Why I Embrace Christian Zionism

There was a time when I was a stranger to Christian Zionism. I was on the outside, I was in the darkness, and I was very much missing out on the blessings found in Christian Zionism. Then God, in His mercy, added me to the family, and to the number of those who have embraced Christian Zionism for the last 2000 years. I haven’t been the same since!

The author of Hebrews described this great transformation about 1950 years ago to his audience at the time, members of the early church:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

I am a Christian Zionist because I am a Christian who has been brought to the heavenly Mount Zion, the one that is connected to the heavenly Jerusalem, to Jesus as our Mediator, to the body of Christ, and to the new covenant. This Zionism is glorious, and it’s all about the blessings and promises found in Jesus.

At the same time, I’m not a Christian Zionist. It all depends upon the definition, and one’s covenant perspective. I’m not a Christian Zionist if one goes by the following definitions:

[1] Zionists seek to support, facilitate and advance the return of the Jewish people and sovereignty to their native homeland–the land of Israel. Christians who see the regathering of the Jewish people in their land, as well as the establishment of the sovereign nation of Israel in 1948, as the literal fulfillment of biblical prophecy are known as “Christian Zionists”. Christian Zionists see the Jewish people as the “apple of God’s eye”–His Chosen people, and hold firm that God’s promises, established in the Abrahamic Covenant, remain in effect today.

Christian Zionists are “Biblical advocates” for the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Furthermore, they stand in firm, diametrical opposition to land concessions of any sort which involve the forfeiture of the holy land of Israel as it is a sacred manifestation of the promises of God to the people He calls the “apple of His eye”. Christian Zionists also seek to stand with Israel, showing her unconditional support, solidarity and love whilst praying for her spiritual return to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who “foreknew” her.

Mikael Knighton, Christians Standing With Israel, 2007 (Source)

[2] “Zionism [is] the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel… Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term “Zionism” was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum.” (Jewish Virtual Library).

If Zionism is the belief in the Jewish people’s right to return to their homeland, then a Christian Zionist should simply be defined as a Christian who supports the Jewish people’s right to return to their homeland… The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds… Christian Zionism is confirmed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures… Christian Zionism differs with Replacement Theology which teaches that the special relationship that Israel had with her God in terms of her national destiny and her national homeland has been lost because of her rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and therefore the Church has become the new Israel.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding, Vice-chairman of the Board, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, “Christian Zionism 101 – Giving Definition to the Movement.” (Source)

[3] “Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.”

Wikipedia, March 2014 (Source)

John Hagee, the founder of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), is recognized as a well-known leader in this movement known as Christian Zionism. CUFI’s theme verse is Isaiah 62:1. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, til her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.” (Source) It doesn’t take much digging around to understand how Hagee interprets this verse and applies it to the present day. Shhh – don’t tell him that righteousness and salvation have been shining out from Jesus and His church like a blazing torch for the last 2000 years!

Earthly or Heavenly Zion?

You may have already noticed how incredibly preoccupied the Christian Zionist movement is with earthly Zion (Israel). This movement is heavily invested in political/earthly Israel, political/earthly Jerusalem, and the old covenant. This is essentially where this movement goes off track.

Did you notice the very first word in the passage from Hebrews early in this post? It’s a mere conjunction, but it’s very important. It’s the word “but.”

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

Through a basic language rule, we know that the author of Hebrews is contrasting something he said earlier. Let’s take a look at the previous few verses:

For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore. For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned or shot with an arrow.” And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Hebrews 12:18-21).

What did he describe here? He described the scene at Mount Sinai where the law code and the old covenant was given to the people of Israel through Moses. The following contrast is shown:

Mount Sinai = physical (able to be touched), earthly, old covenant… Mount Zion = spiritual (not able to be touched), heavenly, new covenant…

In light of this passage, how does the Christian Zionist movement align itself? Where does it stand in light of what Paul says in Galatians 4:21-31?

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.” Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

The Christian Zionist movement has hijacked both terms that it carries, “Christian” and “Zionism.” For decades it has tried to tell the world that Christians are obsessed with a certain land, a certain country, a certain city, a certain race of people, and a Zion that is of this world. It has suppressed new covenant truths, such as God not showing favoritism to one race over others (e.g. Romans 10:12), and has promoted and financially supported injustice and ethnic cleansing, all in the name of Christianity and before the eyes of a watching world.

Biblical Zionism, according to Galatians 4 and Hebrews 12, is aligned with heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus as our Mediator, His church, His shed blood, transformed hearts, freedom, God’s promises, and the new covenant.

This is the Christian Zionism that I embrace.

God’s People Bring the Leaves of Healing to Detroit

Last month I reflected on the incredible needs and opportunities in our cities here in the US. We focused a lot on how God is intentionally bringing the nations to our doorstep, and we heard Ray Bakke’s challenge for God’s people to respond accordingly. This post will highlight some significant efforts by a growing number of people in Detroit to do just that.

Now those who know me fairly well are aware that I’ve joyfully abandoned my dispensationalist upbringing, a futurist eschatology which featured [1] an escapist mentality (i.e. “we’re going to be raptured out of here at any moment”) and [2] the idea that the crumbling of the world around us is a good and/or necessary thing because it means Jesus is about to return.

I now believe that we live in the everlasting new covenant age and that God’s kingdom was fully established in the first century. As “the light of the world” and “a city built on a hill” (Matthew 5:15-16), and as a people who have been camped at Mount Zion/God’s city/the heavenly Jerusalem for centuries (Hebrews 12:22), I am convinced that we possess the leaves of the tree of life that are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2). It’s our mandate and our calling to seek healing for all nations, including our own. (Yes, I do believe that warped eschatology is one key factor that has too often kept the church from living out this calling.) This calling is not at all divorced from our calling to proclaim the message of the cross and the gospel.

That’s why I’m thrilled to learn about what is happening in the city of Detroit, Michigan. In 2010 it was ranked the 18th most populous city in the US, with over 700,000 people. About 82% of the city’s population is African-American, and thousands of Iraqi and Hmong refugees have also made their home there. Less than 10 miles away is another key city, Dearborn, with a population of about 100,000 that is 33% Arab. The greater metro area including and surrounding Detroit features about 5.2 million people.

As reported by the Northville Patch (Northville is located about 28 miles northwest of downtown Detroit), a community-impacting initiative that began in the spring of 2011 now includes representatives from more than 560 different churches and para-church organizations, and it’s bringing new life to a crippled city:

For the second year, Southeast Michigan residents are coming together from hundreds of churches and organizations to share their faith and offer free medical and dental services, food, housing construction and renovations to tens of thousands of residents in need. It’s a continuation of the EACH (Everyone a Chance to Hear) movement that launched last spring.

EACH is guided by a steering committee with church leaders from both city and suburbs. The EACH effort started in 2011 and focused on a 40-day period starting Easter Sunday, but the hope that the impact and continued effort to help the community would continue into the future came to fruition. Most of the local church-based projects and actions will be determined by individual congregations and Christian organizations.

Thousands of individuals from approximately 560 churches and para-church organizations from all over the city of Detroit and suburbs have become active members of EACH in the last year. The movement kicked off again on Easter Sunday.

“EACH was designed to be a one-year initiative, but something special happened,” said Pastor Bob Shirock, senior pastor of Oak Pointe Church in Novi. “We went from being a group of individual churches to really being one church with one purpose…to share and show the love of Jesus to our communities through prayer, Good News and good deeds. We decided to keep doing it, while finding more ways to share and show Christ’s love to people in our communities.”

The Detroit Prayer Walk, which last year attracted about 25,000 followers of Jesus to downtown Detroit, will be the first event where all churches will gather together. This year it will be on Saturday, April 28 at Comerica Park. New for this year, the walk will also include no-cost community medical assistance at a neighboring church. The Detroit Prayer Walk will feature the theme, “1 Church Coming Together for One Purpose.”

Since April 2011, the EACH movement has provided thousands of free meals and 3,500 hours of medical and dental service and repaired or refurbished more than 100 houses in the Detroit area.

The EACH movement will significantly increase community assistance in 2012 through expanded deployment of mobile medical and dental trailers that provide no cost services to uninsured or underinsured people. They will also be expanding the housing construction and renovation effort and creating a community resource event called Lovin’ The D on Saturday, May 19 in midtown Detroit on the Wayne State University campus.

“The impact that we have had on this region as believers of Jesus has been incredible when you look at all the people in need we have helped,” said Pastor Christopher Brooks of Evangel Ministries in Detroit. “We’re talking about thousands of people in need who have been helped by their neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. It’s a very powerful message.”

The coalition will continue to use the 2WordStory social media and personal testimony campaign that was launched as part of the movement in 2011 to show examples of changed lives.

“There is Good News all around us – here in the Detroit area because people have experienced the life changing love of Jesus and have made this a great place to live and work,” said Pastor Doug Schmidt, senior pastor for Woodside Bible Church. “As a community we are listening to Jesus’ words and sharing His message with those around us. And there is no better way to share such a message of love than living it out.”

Other programs that started from the EACH movement in the past year include Handyman Ministries, a faith-based non-profit community revitalization organization dedicated to helping low-income individuals and families by providing free maintenance and repair services, energy audits and other upgrades; and Life Remodeled, a non-profit organization that builds houses and provides other resources to transform lives in troubled communities.

A 2009 CNN Money article shows that some Detroit-area churches were already at that time “taking a hands-on approach to saving their neighborhoods, plowing millions into buying and redeveloping local housing and businesses.” The author noted that Detroit was known for “its ever-increasing pockets of barren land and abandoned housing,” and that it “may be the most financially devastated city in the country.” To read more of this article, see here.

In the midst of such ruin, it’s exciting and encouraging to see God’s people rise up with the power of God’s kingdom that is in our midst and within us (Luke 17:20-21), and work together to see large-scale transformation take place throughout a city, and in many hearts and lives. Pastor Bob Shirock, the founder of the EACH initiative, says “he got the idea to mobilize churches after traveling overseas and witnessing Christians uniting to serve the disadvantaged. Shirock yearned to replicate the outreach coalition in Detroit.” May it be that God’s people living in other cities soon have even greater stories to tell.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-15).

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1-2).