Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Israel of God (A Reflection By Tom Cramer)

Reaction to the divestment results separated by 7 votes.
The reflection about the recent PCUSA divestment decision was a special edition e-sharing today from Tom Cramer, Associate Executive Presbyter/COO, Presbytery of Los Ranchos. Tom explains the close vote, and he explains the Scriptures that shed light on the complex situation.Tom provides links to the actual divestment language used in the measure, and a FAQ on Middle East Peacemaking, Divestment Strategy. I encourage you to read these source and FAQ documents rather than just the media or news summaries only. I have been surprised by the inaccuracies in the reports from both sides, conservative and liberal. Btw, click on this link if you would like to sign up to receive the PLR E-sharing.

Dear Colleagues in Ministry, 

Along with other actions of the 221st General Assembly, some of you may wish to learn more about the narrow vote of the 221st General Assembly to divest from three U.S. companies currently profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. For this purpose, I am attaching a FAQ sheet on Middle East Peacemaking so that you may have accurate and timely information about the rationale for the Assembly’s action. It may also be found on www.pcusa.org or directly at http://www.pcusa.org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/ga221-middle-east-faq.pdf. Please notice that the ACTUAL LANGUAGE of the divestment measure is on Page 4 of the attached document. It is the answer to the question, “What is the actual language of the divestment measure?”

I would also like to take this opportunity to offer a personal reflection on an issue related to peacemaking in Israel and Palestine. From what I can tell, conflict often arises between Christians because there is some measure of confusion over the nature of Israel itself, or, more accurately, a failure on our part to properly delineate the difference between “biblical Israel” and “the modern state of Israel.” For this reason, I am writing this reflection with the hope of clarifying what we mean when we say “Israel” so that we don’t stray too far from its Reformed biblical meaning. As always, I am always eager to hear other perspectives on this topic, so please don’t hesitate to write me.

A Biblical Understanding of Israel vs. the Modern State of Israel

When some people read the word “Israel” in the Bible, they may incorrectly assume it is associated with the modern state of Israel of today. This confusion of biblical Israel and modern Israel causes confusion in the church. If you are a Middle Eastern Christian or a Palestinian Christian, this confusion can cause you to wonder how you fit in, especially if the state of Israel is treating you unjustly. Taking this further, if one equates modern Israel with biblical Israel and you oppose the modern Israel’s behavior, you may be tempted to think you are opposing the will of God when in reality you are opposing the injustice of a modern state.

Sadly, this is what some brothers and sisters teach (most visibly in traditions associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, and Biola University). In varying degrees, they conflate the understanding of modern Israel with the Israel of the Bible. Therefore, they falsely confuse the return of Jews to Palestine today with the return that was prophesized by Isaiah and other prophets. From the Reformed Christian perspective, however, the return actually took place when Israel returned from Babylonian captivity in 538 BCE. The temple was rebuilt at that same time (see Ezra and Nehemiah) and the Messiah eventually came in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

So the only thing we have left to discuss is the nature of the kingdom of God. Is the kingdom nationalistic or not? Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). So for us to re-define the meaning of the kingdom in non-nationalistic terms is essential for Christians to do. The concern about oppressing the Palestinians is important because it is a justice issue and God cares deeply about those who are oppressed. But the more important issue, theologically speaking, is to remember that the establishment of a modern state of Israel ought not be confused with biblical Israel. Neither should it be confused as a precondition of the return of Christ.

The inclusive term “commonwealth of Israel” in Ephesians 2:12 includes both Jews and Gentiles as the covenant people of God. Christians are no longer standing outside "the wall of partition" peeking over it to catch a glimpse of the action. Instead, through Christ, we have been made citizens of God’s household (2:19). Let us then make it clear to our people when we teach or preach that we belong to the "Israel of God,” which has no geographical or national boundaries in Christ.
   
Ephesians 2:12-13 (but see 2:11-20)
12Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Regarding other “official” sources about divestment in Israel, you may wish to read the lead article from the 221st General Assembly News on June 21, 2014, as follows: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2014/6/21/slim-margin-assembly-approves-divestment-three/   The first paragraphs of that article read thusly: 
With audible gasps from those in the plenary hall, the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday narrowly approved divestment from three United States companies doing business in Israel-Palestine.
By a vote of 310-303, the Assembly approved an overture calling for divestment from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies some allege are engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the region. A similar overture failed 333-331 at the 220th Assembly (2012).
Although divestment was its most debated item, the overture also affirms the PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith and ecumenical dialogue and relationships in the region, and a preamble was added on the floor to reinforce that, saying, "The PC(USA) has a long-standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation." . . .

I hope this material helps. Please keep sending your questions and requests for interpretation to Forrest and me. The Presbytery Council, your Assembly Commissioners, and our presbytery staff all want to be as responsive and helpful as we can be.

Grace and peace to you as you seek God’s justice in the name of Jesus Christ,

Tom Cramer

Please click on this link to read the attachment FAQ on Middle East Peaacemaking, Divestment Strategy

Ephesians 2: 11 - 20 One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[a] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,


Photo Credits: https://twitter.com/presoutlook/status/480144136272494593/photo/1

 

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