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Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues: Part 4

How the doctrine of cessationism percolated within certain Church of England splinter groups and especially those that immigrated to America. How cessationism later had its own American flavor.

This is part 4 of the series of Cessationism, Miracles, and Tongues. Part 1 was an introduction with a general summary. Part 2 uncovered the medieval psyche surrounding the supernatural, miracles, and magic. Part 2 also contained the protestant review of early church history on miracles. Part 3 demonstrated how the Church of England, especially through the influence of the Puritans, officially formulated the doctrine of cessationism.

John Wesley and the Methodists on Miracles

John Wesley preaching outside a church

As shown, the doctrine never really became a universal one in the Church of England, and neither did it become a factor in its prodigy — the evangelistic and fast-growing Methodist movement. The Methodists were a reform group within the Church of England in the 1730s, but later became independent in 1795. This independence happened four years after the founder of the movement, John Wesley, had died. The worship and liturgy was very similar to its parent organization.(1)https://www.britannica.com/topic/Methodism

Wesley himself gave a sermon called The More Excellent Way about the existence of miracles. He wrote that their cessation was incorrect:

It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were common in the church for more than two or three centuries We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian cause thereby heaped riches, and power, and honour, upon the Christians in general; but in particular upon the Christian clergy. From this time they almost totally ceased; very few instances of the kind were found. The cause of this was not (as has been vulgarly supposed) “because there was no more occasion for them,” because all the world was become Christian. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause was, “the love of many,” almost of all Christians, so called, was “waxed cold.” The Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly “find faith upon earth.” This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church — because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.(2)The More Excellent Way Sermon 89:2

A retired methodist pastor and blogger, Craig L. Adams, looked into Wesley and miracles and concluded: “Thus we can say that Wesley would not have fully endorsed either cessationism or pentecostalism. Extraordinary gifts and miracles have not necessarily ceased, but they are not necessary proofs of the Holy Spirit, either.”(3)https://craigladams.com/blog/john-wesley-and-spiritual-gifts/

The Irvingites and Miracles

Edward Irving
Edward Irving

This article will stop for a moment and reiterate that the doctrine of cessationism is unique to the reformed branch of churches (Presbyterian, Baptists etc.) and does not reflect the greater traditional protestant psyche which led more to de-emphasism or in many cases continuation. This will be documented in a later article. However, another item besides the Methodists shall be included and that is of Edward Irving who was a cleric of the Scottish Church along with his congregation based in London, England, during the 1820s. His leadership and congregation were controversially engaged in the restoration of the gifts. Irving was well aware of two strong influences: the Scottish Church belief in the cessation of miracles and the rise of rationalism within the greater English religious community. He countered both with the restoration of miracles:

This power of miracles must either be speedily revived in the Church, or there will be a universal dominion of the mechanical philosophy; and faith will be fairly expelled, to give place to the law of cause and effect acting and ruling in the world of mind, as it doth in the world of sense. What now is preaching become, but the skill of a man to apply causes which may produce a certain known effect upon the congregation? — so much of argument, so much of morality; and all to bring the audience into a certain frame of mind, and so dismiss them well wrought upon by the preacher and well pleased with themselves.(4)Edward Irving. The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes. Gavin Carlyle ed. Vol. 5. London: Alexander Strahan. Pg. 479

Irving proceeded to state:

I know nothing able to dethrone this monster from the throne of God, which it hath usurped, but the reawakening of the Church to her long-forgotten privilege of working miracles.(5)Edward Irving. The Collected Writings of Edward Irving in Five Volumes. Gavin Carlyle ed. Vol. 5. London: Alexander Strahan. Pg. 480

The Scottish Church took exception to Irving’s unorthodox activities and was referred to the London Presbytery for review in 1832. He was not charged with reviving the supernatural rites of tongues and healing which he abundantly broke from the Scottish Church tradition. Rather, he was charged with not following procedural issues such as allowing women to speak. In doing so he was found guilty and defrocked. (6)on allowing unlicensed speakers and females to speak, allowing the church service to be interrupted on the Sabbath, and giving time in church for the expression of the gifts. Oliphant, Margaret. The Life of Edward Irving, Minister of the National Church, London. London: Hurst and Blackett, Publishers. 1862. Vol. 2. pg. 261 The procedural route was chosen because of the theological controversy surrounding cessationism. There would be less of a chance of clearly settling the problem if this manner was chosen.

For more information on the Irvingites, see The Irvingites and the Gift of Tongues.

The Migration of the Church of England breakoffs to the Americas

The Puritan strand in England had run its course after the late 1600s, but its influence had moved with the migrants to the United States. The tradition of cessationism passed on with the puritan-based members of the Church of England – mainly those who settled in New England. It was also found with the Presbyterians who crossed the Atlantic from Scotland. A separation group of Puritans from the Church of England called the Pilgrims, along with the Baptists, and the Congregationalists, also carried the seeds of cessationism.

The Baptists

The reader will be stopped for a moment and to ponder on the Baptist influence. Religious persecution in England caused many christian groups calling for reform in the Church of England to immigrate to other countries. The Baptist contingent was one of them and its migration to the United States included the doctrine of cessation. One of its American proponents was Augustus Strong (1836–1921). He was a first-rate thinker and a well studied student. He worked his way up from Yale, and over the years became the President of Rochester Theological Seminary. He wrote a compelling argument on miracles which was one of the better ones from a traditional perspective. He fully understood the rationalist angle that a miracle is a suspension of natural law or a manipulation of nature. He carefully disputed that miracles were of a personal nature that happened inside the person’s mind and not an external or visible act. He provided a well worded alternative framework for a miracle being something different and more wonderful that included the supernatural. This is a good piece of literature, but he breaks the momentum with this statement:

We may not be able to mark the precise time when miracles ceased. There is reason to believe that they ceased with the first century, or at any rate with the passing away of those upon whom the apostles had laid their hands. So long as the Scripture canon was incomplete, there was need of miracles. When documentary evidence was at hand, miracles were seen no longer. The fathers of the second century speak of miracles, but they confess that they are of a class widely different from the wonders wrought in the days of the apostles.(7)Augustus Strong. Philosophy and Religion: A Series of Addresses, Essays and Sermons Designed to Set Forth Great Truths in Popular Form. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son. 1888. Pg. 146

His great thinking was restrained to the bounds of baptist cessationist policy.

The Baptist themselves are a hard organization to follow the flow of cessationism through the centuries. The emphasis on the independence on the local congregation allows for flexibility in this area. They dropped the cessationist clause in the New Hampshire Confession of Faith in 1844. Why it was dropped is unknown. Historical practice shows they have remained structurally immune to the christian mystical experience.

There are earlier exceptions with the Baptists. The noted historian, Jane Shaw, would disagree that Baptists were definitive cessationists. She believed that new divine healings were occurring amongst the Particular Baptists though cautiously expressed. Further details or what epoch the Particular Baptists were operating are not known at this time.(8)Jane Shaw. Miracles in Enlightenment England. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2006. Pg. 49 An 1883 edition of the Presbyterian Review disagrees with a protestant minister named Rev. A. J. Gordon, a Baptist writer, preacher and composer from Boston, who wrote a book called, The Ministry of Healing, Or, Miracles of Cure in All Ages. He argued miracles from the Moravians, the Huguenots, the Covenanters, the Friends, Baptists, and Methodists were still happening.(9)Marvin R. Vincent “Modern Miracles” as found in The Presbyterian Review Vol. 15. Charles A. Briggs, Francis L. Patton editors. New York: Anson D. F. Randolph and Company. 1883. Pg. 481 and see also A. J. Gordon. The Ministry of Healing, Or, Miracles of Cure in All Ages. London: Hodder and Stoughton. 1882. Pg. 78

The largest present religious training institution for Baptists is The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. This institution does not have any reference to cessationism in their doctrinal statement. However, within the Southern Baptist community there is some type of oral commitment to cessationism. One clue is from the Southern Baptist Convention. They recently changed their internal policy on speaking in tongues and now will give consideration to missionary applicants who do so. The previous policy outrightly rejected them.(10)http://www.charismanews.com/us/49661-southern-baptists-change-policy-on-speaking-in-tongues

The Presbyterians

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the bastion of american cessation belief belonged to the presbyterian theologians of Princeton Theological Seminary. This was especially found in the Principals of the Seminary; Charles Hodge (1797–1878), his son A. A. Hodge (Principal from 1878 to 1886) and Benjamin Warfield (Principal from 1887 to 1921). Warfield, in fact, is considered the last conservative leader of Princeton Theological Seminary.(11)https://www.theopedia.com/bb-warfield

Charles Hodge, Principal, Princeton Theological Seminary
Charles Hodge

Charles Hodge, whom some have called the Pope of Presbyterianism(12)http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Presbyterian-Pope-Thomas-Kidd-01-04-2012 was highly influential on the topic of cessationism—even though he never directly wrote on the subject. Being the principal and teacher of one of the leading theological seminaries during his era and a prodigious writer, Hodge helped establish and shape conservative American Protestantism for generations. Cessationism by his time was already lodged deeply within the Reformed psyche and needed no explanation. Neither was this an open topic for discussion. This left Hodge leeway to move into other theological topics, especially the encroachment of rationalism on the traditional protestant faith. Charles Hodge excelled at this because his large and comprehensive education demonstrated a well-rounded understanding of the rationalistic spirit of his times.(13)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hodge

After his death, the leadership torch of Princeton was passed on to his son, Archibald Alexander Hodge. Archibald similarly attacked the tenets of rationalist christian thinking rather than defend traditional protestant doctrine. Just like his father, he didn’t need to defend his faith because that was already stated and needed no revision. His coverage can be found in A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes, which was published by the Presbyterian Board for the purpose of teaching “theologians, Bible-class scholars, ruling elders, and ministers”.(14)A.A. Hodge. A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. 1869. Preface The semantics and logic contain a high degree of difficulty. He slightly altered the cessationist formulation in his approach, choosing the word revelation over miracle. Revelation is God expressing His divine will through miracles, the supernatural, act or order of nature. It is a more comprehensive word than miracles.

The order of miracles according to A. A. Hodge is too ambiguous to use in the cessationist clause, but there is an admission by him that miracles do exist, but veiled it in wordiness. He understood miracles as part of a comprehensive order of life that were “fixed in their occurrence by God’s eternal plan” and the “order of nature is only an instrument of the divine will, and an instrument used subserviently to that higher moral government in the interests of which miracles are wrought.”(15) A.A. Hodge. A Commentary on the The Confession of Faith. With Questions For Theological Students and Bible Classes. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work. 1869. Pg. 140 These are deep and complex thoughts that are almost cryptic. A. A. Hodge was attempting to work around the cessationist tenet that miracles cannot occur after the establishment of Scripture. He knew that miracles could occur today, but how could he manage an explanation without changing the fundamental cessationist framework? He rationalized that any miracles subsequent to the foundation of Scripture was pre-ordained at the creation of the world and part of the course of nature built by God.

Benjamin Warfield
Benjamin Warfield

The pinnacle of cessationist theory is held in the name of the last conservative principal of Princeton Theological Seminary, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921). Unlike the high semantics of Charles Hodge, and the middling ground of A. A. Hodge, Warfield used everyday language to express both that miracles stopped around 100 AD.

How long did this state of things continue? It was the characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age—although no doubt this designation may be taken with some latitude. These gifts were not the possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles. They were part of the credentials of the Apostles as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their function thus confined them to distinctively the Apostolic Church, and they necessarily passed away with it.(16)B. B. Warfield. Counterfeit Miracles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1918. Pg. 5

Warfield’s work was not unique. He took from Conyer’s Middleton’s work, Free Inquiry and simply updated it. He cites his name over 23 times. Warfield correctly asserts about the power of Middleton’s argument:

After a century and a half the book remains unrefuted, and, indeed, despite the faults arising from the writer’s spirit and the limitations inseparable from the state of scholarship in his day, its main contention seems to be put beyond dispute.(17) B. B. Warfield. Counterfeit Miracles. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1918. Pg. 31

Warfield’s commendation about Middleton still rings true today. The traditional protestant community, including the present renewalist movements, have not engaged in the important debate that Middleton made popular. No person or group has reconciled it within a christian framework or outright refuted it. It is a tension that still remains.

Warfield spent more time on outlining the counterfeit miracles than explaining the nature and purpose of miracles. He was happy with his short definition that they ended before 100 AD.

He used his theological framework as a basis to attack the catholic history of miracles and many of the legends and myths surrounding them. This is a predictable Protestant approach to miracles. A notable section is his assessment of the protestant miracles; especially the Irvingites, the Christian Science movement, and faith healers.

He does not note any individual faith healers, but the most prominent one during his day, John Alexander Dowie, was opposed to physicians and medical assistance including pharmaceutical intervention. Dowie was so influential and popular that he built a city outside of Chicago and called it Zion. 6000 devotees initially settled there.(18)http://faith.galecia.com/essays/wolfe-dowie-zion-city The city still stands today, though its early foundational roots have been shaken off. The Holiness movement itself had its share of faith healers and those that promoted the great physician over human doctors and medicine.

Jon Ruthven, author of On the Cessation of the Charismata deeply delved into Warfield’s motivations. He believed that there were a variety of influences that pressed upon Warfield when he wrote his book Counterfeit Miracles — many of which were eroding the traditional base of Protestantism.(19)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 7 and 40 An interesting factor that Ruthven noted was a personal one. Warfield’s wife was struck by lightning on their honeymoon and became an invalid for the rest of her life. Ruthven wrote that we can only speculate on the impact, but it must have been significant.(20)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 43

After the death of Warfield in 1921, the traditional Princeton message lost its momentum and the Presbyterian Church was confronted with more pressing internal matters. The era of Presbyterian influence on the American religious conscience was in serious decline.

1920s to Today

Cessationism was found elsewhere in the religious American psyche. One of the more important guardians was Lewis Chafer. Chafer was originally a Congregationalist minister – another offshoot of the Church of England that subscribed to the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 1658. This declaration reaffirmed the ceasing of the gifts. Chafer was known for two important features of American Christianity. The first one related to him being mentored by Cyrus Scofield, whose Scofield Reference Bible had a major influence on the spread of a distinct christian framework called dispensationalism. Although Scofield emphasized little on cessation in his work,(21) “Tongues and the sign gifts are to cease, and meantime must be used with restraint, and only if an interpreter be present” http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/sco/co1014.htm the mere association with his stature gave Chafer a national audience. Secondly, Chafer helped form a christian higher education institution called the Evangelical Theological College in 1924, which later became known as Dallas Theological Seminary. As one of the dominant suppliers of higher education teachers and pastors for almost 100 years, their doctrinal stance has reached christian communities throughout the world.

Lewis Chafer himself held to cessationism,(22)Lewis Chafer. He That is Spiritual. New Edition. Philadelphia: Sunday School Times Company. 1919. Pg. 57 and this translated into Dallas Theological Seminary holding a similar position. Their doctrinal statement contains this certainty:

We believe that some gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues and miraculous healings were temporary. We believe that speaking in tongues was never the common or necessary sign of the baptism nor of the filling of the Spirit, and that the deliverance of the body from sickness or death awaits the consummation of our salvation in the resurrection.(23)https://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/

Dallas Theological Seminary’s wording of cessation is a polemic against the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The Holiness movement and its child progeny, the Pentecostals blossomed in the early 1900s with an emphasis on the restoration of the early church and miracles. This led to a revival in the cessationist doctrine to counteract them such as the above statement. Jon Ruthven observed this fact; “the advancing front of charismatic growth has precipitated showers of polemical books and tracts, virtually all of these reiterating this cessationist premise.”(24)Jon Ruthven. On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles. 1993. Reprint 2008. Pg. 3

By no means is Dallas Theological Seminary the only one producing traditional christian leaders of the cessationist strain. There are others such as Moody Bible Institute,(25)https://www.moodyglobal.org/beliefs/sign-gifts/ but the importance has quietly disappeared. Traditional reformed background schools are losing appeal to a new generation of Christians. Young Christians entering into higher education are predominately from a renewalist background (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Third Wavers). The precipitous drop of enrollment in higher christian education institutions has forced many schools to be more flexible or drop this doctrine altogether.

John F. MacArthur
John F. MacArthur

All contemporary discussions surrounding cessationism inevitably will lead to the strong opinions of the American radio host, church pastor, and author, John F. MacArthur. He may be one of the most controversial theological figures in the American christian community today.

Mr. MacArthur reaffirms the traditional reformed perspective on miracles. The only difference between MacArthur and his ancient Puritan influenced theologians is that he traded the virulent anti-Catholicism for anti-Charismaticism. Indeed, the parallels between the excesses found in mystic catholicism and the charismatic movements are very similar, and there are serious problems of credibility. He uses numerous examples of Charismatics to demonstrate miracles no longer exist and the acts they are performing are a sham.

His arguments are based on Scriptural references alone and there is no reference to the philosophical or rational attachments that have grown with the movement over the centuries. His message is simplified and intended for a mass audience. His approach and framework for writing on miracles is very similar to that of B. B. Warfield.

He makes the same mistake from the tradition instituted by the Protestants at the Reformation who threw out all catholic experiences related to miracles—not even giving it a status as myth or legend or even seeing the social context that framed such activities. MacArthur has simply changed the name of Catholicism to that of Charismatics and modernized the reformed script. This is reflected in his book, Strange Fire:

Charismatics now number more than half a billon worldwide. Yet the gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.(26)John F. MacArthur. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nashville: Nelson Books. 2013. Pg. Xvii.

Much like the ancient Reformers before him, MacArthur points out some very real and tangible abuses in the realm of miracles, especially in the realm of faith healing. He takes such charges to the extreme and cites adherence to cessationism as a pillar of the true christian faith. On the other hand, the charismatic movement has become intransigent and refuses to make the necessary changes, just like the initial reaction of the medieval Catholic Church. This is history repeating itself.

You are at then end of this series. For the previous articles on this topic.

References   [ + ]

Charismatics, Headaches and Healings


Examining the role of divine healing in charismatic churches and the urgency to review, modify, or abandon this as a staged event.

If you attend almost any charismatic church meeting, you are sure to hear about supernatural healings. They are usually abstract ones such as headaches banished, a sore back relieved, a short leg lengthened, and many other unusual conditions cured. The majority cannot be scientifically proven because of the vague symptoms, but the person feels better. There are seldom any that can be empirically proven.

The practice of divine healings is typical of a charismatic liturgical experience. The charismatic movement, originally birthed from mainline denominations in the 1950s and rising to prominence in the 1960s, was originally assigned to those people deeply connected with the pentecostal wave but still attended their traditional churches. They were part of a theological influence that erupted through the continent emphasizing a mystic union with God through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, subsequent speaking in tongues and an emphasis on the supernatural.

Those imbued with the pentecostal wave and still attending their Anglican/Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist and other mainline churches tried to bring their spiritual awakening to their traditional brethren, but it did not succeed. The result was that many of these people voluntarily left or were forced out. As a consequence, these people formed their independent churches. One of their attributes, apart from their emphasis on the supernatural, is the autonomous nature and avoidance of denominational or sectarian features. Because of this, there is a wide range of expressions and practices within the charismatic movement. There is no key leader, church, or theologian that represents them. Dialogue and cooperation exist between these independent churches, but no desire to form a hierarchical structure.

One may think that the charismatic movement is a small slice of the religious pie, but this is not the case. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the christian faith in the world. In the United States alone, the Barna Group states that four out of every ten independent churches are charismatic based, and 46% of those who attend a protestant meeting are Charismatic. (1)https://www.barna.org/barna-update/congregations/52-is-american-christianity-turning-Charismatic#.Vc1JVB_iubk

Divine healings is part of the charismatic emphasis on the supernatural and the mystic christian life. It is an important part of their religious identity.

Problems with exhibitions of divine healings

However, there are serious problems with the mystic rite that the charismatic movement must address.

First of all, the public exhibition of divine healings strengthen public sentiment that those practising are radicalized religious fanatics. It scares the general populace more than attracts. This healing practice, which is perceived as a staged act rather than fact by most members of the public, also further alienates the christian faith from being a regular participant in public social dialogue.

Secondly, the staged process of divine healing undermines the credibility of the message. I don’t know how many times I have had public discussions where the faith discussion is quickly shut down because they think the whole church thing is a fraudulent process that is for the elderly, the mentally weak, or those who are easily deceived. They usually quote faith healers they have seen on television, the radio, or in print magazines to back up their refusal to discuss any matters of the christian faith.

This leads to a serious concern. Unless the various branches of the protestant churches seriously confront the problems of perceived fraud and lack of accountability in the practice of divine healing, then a serious public relations problem exists. The lack of discipline may lead to a tipping point; some abuse relating to divine intervention will spark the already existent anti-church sentiment and will set a precedent for government intervention. As a result, this will send a very bad message that the church, which is supposed to pursue and encourage moral excellence, is an institution that cannot govern itself, nor be considered reputable. Whose fault is that? Is it a war on the church or is it a backlash the church has created for itself?

The historic problem of supernaturalism

This is not the first time in history that an overemphasis on the supernatural within the christian community has caused problems.

Both Origen in the second and John Chrysostom in the fourth-century touched on it. They agreed that very few pious people would ever achieve the status of producing miracles.(2)Origen, Against Celsus. As found in The Writings of Origen. Translated by the Rev. Frederick Crombie. Vol. II. Origen Contra Celsum. Edinburgh: T & T Clark. 1872. Pg. 426. For Chrysostom see the footnote below Chrysostom especially did not want to attach miracles to the Christian identity. He felt that superstition and magic would be an obstacle to personal growth. He also stated that there was a certain danger of pride with those who were miracle workers and very much de-emphasized such a ministry because of this.(3) Homily on Matthew 9:32 See also: Chrysostom on the Doctrine of Tongues which covers Chrysostom’s beliefs regarding miracles.

Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century dwelt deeply on the topic of miracles and formulated the definition into various degrees. He cautions against improperly assigning a natural phenomenon as a miracle. One example he used was an eclipse. To the astronomer, it is part of a routine pattern, but to the thirteenth-century layman, it was out of the natural order and, therefore, a miracle. Aquinas simply assigns this as a wondrous event.

He describes miracles as something out of the natural order of nature, such as the sea temporarily parting so that people can walk through it. The more the event goes against the laws of nature, the greater the miracle. The healing of a blind person, paralysis, etc., are actions that nature cannot do, and, therefore, are categorically a miracle. Another kind of miracle is where God intervenes where nature could have done the same thing such as curing a fever, or bringing on rain. He deems these as a lesser miracle.(4)Thomas Aquinas. Contra Gentils. 101 “On Miracles.” http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles3b.htm#101

One must realize that Aquinas lived in an era where mystic christianity was in a heightened stature. He realized there was a fundamental problem and clearly wrote out basic principles for defining a miracle. Although his work is almost 800 years old, it still surpasses what the present charismatic community has in place today for defining a miracle – which is nothing.

The eighteenth-century English philosopher, David Hume, among others, noted that superstition and adherence to mysticism were too strong a social constant in his society. It permeated all the theaters of decision making. From this perspective he produced this powerful sweeping statement.

The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvelous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind. This is our natural way of thinking, even with regard to the most common and most credible events.(5)David Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Reprinted from the posthumous edition of 1777 with introduction, comparative tables of contents, and analytical index by L.A. Selby-Bigge. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9662/9662-h/9662-h.htm

He further added that miracles should not justify a system of faith.(6)IBID Hume. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Miracles used to rationalize a charismatic church or christianity as an authentic representation of religion instead of reason delegitimizes such movements within the Canadian social mosaic. Any religious leadership that uses miracles to promote their brand may have short term gain by preaching to the choir, but in the long term, the public will be further disassociated.

Nor are most Charismatics aware that they are simply reinventing the wheel. The topic of divine healings, mysticism, and the supernatural were a central core of European society for centuries. It dominated the political and social landscape. William Lecky, in his book, History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, described the circumstances in the 17th to 18th centuries as this:

Nothing could be more common than for a holy man to be lifted up from the floor in the midst of his devotions, or to be visited by the Virgin or by an angel. There was scarcely a town that could not show some relic that had cured the sick, or some image that had opened and shut its eyes, or bowed it head to an earnest worshipper.(7)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888. Pg. 157

He saw no difference in the attitudes of either the Protestants or the Catholics on the subject.

The improper application of miracles and the supernatural was one of the factors that forced a social revolution that regaled against any perceived spiritual intervention. The desupernaturalizing also had another important factor. It deprived Church of their authority and transferred it to a new entity. As a consequence, it enabled society to establish a new set of laws, selection processes for civic leaders, systems of government, and a different framework for scientific exploration. This correction was an overreaction that downgraded the realm of miracles and supernatural into the place of myth; a piece of history that should remind present day charismatics to tread carefully.

There is also a theological and common sense problem. If a church has regular weekly healing meetings based on the premise that miracles will happen, then this means they have the ability to suspend the laws of nature for an hour or two every week. Such a proposition displays a predictable pattern of health recovery and, therefore, a normal procedure. Such a custom is not consistent with what constitutes a miracle. A miracle is something that cannot be controlled or predicted in any way. This is not a realistic premise to encourage or practice.

Building a proper framework

Miracles do happen but the definition should be purposely narrow and only be declared when something occurs that is obviously outside the laws of regular nature. The cure for a common cold, or a back feeling better are too subjective. An amputated arm that grew back, or somebody clinically defined as dead and then suddenly brought back to life while someone was praying over the coffin are miracles are of substance. However, I have never seen anything like this happen.

It is important that churches who emphasize faith healing have a clear policy in place. An independent third party must empirically prove any miracle. Therefore, meetings that encourage divine healings should state that only a health care professional declares whether a miracle has happened.

It would be difficult to ascribe something as spontaneous healing with many ailments. Diabetes, most cancers, multiple sclerosis, or many other afflictions are all conditions that can be tricky to declare healed. Some can heal through natural means or can even go in remission. They can hide for long periods of time and then surprisingly reappear. These states can lead to a false hope and potentially to a premature death because a sick person who believes that a divine intervention has occurred may fail to take prescribed therapies or refuse medical treatment.

All healings and miracles should be listed according to Aquinas’ system: wonders of nature, greater miracles and lesser miracles.

Some would counter that the positive affirmation of community prayer heals a broken spirit and can alleviate emotional suffering. This then can cross over into the bodily realm and help those with heightened sensitivities to physical pain.

Many divine healing services succeed in encouraging people by instilling a sense of hope. Hope is hard to grasp for those who continually struggle due to a physical malady, lack financial means for the most elementary of provisions such as medications, dental work, food, or employment, or hurting through a divorce, death, or many other reasons. These are situations where many have quietly given up on life and live in the shadows. Many testimonies in healing services attest to overcoming such obstacles and finding the experience as a place for a new kick-start in life.

The psychological help and inspiration of a divine hope appears to be a great argument for divine healing services. However, these aren’t miracles. They are words of encouragement. They are a divine wonder.

These last two arguments gloss over the serious trust broken by faith healers and ignores the ominous task of rebuilding it. Until the various branches of the protestant movement seriously address this subject, the Good News will remain stagnant or even regress in the hearts of the majority of North Americans.

References   [ + ]

Thoughts on Ecstasy, Private Revelation, and Prophecy

The use of private revelations, ecstasy and prophecy in the 18th century European religious vernacular. What these words stood for, the growing opposition, and parallels to modern Christian mystics.

These states of Christian being had individual, group and societal effects. The perceived infusion of the divine impartation can be found in decision making on small personal things and large ones too. They had an impact in the larger political and community realm as well.

The following conclusions are from research derived from reading Medieval and Reformation literature on the subject along with these through historical narratives: William Lecky’s monumental work, History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1 (1)William Lecky. History of the rise and influence of the spirit of rationalism in Europe, Volume 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. 1888., Paul Carus’ publication, The History of the Devil and The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Hugh Trevor-Roper.(2)Further details on Christian mysticism and how it affected the role of Patristics can be found in the following article, The Historical Rejection of Patristics and its Legacy. A third influence is my affiliation with the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal communities for over 30 years. Their modern experiences, especially those of the Charismatics, accidentally parallel those of the Medieval period. This creates a framework to address this subject.

These three books demonstrate that all of Europe, whether Protestant or Catholic, was immersed in a mystic lifestyle. This age cannot be understood without this as a central axis.

Private revelation is understood as a divine message. This revelation was imparted on a person by a dream or vision. The person does not necessarily have to asleep in bed for this to occur but could be wide awake. It could be the discerning of a devil or witch’s presence. The experience could outcome with a miracle or healing. The private revelation could be an inner locution (an inner voice). It did not necessarily have to be major, nor theologically deep. It often applied to the mundane things in life such as decision making in a business transaction, marriage, divine appointment of a leader, or family life.(3)Decision making such as marriage, appointments of leaders etc. is my own conclusions based on being within the confines of the Charismatic movement that practices private revelations. It may be my own bias but this is seen as a natural progression of private revelation.

Charismatics and Pentecostals still believe in private revelation but this term is not consistently nor universally applied. Most contemporary Christian mystics would say, “God spoke to me,” and add nothing more.

The eighteenth century philosopher John Locke categorically railed against its effect. He called these types of persons enthusiasts:

Their minds being thus prepared, whatever groundless opinion comes to settle itself strongly upon their fancies is an illumination from the Spirit of God, and presently of divine authority: and whatsoever odd action they find in themselves a strong inclination to do, that impulse is concluded to be a call or direction from heaven, and must be obeyed: it is a commission from above, and they cannot err in executing it.(4)An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke. Book IV, XIX:5

Locke was outlining the problem of absolutism with the office of private revelation. If someone speaks out publicly with a private revelation, then it is an absolute thought that cannot be disputed. The disputation against such a revelation would then be arguing against God. A person or institution could act or behave irrationally with little or no accountability to anyone else because the motivation was perceived to be of higher origin. Locke attempted to outline a balanced approach on dealing with private revelations in his work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

Private revelation would be especially problematic if leaders used it as a means to instruct the masses. The public would have no choice but give absolute consent to whatever the leader’s divine revelation consisted of.

Another practice was that of divine ecstasy. This is a state where the mind is either totally fixated on a religious subject such as the crucifixion of Christ, the love of God, the sign of the cross, the end-times etc. It typically was understood that the persons physical senses are totally overtaken by what is perceived as an external power. It may cause the person to go in a trance, or enter into a temporary catatonic state. The person is overwhelmed by the perceived presence of the divine.(5)Ecstasy A similar description is described in contemporary Pentecostal and Charismatic theological terms as spirit baptism or slain in the spiritslain in the spirit may be a closer parallel because it can occur on numerous occasions. This is unlike spirit baptism which Pentecostals and Charismatics teach can only happen once.

The sixteenth century Teresa of Avila was a religious icon celebrated throughout all of Europe. Her book, the Inner Castle, “forms one of the most remarkablespiritual biographies with which only the “Confessions of St. Augustine” can bear comparison,” according to the Catholic Encyclopedia(6)http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14515b.htm She popularized ecstasy throughout the international religious community. She described ecstasy in her book, The Inner Castle, as:

This supreme state of ecstasy never lasts long, but although it ceases, it leaves the will so inebriated, and the mind so transported out of itself that for a day, or sometimes for several days, such a person is incapable of attending to anything but what excites the will to the love of God; although wide awake enough to this, she seems asleep as regards all earthly matters.(7)The Inner Castle by Theresa of Avila. Chapter 4:18

St. John of the Cross echoed similar sentiments to that of Teresa, but added that the state of ecstasy provided knowledge beyond anything science could offer:

I was so far beyond,

So lost and absorbed,

I lost all my senses

I was of all sensing dispossessed;

And my spirit was filled

With knowledge not knowing,

Beyond all science knowing.(8)Nine verses made upon an ecstasy of high contemplation by John of the Cross. tr: Willis Barnstone 1968

The sixteenth century Stephanus’ Greek Lexicon devoted three columns to defining the word ecstasy,(9)Stephanus Vol. 3 Col. 570-572 This was not normative for Stephanus to devote so much page space. This long entry demonstrated how controversial and popular this noun had become.

Conyers Middleton, in his 1749 publication Free Inquiry, demonstrated that by his time the mark of a prophet was by the confirmation of an ecstatic experience. He attacked this correlation which was a direct reproach against the Church and Civil authorities:

For whereas the Montanists delivered their prophecies always in ecstasy, or with loss of senses ; it was then urged against them, “that this was the proof of a Diabolical spirit ; that the true Prophets never had such fits ; never lost their senses ; but calmly and sedately received and understood whatever was revealed to them.” And Epiphanius makes this the very criterion or distinguishing character between a true and false prophet ; that the true had no ecstasies, constantly retained his senses, and with firmness of mind apprehended and uttered the divine oracles. St. Jerome also declares, that the true Prophets never spake in ecstasy, or in madness of heart, like Montanus and his mad women, Prisca and Maximilla, but understood what they delivered, and could speak or bold their tongues, whenever they pleased, which these, who spake in ecstasy could not do. Eusebius also mentions a book of one Miltiades, written against Montanus, the purpose of which was to prove, that a prophet ought not to speak in ecstasy.(10)Conyers Middleton. A Free Inquiry into the Miraculous Powers, which are supposed to have subsisted in the Christian Church, from the Earliest Ages through Several Effective Centuries: By which it is shown, that we have no sufficient Reason to believe, upon the Authority of the Primitive Fathers, that any such Powers were continued to the Church, after the Days of the Apostles. London: R. Manby and H.S. Cox. 1749. Pg. 110

The Montanists were a critical piece of evidence by Middleton in demonstrating the improper use of the supernatural to communicate with and control society. It was a vanguard in the argument against the religious tyranny of the time.

Middleton’s diatribe set in motion new principles of thought that could now be expressed. Science no longer was a prisoner of prophecy, nor were the institutions of law, or civil duties, to be occupied solely by those people considered spiritually enlightened: spiritual absolutism could no longer dominate.

Evelyn Underhill was an English Anglo-Catholic writer in the early 1900s who devoted much of her intellectual pursuits documenting the concept of Christian mysticism. She wrote a comprehensive book entitled, Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness.(11)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evelyn_Underhill She acknowledges the religious dimension of ecstasy but believed it to be a psychological contrivement:

“Such ecstasy as this, so far as its physical symptoms go, is not of course the peculiar privilege of the mystics. It is an abnormal bodily state, caused by a psychic state: and this causal psychic state may be healthy or unhealthy, the result of genius or disease. It is common in the little understood type of personality called “sensitive” or mediumistic: it is a well-known symptom of certain mental and nervous illnesses. A feeble mind concentrated on one idea—like a hypnotic subject gazing at one spot—easily becomes entranced; however trivial the idea which gained possession of his consciousness. Apart from its content, then, ecstasy carries no guarantee of spiritual value. It merely indicates the presence of certain abnormal psycho-physical conditions: an alteration of the normal equilibrium, a shifting of the threshold of consciousness, which leaves the body, and the whole usual “external world” outside instead of inside the conscious field, and even affects those physical functions—such as breathing—which are almost entirely automatic. Thus ecstasy, physically considered, may occur in any person in whom (1) the threshold of consciousness is exceptionally mobile and (2) there is a tendency to dwell upon one governing idea or intuition. Its worth depends entirely on the objective value of that idea or intuition.

In the hysterical patient, thanks to an unhealthy condition of the centres of consciousness, any trivial or irrational idea, any one of the odds and ends stored up in the subliminal region, may thus become fixed, dominate the mind, and produce entrancement. Such ecstasy is an illness: the emphasis is on the pathological state which makes it possible. In the mystic, the idea which fills his life is so great a one—the idea of God—that, in proportion as it is vivid, real, and intimate, it inevitably tends to monopolize the field of consciousness. Here the emphasis is on the overpowering strength of spirit, not on the feeble and unhealthy state of body or mind. This true ecstasy, says Godferneaux, is not a malady, but “the extreme form of a state which must be classed amongst the ordinary accidents of conscious life.”

The mystics themselves are fully aware of the importance of this distinction. Ecstasies, no less than visions and voices, must they declare, be subjected to unsparing criticism before they are recognized as divine: whilst some are undoubtedly “of God,” others are no less clearly “of the devil.” “The great doctors of the mystic life,” says Malaval, “teach that there are two sorts of rapture, which must be carefully distinguished. The first are produced in persons but little advanced in the Way, and still full of selfhood; either by the force of a heated imagination which vividly apprehends a sensible object, or by the artifice of the Devil. These are the raptures which St. Teresa calls, in various parts of her works, Raptures of Feminine Weakness. The other sort of Rapture is, on the contrary, the effect of pure intellectual vision in those who have a great and generous love for God. To generous souls who have utterly renounced themselves, God never fails in these raptures to communicate high things.”(12)http://www.sacred-texts.com/myst/myst/myst19.htm

The Catholic Encyclopedia was well aware of such an argument and countered:

“The rigid condition of the ecstatic’s body has given rise to a fourth error. Ecstasy, we are told, is but another form of lethargy or catalepsy. The loss of consciousness, however, that accompanies these latter states points to a marked difference.

(5) In view of this, some have sought to identify ecstasy with the hypnotic state. Physically, there are usually some points of contrast. Ecstasy is always accompanied by noble attitudes of the body, whereas in hospitals one often marks motions of the body that are convulsive or repelling; barring, of course, any counter-command of the hypnotist. The chief difference, though, is to be found in the soul. The intellectual faculties, in the case of the saints, became keener. The sick in our hospitals, on the contrary, experience during their trances a lessening of their intelligences, while the gain is only a slight representation in the imagination. A single idea, let it be ever so trivial, e.g. that of a flower, or a bird, is strong enough to fasten upon it their profound and undivided attention. This is what is meant by the narrowing of the field of consciousness; and this is precisely the starting-point of all theories that have been advanced to explain hypnotic ecstasy. Moreover, the hallucination noticed in the case of these patients consists always of representations of the imagination. They are visual, auricular, or tactual; consequently they differ widely from the purely intellectual perceptions which the saints usually enjoy. It is no longer possible, then, to start with the extremely simple hypothesis that the two kinds of phenomena are one and the same.”(13)http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05277a.htm

Another important contributor to the public’s supernatural sense was the office of prophecy. Thomas Aquinas had described it as the greatest gift because it could take all sensory data, whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual and make a cohesive meaning out of it.(14)See Thomas Aquinas on the Miracle of Tongues for more information Anyone who was conferred with such a gift, would rise to prominence. It was reserved for the blessed — which was typically assigned to Church representatives — persons who were central to the international, national, and local political mechanizations. This definition seemed to hold quite well in the Catholic realm but it was not universal within the Protestant world. The Huguenot Camisards, who lived in the mountainous south-central part of France called Cévennes, saw the prophetic rite as a God sanctioned directive for the overthrowing of a Catholic based Government.

The study of these three terms are preliminary. It is a good start but I am still not thoroughly convinced about prophecy or ecstasy. Prophecy from a Catholic point of view is understood, but the Protestant position is not clearly researched in this work and needs more attention. Why the term ecstasy got dropped from the religious vernacular and slain in the spirit or baptism in the spirit took its place, are not resolved.

References   [ + ]

The Alliance between Israel and Evangelicals

The financial, political, social and religious connections between the nation of Israel and Evangelical groups abroad.

The growing relationship between Israel and Evangelicals is largely due to domestic problems inside Israel and the greater Jewish community. The Jewish liberal monetary support has been declining, partly in protest to the encroaching rhetoric of Jewish fundamentalism into mainstream Israeli politics, such as the transfer of power to a Likud based party, the redefinition of the Jewish identity by a stricter set of rules,(1)http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week122/cover.html “Israeli Alliance with American Evangelicals” January 30th, 1998 Episode no. 122. An interview with Benjamin Natanyahu by Paul Miller, Religion and Ethics and the religious fervour of Westbank community settlements.

The Evangelical alliance also gives the Israeli Government political insurance if there is potential fallout of goodwill within many of its western democratic government allies.

The initial passion for the restoration of Israel can be found in the Evangelical movement over 100 years ago and was so pervasive that Dr. Stephen Sizer, an Anglican Minister and one of the foremost authorities on Christian Zionism, believes that this was a key force in allowing the reformation of the physical entity of Israel in 1948.(2) Stephen Sizer. Christian Zionism: Fueling the Arab-Israeli Conflict. CD pre-release version. Chapter 5: pg. 305. No Date Given but is the rough manuscript to the final print version, “Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armaggedon?”

This zeal has heavily influenced political decision making. For example, in the 1980s the then President Ronald Reagan along with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Jesse Helms, were openly known to hold evangelical end-time aspirations in dealings with Israel. George Bush Jr. is also noted to hold this faith position, more so than his father.(3) American Jews and Israel: A 54-Year Retrospective University of Judaism, http://www.uj.edu/content/ContentUnit.asp?CID=1200&u=3025&t=0

Josh Pollack noted in the Jewish World Review that a significant chunk of donations to the United Jewish Appeal are from Christians(4) http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0298/evewar.html “The dance of symbols” by Josh Pollack, Jan. 21. 1998 . Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, director of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a Chicago-based organization, consisting mainly of Evangelical Christians donors, have contributed over $5 million dollars to the United Jewish appeal in 1997 and in 2006 the yearly donations skyrocketed to $39 million dollars.(5) http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/08/17/jews.christians/index.html The Jerusalem Post wrote that he claimed his organization to be the largest single donor to the United Jewish Appeal.(6) Evangelical Christians Supply Major Source of UJA Donations. The Jerusalem Post Thursday, November 13, 1997 By Aryeh Dean Cohen. Rabbi Yechiel’s statement may be hyperbole but it demonstrates how important Christian financial contributions are becoming in Israeli fund-raising activities.

There are other examples as well which demonstrate how widespread financial support from Christian communities have become:

  • The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, reported that television evangelists raised over $20 million dollars to help Jewish immigration to Israel in 1997.(7) U.S. Christians paid for summer airlift of Ethiopian Jews. By Catherine Cohen , Ha’aretz. Friday, December 31, 1999. No link to this file

  • Ann Lolordo of the Baltimore Sun found that financial help for Jewish settlements could be found in the Christian Zionist community, and ironically not found from western Jewish ones. She detailed a number of Christian Churches and organizations funding endeavors such as the $5,000 dollars raised by Judy Campbell and the New Life Church in Colorado, or Ted Beckett, a Colorado developer, who started the Adopt-a-settlement program and contributed over $50,000 dollars over a two-year period. The Fellowship Church of Castleberry, Florida, donated over $100,000 dollars for a dormitory and conference center at a West-Bank settlement called Kiryat-Arba.(8) Israeli settlers find staunch friends in Christians, By Ann LoLordo, Baltimore Sun. July 27, 1997.

  • Vicki Hearst, daughter of the late wealthy businessman, Randolph Hearst, has given an undisclosed significant amount of money for facilities on the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel.(9) IBID. Israeli Settlers. LoLordo.

  • Pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone Christian Church in Texas donated over $1.5 million dollars to the United Jewish Communities for “Israel-related causes”.(10) http://www.ujc.org/page.html?ArticleID=36411 United Jewish Communities “News: As Evangelical Christians Cheer, Preacher Gives Money to Back Israel” by Barbara Richmond. And in 2006 it is alleged he raised over $7 million for Jewish groups.(11) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007 He also founded on February 7, 2006, Christians United For Israel an Evangelical equivalent of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to lobby the American congress to support Israel.(12) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hagee In that same year, Hagee was the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award by B’nai B’rith.(13) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Leader of Reform Judaism discourages cooperation with Christians United for Israel. May 29th, 2007.

  • The amount of money from many of these groups may seem insignificant, but there are Churches and organizations all over the world doing the same thing, cumulatively adding to Israel’s economy.

  • There are so many pro-Israel Christian groups that if one does a Google search, it will bring up over 250 organizations. It is difficult to assess the yearly economic contributions to Israel, but four of the larger well known ones, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, and Chosen People Ministries, collectively receive donations over $33 million US every year.(14) This was based on studying financial reports given on the internet for the year 2000.

This Christian zeal enters directly into modern-day Israeli politics. I was at the International Christian Embassy Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem in 1986, where the then Prime Minister Yitzhaq Shamir was given a standing ovation by a thousand or more Christians as a sign of prophetic allegiance. The annual rite that occurred in 2007 consisted of an estimated 7,000 Christian pilgrims from 90 nations.(15) http://www.icej.org/article/feast_pilgrims_ready_for_jerusalem_march

Benyamin Netanyahu, a former Israeli UN representative and current Prime Minister, has frequently spoken in Churches.(16) http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4951.htm “The Interregnum: Christian Zionism In The Clinton Years” by Donald Wagner.  He is a cherished idol in the Evangelical community, as reflected by this blogger on Netanyahu when he announced participation in a previous Likud leadership race, “I believe that Benjamin Netanyahu is the chosen man of God to help lead Israel through this very difficult time.”(17) http://www.onenewsnow.com/2007/07/bibi_netanyahu_the_great_commu.php A posting by Steve Wenge, July 11th, 2007

The Knesset has formed the Christian Allies Caucus because of the decades of warm political, economic and social relationships between the Evangelical Christian Community and Israel.(18) http://cac.org.il/. http://www.israelnn.com/news.php3?id=69672 Christian Allies in Day of Prayer for Jerusalem. See also http://www.knesset.gov.il/lobby/eng/LobbyPage_eng.asp?lobby=41

The European Coalition for Israel: the brainchild of a number of major Christian Zionist groups was founded to promote the welfare of Israel before the European Parliament.(19) http://www.europeancoalitionforisrael.org/ “A Christian initiative Promoting European-Israeli Cooperation.”

The Israeli political ethos has warmed to these Christian communities since the times of Menachem Begin, who oversaw the transition of a liberal based Israeli government to that of a Likud based one — a party influenced by orthodox Judaism — the Christian equivalent of a fundamentalist group.

The Biblical imagery and geographical rhetoric that the Likud party espouses is easily understood by the Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, which makes the attraction between the Likud and these Christians a natural one.

The Israeli Government feels comfortable with this arrangement because money donated comes with what appears few strings attached. An Op-Ed by Abraham H. Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League detailed this in Time Magazine, “The support comes voluntarily, and we welcome it, as long as it comes without a quid pro quo.”(20) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html How Jews See it: Foreign Policy and Christian Zionists: Time Magazine, January 16th, 2007

The Christian organizations that offer material support believe the country and its politicians are mandated by God, and their assistance is to accelerate modern Israel’s self-determined course to Armaggedon. They feel direct intervention on how and where the money should be used would be counter-productive to the unfolding of the events leading to the end of the world.

Much of the closeness between Evangelicals and the Israeli Government can be traced to the late American Evangelist, Jerry Falwell, and his close relationship with Israeli leader Menachem Begin. It has been asserted the relationship was so close, that Falwell was loaned a Lear jet by the Israeli government. A deeper look reveals this to be false, according to the Israeli-American writer, Zev Chafets.(21) Zev Chafets. A Match Made in Heaven. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 2007. pg. 66

Falwell once stated that the Israeli government can be confident that he could mobilize over 70 million Christians in support of Israel.(22) Donald Wagner. Evangelicals and Israel: Theological roots of a political alliance. Christian Century. Nov. 4. 1998 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1058/is_1998_Nov_4/ai_53227143/pg_4

Little is said or written about what the average Israeli perceives the Christian Zionist in a one-to-one conversation. Zev Chafets appreciates such enthusiasm to support the Israeli cause. He turns a blind eye to their religious fervour and is simply in favour of anybody who defends Israel from being taken off the map.(23) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseefp.html On Fresh Air: Chafets shrugs off Christian Right Agenda, Israeli attack on Iran. Terry Gross interviews Chafets on Fresh Air, January 18th, 2007.

Chafets explores the modern Israeli relationship with Christian Zionism in his book, A Matchmade in Heaven. He described this association through an experience touring with a Christian Zionist couple in Israel. While they were in a store, he was talking with an Israeli clerk about his touring friends. In English, they are appreciated, but in a short Hebrew dialogue between Chafets and the clerk, they find them weird(24) IBID Chafets. Pg. 41. . When he worked in the Israeli government, he found “…that Christian Zionists were politically useful, even if their hypersincerity was a bit off-putting.”(25) IBID Chafets. Pg. 10.

This relationship is a gamble that the religious observant Jew or modern liberal Israeli has made with much trepidation. Ira Rifkin wrote in Jewish Week that he is concerned about the long-term consequences of using the Christian Zionists for the Israeli national agenda. A variety of issues could rise that deeply split the Christian from the Jewish communities and cause a new wave of anti-Semitism.(26) http://www.thejewishweek.com/top/editletcontent.php3?artid=2389 The Jewish Week: Beware of Christian Zionists by Ira Rifkin. Nov. 22, 2002. Gershom Gorenberg echoed this same sentiment in an on-line New Republic article, stating that Reverend Jerry Falwell believed the anti-Christ was alive today and was male and Jewish. This type of religious vernacular indicated to Mr. Gorenberg that Christian fanaticism could quickly turn against the Jews.(27) Tribulations: Jerusalem’s Y2K problem by Gershom Gorenberg. The New Republic: a journal of politics and the arts. JUNE 14, 1999 ISSUE

John Hagee and his organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has especially brought the relationship of Christian Zionism with mainstream American Judaism to a head. Hagee’s invitation to have a forum at a convention held by the powerful lobby group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and CUFI’s ‘Nights to Honor Israel’, at local Churches has especially increased discussion.(28) http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07b/yoffie.html Rabbi Moline, an ultra-conservative Rabbi who fiercely crusades against intermarriage and the religious right, is a known sponsor of Hagee’s fundraisers even though he doesn’t like his theology or politics, “…we live in a time when friends of Israel are few and far between. We have to recognize that we are receiving support from the Evangelical community that we are not receiving from our traditional friends.”(29) http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14013 Growing Acceptance seen of fiery Pastor by James D. Besser, Thursday, Aug. 23rd, 2007

The problem has been addressed by the Chief Rabbinate in Israel. They called on Jews to shun the annual International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem’s 2007 Feast of Tabernacles celebration held in Jerusalem. The Rabbinate cannot comprehend the modern Evangelical end-fervor and could only logically conclude that this was a plot to convert Jews to Christianity.(30) http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/World/2007/09/23/4520803-ap.html, Evangelicals disturbed by Israel rabbis’ call for Jews to shun holiday event. By Amy Teibel, The Associated Press, September 23rd, 2007.

What would happen if the Evangelical community discovered that they have been used by the Israeli Government and Jewish allies for their own political means? This scenario would likely never happen as the Pentecostal/Evangelical mindset on end-times is so deeply set, that it could not reach this state of consciousness.

Could the Evangelical support switch into a deep form of anti-Semitism? Contrary to the fears of many Rabbis and Jewish religious pundits, this is not going to happen. If anything, the new problem is that of Philo-Semitism, and the expectations that come with it.

What could be the potential turning point? A worst-case scenario is the election of a majority Labor government, who in turn would legislate and destroy illegal settlements, outlaw expansionism, and begin to introduce more liberal laws into Israel such as universal abortion on demand, recognition of same-sex marriages, and a significantly re-drawn two-state solution with Palestinians. The Christian Zionist organizations then would react two-fold: first, Christian Zionist money and political leverage would substantially shift from the Israeli Government to the territories and radical religious Jewish groups. Secondly, the Christian Zionist movement would become politically silent on military offences or defences for or against Israel, believing it to be a punishment on a government that has lost its God given mandate and in need of spiritual correction.■

For more information:

This article was originally published on the ScribD website in 2007. It is republished here with some changes.

References   [ + ]