We’re going through the questions from the radio program “Unbelievable” in the U.K. on Premier Christian Radio hosted by Justin Brierley. These are the tough questions that lately have been beginning every show. A link to the program is available from this blog. Today, I look at the question of force. Does Christianity exist because it was spread by force?
Sadly, there are pieces of Christian history that we should condemn and rightly so. Much that went on in the Inquisition and Crusades did not reflect Christianity. It’s not to say it was all wicked and evil, but it was definitely not all well and good. When we see leaders in Christianity with anti-Semitism, we should stand up and condemn that. The Salem Witch trials are another piece we should condemn.
But is that the story really?
Early Christianity spread historically by the actions of the Christians in love for one another. Sadly, I do believe that Christianity being incorporated with the state was generally not a good thing. Absolute power can corrupt. Christianity can at that point become more of a cultural phenomenon than anything else. Sadly, I think in America today Christianity is more cultural than an honest worldview that people use to see all of reality.
The early Christians were often the victims of persecution. Nero used them to light his evening festivities. Many of the Roman emperors made it there goal to slaughter them. The emperor Diocletian even wanted to eliminate all of Christian Scripture. There can be no doubt that for the first three centuries, Christianity was the underdog.
Yet then came Constantine and everything changed. I’m really not interested in why Constantine converted or if he really even converted at this point. All I want to say is that it changed. Christianity became an accepted faith and then it became the faith. Now there were some supposed forced conversions, but many Christians recognized that these were not conversions at all.
One question to ask is, “Does what really happened flow logically from the teachings of Christ?” Do we see anything in Christ that would make us think the way to deal with heretics is by burning them at the stake? Does what happened in the Crusades and the Inquisition and other events in history flow from what Christ taught?
I’ll also say that like the first question, this is a secondary question. No matter what the future of Christianity is, that cannot change what happened in the past. If Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be and he did die and rise from the dead, then Christianity is true. It doesn’t matter what happens in the future. The past has already clinched the fact.
The best proof though is to look and see about Christians today. How many Christians do you know that became that way by threats of violence? Do you really live in fear of Christians coming to you with a sword and saying “Confess Christ or die!”? Instead, Christianity is in the forefront today in humanitarian effort. We should condemn our errors in the past, look forward to good things in the future including the return of Christ, and live for him today in the present.