Vinoth Ramachandra

A Christmas Reflection

Posted on: December 24, 2017

Christmas is about human exclusion as much as divine solidarity. “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

A couple excluded from the hotels and guest-houses of their home town, and later forced to flee as refugees from state persecution. A child who is excluded from his community and eventually from life itself, dying in solidarity with all who suffered the shame of crucifixion.

The best way to celebrate Christmas, therefore, is to reflect on- and repent of – the way we exclude other people and other voices from intruding on our comfortable existence.

I think today, Christmas Eve, especially of my Palestinian Christian brethren. They are caught in a vulnerable position between, on the one hand, an aggressive Israeli settler movement (backed up by an occupation army) and an equally aggressive Islamist militancy, on the other. Rarely, if ever, are their voices heard in mainstream secular news media.

The only exposure to Palestinians on “Christian” news channels is of stone-throwing children or the remains of suicide-bombers. How humiliated Palestinian Christians must feel by constant references on the part of Western Christians to “the Holy Land” (a sentimental phrase that is not found in the Bible) combined with a wilful ignorance of history and a fundamentalist abuse of “biblical prophecy”. The global Church needs to listen to their voice.

Any student of Middle Eastern history is familiar not only with the shameful story of European colonial interference in that part of the world, but also the tragic influence of “dispensationalist theology” (promoted by the Scofield Bible, Moody Bible Institute, Andover-Newton and Dallas theological seminaries) on American and British policy-makers in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several of them, including Lord Balfour (author of the infamous Balfour declaration of 1917) were influenced by such theology, believing that the creation of a Jewish state would hasten the “return of Christ”. Such influence has continued under Benjamin Netanyahu who has frequent contact with Christian Zionist churches in the US as well as the so-called International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

It is now approaching 70 years since the creation of the state of Israel, and there is still no “return of Christ.”

I said in an earlier post (“A New Reformation”, 24 July 2017) that some exported forms of American Christianity pose a far bigger threat to the cause of the Gospel in the world than Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist persecution. This is because it undermines the moral and intellectual integrity of the Church. The misuse of the Bible by those claiming to be “Bible-believing Christians” is, I believe, more dangerous than ridicule of the Bible by atheists; for it turns away thoughtful non-Christians.

All that is necessary to debunk Christian Zionism is to show that (a) “the land” is not mentioned even once in the New Testament; (b) all Old Testament texts, promises and concepts (such as “Israel”) are to be read by Christians through the lens of the New Testament; and, therefore, (c) Christians have no theological stake in Jerusalem but instead look towards the New Jerusalem that is to come (cf. Heb. 11:13-16; Rev.21, 22).

What many Christian Zionists also fail to realise is that there are many more Jews living outside Israel than in the state of Israel; that many among them have decisively rejected Zionism as a political ideology; and that there is a courageous human rights movement within Israel itself, that is deeply critical of Netanyahu’s policies and of human rights abuses by Jewish settlers and the Israeli army.

A sane Palestinian Christian voice that needs to be heard by the Church worldwide is that of Munther Isaac, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem- ironically, the very town/village where the Christmas story begins. Several of his talks are available on Youtube, and I commend especially his talk “Christian Zionism as Imperial Theology”, given at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in 2016.

As for the decisive rejection by the UN General Assembly of Trump’s and his acolyte Nikki Haley’s bullying tactics, best commentary I have read on this is by Hamid Dubashi, a well-known Middle Eastern scholar at New York’s Columbia University.

I wish all my American friends would read this. But I know that some will refuse, because it unsettles. That is the tragedy of Christmas.

14 Responses to "A Christmas Reflection"

I remember my American, Christian fundamentalist days well. I also remember being in Israel and living within the realm of a Messianic Jewish congregation. Even though I was very much married to the dispensationalist ideas mentioned in this post (and so were they), I too was beginning an intellectual journey that had me asking the questions that many in my circles at the time were simply not asking, or were not allowed to ask.

I remember beginning to think about our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. I remember asking about in what ways Messianic Jews were partnering with (and even supporting) their Palestinian family. I received no response. The silence was loud. That probably marked the beginning of my journey away from American, Christian fundamentalism and the theological paradigm of dispensationalism.

You mention “Christ at the Checkpoint”, Vinoth. I know it´s a conference, but there is also a book available by the same name. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of our Palestinian brothers and sisters living in the region. What amazed me the most is that even evangelical Palestinians, who you would think would also hold to strong Pro-Israel dispensationalism, actually do not. They too have serious problems with the Israeli occupation and Israeli policies in general and I for one am glad that their voices, through Christ at the Checkpoint, are being heard even in fundamentalist American academic circles.

Thanks so much for this post Vinoth. My true hope is that more Americans will become “unsettled” for that´s the only real way change in thinking comes.

Well worth reading this NYT article “Where Jesus would be for Christmas” on refugees starnded in Greece together with Dr. Ramachandra’s blog piece.

Thank you for the link to Dr Rev Isaac’s excellent talk. This is the kind of thinking and challenge I was longing for in the midst of all the commercial, soulless nonsense of a Western Christmas season.

I respect you as a great scholar and Bible Teacher but on this matter I disagree with you. Especially, ‘The misuse of the Bible by those claiming to be “Bible-believing Christians” is, I believe, more dangerous than ridicule of the Bible by atheists;…’ This, on the matter of present day Israel, I totally disagree.

Your views come from the ‘Replacement Theology’, which derived from the teachings of Reformation Theology. I respect the Great Martin Luther and for his courage to stand against the mighty Roman Catholic Church against all odds but Martin Luther as a man like us, failed on the issue of Jews because it was not God’s timing for Jews to come into salvation at that time. The Reformation continued, God’s hand was with Luther and God used Luther for a particular purpose, especially to bring the Bible into the hands of ordinary people in their own languages. Since Jews at that time (500 years ago) were totally corrupt, living in all kinds of sins, rejected Jesus Christ, Martin Luther thought God has done with Jews.

But situations has changed. Israel was created. All the Jews living in all the countries will one day will come to Israel. The temple will be rebuilt. They will go back to OT rituals which as Christians, we have no part, because we know through JESUS CHRIST all the OT sacrifices were fulfilled. BUT one day, God will remove the veil God sovereignly placed on Jews that they could not see JESUS as their Messiah when the times of Gentiles are fulfilled. Jews will accept JESUS CHRIST as their Messiah. (Zecariah 12:10)

But we are looking for a ‘New Jerusalem’ but for the sake of Jews who are our roots in GOD’s SOVEREIGN PLAN, we pray for the salvation of Jews similarly we pray for the salvation of Gentiles.

GOD’s WISDOM is totally different to man’s wisdom. Time will prove things.

We wish you and Karin a blessed Chrismans and a blessed New Year filled with God’s love, Joy and Peace in CHRIST JESUS, our LORD.

Yes, Athanasius, do pray for the salvation of the Jews. We all do. But Paul’s eschatological longing for their conversion has nothing to do with the land of Palestine or the modern Israeli state. And the latter has nothing to do with ancient OT Israel, let alone the new Israel of the NT. I wonder if what is preventing you from seeing this is the spectacles given to you by the American fundamentalist organization that you work for. Forget about Luther and “replacement theology”- just read the New Testament, especially the Gospels, Paul and Hebrews.

Please separate Jew/Judaism from post-1948 Israel/Zionism. That is the root of a lot of confusion.

As I have said earlier, I have a great respect for you. I am grateful to God for using you to form FOCUS. My conviction for the Word of God came during my University days, so I selected Word of God and rejected RC tradition. Also my conviction for Israel also came during my University days and not after joining ‘Walk Thru the Bible’, and even WTB is totally silent on the issue.

Is Jesus God’s son? Yes. Is Jesus the vine? Yes. Is Jesus the fulfillment of God given vocation to Abram in Gen 12? Yes. Then Jesus is the true Israel and those who are in Christ are the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). So to read the Old Testament through the lens of the crucified and risen Jesus found in the New Testament is the historic Christian perspective. This did not start with Luther.

I find dispensationalist understanding of land as being for ethnic Israel alone quite unsatisfying given that there are Palestinian Christians as well. Is God of the Bible not concerned about Palestinians’ houses, attachment to the land, property or these people becoming homeless? Christian Zionists appear as if their answer is in affirmative. Moreover, I find dispensationist eschatology bizarre at certain point… for example, dispensationist reading of Rev. 19-20 is quite perplexing, and explanation given for war against God and Magog makes a very poor case. The point is that dispensationalism, as a perspective, not only emerged in the late 19th century, but it is also has elements that one finds difficult to appreciate.

From my understanding of the Scriptures, we must not generalise ‘Jews’ and even ‘Gentiles’. There are those from each group who have and will respond to God’s calling. To them the ‘land’ will be the renewed heaven and earth. A new Jerusalem.
The essence of the Christ centred, will be a transformed self. This is the switch from Self Preservation (looking after Number One, and ‘falling in line’ with those who are useful to that cause) to Self Transformation (‘No longer living for ourselves but for Christ who died for us and was raised from the dead’ and the love of the like-minded for each other) which occurs in Christ and as a result a united body of Christ evolves (from infantile awareness of what it means to be transformed by the Holy Spirit to a progressively greater understanding when we continue to abide in God) to that ultimate perfection – Christ like humans.
The implication is that of Palestinian and Israeli equality. The respect and dignity of both. To this end a visible witness of a united Palestinian and Jewish Christian church will thrill the heart of God. Hence those seeking God’s peace and co-working with God must take the side of the deprived from both communities. The challenge for those of us who are neither of Jewish nor Palestinian extraction is to co-work with our Christian Jewish and Christian Palestinian brethren is to formulate a plan that brings security and love for all (including those who reject the loving reconciliation offered through Christ). God does not need enforcers (including our proclamations) to make all things ‘new’ including the New Jerusalem!

Another article/speech worth reading is by RAMI ELHANAN, a Jew living in Israel who lost his daughter to the ongoing conflict and now, together with a Palestinian whose daughter was killed by Israelis, is campaigning for peace. I think that his “inside view,” which connects the issues of the conflict, Trump’s recent decision and corruption in Israel is worth considering.

Vinoth … can you please offer up a link to an article you have written that explains the biblical and theological alternative to premilennial dispensationalism?

Thanks so much.

I haven’t written because the topic doesn’t interest me in the least.

The only reference to a “millennium” in the Bible is Rev 20, and any scholarly commentary on that book will give you the various ways it can be interpreted. (Also note: there is no mention of Israel or Jerusalem in that chapter).

On the history of Dispensationalism and “rapture theology”, see this short video by the eminent NT scholar Ben Witherington III:

Nice Vinoth. Thanks so much for the video clip. My only question is:

Is something necessarily incorrect simply because it is new?

On this, I agree with you Vinoth. Even though I am serving in a Protestant Pentecostal Church, where almost all unquestionably believe ‘pre-tributation rapture’ BUT I reject this theology. My understanding of Scripture, there is ONE second coming of JESUS CHRIST, before that there will be ‘Great Tribulation’ and and the CHURCH will go through it. JESUS is coming for His bride, and the ‘Great Tribulation’, God has sovereignly ordained to purify the the CHURCH so that Bride of JESUS is a Holy bride. What is said in the video about Mary Mcdonald, John Darby is true. There was no ‘pre-tribulation rapture’ idea before 1830 AD. How can a vision by a 15 year old Scottish girl become a major theology?

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December 2017
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