THE JEWS’ “MESSIAH”
The editor of Christianity Today, Carl F. H. Henry, is writing a series of articles on his recent visit to Israeli. In the current issue of the magazine which he edits, he begins a discussion of “The Messianic Concept In Israel.” This very interesting article demonstrates how little the Jews retain a hope for the coming of their Messiah as predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. They have rejected the Christ Whom they crucified almost 2000 years ago, and, through the ages since, they have all but given up the hope of the coming of Christ.
After surveying the field of Hebrew thought in general and after speaking of the various currents of theological and philosophical thought that have shaped present-day Jewish thinking, the author of this article describes the current views of Messiah held in this tiny middle eastern country.
About 200-300 Christian Jews along with many Christian Arabs in Israel worship Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of the Old Testament promise and look for his return to usher in the millennial era.
But the majority of Israelites reflect other lines of thought and speculation. While messianic vision remains, expectation of the Messiah has waned.
In the rest of the article the author explains what this means. He makes use of the summary of a long-time resident on the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Some 35 to 40 per cent of the population is reportedly indifferent to the question of Messiah and disinterested in its precise definition and exposition. On the other hand only a small proportion deliberately dismiss the messianic question. Such persons usually assimilate whatever spiritual nourishment the idea of messianic mission provides but insist that because it “produced” the messianic vision Judaism is therefore not ultimately dependent on it.
1. Messiah is a man (supernatural in office but not in being), an ideal ruler. This is now the Orthodox Jewish view held by 25 to 30 percent of Israeli Jews (mainly immigrants from Oriental lands and elderly Jews), and taught in the Orthodox religious schools.
2. Messiah is a personal outpouring of the divine Spirit upon individuals. About 10 per cent of the Israeli Jews, mainly liberal intellectuals and some socialist youth and (as our informant put it) some other “nice vague people,” hold this theory.
3. Messiah is the moral ideal of justice and peace wholly transcendent to present history, but to be manifested historically in the “messianic era.” Only a small percentage, mainly “real intellectuals.” believe this interpretation. Its advocates equate messianism with the idea of socio-political-spiritual fulfillment or perfection, a condition as yet completely outside present reality.
4. Messiah is the socio-political ideal of justice and peace gradually being realized in the Israeli State. Perhaps 10 to 15 per cent of the people follow this view. Professor Mordecai Kaplan declares that Hebrews live no longer in the age of “the coming” of Messiah, but in the days of the Messiah himself. Dispersed Jews now live in freedom, hence are redeemed, he says, even if this “salvation” is, as it were, a kindness of the Gentiles, while the State of Israel is Messiah for the others . . . .
5. Messiah is the state of Israel in its ideal development. Ten to fifteen per cent of the people follow this concept. They represent many “primitive” citizens as well as Ben-Gurion and others who speak of “‘the messianic character of the movement of the State.”
For this reason the state of Israel itself is considered to be the redeemer of the people.
Many Hebrew writers do not hesitate to personify the State as redeemer of the people. One writer, for example, asserts that the new State “redeemed hundreds of thousands of Jews from poverty and degeneration in exile, and transformed them into proud, creative Jews . . . it poured new hope into the hearts . . .” By restoring “as in the days of the Bible, a complete unity of existence and experience, which embraces in a Jewish framework all the contents of the life of man and people . . .” the State had delivered the Jew in Israel from the Diaspora’s divided allegiance to Gentile rule in political economic affairs and to Jewish authority in their restricted community of Mosaic faith.
History has proved that the Jews, in rejecting Christ, were forced into the only alternative: a denial of the whole of Scripture including their own Old Testament which was once so highly valued by them. To deny Christ is to deny the whole of the Bible. To deny Christ is to deny God. The result, also for Israel, is atheism and secularism.
CHURCHES IN BUSINESS
In another article of this same issue of Christianity Today, a Mr. O.K. Armstrong, a Baptist layman and former member of Congress from Missouri, points his finger at a growing evil in the churches. By way of introducing his subject, he quotes Dr. Eugene Carson Blake: “In view of their favored tax positions, with reasonably prudent management America’s churches ought to be able to control the whole economy of the nation within the predictable future.” In this manner Mr. Armstrong begins a review and criticism of the rising number of tax-free church business enterprises that have nothing to do with religion. He writes:
In a nation wide study I found that many religious denominations and their subordinate agencies have gone into competitive profit-making businesses on a large scale. Churches own radio stations, hotels, office buildings, parking lots, bakeries, warehouses. They do contract printing, invest in stocks and bonds, and speculate in real estate. They have investments in stocks and bonds that for some major denominations run into millions of dollars.
The author then cites some particular instances of this. The list is long and shocking. A partial quote will suffice to show how far some churches have gone in this evil.
Many churches own and operate retail stores, industrial slants, and cattle ranches all free of taxes on sales and profits. A large farm in Nebraska was recently taken over by a church organization, which meant that it was taken off the tax rolls . . .
From its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Mormon Church operates numerous business enterprises to help support its missionary and welfare activities. These include a newspaper, radio and TV station, apartment houses, hotels, mercantile and baking establishment. In October, 1960, Mormon President David O. McKay announced a large building project for Salt Lake City, to cost more than $40,000,000 and to include construction of a 28-story office building and the addition of 17 stories to the church-owned Hotel Utah. More recently this church purchased 786 acres of land and 14 industrial buildings in an expanding area of the city, to be held for investment and development purposes. Noted for its program of self-help for its members, the Mormon church owns and operates hundreds of “welfare farms.” One of the largest is in Florida, with 740,000 acres and 100,000 cattle . . . .
Three churches of Bloomington, Illinois—First Christian, First Baptist, and Second Presbyterian—own the Biltmore Hotel of Dayton, Ohio, purchased in 1954 for $3,300,000. Eight business men, members of these churches, borrowed $200,000 for the down payment; mortgages took care of the rest. The property was leased to the Hilton hotel chain. An agent corporation assumed liability for the Hilton payments, and also for any damage suits that might arise in the hotel management. One of the laymen told me:
“This type of business arrangement is especially profitable for churches. We leased out the hotel for a substantially lower figure than could a company not exempt from federal income taxes. From rentals, we have already paid off the amount we borrowed. Each church is now receiving about $2,500 annually, and will get more when the mortgages are liquidated. It’s a perpetual tax-free endowment.”
Office buildings are sources of business income for many congregations . . .
Station WWL in New Orleans, radio and television, is owned and operated by the Jesuits of Loyola University. It takes commercial advertising, yet the Internal Revenue Commission ruled the station tax-exempt as an integral part of the church.
In addition to spiritual food, numerous church organizations turn out cheese, bread, cakes, preserves, and packed meat. St. John’s bread is produced under franchises sold by a church organization in Minnesota, and is made by a formula brought to America by monks from Bavaria many years ago. Tax-free profits from this bread are used chiefly for education. The monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts derive income from their business in high-grade jellies, distributed through a commercial firm . . . .
Fastest growing of the profit-making activities for churches is the “sale and lease-back” enterprise. Churches have discovered that they can make up to 20 per cent on their money by this device . . . .
Under such an arrangement, the owners of the Yankee Stadium in New York sold this property to a Chicago broker for $6,900,000. This broker sold the land of the stadium to the Knights of Columbus and leased it back at $182,000 annual rent for 24 years. Then he leased the stadium and the land to the original owners. Here was a triple play that knocked Internal Revenue out of a 24-year inning! Is this legitimate tax exemption for religious reasons? Or is it, as it seems, a tax dodge for business purposes? . . . .
Although there is a growing concern among tax officials and church leaders about these obvious methods of tax dodging and money making, little has yet been done. Some courts have made rulings forcing a few church-operated organizations to pay taxes when it could not be proved that the business was an integral part of the church; some church leaders are speaking out more against this type of corruption; some assemblies of churches are passing resolutions condemning these practices; but the lure of gold remains very strong.
The excuse is used, of course, that all this is within the limits of the law. And, in itself, this is true. But there is a basic ill—a cancer eating away the vitals of the church—which is overlooked. As long as this rotten core is not cut out there is little hope of success in opposing these ventures of the church except by federal legislation. This ill is the unfaithfulness of the church to her calling to preach the gospel. Christ gave the church one calling than which there is none other—she must preach the gospel of the cross of Christ. Churches may neglect this calling, as is often the fact, but that does not change their calling. They may turn the church into a social center where the community comes together for a good time. They may become a counseling and guidance clinic offering free psychiatric advice to people who cannot make a go of their marriage or to juvenile delinquents. They may assume a political face so that they become a political pressure group or lobbying force piously declaiming on issues of domestic and international politics. They may even become intricately organized businesses that accumulate a vast amount of wealth. But then it will have to be admitted that they are no longer the church of Christ; and only in sheer hypocrisy and gross dishonesty do they cling to the name.
The words of the Lord come to mind—words in which He answered an overly-enthusiastic disciple who wanted to follow the Lord but had not considered the implications: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.” Surely these would-be disciples of Christ do not really care to follow the Lord at all.
CHRIST IN THE CONSTITUTION
In a recent article in Torch and Trumpet we learned that there is a movement afoot in the Congress of the United States to include the name of Christ in the Constitution of the country. A resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by a Democrat from Texas and another, similar in content, by a Republican from Illinois. According to the report in Torch and Trumpet, the resolution read: “This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ, Savior and Ruler of nations, through whom are bestowed the blessings of Almighty God.”
Before such an amendment would actually be included in the Constitution it would have to pass both houses of Congress by a two-thirds vote; it would have to be submitted to each of the fifty states for ratification; it would have to be accepted by 38 out of the 50 states. At present this resolution is still in the House Judiciary Committee where it has not been scheduled for any action.
Although Torch and Trumpet urges the careful attention and support of all Calvinistic Christians, it is difficult to see why. Certainly the inclusion of such an amendment is not going to make, in itself, a Christian country. Nor can it even be clearly seen how this would profit our country which avowedly rests upon the principle of freedom of religion, especially when Scripture informs us that we must not expect revivals and returns to the historic Christian faith, but rather apostasy and an increase in transgression. .Yet it would be interesting to see what is the reaction of the religious press to this amendment. Can evangelicals subscribe to it? No doubt they have no objection. Can those modernists who deny that Christ is the Son of God come to save His people from their sins support it? They might not like its wording too well. Can those who preach and teach a quasi-religion, a social gospel, a brotherhood of men, on whose lips is seldom if- ever heard the name of Christ support it? It is highly doubtful. Can true Reformed believers support it? As it stands, doctrinally it may be acceptable. But in this day of generalized religion, this statement can mean almost anything and can even be interpreted in such a way that it does violence to the truth of Scripture by teaching a universal salvation. If this is true then they cannot.