Can Palestinian Christians become the bridge to bring about peace between Israelis and Muslim Arabs? Elias Chacour, in Blood Brothers, says, “Yes.”
In the news, we hear much about the tension between Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians in the Arab-Israeli conflict. But did you know that there has been a community of Christians in the Holy Land for centuries? The story of this ancient church is often overlooked.
Since the time of the New Testament, there has been a Christian presence in the Holy Land. Possession of the land has changed multiple times over two thousand years. Pagan Rome, Zoroastrian Persians, Byzantine Orthodox Christians, Muslim Arabs, European Crusaders, and Muslim Turks have all claimed title over Jerusalem. But miraculously, the Christian church in some form or another has survived all of these various conquests. Sadly, the Christian community in Palestine today is nearly threatened with extinction.
Israel today (credit: geology.com)
Years ago when I first started my Christian journey and studying the Bible, I was saturated with the idea that the modern nation-state of Israel was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. It seemed reasonable and straight-forward enough. In my church in college, it was pretty much a given that this was a clear Scriptural truth: God’s people, the Jews, had finally come home to worship their God. What could be a more obvious demonstration that the Bible is true? However, while I still find a measure of this to be compelling, I became aware that the situation was a lot more complicated than I had earlier thought. When I made a trip to the Holy Land in 1994, I discovered that Zionism, the quest for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, was not quite what I thought it was. Here are some of the things that I learned… and the discovery of these things sent me searching.
Before going to the Holy Land, my impression was that Israel was filled with an overwhelming majority of devoutly spiritual, dedicated Jews. Every Israeli citizen was taking their turn praying by the remaining Western Wall of the old Temple, or so I thought. But during my visit there, I learned that most of the people living in Israel then were, at best, nominally Jewish.
The situation is not terribly different today. Yes, most citizens of Israel have some ethnic association with Judaism, but very few believe in the actual, traditional God of Judaism. In many ways, modern day Israel is about as secular as are countries in modern day Europe. The majority of Israelis consider themselves to be mainly atheistic or agnostic. Statistics vary, but only somewhere between 10% and 25% of the population consider themselves to be “orthodox Jews,” with even smaller percentages of other, less theologically-conservative Jews.
The Jewish people may have finally returned to their homeland, but they have done so mostly in a state of unbelief. These facts raise some difficult questions concerning Zionism.1
Tim LaHaye (April 27, 1926 – July 25, 2016)
Timothy LaHaye, son of a Detroit autoworker who became an internationally known author and Christian activist, died today at the age of 90.
We would be remiss if we did not recognize the death of LaHaye, particularly as I am in the middle of a blog series on the subject of Christian Zionism. If you have ever wondered where the combined set of ideas of a pretribulational Rapture, a one thousand year literal millennial reign of Christ after the Second Coming, and a fascination with modern day Israel became such a recognizable part of American evangelicalism, and American culture at large, then you would be hard pressed to identify anyone more prominent than Tim LaHaye.
Lahaye did a lot in his long life, notably promoting Christian schooling, Young Earth Creationism, and promoting family values. But he probably will be long remembered for co-authoring, with Jerry Jenkins, the ever-popular Left Behind series of novels, a fictionalized representation of End Times events based on the theology of dispensationalism. The book series that began 21 years ago still sells about six figures annually.
Though Tim LaHaye did not experience the pretribulational Rapture he envisioned, it is appropriate to say that he nevertheless has experienced his own personal “Rapture” with the Lord. Christianity Today published a remembrance of LaHaye.
The extent of the Zionist vision of the Promised Land, according to Genesis 15:18-21, from the Nile(?) River in Egypt to the Euphrates River in Iran. The current borders of Israel are but a fraction of this area (image credit: The Balfour Project, Stephen Sizer)
By the time war broke out in Palestine in 1948, there was already an emergence of two different, dueling narratives describing the advent of Zionism in the Middle East. These narratives have continued to operate in conflict with one another to the present day. This is where a conversation about this topic can go off the rails rather quickly, as it can generate a lot of emotion. Everybody has their own choice of news sources and Internet sites they follow to get their information about the situation in the Middle East. Nevertheless, these differing narratives are difficult to ignore, so I will try to address them as fairly as I know how, particularly for those who know little about recent and current affairs in Israel, and then allow the Veracity reader to come to their own conclusions.
One story tells about the modern miracle of a genuine homeland for the Jews, a people who have endured centuries of persecution and hatred. The other story is about the colonial ambitions of Western powers, interfering with the principle of self-determination among the Arab peoples who themselves had lived in the land for centuries. These competing narratives have, at various times among various peoples, provided both uplifting encouragement as well as devastating sadness, injecting a good measure of confusion to outsiders, like myself, who are trying to understand what is going on.