THE CREEDAL BASIS OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISM.
By Paul Merkley.
“He Will Come Again.”
Among the lines of the Apostles Creed which is recited most Sunday mornings in most churches belonging to the World Council of Churches is this:
“He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
Persons who do not subscribe to that line of the Creed will be uninterested, and indeed unable, to subscribe to Christian Zionism. Everything else that Christian Zionists have invested in this promise is surely open to calm discussion. What is not allowable is to say that Christian Zionists believe in predictive statements based on Scripture while other Christian believers do not.
It is true (as the liberals always remind us) that Christ advised His followers against imagining that we could foretell “times and seasons” (Acts 1:7.) But it is equally true that in the most developed teaching that He offered on the circumstances of His Return (Matt 24/Mk 13/Luke 21, and Acts 1), Jesus draws everyone’s attention to Jewish Biblical prophecy, and most explicitly to Daniel — whom, incidentally, in shamelessly “literalistic” manner, and without benefit of Nineteenth-Century historical-critical scholarship, Jesus assumes to be a historical person, author of the book which bears his name (Matt 24:15, Mark 13:14.)
Another note of interest to Christian Zionists is that in the scenario anticipated by Jesus, Israel is in Zion (Jerusalem), in the presence of people of many nations, when Jesus returns (Luke 21:8-24) — an insight which conforms to the consistent testimony of Old Testament prophets (e.g., Isaiah: 14:1. 29:5, 60:10, 61:5.) .
Mainline churchmen accuse Christian Zionists of being a kind of freemasonry, obsessed with a hidden, esoteric wisdom in light of which they see meanings in world affairs that the plain eye does not see. In truth, Christian Zionists adhere to a wide range of hermeneutic schools and belong to churches all across the spectrum. Popular belief in the Restoration of the Jews to the Land of Israel was an early and enduring fruit of discovery of the Bible by scholars and laity in the first years of the Protestant Reformation. Since, then, people who read the Bible are constantly discovering the force of Biblical prophecy; and many of them, in every generation, have come to the conclusion that confidence in the outlines of prophecy imposes certain obligations in the sphere of public life and politics.
Christian Zionism and World Affairs.
Within the guild of academic theologians, active in Seminaries and in University Departments of Schools of Religion today, the accredited line is that Biblical “prophecy” (which the dictionary defines as “foretelling of the future”) has nothing to do with foretelling of the future. In academic circles, “predictive prophecy” (a tautology) is dismissed as “literalism,” part of the pathology of “Fundamentalism.” Academics never mention the distinguished history of interest in biblical prophecy in learned circles in the past and pretend to be unaware of its existence among unaccredited but learned folk in the present.
The theologian Karl Barth used to say that a Christian pastor was one who carried the Bible in one hand and the day’s newspaper in the other. This dictum well describes the Christian Zionist. Christian Zionism is not a program encouraging retreat for reality. It nurtures interest in the study of the largest realities going on in all parts of the world.
Christian Zionists are accused by theologians and church leaders as well as the secularists of imposing upon the plain facts of history an esoteric kind of scheme, according to which the adventures and the destiny of the people of Israel is made to appear to bear a degree of meaning that does not belong to the history of other nations and is altogether inappropriate for one of the smallest nations in the world. But we say that it is a simple fact that the restored nation of Israel is at the center of concern of every grownup person who reads today’s newspaper.
This is an objective circumstance that no statesman dares to ignore.
It is not as though we had reached down into the whole arsenal of historical information and found an obscure tribe with an obscure history and then piled the whole weight of history’s meaning upon it. A parallel might be to reach into the catalogue of minor tribes and nations and to pull one of them — let us say the Uighur people who live in China today, or the Yoruba people who live in Nigeria today — to front and center — and then to manipulate the whole story of mankind to support a theory that this nation (the Uighurs of China – who have about the same population as that of Israel (8 million) — ought to be on the front page every day, that their behavior, for good and ill, is dominating the proceeding of the UN and attracting legions of journalists and commentators turning out hundreds of line-inches of news material every day.
One may be readily forgiven if his knowledge of the history and the present circumstances of the Uighurs is less than abundant. But no one will take you seriously if you try to escape discussion of Israel and the Jews on a similar plea of ignorance. Israel did not impose this preoccupation upon the world. The world imposed it on Israel. To take only the most recent example: there is last month’s UN Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to dismantle all of its settlements in the territories that have been under dispute since 1967.
Christian Zionism and Realism.
Anti Zionists live in the counter-factual world alongside the Muslims, who speculate about the right of Israel to exist and who refuse to permit its name to appear on maps while demanding that it be liquidated. Christian Zionists spend no energy wondering aloud whether Israel exists. Their speculations about what is right and wrong, what should be done and not done, start from the real premise that Israel is. It is the anti-Zionist polemicists who keep up the game of speculating whether there ought to be a restoration of the Jews, a Jewish state.
Typically, most general texts used in college World History courses today, bear the stamp of academic correctness in the awkward fact that their first references to the State of Israel come in connection with the 1967 war. They make no reference whatever to the events that led to Israel’s creation in 1947-1948. Thus they are spared considering such realities as the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the desperation of the Jewish people, the urgency of putting a State in place in British-held Palestine, the iron-clad promises that had been made by the League of Nations and all the major powers of the time and the solid agreement among the major superpowers to provide for its establishment during the long months of 1945 to 1948.
What should strike any reader of the history of the modern State of Israel is how deliberately everything was done, how legitimate it all was, how carefully it was all engrossed in the public record. All to no avail – so far as the Anti-Zionists are concerned. Anti-Zionist authors prefer counter-History: Did Israel really come into existence by decision of the nations, they ask? Is Israel “legitimate”? Does it truly exist? The anti-historical, deconstructionist spirit that has captured the enthusiasm of contemporary academics provides all the double-talking rhetoric to give such mindless ruminations respectability.
Jews understand that there will be fluctuations from time to time in the relative justice of the case that Israel can present before world opinion — as, for example, with regard to what the State perceives to be her security needs vis-à-vis internal and external foes. But Jews cannot understand how Christians who parade their sensitivity to the situation of the oppressed can even for a moment toy with the thought that Israel has a doubtful right to exist within the borders that have resulted from her original acceptance of the partition of 1947, improved by result of her enemies’ recurring appeal to the God of war. Yet today Jews hear leading voices of the mainline churches announcing that the decision to permit Israel to come to birth in the first place was “unjust” or “a mistake.”
All larger considerations aside, the Christian’s sense for the seriousness of what happens in History requires him to regard the re-establishment of the State of Israel as a proof that the God of our faith is the Lord of History. The Restoration of Israel is the outcome of the accumulating effects of Abraham’s decision to follow God and to believe in His promises (Gen 12:1-5.) These consequences can be located entirely on the plane of this life-in-time, in a purely descriptive, causal way.
When we say that the objective fact of the Restoration of Israel belongs in the company of proofs of the existence of God, we do not pretend that this is a compelling proof. Historical evidence, by its essentially vulnerable nature, is never compelling. With these caveats in place, we say that the Restoration of the State of Israel in our own time is the best proof of the Sovereignty of the Lord of History, proof of History’s authority to tell us the largest things about life.
(Some lines from this essay are adapted from my book, Those That Bless You I Will Bless (Mantua Press, 2011.)