FROM TEL AVIV, ISRAEL – Israel is one of the most interesting countries in the world. What can we learn from the experience of the nation and its citizens? Quite a bit. Here’s a list of interesting things I learned and observed from a Vancouver / Canadian / Christian perspective about Jerusalem and Israel over this past two-week period. This third blog post covers “Spiritual” aspects of Israel.
27. Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Catholics revere particular sites and go on pilgrimages. What about Protestant Christians? Among Protestants there seems to be an idea that a visit to the Holy Land is interesting, but not a priority. Among the fellow believers I know, many have traversed the vacation hot spots of the world, but have never been to Israel. Why?
28. The interest in Israel and the Jewish experience seems to be in a niche, rather than mainstream, category within the global Protestant community. The Christian groups that have a greater interest would be those that are more focused on prophecy and fulfilment, the role of Israel and who have more of a theological focus on the Old Testament.
29. What is the value of seeing the actual sights? A visit to Israel inevitably leads one to ponder the role of Jewish history and culture in modern day Christianity. It may not be critical to understanding biblical truth, but having greater insights into culture and the land is very helpful to making the Bible come alive. After all, Jesus was Jewish, met in the synagogues, debated with rabbis, quoted the book of the law and the prophets and talked about Sycamore trees and the Sea of Galilee.
30. In the Protestant world there is not the concept of a “pilgrimage” which is to physically see sights, to touch relics, etc. So, in the Protestant world the emphasis is on personal transformation. That is why Protestants don’t necessarily prioritize going to “the Holy Land.” In the Catholic tradition, there is a concept of “veneration” – that there is value in the objects themselves. That is why people kiss the ground, the objects and want to have some physical contact.
31. Protestants tread a fine line between understanding and veneration. I saw a vineyard that was uncovered and restored, with a wine press, etc. (at the Nazareth Village in Jerusalem). It was close to where Jesus grew up in Nazareth and may likely have been the vineyard he had in the back of his mind where he taught the parable. So, to now have that mental image is useful. Or, to see what a grave looked like. When the Bible refers to a stone being rolled away, I pictured a boulder. In fact, it would have been a flat stone on a slat that two people could roll to the side.
32. There are great archeological sites throughout the collective holy lands (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon). One example is the village of Capernaum, the home of the mother in law of Peter, where Jesus performed the miracle of healing the paralytic who was lowered down through the roof and into the house. Nazareth was likely a town of 400 in Jesus’ day and Capernaum around 1,500 people. The synagogue in Capernaum, which Jesus surely visited, is strikingly compact. Seeing these various sites is helpful to understanding the Bible more vividly.
33. One larger-scale issue that arises in a discussion of Christians and present-day Israel is the concept of “replacement theology,” which I had not come across previously. This is the teaching that the Christian church has “replaced” Israel as the primary means by which the world is blessed by God's work. A counter view is that though it is true that the church does replace Israel in some areas such as properly representing God on earth, acknowledging the promise of the Messiah, etc., that Christians are nevertheless still “grafted in” to the root of the Jewish tree. In other words, the counter argument to replacement theology is that it is not biblical to say that God is completely done with Israel and that the Christian church is its complete replacement.
34. This approach may also counter some of the negative views of Christians toward the Jewish community. Has Christianity fueled antisemitism through the ages? To many, the obvious answer is yes. One Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum document states, “Christians need to be educated about the specific Christian responsibility and connection to the Jewish tragedy.” Why? Jews were isolated in self-contained communities for many centuries in Europe. In fact, the English word ”ghetto” is derived from the Jewish ghetto in Venice. Jews were branded as those who rejected the Messiah and thus they were shunned from the mainstream society.
35. There is a long history of Christian antisemitism to overcome. Yet, the actions of Christians today are working to undo the history. Pope John Paul II has apologized for the Church’s inaction during the holocaust. There are many other examples, such as the scores of US groups of evangelical Christians who are motivated to befriend Israel due to its role in the biblical story. Another example is “International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem,” which is intended to connect the global church to Israel (https://int.icej.org). All of the above are small steps, but efforts are being made on various fronts to bring Jews and Christians closer together.