By Craig Nielsen
I converted to the Christian faith some 13 years ago and the overwhelming nature of the love of God in Christ for myself and all of humanity (with particular emphasis on the despised of society) left a mark on me that inspires me every single day of my life.
Over the years, I have seen a number of spiritual fads and movements in the Church come and go and have come to terms with the fact that many leaders of the Christian Church are poorly theologically educated. I have also come to know that some denominations of the faith are definitely more vulnerable to gross distortions of the scriptures than others while realising that no denomination is free from error or can afford to be arrogant and self righteous about their understanding of the scriptures.
Having made that point, I believe that Christian Zionism is the most harmful distortion of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible that I have ever come across in what is known as mainstream Christianity.
The Gospel of Christian Zionism is held together by three basic tenets.
1. The Jewish people (by the simple virtue of their Jewishness) own the land of Palestine due to the fact that God gave them the land as an everlasting possession in an eternal covenant.
2. The current Zionist State of Israel has come about as the result of God fulfilling His promise to the Jewish people in the Old Testament. Hence the Zionist State is directly connected to the Israel of the Old Testament and its existence is an unambiguous portent of the imminent return of Jesus.
3. The Old Testament instructs us that anyone who criticises the current Zionist state of Israel will come under a divine curse and conversely, any who bless the Zionists will be the recipient of a divine blessing. The Zionist state must be supported politically and militarily in an unconditional manner (unless of course it chooses to allow a Palestinian state to exist in Eretz Israel).
It suffices to say that all of the above teachings are either not a part of the teachings of Orthodox Torah Judaism or have had any consensus within the Christian Church for two thousand years. They are a concoction of distortions, half truths and emotionally potent oversimplifications of scripture. I will deal with them briefly here.
The Old Testament relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Palestine clearly reveals that the possession of the land is not absolute but conditional upon the Jewish people’s acceptance of the “yoke” of the Torah (the ethical and religious traditions of the Law of Moses which demand equality between Jew and non-Jew living in Israel). This covenant relationship is extremely specific. Leviticus 25: 23 states “… the land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants” The land of Palestine/Israel is no more owned by the Jewish people than the “Holy of Holies” (the inner sanctum of the Temple) is owned by the High Priest. Failure to live up to the covenant responsibilities of the Jewish people while in the land will result in expulsion and exile. Even Moses and the entire first generation of Hebrews that were liberated from Egypt in the book of Exodus were barred from entering the land of Canaan due to their continued and profound disobedience to God. The Jewish people have no legitimacy as a people in authority in Israel (in Biblical terms) outside of the terms of their tenancy or covenant agreement with God. The expulsion of Jews from Israel in history is evidence of God’s determination with regard to this point.
The secular, colonialist ideology of Zionism falls dismally short of the covenant responsibilities of the Jewish people in this regard. This is part of the reason why Orthodox Jews recoiled in horror at the idea of the Zionists trying to recreate the nation of Israel in modern times. The famous three oaths of the Talmud which forbid Jews to retake Palestine either by force or by political activism were a further barrier to the acceptance of Zionism.
As to the second point, there has been no consensus within the Church as to whether or not anything at all can be termed an unambiguous portent of the return of Christ. This comes from the very words of Jesus which inform us that His coming will be like a thief in the night with no one knowing the hour or the day of His final return. All movements within the Church that have claimed that the return of Jesus was imminent depending on particular historical events have ended up with egg on their faces. The Christian Zionists’ insistence that Jesus return was due in 1988 is an obvious example of this.
The current Zionist state of Israel has no connection to the Israel of the Bible. Virtually every Orthodox Jew on earth agrees to the fact that the exile of the Jewish people has not ended. The exile is a spiritual problem and cannot be solved by nuclear arsenals or secular European colonialist ideologies. It is a spiritual problem which requires a spiritual, non material solution, coming directly from the hand of God, not David Ben Gurion.
The scripture in Genesis that refers to God blessing those who bless Abraham and cursing those who curse him has never been interpreted by Orthodox Jews or Christians in the manner that Christian Zionists demand. The criticism of Israel by prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and even Moses (let alone Christ) stand in mute defiance to Christian Zionist doctrine. Being a chosen people of God only acts to increase the Jewish people’s responsibility to God and humanity rather than gives them a license to behave as they want. This has been the understanding of Torah Judaism for hundreds of years.
Christian Zionist ethics are driven by a mantra of “the end justifies the means”. For them, since God is bringing back the Jewish people to Israel according to prophecy, the Jewish people’s responsibility to treat non-Jews with equality and mercy in Israel can be ignored. What matters is that they take all the land, every other consideration is trumped by the golden rule of “take the land by whatever means necessary”.
Christian Zionism promotes an ideology totally foreign to the love of God revealed in Jesus’ care and concern for all the vulnerable in the land of Israel including, the non-Jew. Christian Zionism’s betrayal of Arab Christians in Palestine is also a telling indictment on their theology. Much more could be added to this list of issues with the Christian Zionist dogma.
For a more detailed discussion see:
Rabkin, Y. (2006). A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism. Fernwood Publishing: Canada, Zed Books: London. Sizer, S. (2004).
Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon? Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, Illinois. Nielsen, C. M. (2010).
Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict. Nielsen Adelaide, South Australia.
Craig Nielsen runs a site taking on Christian Zionism from a Christian perspective. He sent us this article on the religious issues.