OBJECTION: Church History is Littered with Oppression & Violence

Study of The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel

OBJECTION: Church History is Littered with Oppression & Violence

Matthew 7:21-23Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

  •  “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things.  But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”  Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg.
  • “Across the centuries and on every continent, Christians—the followers of the Prince of Peace—have been the cause of and involved in strife.”  Agnostic Charles Templeton.

Today we will study . . .

OBJECTION:  Church History is Littered with Oppression & Violence

These are notes from Lee Strobel’s interview with John D. Woodbridge, PhD—research professor of church history at TrinityEvangelicalDivinitySchool in Deerfield, Illinois.

  • Strobel—“Pope John Paul II called upon the church to acknowledge ‘the dark side of its history’ and said: ‘How can one remain silent about the many forms of violence perpetrated in the name of faith—wars of religion, tribunals of the Inquisition, and other forms of violations of the rights of persons?”
  • Strobel—“Isn’t it true that the church through the centuries has intentionally glossed over these instances of abuse?”
  • Woodbridge—“I think the Pope’s statement is courageous . . . Though, we should be careful in using the expression ‘the church,’ because that gives the impression that there has only been one representative institution of Christianity.
  • Woodbridge—I would make a clear line of demarcation between people who are part of ‘the church’—people who are the sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice and would be true Christians—and the institutional churches.
  • There are many, many true Christians who are in the visible churches, but just because a person is part of a church doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is a follower of Jesus.  Some people are cultural Christians but not authentic Christians.
  • Strobel—“That makes it rather easy to look back and say that all of the atrocities committed in the name of Christianity were actually perpetrated by those who said they were Christians but who really weren’t.  That seems like a convenient escape hatch.”
  • Woodbridge—“This distinction is not new.  In fact, it goes back to Jesus.  See Matt. 7:21-23.  Certainly through the centuries much has been done in the name of Christianity that does not reflect His teachings.  For example, Adolph Hitler tried to color his movement as being Christian, but obviously he did not represent what Jesus stood for.
  • Strobel—“So you’re saying that if something bad was done in history, it could not have been committed by authentic Christians?”
  • Woodbridge—“No, no, I’m not suggesting that.  The Bible makes it clear that because of our sinful nature, we continue to do things as Christians that we shouldn’t.  We’re not perfect in this world.  And unfortunately, some of the evil deeds committed through history may have, indeed, been committed by Christians.  When that happens, they’ve acted contrary to the teachings of Jesus.”
  • At the same time, there are a number of misleading stereotypes about what Christians have and haven’t done.  Some critics have attacked a cultural Christianity, failing to grasp that it is not an authentic Christianity.
  • At the same time, we should recognize that there has often been a minority voice that has spoken out against abuses that some institutional churches have perpetrated.  These Christians were willing to speak out against abuses by representatives of the state or church.
  • Yes, it’s totally appropriate to admit that some things Christians have done are, in fact, sins.  The Bible tells us to confess our sins.  Confession should be one of the hallmarks of Christians—a willingness to admit fault, seek forgiveness, and endeavor to change our ways in the future.  In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention recently acknowledged that it had badly erred concerning the issue of slavery.  Others have done the same.
  • Matthew 7:21-23—the history of the church is full of churches who made free use of the expression “Lord, Lord,” but whose arrogant and self-centered lives made a mockery of their words.  They used the name as a weapon they could wield.  These people had been active in the service of God and they had done everything but the Lord’s will and this is the critical thing.  To be active in religious affairs is no substitute for obeying God.
  • Jesus is not saying that those saved will have earned their salvation, but that the reality of their faith will be made clear by their fruitful lives.  V23—“I never knew you” does not mean that Jesus was ignorant of their existence but He never recognized them as what they claimed to be—they were never friends of Jesus.  Jesus then tells them of His total rejection of them.  “Evildoers”—points to a refusal to submit to the law of God.
  • Dietrich—“V21-23 are a dreadful warning: the most orthodox avowals of faith have no value in the eyes of God if they are not translated into concrete obedience to His Will.  One may with his lips proudly profess his faith in God, and even invoke Jesus as Lord, yet deny Him by thoughts, words, and acts.

WHY CHRISTIANITY SPREAD?

  • Historians have long marveled at—and theorized about—the amazing speed with which Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire despite brutal persecution.
  • One explanation of its rapid spread is that many Christians were not just taking care of their own, but they were caring for neighbors, the poor, and widows, the hurting, and they were basically very loving.  The lifestyle of Christians matched their teachings, so that many early Christians were not afraid to say, ‘Imitate us as we imitate Christ.’”
  • Unfortunately, in contemporary evangelism sometimes people say, ‘Don’t look at us, look at Christ.,’ because we are worried what people will find if our own lives are scrutinized.  That wasn’t true of many of these early Christians—there was consistency between their beliefs and behavior.

SIN #1: THE CRUSADES:

  • Christian crusaders tried for two centuries to expel the Muslims from the Holy Land.  Read p. 205 description from the first Crusade.
  • Woodbridge—That kind of bloodshed is repugnant and abhorrent.  Did it happen?  Yes, it did.  I’m not going to try to excuse it or rationalize it away.  However, your question—were the Crusades just or not—demands an either-or-answer, and I think it might be more helpful to provide a little broader context.
  • Pope Urban II launched the first crusade in 1095, when he gave a very famous sermon and the crowds responded by declaring, “God wills it!”  The crusades continued until the loss of the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land in 1291, when a town called Acre was taken over once again by the Muslims.  Jerusalem was back in the hands of the Muslims by 1187.
  • The Pope called upon barons and others to go to the Holy Land and retrieve it from the Muslims who were occupying it and who were thought to be foes of Christ.  In fact, in one Crusade, the Fourth, the participants did not even make it to the Holy Land.  They got as far as Constantinople, seized it, and set up their own kingdom.  Tremendous bloodshed ensued.  Western Christians killed Eastern Christians.
  • The motivation of those who went was a major problem.  In 1215, Pope Innocence III actually instructed people that if they went on the Crusades, this could earn their salvation.  And if they sent someone to fight in their place, this too, would earn their salvation.  This counsel was an obvious distortion of true Christianity.  It makes a mockery of the teachings of the Bible and can’t in any way be squared with historic Christian beliefs.
  • Even during that time, the reputation of the Crusades for slaughter and avarice caused for a lack of interest in future Crusades.  The genuine discrepancy between authentic Christianity and the reporting of what the Crusades had been like contributed to this loss of interest or enthusiasm for new crusades.
  • The sins of the Crusades need to be confessed as being totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus, the one they were supposedly following.  If critics believe that aspects of the Crusades should be denounced as hypocritical and violent—well, they’d have an ally in Christ.

SIN #2: THE INQUISITION

  • The Inquisition began in 1163 when Pope Alexander III instructed bishops to discover evidence of heresy and take action against the heretics.  The Pope was deeply concerned about the problem of heresy, especially in southern France among the Albigenses.
  • What developed was a campaign of terror, with secret proceedings, supreme authority vested in the inquisitor, and a complete lack of due process, where the accused did not know the names of their accusers, there was no defense attorney, and torture was used to extract confessions.
  • The Inquisition was an alterative approach or tactic to try to prevent this heresy from spreading.  And there were political factors at work too—the northern French were looking for any excuse to intervene in southern provinces.
  • There were basically three waves of Inquisitions.  First, the one I just mentioned.  The second one began in 1472 when Isabella and Ferdinand helped establish the Spanish Inquisition, which also had the Pope’s authority behind it.  The third wave began in 1542 when Pope Paul III determined to hunt down Protestants, especially Calvinists.
  • So you have Catholics who call themselves Christians persecuting Protestants who call themselves Christians.
  • Religion and politics were bound up together.  The state was very active in putting people to death for heresy.
  • It is likely that many that were killed were the ones upholding the true faith of Christ.  The Inquisition is not part of a broader pattern of abuse and is not representative of the history of the Christian church.
  • In fact, there have been apparently more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other.  Today, Christians are being killed for their faith. So, no, the Inquisition is by far an exception in church history, not the norm.
  • The typical Christian lives in a developing country, speaks a non-European language, and exists under the constant threat of persecution—murder, imprisonment, torture, or rape.

SIN #3: THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

  • The Salem witch trials at the end of the 1600s are frequently cited as a kind of Christian hysteria.  In all, 1900 people were hanged and one pressed to death for refusing to testify.
  • Strobel—Isn’t this another example of how Christian beliefs can result in the trampling of the rights of others?
  • Woodbridge—Yes, it’s an example—if, in point of fact, true Christianity is involved here.  When you unpack the episodes there are issues related to people scheming to get land from other people; there are issues related to hysteria; there are issues of believing in astral appearance, whereby people testify that somebody did something even when they were in another place.  Life is more complex than just saying “Christianity” was responsible.
  • The Salem Witch trials were a terrible episode but historians recognize that the story line is considerably more complicated than merely blaming the churches.
  • It was a Christian who played the key role in ending it.  A Puritan leader named Increase Mather spoke out forcefully against what was happening and that was the beginning of the end.  Ironically, it was a Christian voice that silenced the madness.

A PORTRAIT OF CHRISTIANITY

  • Strobel—What is the bottom line?  Is the world worse off or better off because of Christianity?
  • Woodbridge—Better off—no question about it.  There are these regrettable historical instances but at the same time, the vast sweet of Christian history has been very beneficial to the world.
  • I see Christianity’s influence as a resplendent mural with many scenes, each depicted in bright, brilliant, and beautiful colors.  At the very center scene would portray the story of Jesus and His redemption for our sins.  Through His atoning death and resurrection, He opened up heaven for everyone who follows Him.  That is the greatest contribution Christianity ever could have made—see John 3:16.
  • Look at the humanitarian efforts by Christianity—all the missionary work, all the hospitals, all the homeless shelters, all the rehabilitation programs, all the orphanages, all of the relief organizations, all the selfless feeding of the hungry and clothing of the poor and encouraging of the sick—without that, it would be a devastating blow to the world.   Read p220
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