A Surprising Controversy
Some years ago, a surprising controversy was covered by the Israeli press. The debate concerned plans of Israelis and Christian Zionists organizing joint events to support the State of Israel. One of the most important sponsoring organizations is the Christian Allies Caucus of the Israeli Knesset. Amazingly, a woman on the Jerusalem City Council, Mina Fenton, succeeded in gaining a high level rabbinic ruling against these events. The rabbis declared it a violation of Halakhah (Jewish Law) for Jews to participate in these events. This decision was reviewed by the Chief Rabbis of Israel.
Fenton was a fierce opponent of Christian Zionists. This is foolish beyond belief because Christian Zionists are the backbone of support for the State of Israel in the United States and several other countries. Yet, she has one fear that cannot be challenged: that good relationships on a profound level between Christians and Jews will lead to a greater possibility of Jews being more open to the person of Yeshua. This is hardly a good reason to reject Israel’s friends, but one can understand her reasoning.
The Christian Zionist Mindset
Christian Zionist organizations are of two minds on the idea of relating to Messianic Jews. Most profess that they do not support missionary activities. However, some are supportive of Messianic Jews in a quiet background way and do not consider our own witness to our people to be missionary activity. Others will not have any friendship with Messianic Jews and keep them at arms length at best. For some in the Jewish community, Christian Zionists will not be accepted as friends of Israel unless they condemn Messianic Jews. So far, none have been willing to do this.
Are there Common Jewish and Christian Values?
One of the rabbis opposing the then upcoming conferences shunned the sponsors for declaring that there is a common Judeo-Christian heritage of values. He stated that there is no such thing. I think it is worthwhile to respond to this statement. Do we have common values for which we should fight? I believe we do.
What are common Judeo-Christian values? One may argue that the values we hold in common are simply Jewish values, since they were embraced by Jews before Christianity existed. However, there are values that have developed in Western civilization through the influence of Christian leaders and are now strongly held among Jewish people. There are also distinctly New Covenant values that are not as clearly affirmed by Judaism. For example, the love of one’s enemy to the extent called for in the New Covenant is more pervasive in Christianity, though this is foreshadowed in traditional Jewish teaching.
Common Judeo-Christian Values which are Jewish Based
The Bible provides us with the Jewish and Christian belief that every human being is created in the image of God. Therefore every human being is of sacred worth and to be treated as an end and not as a means. The Genesis 9 decree establishing the death penalty for anyone who takes innocent human life provides a clear example. Capital crimes are often based on the violation of human dignity. The values of marriage, exclusive sexual expression as part of marriage, the value of the pre-born child (though in Judaism not as a fully declared person), justice and fairness in the courts, integrity in government and so much more, are common values. Further, acknowledging God as sovereign over all, life after death (resurrection), and rewards and punishment after death according to the judgment of God, all form common beliefs and values. Dennis Praeger and Daniel Lapin are two famous rabbis who have pointed out these traditional commonalities. Sadly, we live in a time where secular relativistic agnosticism has eroded the commitment in the larger Jewish community to these values. This is also generally the case within societies in the West.
The Christian Addition to Common Values
I recommend Rodney Stark’s excellent book “The Victory of Reason.” He proves that the development of Christian values in the West had an enormous effect in developing political freedom, prosperity and social justice. Though it took many centuries, the primary battle for freedom of conscience
was a Christian development.
Baptist Roger Williams in Rhode Island established the first state where genuine religious liberty was practiced, including the freedom to persuade another of one’s beliefs. This was in the 17th century. In addition, Christians led the battle to see all human beings treated equally.
The modern film “Amazing Grace” gives us the wonderful story of the Evangelical-Anglican, William Wilberforce’s battle in Parliament to eliminate slavery in the British Empire. The main battle against slavery in America was also led by Evangelical abolitionists.
Today Jewish people have made such biblically based human values a major focus of Jewish conscience. For example Rabbi Joshua Abraham Heschel’s battle for civil rights and his stand with Martin Luther King. The recent claim from some British writers that religion has only produced evil in societies, especially with regard to Judaism and Christianity, is unfounded.
The Erosion of our Common Values
Today, we are seeing the erosion of common values due to the influence of secular relativism in the West. This is a terribly dangerous development that will lead to the coarsening of human life and much devastating pain. The destruction of marriage and family are the greatest and most alarming trends. Our liberty within the law has been redefined as unrestrained license. This will eventually lead back to slavery. As John Adams, the second U.S. President, rightly argued; only self governing and moral people are truly free. The laws of a good society are supportive of our historic moral consensus.
Where Do We Go From Here?
As we face a false absolutism of radical Islam, it is crucial that we recover this common heritage of Judeo-Christian values. Israel and biblical Christians will have to stand against radical Islam and against the secular relativism of the West. The very existence of Israel is a testimony that God exists and His Law is absolute. This binds Christians to Israel. Societies dominated by secular relativism will appease Islam and will abandon Israel to do so. Secular relativists have no backbone.
In this regard, we need to pray that Israel and her Christian friends will foster a continued and growing cooperative effort. We have said enough in the past to note that this does not mean supporting a radical right wing agenda for Israel, but rather a basic support of the just cause for a Jewish state. We should pray that the attempts to destroy cooperation by such folks as Mina Fenton will be defeated. We can also rejoice that Christian love for Israel and the Jewish people does indirectly have great effect in opening hearts to Yeshua.