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by Rev. Mark Robinson
“Death to the Jews!!!” “Kill the traitor!!!”
The vitriolic cries of the mob were a haunting sound in the ears of the journalist. They would have a profound effect on him and the Jewish people which reverberates to this very day.1
In 1897 Theodore Herzl, the journalist, stationed in Vienna, Austria, chaired the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland. The program stated, “Zionism seeks for the Jewish people a publicly recognized legally secured homeland in Palestine.”
A number of incidents developed Herzl’s strong Zionistic beliefs and actions. In 1892 he reported on a libel suit in France against the anti-Semitic Edouard Drumont, French journalist and publisher, and his cries at the end of his trial of, “Down with the German Jews! France for Frenchmen.” In the same year Herzl reported on the Panama scandals, involving the failure to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama, involving virtually no Jewish people, but leading to the introduction of a bill in France to disbar all Jews from holding public office. It garnered 160 votes in the Chamber of Deputies. These were a couple of the incidents that forged his Zionist convictions.2
The final event that motivated Herzl to action was the Dreyfuss affair. Alfred Dreyfuss was a Jewish captain in the French army. In 1894 he was accused of espionage on behalf of Germany. The charges against Dreyfuss were fabricated which was clear to Herzl and many others. Nevertheless, Dreyfuss was convicted and sentenced to exile for life on Devil’s Island. The public denunciation of Dreyfuss and the shouts of “Death to the traitor,” and later, as Herzl recounts it, “Death to the Jews,”3 stirred him in the depths of his soul. Eventually, in 1899, Dreyfuss’ case was retried, and in 1906 he was exonerated and promoted to the rank of major.
It was in 1885 that Nathan Birnbaum introduced the term “Zionism” to designate the movement for the restoration of an independent Jewish state in the area of Palestine. He is believed to be the first to use the term publically at a meeting in Vienna in 1892.4 Theodore Herzl, though, is recognized as the founder of modern day Zionism.
Zionism is simply the belief that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland in the biblically promised land of Israel. It is no more, and no less. One might argue about the size of the promised land, the methods to acquire this land, or a host of other issues. But, in its simplest form, it is the belief that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland in the land known as Israel. With this understanding, one can safely say that God was the first Zionist. And that all Bible believing people should also be Zionists.
Bible believing Christians, especially from a dispensational understanding of the scriptures, have always believed in God’s promise of the restoration of the Jewish people back to the land of Israel. Preachers such as Charles Spurgeon, who was not a dispensationalist, for one example, stated, “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough about it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the Children of Israel.”5
The last 30 years or so has seen the emergence of a Christian Zionism in the evangelical world that has focused on blessing Israel through good deeds and the political support of the nation of Israel. What has tended to fall by the wayside in these endeavors is the gospel message.
Bridges to Peace was established in 1976 and nowhere in their purpose statement can be found the biblical command to share the gospel with Jewish people. In 1980 the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) was founded. The proclaimed mandate of ICEJ is “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” taken from Isaiah 40:1-2. The comfort Isaiah refers to is the God of Israel, specifically the Messiah. Yet, ICEJ, like Bridges to Peace, have made it clear to leaders in Israel that they do not desire to witness to Jewish people. Can there be real comfort offered to Jewish people when the life altering gospel of Messiah Jesus is excluded?
In 1983, Yechiel Eckstein, an orthodox rabbi, established the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). The organization’s website states “The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was founded in 1983 by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein to promote understanding between Jews and Christians and build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns. Our ministry’s vision is that Jews and Christians will reverse their 2,000-year history of discord and replace it with a relationship marked by dialogue, respect and cooperation.” This statement sounds well and good, especially to Bible believing Christians who have a propensity to love Israel and Jewish people already because of their understanding of the Bible. IFCJ has grown through the years where in 2008 the financial contributions to IFCJ were over $84 million dollars. Most of these funds come from the evangelical Christian world. Rabbi Eckstein stands strongly against missionary activity of the Jewish people and Jewish missions in particular. Do the evangelical supporters of IFCJ realize the anti-missionary position of Rabbi Eckstein and his organization? In most cases the answer is no. Through the years I have spoken with Bible believing Christians who have supported IFCJ. In conversation with them, none of them knew of the anti-missionary position and some erroneously thought it was a Christian mission which also helped Jewish people in Israel with their practical needs.
In July 1991, the Unity Coalition for Israel was started. Their website states, “Unity Coalition for Israel convened an alliance of Christian and Jewish organizations actively working together to generate support for the State of Israel. With more than 200 autonomous partners, representing more than 40 million Americans, we are the largest network of Pro-Israel groups in the world. Through this grassroots coalition, we deliver a much-needed message to the media and Congress.” Many evangelical groups and individuals support this work, led by an unsaved Jewess, Esther Levens. As with the other groups, there is no evangelism involved.
One of the more recent organizations is the Christians United for Israel founded in February, 2006 by Pastor John Hagee. In their eleven stated goals and objectives there is nothing about the biblical mandate to share the gospel with Jewish people.
Millions and millions of dollars have been spent by Bible believing Christians in support of these groups and their goals. It is not necessarily wrong to support Israel. But the question must be asked of Bible believing Christians. Is this the best use of God’s funds? Would it not be better to support an entity that ministers to the physical needs of Israelis, AND to the spiritual need of Jewish people in the land of Israel through sharing Messiah Jesus? Or, since, hundreds of millions of dollars are donated by the Jewish community, and others, to the needs in Israel, perhaps Bible believing Christians should direct more of their funds to Jewish mission works that unashamedly share the gospel with Jewish people in Israel and the rest of the world.
In the 19th century God started to raise up Jewish missions. The greatly neglected mission work of bringing the gospel to the Jewish people began to grow in the hearts of Christians.
One of the major factors in the increase in missions to the Jewish people in the 1800s was the revival of interest in Bible prophecy. This renewed interest in eschatology led directly to an interest in the Jewish people. A number of prominent mission boards were established as a result: The London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst The Jews – founded in 1809 (it is still active today as the Church’s Ministry Among the Jews), The British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Jews – founded in 1842 (it operates today as the Christian Witness to Israel), Mildmay Mission to the Jews - founded in 1876, Chicago Hebrew Mission - founded in 1887 (it operates today as Life in Messiah International), and American Board of Missions to the Jews – founded in 1894 (today it operates as Chosen People Ministries). By 1910 there were 99 missions to the Jews worldwide with 914 missionaries.
All of these works had an emphasis of bringing the gospel to Jewish people. As new Jewish missions came into existence in the 20th century, organizations such as Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry in 1938,
Buffalo Hebrew Christian Mission (now Jewish Awareness Ministries) in 1946, International Board of Jewish Missions in 1949, and Jews for Jesus in 1973, among many others, were established to bring the gospel to Jewish people. At times these organizations would provide for the physical needs of Jewish people, but this was accompanied with the gospel message.
Should not a Jewish mission have as its primary focus the sharing of the gospel with Jewish people? It seems self-evident to me that this should be the case. But, I know of one older Jewish mission, who in years past, was one of the largest Jewish Missions and had been very evangelistic, not shying away from public confrontations with the Jewish community in sharing Jesus as Messiah. This mission agency has spent thousands of dollars in helping establish one of these new Zionist organizations, and forbade some of their missionaries from reaching out to the Jewish community with the gospel in an overt manner. Should Christian Zionist activity trump the proclamation of the gospel to Jewish people? Should this happen in a ministry established on the premise of bringing the gospel to Jewish people? If this type of compromise is where Christian Zionism leads, perhaps there needs to be a re-evaluation of the place of Zionism in Jewish missions.
Jewish Awareness Ministries believes the Jewish people have a right to the land of Israel. It is a God given, biblical right. I believe a persuasive case can also be made from a legal, moral, and historical basis for the right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. We are Zionists.
BUT, our primary purpose and goal is to share Jesus with Jewish people. Everything we do, whether it is the publishing of Israel’s Messenger, ministries in churches, radio broadcasts, or a host of other things, all is done to ultimately make us, local churches, and Christians more effective in bringing the gospel to the Jewish people.
David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, wrote a paper on the subject of Christian Zionism. I close by quoting him.“It is time for all true Christian Zionists to recall the biblical vision that not only supports God’s promises to restore a homeland for the Jewish people, but also addresses the greatest need of all. Just like anyone else, Jewish people need to have a restored relationship with God through Jesus. Now more than ever is the time for true Christian Zionists to open their eyes to the phenomenal opportunity to take part in that original vision. “It is not enough to raise funds for Israel. Christian Zionists ought also to raise the awareness that Jesus, the Messiah, loves Israelis and Palestinians – and that only He can bring the peace that those who live in the Land so urgently need and so earnestly desire.” “When those who stand by Israel are willing to bring the good news of Jesus to the Jew first, then Christian Zionism will once again be fully Christian.”7
1 Some question the validity of whether or not the Dreyfuss Affair had the effect on Herzl that is popularly believed (see Lowenthal, Marvin, “The Diaries of Theodore Herzl,” The Dial Press, 1956, page xvii-xviii)
2 Lowenthal, Marvin, “The Diaries of Theodore Herzl,” The Dial Press, 1956, page xvii-xviii
3 Ibid., page xix
4 Adler, Joseph, “Restoring the Jews to their Homeland: Nineteen Centuries in the Quest for Zion,” Jason Aronson, Inc., 1997, page 323
5 Spurgeon, “The Church of Christ,” New Park Street Pulpit, 1:213-14, June 3, 1855
6 William Bjoraker, “Mishkan,” The Beginning of Modern Jewish Missions in the English Speaking World, Issue No. 16, 1/1992, page 62
7 Brickner, David, “How ‘Christian’ is Christian Zionism,” paper presented at the LCJE Conference, March, 2009.
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