"Nobody can do as much damage to the church of God as the man who is within its walls, but not within its life."
This beautiful painting was done by one of my daughters when she was in high school. I remember well the night she painted it. As I went to bed... she had just started painting it and before her was a pencil outlined drawing across a white canvas. When I got up to go to work at 6 AM I found she had nearly finished this school assignment. I was struck by it immediately...
Several years ago I went through a time of deep anxiety… I took this painting and put it up in my office at work to encourage me to trust God… and to remind myself that the battle I should fight is unseen and not against people but more in both a spiritual and an emotional context.... I had a bible verse I attached to this work and I found it did in fact help me get through a tough time in my life. The verse was….
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians
I’ve read a book not to long ago by author John Dickson entitled “Bullies and Saints”. This book has been difficult to read at times. As I have discovered in a new light both the positive and negative stories from the history of the Church I get a sense of the absolute brokenness of men.
I feel like we have whitewashed the history of the Church… we have "skipped to the good part" while ignoring those parts where the Church as an organization was clearly not even close to following Christ's teachings. This has led to a shallow modern Church that has not grappled with the true condition of the hearts of men or with the foundational truth of the gospel... that all men are flawed... but there is a cure found only in following Jesus Christ to a place of repentance.
In the first 330 years of Church history we find the Christian community living out Christs core teachings mostly faithfully. The Church grew with exponential force even with intense persecution as it cared for the sick and the elderly, showed kindness to neighbours, and cared for those that were rejected by society in a counter cultural wave of good works.
The early Church leaders genuinely sought truth… they pursued it with passion. They made mistakes along the way however they relentlessly pursued the core teachings of Christ - many of them dying a martyrs death rather than recanting their faith in Christ. Rather suddenly in 330 AD the emperor Constantine legalized Christianity… and put it in a place of honour… and in one year the Christian’s went from being scourged and hated to being placed in the highest places of power in the land. Constantine, the leader of the "free world" so to speak became a Christian. He soon began having his soldiers carry a cross ahead of every battle... the Cross that was meant for the salvation of our souls became a tool of intimidation for Constantine. These actions would eventually lay foundation to one of the organized Churches darkest times hundreds of years later...
Constantine was not in power all that long… about 31 years… and after him the kingdom was divided and Christian’s for a season were again persecuted. Eventually however Christianity became the preferred Religion of Rome... it became advantageous to label oneself a Christian... it eventually would open the door to various forms of abuse as narcissistic men who's hearts were not in tune with Christ's actual message gained powerful footing within the Church and government.
In around 400 AD Augustine of Hippo, a devout Christian leader who was busy doing the good things that the early Church did... began to develop the concept of “just wars”. Augustine was passionate about feeding the poor and especially passionate about freeing slaves.
Augustine's port city was a slave trade hub… the Church admirably purchased and set free many slaves, something that placed great strain on financial resources. Eventually, the decision was made to raid the slave ship and set the slaves free that way… so we see that the concept of “just wars” began from a place of wanting to free slaves. I am certain if Augustine had known his writings would play a part in future Church military actions he would never have surmised about the need for restrained force as a tool of the Church.
Fast forward to the tenth century and the Church and State were deeply intertwined. Popes and Bishops had incredible power. Many - but not all of these powerful leaders weilded their power with the full legal and spiritual force they could to advance their personal or political agenda. Such men would twist and misquote the Bible to achieve their political or "spiritual" agenda in much the same way as some leaders do today. The organized Church to a large degree had become identical to the culture... bankrupt and corrupt... and thus... rather than change the culture through acts of kindness and speading good news they adopted the very ways that Jesus came to set us free from. There was a culture of blind obedience to hierarchical leadership firmly in place....
All this leads us to the year 1095… Pope Urban ii, the leader of the Church made an speech at the “council of clement”. This charismatic and fiery speech is well documented from several sources but here is a partial quote I found just for reference:
“All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”
I have to wonder about how Peter, Paul and John would have felt had they been in that crowd... this wolf in sheep's clothing was offering salvation through killing those who they were called to exemplify Christ to.
The obvious gaslighting and manipulation that Pope Urban ii utilized here should be easy to spot for all. I do not doubt that the Church leadership convinced themselves that they were doing right… that is what deception does... it finds ways to justify overt sin. This move was not something all agreed with... and I hope to also share some of the stories of the brave ones who remained faithful to Christ in future blog posts. I sincerely believe that the plans and purposes of God flow like a river... and if those who lead refuse Him in the call to do good He will flow around them and speak through whoever will listen... even in the back alleys and shadows!
It is documented that upon hearing Pope Urbans rousing speech the crowd responded enthusiastically with chants of “God wills it! God wills it!”. Comparing this debacle to the book of acts when the Apostles brought 3000 plus new believers to Christ with their message of hope... oh how far we fall when pride steps in.
The attack on Jerusalem was brutal… the crusaders lost many lives... however, the brutality of their attacks on even women and children still reverberate through generations in the Middle East today. It is estimated that up to 70,000 Jerusalem inhabitants - both civilians and soldiers, were violently killed and that at least 3,000 crusaders died in this bloody massacre which was done in the name of Christ.
So now I look at this painting again… and my heart gets a sense of the absolute bankruptcy of soul that a misguided and narcissistic Church leadership created for hundreds of years by their disobedience to Jesus clear call for the Church… I see how broken we all are... I see how the Church… started in humility… even the Church, cannot seem to faithfully follow the teachings of Christ. I read Jesus sermon on the mount and I ask myself… how did they make the jump to justify their violence?
This is not the last awful moment in history for the Church… and yes… Christian’s also did much good… establishing hospitals, caring for orphans, developing scientific knowledge and advancing healthcare… all of these however do not cancel the red in the ledger.
I then think of the people I have let down… not living to the standard I have been called to... I also think of times that Church leaders I deeply respected even in recent years failed myself and those I care about… and brokenness is evident in every direction as men and women curse God because of the actions of blind men like myself... and my heart senses the need for Christs intervention and holiness!
Today, over 1000 years later we still feel the pain of the crusades in the Middle East. The inhabitants in the area in 1099 had only this one "good thing" to say of the cross-bearing intruders… at least these intruders do not rape our women… this should invoke in every Christ follower a deep understanding of the impact of what happens when we abandon the core teachings of Jesus Christ to follow our own hearts desires.
The crusades were part of a dark blotch on the history of the church… and there would be others. It is easy to turn away and not look… but look we must… for by looking we can begin to realize how the ONLY way forward is to actually become what Jesus wanted the Bride of Christ to be. It is only through repentance and a relentless pursuit of Christs heart... HIS values, HIS character, HIS desires… that we can be who He called us to be!
If we lived as believers solely by the standard set by Jesus "sermon on the mount" ALONE... the crusades would simply not have happened as far as the Church goes. This one sermon... if followed could prevent marriages from collapsing, churches from splitting, reduce poverty, and heal broken relationships.
Even Albert Einstein... while he never converted to Christianity. Said of the Gospels...
"No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life... no man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful."
Looking away will not bring about change, for it is only by owning both our own past... and our present denials of Christs teachings that we can become what He intended us to be…. Confession and repentance will release a wave of God's spirit that will wash us clean... set us free... and present new light to a dying and hopeless world!
Washed, Spotless and redeemed.
I share this not for shock value… I pray for a reaction of hope filled redemption and repentance… we are not called to save the organization of the Church for that “structure” means nothing unless the organization actually does the things Christ wanted us to do. We are rather called to submit individually to the Lordship of Christ and to follow His teachings…
What a radical world we would have if we were doing the things we started with in the Church!
We can be the change!