King's Evangelical Divinity School

23 February 2012

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint

Earlier this week Messianic leaders issued a joint statement responding to the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference. The statement is available here. (I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post), while the Messianic RPP site commented on it here. Later this week the organisers of Christ at the Checkpoint issued a response to the Messianic statement, which can be found here.

I have not really commented on this blog about Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC). However, in light of the public Messianic statement and the CatC response, now seems an appropriate time to do so, especially given the nature of this view expressed by CatC about the Messianic statement:
Your statement has undermined all these reconciliation efforts, given the wrong impression concerning our relationship with the Messianic body, and done harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land.
This seems to be the main point that the CatC organisers seek to make (this sentence is highlighted in bold on the blog of CatC programme director Stephen Sizer, though not on the CatC website which must be a formatting error). It is a serious charge which, together with another point the CatC statement raises, merits some comment.

Whether intended or not, the appeal to Matthew 18 in the CatC statement gives an impression of the organisers seeking to silence those who publicly disagree with them. After all, Matthew 18 is referring to taking a brother to task when he sins against you personally as an individual. It has nothing to do with doctrinal disagreements within the Church (often dealt with publicly in the New Testament). Besides, CatC has publicised far and wide its views, aims and activities, so it cannot reasonably expect fellow believers to remain silent about issues they disagree with so profoundly. Neither can CatC expect their critics not to go public yet actively promote and publicise endorsements of the event. This is a double standard.

Related to this is the serious claim that the Messianic statement has somehow done immense harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land. Leaving aside how a lack of Messianic support for the event suggests this statement is somewhat hyperbolised, I struggle to reconcile CatC's claim in its statement to have the right to express itself as it sees fit yet with an expectation that Messianic leaders may only express their concerns in private. Again, it merely reinforces the impression of seeking to silence critics. Moreover, such a statement looks like nothing less than spiritual one-upmanship, an attempt to claim the high moral ground.

Finally, concerning the claim that the Messianic statement has contributed to a wrong impression of CatC's relationship with the wider Messianic community, the lack of Messianic participation in the forthcoming CatC conference strongly suggests very little of a relationship with the Messianic movement in the first place. And here, I believe, is where the heart of the problem lies. The nature of much of what came out of the first conference, inflammatory rhetoric from some individuals involved with CatC since, involvement of strongly anti-Israel speakers, and indeed even some of the comments on the CatC Facebook page, all contribute to an impression of CatC as an Israel-bashing, anti-Zionist fest. Thus, while I believe there are sincere people involved with CatC who seek genuine reconciliation, it is hardly surprising that some of the voices and noises emanating from CatC make the Messianic movement deeply suspicious and involvement by Jewish believers minimal. Neither is the view that Christian Zionists are somehow heretics who follow another gospel the language of reconciliation, nor will it further the involvement of many on the other side of the debate. And that is precisely the point: for some of us in the middle or who lean towards the other side of the debate, the trenchant and inflammatory views of some of those closely involved with CatC leaves us unconvinced of the reconciliation value of the conference.

There is nothing more many of us would long to see than sincere, genuine and longlasting reconciliation between believing Jew and believing Arab in the land. I believe that if and when it happens at the hierarchical level (it already exists between many believing Arabs and Jews at the grassroots level, whatever some would have us believe), some of the genuine and sincere people involved in CatC will play a key role in such reconciliation. And when it comes I cannot help but think it will initially be reached in private, out of reach of the glare of public scrutiny as both parties seek to build trust towards each other. Unfortunately, too much inflammatory rhetoric contributing to an unnecessarily pejorative and divisive debate by some involved with CatC has affected how the whole event is perceived by many, as the Messianic statement demonstrates. Such unchecked rhetoric is either the result of ill-discipline, or else absolutely no desire for any kind of meaningful dialogue or true reconciliation. This was certainly my own personal experience of one of the CatC speakers some time ago who made clear that dialogue was pointless, that he would never permit it to change or modify his views. Clearly he was only interested in dialogue which led to agreement with his own extreme viewpoint.


Anonymous said...

Calvin - as Kuhn noted; people involved in different paradigms use such different language that there is often a failure to even understand the other side (incommensurability); thus failing to see how one's own language, and the way opinions are expressed, may cause offence to others. Still, CATC2 leaders have tried to get some Messianic involvement. A shame there is such a strong reaction against even this limited dialogue and some such as Richard Harvey have been publically denounced and slandered for their desire to seek to 'cross the divide' to represent their communities.

In a way though, there is the same tension today as there was in the first century Holy Land, where Paul faced and tried to counter real replacement theology in Rome, and challenged Jewish follows of Jesus who wanted to hold to the old ways of Judaism (the zionist faction?) in Jerusalem. Paul spoke about the abolition of the temple dividing-wall-of-hostility between Jew and Gentile - the creation of 'one new man' in Messiah, and the removal of the temple curtain for both Jews and Gentiles. Praise God. Perhaps CATC2 is one sided, but there is a need for believers in Jesus in the Holy Land to meet and talk somewhere. Andrew S

Anonymous said...

Andrew S you concede that CATC2 is one-sided and then brush it off as inconsequential claiming people need to talk anyway. They don't need a conference for this and in any case this is a conference loaded with foreign Christian anti-Zionists, not a place for 'Holy land believers' to meet and talk, I wouldn't mind if that is actually what it was, but it isn't. Israeli Messianic Jews and Arab Palestinian Christians have been talking for years without the West's help.

Why the need to make such an anti-Jewish loaded comment in your 2nd para as though this issue is the same as in the NT with you on God's side and old Judaism evil zionists being hostile on the other side against God. I find such comments revealing of a genuine hatred of Judaism, Jewish identity and the self determination of national Jewish expression in Zionism.


Yoel Natan said...

So when is your book going to be in stock so I can order it?

The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians:

Calvin L. Smith said...

Yes, out of print (sorry), but a revised edition is due out soon, with several additional chapters.

Yoel Natan said...

Thanks for letting me know! I haven't read any of your materials before, but were impressed by an online debate I saw you in a while back--perhaps it was with Stephen Sizer.