Monday, December 30, 2013

Unbound, captive Israel and chaos in the PC (U.S.A.)

When I followed a link to the Presbyterian journal, Unbound, this morning, I couldn't help thinking of how so many great British mysteries and novels bring their contradictory and troubling plots and characters together in explosive scenarios of disaster thus leveling all to a final equality as the author sorts out the good and the bad of her story. C.S. Lewis' Hideous Strength is one example, A.S. Byatt's Possession another. The literary device allows peace to emerge from chaos.

With an introduction by Rev. Chris Iosso, general editor and coordinator of Advocacy Committee of Social Witness Policy, Nahida H. Gordon has written an open letter which Unbound has placed under the title, “Ransom Captive Palestine? Salvation History in the Presbyterian Hymnal.” Connected to all this is a link to Rev. Thomas Are Sr.'s article Zionist Liturgy. [1]

Gordon as well as Are complain about the section in the Presbyterian hymnal that is titled “God's Covenant with Israel.” They are afraid that some in the denomination may see the title Israel in both that section and in hymns as too connected to the modern state of Israel. Iosso tries to agree with them but in his carefulness makes some rather strange statements. And altogether this does remind me of the chaos developing in both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and British stories. Some progressives have now, alongside some conservatives, found a reason to be unhappy with the hymnal. But of course the issue is far larger than that.

What of ancient Israel and the modern State of Israel? What of God's covenant with Israel—what of “captive Israel?” Is Gordon's history and theology totally correct? Is Iosso's theology correct? There are some answers.

In almost all that Gordon writes one hears her sorrow as a Palestinian child exiled from her homeland—her personal history cannot be denied and we should all share her sorrow and pray for her healing, which of course, in this life, will never be complete.

But there are two stories, two histories running side by side. When Gordon speaks of the Palestinians being ethnically cleansed in 1948 and 1967 she narrows history into a one sided farce. In 1948 five Arab nations attacked the new nation of Israel and horrible battles ensued. There were atrocities on both sides and while Israeli officials did force some to leave others fled of their own will believing that the five Arab nations would win. At the same time in the following decade most middle Eastern Jews were forced from their own homelands such as Iraq and Egypt. The war of 1967 is more complex but nonetheless is not a one sided issue.

But the important part of this controversial letter are the theological statements about Israel and God's covenant. Gordon writes, “I frequently wonder why so many in our denomination are enamored with talking about Biblical Israel and God’s covenant with it when Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that promise.” When it is taken apart piece by piece that is a strange statement.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. He is the long promised Messiah who came to redeem “captive Israel.” But the words of the song and the words of the Bible are not speaking of Israel's captivity to Rome, as Iosso and so many progressives suggest, but Israel's bondage to sin. A bondage that we all experience, a deliverance that many have and will experience. But without the history, the Hebrew Bible, there is no foundation for our faith. As Jesus stated, "salvation is from the Jews." They are the ones chosen by God to bless the nations with the Messiah, Jesus Christ. And while we worship the Christ of God, we do not, without destroying our own faith, destroy the history or the meaning of his genealogical people.

It is very clear from Scripture that God has a covenant with the Jewish people. Yes, salvation only comes through Jesus, but God has established a covenant with his ancient people of which the Jews of modern Israel belong. Paul writes to the Roman church concerning the Jews, “from the standpoint 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 11:28-29)

Modern Israel is a Jewish state and God's will for that State is his alone to know. He will judge Israel for any sin they comment against others as he will judge the United States and the Arab nations and the Persian nation of Iran. (All nations after all.) But we think in error if we attempt to divide our liturgy, our faith, our hope and salvation from the title Israel or as pastor Are would have it from the Hebrew Bible. Church history is littered with those who attempted to separate the God of the Old Testament or the people of the Old Testament from Christianity. Gnosticism and Nazism tried and lost.

Divergent voices like the divergent voices within Gordon and Iosso's writing as well as the insistent push for political correctness in the PC (U.S.A.) will eventually lead entirely away from the Incarnation and his Lordship over the denomination.

[1] Thomas Are is using a very controversial book, Max Blumenthal, Goliath, (Nation Books, New York, 2013), by a controversial author. The subject belongs in a different posting.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Viola. It is horribly disturbing, but sadly not at all surprising, that some elements in the PC(USA) want to cleanse the church of references to Israel and disdain the Old Testament. The ideas of Marcion, which traveled through certain streams of theology for centuries and inspired the German Christians, continue to motivate some misguided people.

Blessings for the New Year!

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Blessings for the new year back to you John.