The young man was hungry and lonely. He realized as he adjusted his heavy pack that he was lost as well. All around, the city bustled with activity, everyone heading somewhere with great purpose. Weary with trying to find his way, he sat down, leaned back against a tree to rest, and closed his eyes. A shadow passed over him. Thinking it to be a dark cloud, he quickly opened his eyes and saw a beautiful, wealthy woman staring intently at him. Maybe she thinks I’m someone she knows, he thought. Starting to close his eyes again, he was startled when she walked confidently over to him and greeted him with a warm smile.
“Are you lost?” she inquired pleasantly. The man stumbled for an answer, wondering why such an alluring woman was taking an interest in him. “Uh, yeah, I guess so. I took a wrong turn somewhere.”
“You must be hungry. Why don’t you come home with me? We can have dinner and you can spend the night.”
Overwhelmed by her kindness, the young man said, “I’d love to go with you.” He wondered if this was the woman he’d always dreamed of finding.
“Good,” she said, and locking her arm in his, she began walking down a maze of streets and alleys, arriving finally at an ornate old house in the center of town. “This has been in my family for years,” she said. “Do you like it?”
“It’s quite impressive, but I feel out of place.”
As they entered the foyer, the woman said, “Now don’t worry about anything; you’ll be fine. Leave your pack here and make yourself at home. What would you like to eat?”
“Anything would be fine, but don’t go to a lot of trouble.” He didn’t quite know how to answer such an accommodating woman. He thought how fortunate he was to be taken in by her.
“It’s no trouble. I enjoy helping people out. I’ll just surprise you, then. It won’t take me long to prepare dinner.”
“Can I help you do anything?” the young man said.
“No, no. Just rest here. I’ll take care of everything.” She turned then and left him alone in the living room.
He looked around the spacious room, full of lavish furnishings, soft chairs, and couches covered with tapestries. He began to feel important and secure. Who could ask for anything more than this, he thought?
Drawn to the bookcase, he noticed an old box on one of the shelves. Pulling it out, he blew off the dust and looked inside, thinking it probably contained some old family mementos.
In the box were numerous newspaper clippings, tightly packed and yellow with age. Unfolding one, he read an account of a horrible murder. The second was about a grisly torture, and the third a bloody massacre. The descriptions seemed like something out of a nightmare. The young man was greatly perplexed at the contents of the box.
Why does she keep all this stuff anyway, he thought? She certainly doesn’t seem to be someone who would be interested in such gruesome accounts. He quickly put them away.
Just then the woman returned. She had changed clothes and was wearing a silky, loose-fitting gown. “Dinner will be ready soon,” she said. “Can I get you anything while you are waiting?”
The young man was stunned by her enticing attire and was still a bit shaken up over the discovery of the box. Stammering a bit, he answered her. “Uh well, I guess I’m fine. I ... I don’t think I need anything.”
She noticed his shaking voice. “What’s the matter? Oh, you must have found the box with all the articles, didn’t you?”
“Yes, how did you know?” he said.
“Everyone who comes here seems to find them. I keep forgetting to throw them away.”
“But, who did all those horrible things?” he asked.
“I did,” she said, off-handedly.
“You!” His heart began pounding, and he stammered in disbelief, “But ... but ... how could you be so cruel and heartless?” The woman did not answer him, but simply continued to smile sweetly. Beginning to feel trapped, he edged toward the door. “I think I’d better be going.”
The woman stepped in front of him, and gently took his arm. “You don’t understand. That’s all past. I’m not like that anymore. Those were violent times. Everyone was doing things like that. If you’d been there, you would have understood. You wouldn’t have thought it cruel or heartless.” Her words were spoken as smoothly as flowing oil and her voice was calm and sweet.
“Here, come sit down with me. I’ll explain it all to you. Those articles only tell half the story. I want you to know the truth.”
She led him to a couch and sat down close to him, taking his hands in hers. She said, “Listen, those people were really evil. They were the worst sort of men. They were liars. What they said made me look so bad. They were turning people against me and ruining my reputation. They wouldn’t listen to me, no matter how hard I pleaded with them to stop spreading their lies. I had to kill them. No one would ever have come home with me after listening to them.”
She slid closer to him and rested her head on his shoulder. “Please don’t fret over the past. I’d never do those sorts of things anymore, and all their accusations have been laid to rest. It’s all forgotten. I’ve prepared a nice dinner for us. After dinner we’ll go and burn that old box. Then it won’t trouble anyone any more.”
If you were this man, would you feel secure in this woman’s house? It’s a long-established fact, regrettable though it is, that just like this woman’s victims, many people have been put to death, sent to prison and persecuted for their religious beliefs by the institutions of Christianity. I’m not going to horrify you with the historical details; they are easy enough to find, though they are a bit yellow with age. Doesn’t it make a knot twist up deep inside your guts to think that someone could kill or torture another human being because of what he believes about God? It’s really kind of sick, isn’t it?
The Catholic Church has often been blamed for the thousands of deaths that occurred during the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Many people have used the details of her sordid past as a basis to reject her, wondering how God could actually be behind such slaughter. Many others choose to ignore the facts and write them off as “regrettable errors of the medieval mind”. Yet Catholicism alone cannot take the blame for such atrocities. Ungodly men in every religion have always sought to suppress the truth in unrighteous ways.
What Christians today may not know is that many of the Fathers of the Protestant Reformation were just as guilty of shedding the innocent blood of fellow ’believers’ as the Catholics were. The Protestant Reformation set the stage for some of the bloodiest wars that were ever fought on the European continent (See 1 ). Many were fought in the name of Christ, with the express purpose of establishing a civil authority that would be under the ever-watchful eye of the church. Anyone who would not conform to the teaching of whichever church was in power would be handed over to the civil authorities to be punished. Any sects resisting the established church were deemed hostile to God and justly condemned.
Like the woman in our story, Christianity has tried to cover up the past with a facade of good deeds, thinking mistakenly that all has been forgiven and covered by the blood of Jesus. Yet the very words of the Master make it clear that He did not come to establish an earthly kingdom among His followers. Rather, He condemned the killing of other human beings by anyone who claimed to follow Him.2 Because innocent blood has been shed by those who claim to know the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for their sin.3 There is no high priest over their house, therefore there is no forgiveness for the bloodguilt of all their wars.4
Revolutions and wars are fought by the people of the nations, not the people of the kingdom. Many honorable men of the nations have gone to war to defend their inalienable rights of conscience when they were threatened by oppressors who did not respect those rights. Wars are fought for the preservation of the nations, and those who participate in them are people of the nations.
The word of God does not condemn this participation in war for those who make no claim to be disciples of the Son of God. For those who claim to be disciples, however, it is another story.5 No true follower of Him can get around the high standard of the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, warfare was permitted in order to establish the nation from which the Messiah would come, but after His arrival on earth, He established a much higher law.6 As He was in the world, so must all those be who call upon His name.7
The first church would not participate in war. It was unthinkable for them to assume the role of a soldier in battle (or a magistrate, politician, statesman, or policeman for that matter) without renouncing their sacred covenant to follow their Master as His disciples. Neither would the churches of Christianity during the first two or three centuries, as they continued to follow some of the traditions of the first church. This put them at odds with the Greco-Roman world. Our Master’s word disqualifies this way of life for disciples,8 because, as John the Apostle makes it quite clear, the world is under the power of the evil one.9 Paul also warned the believers in Corinth not to be involved in the affairs of the world.10
Early in the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and was protected by the State. Many church officials were given civil authority and found it tempting to use that authority to back up their religious beliefs. It was easy to justify the slaughter of individuals or groups whose beliefs and practices threatened the established order. Thus began an unholy alliance between the church and the state which continued practically unhindered for the next twelve centuries.
In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther, John Calvin and other Protestant leaders attempted to reform some of the corrupt practices of the Roman Catholic Church, but never went as far as severing the church’s ties with the state. Instead, they merely brought forth a host of national or territorial churches, maintaining alliances with the political states and actively supporting them in their wars.
During this time, many Christians spoke out against the beliefs and practices of the national churches, including their participation in war. It seemed obvious to them that the Master did not want His followers to use the sword to establish His kingdom.11 Throughout the Reformation, these voices of dissent were violently suppressed. Many of the dissenters would not defend themselves, even as they watched their own families, children and friends being tortured and put to death. This the history books faithfully record, like the woman’s box of yellowed newspapers.
Like the woman in the story, Christianity excuses herself by saying that those were violent times in her distant past. Somehow this defense doesn’t explain the present-day conflicts dividing both Ireland and the former Yugoslavia. In fact, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches are still deeply involved in the affairs of this world. Christianity may be wearing a more enticing garment, but her nature hasn’t changed. She still loves the world and the things of the world (like wealth and political power)12 and willingly dispenses these things to the naive ones she brings into her home. She will fight to keep these things. She always has.
A tree cannot produce something good and nourishing and at the same time produce something poisonous.13 Our Master made it quite clear that good trees produce good fruit and that the unmistakable fruit of those who are connected to Him is love.14
Consider the young man resting in the arms of the beautiful woman on the couch. Would you feel very secure being taken in by a woman like her? Though she seems nice enough now, what if she started acting like she did in her past? What if you suspected that the food she was serving you was really deadly? Would you run?