Recently, I came across a Jewish website critical of Christian Zionism, aiming to “expose” the crossover between Christian Zionism and “missionary endeavors.” With this, they imply Christian Zionists are not genuine, because they have a secret ulterior motive of turning the Jews to Christ.
As you probably know, this is far from being the complete picture. The relationship between Evangelism among Jews on the one hand, and Christian Zionism on the other, has throughout history had its ups and down. In very general terms, I would say that most people who adhere to the one also adhere to the other, but some put more focus on one while diminishing the other and vice versa. In particular, people and ministries who work with one of the aspects tend to downplay the other, because mixing the two gives a bad vibe. The missionary doesn’t want to involve politics, and the political Zionist doesn’t want to be falsely accused of being disgenuine (I just made up that word).
Many ministries in Israel have a focus on one of the aspects and choose not to take a stand on the other, even if they might have individual workers with a specific view. There are also people who are strongly in favor of one and reject the other altogether. Some Christian Zionists are so eager to prove to the Jews that they are not missionaries, that they actually turn against all types of Jewish evangelism altogether. “Because that’s offensive to our Jewish friends.” And some missionaries go out of their way to turn against that phenomenon, and to prove that faith in Jesus “is not political,” so they go against all forms of Christian Zionism.
Complicated? Not really. It all really boils down to the fact that humans are humans, and we are different from one another. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but most of the people in the world are not you.
So let’s break it down, shall we? Didn’t we already do that, you ask? No, not enough. Let’s go deeper.
First of all, let’s talk about what these terms even mean in the first place. Which will make things even more complicated. Hurray!
What do we mean when we say “Jewish evangelism?” Do we mean Christians who think there is something special and unique about the Jewish people and therefore want to target us specifically? Or can we also include Christians who want the gospel to reach everyone, and the Jews happen to be included in “all the nations” that we are commanded to preach the gospel to? Do we distinguish between the Jewish and Messianic expressions of this, who strive to encourage the Jewish believers to maintain their Jewish identity? Or can we also include the Christians who are more traditionally Christian and want the Jews to believe in Jesus and assimilate with the gentiles? How do we define the Christian anti-semites who would rather see us assimilate into the gentiles so they can get rid of us in a few generations?
What do we mean when we say “Christian Zionism?” Do we mean Christians who support the State of Israel, or the Zionist ideal? Does that mean just the existence of the state, or must it include political support? Does it include Christians who only support Israel under specific conditions (i.e. having a conservative government), or is only unconditional support true Zionism? Does it include Christian pre-1948 support of the Zionist movement? What about Christians who see the gathering of Jews back to their homeland as a fulfillment of biblical prophecies, but don’t necessarily support the current State of Israel? Are they Zionists? Does it matter if they work together with Jewish religious Zionism, or secular Zionist organizations? Is there a political right-wing and settlement-affirming slant to this, or can Christian left-wingers be Zionists if they embrace the socialist kibbutz ideals and cooperate with Israel’s socialist parties and organizations? Can we speak of Christian Zionism before the first World Zionist congress 1897? Because Charles Haddon Spurgeon and William Blackstone are examples of Christian leaders in the UK and the US who believed in creating a Jewish homeland in Israel long before Herzl. In fact, Blackstone influenced Herzl. (Technically, Napoleon was also a Zionist, as he tried to establish the State of Israel in 1799, but he wasn’t Christian, so let’s leave him aside).
The history nerd in me wants to bring up people like Laurence Oliphant on the one hand who supported the Zionist pioneers in the 1880s and refused to evangelize, and the “London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews” on the other hand who did the opposite and were active at the same time. Sometimes these opposite views were even at odds with one another. But I probably shouldn’t delve too deep into it. Suffice to say that this tension is not new.
Biblically, Jewish evangelism and Christian Zionism are really two sides of the same coin. It is part of the idea that God will restore his people physically (Zionism) and spiritually (rediscovering our Messiah). The idea that the Jews will physically return to their homeland and come to faith in Jesus is a concept that has been present (albeit a minority) in Christianity since the reformation, when regular people started reading the Bible. So maybe the reformation is a starting point for both Jewish evangelism and Christian Zionism.
I’d say the starting point is really Ezekiel, and all the other prophets. People wouldn’t believe this so strongly if it wasn’t so obviously and clearly stated in the Bible. I mean, you really need to do some serious theological acrobatics if you believe in Yeshua, and you believe in these verses, and you still reject Jewish evangelism and Christian Zionism:
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:24-28
If you truthfully and honestly believe that this is the Word of God, how can you not be a Zionist? If you also believe in the New Testament, and you interpret “put my spirit in you,” as receiving the Holy Spirit, how can you not be in favor of Jewish evangelism? I’d tell the Jews who tried to “expose” this connection – congrats! You’ve discovered that these people believe in the Bible, and that they love you. Wow, what a scandal!
But that’s just what they are missing, isn’t it? It’s out of love, and love isn’t love if it’s conditional. The ulterior motive “to evangelize the Jews” doesn’t exist. Not in that way. Our love must be unconditional! We are called to support Israel, no matter if they will also believe in Jesus or not. This is and will always be our calling, and that’s what these Jewish skeptics fail to realize (and I must emphasize that they are few – most Israelis are thankful for Evangelical support).
I believe God has two primary plans with the people of Israel. One is for the church to understand how important Israel is to God. The other is to bring his Jewish people to faith. One ministry can focus on the first aspect and leave the other to other ministries and vice versa. This can also be true about individual people. If God has called you to work with Jewish Rabbis and Israeli decision makers to increase Christian tourism and investment in Israel, and bring support of Israel from churches worldwide, and support aliyah, maybe it is not your place to try to preach the gospel to the Rabbis you’re working with. And if God has called you to preach the gospel to the Jews, maybe mixing politics into it is a terrible idea.
The ones with a real hidden agenda here is of course, these Jewish skeptics. They “expose” cooperation between our “missionary” organizations with Christian Zionist organizations in order to delegitimize both. It’s part of their agenda to label Christianity as a foreign faith – in the very country where it originated! We Jewish believers in Israel see our faith in Yeshua the way we see this country – we are back after 2,000 years to reclaim what has always been ours in the first place.
My main problem is not these Jewish skeptics. Their response is expected, and we are called to love them anyway. My main issue is with Christians who listen to them and bend to their demands. Christian Zionists who turn against Jewish evangelism, and make up an unbiblical theology saying that Jews don’t need Jesus. Really? I think Paul the apostle would disagree. I also have an issue with the people who see this problem, and because of it, throw out the baby with the bathwater and turn against all types of Christian Zionism altogether.
“Nono, I believe the Bible. I just don’t think we need to put any efforts into evangelism to the Jews at this point in history. I think God will make that happen in the End Times.”
Alright, that’s a fair point. But then you still are in favor of Jewish evangelism at its core, even if you don’t actively engage in it now.
“Nono, I believe the Bible. I just don’t think the modern State of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecies. I think those prophecies will be fulfilled by God differently at the end of days.”
You’re wrong, but again, can be a fair point. But you still believe in a Jewish homeland in Israel at some point in the future, which theoretically makes you a closet Zionist.
“Nono, I believe the Bible, I just think that when the Old Testament says ‘Israel’ it means the Church.”
Ok, you’re just plain wrong. Reread the Bible, please.
“Nono, I believe the Bible, I just think that the Jews can come to God through Rabbinic Judaism and they don’t need Jesus.”
You’re also just plain wrong. Reread the Bible, please.
Bottom line. If you believe in the Bible, you can’t help but loving the Jewish people (unless you read it extremely selectively). And if you love the Jewish people, you will want God’s prophecies for us to come true, in one way or another. And that makes you a person in favor of both Jewish evangelism and Christian Zionism in one form or another. There’s nothing disgenuine about that. On the contrary, it’s the most genuine love you can possibly have for the Jewish people.