Israel and Palestine
General Assembly Action
Resolution on Confronting Christian Zionism
The 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted this resolution, with comment:
1. Call upon the Stated Clerk to issue to all churches in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) a pastoral letter on Christian Zionism and the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine by making this letter available on the PC(USA) Web site. The assembly requests the following offices to assist the Stated Clerk in the preparation of this letter: the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, Corporate Witness, Interfaith Relations, Middle East, and the Office of Theology and Worship.
2. Direct the Stated Clerk to inform current government officials that Christian Zionism does not represent the majority of American Christians and the faith of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
3. Direct the General Assembly Mission Councilto continue to commend and promote the PC(USA) list of resources found in the September/October 2003 issue of Church & Society, entitled "Israel and Palestine: The Quest for Peace," so that Presbyterians can and will become knowledgeable of the present day Middle East situation and have a better understanding of its history and people.
4. Direct the Office of the General Assembly and the General Assembly Mission Councilto educate Presbyterians about the Reformed principles for interpreting Scripture as affirmed by previous General Assemblies. Specifically, interpreting Scripture as follows:
a. In light of the entire witness of Scripture: 'Thus the New Testament's emphasis on the gospel is not to be understood apart from the Old Testament's emphasis on the grace of the law; and the Old Testament's emphasis on the law is not to be understood apart from the New Testament's emphasis on the grace of the gospel,' Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture (Minutes, PCUS, 1983, Part I, p. 615).
b. And the rule of love of God and neighbor: 'The fundamental expression of God's will is the two fold commandment to love God and neighbor, and all interpretations are to be judged by the question whether they offer and support the love given and commanded by God,' Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture (Minutes, PCUS, 1983, Part I, p. 615).
5. Direct the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), through its offices on the Middle East, Interfaith Relations, Theology and Worship, and the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, to develop a brief resource and study guide to assist Presbyterians in understanding how biblical faith and Reformed theology guide our understanding of present realities and possibilities in the Middle East. This resource/study guide is to be mailed to all churches and posted on the PC(USA) Web site.
6. Continue to cooperate with other denominations' church bodies and like-minded groups to promote peace in the Holy Land.
7. Urge our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related colleges and seminaries to address this issue.
8. Commend to the church the following works to better understand dispensationalism and Christian Zionism:
a. Our own resources from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
- Between Millennia: What Presbyterians Believe About the Coming of Christ (PDS 70-420-01-007)-commended by the 213th General Assembly (2001) to the church.
- 'Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things,' Minutes of the General Assembly, Journal (Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1978).
- 'Dispensationalism,' Minutes of the General Assembly (Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1944), pp. 123-27.
- GAMC CMD Comment 12-03 from the GAMC that lays out the theological context of Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism.
b. Resources from outside the PC(USA):
- Wes Granberg-Michaelson, "Christian Zionism distorts faith and imperils peace."
- Don Wagner, Peace or Armageddon?: The Unfolding Drama of the Middle East Accord (HarperCollins, 2004).
- Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism : Road Map to Armageddon? (InterVarsity Press, 2004).
- 'Christian Zionists in Their Own Words and Articles on Christian Zionism.' Sabeel Center.
- Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (Pilgrim Press, 2003).
9. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to illumine our minds as we continue to seek a deeper understanding of God's Word for us and for the world today."
Comment from the General Assembly Mission Council:
Item 12-03 calls on the General Assembly to oppose Christian Zionism and to develop a plan to communicate the theological and political ramifications it engenders to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in the mass media, and among U.S. government officials.
Item 12-03 rightly calls on the General Assembly to look closely at the role that Christian theology has in relation to current struggles in Middle-East politics and to work for peace in that troubled region.
Presbyterians have a strong history of careful theological and social analysis, and the question of Christian Zionism and its relation to U.S. policies toward the Middle East deserves that type of consideration.
1. What Is Christian Zionism?
Christian Zionism "weds religion with politics and interprets biblical faithfulness in terms of fidelity to Israel's future". It is a particular political philosophy and strategy. Christian Zionist leaders share 5 core beliefs:
(1) The Covenant. God's covenant with Israel is eternal and unconditional; the promises of land given to Abraham will never be overturned. The church has not replaced Israel; therefore, Israel's privileges have never been revoked.
(2) The Church. God's plan has always been for the redemption of Israel. When Israel failed to follow Jesus, the church was born as an afterthought or "parenthesis." At the rapture the church will be removed and Israel will once again become God's primary agent in the world. We now live in 'the times of the Gentiles' that will conclude soon. There are two covenants now at work, that given through Moses and the covenant of Christ. The new covenant in no way makes the older covenant obsolete.
(3) Blessing Modern Israel. Genesis 12:3 is applied literally and applied to modern Israel: "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." Christians have a spiritual obligation to bless Israel and "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." While many Christians throughout history have also believed it important to observe the injunction of Genesis 12:3 in regard to the Jews, Christian Zionism links this specifically to support of the modern state of Israel. To fail to support Israel's political survival today will incur divine judgment.
(4) Prophecy. The prophetic books of the Bible specifically refer to events today, though some may also refer to events in Biblical times. Therefore when we look at, say, Daniel 7, if we possess the right interpretative skills, we can see current events foreshadowed in it. This quest for prophecy has spawned countless books of end-time speculation involving the state of Israel based on Biblical prophecy.
(5) Modern Israel and Eschatology. The modern state of Israel is a catalyst for the prophetic end-time countdown. If these are the last days, then we should expect an unraveling of civilization, the rise of evil, the loss of international peace and equilibrium, a coming antichrist, and tests of faithfulness to Israel. Above all, political alignments today will determine our position on the fateful day of Armageddon. Since the crisis of 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has been easy to persuade the public that history is unraveling precisely as Dispensationalism predicted.
2. What Is Dispensationalism?
Historic Premillennialism holds that Christ will return to the earth prior to the Last Day in order to exercise rule over the nations for a thousand years in the last stage of human history. It is pessimistic concerning the role and prospects of the Church in human history; therefore it posits another age, the millennium, between Christ's return and the Last Day, during which Christ rules in person over a theocratic kingdom to which all the nations of the world are subject.
Periods of great world upheaval and crisis have tended to spawn and multiply despair in society, and premillennial visions within Christianity. . . .
Dispensationalism gives premillennialism a complete system. Human history is regarded as a series of ages (dispensations) in which humanity is tested with respect to some aspect revealed of God's will. In each case humankind fails, is judged by God, and then set on the trail under new covenant conditions. (For further detail, see "Dispensationalism," Minutes, PCUS, 1944, Part I, pp. 123-27.)
The General Assembly in 1944 was very careful to distinguish premillennialism in general from its specific application in Dispensationalism. It was the latter that was singled out for specific criticism:
It is the unanimous opinion of your Committee that Dispensationalism as defined and set forth above is out of accord with the system of the doctrine set forth in the Confession of Faith, not primarily or simply in the field of eschatology, but because it attacks the very heart of the Theology of our Church, which is unquestionably a Theology of one Covenant of Grace. ["Dispensationalism," Minutes of the General Assembly, PCUS, 1944, Part I, pp. 123-27.]
We, too, must make important distinctions. Most Christian Zionists are Dispensationalists, but this does not imply that all Dispensationalists are Christian Zionists, especially in respect to political action. Many Dispensationalists still remain completely apart from the U.S. political system, for instance. Further, we cannot assume uniformity on every point. For instance, Item 12-03 states "Finally, pre-millennialist interpretations that underlie Christian Zionism ultimately exclude any validity of the continuity of efficacy of God's covenant with the Jewish people themselves, and ultimately are anti-Semitic." John Hagee, a popular television preacher and Christian Zionist leader who recently delivered $1 million to Israel, has defended a parallel and enduring covenant with the Jews: "I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption" ["San Antonio fundamentalist battles anti-Semitism," Houston Chronicle, April 30, 1988, sec. 6, pg. 1.]. In such matters, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) must speak with a firm, but careful voice. See also: [Theological Reflections] "Between Millennia" and "Eschatology: The Doctrine of Last Things."
In a time when the PC(USA) is beset with its own internal disagreements, we should resist the temptation to bolster our own self-confidence by throwing stones at others. Any judgments must be made with great care.