Monday, September 15, 2014

ISRAEL OR THE CHURCH?

A recent action by a Republican senator from Texas has stirred up comments in both the secular and the religious media.  Ted Cruz of Texas was booed off the stage while addressing representatives of the suffering and persecuted Christians in the Middle East.  From the bits of his speech that I heard, it sounded like he was attempting to turn the rally he was addressing into a pro-Israel rally.  While he was speaking of persecution of both Christians and Jews, he received what sounded like a reasonable amount of supportive applause.  But as he continued speaking, his theme kept moving toward the idea of the nation of Israel being the Christians' best hope and the applause became more and more interspersed with and finally replaced by boos.  He ended up walking off the stage with the statement,  "If you will not stand with Israel then I will not stand with you!"


So how do we explain this?  And with whom should we side?  Before attempting to answer the second question, I felt that I needed to attempt to seek Senator Cruz' motives for seemingly shooting himself in the foot, and to figure out why there were those who agreed with him and even condemned his hearers. Many thoughts were given by various bloggers and pundits.

Some attempted to blame his audience by simply accusing them of anti-Semitism.  But a look at what's happening in the Middle East gives the lie to this thinking.  The church there is undergoing horrible suffering under militant Islam.  They suffer for their faith in Christ and not for their political allegiance even though they are mostly Arab peoples.  They are caught in the middle - between Sunnis and Shiites, between Israelis and Palestinian Muslims.  This explanation seems to be simply another case of blaming the victim.

Another more plausible explanation is that these Christians are different.  Cruz is an American and reputed to be from an Evangelical background.  The Christians he was addressing and their brand of Christianity have always seemed a bit suspect to American Evangelicals (of whom I am one).  They have strange rituals and customs and dress.  Their faith doesn't seem compatible with our born-again Bible thumping.  It's too "spooky" for us.  So it is easier to question the reality of their faith.

Another possible way of explaining Cruz' actions - though admittedly more cynical - is to "follow the money."  The pro-Israel lobby is undoubtedly much more powerful than this group of suffering Christians and can do much more for the Senator.  Perhaps both of these last two motives were involved in Cruz' behavior.

I'll suggest another possible motivating factor which occurred to me as soon as I read about this.  I confess that I don't know that much about Cruz' religious/theological background, but I do know a bit about the theological thinking of many in the Evangelical world, a way of interpreting the Scriptures that I believe has led many to agree with Mr. Cruz.

A large number of Evangelical Christians hold to a theological system known as Dispensationalism, even though many who hold this position may never have heard the word.  Dispensationalists take pride in "rightly dividing the Word of Truth," in noting the distinctions made in the Scriptures.  To some extent this is an excellent way to interpret the Scriptures.  But sometimes Dispensationalists make distinctions where the Bible is not that clear.  And they also at times carry those distinctions to illogical conclusions.

Dispensationalists distinguish (as do many Christians) between God's Old Covenant people and His New Covenant people, between the nation of Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New, between Judaism and Christianity.  They do not see the Church (Christianity) as a continuation of God's promises, expanded to include both Jews and non Jews who believe in Christ.  "So then, know this; that those who are of faith, these are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7).

Dispensationalists see Israel as a people set aside until the end times when God will again deal with them.  "And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written, 'The Deliverer will come from Zion to turn away ungodliness from Jacob'" (Romans 11:26; Isaiah 59:20).  And many see the present (secular) nation of Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  According to Dispensationalist eschatology (the doctrine of last things) the nation of Israel, scattered for millennia, must be back in their land and undergo seven years of "great tribulation" before Jesus returns.

And this eschatology has led some (not all) Dispensationalists to a strange devotion and commitment to a foreign nation.  Many American Dispensationalists appear to place their loyalty to Israel above their loyalty to their own country.  The nation of Israel is regarded not simply as an American ally in the Middle East, nor even as the homeland of a people who have been homeless for 2,000 years.  Israel in the land is regarded by them as the fulfillment of prophecy.  To disregard Israel is considered to be akin to heresy.

And so we find many followers of Christ ignoring the cries of their persecuted brothers and sisters in favor of a foreign political unit.  And agreeing with Ted Cruz' statements.  Brothers and sisters it ought not to be so.

See:  CONFESSIONS OF A (FORMER) DISPENSATIONALIST
(http://billball.blogspot.com/2013/07/confessions-of-former-dispensationalist.html)

1 comment:

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

I must say I have a really big issue with this whole "Israel can do no wrong" attitude of hyper-dispensationalists. I guess they missed the part of the prophecy that Israel is supposed to be in the land in obedience, following God, not just living there under secular leaders.

Some of the same people claim to be persecuted and yet, here he is in the presence of a group that has known real, physical persecution and he does this.