States and Britain in Prophecy
For decades, the Worldwide Church of God published a book titled The United States and Britain in Prophecy. Several million copies were given away, and many readers accepted its conclusion -- that the northern ten tribes of Israel eventually migrated to northwestern Europe, that the Anglo-Saxon peoples in particular are descendants of the Israelites, and that we should look for a fulfillment of biblical prophecies among these peoples.
This book was instrumental in bringing many people into the Worldwide Church of God. Members believed it, since it claimed to be based on the Bible, and many verses were quoted within it pages. However, in 1990, the church withdrew The United States and Britain in Prophecy from circulation. We understand the impact this book has had on many, and we understand the disappointment that some have in seeing it withdrawn. We also recognize that some may believe that by not distributing this book we are neglecting an important biblical truth.
In the past the Worldwide Church of God has taught that The United States and Britain in Prophecy explained an important key that unlocked biblical prophecy -- the identification of the Anglo-Saxon peoples as the leading representatives of the lost tribes of Israel. We reasoned that God commissioned his end-time church to warn those peoples of his coming wrath. The United States and Britain in Prophecy was one of our principal means of fulfilling that perceived commission.
However, the church is commissioned to preach the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a message of repentance, but one of faith and hope. Through Christ we can be reconciled to God and each other. It is the message of God's love for everyone. God wants to forgive every person. He wants to impute Christ's righteousness to everyone. He does not want anyone to perish. Those who repent and turn in faith to Christ shall be saved. God wants to reconcile us to himself.
This message and our commission to preach it has been given to us by Jesus Christ. No other job is as important. As Christians, our supreme authority is Jesus Christ, not church tradition, custom or practice. "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me," Jesus said (Matthew 28:18). Luke writes that Jesus, talking to his disciples, "opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, `This is what is written; The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations' " (Luke 24:46-47).
Christ holds us accountable to fulfill his commission, not as we define it, but as he defines it. One verse that summarizes the work God has given us is John 6:29: "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent." So we urge others to become involved in that work -- the work of believing in Jesus Christ.
The foundation of our faith and preaching is not The United States and Britain in Prophecy. The foundation of our faith is Jesus Christ, the One who has commissioned us, the One in whom we have faith and the One we seek to imitate. "Each one should be careful how he builds," Paul warns, "for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
From the Gospels to Revelation the central focus is Jesus Christ. Revealed in those pages is the story of God incarnate, crucified for the sins of humankind, and raised from the dead. It is the story of Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The church's message was, and still is, that through Christ, God brings grace to humanity. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not based on national or ethnic origins. In fact, one challenge facing the early church was to help some members overcome prejudices that inhibited their embracing God's intended universality of the church.
The Scriptures proclaim a grace-based, not a race-based, message. The church took that message of God's grace to all races everywhere. "You will be my witnesses," Jesus proclaimed, "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Jesus made the church "a house of prayer for all peoples" (Mark 11:17).
The first Christian lay members understood that they shared in that commission. Being a Christian meant that they proclaimed Christ as Lord. Even persecution did not stop the proclamation:
Always, where the details of the Christian message are given, Jesus Christ is the central subject. Society soon identified members of this new faith with him alone. They gave them the name Christians.
Yet Christians sometimes find themselves distracted from the Christ-centeredness of the commission. Besides becoming diverted by the cares and temptations of the flesh, we also can be distracted even by other religious concerns.
Perhaps the most intoxicating subjects are those thought to be revealed only to the few. Such doctrines require accepting "secret keys" to knowledge that the rest of the world cannot see. These ideas often have nothing to do with, or even contradict, the message of salvation God told us to proclaim. Of course, adherents to these systems deny this. They try to interweave their secret knowledge into the gospel. The gospel then becomes diluted. It is then neglected or even scuttled.
No one is immune to this. The allure of having inside knowledge can appeal to one's vanity and the human desire to feel superior. Paul explained that some would ridicule the need to be Christ-centered:
Paul added, "When I came to you...I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). So it is today. The commission of the church, given to it by God, is to proclaim Jesus Christ and him crucified. No other teaching, no other doctrine comes close to this doctrine's greatness.
Of course we have always preached that Jesus is our Savior. Nevertheless, for many of us, it has not been our central and foremost message. Some have erroneously thought that The United States and Britain in Prophecy was the primary message God wanted us to preach to the world. This is evident from those who have expressed concern that failure to distribute that book meant we were not doing God's work. As we have already seen, such a view is biblically unsound.
We now turn to the biblical and historic problems with the teaching. Much evidence calls into question the teaching's basic premises. In this study paper we cannot cover all of the scriptural and historical problems of the book, but we will summarize its major deficiencies.
The criticisms that follow are not limited to The United States and Britain in Prophecy. That book is but one of many that allege to prove what scholars label Anglo-Israelism -- the belief that Anglo-Saxons descend from the "lost 10 tribes of Israel."
When reading Anglo-Israelite literature, one notices that it generally depends on folklore, legends, quasi-historical genealogies and dubious etymologies. None of these sources prove an Israelite origin for the peoples of northwestern Europe. Rarely, if ever, are the disciplines of archeology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics or historiography applied to Anglo-Israelism. Anglo-Israelism operates outside of the sciences. Even the principles of sound biblical exegesis are seldom used, for, as we shall see later, whole passages of Scripture that undermine the entire system are generally ignored.
Why this unscientific approach? This approach must be taken because to do otherwise is to destroy Anglo-Israelism's foundation. Those who apply scientific disciplines and the principles of sound historiography to this subject eventually come away disbelieving the theory. As we shall see, even lay students of the Bible can find serious flaws in the idea.
No first-hand account exists that traces the lost 10 tribes into northwestern Europe. No eyewitness to European tribal migrations ever claimed an Israelite origin for any of them. No medieval or ancient genealogies ever linked the royal families of the British Isles with the Israelites. Not until the 19th century (long after the supposed migration) did anyone attempt to prove such an idea.
Prior to the beginnings of Anglo-Israelism, Puritan and American religious ideas had prepared a people for its acceptance. Two themes in particular prepared the way: covenant theology and the idea that America was a new Israel.
Covenant theology was a deeply imbedded concept in Puritanism, claiming as its basis God's covenants with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the tribes of Israel.
The second theme, that America was a new Israel, also found its greatest support among New England Puritans. Just as God had called Israel to start a new nation in Canaan, so they believed he had called them to start a new society in Northern America. "Like Israel, they had a special destiny, the one standing at the beginning of God's plan, the other at the end."1 The idea that America was a new Israel remained an influential thought in American Christianity well beyond the American Revolution.
The first fully-developed scripturally-argued presentation of Anglo-Israelism was by John Wilson, in his book Our Israelitish Origins. Published first in England, then in the United States in 1840, it was immediately successful and went through numerous editions. One factor influencing the success of Our Israelitish Origins was that it answered the troubled conscience of a religious people. How could Christians justify, in light of the gospel, their colonialism, expansionism and enslavement of others? Religious people wanted to believe God supported their growing economic, political and military power. Anglo-Israelism seemed to provide such a justification.
Anglo-Israelism also came to America at a time when the new religion of Mormonism was arousing significant interest. Founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, their "new revelation," the Book of Mormon, claimed an Israelite link for an ancient, pre-Columbian race of Native Americans. Anglo-Israelism offered a counter-explanation to the Mormon claim about the lost tribes and could therefore be viewed as a defense of orthodox Christianity.
Anglo-Israelism arose at a time of increasing skepticism of the Bible among America's most highly educated. Deism, Unitarianism and skepticism had become popular in intellectual circles. Scientific discoveries, especially in geology and astronomy, raised difficult questions as to the historicity of the earliest chapters of Genesis, while philosophic speculations challenged reason's ability to lead anyone to ultimate truth.
Anglo-Israelism's popularity can in part be explained by its apparent ability to answer the Bible's critics, for it purported to prove that God, having spoken his promises over 3,500 years ago, was fulfilling those promises in today's world. Did that not prove the Scriptures to be both God-inspired and currently relevant? For many concerned with preserving biblical faith, Anglo-Israelism proved strongly attractive.
Yet the fact that Anglo-Israelism arose among people looking for a way to justify their imperialism and human exploitation, while also searching for ways to defend their faith, should cause us to pause and ask how much proof there actually is for that belief. Did the belief spring from the Bible, or did it arise out of the social concerns of the 19th-century Anglo-Protestant world?
One might ask, If Anglo-Israelism is so easily proven, then where are the respected historians, archaeologists, philologists, anthropologists, genealogists, classical and medieval specialists and even folklorists who support it?
A favorite topic of Anglo-Israelites is the legendary royal genealogies of the British Isles. The United States and Britain in Prophecy claimed that these genealogies can be linked to the line of King David. Not mentioned by many Anglo-Israelites is that, before the rise of Anglo-Israelism, no British royal family ever claimed Davidic descent. No such genealogy existed. Any alleged genealogy linking the British royal family to King David is an Anglo-Israelite invention. Despite the Anglo-Israelite claim that an Israelite princess migrated to Ireland and married into a royal family, proof of such has never been produced. Yet today, unsuspecting people assume that the genealogies produced by Anglo-Israelites are proven, when they are not. These genealogies are nothing more than the fabrication of the Anglo-Israelite movement itself.
Source: Ralph Orr
1. John Dillenberger and Claude Welch, Protestant Christianity Interpreted Through Its Development, 2nd ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1988), 106.