For almost 100 years, until the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, Christian Zionists graciously endured the derision of mainline Protestants.
Christian Zionism can be traced historically to dispensationalism, a new system of interpreting the Scriptures fostered around 1840 in England by John Nelson Darby. This method of dividing the Scriptures into seven distinct “covenants,” or dispensations, resulted in the conclusion that the Jews remain “the apple of God’s eye.” Christian Zionists said that the Old Testament prophetic promises of a return to the land of Israel under the old covenant were unconditional and, although suspended for a time, must still be fulfilled.
In 1948, with the prophecies about national restoration realized, dispensationalists felt exuberantly vindicated, and their movement grew in confidence and number.
From a Reformed perspective, there are two significant problems with Christian Zionism: the theological foundations supporting it and the practical political implications that flow from it.
There is a serious flaw in dispensational theology. Everyone agrees there are at least two dispensations by which God has dealt with his people. They also agree that each of them is defined by a specific covenant.
Under the Old Covenant, Israel was defined by race, geographic boundaries, social and political contracts (the Law of Moses and the monarchy of David), and a religious “cult” including an exclusive temple, priesthood, and sacrificial system. God’s people were limited to the children of Jacob and those who became Jews by conversion and marriage.
The old covenant necessarily created barriers and hostility between Israel and other nations, between the circumcised and the uncircumcised.
The New Covenant in Christ necessarily brought with it a new dispensation by which God’s people are defined and governed. The New Testament explains how this new administration differs from the old and is superior to it. Basic to that argument is the premise that the new covenant is founded on promises made to Abraham by faith instead of on legal obligations defined by Moses.
Dispensationalists often vilify the Reformed view of the two covenants as “replacement theology” that has encouraged a long history of anti-Semitism. However, it’s actually incorrect to say that we teach the church has “replaced” Israel. The Reformed biblical view is that of “inclusion theology.” Paul, referring to himself as the administrator of the new dispensation, affirms that in Christ Jew and Gentile have been reconciled both to God and to each other (Eph. 2:11-22). What God has joined together, we may no longer separate.
Scripture clearly states that the new covenant has made the old obsolete; the old covenant may no longer be used to define how God relates to his people and the rest of the world
(Heb. 10:9). One must choose one or the other of the two economies. Yet the Christian Zionist tries to have it both ways by teaching that God actually has two distinct peoples: the Church as Christ’s heavenly bride, and the Jews as God’s earthly possession, with a different destiny for each.
This faulty theology leads to a pragmatic political problem. With the establishment of the state of Israel, dispensationalists believe that both new and old covenants are now in play at the same time. Thus, they believe, the wrath of God falls on anyone who advocates any foreign policy prohibiting Israel’s acquisition of all the land promised under the old dispensation. In this understanding, the Palestinians are once again Canaanites. Such are the contradictions inherent in trying to live under two mutually exclusive covenants.
While we can appreciate and emulate the Christian Zionist’s love for the Jewish people and support their right to exist as a nation, we cannot force God to act on the basis of a covenant that long ago served its purpose in leading humankind to Christ. When the building is complete, the scaffolding must come down.
- What was your position on Christian Zionism before reading this article? After?
- What insight does this article offer regarding the current situation between Israel and Palestine?
- What other old covenant laws have been fulfilled in Christ and are no longer applicable to us today as they were in the old covenant?
- What other theologies affect the political realities in the world today?