Fundamentally Freund: Missionaries to the church
By MICHAEL FREUND
Recently, I was invited to speak to the Christians for Israel organization during an international leadership forum it convened in Jerusalem.
Not quite sure what to expect, I entered the auditorium and politely took my seat, listening attentively. What I saw and heard was as encouraging as it was extraordinary.
At the beginning of the event, the group’s tireless executive director, Andrew Tucker, went around the hall, recognizing the heads of various branches of the organization who had come to show their support for the Jewish state. There were Americans and Africans, Brits and Belgians, Dutch and Canadians, Italians and Ukrainians.
None of them may have been Jewish, but all clearly felt a strong bond with the people of Israel.
Indeed, it was almost like being at a session of the UN, but with one crucial difference: These people had come together to bless Israel, not to condemn it.
Founded in 1979 in Holland by Karel van Oordt and Pee Koelewijn, Christians for Israel has blossomed into an organization whose reach extends to more than 20 countries.
Its newspaper, Israel and Christians Today, is published in English, German and Dutch, and has more than 200,000 subscribers. Edited by Henk Kamsteeg and Pim van der Hoff, it provides news, analysis and commentary to an international audience hungry to learn more about the Jewish state.
The group has produced a wealth of materials, such as books, DVDs, study guides and even a website – www.whyisrael.org – with the aim of bringing “biblical understanding to the church and among the nations concerning God’s purposes for Israel.”
The organization’s international chairman, Rev. John Tweedie, produced an award-winning six-part documentary, Israel – A Journey Through Time, which traces the history of the Jewish people from Abraham to the present using a biblical and historical perspective.
A tall and charismatic Canadian originally from Northern Ireland, Tweedie says God placed two calls on his life: one to serve as a minister and another “to speak out passionately in support of the Jewish nation and for the rights of the Jewish people.”
And that is most certainly what he does, as he travels the globe preaching to Christians about the need to stand with Israel.
I KNOW what some of you might be thinking: It is very nice that these Christians proclaim their love for Israel, but surely they have some ulterior motive. They must be putting on a lot of smiles so we Jews will lower our defenses, and then they will try to convert us.
Put your skepticism and cynicism aside: These guys are the “real deal.” Their motivation is sincere, inspired by conviction and guided by faith. They have no agenda other than to support Israel.
As a result, the group intentionally does not maintain an office here, but chooses instead to sponsor projects through Jewish organizations such as Hineni and Hazon Yeshaya.
As Tucker explains it: “As Christians for Israel, our primary goal is to try to shake the church from its slumber, to wake up our fellow Christians to what God is doing.”
In other words, members of Christians for Israel are missionaries to the church, attempting to convince their fellow Christians that they have a biblical responsibility to stand with Israel and the Jewish people.
In effect, they are on the front lines in a theological battle raging among Christians over what is referred to as Replacement Theology, or supersessionism, which basically asserts that the church has replaced Israel in the unfolding of the divine plan.
Supporters of Replacement Theology make the spurious claim that the church is the “new Israel,” and that the Jewish people have been basically tossed aside by God.
As a Jew, it is hard for me to comprehend how anyone who reads the Bible could believe such a thing. After all, in the book of Malachi (3:6), God says, “For I am the Lord, I have not changed.”
And in Isaiah (46:11), He declares, “What I have said, I will bring about; what I have planned, I will do.”
And there is no more compelling proof of this than the modern-day return of the Jewish people to their land.
Armed with this message, Christians for Israel is educating Christians to understand and appreciate the special role of the Jewish people in the unfolding of history.
As Tweedie notes, “Israel is the only nation with whom He made covenants, to whom He made promises, and He is keeping those promises even in this generation.”
ONE OF the highlights of the Jerusalem forum came at the end, when the organization’s president, Rev. Willem Glashouwer, offered a heartfelt prayer beseeching the Creator to bless the Jewish state.
I stood there transfixed as this non-Jewish religious figure passionately called on God to have mercy on His people Israel.
There was something so real, genuine and sincere about Glashouwer’s supplication that I could almost feel it resonating in the heavens above.
Something truly significant is happening. Bear in mind that just over 65 years ago, Europeans were busy slaughtering Jews. Now many of them are taking the lead in supporting the Jewish state. This is a remarkable historical development.
Even if they face an uphill battle, Christians for Israel is not shying away from its special mandate – spreading a pro-Israel message from the heart of Europe to villages in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Israel,” says Glashouwer, “is the greatest sign of hope that the world has ever seen.”
And to that we can all say amen.