“Mounting tension: Israel’s Knesset debates proposal to enforce its sovereignty at Al-Aqsa Mosque – a move seen as ‘an extreme provocation to Muslims worldwide’” was the ominous headline in the Independent newspaper, 27th February 2014.
Ben Lynfield writes, “The Arab-Israeli conflict took on an increasingly religious hue when the Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel’s ambassador in Amman after Israeli legislators held an unprecedented debate on Tuesday evening over a proposal to enforce Israeli sovereignty at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites, currently administered by Jordan, and to allow Jewish prayer there. 500 metres by 300 metres, the Temple Mount, or Haram Al Sharif as it is called in Arabic, is probably the most disputed plot of land on earth. Hal Lindsey claims, ‘I believe the fate of the world will be determined by an ancient feud over 35 acres of land.’
Many Christians share the belief that the Islamic shrines must be destroyed and that a Jewish Temple must and will be rebuilt – very soon. But this won’t be a museum replica of the one king Solomon built or be just another attraction for pilgrims to the Holy Land. No, this Temple will be built for one purpose and one purpose only – for bloody animal sacrifices, and lots of them.
What is the case for rebuilding the Jewish Temple? Does the Bible predict such an event? If so, where and how it might be built? What does the New Testament say on the subject? What are the implications for Christians should the Jewish Temple be rebuilt? Continue reading
In May, the Church of Scotland published a major report on Israel-Palestine entitled the Inheritance of Abraham. Under pressure from the Zionist Lobby, however, the report was swiftly removed from their website and a revision promised.
A ‘before and after’ comparison is both illuminating and depressing. It shows that what was promised would be a minor rewrite of the introduction, to provide “context”, actually became a major rewrite of the whole document.
It appears the Church of Scotland has censored itself and limited its own theological discussion under intense pressure from the Israeli ambassador, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and the Council of Christians and Jews.
- The section dealing with the writing of Mark Braverman has been heavily edited so as to remove his most penetrating comments on the Holocaust and Jewish ‘specialness’.
- A reference to Jerusalem as ‘the most contentious religious and political issue’ has been deleted.
- The quote from Ben Gurion (‘The Bible is our mandate’) has been removed.
- All references to the book of Joshua in relation to the occupation of the land have been removed.
- The reference to “the violence used to deprive some 750,000 Palestinian people from their homes” has been toned down.
- References to the State of Israel have been amended so as to dilute criticism of the state and to remove any suggestion that it is ‘an ethnic democracy’.
- The reference to Luke 4:25-30 (Jesus’ rejection by the Jews in Nazareth) has been deleted, along with the sentence ‘Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it’.
- The reference to Paul’s writings about the Jews in Romans 11 has been deleted, along with the sentence ‘No part of the New Testament gives any support to a political state of Israel beyond that to any other state. All are challenged to the same requirements for justice and the protection of human rights for all their inhabitants’.
The only part where the revised report has been strengthened is the very final sentence, where the Church of Scotland says it should urge the UK government to “remove existing illegal settlements” in addition to stopping further settlement expansion.
In no sense did the original report disenfranchise anyone from legitimate rights to citizenship in Israel and Palestine, merely the claim made by some Zionists that the Bible mandates an exclusive right to the land for the Jewish people alone.
On the contrary the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence was always conditional. For example, God said to his people, “‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Leviticus 25:23).
The following notes are a summary of chapter 4 of my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers.
They amplify and explain the significance and purpose of the Promised Land, its geographical boundaries, the conditions for residency, the nature of the Kingdom and concept of land in the New Testament.
A summary of the book as a whole is also available entitled Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions.
Marc Ellis has written a useful commentary on the Church of Scotland report Exile and the prophetic: the Church of Scotland weighs in
“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate.” (Isaiah 5:8-9)
The losers? Genuine interfaith dialogue between Jews, Christians and Muslims, willing to engage honestly with our sacred texts, openly share our theological convictions and aspirations for a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine based on justice, mercy and reconciliation.
The indigenous Church in Palestine are learning to our shame that they cannot rely on the wider church to advocate for them or speak biblically and theologically on their behalf.
Watch this space for the Kairos UK Report due in August. No doubt its authors will come under the same pressure.
BBC News: Church of Scotland revises controversial Israel report
Christian Today: Church of Scotland releases revised report on Israel
Christian Today: Church clarifies its position on Israel
Church of Scotland: The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’
This evening I read Nick Howard’s delightful new book, The Book of the Covenant, published by the aptly named Good Book Company. It is indeed a good read. Nick provides a simple, clear, easy to understand, overview of the entire Bible, tracing the unfolding story of God’s covenant relationship with his people.
Each chapter includes copious scripture quotations, lively contemporary illustrations and a helpful application section called ‘Life Lessons’. Important sentences are printed in bold for emphasis. Footnotes are kept to a minimum.
There are three main parts to the book. The first part explains the meaning of the word covenant and shows how the seven covenants ‘click’ together to form one united covenant revealed fully and finally in Jesus Christ. The second part unpacks the significance of each of the seven covenants, [Creation, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and New Covenant]. The final part emphasizes how to read scripture from a covenantal perspective.
Nick uses some helpful analogies to describe the progressive revelation of God’s covenant purposes through history. Here’s a flavour:
“These covenants click together to form one “eternal covenant” (Hebrews 13:20)… These have the effect of dividing salvation history into separate time zones, with different instructions for each zone.” (p. 18)
“…past covenants are built into those that follow, not completely demolished.” (p. 19)
“… we could compare the covenants to a series of connected reservoirs providing water for a city. Each reservoir has certain distinctive features such as its location, capacity and shape, but they all serve the same underlying purpose of meeting the city’s need for water. The covenants are united in a similar way by one intention: God’s desire to have a people of his own.” (p. 20)
“The covenants are like gates separating the different periods of biblical history. When God’s people go through a covenant gate into that covenant’s field, they need to live according to the code of practice for that field… The fields form one covenant valley… the valley of salvation.” (p. 21)
Nick emphasizes the unity of God’s people on many occasions. Here’s an example:
“Because of the unity of the covenants, Bible history is our family history. The Bible is like a big family photo album. God’s people take part in the same eternal covenant, no matter which salvation period we’re in. So the believers we read about in Scripture are our spiritual ancestors, our family members…” (p. 22-23)
Whereas in my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers, I offer a range of possible interpretations for the controversial phrase ‘Israel of God’ found in Galatians 6:16, Nick offers the one I just happen to agree with,
“The covenant with Abraham teaches us that if we trust in Jesus, we’ve joined a nation, the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). It’s as if we each have a spiritual passport saying Israel on the front. Everyone who belongs to this nation should matter to us deeply.” (p. 83).
However, Nick goes a little further than I in describing the new covenant people of God as the ‘New Israel’ (p. 132). It is not a term found in the Bible but I know what he means – the term Israel has been ‘reconfigured’ by the new covenant.
“…the new covenant church is pictured in the book of Romans as a Jewish tree with lots of wild Gentile branches grafted in (11 v 24). So instead of “replacement theology” this is “enlargement theology”… while it is clear God no longer considers unbelieving Jews to be his people in the way they once were… he still has a special love for them. There’s a sense in which they are still chosen.” (p. 133)
Nick graciously acknowledges his indebtedness to O Palmer Robertson and The Christ of the Covenants (p. 161). Indeed, the incentive for writing the book grew out of a desire to make Palmer Robertson’s classic more accessible.
The Book of the Covenant serves a similar purpose to God’s Big Picture: Tracing the story-line of the Bible, by Vaughan Roberts and published by InterVarsity Press.
If you need any more convincing to buy the book, here are two commendations:
“Reading this clear and extremely well illustrated book, I was very struck by the fact that if I could get a good grasp of this one word ‘Covenant’, then it’s like an axe blade that enables me to open up not just every book of the Bible, but every chapter. I pray that many will internalise this outstanding tool of Biblical understanding.” Rico Tice, Evangelist and founder of Christianity Explored
“This gripping and highly readable book gives us a sweeping overview of the Bible as it charts the different “deals” that God has made with people in Scripture. It shows how the covenants with Abraham, David, Moses and others all foreshadow the new covenant to come in Jesus, and it helps us see with greater clarity the sweeping plan of God as it unfolds through the Bible story.” Tim Thornborough, Editor, Good Book Company
For me the test of any book about the Bible is simple – does it motivate me to want to read the scriptures more? Nick’s book does. I hope it sells well. It deserves to. Buy the book from The Good Book Company.
On Palm Sunday we are delighted to welcome Yoel Ben David again as our guest speaker. Yoel was raised by his Jewish Moroccan Mother and Scottish father in England and France. After school in England, Yoel moved to Israel where he met Adel. When they married, Adel and Yoel were Orthodox Jews. A year later, when he was serving in the Israel Defence Force, they became believers in Jesus in Jerusalem. Yoel joined Jews for Jesus staff in 2004 and since has led several outreaches in France, Israel and the USA and served in the UK during 2009. He returned to the London office of Jews for Jesus in July 2010 to assume his present responsibilities as Head of Evangelism.
See also Yoel on Y’Shua and the Harvest
A Chinese version of Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions, based on my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers is now available.
The Chinese version was kindly translated by Lo Yuk Fai. Presentations in Chinese were delivered recently for Macau Bible Institute, Sawtow Christian Church Hong Kong and All Saints Cathedral, Kowloon.
See more photos of recent visits to China here
For directions to Christ Church, Viginia Water see here
I welcome the news from Surrey Police and CPS that, having “carried out a thorough and extensive review of the material in question” they have concluded that “no criminal offences have been committed. The matter has now been closed and no further action is being taken,” a conclusion which will come as no surprise to those who know and work with me.
On 4 October 2011, I posted a link to an essay Israel’s Window to Bomb Iran, by Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA analyst, commenting on circumstances in which Israel might attack Iran. Regrettably the link that I used was not to the original website but to a different website which I now know contained scurrilous and offensive material.
I was made aware of this on 3 January 2012 as a result of an enquiry by the Jewish Chronicle. I could not find the link and assumed, wrongly, that I had removed it. I found it on 4 January 2012 and removed it immediately. I have no wish to be associated with or to encourage anyone to read some of the things that I found on the site. I have on many occasions in my ministry condemned all forms of anti-Semitism and will continue so to do because it is abhorrent to me.
Some ten weeks later, on 13 March 2012, the Council for Christians and Jews posted an article on its website entitled CCJ Statement About Antisemitic Website. The CCJ had “drawn the attention of the Surrey police to what they claim was an action tantamount to encouraging race ‘hatred’.” The CCJ said that I was “alerted to the anti-Semitic nature of the website in November and again in December, but only removed the link in January when contacted by the Jewish Chronicle.”
The article does not identify the alleged circumstances in which I was alleged to have been alerted to the link. Whatever the CCJ might think has happened I have explained here how and when the link came to my attention. It did not come to my attention before then.
Surrey Police have told me that they are not going to prosecute me because there is no evidence that I have committed any crime, which I have not.
It might have been helpful if the CCJ had asked me for an explanation before writing about me on their website but they did not.
On 23rd April, CCJ issued a second statement CCJ Statement re Rev Stephen Sizer saying “The Council of Christians and Jews has now received the advice of the Surrey Police, together with that of the appropriate legal authorities”.
The CCJ is a venerable organisation with many distinguished supporters. I hoped that, having accused me of serious criminal conduct, it would want to make it clear that the police investigation has revealed no evidence to support my prosecution. So far the CCJ has not done that.
I did not commit any criminal offence when I posted a link to Ray McGovern’s article. I therefore have no intention of resigning my living or altering my ministry in any way.
If the CCJ does not feel able to make it clear that its allegations were ill founded it will, I hope, reflect on the reliability of its informants and think very hard before naming people who might in the future be the innocent victims of ill-considered complaints.
Revd Dr Stephen Sizer
1st May 2012
Jewish Rabbis, Professors, Academics, Clergy and Activists Challenge CCJ Statement
The Ugly Truth Exposed
A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing?
Palestine Solidarity Campaign: AGM Repudiates Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial
See also letters from:
Dr Mark Braverman, Author of the Fatal Embrace
Anne Clayton, Coordinator, Friends of Sabeel UK
Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, University of Wales
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Islington North
Professor Scott Elias, Royal Holloway, University of London
Tony Greenstein, Founding Member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Professor Mary Grey, Patron, Friends of Sabeel UK
Dr Jeff Halper, Co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions
Canon Garth Hewitt, Founder of the Amos Trust
Dr Ghada Karmi, Exeter University
Venerable Michael Lawson, Rector of St Saviour’s, Guildford
Jeremy Moodey, Chief Executive, Biblelands
Diana Neslen, Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Professor Ilan Pappe, Exeter University
Rabbi Dr Stanley Howard Schwartz, Hospice Chaplain and retired Army Chaplain
Church Times: Vicar is not Anti-Semitic
Church Times: Rabbi Clears Vicar of Anti-Semitism
Church Times: Dr Sizer is Cleared
Jewish Chronicle: Bishop: anti-Zionist vicar ‘no antisemite’
Jewish Chronicle: Sizer: I am ready to meet the Board of Deputies any time
A major breakthrough in the evangelical world took place in Bethlehem through a gathering of over 600 international and local Christians, including renowned evangelical leaders. Organized by Bethlehem Bible College, the conference, under the banner “Christ at the Checkpoint,” addressed the issue of how to find hope in the midst of conflict. The conference exceeded all expectations.
For the first time, a broad spectrum of evangelical believers met literally at the “checkpoint,” and engaged biblically on issues that have historically divided them. Subjects included, Christian Zionism, Islamism, justice, nonviolence, and reconciliation. These themes were intended to create an ongoing forum for Christian peacemaking within the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. These issues were discussed in the form of inspirational messages, Bible study, interactive workshops, panels and site visits.
Defying the temptation to despair, Palestinian Christians demonstrated renewed hope to continue to stand against the injustice of occupation nonviolently and forms of Christian Zionism that marginalize them. They also acknowledged the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders.
Speakers included John Ortberg, Bishara Awad, Chris Wright, Doug Birdsall, David Kim, Tony Campolo, Lynne Hybels, Munther Isaac, Shane Claiborne, Joel Hunter, Ron Sider, Salim Munayer and Colin Chapman. Participants from 20 nations and a sizeable delegation of university students including Wheaton College and Eastern University, were moved by the testimony of Palestinian men and women who shared the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis caused primarily by the continuing occupation.
A unique aspect of the conference was the presence and presentations by members of the Messianic community including Richard Harvey, Evan Thomas and Wayne Hilsden, who provided an integral contribution to the dialogue.
Conference organizers challenged the evangelical community to cease looking at the Middle East through the lens of “end times” prophecy and instead rallied them to join in following Jesus in the prophetic pursuance of justice, peace and reconciliation.
John Angle, Alex Awad, Bishara Awad, Sami Awad, Steve Haas, Munther Isaac, Yohanna Katanacho, Manfred Kohl, Salim Munayer, Jack Sara, Stephen Sizer
The Christ at the Checkpoint Manifesto
1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.
The Statement and Manifesto were presented to the conference participants on the last day but were only agreed on and endorsed by the Conference Organizers.
John Angle, Alex Awad, Bishara Awad, Sami Awad, Steve Haas, Munther Isaac, Yohanna Katanacho, Manfred Kohl, Salim Munayer, Jack Sara, Stephen Sizer