It seems that much of the symposium was a reaction to the paper “Christians and Jews: People of God” that was offered to the 219 General Assembly. As the advertisement for the symposium states, the paper was referred back to the offices “of Interfaith Relations and Theology and Worship for broader consultation and revision, including individuals, networks, committees and caucuses related to issues of the Middle East and interfaith understandings.”
There are as yet no internet recordings so I am working from memory and my thoughts will be general. But I was stuck by the focus of Burge’s speech which was mostly aimed at Christian Zionism and included the 37th Psalm as well as part of the Sermon on the Mount as it is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. By aiming at Christian Zionism and ignoring the reality of the needs of the modern State of Israel, I believe Burge failed to address them and his main audience which is the PC (U.S.A). The fact is his speech also failed to address the needs of the Palestinians.
Burge’s main idea was that for the Christian, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jewish people and I concur with that. But there is so much more that needs to be said about the Jewish people and about our responsibility to them. Burge tried to make a point that the early Christians no longer held Jerusalem as sacred or the land as important. That is simplistic since there was an evolving development of events and reactions that separated the Jews from the Christians, and it does not address the basic problems in the Middle East.
Members of the PC (U.S.A.) must address the problem from a Reformed position. We will not help anyone until we do so. And our sources must be both the Bible and modern history. From the Bible we gleam an ethical outlook which includes kindness and compassion but also truthfulness. As far as our faith goes, yes we are to proclaim Christ to the nations—all the nations. As the text states:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “But the righteous man shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17.)But as far as the Jewish people are concerned let us not forget their history—or ours. I will not say that the Nazis were Christians, they were not, but they killed 6 million Jews; they almost wiped out a whole people and when extraordinary events occur Christians are called upon to do extraordinary things. In our past century we witnessed this slaughter and we witnessed the boatloads of Jewish exiles seeking a haven. We witnessed those who were turned away from nation after nation. We need to know that history, but most have forgotten it.
Such hatred was built on a foundation already there; it was laid in the name of Christianity in medieval Europe and beyond. During the Nazi years it was introduced in the Middle East by some Nazis; it is still there, we see it in Iran, within Hamas and Hezbollah and among many other groups.
We also need to know the history of the Jews in Palestine. Jewish neighborhoods have always existed in Palestine. Many do not know this. They do not know that the Jewish section of Jerusalem was emptied of Jews during the war of 1948 when 5 Arab nations attacked the new State of Israel. So along with the sad and horrific stories of the Palestinians we need to remember the Jewish story.
We have an obligation, not because of some biblical mandate for land or for a temple but because as Christians we must love both the Israeli and the Palestinian and help them toward a two state solution. So why as Reformed Christians should we care about the Jewish people? Why do we still see them as chosen by God?
First, I was stunned by the callousness toward the Old Testament as I listened to the conversation. It wasn’t there in everyone’s voice but it was there. When one interprets the Old Testament, as a Christian, it must first be approached from a historical view. This is the story of the Jews; it is their history and the history must be respected, even loved. And then the Christian story seen in the types, the promises and the prophecies inform the Christian about her faith. In fact a study of the appearances of the Lord of hosts is a beautiful study of the eternal Son of God. Truthfully the plan of God, the compassion of God envelops the whole O.T.
So the beginning of the Reformed attitude toward the Jewish people is built on the Old Testament. Their Scriptures are also the Christians and the New Testament grows out of theirs. (Try reading Hebrews without constantly returning to the O.T.) Jesus when explaining to his disciples his resurrection, purposes and being, refers to the law, the Prophets and the Writings. (Luke 24: 44) Christianity is not connected to the Koran, the Upanishads, or the Book of Shadows, not to any other sacred text, but it is forever joined to the Hebrew Bible of the Jewish people.
Salvation came through the Jews who were chosen by God for that purpose. As Jesus explained to the woman at the well, salvation is from the Jews. And as Paul stated, “From the stand point of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. (Romans 28-29).
David Torrance, a very Reformed pastor writes:
That ‘salvation is of the Jews’ was true of Israel in the Old and in the New Testament era and it is ever true. God revealed himself to his covenant people, in a way in which he has not revealed himself to any other people. To them were given ‘the very words of God’ (Rom 3:2), that is, God’s Word, God’s message, God’s Law. Within Israel God did great and marvelous things, many miracles, so that his power and his glory were made plain to other nations.Torrance goes on to explain that Israel had no light in herself, but it was God’s light. And that Light was the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. And then he speaks of Jesus the Jewish man who is God and all of this through the people that God chose.
Morally we cannot be untruthful about the Jewish State of Israel and the needs of the Jews. Morally we cannot be untruthful about the Palestinian people and their needs. God holds us accountable to both, not just to one side. We must, as Christians love them both. I did not see that in the symposium I watched today.
Charles Wiley asked when we speak theologically about the Jew, what do we mean? Or how do we define the theological Jew? I do not believe anyone truly answered that question. They knew what they wanted to say politically and ethnically, but how do you say that the Jew is the chosen one? If you say that you must stand before God with empty hands. But only empty hands can be filled with the grace of God.