Friday, 30 March 2012

Just a'marchin through Judah

A massive anti-Israel publicity stunt - The Global March to Jerusalem - is scheduled for today, the aim of which is to have a million people march on Israel’s borders from all the surrounding countries – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt – with the aim of reaching Jerusalem.

Demonstrations are also planned in the Palestinian-administrated territories and against Israel’s diplomatic missions in major cities throughout the world.

The organisers of the GMJ, who are being backed by the Iranian government, include members of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, far-left extremist groups claim the march is peaceful and is not intended to deligitimise the state of Israel. Nevertheless, in the publicity the organisers claim Israel is practising apartheid and ethnic cleaning.

Senior organizers include:

Ahmed Abo Halabiya, a Hamas MP who in 2000 preached a sermon in which he urged his congregation to ‘Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them.’

Zaher Birawi is a prominent Hamas activist in the UK and a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Palestinian Return Centre.

Abdul Maqri was head of the Algerian delegation aboard the Mavi Marmara. In 2010, Maqri stated: ‘All our blood is Palestine,’ and declared that ‘Israel will be annihilated soon’.

George Galloway, who last night succeeded in wooing the Muslim population of Bradford to grant him, ‘By the grace of God … the most sensational victory in British political history,’ is a member of the advisory board.

Official statements of the organizers of GMJ portray the movement as a peaceful protest to highlight the ‘Judaization of Jerusalem’ but last year, GMJ general coordinator, Ribhi Halloum stated ‘[t]he protest aims to move the right of return possessed by Palestinian refugees from theory to practice’.

In practice, the right of return is a rejection of the two state solution and subterfuge for the destruction of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Coupled with that, employment of the term ‘Judaization of Jerusalem’ is hateful rhetoric designed to negate thousands of years of Jewish history and incite the Muslim world.

For the truth about the GMJ, go here.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Blessed and a Blessing: the Messianic Movement Today and Tomorrow

In view of the discussion about Messianic Jews on Facebook, I'm posting this paper on the challenges facing the Messianic Movement that I wrote for the journal Mishkan a few years ago.

The Messianic Movement is, as David Rausch observes, a spectrum at one end of which are 'church-acculturated' Hebrew Christians and at the other end are Messianic Jews 'maintaining traditional practice in either attending a Messianic congregation and/or a regular synagogue'.[1] Any attempt, therefore, to identify the challenges and opportunities facing the movement must of necessity be broad, general and, to a degree, personal.

In the three decades that the modern Messianic movement has existed, its worldwide growth has been little short of phenomenal. The existence of Messianic Jews has generated a greater awareness of the Jewishness of Christianity and of latent (if not patent) anti-Jewish attitudes within the church. While church opinion is divided about the Messianic movement, the Jewish world, especially the religiously orthodox, perceives the movement as a contributing factor to the diminution of the community.

But, like it or not, the Messianic movement exists – warts and all – and Gentile believers must choose whether to help their Jewish brothers and sisters to grow in the faith or whether to stand on the sidelines and carp. The present writer favours the first option and sees three challenges that Messianic Jews must face if the movement is to flourish and grow.

Challenge 1: An authentic theology
The Messianic movement believes itself to have been raised up by God for a great purpose. But if the movement is to achieve what it believes to be its God-ordained destiny and not fossilise into a historic curiosity, it must develop a robust, biblically-rooted, Messiah-centred theology that will edify not only the movement itself but also the worldwide body of Messiah consisting of Jews and Gentiles.

The first great wave of missionary activity among the Jewish people in the nineteenth century produced scholars of the calibre of Alfred Edersheim, Adolph Saphir, David Baron, Joseph Samuel Frey and Ridley Herschell, men whose writings are still highly valued. Indeed, Edersheim’s magnum opus The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah is to be found in the libraries of many Christian ministers today.

That is not to suggest that the movement has no theological minds. Notwithstanding the existence of significant Messianic thinkers such as Richard Harvey, Dan Juster, Mark Kinzer and David Stern, the movement has understandably been concerned largely with defending itself, developing patterns of liturgy for Messianic congregations and demonstrating the Jewish roots of the faith.

Worryingly, however, some Messianic voices express a deep distrust of orthodox Christian theology and argue that rabbinic sources constitute a more reliable guide to understanding biblical truth than “the Christian creeds written by people who hated us and hated the Torah of God.”[2]

Oskar Skarsaune, however, has shown that in the period up to 150AD, 'Jewish believers were the leading theologians of the church, and the Gentiles had mostly learned their theology from Jewish tutors, either by reading their writings (Ignatius reading the New Testament) or by copying their Old Testament expositions (Barnabas).'[3]

Messianic believers have to come to terms with the fact that although the Gentile church has a history of 'boasting against the natural branches', it has nevertheless produced a rich body of theology expressed in its great confessions of faith.

Messianic leader Dan Juster acknowledges that Messianic Jews “can learn from the whole Body [of Messiah] as we hopefully enrich it as well”.[4]

That is not to say that early Christian theology was wholly untainted by Greek thought. Would the fourth century Arian controversy, for example, have occurred if the church had continued to think 'Jewishly'? In answering the heretical presbyter of Alexandria, the Council of Nicea (at which, it should be noted, there was not a single Jerusalem bishop present) defined the relationship of the Son to the Father in abstruse philosophical categories rather than in exclusively biblical terms.

Although the Nicean Creed has served as a useful and substantially correct statement of faith for sixteen hundred years, future Messianic scholars might be able to refine and improve some of its clauses without dismissing it entirely. Indeed, some orthodox scholars, including Calvinist professor of philosophy Paul Helm, question the biblical accuracy of the Nicean terminology.

There are of course helpful insights to be found in the rabbis but Messianic scholars who look to them for guidance in matters of theology should bear in mind that the sages were themselves influenced by Gentile thought. Skarsaune devotes the first chapter of In the Shadow of the Temple to revealing “the influence of Hellenism on Judaism”, while Rabbi Michael Hilton has demonstrated that historically, 'Judaism often developed and changed in response to Christianity.'[5]

The challenge to the Messianic movement is to once again produce the leading theologians in the church.

Challenge 2: Within the Pale
The great bone of contention between classic Hebrew Christianity and contemporary Messianic Judaism has been the emphasis on Jewishness and Judaism. Many of the old Hebrew Christians had been disowned by their families and ostracised by their communities. They were Jewish but, like the believers to whom the letter to the Hebrews was addressed, they had chosen to go to Jesus 'outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore' (Heb 13:13).

Messianic Jews, on the other hand, have fought strenuously to stay 'inside the camp' and earn acceptance by their 'kinsmen according to the flesh'. However, with the notable exceptions of Dan Cohn-Sherbok[6] and Carol Harris-Shapiro[7], few leaders in the Jewish community are prepared to countenance the existence of Messianic believers in their midst.

Thus far most attempts to gain acceptance by the community have centred around continued Torah observance and, in extreme cases, by denying all links to traditional Christianity.

I wish to present case studies of two young men, Colin and Ian (not their real names), who have faced the challenge of seeking acceptance within the community, one of them a second-generation Messianic Jew. Both are convinced that without first gaining recognition and trust they will have no positive spiritual effect on the community.

Colin is a professional whose Jewish friends regard Jews who believe in Yeshua as 'weak, vulnerable, brainwashed' and/or 'irritating pamphleteers'. In an attempt to escape the stereotype he signed up for Ulpan and began to attend Israeli film nights, Israel events and young adult groups. He did not identify himself as a believer, so when he encountered a Jewish acquaintance at a local Christian event she became curious about his connections with the group, but because she had already formed a positive image of him, she did not react negatively when Colin explained that he was a Messianic Jew. Indeed, she trusted him enough to give him the responsibility of gathering together email addresses after a BICOM (Britain, Israel Communications & Research Centre) event and was later seen talking to another Jewish believer without any apparent embarrassment.

When Colin’s trade union repeatedly sought to implement boycotts of Israel, he successfully proposed an anti-boycott motion at his local trade union branch. He has been supported by other Jewish members of the union, even though they have discovered that he is Messianic. Although this is not evangelism as such, Colin believes that by building a positive image of Messianic Jews, he is helping to dismantle an emotional barrier that prevents his Jewish acquaintances from taking Messianic believers seriously in faith-oriented conversations.

Ian is in his final year at university. During his first two years he struggled to be accepted by both the Union of Jewish Students (J-Soc) and the Christian Union. Because of his faith in Yeshua, other Jewish students reacted negatively to him but by staunchly supporting the J-Soc, attending Hebrew classes and campaigning boldly against anti-Semitism on campus, Ian began to dispel the prevalent notion that Messianic Jews were in effect Gentiles. He is probably the first Messianic Jew at his university to become an active member of the J-Soc and although he doubts that he will ever be fully accepted within the society, through perseverance he has established friendships, even with some of the J-Soc leaders. By softening some of the prejudices that existed among the Jewish students he believes he may have helped pave the way for future Messianic Jews to be accepted.

Ian also encountered suspicion and hostility in the Christian Union. Following a meeting at which a Messianic speaker argued for the priority of mission to the Jews from Romans 1:16 and challenged the CU to pray for Israel’s salvation, a member informed Ian that he deserved “a punch in the face” for believing the gospel was 'to the Jew first'. Someone else was of the opinion that Jewish mission sounded a “bit dodgy”.

Ian experienced negativity even from those he regarded as friends in the CU and was shocked when one of them informed two Indian students, without any apparent sense of embarrassment, that 'the Jews' killed Jesus. Another of Ian’s Christian friends, for reasons known only to himself, sent him an article that described the Jews as a 'synagogue of Satan' who had been stripped of all their divinely bestowed privileges and status. When the friend refused to apologise for sending the article the friendship dissolved.

Despite the negative incidents in Years 1 and 2, Ian reports that his final year has been overwhelmingly positive. He was a key campaigner in the motion to upgrade the university’s definition of anti-Semitism and the committee members of the university Christian Union support his political activities on campus and opposed the call to boycott Israel. After the CU invited one of Ian’s pro-Israel friends to speak, a Jewish girl thanked Ian for the talk, even though she hadn’t been present at the meeting! Ian now has friends within the J-Soc and was interviewed about his faith on the university’s radio station.

From his experiences, Ian concludes that Messianic Jews are at their most effective when they form meaningful relationships with other Jews and Christians. Respect is gained, he believes, not by emphasising what Messianic Jews and unbelieving Jews have in common but by showing warmth, respect and friendliness to others in the hope that they will return the kindness. Almost invariably, he says, they do so. He recognises that there will always be people in both communities who will not accept Messianic Jews but believes they are members of a slowly shrinking minority. At the end of the day, if Messianic Jews are to be accepted by their own people, the cultivation of better social skills may be far more effective than developing a deep understanding of rabbinic theology and keeping kosher.

Challenge 3: A global vision.
In an internet article called Where Should the Messianic Movement be in 2107? J.K. McKee observes: The Christian Church today largely speaks of having a global vision, but then can forget about "tiny little Israel." Has today’s Messianic movement made the reverse mistake? How do we maintain the integrity of having a high regard for Israel, while recognizing that Israel is to serve the masses of humanity?'[8]

Murdo A MacLeod, a former director of Christian Witness to Israel and a founding member of LCJE observes in his essay Pauline Missiology: 'The salvation of Israel has been isolated from the salvation of the world yet this inter-relationship is extensively elaborated in many parts of Scripture.'[9]

Messianic Jews believe the movement was called into being by God for a great purpose but thus far it has produced relatively few theologians, biblical scholars, evangelists or missionaries. Mission by Jewish believers has been undertaken largely by those who would have once been classed as 'Hebrew Christians,' as Mark Kinzer observes:

Several Hebrew Christian churches developed in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but they were often linked to denominations and normally functioned as missionary centers rather than self-conscious embodiments of an autonomous, indigenous Jewish Christianity.[10]

The calling of the Messianic movement is nothing less than the call of the nation it represents. The primary calling of Israel is to enlighten the nations but few rabbis, even the most orthodox, believe it is the duty of Israel to convert the goyim. Groups such as Lubavitch Chabad who advocate outreach to gentiles do so only in terms of urging non-Jews to keep the Noachide laws. Since the nation as a whole cannot or will not seek the conversion of the heathen, the remnant according to the election of grace – Messianic Jews – must carry out that task.

The blessing of Abraham, as recorded in Genesis 12:1-3, was linked inextricably to the blessing of the nations. God called Israel his 'firstborn son' (Ex 4:22), implying there would be further 'sons'. Likewise, the nation was the 'firstfruits' of God’s increase (Jer 2:3), implying a future harvest from the other nations. If Israel obeyed their God and served him, the nations would be drawn to their light (Isa 60:3) and throughout the biblical history of the nation, even at times when the nation’s light was virtually extinguished, goyim were drawn to Israel. Mission remains the raison d’être for Israel’s existence and therefore should lie at the heart of the Messianic movement.

In Psalm 67 the poet appears to grasp the implications of Israel’s calling and election in a remarkable way when he prays: 'God be merciful to us [Israel] and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us…That Your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.'

The psalmist calls on the God of Israel to cause all the nations to praise him, and expresses his conviction that when the goyim are glad in his salvation and sing for joy then 'God, our own God, shall bless us [Israel].' The teaching of the psalm is that when God makes Israel to know the reality of the Aaronic benediction the nations will also benefit, and when the nations rejoice in the salvation of God, Israel herself will be blessed still further.

It is encouraging to note that there are Messianic fellowships who look beyond the four walls within which they meet and Israel may well be leading the way in this respect, as Israel Messianic congregations have for some years been sending out teams of members to Africa and other places. At a time when passion for mission declines within the church of the northern hemisphere, Israel’s 'remnant according to the election of grace' is beginning to look beyond itself and its interests to the nation and the world.

The Messianic movement may be standing on the threshold of its finest hour. If today’s Jewish disciples of Yeshua are willing to take on the challenges of breaking forth more light and truth from God’s Word, of integrating with their fellow Jews without compromising the gospel and of reaching out to bless the nations, they may once again become God’s instrument for turning the world upside down.

[1] David A. Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology, and Polity, (New York and Toronto: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1982) cited in David Brickner, “What About Jews for Jesus and Messianic Congregations?” [accessed March 25, 2009].
[2] Cited in Baruch Maoz, Judaism is not Jewish, (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2003), 254.
[3] Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple, (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2002) 223.
[4] Daniel Juster, Jewish Roots: A Foundation of Biblical Theology for Messianic Judaism, Pacific Palisades: Davar, 1986) p. 249.
[5] Michael Hilton, The Christian Effect on Jewish Life, (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1994) 2.
[6] . See Dan Cohn Sherbok, Messianic Judaism, (London and New York: Continuum, 2000)
[7] See Carol Harris-Shapiro, Messianic Judaism: A Rabbi’s Journey through Religious Change in America (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000)
[8] J. K. McKee, “Where Should the Messianic Movement be in 2107?” [accessed March 25, 2009]. McKee is sympathetic to “two house” theology and his writings should therefore be read with caution. Nevertheless he is a stimulating writer and this article should be required reading for all Messianic believers.
[9] Murdo A MacLeod, Pauline Missiology: a Study in Romans, (Chislehurst: Christian Witness to Israel, no date) 4.
[10] Mark Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press) 286

Is the Church Israel now?

There's an interesting discussion about Messianic Jews on Facebook. One of the contributers recommended Charles Provan's book The Church is israel Now. I, however, am not a fan of Provan's book.

When The Church is Israel Now was first published I sent a substantial critique of the book to the author and to his main distributers in the UK and the USA. I received no reply from either Provan or his US distributer, and the response I received from his UK distributer was a polite, two-sentence note that basically told me to get lost. I believe the reason I receive no answer is because my case is unanswerable. This is what I sent.

Dear Mr Provan,

I read with interest your book The Church is Israel Now and believe it needs some form of response. Obviously much thought and comparison of Scripture with Scripture went into the book, which is commendable. The format of placing Old Testament Scripture against New Testament Scripture is illuminating. However, in spite of the fact that you attempt to allow the Bible to speak for itself, I believe your thesis is basically unscriptural, fundamentally flawed and very dangerous.

In the second paragraph of your introduction (no page number) you state: ‘The only hypothesis which explains how this could be [i.e.: that the same terms used in the Old Testament to describe Israel are used in the New Testament to describe Christians] is that the Israel of the Old Testament (so called ‘Racial Israel’) had been replaced by the Israel of the New Testament, the Christian Church.’ It is a mark of humility on your part that you acknowledge your book to be a hypothesis and I would like to suggest that your hypothesis is fundamentally flawed.

You appear to be unable to think in categories other than ‘either/or’. Your method of assembling sets of verses which show, for example, that in the Old Testament Israel was beloved of God and that in the New Testament Christians are beloved of God, and that in the Old Testament the Jews are called God’s people and in the New Testament Christians are called God’s people has its strengths but it also has great weaknesses.

For example, if your system of Scriptural interpretation was applied to the biblical teaching about God one would have to conclude that Jesus has replaced Jehovah on the grounds that in the New Testament the divine titles are all accorded to Jesus. In the Old Testament, for example, Jehovah is the King of Israel, whereas in the New Testament Jesus is the King of the Jews; in the Old Testament Jehovah is the Shepherd of his people whereas in the New Testament Jesus is the good Shepherd; in the Old Testament Jehovah is the Rock but in the New Testament Jesus is the Rock. As I have pointed out to numerous ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses, there is no title given to Jehovah which is not applied to Jesus in the New Testament. But that is not the same as a ‘transfer’ of titles. Jesus has not replaced Jehovah. Is it not at least possible, therefore, that the Church may indeed be the beloved Israel of God without having replaced the nation of Israel?

While appearing to be scriptural, I believe your method is ultimately unscriptural in that you attempt to fit the Scriptures (no doubt unwittingly) into a preconceived framework. Nowhere is this more evident than when you aver that Matthew 21:43 ‘demonstrates ... quite clearly’ the transfer of Israel’s privileges and responsibilities: ‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

At first sight the words of Christ appear to support your hypothesis. But Matthew goes on: ‘When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.’ (Matthew 21:45). Jesus was not saying the kingdom would be taken from Israel but from the rulers of Israel.

At the beginning of Matthew 21 the people of Jerusalem welcomed Christ and acknowledged him to be the Messiah, the son of David and a prophet (vv. 8-11). It was ‘the chief priests and the scribes’ alone who were displeased (vv15, 16) at the events of the day. In verse 23 the people listened avidly to Christ but the chief priests and the scribes took issue with him over his authority to teach.

In the first of the two parables recorded in the same chapter (vv. 28-33) Jesus revealed that publicans and prostitutes entered the kingdom before the religious leaders. In his second parable the Lord used the imagery of Isaiah 5 to make his point. In the days of the prophet, the corruption of the people led to the Babylonian captivity and the kingdom was taken away. Christ says in Matthew 21 that the kingdom will again be taken away, this time from the chief priests and Pharisees, and given to another nation (as at the time of the Babylonian captivity).

However, Christ does not say the kingdom will be taken from Israel: Matthew records that the chief priests and Pharisees ‘perceived that he spoke concerning them’.

The common people of the nation received Christ and hence received the kingdom. After Pentecost vast numbers of the Jewish people turned to Christ. Contrary to traditional Christian thinking, the same people who cried ‘Hosanna’ on Palm Sunday did not call, ‘Crucify’ on Good Friday. That teaching has fuelled anti-Semitism in the gentile world and continues to be a reason why so many Jewish people, out of a misinformed sense of what it means to be a Jew, continue to reject Christ.

The Sanhedrin had difficulty arresting Jesus for fear of public outrage: ‘But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitudes’ (Matt 21:46).

They arrested him at night and tried him in secret so that on the morning of the crucifixion the majority of the population of Jerusalem appear to have been astonished and dismayed to discover he had been condemned: ‘And a great multitude of the people followed him ... who mourned and lamented him’ (Luke 23:27).

Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that Jesus was not rejected by the nation as a whole:

When he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? So the multitudes said, This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth (Matthew 21:10,11).

Many of the people believed in him, and said, When Christ comes, will he do more signs than these which this man has done? (John 7:3 1).

Even among the religious hierarchy, not all rejected Christ: ‘Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed on him’ (John 12.42).

The Book of Acts demonstrates that the kingdom had not been taken from ‘Racial Israel’. In Israel and the Diaspora thousands accepted Jesus as their Saviour and King.

That day about three thousand souls were added to them (Acts 2:41).

Many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand (Acts 4:4).

The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem; and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).

When the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews ... followed Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:43).

Many of them believed; and also not a few of the Greeks (Acts 17:12).

John, of course, records that ‘his own received him not’. Nevertheless, he modifies that statement with another: ‘but to as many as received him...’ Many verses demonstrate that the picture was not as bleak as we have become conditioned to accept. There was a substantial ‘remnant according to the election of grace’ in Jerusalem, Judea and the Diaspora.

You state on page 46 that in the Old Testament, ‘Israel Is An Olive Tree’ (Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:5-6) and in the New Testament, ‘Christians Are An Olive Tree’ (Romans 11:17-24). Though acknowledging that in Romans 11, ‘The Olive Tree under discussion ... is clearly Israel’ your bold-type sub-headings give the wrong impression. Paul does not say in Romans 11 that Christians are ‘an olive tree’.

Gentile believers, says the apostle, are branches from a wild olive tree that have been grafted on to the olive tree of Israel. If your hypothesis is, as you believe, the only possible one, Paul’s olive tree illustration is misleading. If the Church has replaced ‘Racial Israel’ a more fitting illustration would be that one olive tree has been cut down and another planted in its place, as your own sub-headings suggest.

But God has not cut down one olive tree and planted another in its place. Nor are there two separate olive trees. Instead, God has broken off some branches from the olive tree of Israel because of their unbelief and has grafted in branches not native to the tree. This is a vital and important distinction and it is inexcusable that a book purporting to be serious biblical scholarship should fail to see that distinction.

Nowhere in the book do you take into account Romans 11:1: ‘Did God reject his people? By no means!’ Nor do you engage with Old Testament verses such as Deuteronomy 4:31: ‘For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.’ Nowhere do you take into account Jeremiah 31:35-37:

This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the LORD Almighty is his name: ‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the LORD, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me.’ This is what the LORD says: ‘Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the LORD.

At best, the claim that ‘the Church is Israel now’ demonstrates an utter disregard for the apostle’s warning to the grafted-in branches of the Olive Tree not to boast themselves against the natural branches. At worst, your hypothesis appears a particularly arrogant example of theological anti-Semitism. If it falls into the hands of Jews it will serve only to alienate them from the Church which has supposedly replaced them because it will confirm their historical contention that the Church is anti-Jewish.

The Church is Israel Now appears to me a classic example of adding two and two together to make five. To your credit you acknowledge that your conclusion is a ‘hypothesis’ (albeit the only possible one) according to which, when ‘the Israelites obeyed God, God loved them. But when they turned from Him He hated them, stripping them of their Israelite status.’

While it is true that in certain Old Testament passages, God speaks of His hatred for disobedient Israelites those passages must be modified by other statements. If God’s love is conditional upon obedience, it is difficult to pinpoint a time when God could possibly have loved ‘Racial Israel’. Indeed, nowhere are God’s declarations of love greater than in the book of Hosea when Israel, the bride of Jehovah, is likened to a brazen whore.

If God’s love is conditional, where does that leave the Church! If God’s love is conditional there is no hope for any of us.

Followed to its logical conclusion your hypothesis would leave Christians without assurance of salvation. If God, without warning, transferred all ‘Racial Israel’s’ privileges to Christians, what confidence can Christians have that he will not at some future date transfer our benefits to others?

Apart from a reference to a select number of verses in Romans 11, one would think you were unaware of the chapter’s existence, for nowhere do you consider what Paul means when he says that Israel is the people God ‘foreknew’, that ‘the Israelites are beloved for the fathers’ sakes’ or that God’s ‘gifts and calling are without repentance’.

The book’s subtitle, ‘The Transfer of Conditional Privilege’ reveals a lack of understanding of the unconditional nature of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15.

Moreover, there is a failure to understand that the Church is not a new entity which came into being on the Day of Pentecost. Israel is God’s qahal, a Hebrew word that in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament is rendered ekklesia, the same word translated ‘church’ in English versions of the New Testament. Ekklesia means basically ‘that which is called out’ and the Christian church, or congregation, has been called out of the world and gathered to Messiah. But the Lord’s calling out of a people for his name did not begin at Pentecost. According to Stephen, in Acts 7:38, God had an ekklesia in the wilderness.

Until the time of Paul’s missionary enterprise the ekklesia consisted mainly of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, though there were notable exceptions such as Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, Uriah the Hittite and Naaman the Syrian.

In the 2,000 years since the time of Christ the majority of the ‘called out’ have been Gentiles. Paul’s illustration in Romans 11 is that Israel is an olive tree, the branches of which are individual believers. Some of the native branches have been ‘broken off through unbelief’. But whether the branches are natural or wild, both are joined to the same tree.

This renders the theory that the Church has replaced Israel a nonsense. How can Israel replace Israel? How can the Church replace the Church?

Neither is the church God’s ‘new’ Israel. On the day of Pentecost ‘the church’ entered a new phase, when the gospel would be proclaimed to all nations beginning at Jerusalem. ‘With Pentecost’, writes Kai Kjær-Hansen, ‘God’s church for the last days begins its ministry’.

Shadows have been replaced by reality; the partial has been superseded by the fullness, and the preparation by the fulfilment. At Pentecost, as at the erection of the tabernacle and the dedication of Solomon’s temple, the glory of God descended and filled his temple ‘made without hands’.

Gentile believers must eschew fruitless and arid replacement theology and return to the New Testament’s emphasis on fulfilment. We must acknowledge with gratitude that we who were once ‘without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world’ are now ‘no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone’.

The language of replacement is inappropriate to the discussion. It promotes that Gentile arrogance against which Paul warned in Romans 11, whereas the recognition that we Gentiles have become ‘fellow heirs [with Israel], of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel’ will promote humility, wonder and a longing for the natural heirs of the blessings to enter into the fullness of their inheritance.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Talking pictures

They say one picture is worth a thousand words.

Further to my last post, I received information about the images Stephen Sizer considered worthy of uploading to his website. The murals and images on his blog are of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terror group founded in 1967 by George Habash.

The PFLP is guided by Marxism-Leninism principles and Habash considered the ‘liberation’ of Palestine an integral part of the world Communist revolution.

The organisation advocates armed insurrection and has carried out media-oriented attacks, particularly the hijacking of planes, to bring the Palestinian cause to public attention.

In July 1968, PFLP operatives hijacked an El Al plane. In September 1970, the PFLP hijacked three commercial airliners and blew them up. In 2001, the organisation assassinated Israel’s Minister of Tourism, Rehavam Ze’evi, in Jerusalem.

A suicide bombing in February 2002 left three Israeli civilians dead and 25 wounded, while a suicide bombing on Christmas Day 2005 killed three Israelis.

The lady with the gun is Leila Khaled (pictured), the ‘poster girl of Palestinian militancy.’ A former PFLP plane hijacker and now a PA politician, on 29 August 1969 Khaled was part of the team that hijacked TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Athens, diverting it to Damascus.

It is interesting that a British vicar who is one of the organisers of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference, an event ostensibly dedicated to peace and reconciliation, feels comfortable about posting images which are diametrically opposed to the publicised aims of CATC on his website.

It is also curious, given the avowed purpose of CATC, that Bethlehem's mayor, who is a PFLP member, should be granted the honour of presenting the opening address at the conference.

As our transatlantic cousins say: ‘Go figure.’

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Every picture tells a story

Last Monday the world was shocked by the news of three Jewish children being shot dead at their school in Toulouse. Wherever you looked on the web, you couldn’t avoid the news. One of the places you couldn't find it, though, was on Rev Stephen Sizer’s blog. He had other fish to fry.

On the day Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his sons Arieh (aged 5) and Gabriel (aged 3), with Myriam Monsenego (aged 8) were killed, Rev Sizer was blogging about the International Conference on Jerusalem he had spoken at in Qatar just before jetting to the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem.

The Qatar Conference which, according to Stephen Sizer, defended 'the status of Jerusalem’ denied the Jewish people any right to Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state. Sizer also exhibited some of his high-quality photos of a non-existent place called 'Palestine' where, according to his captions, East Jerusalem is located and which the Israelis are ‘Judaizing’ (an expression he appears to have picked up in Qatar).

Among his pictures of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference were a couple of nicely executed murals, one of an armed Palestinian woman (Image 12)and the other an adaptation of Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People (Images 20-22)from (presumably) the Bethlehem side of Israel’s Security Wall.

Sizer sees to have liked the Delacroix-inspired mural so much he featured a detail from it of an armed Palestinian following 'Freedom'(Image 22). The caption under the mural is ‘Revolution have [sic] started here and will continue until…’ Until what?

Rev Sizer says he opposes violence but the murals glorify armed conflict and the ersatz Delacroix draws a clear parallel between the bloody French revolution in which France’s aristocracy and ruling class kissed their heads goodbye and the Palestinian opposition to Israel. If one picture is worth a thousand words, how much do these pictures say both about the Palestinian aims and the person who admires them so much he photographed them several times and posted them on his blog? Does Rev Sizer regard Israel as a latter day Middle Eastern ‘Ancien Régime’ that must needs go the same way as eighteenth century France?

Stephen Sizer will no doubt protest that the pictures are just a few of the many views of Bethlehem. But his shots of Israel are never neutral. He has photos of Israeli soldiers under the caption: ‘Herod’s Soldiers operating in Bethlehem today.’ If that does not imply that Herod’s soldiers are doing in Bethlehem today what they were doing in the town 2,000 years ago, I don’t know what it means.

Does Rev Sizer approve of Bethlehem’s ‘Liberty leading an armed Palestinian people’? Let’s imagine he saw a mural on the other side imitating another French masterpiece, say, Jacques Louis David’s The Oath of the Horatii in which Settlers were being handed automatic weapons and swearing to defend their land or die. Do you imagine for one second that Sizer would post it without comment?

All this week, in the wake of the Toulouse murders, he has been blogging and posting photos of the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem, the ‘siege’ of ‘Ghetto’ Hebron, 'Ghetto' Bethlehem and ‘illegal’ Jewish settlements. Yesterday he posted a blog about the alleged ‘ ill-treatment and torture of children in the Israeli military detention system … based on 311 sworn affidavits taken from children between January 2008 and January 2012.’

If the allegations of torture are true, there will be an outcry from the Israeli public and I have no doubt the guilty parties will be brought to book. If the claims are untrue, I hope to see an apology on Stephen Sizer’s blog for inciting hatred against Israel.

The torture of children is abhorrent but let's not forget that children are capable of lying. The Palestinian education system instils hatred of Israelis into children from their earliest days. Let's not forget, either, that Israel regularly treats Palestinian children in its hospitals and would do more so if Hamas would let them.

I am bugged by a number of questions about why Stephen Sizer published this latest blog while Jews around the world are mourning the death of three children? Is Rev Sizer trying to tell us it's not only Jews who bleed? Or is he just displaying the same lack of sensitivity that led him to launch the anti-Israel film With God on our Side at his church on the first day of Purim 2010, or to schedule Christ at the Checkpoint for Purim 2012 or that led his chum Ben White to launch his latest anti-Israel book on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day this year.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Boteach Delusion

A review of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus

I once enjoyed the dubious privilege of being called a liar by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. When Shmuley sensed the tide of opinion in the hall was against him, he wisely withdrew the charge only to retract his apology later when we were shaking hands. Since then, I’ve never really been able to take Shmuley seriously.

Even allowing for my mildly jaundiced attitude, there is little one can say positively about Shmuley’s latest book. Some of Shmuley’s fellow rabbis have denounced Kosher Jesus as heresy even though they have not read the book, a fact that tells us more about the rabbis than it does about Shmuley or his book.

Even though I feel sympathy for Shmuley, I am far from impressed by Kosher Jesus. It’s the kind of book you could imagine being written by a hybrid clone of Richard Dawkins and Dan Brown.

Shmuley’s contention is that Jews and Christians have for centuries misunderstood Jesus. Shmuley’s kosher Jesus (as opposed to the unkosher Jesus of historic Christianity) was a ‘wise and learned rabbi who despised the Romans for their cruelty to his Jewish brethren, who fought the Romans courageously and was ultimately murdered for trying to throw off the Roman yoke of oppression. He was a man who worked to rekindle Jewish ritual observance of every aspect of the Torah and to counter the brutal Roman occupation of his people’s land’ (p xvii).

According to Shmuley, the Gospels were doctored by Gentile editors who took care to expunge the Jewishness of Jesus and to make Jews the bad guys and the Romans the good guys. These rogue editors made Jesus say such things as, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…’ something no self-respecting Roman-hating, freedom fighter would have ever said.

Under Rabbi Boteach’s imaginative deconstruction, Judas Iscariot become a creation of later editors who were intent on demonising the Jewish people. These Jew-hating spin doctors created an archetypical villain who would become a symbol of the Jewish people as a whole, a human being so evil that he would for moderate consideration betray God himself. And, in case the symbolism was too subtle, they gave their creation the name ‘Judas’.

Shmuley’s Jesus might be kosher but, according to him, the apostle Paul was most definitely non-kosher. Shmuley’s unkosher Paul was a Gentile convert to Judaism and a manipulative liar who fraudulently claimed to have been a disciple of the great Jewish sage Gamaliel. He went ‘almost exclusively’ to Gentiles and bullied Peter into eating non-kosher food.

But don’t get Rabbi Boteach wrong. Although he wants us to know that everything Christians believe – from the doctrine of original sin to the return of Christ – is constructed on a foundation of anti-Semitism, paganism and downright falsehood, he has no desire to ‘denigrate or deny Christian doctrine’ (p. 160)!

But even though Christians are wrong, Christianity is the way for Christians to reach God just as Islam is the way for Muslims to approach God. Judaism is the way to God for Jews, the only difference being that Judaism is right and the others are wrong. Rabbi Boteach doesn’t mind Christians supporting Israel and opposing anti-Semitism; he just wants us to stop trying to persuade Jewish people to believe in Jesus.

Those things apart, the book is a confusing farrago of poor logic, pseudo-scholarship, gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Christian doctrine and wishful thinking.

Shmuley thinks Luke’s Gospel has 31 chapters, that Damascus was an ‘Assyrian city’.

On page 107, Shmuley states that. ‘Using one’s tongue to assassin ate the character of an innocent victim … is immoral.’ Five pages later he informs us that Paul lied about being a disciple of Gamaliel because was not a great scholar because he seems to have been incapable of reading Hebrew. On page 113 Shmuley accuses Paul of misquoting Deuteronomy 21:23 to give it a ‘fraudulent meaning’.

To prove that Paul ‘misrepresents this verse utterly’, Shmuley quotes Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole”.’

Shmuley states that he is quoting Galatians 3:13 from the New International Version of the Bible; only he isn’t. The NIV translation reads: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree”.’ Where did ‘the pole’ come from?

Shmuley then goes on to expound Paul’s argument. Christians have always thought that ‘the tree’ Paul refers to is the cross on which the Lord Jesus was hung. How wrong we are for, according to the rabbi, Paul ‘explains that the pole refers to the Torah, the Law of Moses.’ Hence, ‘Paul bases one of one of Christianity’s core doctrines on a misrepresentation.’

Thus, Shmuley hoists himself on his own petard.

Gregory Zuckerman describes Shmuley Boteach as being ‘among the most provocative and creative minds in public discourse.’ Creative is right.

I will defend unequivocally Rabbi Boteach’s right to publish what he wants but, for reasons stated above, Kosher Jesus will not be available from the CWI Bookroom.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Condemning Israel in comfort

While the Christ at the Checkpoint delegates bivouacked in a comfortable Bethlehem hotel with a view to sedately condemning Israel for its ‘sin’ of ‘occupation and to blame the Jewish state for worldwide Islamic terror, almost a million people in southern Israel were sheltering from a hail of missiles that fell across the northern Negev and parts of the coastal plain.

It was no coincidence that the shelling began at the festival of Purim, the season when Jews celebrate their deliverance from genocide some 2,500 years ago.

When Israel fought back, the Egyptian parliament condemned Israel for not allowing its citizens to die like good Jews should and denouned the strikes on Gaza as ‘war crimes’. The Egyptian parliament voted unanimously to expel the Israeli ambassador and approved a motion stating: ‘Egypt will never be the friend, partner or ally of the Zionist entity which we consider as the first enemy of Egypt and the Arab nation.’

The organizers of the Christ at the Checkpoint conference blamed the plight of Palestinian Christians on the ‘occupation’ and at the opening session Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority addressed the conference, assuring delegates that the PA supports Christians.

Hardly had the vacated seats grown cold after the conference than Fayyad's government informed Naim Khoury, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, that the church lacked the authority to function as a religious institution.

The decision will have far-reaching implications because the PA will not recognise any of the fellowship’s legal documents, including certificates of births, marriages and deaths. Without legally recognised documents, marriages at the church will be null and void, and children of the congregation will be considered illegitimate.

Pastor Steven Khoury, the son of First Baptist's senior pastor, Naim Khoury, reported that a representative of the Palestinian authority showed up at his father’s church in Bethlehem and informed him of the clamp-down.

Although the officials did not specify why they are targeting the church, Steven believes it is because his family supports Israel and believes jews and Arabs in the region can co-exist in peace.

I’ll bet this example of Christian suffering in ‘Palestine’ isn’t posted on the blogs or websites of the CATC organizers. I am still trembling with anger at the hypocrisy, deception and dissimulation stamped all over Christ at the Checkpoint.

In 2009, Steven Khoury was interviewed by CBN about the true reason for the suffering of Bethlehem's Christians. The video can be viewed here.

For full coverage of CATC visit the Rosh Pina Project.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Christ at the Checkpoint: Despair in the Midst of Confusion?

The very first words I heard when I visited the Christ at the Checkpoint website last Tuesday morning to watch the live screening of the event was the words: ‘… the Israeli occupation is a sin.’ I had a lot of other fish to fry last week (which is why I could not post any blogs) and was able to visit the site only occasionally.

During the four days of CATC I heard Shane Claiborn telling moving stories of his visits to Iraq but also equating the rich man who went to hell in Luke 16 with Israel; and Lazarus outside his wall as Palestinian Christians.

I heard Gary Burge spiritualising the land promises made to Abraham.

I heard Colin Chapman blame Israel for the existence of Islamic terror. Hamas and Fatah he asserted were ‘birthed by Israeli occupation’ and terrorism and suicide bombings are ‘an expression of despair’.

I heard Lyn Hybels sweetly explain what she ‘believed’ Jesus would ‘say’ to Jews, Palestinians, Christian Zionists and American Christians. The conference itself was about what Jesus would ‘do’ at the checkpoint and I’ve got to tell you that I never cease to marvel at how certain Christians appear to know what Jesus would ‘do’ or ‘say’ in certain situations!

Christ at the Checkpoint has since delivered its ‘Manifesto’ (it sounds more dynamic than 'Conference Statement'), much of which I agree with, including the claim that the Kingdom of God has come and that ‘Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.’ Like the CATC organisers, I believe ‘Reconciliation recognises God’s image in one another.’

I hesitate to endorse Point 3 of the Manifesto: ‘Racial ethnicity [for which read 'Jewishness'] alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.’

I know Paul teaches in Galatians that all who believe in Messiah are children of God but the fact remains that throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the land promises were addressed to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And I’m not persuaded by Gary Burge’s Augustinian spiritualisation of the land promises.

I agree that ‘The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost’ but I suspect ‘the Church’ is a tendentious term.

Yasser Arafat set in motion a Palestinianisation of Jesus and Christianity and some Palestinian make the outlandish claims that they are descended from the shepherds who heard the announcement of the birth of Christ and claim their ancestors heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost. If that is what the CATC organisers mean by ‘the Church’, I want out.

Clause 5 states: ‘Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.’ I suspect that the formulators of the Manifesto are denying the right of the Jewish people to have a ‘Jewish’ state.

To the clause, ‘All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally,’ I say ‘Amen.’

Ditto to clause 7: ‘Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.’

Clause 9: ‘For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.’ Is this the only permissible perspective? Why no mention of a a core issue for Messianic Jews…’?

I agree that, ‘Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love’ but I’m cautious about accepting the clause, ‘Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimisation of the State of Israel.’ Some conference delegates, including Stephen Sizer, Ben White and Porter Speakman have stated that Israel reminds them of Nazi Germany, that Israel is an apartheid state and have employed fabricated quotes to bolster their anti-Israel aspirations.

There is a perverted logic abroad that says in effect: ‘Criticism of Israel is not a delegitimisation of the Jewish state. I critcise Israel for being an illegal, imperial, colonial, occupying, Nazi, apartheid state; therefore I am not a delegitimiser of Israel.’

Clause 11: ‘Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.’

I reserve judgement on this clause until I know if the formulators of the statement agree that Christian Zionism a ‘secondary matter of theology’ rather than ‘a heresy’.

Clause 12: ‘Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbours and enemies.’

Before agreeing to this, I would want to know if the CATC organisers believe Islam teaches that Allah commands Muslims to love their enemies.

For the fullest comments on CATC, visit the Rosh Pina Project.