As trumpets blared, a procession of conference personalities filed in to take their places on the platform of the Benyenei Ha’ooma (convention hall), opening the four-day Conference on Biblical Prophecy in the city of the prophets. Leading the procession, the Reverend Shlomo Hizak, a Hebrew Christian who heads the Mount of Olives Bible Center, carried a large Bible, open to Isaiah 61: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me.…” He placed it under the conference emblem depicting the citadel of David and the Old City walls. With the spotlight on the Bible, delegates were assured they would get what they had come for: a Bible-centered conference.

None of the 1,300 attending evangelicals, who came from thirty-two countries (the majority were from the United States), entered without a pass. Even local Christians who wished to attend had to pay $75 for the privilege. Still the sponsors are likely to be left holding a sizable bag. But no one complained.

The music alone was worth the price of admission. Featured musicians included Metropolitan Opera star Jerome Hines, recording and television artist Anita Bryant, the Azusa choir from California, and the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra conducted by director-composer Ronn Huff of Nashville.

Former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion, 85, told the assembly the Jews have given three great ideas to the world: the concept of one God, love for one’s fellow man as for oneself, and the teaching against war.

The warmer issues were not slow in coming. Rather than dividing the delegates into opposing camps, they produced subdued confusion—an indication that not all had done their homework. Or perhaps it was too soon after the June, 1967, war, when the Israelis united the city of Jerusalem and claimed administration over the Temple Mount.

The two addresses during the first afternoon that caught the prophetic-minded with their futures down were “Prospectives on the Rebuilding of the Temple,” presented by President Edmund P. Clowney of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and Charles L. Feinberg, dean of Talbot Seminary in La Mirada, California.

Dr. Clowney, espousing a traditional Reformed view, held there would not be a literal edifice to replace the ancient Temple. It was God’s presence that made it the “house of God,” he said, and it’s impossible to “shut God up in a box or imprison him on a hilltop.” Jesus ended the old Temple concept with his words: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will rebuild it.” Now, the speaker insisted, Jesus is the Lord of the Temple but greater than the Temple. The symbolic yields to the person of the Lord. The veil is torn away, “and there remains only Jesus.”

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With his logic straight but his theology open to assault, the speaker concluded that “the greatest teaching of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Church. Jesus’ blood was the final sacrifice, and there can be no going back.”

Some wondered where this leaves restored, modern Israel today. It is no longer a corpse but very much alive and flourishing. Although the speaker challenged Israelis to join in that “heavenly citizenship,” most of them will take a dim view of the idea of a modern, physical state’s renouncing its historical and present reality for a non-literal, undefined spirit existence.

Feinberg, born and reared in an Orthodox Jewish home, held that there would be a literal rebuilding of the Temple and insisted that the last nine chapters of Ezekiel are to be taken whole as written. His outlook represented that of mainline dispensationalism (the ultras with their charts and diagrams were not in evidence at the conference).

Feinberg methodically employed a sharply honed mind to cut down one by one the arguments against the literal interpretations of a restored Temple as seen in Ezekiel 30–38. First, he noted, some say the literal view is too Jewish. But, from Abraham to Jesus, including the disciples and the apostles, he said, it was Jewish all the way. “If the literal interpretation is too Jewish, where do you stop?” Feinberg asked.

“Speak to a Jew who does not believe that Jesus is the Messiah. You assure him that Micah’s word concerning Bethlehem, Isaiah’s prediction of the miraculous birth, the psalmist’s foretelling of the crucifixion, and others, are all to be understood literally. But when he refers to numerous passages involving peace through Messiah’s rule … with Israel … in its own land according to promises made by the Father, you inform him that these passages must be treated ‘spiritually’ or ‘symbolically.’ Do you wonder that he cannot follow your interpretive logic?”

Dr. Arnold T. Olson, president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, told delegates in his keynote address that “the interest in rediscovering the historical Jesus by many Jewish scholars calls for a new effort on the part of evangelical Christians to understand the modern Jew, his problems, his thinking, and his faith.” Olson’s address presented one of the few solid emphases on taking modern Israel and the Israelis seriously in today’s eschatological reckoning.

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The second day accented youth. Youth for Christ International director Sam Wolgemuth presented a Christian pop group in a musical entitled “Youth and the End of the Age.” Their selections of religious rock and interspersed dialogue sent chills to the cheek bones more than once. By the time they invited the switched-on audience to “Put Your Hand in the Hand,” the delegates, who long since had succumbed to foot-tapping, surrendered and joined in with a solid clap-beat to the music.

With “Amazing Grace,” their downfall was complete. The prophetic enthusiasts sang out with the group in abandon in the here and now; for a while the standing, sustained ovation refused to subside. If prophecy-conference people can’t dance in the aisles, they did what they could to let it out. They sat and wept with joy.

Black evangelist Tom Skinner from Brooklyn kept the pitch with his message on “Modern Youth in Biblical Perspective.” Having already let go, the audience responded to Skinner’s potent points with rousing cheers.

That afternoon the conference considered the Land of Israel. Dr. Herman Ridderbos, professor of New Testament at the Kampen Theological Seminary in the Netherlands, and Dr. John Walvoord, president of Dallas Seminary, spoke on “Prospectives on the Future of Israel.”

Dr. Walvoord believes that the prophecies require the Jews to return to Israel to await the Second Coming, and that the current return of Jews is a principal sign of its nearness.

Up to this point it had been very much a Western, evangelical, premillennial-oriented conference. Perhaps its most noticeable characteristic was a determined, single-faceted approach to prophecy: predictive interpretation all the way. That the prophets also thundered God’s judgments on the injustices of their day, with practical implications for today, scarcely received a nod.

R. J. Zvi Werblowsky of the Department of Comparative Religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem told the conference that Jews do not constitute a denomination but are a people, bound inseparably to the land.

He pointed out the wide gap between Christian and Jewish thought in the areas of theological and prophetic understanding, holding that biblical prophecy and biblical texts cannot be used to prove Israel’s right to the land. He stressed that the Concept of a “chosen people” is bound up with the idea of a “chosen land.” As a people, Jews can realize their existence only in total union of social and spiritual life in the land, he said, adding wryly: “Some people call this powerful bond a Jewish ‘hang-up.’ ”

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Werblowsky’s central point: Israel exists only by right of history (or continuity, for there were always Jews in the land, and those who could not come because of circumstances wanted to come) and not by right of prophecy, though the sense of “rightness” of their claim to the land was nourished by the prophets. “Our claim is in line with prophetic promises, and this is what prophecy means to many in this country,” he said.

Immediately after Werblowsky’s address, theologian Carl F. H. Henry replied in a statement: “Dr. Werblowsky’s alternative exposition of prophecy is a modernistic view insofar as it deprives the inspired prophets of the predictive supernatural and substitutes a religio-philosophic perspective on history.… The cost to Judaism of deleting prophetic specifics is the loss of messianic expectation in its biblical understanding.” But none at the conference appeared to take Werblowsky’s remarks as an evangelical view of prophecy. It was, as he stated, a Jewish view of prophecy, people, and land.

Israeli Christians presented a panel on “The Bible and the Word ‘Israel’ as an Israeli Sees It.” Fuad Sakhnini, pastor of the Nazareth Baptist Church, explained that there are three groups of Arabs in the Middle East: the Arab believer, who agrees that the rebirth of Israel is according to prophecy; the nominal Christian, with ambivalent feelings about the rebirth of the state; and the Arab Muslim, who rejects all prophecies regarding the land of Israel and sees them as Zionist propaganda.

The pastor added: “We Christian Arabs believe in prophecy with justice, recognizing the right of Jews and the rights of Arabs. We are not pro-Israel, nor pro-Arab in a political sense. We are pro-Christ and pro-Gospel.”

Panel chairman and conference host G. Douglas Young, president of the American Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, pointed out the irony that “no one questioned the closing of the Western [Wailing] Wall to the Jews in 1948 … yet now … many in the Church are calling for an internationalizing of this city in order to protect the rights of all worshipers—rights which need no protection in view of their having been made free to all.”

On one of Jerusalem’s hottest mornings of the year, the delegates assembled on the Mount of Olives to close the conference with a joint communion service led by Richard C. Halverson, pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Washington, D. C. The sweltering delegates sublimated their discomfort to the pleasure stimulated by the fabulous setting: the Hebrew University (Mount Scopus campus) amphitheater overlooking the Hills of Moab, the Jordan Valley, and the Dead Sea; the ecumenical atmosphere accentuated by the various ethnic groups, some in their national costumes; and the sheer wonder of being in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives remembering in Holy Communion the last hours of Jesus before his crucifixion, and on the same hill where he ascended to heaven.

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Ministers at the conference distributed the bread, baked by Arab Christians in Bethlehem, and served the wine from Mount Carmel in olive-wood cups. For many—perhaps most—it was a rare and unforgettable hour, ending the conference on its highest and most beautifully prophetic note: “For as oft as yet eat this bread and drink this cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come.”

Prophecy Statement

Although one of the stated aims of the Conference on Biblical Prophecy was that no statements or declarations be issued, six participants issued the following under their own names:Meanwhile, Pope Paul VI made a direct call for internationalizing Jerusalem, and twenty-four prominent Catholic and Protestant leaders in a newly organized group called Christians Concerned for Israel supported the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction (they expressed confidence in Israel’s ability to supervise the holy places in cooperation with Christian and Muslim bodies).

Jew And Baptist Together

They didn’t stand and sing “Onward Judeo-Christian Soldiers,” as one participant quipped, but a three-day colloquium of forty Southern Baptist and Jewish scholars at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati last month did end on a strong note of amity and affinity.

“You are my brothers,” said Dr. Samuel Sandmel, professor of Bible and Hellenistic literature at HUC-JIR, setting the tone at the beginning with a paraphrase of the greeting given by Pope John XXIII to some Jewish visitors.

The friendliness was seconded by the Reverend Joseph R. Estes, a pastor of DeLand, Florida, who responded, “To my Jewish friend, I want to say that your God is my God, too.”

The two groups disagreed on which theological differences most separated them. Attitudes toward the Law of Moses are the essential difference, according to Rabbi Sandmel. But Dr. Ralph L. Smith, professor of Old Testament at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, argued: “The real issue that separates us is the person and work of Christ. One can retain a worthy respect of the law of Moses and still be a Christian.”

Rabbi Alvin Reines, professor of Jewish philosophy at HUC-JIR, bluntly asked: “Does Baptist theology involve the belief that Jews are to be damned as sinners? Is it possible for a Southern Baptist to say, as did Dr. Sandmel, ‘You’re my brothers’?”

“I’m willing to leave the answer … in the hands of God,” Dr. Smith answered evasively.


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