Zionism is as old as the Bible itself and can be described simply as a love and longing for the land that God gave to the Jewish people. During the Jewish people's many years of exile, this longing drove their efforts to return to the land.
The modern Zionist movement emerged in the late nineteenth century under the leadership of Theodore Herzl. While his movement was secular - a response to the anti-Semitism that continued to plague the Jews of Europe - it was supported by noteworthy Christians. They supported Herzl's Zionist vision because of their reading of the scriptures and their concern for the well-being of the Jewish people. This support coincided with a major shift that was taking place in the Christian Church, which was becoming more biblically literate and appreciative of its Jewish roots.
The New Testament authors were Jewish as was the church that they wrote about. As a result of their deep understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, these authors believed in the everlasting validity of the Abrahamic covenant. They also believed in the literal accuracy of the prophecies regarding the life and ministry of Jesus as well as future events including the restoration of a kingdom to Israel.
As the church grew and became predominantly gentile - unable to read the Hebrew scriptures - Christians lost sight of their faith's Jewish roots and God's promises to the Jewish people. Most did not even know that Jesus was Jewish.
For more than 1000 years, most of the church believed that Christians had replaced the Jews as the people of God's covenant. Known as replacement theology, this set of beliefs reads the scriptures allegorically. God's promises to the Jewish people were spiritualized and applied to the Church. In rare instances, monks and priests read the scriptures differently, however, this theology was the predominant view - and the fuel that fed centuries of Christian anti-Semitism.
This began to change in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when the scriptures were translated into the languages of the common people, particularly into English. Christians began reading the Bible for themselves. They learned of Christianity's Jewish roots, and of the promised return of the Jews to their ancient homeland.
As a result, beginning in the sixteenth century, respected theologians and preachers taught of a future Jewish restoration to the Land of Israel. Entire movements of Christians began praying for this return. By the eighteenth century, the Christian Zionist movement, known as the Restoration movement, included many theologians, writers, and politicians. This movement continued to grow in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and Christian leaders expanded the scope of their involvement in the Zionist cause beyond prayer and into advocacy. They did all that they could to help the Jewish people return to Israel.
The term Christian Zionist was first used by Theodore Herzl when he acknowledged the participation of some key Christian supporters at the first Zionist Congress in 1897.
Christian Zionists today are proud to follow in the footsteps of a multitude of Bible-believers from numerous theological persuasions, countries, and professions - men and women who saw overwhelming evidence in scripture for God's continuing covenant with the Jewish people and their right to their ancient homeland. While many Christian Zionists today may differ with these pioneers on other points of theology or politics, we all agree on the biblical significance of the restoration of Israel. Our Christian Zionist Hall of Fame introduces some of the most notable members of this movement through the ages.