Can you imagine a time when you could lose your life if someone said one thing about you to the police? A time when you had no right to a public defender and a false confession could get tortured out of you all within legal means! No, you don’t hail from modern day Pyongyang, North Korea… You live under the rule of the Inquisition. And you fear men and women who call themselves Christians!?
What the heck?
Next scene… You live in a quiet coastal town along the Mediterranean Sea. Your whole life you existed in peace with Christians, Muslims, and others calling your beautiful town home. Yet one day dust in the north turns into soldiers with gleaming armor wearing crosses on their chests. 24 hours of violence later your home becomes an ash heap. You just witnessed the beginning several hundred years called the crusades.
Violence in the history of the church stands as perhaps the greatest blight on her record.
Do these wrong acts in church history represent anomalies or a trend that reveals the true heart of Christianity? Does the church better resemble mother Theresa who might occasionally sin, or a crooked businessman hoping no one finds out his real nature?
The “outliers” argument
One way explain violence in the church involves pointing to the Inquisition (Crusades, Etc) and saying, “that’s just a fluke.” You argue that when people see violence in the church’s history they really see a rare occurrence which doesn’t reflect reality.
“Sure Church leaders made horrible mistakes in the Inquisition but they represented a crazy minority. Not the church at large!”
“Sure the violence and even the rationale behind the crusades directly contradicted Jesus’ teaching but they represented the mistaken believes of a few.”
“Sure Christian participation in the hysteria of the Salem witch trials reflects the worst of the church but they represented just a few people in a far off British colony.
A friend pointed out the weakness of the outliers argument to me this evening.
“Once you string enough of these anomalies together in the line you start to find a trend.”-Ryan Van Hoveln
If you draw line from the crusades through the inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and on to modern day American slavery you find a sad trend. Christians have helped lead in major travesty in every century for the last thousand years. If you stop here, you end up with a violent view of Christianity.
What would Jesus do?
Here’s the problem though, all the incidents I’ve mentioned fly in the face of what Jesus taught. If you scour the Scriptures – the Bible – you cannot get from Jesus to the Inquisition. You cannot live the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount and rightly reconcile violence in the name of Jesus.
So what’s up?
The numbers and politics argument
Every American president claims to attend church and believe in Jesus. They get votes that way.
For nearly 300 years Christians faced attempted eradication. An abundance of powers wanted Christians gone. Yet around 300AD a Roman emperor named Constantime converted to the faith.
Overnight Jesus went from “dangerous for your health” to “the secret sauce for career success.” If the emperor liked Jesus then so did everyone else. People liked Jesus and claimed Christianity whether not they held to any Christian teaching.
Chow Chows and Faith
Years ago my family owned a Chow Chow dog. The breeder we got her from explained the history of the Chow Chow. About 15 years earlier Chow Chow‘s started to get popular. Because of this popularity everyone started breeding them. Some people trying to cut corners and ended up breeding lesser versions of Chow Chows who had really bad dispositions. These “bad” dogs stained everyone’s views of Chow Chow’s and they lost popularity.
I would argue the same thing happened in the history of the church time and time again. From the time of Constantine on the church has represented a dominant force in culture. In many cultures to this day it pays to claim Faith.
I think many people throughout the history of the church claimed Christianity yet had no desire to submit to Christ as Lord. For them Christianity was convenient and helpful but not a relationship with God.
So if you consider the billions and billions of Christians – by name – throughout history it makes sense some would use Faith as a power/political tool.
So what’s the real heart of Christianity?
We can’t escape the sins of the past. We Christians sinned and did wrong. We must live today with humility in light of yesterday.
Again, what’s the real heart of Christianity?
I invite you to read what Jesus taught. The first four books of the New Testament contain a comprehensive look on the life and teachings of the man who changed our calendar with his life. His life impacted human history with far greater beauty than Mohammed or Buddha ever did.
You can point to some pretty messed up things in the history of the church. But you don’t get to those things from Jesus… You get to those things when people change the teachings of the man who gave His life for us.