Commonwealth and Cooperation: How Jews and Christians Can Work Together, Part I
This is the first in a three part series that addresses the implications of Christian support for Israel.
Most people have experience the peculiar phenomenon of the pink elephant in the living room, that awkward situation in which a group of people are confronted with an obvious, but uncomfortable, issue. Because it is obvious everyone knows or suspects what the others are thinking, yet because it is uncomfortable no one is willing to address it. Therefore the issue goes unresolved and the relationships within the group, however cordial, remain tense, fragile, and shallow.
My purpose is to address the pink elephants that keep Jews and Christians from cooperating in a spirit of mutual trust and support, touching on areas of disagreement and misunderstanding that have bedeviled us for centuries. The intent is not to pour salt old wounds, but to move through the uncomfortable territory and arrive at common ground where we may stand together as one people united in the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This journey is beset with many openings for offense. Given the likelihood that I shall stray into one of those openings, I ask in advance for pardon, for no offense is intended. I am confident that if we persevere together, we will overcome the awkwardness and find the common ground which we desperately need in this critical hour.
Christian Support for Israel: What Does It Mean?
What is the logical outcome of Christian support for Israel? Think through this carefully. It has fundamental impact on the way Christians and Jews interact with each other and with the rest of the world. This question affects not just business dealings, but the entirety of our association – the religious, social, economic, political, and military aspects at all levels from national policy to individual relationships. What do we Christians mean when we encourage one another to support Israel? And what do Jews understand when they hear such things from Christians?
I submit that the Christian intent likely comes from the desire to see Jesus Christ return to earth and fix this mess we have made. Christians understand that the prophecies of Christ’s return involve a great deal of upheaval and Divine judgment, and that Israel is at the center of it all. Christians look to Jews and to the State of Israel as the barometers by which to measure the closeness of Christ’s return. Quite frankly, and quite tragically, that is where this line of thought ends. Christians seek to support Israel only because they understand that some national entity called Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, must exist at the time of Christ’s return. What happens to that national entity, or more specifically, what happens to the millions of people called Jews who are connected to that national entity whether they like it or not, does not seem to impact the average Christian’s consciousness.
What does enter the Christian consciousness is a vague understanding that the Church must work with Israel and with Jews to ensure the nation’s survival through the coming Tribulation. That translates into activism to ensure proper political, military, economic, and other support for the State of Israel, but it does not necessarily translate into religious, cultural, and interpersonal connections. In other words, in America at least, this means that while some in the Church understand the terms of Genesis 12:3, in which God promises to bless those who bless Abraham and to curse those who curse him, they do not know what to do beyond being as nice as they can to Jews and as ardent as they can in encouraging the United States to think of Israel as the 51st state.
One reason for this is that non-Jewish Christians simply do not understand Jews and Jewish culture. The root cause, however, is one of those pink elephants: the question of Jewish salvation. The prevailing Christian belief is that Jews are not saved because they have not acknowledged that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. It does not matter that Jesus was a Jew who went by the Hebrew name Yeshua. The problem in Christian eyes is that Jews are still caught up in “legalistic bondage” to the Law of Moses, and that they will remain there until they accept the free gift of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That formula for salvation is articulated in many places in what Christians call the New Testament, particularly in Ephesians 2:8-9. The problem may not be in what another Jew, Saul (Paul) of Tarsus, wrote in his letter to the congregation at Ephesus, but in the prevailing Christian understanding of salvation. Christians do indeed hope Jews will be saved, but Christian understanding for centuries has been that if Jews are to be saved, they must give up much of their Jewishness and become like non-Jewish Christians.
At this point I must issue a disclaimer: That is not my position. I do believe Yeshua of Nazareth to be Moshiach (Messiah), and I am persuaded that it is not only possible for Jews to believe the same thing and still remain Jewish, but also that non-Jewish believers who seek to follow Yeshua’s example should take on some decidedly Jewish characteristics. I will address that pink elephant shortly.
To return to the current pink elephant, Jews are not ignorant of this prevailing Christian idea of salvation, and are therefore skeptical of Christian professions of support. Jews remember all too well what happened in the Crusades, the Reformation, and the Inquisition. In each of those periods of history, the Christian doctrine of salvation resulted in the forced conversion of Jews to the common definition of Christianity of the day. Those who did not convert faced persecution and death. And then came the Holocaust, the ideological offspring and logical end of Replacement Theology. In that darkest of all times, Jews did not even get the choice of conversion; persecution was certain, and death nearly so.
When we consider this troubled history spanning two millennia, it is clear why Jews are unwilling to hear about Christian notions of salvation or conversion. Christians who genuinely desire to connect with Jews, whether in the context of “support to Israel”, or in simple friendship, are also reluctant to address this core matter of their faith lest they bring an offense that would end the relationship.
Thus we arrive at what has become the logical conclusion of Christian support for Israel: an uneasy alliance. Christians are willing to extend material support, up to a point, but are reluctant to engage Jews on a spiritual level for fear of offending them, and perhaps even for fear of converting them. After all, if there are no “unconverted Jews” on earth, then how could God’s judgment and redemption possibly come about according to the various End Times scenarios? Jews, on the other hand, are willing to accept the support Christians will give, up to a point, but are constantly looking over their shoulders, remembering the Christian betrayals of Jews in ages past. Jews know that Christians cannot fully trust them because they remain Jews. Jews, therefore, are quite logically not willing or able to trust Christians any further than they can throw them.
This impasse grieves the heart of God. He has always desired Jews and Christians to cooperate because he is working through both to bring redemption to the entire world. If that is true, then there should be a way out of this impasse. And, in fact, there is a way. It is the path toward the Commonwealth of Israel. Taking this path requires considerable sacrifice and humility on the part of both Christians and Jews, for it requires all of us to lay down our prejudices, preconceived notions, and paradigms of scriptural truth. Yet if God really does want us to work together, then this is something we must consider carefully.