by Derek White
Christian support for the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel has a sound Biblical basis. Despite this it suffers from two levels of attack. The first is that of extremism in which Christian support becomes politically aligned, every action of Israel is seen to carry a Divine sanction, and there is an associated disregard for the wellbeing of the Palestinian Arab and other inhabitants of the land.
The second results from "replacement theology" which teaches that the Church has replaced Israel, so that a national Israel now has no place in God's plan for the world. Both these errors are the basis of opposition to "Christian Zionism", and are held in various sections of the Church. Thus, for example, a resolution passed by the Anglican Consultative Committee in Singapore in 1987 said: "This council rejects the interpretation of Holy Scripture which affirms the special place of the present State of Israel in the light of Biblical prophecy, finds it detrimental to peace and justice, and damaging to Jews, Christians and Muslims."
Again, a pamphlet "What is Western Fundamentalist Christian Zionism?", published in 1988 by the Middle East Council of Christian Churches says: "It must be emphasised at the outset that Christian Zionism is viewed by Middle Eastern churches as a new heresy and dangerous intrusion into the life of the people of the region. In fact, it supports political agendas which often thwart efforts of unity, justice and peace and undermines their witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the region."
Finally, a British Council of Churches' Press Release dated 16 March 1990 said: "We believe the churches of Great Britain and Ireland must continue to promote amongst their members a true appreciation of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and to avoid the misuse of scripture which leads to uncritical support of the modern state of Israel."
The term "Christian Zionism" which has become prominent relatively recently is in one sense unfortunate in that Zionism in its normal non-religious sense, is essentially a humanistic/political movement which indeed, through its early pioneers and leaders, sometimes repudiated divine involvement in the restoration of the Jewish people and in the new-born State of Israel. The term "Christian Zionism" is therefore understandably, in the eyes of its opponents, an un-Biblical mismatch of terms. Having said this, it must be emphasised that BIBLICAL ZIONISM - the longing of the Jewish people for their return to their own land of Eretz Israel and their love of the land and the city of Jerusalem - is indeed part and parcel of the Biblical revelation and experience of the Jewish people. It can be said that God is the greatest of all Zionists! "The Lord has chosen Zion ... " (Psalm 132:13) and, "The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob." (Psalm 87:2). The word "Zion" (referring to the land of Israel, Jerusalem, or the people of Israel) in fact occurs 161 times in the Bible (including seven in the New Testament).
Nevertheless, it is more accurate and helpful to speak of "Restorationism", a term introduced by the Pietistic Protestants of the 16th century, or the "Restoration of the Jews", or the "Restoration Movement" - phrases which were commonly used in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries when an understanding of a future restoration of the Jewish people to their own land, and to their own God, was widely held in Britain and the U.S.A.
WHAT CHRISTIAN ZIONISM IS NOT
It is not a belief that everything Israel does today carries Divine sanction, nor that her leaders at any time carry divine authority outside that defined in Romans chapter 13:1-6.
It is not a rejection of the Arab people, especially those who live in the land of Israel.
It is not a belief that the ONLY criterion of Divine judgement on nations and individuals is their attitude to and treatment of the Jews.
TRUE CHRISTIAN ZIONISM, BIBLICAL ZIONISM OR RESTORATIONISM
Recognises that the Bible promises a future restoration of the Jewish people to their land, and that their restoration as a nation is part of God's end-time plan for the redemption of the world.
Recognises that Christians should pray for, and be involved in the upbuilding and wellbeing of the reborn nation, especially in view of the enemies around her who seek her destruction.
Recognises that God does not automatically endorse the actions of the State of Israel and her leaders, especially while the majority of her people live in unbelief in their own God and without her promised Messiah, neither does it feel bound to uncritically support all the policies and political agendas of her government.
Recognises that God is committed to defend Israel, despite her disobedience, because of the Abrahamic covenant which says: "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)
Recognises that the full restoration of the nation of Israel will take place when she comes to a place of national repentance, cries out to her God, and recognises her own Messiah. This is the completion of the restoration spoken of by Moses and the prophets, and as a result of which the whole world will be blessed. It is also referred to in the New Testament as the "fullness" and "acceptance" of Israel (Romans 11:12,15).
THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN ZIONISM OR RESTORATIONISM IN BRITAIN
The view that "Christian Zionism", or the "Restoration of the Jewish people" is a "new heresy", as claimed in the MECC pamphlet, is sadly in error, as the following brief survey of the historical nature of Restoration teaching will show. In 1589, Francis KETT was burned alive by the Church. His only crime was his insistence that the Jews would someday return to their land, an idea he claimed to have received from reading the Bible. The rise of Restorationism gained momentum with the rise of the Puritans to power in the 17th century, the whole movement being aided greatly by the publication of the King James' version of the Bible in 1611. The teaching of the Restoration of the Jews to their land is therefore part and parcel of Britain's protestant heritage.
In 1649 Joanna and Ebenezer CARTWRIGHT, two English Puritans who lived in Amsterdam, learned from the English Bible that Palestine was the ancestral home of the Jews and the goal of the Divinely promised return. They accordingly petitioned the English parliament for a repealing of the Act that banished Jews from England. They wrote:
"... with and amongst some of the Izraell race called Jewes, and growing sensible of their heavy out-cryes and clamours against the intolerable cruelty of this our English Nation, exercised against them by that ... inhumane ... massacre ... and their banishment ever since, ... that by discourse with them, and serious perusal of the Prophets, both they and we find, that the time of her call draweth nigh ... and that this Nation of England, with the inhabitants of the Netherlands, shall be the first and readiest to transport Izraells sons and daughters in their ships to the land promised to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for an everlasting inheritance."
The Jews were readmitted to England during Cromwell's time.
Among numerous publications of the period a few stand out for their clarity. One of these was by the theologian Thomas BRIGHTMAN (1562-1607) who can be regarded as the father of the British concept of the Restoration of the Jews. His thesis was written in Latin and the English edition published in 1615. He wrote: "Shall they return to Jerusalem again?" and answered, "There is nothing more certain: the prophets do everywhere confirm it and beat upon it."
Sir Henry FINCH (1558-1625) was steeped in a knowledge of the Bible and of Hebrew. He served for several terms as a Member of Parliament, and was a jurist of considerable renown whose legal writings were used as authoritative texts and studied for 200 years after his death. His major work was "The World's Great Restoration", published in 1621. Finch invited the Jews to reassert their claim to the Promised Land. He went on to predict the restoration of the temporal dominion to the Jews and the establishment by them of a worldwide empire! And at that time the Christian Monarchs of the world would even pay homage to them! This vision was to be accomplished by the eventual conversion of the Jews to Christianity. His work is replete with Bible quotations, for example: "... out of all the places of thy dispersion, East, West, North and South, HIS purpose is to bring thee home and to marry thee to Himself by faith for evermore. Instead that thou wast desolate and forsaken, and sattest as a widow, thou shalt flourish as in the days of thy youth, nay, above and beyond thy youth."
Charles JERRAM, a Divinity student at Cambridge, won a prize in 1795 for an essay on the grounds contained in Scripture for expecting a future Restoration of the Jews. Jerram was one of the most lucid and powerful exponents of this theme. Jerram held that the foundation on which all scriptural promises of a future Jewish Restoration rested was the Covenant God made with Abraham. The promise to "give ... all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession" (Gen.17:8) "is absolute and unlimited," and the "title of the Jews to the land of Palestine inalienable". By the force of this Covenant the Jews have been given "at all times a just claim" to that country. "If the grant of the Almighty maker and governor of the universe can constitute a legal title to an everlasting possession, the claim of the Jews to the land of Palestine will always be reasonable and just."
They had, Jerram emphasised, "through all these generations been preserved by God, who, in accordance with the covenant, had expressly promised not to cast them away, specifically for this extraordinary purpose." Jesus himself had said, he went on, "that Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24), from which it "is natural to suppose that at that period Jerusalem will be restored to its original proprietors". And, he added, "This deliverance ... waits for its accomplishment."
These are just a few examples of the teaching of many Christian scholars and clergymen during these two centuries.
In addition to many writings during the 19th century, we also note practical schemes to promote the Return of the Jews. Amongst these was George GAWLER (1796-1869), an English Christian of standing and fame. Colonel Gawler was a senior commander at the Battle of Waterloo and later Governor of Australia. When he returned to England in 1841 he began to actively encourage Jewish settlements in the land of Israel. In 1849 Gawler accompanied Sir Moses Montefiori on a journey to Israel and persuaded him to invest in and initiate Jewish settlements in the country, despite Jewish orthodox opposition.
In 1860 he wrote in an article: "I should be truly rejoiced to see in Palestine a strong guard of Jews established in flourishing agricultural settlements and ready to hold their own upon the mountains of Israel against all aggressors. I can wish for nothing more glorious in this life than to have my share in helping them do so."
In the middle of the 19th century, as the Ottoman Empire approached its downfall, political power motives joined the traditional Christian-spiritual streams of non-Jewish interest in the Biblical lands. From then on, Christian motives became wedded to pragmatic goals and political targets. It was also a period when Jews themselves appeared on the scene in an active manner unknown for centuries.
A prominent figure of this time was Lord ASHLEY (later Lord Shaftesbury). Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885) based his life on a literal acceptance of the Bible. Born into the aristocracy, he consistently refused offers of cabinet posts and instead gave himself to caring for the under-privileged, poor, sick and exploited. He always styled the Jews "God's ancient people", and it is stated that he worked just as hard to restore the Jews to Palestine as he did to pass the Ten Hour Bill (the Factory Act). Since, according to prophetic scripture, the return of the Jews was indispensable to the Second Advent, Lord Shaftesbury never had a shadow of a doubt that the Jews were to return to their own land.
Lord Shaftesbury persuaded Lord Palmerston, British Foreign Secretary, to take active steps to bring about the return of the Jews to Palestine, and on September 25 1840 presented his formal document to Palmerston for the "recall of the Jews to their ancient land". He maintained that the Jews now believed the time was near for their restoration to the soil of Palestine and that the governing power should solemnly engage "to establish the principles and practices of European civilisation."
In addition to the influence of Shaftesbury and Palmerston, there was strong support for a Jewish Return from other Christian groups. Thus on March 2 1841, a group of 320 Christians addressed a memorandum to Lord Palmerston which stated: "Your Memorialists beg leave ... to remind your Lordship that the land of Palestine was bestowed by the Sovereign of the Universe upon the descendants of Abraham as a permanent and inalienable possession nearly 4,000 years ago, and that neither conquests nor treaties among men can possibly affect their Title to it. He has also decreed that they shall again return to their country and that the Gentiles shall be employed as the means of their restoration."
When Lord Shaftesbury became President of the Palestine Exploration Fund (which was launched in 1865 in London by the Finns to advance archeological diggings and Biblical research), he declared in his opening address: "Let us not delay to send out the best agents ... to search the length and breadth of Palestine, to survey the land, and if possible to go over every corner of it, drain it, measure it, and, if you will, prepare it for the return of its ancient possessors, for I believe that the time cannot be far off before that great event will come to pass ... "
In 1844 the Rev Samuel BRADSHAW, in his "Tract for the Times, Being a Plea for the Jews", proposed that Parliament should allocate 4 million for the Restoration of Israel, with another 1 million to be collected by the Church!
In the same year a committee was formed in London for the purpose of founding a "British and Foreign Society for Promoting the Restoration of the Jewish Nation to Palestine." The opening address by Pastor T.Tully CRYBACE urged that England secure from Turkey the entire territory of Palestine "from the Euphrates to the Nile, and from the Mediterranean to the Desert" - having in mind the full extent of the land as promised to the Patriarchs under the original covenant.
William HECHLER (1845-1931), a British clergyman, played an important role as an encourager and supporter of Dr Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist Movement. In 1884, Hechler wrote his basic treatise, "The Restoration of the Jews to Palestine according to the Prophets", in which he foresaw, on the strength of Biblical prophecies, that the Holy Land would be restored to the Jewish people within the years 1897-1898. If the date of the First Zionist Congress, which assembled in 1897, is taken as the starting point of the Restoration, then Hechler's prediction was indeed accurate.
Dr H.Grattan GUINNESS, in his remarkable book "Light for the Last Days" published in 1886 said: "There can be no question that those who live to see this year of 1917 will have reached one of the most important, perhaps the most momentous, of these terminal years of crisis." The year 1917 we now know was the date both of the Balfour Declaration and the liberation of Jerusalem from the Turks by General Allenby.
The BALFOUR DECLARATION was in many respects the high point of Britain's alignment with the Restoration of the Jews to Palestine, and the ultimate re-creation of a Jewish state. The Balfour Declaration, issued on November 2 1917 stated: "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."
Many factors influenced, and some in fact weakened, the final form of the Declaration. Nevertheless it opened the door to the creation of a Jewish homeland on the soil of Palestine and was later incorporated into the Mandate for Palestine which was conferred on Britain by the League of Nations at San Remo on April 25 1920. The Mandate obligated Britain, as Mandatory Power, (in the words of the preamble), to "be responsible for putting into effect the Declaration originally made on 2nd November 1917 by the government of His Britannic Majesty and adopted by the said (Principal Allied) Powers in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."
Amongst the provisions of the Mandate, article 2 stated the primary obligation "to place the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home."Article 6 undertook to "facilitate Jewish immigration and encourage close settlement by Jews on the land", and article 7 provided for the "acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews."
Unquestionably", concluded the Peel Commission in 1937, "the primary purpose of the Mandate, as expressed in its preamble and its articles, is to promote the establishment of the Jewish National Home."
Concerning Lord Balfour, it is recorded that, "In Balfour the motive was Biblical rather than imperial. If the Biblical culture of England can be said to have any meaning in England's redemption of Palestine from the rule of Islam, it may be epitomised in Balfour. Though he was the reverse of Shaftesbury, not ardent but a skeptic, not a religious enthusiast but a philosophical pessimist, he was nevertheless strongly infused, like the Evangelicals and the Puritans, with the Hebraism of the Bible. Long before he ever heard of Zionism Balfour, steeped in the Bible from Childhood, had felt a particular interest in the "people of the Book". According to his niece, companion, and biographer, Mrs Dugdale, it was a "life long" interest that "originated in the Old Testament training of his mother and in his Scottish upbringing."
As regards Britain herself, it is interesting and important to note that despite the fact that for over 100 years strategic considerations had been leading her physically to the Middle East, the influence of the Bible had been at work for far longer. and had established a pattern in which it was impossible to acquire the Holy Land simply as a "strategic buffer". A larger purpose and a higher aim had to be served.
Sadly Britain progressively abandoned the Balfour Declaration, and the responsibilities she had accepted under the Mandate. In 1939 the White Paper cancelled further Jewish immigration and land purchase. In 1947, at the nadir of British policy, British destroyers fired on the ship "Exodus" carrying Jewish refugees from Nazi occupied Europe to the "national home", killing three of them, and, under the orders of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, forcibly returned the refugees to German soil.
GOD'S CALL TODAY
Christian belief in the restoration of the Jews to the land of Israel, and their restoration as a nation, is founded solidly on the scriptures and rooted in three centuries of Bible believing protestant Christianity.
A concerted assault is being made on Christian attitudes to Israel, and some Christian people are sadly becoming antagonistic to Israel. The conflict will no doubt intensify, powered as it is by Arab/Islamic forces. A merely emotional "Christian Zionism" may fail to thoroughly address the real issues facing Israel today, and even be harmful to Israel and the Church's best interests. True Christian Zionism thus:
Rests on the unconditional nature of God's covenant with Abraham and the unconditional gift of the land of Israel to Abraham and to his physical descendants, so that the title of the Jews to the whole land of Israel is inalienable.
Interprets the prophecies of a future restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in their proper literal sense, and recognises that the majority of these were not fulfilled in any return prior to that of this present century.
Recognises that the full restoration of the Jewish people will take place with their spiritual regrafting into their own olive tree (Romans 11:17-27) and the recognition of their own Messiah.
In its support of the State of Israel, recognises God's requirement of righteousness and prays to that end.
God's call today is to Christians who will understand the nature of God's covenant with Israel, and His purposes for both people and land. Historically, solid support for the Jewish people has been based on the Bible, not on transient world events, or even events within the land of Israel. A grasp of that Biblical basis is more important than ever today.
With acknowledgments to "Faith and Fulfilment - Christians and the Return to the Promised Land" by Michael J.Pragai (Vallentine Mitchell) for some of the historical material.