From Nathan Pitchford’s article, The Threat of Christian Zionism
If the phenomenal success of the bestselling Left Behind series indicates anything about the prevailing eschatological mindset across a wide swath of the evangelical landscape in modern America, then we would do well to pause and consider. Where is this fascination with the sensational, and frequently outright bizarre, interpretation of the significance of current events coming from? What is driving the obsession to see end-time prophetic events transpiring in every headline? What connection does this mindset have with the implacable opposition to any measure taken for peace in the Middle East which would leave the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or any part of Jerusalem outside of the complete control of the modern state of Israel?
More importantly, what ideologies, theological convictions, or ways of understanding the bible lie beneath these phenomena, and how much of an impact are they having on the theological moorings of the Church today?
I suspect that the impact is significant enough to warrant a strong warning statement about the movement known as Christian Zionism, and the hyper-Dispensationalism which drives it, from the leaders of the evangelical Church. Unfortunately, however, it has not received the united front of resistance with which other threats to the health of the Church have been met with…
Is this because many Evangelical leaders share enough theological convictions in common with the more extreme examples of the movement that they are loathe to give a clear denunciation? Or do they simply not perceive the errors as being a significant or widespread enough a danger to warrant the time and effort of a thoroughgoing rebuttal? Whatever the reason, there seems to be a general lack of attentiveness to a very rampant problem in Evangelicalism. Perhaps it is time to make clear just what Christian Zionism is (as well as all its theological bedfellows), what convictions are driving it, and what results it is tending towards in the thoughts and practice of the contemporary believer.
Simply speaking, Christian Zionism is support for the Jewish movement to regain possession of their ancient homeland, which derives from a Christian theology and understanding of the Bible. In the most basic of terms, this Christian theological support comes from a literalistic reading of such passages as Genesis 13:14-15, where God promises to Abraham, “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your seed forever”. When this motif is conflated with such passages as Genesis 12:3 [spoken to Abraham], “And I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse the one who curses you…”; the obvious implication is that, anyone who fails to support modern Israel in all her struggles with her various enemies, or anyone who approves of a treaty by which the boundaries first promised to Abraham are divided between Israel and her neighbors, will be under God’s curse, and the object of his eschatological judgment.
The glaring problem with this simplistic reasoning, of course, is that it fails to take into account the biblical qualification as to who is intended by Abraham’s “Seed,” and what is indicated by the land which he was promised (for the former, see Galatians 3:16; 3:28-29; Romans 4:11-17; for the latter, see Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:9-10; 12:22-24).
The Christian Zionist movement is also dangerous for another reason: not only does it involve one’s understanding of a large percentage of the scriptures, but it also affects a large percentage of American Christianity. This is not a fringe movement, even in its more extreme varieties, but is embraced by a wide selection of Christians from various denominations within Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.
Nor is it just in vogue among the influential masses, but it also has a voice among the religiously and politically powerful.
Christian Zionists not only have a great capacity to influence the thinking of the Church, they also have a significant pull in Washington D.C. And if the decisions for which they are lobbying are supported by a faulty premise, there may well be unwise and uninformed choices made in politics on an international level, and with disastrous results. There is a tragic possibility that many of the war prophecies which the Christian Zionists are awaiting may prove to be self-fulfilling, as the contingency which predicts them obstinately opposes any Middle East peace treaties which involve any compromise, with a voice powerful enough to be heard in Washington and Jerusalem.
From today’s headlines we have this example of Dispensationalism & Christian Zionism’s influence upon American politics;
Louie Gohmert Cites Bible As Foreign Policy Guide On Israel: ‘The Bible Is Accurate’
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) took to the House floor Wednesday for a speech on the Obama administration’s Israel policy, using the Bible for guidance.
“There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has often been a guide in our relations with Israel,” Gohmert said. “Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration, and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.”
Gohmert accused President Barack Obama of pursuing policies not in Israel’s best interest. He mentioned the administration’s support for Israel signing an international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and quoted Genesis 12, implying the consequences of “betraying” Israel.
“It seems appropriate … ‘I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee,’” Gohmert said. “It was no accident that just minutes after Israel became a nation, the United States … became the first nation in the world to recognize what was prophesized throughout the Old Testament about Israel returning after its absence.” Source
Returning to Nathan Pitchford’s message, The Threat of Christian Zionism
What Are the Driving Factors Behind Christian Zionism?
The answer to the question, “What factors drive the beliefs and activities of the Christian Zionists?” has a theological and a psychological side. Theologically, the whole impetus of the movement derives from the one true sine qua non of Dispensational theology: the belief in two distinct peoples of God, ethnic Israel and the Church.
If believing Gentiles have been grafted into the good olive tree which springs from the root of the patriarchs (Romans 11:13-24), so that they are now Abraham’s seed (Romans 4:11, 16-17; Galatians 3:6-7), heirs of the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29; Ephesians 3:6), one body in which there is no further distinction between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-21; Galatians 3:28), then the modern state of Israel has no more divine right to extend its political influence than any other of its neighbor states. The disputes between her and her enemies should be resolved by the Christian virtues of equity, justice, etc., that ought to characterize all the nations which God has made and placed within their respective boundaries. The various states of the Middle East will finally be judged on the basis of their cruelty, pride, and so on, Israel as well as Palestine, Jordan, and all the rest; and any nation involved in arbitration between them would do well to consider the various dynamics of the current situation without resorting to the idea that one of them possesses a divinely-written title to all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates.
But if one of those nations does in fact possess that divine right, then one’s obligation is simply to drive all other nations out, so that the divinely appointed possessor might have unswayed dominion. So then, one’s theology has a necessary impact on the questions surrounding the Middle East tensions: Is God starting to fulfill his old promise to curse all who are opposed to Abraham’s ethnic descendants, and to drive all the nations except Israel out of their promised land? If so, then to support any peace treaty in the Middle East which leaves any nation but Israel in the Middle East would be to struggle against God himself, and would be tantamount to siding with the Canaanites when Joshua first crossed the Jordan. Are the Christian Zionists then the derided and misunderstood Rahab of our times, seeing God’s purpose and casting in their lot with God’s people?
On the other hand, if God is fulfilling his promise made to Abraham by calling out persons from every nation to be his children by faith, and preparing them to inherit, not just the promised land, but the whole earth, and the New Jerusalem of which they are citizens even now (Matthew 5:5; Galatians 4:25-26; Revelation 21:1-4), then one can best throw in his lot with God’s people by laboring to bring children of every nationality in to his kingdom, which has now exploded beyond the bounds of the Middle East, and soon promises to change the entire world, when the redemption of God reaches its consummation.
Although ethnic Israel still retains a special place in God’s redemptive design, being the nation to whom he first gave his grace and promise and covenant, and though we might with firm biblical conviction labor to see the ethnic Jewish people enjoy the blessings that God has irrevocably covenanted to give them, and continues to give to a remnant of grace within their ranks (Romans 11); yet, it would be a tragic step backwards to labor to reserve for them all the old shadow-blessings of a typical strip of this still-cursed earth, when the remnant of grace has entered into the true inheritance of Christ, and awaits an entire new and glorious earth, that “city which has foundations” (Hebrews 11:10, 14-16), which all of Abraham’s true seed by faith will inherit.
The practical outworkings of this two-people theology have an immense psychological effect among those committed to laboring for God’s redemptive ends. According to Dispensational theology, God’s last prophetic purposes will revert back to the political and geographical designs he has for his earthly people, national Israel. The end of the world will come about with the fulfillment of a host of prophecies relative to the modern state of Israel, and if one has a discerning eye, he can see how God is already setting the stage to fulfill these prophecies. Since all Christians are aware that this world does not constitute the end of all God’s redemptive designs, but that a new and much better world is coming; and since they are all vexed with the trouble and vanity of the modern world, and long to see their inheritance arrive; they will naturally be interested in doing whatever they can to “wait for and hasten the appearing of the day of God” [2 Peter 3:12].
So then, if one’s eschatology involves a reversion to a geo-political program for a national people of God, then seeing that earthly end coming to fruition will constitute the fuel and motivation for a sincere Christian’s strivings to labor for the Lord, and enter into his rest.
The Dispensational idea of an imminent rapture of the Church also plays into this motivation to be absorbed in the political situation in the Middle East, as a sign of the end times. Since an imminent event cannot be preceded by signs, many Christian Zionists introduce the technical distinction that none of the prophecies of the end times can be fulfilled until after the Church has been raptured. This means that, as the stage for the fulfillment of end-time events is set more minutely, and the forces which will lead to the Apocalypse begin to appear on the scene, the likelihood of an approaching rapture becomes increasingly greater, since none of the things that are presumably about to happen possibly can happen with the Church still on the earth.
For instance, consider the following statement by John Hagee:
“In May 1948 Israel was reborn. How many of you were alive on May 15, 1948? It was the most important prophetic day of the 20th century. Why? Because Jesus said in Matthew 24:32 `when you see the fig tree–national Israel–begin to bloom again, know that my coming is nigh at the door. Behold, one generation will not pass away until all things are fulfilled.’ We are racing towards the end of time. We are not living in the last days. We’re not living in the last hours. We’re living in the last minutes of the dispensation of grace. In 1967 the six-day war united Jerusalem under Jewish control. Why is that important? Because the gospel of Luke says when Jerusalem is no longer trodden down by the gentiles, then shall the end come. The Bible says when the Lord builds up Jerusalem, when he builds up Zion, he will appear in all of his glory. So the Bible is screaming, when you see Jerusalem united, when you see it beautified, when you see it built up, the Messiah is coming. And when you see these signs in the heavens and the sun, the moon and the stars and the waves of the oceans that are roaring, what did God say? He said `Lift up your heads and rejoice! Your redemption draws nigh.’ I want you to do it, Cornerstone. Rejoice! The King of Glory is on the way!” (source)
This belief system can have both a positive and a negative effect on the believer’s practice, both of which possess a very destructive potential.
Positively, there is the tendency to become obsessed with “headline exegesis,” searching for prophetic relevance in every current event and situation in the world. This very real effect has consumed thousands upon thousands of professing believers, has served to distract them from the true matters of living a Christian life of sobriety and moderation, and has no doubt damaged the reputableness and power of their testimony with the world, as well, which tends to see them as conspiracy-theorists and nuts, but not primarily a peculiar people marked by their godliness and devotion to Christ.
Negatively, there is an even greater danger of failing to labor toward seeing those things fulfilled which truly must take place before the coming again of Christ. If the eternal state will be inhabited by representatives of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9), and if the gospel will be proclaimed in all the world before the end comes (Matthew 24:14), then it is a most pressing task for modern Christians to finish the Great Commission by targeting and evangelizing the remaining unreached people groups of the world. Although they do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36), they may know the signs of the times, so that the day will not overtake them as a thief, like it will overtake the rest of the sleeping world (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8). Therefore, a Christian with a proper eschatological motivation will be laboring to spread the gospel to every people group under heaven, and doing so as a way of hastening the Lord’s coming (from a human point of view). But when the doctrine of a rapture which has been imminent from the apostles’ generation enters the picture, then the literal possibility of the gospel first having an impact upon every people group is precluded; and so the Great Commission loses its character as a finishable task which will conclude at the dawn of the new era of eternity, and becomes something we engage in in the meantime, and not necessarily among the unreached peoples most specifically, while our eyes are straining toward the Middle East for our hopes of the end of our labor.
What Are the Potential Results of Christian Zionism?
First, a fervent adherence to the ideologies of Christian Zionism may very possibly lead to outright heresy and anti-christian doctrine. Consider once again John Hagee, perhaps the most outstanding representative of influential Christian Zionists. In his controversial book, In Defense of Israel, Hagee made several statements that clearly denied that Jesus came to be the Messiah, and that the Jewish people had rejected him as the Messiah. For example:
If God intended for Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel, why didn’t he authorize Jesus to use supernatural signs to prove he was God’s Messiah, just as Moses had done? (p. 137) Jesus refused to produce a sign … because it was not the Father’s will, nor his, to be Messiah. (p 138) If Jesus wanted to be Messiah, why did he repeatedly tell his disciples and followers to “tell no one” about his supernatural accomplishments? (p. 139) The Jews were not rejecting Jesus as Messiah; it was Jesus who was refusing to be the Messiah to the Jews. (p. 140) They wanted him to be their Messiah, but he flatly refused. (p. 141) He refused to be their Messiah, choosing instead to be the Savior of the world (p. 143) Jesus rejected to the last detail the role of Messiah in word or deed (p. 145)
Consider also the text of a commercial Hagee produced to advertise his book:
This book will expose the sins of the fathers and the vicious abuse of the Jewish people. In Defense of Israel will shake Christian theology. It scripturally proves that the Jewish people as a whole did not reject Jesus as Messiah. It will also prove that Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah. It will prove that there was a Calvary conspiracy between Rome, the high priest, and Herod to execute Jesus as an insurrectionist too dangerous to live. Since Jesus refused by word and deed to claim to be the Messiah, how can the Jews be blamed for rejecting what was never offered? Read this shocking expose, In Defense of Israel.
Second, and conversely, not only does the extreme ideology of Christian Zionism offer a free acquittal to unbelieving Jews, falsely guaranteeing them a hope of salvation to a glorious earthly kingdom in spite of their rejection of Jesus as the suffering Messiah, it also obscures the true riches that ought to be proclaimed among them, in the free gospel offer of grace in Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaching is that all who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, are heirs of every promise made to the fathers (Galatians 3:28-29; Ephesians 2:12-13, 3:6) and possessors of every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), the one to whom all the promises were made (Galatians 3:16), and in whom they all find their fulfillment (2 Corinthians 1:20). Christian Zionism teaches them that, if they accept Christ now, they become a part of a different body (the Church) which is not in continuity with their own heritage and which does not guarantee the fulfillment of the promises made to their fathers. To accept Christ is to denounce the Abrahamic promise, for from the point at which they accept him, they become a part of God’s spiritual people, which does not inherit the physical promises. If they reject him, then, although they forfeit their spiritual inheritance, at least they are still properly considered ethnic Jews, in God’s sight, and so they can still hope to possess their land in peace and fruitfulness. Although most Christian Zionists would no doubt say that it would be of benefit for any modern Jew to embrace Christ, do not their own actions undermine the genuineness of their claim? If they are expending so much effort and energy to see that the modern state of Israel retains hold of her land, are they not saying in effect, “Do not give up your place in God’s eschatological program as an ethnic Jew! If you become part of the Church, where there is no Jew or Greek, you will be raptured away, and the land will not be yours in the millennial kingdom – but it is an invaluably great thing for the land to remain yours, and hence we are spending so much effort to keep it in Israeli hands.” How much better than this false dichotomy is the true gospel that says, “You will certify yourselves to be genuine Jews and Abraham’s seed indeed, and you will be given the full and eternal possession of every blessing ever made to the fathers, if you only embrace the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ, who came once to suffer and fulfill every promise, and is coming again to bring his inheritance with him”!
Third, as we have already noted, the ideology of Christian Zionism carries the very real danger of distracting believers from their true and most pressing tasks as Christians on this earth, whether it be spreading the gospel throughout the nations or just living lives of simplicity, hope, and virtue before the watching world, by focusing their attention on a divine agenda which, by their own confession, has nothing to do with themselves as part of the Church, but only serves to indicate the approximate time when God may snatch them up to be out of the way of what he has begun to do again with his other people.
Fourth, the impact that Christian Zionists have on international politics may bring about some very tragic results in the diplomacy of the Middle East, including very real bloodshed and bereavement which might have been avoided if the idea of Israel’s divine entitlement to the land had been abandoned (or rather, if it had been put in its proper perspective as that which guarantees that all of Abraham’s true children will inherit the new earth through much meekness and patient endurance). This effect of a wrong ideology, having such a vast and widespread capacity to do much harm, has no doubt been grossly underestimated by a great many Christian theologians who disagree with the basic premises underlying the Christian Zionist movement.
The Christian Zionist movement is the result of an aberrant theology, and is dangerous on several fronts: it tends to distract and confuse true believers in a vast segment of worldwide evangelicalism; it tends to obscure the true message of the gospel from the Jewish people, by presenting to them a false dichotomy which demands that they forfeit the Abrahamic promises if they should come to Christ (who actually fulfills them – tragic irony!); it tends towards greater doctrinal confusion and heresy, which has been seen even in the most respected and influential leaders of the movement, and not just on the radical fringe; and it tends to work against the preservation of peace in the Middle East, by obstinately refusing any sort of compromise. Any movement that has such a destructive potential, and that has in fact already had many such harmful effects, is no small issue. Perhaps it is time for the leaders of the worldwide Church to present a united front of opposition to a very widespread and alarming threat.