Inside View May/Jun 2016
Jewish people often ask us, “How long have there been Christians who support Israel?” Over the years, we have come to appreciate their question because Christians, more than any other group, have persecuted and tortured the Jews for two millennia.
Christianity has been at the forefront of Jewish persecution for much of the Church Age. The rise of Replacement Theology in the second and third centuries turned love and appreciation for the children of Jacob into hatred and rejection. As the church began to believe it had superseded Israel, its disdain for Jewish people coalesced into anti-Semitism and violence against them in the name of Christ—teaching them to be extremely cautious, if not fearful, of Christians.
No wonder they are often surprised to learn The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry was founded by Christians in 1938, 10 years before the modern State of Israel. Yet, from our inception, the words The Friends of Israel have been a part of our name. That is why Jewish people also ask us, “You mean, before there was a State of Israel, there were friends of Israel?”
Absolutely. Despite the prominence of Replacement Theology, evangelical Christians have long felt an affinity for Israel. It is not a recent phenomenon; nor did it begin in 1938. The apostles and early church fathers looked favorably on Israel, as seen in the New Testament. This outlook also appears in church history, dating to the Reformation.
However, the winds of change are blowing; and while support for Israel remains strong among older people, younger ones are falling away.
A 2013 Pew survey showed 7 in 10 American evangelicals sympathized with Israel. Pew also surveyed the general public and found a significant generational difference. Of Americans 50 to 64 years old, 59 percent sympathized with Israel; but the number declined to 36 percent among those 18 to 29. A significant number, 34 percent, or one-third, of those 18 to 29 offered no opinion.1
A 2015 survey by LifeWay Research produced similar results. While a whopping 80 percent of evangelical pastors surveyed supported Israel, only 42 percent of Americans did. Of Americans 45 and older, 52 percent saw a tie between Israel and the book of Revelation, while only 36 percent of those 18 to 24 did.2
The generational difference reflected in these polls is concerning. In our ministry in churches, we find similar patterns: Older adults show significantly stronger support for Israel and interest in future events than do younger adults.
Dispensationalism and Zionism have become distasteful words in many corners of Christian higher education. The study of eschatology (the doctrine of future things) is diminishing at schools that have historically been dispensational; and the next generation of ministry leaders sees little or no value in studying future prophecy or, worse, views it as something to be avoided entirely.
Dispensationalists are seen as doomand- gloom people. Even some who hold a dispensational, Zionist view of Israel— born out of a literal interpretation of Scripture—are quick to distance themselves from what pro-Israel theologian Craig Blaising called “wild, crazy popular apocalypticism.”3
There is a real danger that, if young evangelicals follow the general trend and drift from supporting Israel, they will follow the pattern of church history—beginning to despise Israel, then eventually becoming anti-Semitic. America, the friendliest nation toward Israel, may follow the path of European churches and begin persecuting Jewish people, blaming them for all of the country’s problems.
This is why we are committed to communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah. We must not lose sight of God’s promises to Israel and the fact that He loves it with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). His promises are bound up in His faithfulness; and He tells us, “I am the Lord, I do not change” (Mal. 3:6). God has promised a blessed future for Israel, as its most famous Son, the Messiah, comes to complete His redemptive plan.
- “Public Remains Supportive of Israel, Wary of Iran,” Pew Research Center, March 19, 2013 <tinyurl.com/hhr6pst>.
- Bob Smietana, “American Evangelicals Stand Behind Israel,” LifeWay Research, July 14, 2015 <tinyurl.com/jzpn9wn>.
- Napp Nazworth, “New Christian Zionists Seek Distance From ‘Wild, Crazy Popular Apocalypticism,’” The Christian Post, April 25, 2015 <tinyurl.com/gpqs7wf>.