Christian Anti-Zionism: On the Wrong Side of History, Justice, and the Bible
In June 1982, Israel decided enough was enough. After setting up new headquarters in Lebanon in the early 1970s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Yasser Arafat launched frequent terrorist attacks into northern Israel, accompanied by incessant rocket barrages. Scores of Israelis were killed, hundreds wounded, and thousands forced to flee or hide in underground bunkers. With Operation Peace for Galilee, Israel invaded Lebanon and forced the PLO to retreat to Tunisia.
Not everyone was pleased that Israel went into Lebanon to defend itself.
On June 22, 1982, John Piper, then pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, wrote the following in an article titled “Prophecy and the Invasion of Lebanon”:
Woe to the followers of Christ who condone the displacement of 600,000 Lebanese citizens [Note: it was closer to 200,000] at the point of Jewish rifles. Woe to the Christians who think Jesus Christ sanctions the killing of 10,000 Lebanese [Note: the actual 6,000 civilian deaths came from both sides, not only Israel] because the bullets came from Israeli tanks. God does not sanction the sins of this rebel people. They stand under his judgment for their sins. Our response can be only this: an outcry of righteous indignation against Israel’s arrogance and aggression; and a prayer that they might repent and be saved before it is too late.1
Why would Piper make such a statement? Biblically, we can understand why the world would unjustly turn against Israel. It is predicted (Zech. 12; 14). But why would a Christian say such things? It is because John Piper is a Christian anti-Zionist.
Christian anti-Zionists (CaZs) are professing Christians who dispute the modern State of Israel’s historical, legal, moral, prophetic, and/or divine right to the promised and demarcated Holy Land of Scripture. They are part of a movement that grows stronger each day. Many of them seek to isolate and punish Israel through economic sanctions.
Their teaching shares a number of common characteristics:
(1) CaZs wrongly assume New Testament revelation has more value than Old Testament revelation. They believe Jesus and the New Testament writers expanded and redefined Old Testament concepts, such as the Kingdom, the Chosen People, and the Land. Consequently, CaZs assign new meanings to the Old Testament promises God gave Israel. This practice leads to Replacement Theology, to which many CaZs adhere.
(2) CaZs use the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. The Church of Scotland’s anti-Zionist stand clearly reveals this approach: “To Christians in the 21st century, promises about the land of Israel shouldn’t be intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory…The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God.”2
(3) CaZs use a fallacious argument from silence to try to prove their point. They falsely assume their position on the Holy Land is true simply because the New Testament writers spoke so infrequently of God’s land promises to Israel and Israel’s restoration to its land. On one occasion, when confronted about his argument from silence, Gary Burge countered, “It is such a loud silence.”3
(4) CaZs are advocates and activists for leftist ideals. There is an evangelical Left, to which many CaZs belong. They believe the church’s role in the world is to strive for peace and social justice and promote a contemporary version of the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Social Gospel movement was liberal in its theology, contained socialist components, and concentrated on correcting societal problems through social activism, rather than stressing heart change through personal faith in Jesus Christ.
The Christian anti-Zionism movement is little different. CaZs tout biblical justice, yet they insist the corrupt, godless international courts be the final authority for determining Israel’s rights to the land.
They define justice in terms of equality of resources and power. Therefore, the phrase peace and justice becomes a euphemism for “Israel needs to surrender more land.”
There is nothing unchristian about a call for justice. But CaZs overemphasize that call and misdirect their efforts. For instance, Christian anti-Zionists often give a brief, token acknowledgement of Israeli suffering and then spend the majority of their time recounting so-called Israeli injustices against Palestinians, as if there were a moral equivalence between the inconvenience of a checkpoint and being blown up by a homicide bomber.
If CaZs are so concerned about justice, they might do well to ponder these questions: To whom did the international community promise the land of Israel, only to have it carved up into ever smaller pieces until there was little left for the Jewish people? Who was willing to accept the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and was subsequently attacked by five Arab nations? What country has repeatedly relinquished land for the hope of peace, yet continues to be bombarded by rockets in return? What country has been the ongoing target of homicide bombers and terrorists, yet is vilified for constructing an effective security barrier to protect its people against such onslaughts? What country is surrounded by enemies sworn to driving it into the sea? All of these questions are answered by one word: Israel—the true victim of injustice.
(5) CaZs evidence a lack of humility in their standing before God by their treatment of Israel. Despite Paul’s warning in Romans 11:18 not to “boast against the branches,” meaning not to denigrate the Jewish people, Christian anti-Zionists demonstrate an attitude of arrogance and triumphalism toward Israel, as does their high-handed, judicial assessment that modern Israel has no divine right to the Holy Land.
On the contrary, what right has any man to judge whether Israel should possess the Holy Land? God promised Jacob, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a multitude of people, and give this land to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession” (Gen. 48:4).
It is true that modern Israel is not a theocracy but, rather, a secular state. Like any other nation, it errs occasionally in policy and practice. Most Christian Zionists recognize that fact.
But out of reverential fear of God, the absolute and final Judge, and in deference to His many promises regarding Israel’s divine right to the land, Christian Zionists do not presumptuously conclude that the Jewish people should be dispossessed of what God has pledged to them. Christian Zionists approach Israel, not as self-appointed arbitrators, but as reproving, yet supportive friends.
CaZs do not understand that God holds the nations accountable for their treatment of Israel, even when Israel is in a state of unbelief (Jer. 2:3; Ezek. 35).
Who Is on the Lord’s Side?
Christian anti-Zionist Gary Burge proclaimed, “Christian Zionists…are Holy Land zealots because they are poor theologians. They follow the road that leads to Masada, and when they get there, they will find that Jesus is not at the top to greet them.”4
Burge is right in that Jesus will not be at the top of Masada. He will be at the top of the Mount of Olives, fighting for His people Israel (Zech. 14) when He comes to set up His Kingdom in the land He promised to give them forever.
Until then, the struggle for the land of Israel is ultimately a spiritual battle; and Christian anti-Zionists must be careful or they will find themselves fighting on the wrong side.
- John Piper, “Prophecy and the Invasion of Lebanon,” Desiring God, June 22, 1982 <tinyurl.com/PiperCaZ>.
- “The inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land,’” Church of Scotland Church and Society Council, May 2013 <tinyurl.com/CScotlandCaZ>, 9.
- Gary M. Burge, “The New Testament and the Land: How Early Christianity Challenged Ethnic Territorialism,” speech given in 2010 at “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, Bethlehem Bible College, Bethlehem, Israel, MP3 <http://christatthecheckpoint.com/index.php/multimedia/lectures-2010>.