Salvation 'excludes no one'

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This is an article by Jonathan Brenneman, from the Cape Times, 17 December 2015 issue. "During this time, Advent Christians around the world turn their attention toward Christmas and to that little town of Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born.  Bethlehem holds an extra special place in my heart because I know someone else who was born there, my mother.  My mother is a Christian Palestinian, as am I.  We are part of a Christian community that traces its origin back to the first followers of Jesus.

I am often amazed at the confusion that my identity as a Christian Palestinian causes for many of my fellow Christians.  In all their time learning about the Holy Land, both two thousand years ago and at present, they have never come to know their Chrisian brothers and sisters who inhabit the land.

This confusion is often caused by a specific kind of theology, that of Christian Zionism.  Christian Zionism divides the people of the region historically known as Palestine into two groups: Jews, whom God wants in the land and whom we should side with and non-Jews, who get in the way of God's plan and whom we as Christinas should oppose.

I grew up unsure of where we Christian Palestinians belong in this scheme.  What are we, the living remnant of the first Christians, to do? Are we all supposed to oppose ourselves, to deny our Christian identity, to convert to Judaism?  Or to leave homes that have been in our family for generations, to abandon the land where our Saviour was born, lived, preached the gospel, died and rose again?

Are we and our neighbours not loved by God?  Did the Redeemer of the universe not have a place for us in His redemption plan?  None of the Christian Zionist answers sounded like something the God I believe in would want.

As many Christians do when faced with such questions, I went to the Scriptures.  There I found something very different from the theology of Christian Zionism.  I learnt that God, through the Jewish people, had brought HIs son into the world to save it.  In Christ, salvation is no longer dependent on one's ethnic ties, but has been extended to all peoples in the world.  The wall of separation has been torn down.  This was made possible through Christ's death and resurrection, but also revealed by Christ's life and teachings.

Jesus did not exclude anyone from His teachings and miracles; He invited Roman centurions (Mt 8:5-13), tax collectors (Luke 19:1-10), Samaritans (Luke 10:25-37), "unclean" lepers (Mt 8, Luke 17:11-19), and "unclean" women (Mark 5:25-34, Mt 5:27-23, Luke 7:36-50) to follow Him.  These people did not fit into the socially acceptable categories of the day.

Jesus' life demonstrated, as Paul would later write, that there was neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28, Col 3:11), but all were welcome at the Lord's table.  This is not to say that God no longer loves the Jews, as some anti-Semitic theologians have said, but that God's love, through Jesus encompasses the whole world, not just one tribe.

When I brought up this new understanding with my Chrisian Zionist friends there were unconvinced.

They claimed that although God does love the whole world, His plan for the world has a specific, well defined ending, which includes Jews ruling the land of Palestine.  A Christian's duty is to support Jewish rule, regardless of what it entails.  This argument again raised questions, and again I went to the Scriptures.

This time I did not find clear-cut answers.  Instead, I found uncertainty about how and when the end would come about.  Jesus specifically said it was not for us to know (Acts 1:7), like how we do not know when a thief will arrive (Rev 16:15).  Paul reiterates this sayig that he sees through a glass dimly (1 Cor 13:12).  The Scriptures tell us not to base our actions on what we think will happen in the end because, regardless of our supposed certainty, we cannot know.

Instead, Scripture continually points to the life, teachings and example of Christ to show how we as His followers should live our lives.  Caring for those who society does not care for - outcasts without power - is central to biblical ethics.  This is not only demonstrated in Jesus' life, but can be found through the whole of God's redemption story in Scripture.

When the Jews are oppressed, God leads them on a long walk to freedom.  When Jews are the oppressors, God leads those they oppress to freedom.  The good news of the gospel is freedom for widows, for orphans, for strangers, for prisoners, for the "unclean", for the disenfranchised, for anyone without power.

In the land where Jesus was born, Jews were oppressed under Roman occupation.  Jesus challenged this oppression through love, while inviting both Jews and Romans to join Him.  Today, Christian Palestinians have sought to follow in His footsteps while living under Israeli occupation by inviting other Palestinians and Israelis to challenge the Israeli occupation's oppresssion with love.

In 2009 representatives from every Christian denomination in Palestine wrote the Kairos Palestine document - based on the South African Kairos document of 1985 - calling on Christians around the world to join their struggle against oppression with "faith, hope and love".  This Christmas season, I invite you to read the Kairos Palestine document and be challenged by the invitation to the church to "proclaim the Kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, peace and dignity".  Only then will we come into the Kingdom foretold by the Scriptures, where the lion will lie down with the lamb, and where we will learn war no more.

  • Brenneman is with the organisation called Open Shuhada Street"