How much support does the Bible command?

Jews and Christians may never agree on the Messiah’s identity, but a concern for Israel’s security appears to be drawing together theological conservatives from both communities. Alarm about incidents of anti-Semitism and other forms of religious persecution has enlarged the common ground as well.

In recent months, Jews have seen their nation nearly expelled from the United Nations and have had synagogues in Europe attacked by terrorists. They believe media reports are unduly biased against Israel, and they feel deserted by Catholic and mainline Protestant allies. These ties have been strained by Pope John Paul II’s meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat and statements of sympathy for the PLO from the National Council of Churches.

As a result, friendly overtures from prominent evangelicals, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, have been welcomed, setting the pace for friendly dialogue. In Washington, D.C., last month, leaders of both communities discussed an agenda for cooperation, addressed sticky theological issues, and took part in a joint worship service.

Jewish participants seemed newly aware of the diversity that marks evangelicalism and had overcome some of the edginess that hindered cooperation in the past. Rabbi Joshua O. Haberman, president of the Washington Board of Rabbis, said evangelical interest in Israel is further evidence of renewed Christian willingness to “vigorously face social, moral, and political issues.” Despite the skepticism of many fellow Jews, Haberman said of the evangelicals: “They have reached out to us. I choose to take them seriously, grasp the hand that is offered and reassess our relationship.”

But tension about evangelistic overtures was ever present. Speaking before the mixed group, Haberman said, “We are the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob either in the bond of flesh or spiritually by an election. One election does not rule out the other. It is not for us to judge whose election is more authentic.”

Organizing the “Solidarity Sabbath” in the nation’s capital was a freewheeling new evangelical group from California, known as TAV. Named for the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the group was organized in mid-1981 to counteract anti-Semitism in Christian broadcasting on the West Coast.

TAV attracted evangelicals among whom were Dallas Theological Seminary president John Walvoord, Religious Roundtable’s Ed McAteer, and Paige Patterson of the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies in Dallas.

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At this gathering, the Christians were there primarily to listen. The message they heard from Orthodox and Reform Jewish leaders was clear: an “act of faith” is needed to demonstrate true support; lip service is no longer enough.

The actions Jewish people hope to see from Christians include: speaking out on behalf of Israel via letters to editors and congressmen, becoming better informed about the Middle East by studying and visiting Israel, promoting cooperation and understanding through Christian broadcasting, and investing in development projects in Israel through the United Jewish Appeal or the Jewish National Fund.

It is unlikely, however, that any concerted effort will come from evangelicals until a number of hurdles are cleared. At present, there is no network linking the numerous “support Israel” groups at state and local levels. Theological divisions over the relative places of Jews and the church in God’s plan keep Christians apart.

Evangelical spokesmen avoided making any promises in response to suggestions for assistance. Instead, they appeared to be addressing one another in order to clarify evangelical thought about approaching Israel and her people as something other than a mission field. They clearly sought to reassure their Jewish listeners of pure intentions.

Dallas Seminary president Walvoord spoke on the Abrahamic covenant, saying it is not conditioned on Israeli obedience to God. “Israel will endure as a nation as long as the sun and moon endure,” and it will have a national restoration to prominence and blessing. “No literal interpretation of the Bible can yield any other result,” he said, speaking from a dispensational theologian’s view of Scripture.

Willard Aldrich, president emeritus of Multnomah School of the Bible, said he does not believe the church has supplanted Israel in God’s program. Likening history to a relay race, he said that in the providence of God, a time is coming when the “baton will be passed” and the church will relinquish leadership to God’s chosen people. He listed what Jews and Christians share in common: the Bible, biblical morality, love for the land of Israel, persecution for the faith, and a common need for God’s forgiveness.

These views prevailed in position papers introduced at the meetings. One, an “Evangelical Christian Declaration of Support for Israel and the American Jewish Community,” affirms that “the establishment of modern Israel is an undeniable fulfillment of biblical prophecy and that “Jerusalem is the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state.” Without giving blanket endorsement to Israeli governmental policies, the paper assails world opinion which “demands that Israel be judged by an impossible standard of righteousness.” It affirms God’s love for the Arabs and calls on Arab leaders to renounce terrorism and “embrace the legitimacy of the Israeli state.”

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The second paper, “Washington Declaration of Evangelical Christians and Jews,” identified both groups as “descendants of Abraham” and “chosen under the terms of [God’s] covenant.” It concludes by saying “we are prepared to walk together as God’s covenanted people because we are agreed on important fundamentals of our faiths.”

Some evangelicals at the meeting, however, expressed doubts about what was being promoted. Homer Heater, dean of the conservative evangelical Capital Bible Seminary in Maryland, said he sensed a danger of compromise or even outright deception by some Christians. “You can’t get around the fact that salvation is through Jesus alone. Sure the Jews are God’s people, but they are in unbelief,” Heater said.

He was especially dismayed when one speaker, Assemblies of God evangelist Dan Betzer, addressed the issue head-on by saying he finds the term “completed Jew” to be “repugnant.” Betzer’s perspective is that “God never called me to complete anybody.” Heater complained that “people are practically saying the Jews are saved.” Another evangelical was reluctant to offer endorsement because “spiritually, Israel is not what God intends it to be,” and therefore it is dangerous to equate the present modern state with the fulfillment of God’s ancient promise to Abraham.

The only Jewish spokesman to wade into the troubled waters of interpreting scriptural promises about the Messiah was Albert Hornblass, a New York ophthalmologist who is president of the New York Board of Jewish Education. Hornblass spelled out his preferred timetable for discussing the gospel: “When Messiah comes, let’s ask him, ‘Were you here before, or not?’ ”

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