 11). It can be easy to go off to one extreme or the other.

    You might also find this article I recently wrote with David Palm interesting:

    http://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/LWonline/ja09forrest.asp

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