Originally April 1, 2014
When I teach on why God allows evil, I include a lengthy discussion on the Crusades, inquisitions, witch-hunts, slavery, Nazi Christians, and the oppression of women (for the rest of this post I’m going to sum this up as “Crusades, etc.”). Although these events aren’t typically a part of problem of evil discussions, it’s important for the Christian to answer them because the question naturally arises: If Christians really have the life-changing Good News, then why do they seem to be such bad news for society?
This has huge implications for our evangelism because many non-Christians today have a “been there, done that” attitude towards Christianity. In other words, especially in the Northeastern United States (where they had witch-hunts) and in Europe (where they had the Crusades, etc.), many consider Crusades, etc., to be the natural outworking of true Christianity. This “been there, done that” attitude is exacerbated by the parade of scandals rocking the Catholic church, especially in Italy, and the embezzlement’s and sex-capades so frequent among major evangelical leaders.
To this end I intend to do a series of posts answering each of these individually, but for this first post I want to explain something not only misunderstood by Christianity’s detractors, but often also by the average Christian. Don’t be fooled: most of the atrocities done by “Christians” in the name of Christianity weren’t done by Christians at all.
Of course, skeptics will cry foul and accuse me of the no-true-Scotsman-fallacy, and even many Christians will accuse me of being terribly judgmental, but please hear me out.
The Bible unequivocally teaches that a lip-service profession to Christianity is insufficient evidence that one is truly born again.
Here are several principles about what it means to be a Christian:
First, a Christian is, by definition, someone who follows the teachings of Christ. That’s pretty obvious, right? One can’t knowingly reject the teachings of Christ and still call themselves a Christian. I doubt my Christian readers will disagree. However, some village-skeptics have disagreed with me on this point and opine that anyone who calls themselves a Christian is one, regardless of what they actually believe. But that’s dumb. Anyone who knows anything of the Bible and historic Christianity realizes that to be a Christian one must hold to a specific set of beliefs. For the last two thousand years Christians have argued tirelessly and even have given their lives because right doctrine (which is just another word for “teaching”) is essential to right relationship with God
This has an immediate implication for the subject of Crusades, etc.: since the Bible is unequivocal that murder and rape (and more) are acts of rebellion against God, then those who do such travesties, at the very least, do them contrary to God’s will, not because of it. That the skeptic has found hypocrites in the church isn’t shocking—Jesus hated hypocrisy more than any human ever has, and He constantly denounced it (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 7:5, 15:7, 22:18; 23:13, 15, 23 and so on). Do not doubt that those unrepentant of their hypocrisies will pay for that for all eternity.
Second, but it’s not just about belief: the Bible tells us that those truly born again will behave differently than the unsaved. The true Christian is someone who is changed from within. The Bible is also unequivocal about this: 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” In fact, some sins are so contrary to God’s work in the Christian that the Bible tells us that they should be taken as evidence that one isn’t saved. For example, later in the same chapter (v. 15) John writes that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”1 Here we find that those who hate shouldn’t consider themselves Christians. But more to the point at hand, unrepentant murderers, according to this passage, aren’t saved. Thus crusaders and others who murdered in the name of Christ weren’t saved (by “murder” the Scripture isn’t talking about those who kill enemy combatants in a just war, etc.).
At this point Christian readers may wonder if I’m confusing law and grace. Perhaps some readers wonder if I’ve forgotten about the Protestant Reformation which proclaimed that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.
I haven’t. Consider the first three of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses which he nailed to the Wittenberg door:
- Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ… willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
- This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
- Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work diverse mortifications of the flesh.
Here Luther argued that real repentance will change the outward person. Thus there is the Reformation maxim: “faith alone saves but the faith that saves is not alone.” It is true that Christians are not saved by how good they are, but it is also true that the saved will be good! Now, let me be clear, I’m not saying that no true Christian will ever commit a terrible sin—that will sometimes happen—but they do it contrary to God’s will, not because of it. Again, though, I argue based on the 1 John passage above that the true Christian will never murder.
Third, Satan sows false believers among the true believers. Consider Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Mat. 13). In that parable Jesus said that a king was told that in his wheat field someone had sowed tares (a weed which looks like wheat). The servants asked if they should immediately pull out the tares, but the king refused for fear that wheat would be pulled up by accident. The king then said at harvest the wheat and the tares would be separated and the tares would be burned with fire. The lesson here is that Satan sows false believers among the true believers—and he sows a lot of them. Thus, we’re told not to try to root out the false believers before the Judgment for fear of accidentally rooting out true believers.2 Obviously, if someone wanted to harm an enemy, they wouldn’t just sow a few weeds in a wheat field—they’d sow many. Thus we can expect many Christians in name only in our churches.
Fourth, contrary to what skeptics often claim, never has there been a majority of true Christians at any age of the church. After all, Jesus said, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).
This was no less true during the Middle Ages, which skeptics like to call “the age of faith” or “the dark ages.” As Bertrand Russell wrote in Why I Am Not a Christian:
It seems to me that the people who have held to it have been for the most part extremely wicked…. In the so called ages of faith, when men really did believe the Christian religion in all its completeness, there was the Inquisition, with all its tortures; there were millions of unfortunate women burned as witches; and there was every kind of cruelty practiced upon all sorts of people in the name of religion.3
But that’s not true. As sociologist Rodney Stark put it:
By thinly overlaying pagan festivals and sacred places with Christian interpretations, the missionaries made it easy to become a Christian—so easy that actual conversion seldom occurred. Instead, in customary pagan fashion, the people treated Christianity as an “add-on religion,” and the popular Christianity that eventually emerged in northwestern Europe was a strange amalgam, including a great deal in the way of pagan celebrations and beliefs some of them thinly Christianized, but many of them not Christianized at all.4
Similarly, in his book, The Spanish Inquisition, Henry Kaman wrote that:
There are many parallels to the cases of the Catalan peasant who asserted in 1539 that “there is no heaven, purgatory or hell; at the end we all have to end up in the same place, the bad will go to the same place as the good and the good will go to the same place as the bad”; or of the other who stated in 1593 that “he does not believe in heaven or hell, and God feeds the Muslims and heretics just the same as he feeds the Christians.” When Christian warriors battled against Muslims, they shouted their convictions passionately. At home, or in the inn, or working in the fields, their opinions were different.5
But it isn’t just modern day historians who conclude that Europe was hardly Christian. Consider the words of Martin Luther in his 1528 tract On War Against the Turk where he bemoaned about the Crusader armies that “there are scarcely five Christians in such an army, and perhaps there are worse people in the eyes of God in that army than are the Turks; and yet they all want to bear the name of Christ.”6
Consider that even today, in survey after survey, the overwhelming majority of Americans will self-identify as being Christians. And if the Christian is warned not to try to separate the wheat from the tares because they’d make mistakes, how impossible is it for non-Christian psychologists, sociologists, and historians to determine who is or is not a real Christian.
But, that doesn’t mean that there are no behavioral identifiers which Christians might employ to identify one as a non-believer. When we hear of Crusaders, etc., bearing the name of Christ and committing rape and murder, the Scripture does tell us that those who do such things aren’t Christians. Consider Ephesians 5:5-6: ”For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” What are the empty words to which Paul refers? Are they not things like we might hear from the unrepentant adulterer, “How dare you! I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was twelve so you have no right to judge my salvation!”? Those are empty words—Paul says that those living in unrepentant rebellion should have no confidence that they are saved. And, as I mentioned above regarding the 1 John passage, when it comes to murder, the Scripture tells us that a true Christian won’t murder. In fact, Christians are commanded to avoid those who call themselves Christians who are living in various types of rebellion. In I Corinthians 5 Paul told the Corinthians to hand the blatantly immoral man “over to Satan” and commanded the Christians not to associate with him.7
What I’ve written in this post doesn’t resolve all the problems of Crusades, etc., but it does resolve a lot of them! In future posts I’ll examine the Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-hunts, slavery, Nazi Christians, and the oppression of women one at a time. I think you’ll find the results surprising.
Matthew 7:21 23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”