Friday, June 22, 2012

Is America the New Israel?

A few months ago a great man in my church suggested I read a book called "The Last Harbinger."  I asked him what it was about and he told me that I just needed to read it.  "It will tell you where we are headed as a country" he said.  Whenever someone from the church suggests I read something, I do.  It think it is my desire for their protection that drives me to do so.  I went on-line and I purchased the book.

What I found there both horrified me and taught me something very valuable about how some modern evangelicals look at America.  Let me start with a disclaimer.  I love America.  I am so glad that I was blessed to be born in this great nation.  Do not in any way take the rest of this post and me bashing on America.  I am not.

BUT . . .

What horrified me was that the author, Jonathan Cahn, teaches that America is the new Israel in God's plan.  He suggests that America is a distinctly Christian nation, qualitatively different than every other nation, except Israel.  I don't think so and I will explain why in a moment.  It did, however, help me understand those "America is a Christian nation" people a little better.  It helps me make sense of their constant complaint about prayer being taken out of schools or their propensity to be the morality police for the nation at large.  The book brings up a subject that we probably need to address in our churches.  Is America some great nation that God treats differently than every other secular nation on the surface of the earth or not?

Cahn compares the United States of America to the nation of Israel.  He says that they are the only two nations in history that were established with a covenant between the nation and God.  Then, he uses this link to apply prophecies made to ancient Israel to modern day America.  These links between ancient prophesy about the idolatry and decline of the Northern Kingdom and America's post 9-11 experience are clearly impressive, and I do think that we can learn something from the pattern of how God interacted with Israel, but I think there are some huge errors in logic and some very dangerous and wrong conclusions that we could draw by equating God's dealings with Israel to God's dealings with America.

First of all, God chose Israel. He picked out Abraham from every other man on the face of the planet, and he chose him.  He didn't choose him, because he was great, or because he was already worshiping him.  He just chose him, and made promises to him to make him the father of a great nation.  A nation through whom all other nations would be blessed.  God never chose America in this way.  God has a purpose for America; I firmly believe that.  America, however, is not a "chosen" nation in the way that Israel was a "chosen" nation.  God doesn't work in America in ways that are different from how he interacts with any other nation.

One of the ways that Cahn makes this connection is by pointing out that there has been a breach in the walls of America.  A trouble that has beset us that proves that God is judging us.  We were falling away from our job as being the light that draws people to God, so God sent planes into our buildings and killed thousands of people to get our attention on 9-11.  REALLY?  Sounds like a Pat Robertson soundbite to me.  Also, why is this tragedy the breach in our walls?  What about the civil war?  What about the Great Depression?  What about Pearl Harbor?  Why choose just this tragedy?  Also, are all tragedies sent by God to teach us lessons?  Surely the principle is true that we reap what we sow, but we need to be careful when we say why God allows something to happen, when we really aren't sure why.  Calling people to repentance in the face of tragedy is a good thing, but to stand on your soap box and say that these towers fell because America did this or does that is going beyond what we know.

Second, we are in a different part of God's story today.  In the Old Testament, God was pursuing his people through covenants.  Promises that he made to specific people.  These people were members of one nation, Israel.  Through the covenants God held Israel up as an example to all the other nations.  He wanted to draw other nations and people to him through their story.  That is why God chose a nation that wasn't that great, because he wanted people to look at them and see God.  Because of sin, however, Israel never did the job as they were intended to.  Therefore, when the time was right, God sent his son, Jesus.  Now, God's primary way of reaching people is not through a nation or a people, but through the church (1 Pet. 2:9; Rom. 11:17, 24; Phil. 3:3) with the message of Jesus on their lips.  The church is the center of God's plan in this part of the story, not one particular nation.

America is not a special chosen nation instituted by God to draw people to salvation in the same way that Israel was.  Has America had successful missionary efforts?  Of course!!  God's plan, though, is not to use America to reach the world, but to use his church.

I think this misunderstanding about America is common today.  I also think that this misconception can be dangerous.  These people firmly believe that until we get back to our roots as a nation that there is no hope for our country.  Our hope does not come from America; our hope comes from God.  God working through his church to reach the world.  Don't put your hope in America going back to a certain set of ethics or back to being a more "Christian" nation.  Also, this philosophy will lead you to try to reclaim culture and to Christianize America, rather to focus on transforming hearts with the power of the gospel one at a time.  Love your country.  Hope for the best, but remember that we are citizens of heaven first!  America is not the greatest good in the world, God is!!  He is our only hope!  The gospel is the only means of salvation.