Jan Hus at the Stake - United States public domain


Previous: Revelation 2:20 continued- 8

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. - Revelation 2:20

The Inquisition

Now we must consider the Inquisition - a series of religious trials that were conducted over the course of hundreds of years to determine the guilt or innocence of people suspected to be heretics. Heretics are people whose beliefs differ from approved teaching of the Church. The word "heretic" comes from the Greek hairesis ("faction" "sect," "division"). It is found in various forms in the New Testament 139 times.

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. - 2 Peter 2:1

Reject a divisive man [heretic] after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned. - Titus 3:10-11

In fact, even from the time of the Apostolic Church, heresies had been identified and dealt with, but the punishment was simply excommunication from the Church, certainly not imprisonment or death (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 51-8; Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10; ). When the Samaritans rebuffed the Disciples, they asked Jesus,

"Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"
55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village. - Luke 9:54-56

As the Church/state system progressed, there was no acceptable way for people to disagree with the teaching of the Church. Some of the suspected heretics held strange, unbiblical ideas, but others, like the Reformers, were trying to be more biblical in their teaching. In either case the dissidents were questioned, tried, and, if found guilty, punished. The Church would pass judgment, but if the accused did not repent, the state would administer the temporal punishment. This was usually burning at the stake.

The Council of Toulouse in 1229 established a special ecclesiastical court called the Inquisition (from the Latin inquisitio, meaning "inquiry"). There had been such trials, going back to 1163 or earlier, against the Albigenses (also-called Cathari, from the Greek katharos, "pure"). They believed in dualism, the concept that the good power created the invisible and spiritual universe, while the evil power created the material world. Those found guilty were burned at the stake.

The extent of torture and executions increased greatly during the Spanish Inquisition beginning in 1481 and lasting until 1834. Confessions were extracted by the use of torture. There were many methods for this, but three of the most used were 1-suspending the suspect with a series of lifts and drops that would often dislocate their arms and legs; 2- pouring water into their mouths to give the impression of drowning, and 3-stretching them on mechanical racks.

In our commentary on the next church (Sardis), we will see that the Catholic Church also persecuted the Reformers with this system. However, the Reformers made the same terrible mistake by persecuting Catholics and members of later church factions, like the Anabaptists. We will comment on this when we consider Revelation 3:1-2.

How many were killed? Estimates vary wildly depending on the perspective of the "historians" who tell the story. Some Catholic writers say the death toll was only in the hundreds, while avowed anti-Catholics claim that millions were put to death.

In balance, we recommend the thoughts of Chris Armstrong, managing editor of Christian History Magazine in his 2008 article about "Christian Terrorism."

Christians have far more often suffered than perpetrated terror. This does not excuse those who in the past have named Christ's name but broken God's Fifth Commandment. But it does put the lie to the skeptic's image of a church characterized throughout its history by brutal oppression and violence.

Next: Revelation 2:20- continued 10


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