At the National Prayer Breakfast President Obama acknowledged that the current tide of extremism was being done in the name of religion. Then he said,
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”
He also said that in our own country, slavery and Jim Crow was often justified in the name of Christ. (The Blaze)
However, the Crusades were an attempt to regain possession of the Holy Land which had been brutally conquered by Muslim invaders, along with most of the rest of the Middle East. And the Inquisitions, which were admittedly totally wrong, were conducted by the Catholic Church when they were at their lowest ebb spiritually. Their practices during this phase of history were not compatible with the biblical view of Christianity, and they led to the Reformation–a return to true Christian faith.
To help us understand this issue, here is an excerpt from our book The Church in Prophecy and History: Revelation Commentary – Chapters 1 – 3 , pp.. 149-153.
The history of the church during the next several centuries revolved around a series of holy wars, known as the Crusades. The major crusades, from AD 1096 to 1291 were a response to the Muslim conquests, and especially to their occupation of Jerusalem, persecution of Christian pilgrims, and destruction of Christian holy sites. The papacy was strong at that time, after a period of reforms, and it convinced European governments to send their knights and all who would volunteer to fight to regain Jerusalem. The name “crusade” was derived from the red cloth crux (Latin for “cross”) given to the volunteers by the Pope or one of his representatives.
Of the first eight or nine major crusades, only the first was successful in capturing Jerusalem, and that victory was short-lived. There is no general agreement by historians and theologians that the Crusades were either morally good or bad, or more importantly, whether or not they were the will of God. In fairness, the editor of Christianity Today wrote:
But the crusaders were real Christians. They deplored their sins. They longed for forgiveness. They loved fellow Christians in the East. They yearned to do something noble and lasting for their Lord. They prayed and fasted before battles and praised God after victories. Their devotion and courage make ours look juvenile.[i]
On the “good” side of the question, it did seem right to most Christians to deliver Jerusalem from the Muslims, and to stop their rapid conquest of Christian territories. There was also extensive Old Testament precedent for defending oneself and for fighting against evil powers if directed by God. On the last evening with His disciples, Jesus did tell them to purchase a sword (Luke 22:36), however, it wasn’t His will for Peter to use the sword when Jesus was surrendering Himself for His sacrificial death (Luke 22:49-51; John 18:10-11).
On the “bad” side of the crusade issue, nothing Jesus taught could validate the use of force to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, if His kingdom was of this world, then His servants would fight (John 18:36). But His kingdom will not be established on earth until He returns as King of Kings, and when that happens He will do all the necessary fighting (Rev. 19:11-16; 20:1-6).
Some might doubt that God was directing the crusades since only the first one was successful, and the victory only lasted for a short time. On the other hand, it can be argued that they stemmed the tide of Islamic conquests, which otherwise might have overrun all of Europe.
There were great mistakes made during the crusades, and unholy actions that have been used to discredit Christianity. Some examples of this were the unnecessary killing of Muslim civilians, the slaughter of Jews in many places, and the growth of a culture of literally hundreds of “holy wars” for some 700 years.
The Knights Templar grew out of the Crusades. They were originally a brave and skillful asset to the wars, but with the passing of time, they developed the prototype of the modern banking system and became what some have called the “first multinational corporation.” Their secret initiations made them suspect to church and government powers. In 1312 they were disbanded after many of their members were accused, perhaps falsely, of secrecy, apostasy, heresy, and many other charges, but since torture was used to extract their confessions, it has always been unknown whether or not the charges were true. Freemasonry adopted the titles, symbols and rituals of the Knights Templar in the 18th Century.
On the other hand, the Crusades helped St. Thomas Aquinas develop the “Just War” theory in his Summa Theologica to answer the question of when it is right to respond defensively.
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. Here are two examples:
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, 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?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 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 according to the interpretations of the church at that time, 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”). The Albigenses 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 frequently 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.[ii]
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 widely 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.[iii]
[i] Mark Galli, “The Crusades: From the Editor – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, Christianity Today, 10/1/93.
[ii] Accessed April 10, 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Inquisition#Torture.
[iii] Accessed February 11, 2014, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2003/jun13.html.