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Saturday, 4 November 2017

Balfour and a Disunited Trinity...

Ascot Life Church, which now meets at a restaurant sited at the famous Ascot Racecourse, has been my home church since 1990. Ascot Race Course has always been the venue for Royal Ascot, where Her Majesty has been attending the major horse racing event annually since the beginning of her reign, if I understand correctly. And so it has felt among our Elders to be a special privilege to be fortunate enough to hire the restaurant for nearly every Sunday of the year.

The A.L.C. Racecourse Restaurant is on the right, upper floor.

Known as Ascot Baptist Church before its move to the racecourse in April 2013, I have been a happy member since 1990, after leaving its equivalent in Bracknell some six months earlier in 1989. This was due to what I believed to have been too much emphasis on the purchase of land, followed by the major building project. This came with the push for double tithing and gift days dominating each Sunday and midweek meetings, until I realised that emphasis on Jesus Christ - his Death, Burial, and Resurrection, along with the glorious doctrine of the Holy Trinity, together with the wonderful truth of Eternal Security of the Believer, were all somewhat lost in the muddle of highly pragmatical sermons. These sermons often touching on daily handling of money, with the end result of feeling spiritually hungry in a midst of a mechanically efficient feeding station specifically geared for the married professional on the higher income scale.

The general trend of Bracknell church life throughout the latter half of the 1980's was something like this: Here is this week's sermon delivered, now go and apply it. This is the mechanical method of ministry which left something wanting. A good mate of mine, with whom I played squash every Tuesday evening back in the early eighties, and still comes over to visit us to this day, once asked our then senior pastor why he never touched on theoretical issues. The answer thrown back at my friend was, I'll preach what I want to preach! Little wonder that my bachelor mate eventually ended up living alone as a hermit, with former occasional visits to a French-speaking church in London, but otherwise staying away from all other churches.

It wasn't always like this. I recall joining what was then Bracknell Baptist Church as far back as 1975, in the days when it was more traditional in structure and mode of service. How could I ever forget the hard-back green Baptist hymnbook, given to each one of us at the door as we walked in, and a large percentage of senior citizens and families all singing with our heads bowed as we each held the book open at stomach level. That was before the introduction of the overhead projector, which threw the lyrics onto a wide screen fixed near the ceiling, allowing us at last to praise God with our heads held up high, as the Biblical saints and early Christians most likely did. However, whether it was the introduction of the overhead projector or not, a gradual change was underway throughout the next fifteen years, with visions of a much bigger building to accommodate the large numbers of incoming graduates and their families, began to dominate our weekly curriculum. 

But the early seventies meant a lot of memories for me. The reading of the Bible, taking in unfamiliar knowledge like a dry sponge soaking in water has made me realise how Israel was so prominent, especially in the Old Testament and the Gospels, with Jerusalem held as if special honour, that I so much wanted to visit the Holy Land for myself, and to discover the environment which gave rise for the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation, the writing of the Bible, and the formation of the first church in Jerusalem. So just a year after joining Bracknell Baptist Church, by the Summer of 1976, I flew out to Israel as a naive backpacker for want for more experience of travel outside Europe.*

But throughout all my church life, from 1975 to the present, little - if hardly any - interest was shown for the Jews and their relatively recent return to their homeland, as part fulfilment of Bible prophecy. However, by 1989 I was so hungry for want of spiritual infilling rather than constant talk of finance management, that my interest in attending church waned, and I began to stay at home instead. It was up to six months or more when a friend suggested a new start at Ascot. Indeed, it did feel like a new beginning, especially with Jesus rather than money and buildings being it's central theme.

So this brings us to the present. As with my former church, interest in Israel and its place in Biblical prophecy remains at low priority, even among our four Elders. However, in the past there has been several couples from our church in Ascot who were very keen on the subject, and have advocated their interest. One such couple had flown to Israel for permanent residency around 1995 or 1996. More recently, another family had left our church for a Jewish-based church elsewhere. And there might have been other pro-Jew believers who are no longer with us, including my grandmother-in-law. But as far as I'm aware, and I could be wrong here, there are at present, three of us at Ascot who have an interest in Middle East affairs and are supportive of the Jews in present relation to the Bible. They are John, David, and myself. With John, I don't know whether he ever visited the Holy Land or not, but David, according to what he had told me, did visit Israel at least on one occasion, I think, on a "fly-drive" trip - independent - but still rather different from my style of travel. His knowledge of Middle-East political history I have found very impressive, therefore not too surprised to learn that this rather reserved graduate is also a budding author.

Here, one would think that there would be a stronger sense of fellowship under the unity of a shared Biblical interest. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead there is no love lost between John and myself, due to major differences in both Biblical and cultural convictions. And that is a great shame. Because with his delight in keeping Old Testament Hebrew customs, I'm keen to find out if he, along with his wife, had ever visited the Holy Land for themselves, and if so, how much were they influenced by the experience. As for David, who looks to be enjoying a deep friendship with John, he tends to be rather withdrawn unless I approach to open a conversation. Indeed, between the three of us with a common interest, we are a disunited trinity.

And so as I walk between two to three hundred metres in the morning rain from my home to Starbucks, I was pondering what on earth to write in this week's blog, for except for the ridiculous minor sex scandals rocking our political ministers from properly governing our country, there seems to be nothing worthwhile to write about. Until I opened the Daily Mail to read the Saturday Essay. This week, it was an article written by journalist Dominic Sandbrook on the one-hundredth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a document signed by Balfour himself on 2nd November 1917 and submitted for approval to Lord Rothchild. In his essay, Sandbrook says quite a bit about Arthur Balfour, including his feminine side, along with how great a friendship with Britain does Israel enjoy as an ally. But much of the article is a criticism towards Balfour for opening the door for the influx of Jews entering Palestine, and forcing the original Arab inhabitants to move elsewhere. This, according to the journalist, has been the cause of many wars and unrest between the Jews and the Arabs, for the last hundred years, thanks to Balfour, now known as the Century of Blood.

Sandbrook sides with the Palestinians, whom he says were driven from their land and from their homes by the newly settled Jews who had just arrived to settle in Palestine, after centuries of peaceful Arab habitation. Yet by reading about the reporter's account of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, all bordering Israel and all wanting to push this postage stamp-sized nation into the sea, I can't help get the impression here that there is something missing from his essay. Because all four of these Arab neighbours suffered defeat from Israel, an extremely unlikely scenario to say the least! Divine intervention?

I have read the whole article whilst sitting at a table at Starbucks. Some omissions came to mind as I read. Firstly, the foundation for the Declaration was first conceived by Zionist Chaim Weizmann, a Jewish scientist with his development of acetone through bacterial fermentation, which helped bring the Great War to Britain's favour after a hard struggle. Dismissing personal reward, he instead appealed to Conservative politician and former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, to allow his fellow Jews to migrate into their former homeland, a request which inspired Balfour to draw up his Declaration in 1917. Oddly enough, this was omitted from Sandbrook's article.

Secondly, Sandbrook has not mentioned a single word about the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob receiving this area of land as a special gift of grace under a covenant God made to Abraham. Not a mention of these patriarchs appeared, neither was the Bible mentioned, which within a great deal was written about God's covenant with Israel and the land given specifically to them.

Thirdly, not a mention of the sentinel which stands at Hebron, which I had a wonderful privilege to visit and to step inside in 1976. This fortress, built and completed by Herod the Great around 10 BC, contains the cenotaphs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with their wives. To me, I am convinced that this structure stands as a witness to God's covenant with Israel's founding fathers, whose remains lie within the Cave of Machpelah, deep underneath the floor of the fortress. What intrigues me about this structure is the timing of its construction. It is as if God already knew that his Messiah, soon to be born, would be rejected by his own people, the Jews, and as a result, they would be scattered across the globe for the better part of two millennia. The fortress, stands alone, having survived the invasion of the Roman army under General Titus in AD 70, when Jerusalem and its Temple was razed to the ground. It remains standing to this day, testifying of God's gift of this land to the Hebrews, nothing of which was mentioned by the Daily Mail journalist Dominic Sandbrook.

Fortress over the Cave of Machpelah, Hebron.

Then I can go on about the four Arab enemies of Israel. All four of these nations makes up a vast population in comparison to Israel's size and population numbers. Yet they failed to annihilate this tiny Jewish State. The 1967 Six Day War against Egypt brought further victory for Israel, who for the first time since 586 BC, the Jews were able once more to claim sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. Surely this must be divine intervention against all odds. But instead, our reporter claims a good amount of luck in human effort and endeavour.

God's love and his commitment to Israel as a nation has tremendous implications for own salvation and our daily walk with God. This is one of the basis for Eternal Security of the Believer. If after all this time God had not forsaken Israel after all what she had done across four millennia, but instead, his covenant with Abraham is still standing, and will continue to stand for all eternity, we too can be reassured of our salvation being eternal.


*A far more detailed experience of Israel 1976 can be read by clicking here.


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