A positive way of combatting the ‘Islamic State.’ It is reported that members of Boko Haram (which is affiliated to the ‘Islamic State’) are being won to faith is Christ. This shows the power of the Gospel. Obviously, they and their families are in grave danger from the Islamists. The message is: You personally can combat ‘Islamic State’ – pray for their conversion to Christ. See http://www.christiantoday.com/article/inspired.by.christian.missionaries.boko.haram.members.convert.to.christianity/58329.htm
The Global Peace Index measures peace in 162 countries, covering 99.6% of the world’s population, and has discovered that since 2008, 111 countries have deteriorated in levels of peace which goes against the trend of a reduction in conflict since the Second World War. There are only 11 countries in the world free from conflict. 500 million people live in countries at risk of instability and conflict, 200 million of whom live below the poverty line. Trends in war are shifting from hostility between states, to a rise in the number and intensity of internal conflicts.
The UN Refugee Agency said that in 2013 there were 51.2 million refugees (16.7m), asylum seekers (1.2m) and internally displaced people (33.3m). The figure has exceeded 50 million for the first time since World War II.
The “Islamic” State
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said of the Islamic State: “This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”
Theresa May, when Bitish Home Secretary in September 2014, said: “If [Isis] succeed in firmly consolidating their grip on the land they occupy in Syria and Iraq, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established within a few hours flying time of our country. We will see terrorists given the space to plot attacks against us, train their men and women, and devise new methods to kill indiscriminately. We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.”
David Cameron commented: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against the poisonous and extremist ideology that I believe we will be fighting for years and probably decades.”
The Islamic State has captured advanced artillery, armoured cars, battlefield tanks, anti-aircraft guns and American low altitude FIM92 Stinger manpads (man-portable air defence system). It also has three Russian-built MiG jets. In addition it took control of a large chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, which contained remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin and other chemical warfare agents. Bodies have been discovered which have no bullet wounds but only “burns and white spots” which indicate the use of chemical weapons.
ISIS documents have been discovered which show the organisation aims to capture nuclear weapons from Iran.
It is now the case that extreme Islamist organisations control an area the size of Britain in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Then there is Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia. Boko Haram is a similar organisation to ISIS in Nigeria.
One very disturbing factor is the radicalisation of young Muslims, including from western nations, which leads them to join organisations like ISIS. In June 2014 Richard Barrett, former Head of Counter-terrorism at MI6, warned that some 300 foreign fighters from Syria may now be back in the United Kingdom.
The internet is an important new factor. One jihadist website has a slogan “Half of Jihad is Media.” Fundamentalist Sunni jihadists broadcast their propaganda daily through satellite television stations, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Hence they are never short of money or recruits. Hate preachers have huge followings on YouTube.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan
One of the problems is that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have encouraged jihadism but they are important allies of the US. Saudi Arabia is a huge market for American arms. Wikileaks released a cable by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which said: “Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan] and other terrorists groups.” The 9/11 Commission Report revealed that Saudi donors were the main financial support for al-Qa’ida but 28 pages of the report relating to Saudi involvement have never been published.
A new Cold War?
Another disturbing factor on the world scene is the growing tension between Russia and the West. This has, of course, been precipitated by the crisis in Ukraine.
Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, without naming him, says that Vladimir Putin (a member of the Orthodox Church) is “under the action of Satan” and is heading for “eternal damnation in hell.” President Obama has pledged $1billion to aid European defence despite warnings from Russia that any build-up of forces in Eastern Europe could lead to an arms race and a new Cold War. Obama responded: “We are interested in good relations with Russia. We are not interested in threatening Russia” but tensions continue.
Nuclear war by accident?
There have been disturbing revelations about the dangers inherent in the possession of nuclear weapons. General Lee Butler, former head of the US strategic air command which controls nuclear weapons and strategy once said that we have survived the nuclear age “by some combination of skill, luck, and divine intervention, and I suspect the latter in greatest proportion.”
This year it was revealed that in January 1961 an American plane carrying two nuclear bombs broke apart in flight dropping the weapons in North Carolina. Both bombs were knocked into ‘armed’ mode as they fell. The second bomb went through six of the seven steps to detonation and only damaged cables prevented that happening.
In 1980 a worker was carrying out routine maintenance on a nuclear missile silo in Arkansas. He dropped a spanner and ruptured the missiles fuel tank. Nine hours later the missile exploded, sending the warhead 50 yards away. Fortunately the safety devices worked.
In 2007 six cruise missiles with live nuclear warheads were flown from North Dakota to Louisiana without authorisation. The loaders confused dummy warheads with the real thing.
The problem is that the accidental detonation of a nuclear missile could cause nuclear conflict. The BBC revealed in September 2014 that in 1983 Russia’s early-warning systems registered a missile strike from the United States, and Russia’s nuclear system went onto the highest-level alert. Fortunately, Stanislav Petrov, the officer on duty, decided to disobey the protocol which required a nuclear retaliation. He was reprimanded.
In 1995, after the Cold War had finished, the Russians mistook a Norwegian research rocket for an American ballistic missile. Boris Yeltsin was two minutes away from launching retaliatory nuclear missiles, when the Norwegian rocket fell into the sea.
The turbulent Middle East
Margaret MacMillan, Professor of International History at Oxford University, has recently said that the Middle East is the modern equivalent of the Balkans where World War I was sparked off. She wrote that “A similar mix of toxic nationalisms threatens to draw in outside powers as the US, Turkey, Russia, and Iran look to protect their interests and clients.” She added that if Iran developed nuclear bombs it “would make for a very dangerous world indeed, which could lead to a recreation of the kind of tinderbox that exploded in the Balkans 100 years ago – only this time with mushroom clouds.” Her warning was: “Now, as then, the march of globalisation has lulled us into a false sense of safety. The 100th anniversary of 1914 should make us reflect anew on our vulnerability to human error, sudden catastrophes, and sheer accident.”
Another disturbing fact is the development of sophisticated killer robots. Robots, of course, do not have any moral revulsion against unnecessary killing and could not be programmed with any means of reconciliation. The Americans have developed the Unmanned Ground Combat Vehicle or UGV which could decide to attack, using a roof-mounted machine gun, without human intervention. They also have drones, which have already killed thousands of people. The South Koreans have developed a robotic sentry which can detect a human up to two miles away and can fire a machine gun or a grenade launcher. Hopefully the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons will lead to a global ban on autonomous weapons.
Christians should first and foremost pray and work for peace and care for victims of war. But we should also remember Jesus’ answer to the question “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” War is not a sign of the imminent End of the Age and Return of Christ but it is a reminder of and pointer towards the End. Sadly, war is still very much with us and could become much worse, not least with terrorists obtaining sophisticated weapons.
See my main writings on Eschatology (the End Times: the Return of Christ, Judgment, Heaven etc) at http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/eschatology.html for both a Full (more detailed) Version and a Summary Version.
When I was working in Jerusalem I became very concerned about the need, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. My concern for Israelis had predated our move to Israel but I learnt a great deal about the Palestinians whilst we were there. I was CEO of a ministry to Jewish people and became convinced that fostering reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians was a major spiritual responsibility. Hence I started circulating an email newsletter which seeks to encourage Christians to pray in an informed and unbiased way. During my time as Rector of Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem prayers for reconciliation, justice and peace became very prominent. This did not endear me to some of my more right wing Zionist colleagues and others.
I disapprove of some manifestations of Christian Zionism. But equally I disapprove of some manifestations on the pro-Palestinian side. It is from this background that I write to make strong criticism of the recent statement by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches entitled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East.” It was circulated at the end of May 2013 after a meeting at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery in Lebanon.
This statement shows extensive support for the Palestinians in their needs, which is good. However:
It shows great insensitivity against the background of the history of Christian anti-Semitism
It includes the statement: “We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God’s plan of salvation.” But it does not show such an attitude towards Jewish Israelis. It mentions that “Christians, Muslims and Jews all experience the destructive effects of [current negative] trends.” It also recommends “engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice.” But these 22 words are the only positive references to Jewish people in the whole 2,600 word document. There is, however, strong condemnation of Israel. Is the WCC not aware of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism which undermines the credibility of the church with respect to the Jewish people? Is it not aware of Jewish sensitivities? Does it not understand that such a biased statement will cause damage to Christian-Jewish relations?
The report states: “Christians must reject Islamophobia, which mischaracterizes Islam as an undifferentiated whole, and undermines decades of cultivation of co-operation with Muslims, and must refuse the temptation to amalgamation, generalization, and sensationalization of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I agree with that statement. But where is the equivalent statement about anti-Semitism, which is very much alive and well in the world today?
It shows insensitivity to Israeli insecurity
The report speaks of : “The persistence, after sixty-five years, of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation, continuing settlement of land inside the 1967 borders by a nation empowered by overwhelming military strength and external alliances and influence….” This is an important statement. The current Israeli government is not acting properly with respect to the Peace Process.
But where is the statement about the threat which Israel feels because of anti-Semitism, persecution over the centuries, the Holocaust and threats from some of its neighbours, especially Iran and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which are dedicated to its destruction?
It makes Israel a scape-goat for the problems of the Middle East
The report states: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region. Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.” “Jerusalem today is an occupied city with a government which has adopted discriminatory policies against Christians and Muslims alike.”
It is quite incredible that the report doesn’t make a more balanced statement including the Arab “Spring” with all the ensuing problems, the Syrian civil war, extreme Islamists, Iraq with its serious problems and Iran with its nuclear intentions. Instead it just says: “This is a time of crisis with special intensity here in the Middle East … an intensification of religious tribalism, increasing fundamentalism in many of the world’s religions, dispersion of the influence of radicalized Islamist groups.”
It is also totally insensitive and biased to say the whole of Jerusalem is an occupied city. The report actually states: “Jerusalem today is an occupied city.”.
It makes an uninformed and insensitive blanket condemnation of Christian Zionism
I attended a week’s conference in Jerusalem on “Christian Zionism” organised by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Movement (which takes a theological approach to political liberation for the Palestinians). I listened carefully to the speakers but could not recognise the “Christian Zionism” they were describing. It certainly didn’t describe my views which would be regarded as moderate Christian Zionist. I began to realise that they were describing extreme Christian Zionism in the United States, with which I would have serious disagreements.
The report says: “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.” I totally deny all those accusations as would many Christian Zionists. The WCC which is supposed to be knowledgeable about and tolerant of all the different Christian traditions has shown its lack of research and dialogue, its ignorance and its prejudice about Christian Zionism.
The report calls on the WCC to “Convene the spiritual and academic resources of the WCC and ecumenical partners in consultations to address Christian Zionism, disclosing its sources, its use as a political weapon against the Palestinian people, and its effects on intra-Christian relations.” I suggest they discuss with moderate Christian Zionists who are very careful in their interpretation of Scripture and very concerned for the strong biblical emphasis on justice, including for the Palestinians.
Ignores the Messianic Believing (Jewish Christian) community
The report speaks of Christians in the Middle East but it totally ignores the significant and growing Messianic Movement in Israel. (These are Jewish believers in Jesus). Yes, sometimes believers in Jesus can be oppressed in Israel. But this omission is typical of this report which only pays token respect to the Jewish people.
The New Testament teaches that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and that this will involve them in a massive turning to their Messiah and ours, Jesus Christ, in the End Times. This will have a major impact on the world but will lead to persecution (for both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ). The church should therefore avoid anything which will hinder Jewish people coming to Christ. Fair criticism is acceptable but the insensitivity and bias of this report is not.
I pray for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. I encourage prayer for both sides of this conflict, because God loves both people groups and wants the best for them.
However I suggest that the best destination for this report is the shredding machine.
There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:
- Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.
- Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
- Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
- False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).
I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years
- I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
- Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
- I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
- I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.
God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.
- See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29 “I ask then: did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew … As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.“
God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus.
- “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).
The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.
- However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).
The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign
- The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.
- Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
- Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”
We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.
- Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.
However, God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.
- He wants the best for them
- He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.
The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.
- This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.
- The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
- The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
- Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
- The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
- Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).
The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.
There are two attitudes we need to avoid:
- An excessive appreciation of Israel:
- I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’
- A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel:
- This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).
There are two attitudes we need to have:
- A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
- I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
- We must always listen to both sides of the story
- Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.
Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians?
- Because, although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position
When we lived and ministered in Jerusalem we met many wonderful Christians of many different denominations both living in the land and from many other nations. There is a rich Christian kaleidoscope in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we lived, and in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was a wonderful experience to go round to a different church every evening for two weeks for united prayers for peace, mainly with Palestinian and other Arab Christians. It was moving to meet with the same people for a Unity Week service on the site of the Upper Room.
But there are real problems facing Middle East Christians. Almost half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the first Gulf War, most of them since the invasion in 2004. It is almost unbelievable that the Bush-Blair coalition was ignorant of the crucial role of religion in Iraq. Now, partly because of the highly publicised threats to burn the Koran on the part of the foolish American pastor, there is even more persecution of Christians. Half of Lebanese Christians have left the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt now form less than 10% of the population. Jordan has a record of protecting Christians but they are only 6% of the population. Then, of course, Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia.
In Israel many of the local Christians are Palestinian and so experience the pain and fears of the Palestinian people. One piece of good news is the remarkable growth of Jewish Christians in Israel, who normally call themselves Messianic Believers.
Although there are many supporters of both Israeli and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land – I am one of them – there are those who have polarised. Some, fired up by a legitimate concern for justice, fall into the injustice of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Such people need to be careful of unconscious anti-Semitism. They harm the Christian cause in Israel.
Others are Christian Zionists, people who believe God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people and has brought them back to a safe homeland after the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. I accept a moderate form of Christian Zionism myself, alongside a passionate concern for justice for the Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land. However, some Christian Zionists are a pain. We ourselves suffered from some of them – expatriates – who made trouble because they wanted us to soft-pedal evangelism lest it upset the Israelis. Mind you, some of them were more concerned that they didn’t lose their visas than they were that Israelis should be won for Christ. I was well aware we were walking on egg shells, but there didn’t seem to me to be much point in being there if we weren’t doing sensitive evangelism, especially as I was General Director of a 200 year old evangelistic ministry in Israel. There was also trouble because we stressed reconciliation (which, of course, is at the heart of Christianity). These folk – again expatriates – were afraid we’d become anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.
Perhaps, therefore, you can understand my negative reaction to a recent news story. Christian pilgrims from the US, Canada and Finland joined with right wing Israeli settlers to celebrate the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank (which threatens the peace process). They rattled tambourines and released thousands of blue and white balloons, the colours of Israel’s flag, into the sky. They also waved banners reading: “We love Israel.” One young Canadian Christian said in an interview: “We knew this was happening today, and we wanted to stand in support for all of Israel and God’s land. We love the Israelites, we love God’s way.” When asked if she supported a land for the Palestinians, she admitted she was “not familiar” with the politics.
This sort of misplaced Christian fervour confirms the idea widespread in the Middle East that Christianity is a western religion, when, of course, it originated in the Middle East. It adds to the burden of our Christian brothers and sisters there.