The History of Christian Zionism
The roots of the movement
The Christian Zionist Movement has grown in numbers and in impact in recent years. Today, thousands of Christians from all over the world are, more than ever, ready to declare their love and support for the nation of Israel. Each year they come in their multitudes to Jerusalem to join the International Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. But the roots of this movement go back throughout Christian history.
In a sense, Christian Zionism goes right back to the 1st century period, as there have always been men and women who have believed and taught its tenets. Many examples of this from history could be quoted, but an article of this nature does not allow us to do it. As a definite theology, however, Christian Zionism had its beginnings among the pietistic Protestants of the 16th century and the 17th century Puritans of England. In 1587 a man named Francis Kett was burned alive for expressing his belief that the Bible prophesied a return of the Jews to their land. Moreover, in 1607, Thomas Brightman published a book in Basel called “Revelation of the Revelation”. In this book he wrote: “What, shall they return to Jerusalem again? There is nothing more certain; the prophets do everywhere confirm it.” Others of the same period frequently expressed a similar belief. For instance, Isaac de la Peyrere (1594-1676), who served as the French Ambassador to Denmark, wrote a book wherein he argued for a restoration of the Jews to Israel without conversion to Christianity.
By the time of the 18th century, the Christian Zionist Movement, known then as the Restoration Movement, included many theologians, writers and politicians. Noteworthy was Thomas Newton, the Bishop of Bristol. He believed Jews would be restored to their native city and country and at the same time he condemned anti-Jewish prejudice. The movement grew with the onset of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.
In the 19th century the movement continued to gather momentum and one of the outstanding personalities in this regard was Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. He noted in his diaries that the signs were right for the return of the Jews to Palestine. A certain Charles Henry Churchill, a British resident of Damascus, also became a zealous propagator of the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine. In 1841 he wrote a letter to the Jewish philanthropist Moses Montefiore in which he stated: “...I consider the object to be perfectly obtainable. But, two things are indispensably necessary. Firstly, that the Jews will themselves take up the matter unanimously. Secondly, that the European powers will aid them in their views...”
Another popular figure in the Restoration Movement was George Gawler (1796-1869). He wrote a book in 1845 and in it, concerning the Jewish people, he states that they were to replenish the deserted towns and fields of Palestine.
As the 19th century drew to a close, many prominent men were involved in Christian Zionism. Men like the British industrialist, Edward Cazalet (1827-1883), Lawrence Oliphant (1829-1888), a most active restorationist, and the American, William E. Blackstone. Blackstone was once dubbed the American Christian “Father of Zion¬ism”. The most interesting Christian Zionist of the period was, however, William H. Hechler (1845-1931). Hechler, Chaplain of the British Embassy in Vienna, worked very closely with Theodore Herzl, considered to be the founder and father of the Jewish State. In fact, Hechler dedicated 30 years of his life to the great task of realizing the Zionist goal; the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine. Unfortunately he died only seventeen years before this became a living reality. However, he was privileged to attend the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in August 1897, at which the foundation stone of the restored Jewish State was laid.
The 20th century saw the Zionist dream come true as a direct fulfillment of God’s prophetic word. Sadly, some tragic events preceded this realization, the most terrible and evil of which was the Nazi Holocaust. Out of the ashes of six million Jews rose the restored Jewish State.
From the very beginning of the century, Christian Zionists were in the forefront of the struggle on behalf of the Jewish People. Their influence upon statesmen and men of power was great. It is no secret that this influence played a major role in producing the Balfour Declaration of 1917, in which His Majesty’s Government viewed “with favor the establishment of a Jewish national home” in Palestine.
Time will not permit us to talk of famous Christian Zionists such as Charles Orde Wingate, John Hayes Holmes, Professor Reinhold Niebuhr and Corrie Ten Boom who, at great personal risk during the Second World War, rescued Jews from the hands of Nazism. All these believed that scripture promised the restoration of the Jewish State in Palestine. Most of them died in hope but some, like Corrie Ten Boom, lived to see the impossible come true.
Christian Zionism has a long history. Today the movement has swelled to embrace thousands. All of them see their task as being far from over, since the same forces that sought the destruction of Israel in decades past are still at work today. The survival and preservation of Israel is dependent upon the same kind of help and support that made her existence a reality. Christian Zionists believe that in seeking her peace they are in the long run working for the world’s peace (Isaiah 2:1-4).
Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem