Visit to Israel
I must admit, we had a blast that week. Andrew Wilson and I got to preach in an Arab Church – lovely people, great worship, fantastic hospitality and wonderful food. We also got to visit Jewish-Russian Churches in Ashdod, Haifa and Eilat. My brain was in overdrive all week asking questions about what “one new man” churches (Ephesians 2:15) ought to look like in this context. In addition, you cannot visit the Qumran museum at the Dead Sea, the ruins of the ancient city of David and Lake Galilee without the Bible leaping off the page as you re-read the text.
Visiting Israel at the same time as I was preparing to preach through Romans 9-11 later this year (we did chapters 1 – 8 in 2010) certainly helped sharpen my thinking on the subject of the nation-state of Israel, ethnic Israel and the purposes of God. John Hosier did an excellent job a few years ago (Newfrontiers magazine vol 2:12 October-December 2005, “All Israel will be saved”) outlining the various positions people adopt. With our strong commitment to see the Church recover the vibrancy and life of the New Testament era, we would not, as a family of churches, be attracted either to dispensationalism or to Christian Zionism (opinions 4 & 5 in John’s article). The vast majority of Newfrontiers pastors would tend towards a view that sees “All Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) as an eschatological statement (opinion 2) and some may place an emphasis on the land itself (opinion 3). I doubt whether anyone who leads a Newfrontiers Church holds a pure “replacement theology” (opinion 1), although it is a charge that has sometimes been levelled against us by people who want to caricature our position because we are so strong on the centrality of the Church in the purposes of God.
While we were in Israel we had a 3 hour breakfast with a leading Christian Zionist. We talked fairly intensely on a range of issues, but much of our discussion focused on Romans 11:26, “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” To our utter amazement our Zionist friend interpreted “Israel” in this verse to mean Jew and Gentile, the Church as the Israel of God. Up until this point, I had always followed Douglas Moo’s line that Paul must be referring to ethnic Israel in this verse since Romans 9-11 as a whole is tackling the issue of God’s faithfulness in the light of His promises to ethnic Israel (see Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans (NICNT), pp710-739). Of course, there is a precedent for referring to the Church as the “Israel of God” – most commentators would agree that this is what Paul is doing in Galatians 6:16. However, I had never understood Romans 11:26 in this way. Now I am not so sure. Agreed, Paul’s primary focus in Romans 9-11 is ethnic Israel but when he gets towards the end of his discussion (11:25), Paul explains how God will bring a partial hardening to ethnic Israel “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” And so he is led to conclude that “In this way all Israel will be saved” – the fullness of the Gentiles plus an influx of ethnic Jews.
I must admit, I never thought I would go to Israel and meet a Christian Zionist who would articulate a view of Romans 11:26 that equated “all Israel” with the Church, Jew and Gentile. But I did and I have to say, on reflection, I think he was right. Furthermore, it serves to strengthen my resolve to build a “one new man” Church where I live and wherever else God may take me.