Tuesday, February 28, 2012

An Israeli Messianic Jew Addresses the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference

A Tale of Two Palestinian Theologies

Along with others around the world, Israelis have noticed the rising controversy around the upcoming "Christ at the Checkpoint" (CatC) Conference hosted by Bethlehem Bible College in a few days (March 5-9). Curiously, the Israeli Body of Messiah has not spoken up in any collective way, as have several Messianic groups abroad. This is despite the fact that several of our number are scheduled to speak at this Conference. As someone living in the Land for nearly 30 years, I would like to offer my personal observations on the situation.  - Hannah Weiss  

The Context for My Tale

The 2012 “Checkpoint” Conference claims to be bringing all sides of the Christian world together to examine the plight of Palestinian Christians, and to raise consciousness and support among Christians abroad for these persecuted brethren.  Apparently the consensus is exaggerated. Opposition to CatC was prompt and vocal from evangelical, Jewish and Messianic organizations alike.  By the end of 2011, Jewish groups as diverse as the rightwing-religious Israel National News (Arutz 7) and the British Messianic Jewish Alliance had already gone on record condemning the Conference as a platform for liberal Israel-bashing.

Feeling the heat, the Conference committee members in Bethlehem posted an energetic defense on the Conference website (25/jan/12), denying that they are anti-Israel or that they support Replacement Theology.

The denial of anti-Israel bias appears to be somewhat out of touch with reality. The Conference LINKS page includes "The Palestinian Kairos Document", also known as "TheBethlehem Call", which deplores Israel's existence as “the illegal regime”. The Call rejoices that “the government and state of Israel is now regarded as an apartheid regime” and calls on the world to continue in “the deligitimization and criminalization of the Israeli government.”

Apparently not noticing this link on the CatC site - or that one of the signatories to "The Bethlehem Call" is their colleague at Bethlehem Bible College, Academic Dean Yohanna Katanacho, the apologists for the Conference deny any connection whatsoever with this document.  They don’t repudiate it, however; instead they recommend it as "worthy of study."

A few days ago, a joint rebukepublished by four Messianic organizations (the UMJC, MJAA, MJAI and the International Alliance of Messianic Jewish Synagogues) provoked a still sharper rebuttal from CatC spokespeople. A Response to Representatives of the InternationalMessianic Jewish Community” (21/feb/12) provides a detailed 11-point declaration intended to prove that the international Messianic community has falsely accused them.

There are some interesting paradoxes here. One is the emphasis on the Kingdom of G-d taking priority over the inheritance of the Land, applicable to both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples (point 9); this is undermined by the great pains one of the “Response” signatories has taken to establish who he believes G-d has – and has not – mandated to inherit the Land. (More details later.) Another anomaly is the moderate assertion (point 10) that as Palestinian believers they have the right to protest against “Israeli policies” – a far cry from the “Bethlehem Call” that was co-authored by another signatory of this “Response”, Conference speaker Hanna Katanacho (as mentioned above).  But I digress.

It is true that the explicit goal of the Conference is not to denounce the state of Israel, or the Jews. They have a more vulnerable target in mind: the Christian Zionists.

Spokesmen for the Simon Weisenthal Center agreed in their commentary in the Jerusalem Post; they called the CatC event an "assault on lovers of Zion" which amounts to "stealth theo-terrorism". ("Palestinians to Evangelicals: Zionism is a sin", 14/nov/11)

A stated goal of this Conference is to "create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum."  Sure enough, their speaker lineup has the full range of Christian opinion, from Replacement Theology to Christian Zionism - even some familiar faces from the Israeli Messianic community who identify themselves as Zionists in word and deed.

One of the defenses in the CatC “Response” to the international Messianic community is that Israeli Messianic leader “Wayne Hilsdon [sic - Hilsden, longtime pastor at King of Kings Congregation in Jerusalem]... has the support of most of the Messianic leaders in Jerusalem regarding his participation” in the upcoming Conference.

I cannot confirm or deny that claim.  I can, however, speculate that the willingness of Messianic Israelis (and of Zionists in general) to participate in CatC 2012 might be because the Conference promotional material gives the impression that only one form of Christian Zionism is being taken to task: the extremist type that gives uncritical support to Israeli government policy and doesn't care a fig for Palestinian rights. 

Given such an appearance of moderation, facing off with Replacement theologians could be seen as an opportunity to bring balance to this "open forum".  But based on the press release from the previous Conference (CatC 2010), the "ongoing dialog" has already established a starting point: Christians must repent from any brand of Zionism that affirms the Tanach passages promising the land of Israel to the Jews.

One of the scheduled speakers at this year's Conference and its Program Director, British vicar Stephen Sizer, openly stated in a UK church last fall that the brethren who hold such a belief are "an abomination" (Rivercourt Methodist Church, King Street, Hammersmith, "Jerusalem Under Threat" rally, 6/oct/11). 

The press release following the 2010 Conference was almost as blunt: "The conference speakers repudiated" Christian Zionism as "nationalist chauvinism" which violates the teachings of Christ and shows an ignorance of the scriptures.

The Palestinian Theology Behind “Christ at the Checkpoint”

The theological support for this stance is supplied by Dr. Salim Munayer, head of the reconciliation ministry Musalaha, and was presented in detail in his keynote address at the previous Conference (CatC 2010). Dr. Munayer, who will also be speaking at the upcoming Conference, signed the above-mentioned “Response” from the Conference organizers to the Messianic organizations. 

In the Israeli Messianic community, Dr. Munayer is known for Jewish-Palestinian youth trips sponsored by his organization, which encourages dialog between the two groups. More recently, Dr. Munayer directed a leadership training seminar for Messianic Israeli youth counselors, in partnership with the directors of a popular Messianic youth camp here in Israel.

Less well-known is Dr. Munayer’s endorsement of the anti-Zionist documentary, “With God on Our Side” (released in 2010). The synopsis states that the film’s goal is to “look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God's chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel.” 

In keeping with the conflicting messages coming from CatC representatives (the film’s producer, Porter Speakman, is also a speaker at CatC 2012), the film’s website asserts, “God does not take sides with certain people groups, nations and agendas,” and then inexplicably quotes Joshua’s encounter with the angelic Commander as he embarked on the Israelite conquest of this very same Land.

By the same token, the “Response” signed by Dr. Munayer appeals to Messianic Zionists: “We plead with you to respect the theological diversities that exist between us;” while in a trailer promo for the film he goes on record rejecting that diversity as a threat to his existence: “The implication of Christian Zionism, as we would understand it - the world will hear it here - is that to accept this theology is to commit suicide as a peoplehood.” [sic]

For those not familiar with Dr. Munayer's alternative, which he calls "Theology of the Land", here is a summary gleaned from his keynote address at CatC 2010:

1.      The covenant made by G-d to the Jewish people giving them the land of Canaan was conditional on their being obedient - worshiping G-d only, and making the right moral and ethical choices.
2.      When the Jews became unfaithful, they lost their right to live in this Land.
3.      When Yeshua came (or possibly since the time of creation... this point was unclear), the concept of "land by covenant" became universal. Every people was given a land from G-d by covenant, with the same conditions as those G-d gave to the Jews.
4.      Zionism is a dream of the Jews to return to the place where they had historical connections.  It is understandable, but it's not moral. The right from G-d to live in this land passed to the Palestinians. They cannot accept the status of "strangers dwelling with" Israel - the Palestinians are "the indigenous people" and therefore are the rightful heirs to it.
5.      The Europeans (not G-d) returned the Jews to this place, out of guilt for European sins against them during the Holocaust. The Europeans caused Jewish suffering, so they should pay the price, not the Palestinians.
6.      There is no return of the Jews to this Land prophesied in scripture. Christians who believe that the covenant promise of this land still belongs to the Jews are misunderstanding the Bible, and they are promoting injustice.

Listening to the entire address will reveal how the scriptures are used to justify this theology, and which passages are ignored.  (scroll down to Dr. Munayer's audio file: "From Land of Strife to Land of Reconciliation"

Another Palestinian Theology

Readers who stayed with me this far might be tempted to give up hope on any reconciliation with our Palestinian brethren that doesn’t do violence to G-d’s word.  Before you despair, let me introduce you to a small flock of Palestinians living in the same neighborhood as the Conference venue - only one kilometer from the “checkpoint” from which the Conference borrowed its name. These other Palestinians would stand that Conference on its head and put its theology to shame... had they been invited. 

To simply quote this second Palestinian theology would not do justice to the power and love conveyed by the speaker in a few simple words. Nor would it capture the context that shows the high price they are paying for their stand. 

I invite you to take a few more minutes to listen and watch Pastor Steven Khoury and his father Pastor Naim Khoury, leaders (respectively) of Calvary Baptist Church in Jerusalem and First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, interviewed by the Christian Broadcasting Network: 


Speaking as a Messianic Jewish Israeli, I declare these persecuted, ostracized, unsung theologians to be our true Palestinian brethren in the Land. They uphold all of G-d's word, with no compromise or apologies, and I am sorry to have discovered their existence only recently. 

They are worthy of our prayers, encouragement and tangible support – as well as a place of honor at the next Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation effort attended by Messianic believers.

It is my fervent hope that my fellow-believers in Israel who are engaged in Palestinian-Israeli dialog will make the appropriate changes.

Hannah Weiss
Restorers of Zion on-line network: http://www.restorersofzion.org

NOTE:  Pastor Steven Khoury is sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and accepts speaking invitations abroad.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Standing in the Gap Guest Column by an Israeli Ministry

A second-generation Israeli Messianic minister recently preached this word in northern IsraelHe must remain nameless for the sake of security issues, but we thought this was an excellent word about how the Body of Messiah in Israel is “standing in the gap” for the unsaved Israeli people, and how we believers in the nations may in turn “stand in the gap” for them.

The righteous, prophetic remnant within Israel is called to stand in the breach and to build up protection for all of Israel. They are called to prepare the people for the future, for difficulty, for the day of judgment, and the day of war. They are called to identify the threats against Israel, prepare the people for them, and be dynamically available to fill in and make up for weaknesses in the defense of the people in standing against the attacking forces.

Eze 13:3  Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who … have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the LORD.

MILITARY THREATS  Obviously there are mortal military threats against Israel. Even "friendly" neighbors (such as Jordan and Egypt) have different undercurrents of anti-Israel sentiment and incitement. Iran is coupling the most serious verbal threats with its determined bid at developing nuclear weapons, which appears to be on the very threshold of success. Israeli intelligence experts are continuously analyzing the current constellation of forces most likely to cause attacks or outright war on Israel. The popular uprisings of the Arab "Spring" are bringing to power extreme Muslim groups very antagonistic toward Israel. We are so accustomed to these threats, that the occasional missile sent by terrorist groups from Gaza into southern Israel barely receives mention in the Israeli press much less in the international media.

A partial list of current military threats:
    Hizbullah - Lebanon
    Hamas – Gaza
    Terrorist groups in the Palestinian Authority territories

OTHER THREATS  In addition to the recognized, visible and reported military threats, there are also other threats on Israel (and many of them against all of humanity).

A partial list:
    Anti-Israel sentiment in the international media and in many nations
    Economic need and the fear of it
    Violence in our societies
    Substance abuse
    Sexual Immorality
    Breakdown of families, from chronic dysfunction to divorce

THREAT ON SEVERAL LEVELS  As we translate the military imagery of Ezekiel into our daily lives let us also remember that each and every one of these threats is on several levels.  The soldier fighting most effectively fights at the end of the day because he feels the threat against all that is closest to him: his friends and his family, and ultimately, his own life. As we become aware of all these threats, we must recognize that they are arrayed against us on each of these levels.

    Against the entire human race
    Against a nation
    Against a city/neighborhood
    Against our congregational family
    Against our home family
    Against us personally

HOW CAN WE STAND IN THE BREACH  In warfare, the soldiers supplement a system of defense that is in place, such as a wall. If the enemy punches a hole (a "breach") in the defense, soldiers must rush bravely into the breach and close the gap in defending the people. How can we do the same?

God is seeking for those who are willing, aware and available.  Such people are rare and sometimes cannot be found:  Eze 22:30  And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none.

Psa 106:23  Therefore he said he would destroy them-- had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him...

Moses stood in the breach in intercession on behalf of his people in their sin. Moses' intercession consisted of recounting before God, God's destiny, His calling and intention and promises, of calling on God to relent from just judgment in favor of un - merited grace in continuing to draw the people of Israel into a future of cooperation with their Lord in displaying Himself and His works to the people of the earth. Ultimately Moses asks God to erase Moses from the book of life, if judgment cannot be averted.

In Yeshua Himself we see the ultimate example of the man whom God sought (and became) and found who would stand in the breach on behalf of Israel and all mankind.

So we have in Moses and Yeshua two examples of standing in the breach, standing in the gap:
    Speaking in righteousness,
    Agreeing with God that His will be done on earth,
    Contending for weak and fallen men,
    Believing in spite of what we see with our eyes at present
    Contending for God's purposes and promises
    Believing even in the most unpromising of circumstances for God's covenant people to enter into their destiny
    Bringing atonement for sin

A REMNANT IN ISRAEL TODAY  Isa 58:12  And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach…

This prophecy points to a people who return to Israel and rebuild and are rebuilt, a people who will be repairers of the breach, a people who will stand in the gap.  May we stand together in agreement for this people to arise. May we be among them.