Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Pilgrim’s Regress

Another Rant from the "Sunny Island in the Sea"

Zealous Zionists, including Bible Presbyterians in Singapore, occasionally undertake pilgrimage to the Promised Land to retrace the footsteps of Jesus and the patriarchs. In fact, True Life Bible Presbyterian Church of Singapore has just completed their 12th pilgrimage to the Holy Land in March 2006.

Consistent with their dispensational theology, Christian Zionists believe that ethnic Israelites are the true heirs of the Promised Land. While the Reformers such as Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli understood the New Testament Church as the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that ethnic Israel must remain distinct from the Church. Hence, the Church is not the beneficiary of the land promises to Israel found in the Old Testament. Nevertheless, warmhearted Christian Zionists would be most willing to assist their Judaistic brethren in Jerusalem, especially in matters concerning the tourism industry and politics.

Despite the threats of bullets and shrapnel, determined pilgrims to the Holy Land are ready to brave these dangers by faith. By faith, they will grit their teeth and endure hardship like a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3), so as to imbibe panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee, Cana, Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane and the Shrine of the Book. But of course, according to Mrs Quek Siok Eng, “no visit is complete without touring Megiddo, the restored Templar Colony, the Bahai Shrine and Gardens, Elijah’s cave and the Carmelite monastery, the site of the struggle between the priests of Baal and Prophet Elijah.”

Ironically, in a recent article from Haaretz, “a group of 50 pro-Israel Christian tourists came under attack” during their pilgrimage to the Holy Land. “As they neared one of the squares, the local residents apparently identified them as Christians and began to hit them.”

Despite the fact that the pilgrims were “wearing orange T-shirts with the words “Love your neighbor as yourself” printed across them,” the local Jews decided to break the Old Testament law (Exodus 22:21, 23:9) and vex those “strangers” in their land. Fortuitously, none of those Christian tourists died as martyrs. They were not in the Promised Land as missionaries in the first place. What transpired seemed to be what politicians would call a misunderstanding; a harmless neighborly dispute between landlord and sojourners. After all, there was no promise of a risk-free trip to the Promised Land by the tour agency.

What could be the reason for the attack? Could it be a culture shock – a clash between the worldly and the otherworldly? According to the PCUSA, “The ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in the Mea Shearim enclave often resent non-religious people entering their neighborhood where residents live according to a strict interpretation of Jewish law. They wear modest clothes that cover them from head to toe. Signs in the neighborhood warn women visitors especially to dress modestly and in keeping with the practices of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.

Worldly Christians have been warned; do remember to dress modestly before touring this part of the Holy Land. In retrospect, it is indeed peculiar that these “ultra-Orthodox Jews” who claim to interpret the Jewish law strictly or literally would misinterpret statements like, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 22:21).” Perhaps the teachings of John Nelson Darby have yet to reach this side of the world.

Missionaries and pilgrims from dispensational denominations should, in future pilgrimages, lecture these Jews regarding the “consistently literal hermeneutics” of Dispensationalism. But is it not true that, during the first advent of Christ, a wooden literalism has misled the Jewish rabbis into rejecting the true Messiah? Again, is it not true that a literalistic reading of Old Testament prophecies has prevented the Jews from understanding an essential spiritual truth – that Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of all prophecies? “For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us (2 Cor. 1:20).”

The dispensational anticipation of regression into the Old Testament shadows of temple worship, bloody sacrifices, and priestly order in the earthly Millennium is similar to the Jewish expectation of an earthly, Messianic kingdom ruled by a descendent of David. According to Judaistic hermeneutics, Jerusalem will be the centre of millennial worship. This is the city where Gentiles, together with their Jewish brethren, will gather to worship the Messiah in the Millennium. Taken to its logical conclusion, a consistently literalistic hermeneutics might even allow Christian Zionists and Dispensationalists alike to revert to Old Testament Judaism and its pertinent ceremonial practices. Wearing orange T-shirts with the words “I am a citizen of Yahweh’s millennial kingdom, and I will worship in the temple with you guys” printed across them would probably be more appealing to Jews.

The New Testament teaches that, irrespective of racial or genealogical descent, elect Jews and Gentiles shall constitute the Church. While the nation of Israel was the type, the Church is the anti-type. Membership within the Church of Christ is dependent upon salvific faith, not genetic inheritance. However, Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians look forward to the day in the future when “all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26).” They argue that God will accomplish a mass salvation of Israelites at his Parousia.

Salvation is by grace, through faith, in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel (Galatians 1:8),” that is, a message that says a person can be saved just because of his Jewish bloodline, genealogy, or citizenship, this message is tantamount to a false gospel. Following the logic of Dispensationalism, if a Gentile rejects the gospel today, would it not be sensible to urge him to convert to Judaism so that he can be part of that end-time phenomenon - the mass salvation of Israel? If, indeed, a Gentile can be saved by becoming a Jew, the way to God is no longer narrow.

According to the dispensational theory, there will be at least two ways to heaven. First and foremost, a Gentile must believe in Jesus by faith. This is Plan A. Nevertheless, if Plan A fails – that is, if the Gentile rejects the Gospel - there is always a contingency Plan B. The blueprint of Plan B reads: “Get the Gentile converted to Judaism, and he will be counted as a Jew. That way, if Christ returns soon, the gentile will be saved together with the rest of Israel.”

But the Bible only teaches one way to God: the narrow way. “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).” Do not be deceived. The way to God is still narrow. Contrary to popular dispensational beliefs, we must not wait for God to deal with Israel during “the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7).” We must reach the Jews now.

Pilgrimage or no pilgrimage, Jewish sinners need to hear the Gospel as much as Gentiles. I would suggest this to all Christian pilgrims: if you truly love the Jews, endeavor to preach the Gospel of Christ to them. And that would definitely be better than wearing orange T-shirts.

1 comment:

Jenson's Blog said...

I always found the BPC to be very inconsistent with the Confession of Faith, and not just in doctrine, but in practice as well. But that could have stemmed from their history (e.g. Carl McIntyre)

Paedobaptists, yes... Presbyterians, definitely no!