Baptist church under seige in Bethlehem
In the wake of Bethlemen Bible College's international gathering of Replacement Theology evangelical leaders, the First Baptist Church in the birthplace of Christ is refused registration renewal by the Palestinian Authority.
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Two weeks after a pro-Palestinian gathering of evangelicals was held in Jesus' birthplace, the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem has had the Palestinian Authority (PA) refuse the church's re-registration application.
The Christ at the Checkpoint conference hosted by Bethlehem Bible College attracted evangelical speakers from around the world who hold to the Replacement Theology view that the Jewish nation has no place in God's present or future prophetic purposes.
The conference – attended by over 600 – "challenged the evangelical community to cease looking at the Middle East through the lens of end times prophecy".
Though laudably calling for peace, justice and reconciliation, the underlying motives – as expressed by the conference title – are based on what has become known as Christian Palestinianism; a one-sided stance which lays the bulk of the blame on Israel for the conflict in the land and the troubles between Jews and Arabs.
It is not therefore of great surprise that, in the wake of the conference, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is now refusing to renew the official registration papers of the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem – apparently due in part to its reluctance to join other Palestinian institutions in (one-sidedly) criticizing Israel.
The denial has come the week after PA prime minister Salaam Fayyad – who appeared at the conference – assured the delegates that the Palestinian Authority welcomes all Christians and does not discriminate against them.
Yet both Bethlehem and Nazareth, which had been essentially Christian communities, now have strong Muslim majorities which are driving believers out of these townships, with three quarters of all Bethlehem Christians now living abroad. Some observers have said that within a generation Bethlehem could become a 'city of Christian holy sites but with no Christian residents'.
The Bethlehem Baptist Church has been fire-bombed 14 times and two young Christian women have been shot and killed for inviting young children to a holiday Bible school.
However in spite of the history of persecution and the most-recent licence refusal, the Bethlehem Baptist church has not been shut down, as some reports have claimed; and church members are still holding their regular weekly prayer and worship services.
Nevertheless, the denial of a renewed registration could have serious repercussions for the evangelical congregation in future.
Senior Pastor Naim Khoury, who has himself been shot at several times and receives continual death threats, had applied recently for a periodic renewal of the church's official registration, but was informed that it had been denied. Such renewals are normally routine, and no official reasons were given for the denial. If left to stand, the result could mean the church cannot register births, marriages and deaths of its congregants.
This could prove problematic as the PA requires that residents indicate affiliation with a certain religion on identification papers and other civil documents. No other Evangelical churches or institutions are encountering such problems at present, and thus the suspicion is falling on the way First Baptist Church of Bethlehem has stood for peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians over the years, but while also teaching from the OT prophets and disagreeing with the Replacement Theology position.
Footnote: See article 'The enemy is within the church'