What does the Church think of Israel?
Does the Church still have issues with the Jews?
So … what is the story here? I pose this curious question because of a meeting that took place in 2002 between prominent Jews and Christians and which was reported by Melanie Phillips as a feature in the Spectator entitled, Christians who hate the Jews.
Now that’s a title that means business. It says exactly what it means and it sent a shiver through both the Jewish community, who had considered the dark days of Christian anti-Jewish feeling way gone and Church leaders, who retreated into denial. Yet the Christians at this meeting included Andrew White, Rowan Williams and Patrick Sookhdeo, who would have been expected to provide an acceptable consensus of the Church. Here is a short extract from the article:
The Jews at the meeting were incredulous and aghast. Surely the Christians were exaggerating. Surely the Churches' dislike of Israel was rooted instead in the settlements, the occupied territories and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But the Christians were adamant. The hostility to Israel within the Church is rooted in a dislike of the Jews.
Church newspaper editors say that they are intimidated by the overwhelming hostility to Israel and to the Jews from influential Christian figures, which makes balanced coverage of the Middle East impossible. Clerics and lay people alike are saying openly that Israel should never have been founded at all. One Church source said that what he was hearing was a 'throwback to the visceral anti-Judaism of the Middle Ages'.
So, some Christians hate the Jews. The problem is all theirs and one day they will have to answer to a Higher authority, particularly the teachers among them. Jews are used to being hated and it’s not such a blow to their confidence to witness the continuance of anti-Semitism. But, at the same time, it’s important that Jews know that there are Christians who love them. Yet even then there needs to be a rider. Most intelligent Jews have sussed out that many Christians who claim to love them only do so because of theological reasons, all tied up in end-time scenarios. Is this real love, they ask, or is this just self-interest, to hasten the return of their Messiah? Yet it makes a nice change from the Jew-baiting of old and, among this number, the majority surely do have sincere hearts, sensitive to the Holy Spirit and a channel of God’s love for His treasured possession.
For every Tom Wright there’s a David Pawson, for every John Stott there’s a Derek Prince, Bible teachers who have understood the place of Israel in God’s plan. In the 18th and 19th Century you’d be hard pressed to find Bible teachers who weren’t defenders of the Jews, men such as Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce, J.C. Ryle, Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley and more. Interestingly, this was an age of great evangelistic efforts, notably among the Jews, and particularly among the Jewish population of the East London of Charles Dickens.
If there has to be a single message to those who seek to replace Israel with the Church it is this; Church history has shown that the holding of certain doctrines has consequences and the holding of this particular doctrine has birthed horrific evil from the heart of man, culminating in the Holocaust but certainly not stopping there. Rabbi Abraham Heschel, the source of some of the ideas in this book, escaped from the Nazis but his mother and two of his sisters died in concentration camps. When asked if he would ever return to the places of his birth and upbringing, he replied:
"If I should go to Poland or Germany, every stone, every tree would remind me of contempt, hatred, murder, of children killed, of mothers burned alive, of human beings asphyxiated”
It’s not about holding onto theological opinions and fighting your ground in the debating chambers. It is about life and death for some and the Church has done little to show Jesus to his own people and is still doing little. Hebraic Church would be remiss if it didn’t provide an active reminder of the sorry history of “Christian” antisemitism and a sincere effort to wipe the slate clean and truly work towards the mysterious entity of One New Man. More next week …
This is an extract from the book, Hebraic Church, available for £10 at http://www.sppublishing.com/hebraic-church-101-p.asp