Sorry about the crusades and stuff

Not everything about the history of the Christian church is great.  Citing the name of Christ, Christians (or those claiming to be) have conducted crusades, inquisitions, witch-trials, and even more recent atrocities like the bombings of abortion clinics or the picketing of funerals.

If I’m to rejoice in the faithfulness of God’s people in the past, I also have to weep over their sinfulness.

It’s easy to dismiss some of their actions, and the people doing them, as ancient history.  And as a Christian myself, I’m often inclined to do so.

But I can’t dismiss all of them as ancient history; and besides, if I’m to rejoice in the faithfulness of God’s people in the past, I also have to weep over their sinfulness. Many evils have been done with the name of Christ (or the name of his Church) attached to it. And those evils are still evils, even if Jesus’ name was used. I can’t cast aside what I dislike in order to rejoice in what I like.

I also can’t ignore some of their contributions. Some reformers, for example, had terrible records against women or against Jews; others had terrible applied theology. But they also helped bring into being the Protestant Church, one of the most powerful forces for good in the world today. The modern idea that we must dismiss someone’s entire body of work for some sin they have committed simply cannot be applied uniformly to the people of the past; the work that some of our ancestors did was incredible.

God has not yet completed His sanctifying work, and so our brothers and sisters (both around the world and through history) have only done what they have done with hearts that are still in progress.

Nor can I simply look down on their perpetrators without learning anything from their error. One of my favorite warnings is against the dangers of “chronological snobbery,” a false belief that we are modern people with better answers to all problems; we all suffer from the same inclinations, so to avoid dealing with their errors would be folly.

And so, if I can’t dismiss, ignore, or deal with the sin of people who call themselves Christians, what can I do?

I have to acknowledge that the Church is not (yet) perfect. God has not yet completed His sanctifying work, and so our brothers and sisters (both around the world and through history) have only done what they have done with hearts that are still in progress.

Secondly, I have to rejoice in the good that they have done, without worshiping them or ignoring the evil. People in history—even great people—are still sinful humans, just like us. But God still did things through them. We must deal with them as real people.

Without God’s grace, I could easily become a crusader. Or an inquisitionist (but only if they bring back the nice red uniforms).

Finally, as the reformer John Bradford reportedly said upon seeing a criminal being led away, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” I need to remember that the sin that strikes down the great reformers and pillars of our church lurks in my heart, as well. And without Jesus’ blood applied to my sinful heart, I can’t escape that error. Without God’s grace, I could easily become a crusader. Or an inquisitionist (but only if they bring back the nice red uniforms). I can’t look down on them, because I could easily have been them.

And, finally, I have to apologize. To everyone who has ever been hurt by the church, as the ambassadors for Christ on Earth, I must formally apologize for the behavior of my countrymen. Our King is perfect; our kingsmen, less so. And so, though I haven’t committed any witch-hunts (yet, admittedly), I apologize for the hurt you have been caused, and I hope that we can show you joy that will more than make up for it.

Please, come meet our King.

• • •

Recommended reading: Kevin DeYoung takes a different point of view on the Crusades over at The Gospel Coalition.

David is in Louisville, KY this week for the Together for the Gospel conference. You can catch livestreams on live.t4g.org; or, if you’d prefer a livetweeting, he’s doing that on @redeemculture.

Thanks for reading!

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