Israel and the church

The London School of Theology was the setting for a recent discussion among theologians who feel that the time has come for a different kind of debate on the question of Israel and the Jewish people.

Among them was Calvin L Smith, Principal of King’s Evangelical Divinity School, who is alarmed by the “vociferous” tone with which some Christians are speaking out against Jews and the modern state of Israel.

Of particular concern to him is the emergence in recent decades of an especially politicised form of supercessionism actively campaigning against Israel. 'New supercessionists' hold the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people and that God therefore no longer has a purpose or plan for the Jewish people.

He said that some Christian anti-Israelists had gone as far as to say that Zionists were deviants of the faith and were contributing to the “current demonisation of Israel”.

“Let’s disagree by all means but labelling each other heretics and retreating to shout from the sidelines is causing considerable disunity within the church,” he said.

Smith believes that God still has a plan for Jews but he accepts that the state of Israel has made mistakes and that Christians in the Holy Land are suffering as a result of Israel’s actions.

“We see very many Christian Zionists who demonstrate an intense love for Israel and the Jewish people - indeed problematically. A minority of pro-Israel gentile Christians are so enthralled that they take an ‘Israel right or wrong’ position,” he said.

“Some pro-Israel Christians are one-sided, unaware of some of the difficulties some Arab Christians in the Holy Land experience, whether caused directly or indirectly by the Israel state.

“Many Christian Arabs in the Holy Land do find themselves in a difficult position and some voices have been realised on their behalf and if there is one good thing that has come out of this latest expression of this debate it is to force us to examine the issues in that light.”

He said however that some voices within the new supercessionism had moved beyond “important concern” for Palestinians to a position that “actively demonises Israel”.

“It presents the current debate in a highly dualistic, overly simplistic manner – Palestinians good, Israel bad. Even much of the world recognises the highly complex nature of the current Middle East conflict.”

He warned that the tone on both sides of the current debate had become a “problem” and was jeopardising the prospects for evangelism among Jews.

“The dice are already loaded against Jews considering switching to Christianity. They have been imbued all their lives with the notion that that is the one place they don’t go. But more so surely when the very church they are looking at demonises Israel,” he said.

“Put yourself in their position. If you were exploring Christianity and the Gospel and then you find out that many of the followers demonise the very country you live in, what is your reaction going to be? Of course it is going to make it more difficult for Jewish evangelism.”

Smith added that the “bitterness” of the current debate on Israel was having a “detrimental impact” on messianic Jews and their identity and relationship with the church and gentile believers.

He said it was a challenge for them to “work out where they fit” in a predominantly gentile church.

“Sometimes as gentile Christians we are unaware of the difficulties messianic Jews find themselves in,” he said.

Also speaking at the conference was Mitch Glaser of Chosen People Ministries, who said Christians should not feel that they have to make an “ungodly choice” between Israel and Palestine.

He said it was important that Christians on different sides of the debate do not "obliterate" one another's opinions but he added that he was particularly concerned by the way in which supporters of new supercessionism were getting “more airplay”.

“The representatives of this new supercessionism tend to vilify Israel and the Jewish people and that is not helpful,” he said.

“I am not concerned about the position as much as the active, pro-active, aggressive campaigning on the part of anti-Christian Zionists to turn evangelicals against Israel and her evangelical Christian supporters," he said.

He questioned the attempts by some Christians to paint Israelis as aggressors and Palestinians as people in need of help “when both are aggressors and both are in need of help”.

He said: "It is important that we respect and listen to one another because I do believe we need to be one another’s consciences."