Yes, No, Maybe
PART ONE: The Crusaders
“Crusader” is a negative word to many, and maybe deservedly so, but we may have to reconsider the negative position. Following is a summary and examination of the history of the crusades themselves.
There were eight crusades in all, from 1095 to 1294. Oddly enough, no Arab tribes played much of a role, if any, in fighting the crusaders. This is not to say that Muslim armies were not involved, but exactly who within Islam actually participated is another issue.
The French initiated the first crusade led by Godfrey of Bouillon. The purpose was to wrest control of Jerusalem away from the Muslim Seljuk Turks, who had taken it in 1070. Jerusalem had previously been part of the Fatimid Empire, composed mostly of Shi’a Berbers from North Africa, and during their control of the Holy City, Christians were allowed to visit their special religious sites. But such was not the case with the Seljuks, who violently persecuted the Christians and desecrated and destroyed churches. After a time, Pope Urban II called for the rescue of the Holy City from the Islamic infidels.
Bouillon, certainly a member of the Roman Catholic Church, managed to murder 70,000 Muslims and even burned down synagogues crowded with Jewish people hoping to escape the violence around them. Despite the slaughter, many of the European soldiers married local Muslim and Jewish women; they settled down, and for at least forty years, the Christians and Muslims lived peacefully side-by-side. The fact remains, however, that Crusaders slaughtered a host of people.
The second crusade in 1144 was undertaken when a Kurdish army from Mosul (now in the modern state of Iraq) attacked a Christian fortress in Edessa (now in the modern state of Turkey). As a result, Pope Eugenius III called for a crusade. Two Christian armies, one French, the other German, were completely decimated by the Seljuk armies while on their way to join the battle at Edessa. A monk named Bernard of Clairvoux was engaged in this one. Following the crusade nearly forty more years of peace ensued.
The third crusade was called in 1189 by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa after the army of Saladin (1137–1193), the famous Kurd who became the Sultan of Egypt, defeated the crusader army on July 4, 1187, at the Horns of Hittin, a site just above the Sea of Galilee. It proved to be the most famous of all the battles during the crusade period. Jerusalem surrendered, and Saladin dealt humanely with the survivors; there was no sacking or murdering, and the city was kept open to Christian pilgrims. But Jerusalem’s fall inspired Barbarossa to lead a French army into Turkey, where he died crossing a creek. The Seljuks quickly destroyed his army.
There was, however, more to the third crusade. King Richard the Third of England (the “Lion Heart”) gathered an army of Norman Knights, set off for the Holy Land, and proceeded to capture Acre and Jaffa on the Mediterranean Coast, even defeating Saladin at the battle of Arsuf.
The two commanders treated each other with respect and signed a peace treaty on September 2, 1192, the terms of which left Jerusalem in the hands of the Muslims, while the Christians retained the coastal areas where Acre, Caesarea, and Jaffa are located.
Pope Innocent III in and around 1195 called the fourth crusade. This one had nothing to do with the Holy Land or Muslims, but the goal was to liberate Jerusalem. The French crusaders entered Constantinople, home of the Greek Orthodox Church, who resented the presence of the Roman Catholics and rose up against the crusaders. In the battle that resulted, the crusader “Western” Christians did not kill many Greek “Eastern” Christians, but they did completely pillage the city. After a short period, the crusaders made off with their loot and headed for home. Nothing was accomplished.
Pope Honorius III, Innocent’s successor, could not accept the results of the fourth crusade and called for a fifth crusade. This time mainly Germans and Hungarians marched off to Jerusalem by way of Egypt in 1217. The army spent three years in skirmishes with the Kurdish Ayyubids in Egypt. They failed to make headway and finally called it quits and sailed home.
The sixth crusade’s outstanding personality was the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who was the grandson of the famous Barbarossa. Frederick II’s daughter was married to John of Brienne, who now ruled Jerusalem. Thinking that marriage gave him authority over Jerusalem, he called for the sixth crusade in 1225. Due to the knowledge and negotiating skills of the remarkable Frederick, the crusade was peacefully conducted without one battle or casualty.
Frederick had studied a great deal about Islamic literature, science, and philosophy, which gave him a solid platform for interaction with the leader of the Islamic army, Malik al-Kamil, who was the nephew of the great Saladin. The two leaders resolved the confrontation by signing a ten-year treaty in 1229. (Ten years was the maximum time allowed for a treaty according to Sharia Law.) Christians and Muslims alike welcomed the terms of the treaty. Unhappily, the new pope, Pope Gregory IX, hated Frederick and refused to ratify the treaty, denouncing it vigorously.
Things went from bad to worse after Sultan Kamil’s death in 1238, when a maverick Turk from Russia named Baibars led a Mameluk (Muslim) army against Jerusalem, sacking it and slaughtering the citizens in 1244.
King Louis IX of France called the seventh crusade. In 1250 King Louis brought an army to Egypt and sailed up the Nile to Cairo, where Baibars demolished that army. Baibars warred against everyone, Christian and Muslim alike, in an effort to establish his power and authority. His hate and murderous anger was mostly directed toward Christians, and he attacked one city after the other along the Mediterranean coast—Caesarea, Safad, Jaffa, and Antioch. He killed and enslaved thousands of Christians. Jerusalem was now firmly in the hands of Muslims, and the seventh crusade came to an end.
The eighth crusade flowed out of the outrage perpetrated against Christians in the seventh crusade. Louis IX demanded a new crusade in the year 1270. His plan was to come through Tunis on the way to Egypt, but a few days after landing in Tunis he died of dysentery.
Baibars died in 1277 (these crusades could last for years), and his successor, Sultan Khalil, managed to finally defeat the crusaders at Acre in 1291, killing or enslaving some 60,000 Christians there.
Impact of the Crusades
The crusades deepened the divide between the Eastern and Western wings of the Catholic Church, a rift that was already well underway centuries earlier.
Related to that, the crusades greatly weakened the Byzantine Empire, which succeeded the Holy Roman Empire.
The crusades also permanently embittered relations between Christians and Muslims, and they are used to this day to rationalize a continuing hatred that often erupts into violence. The fact that both Christians and Muslims committed horrible atrocities is often forgotten or conveniently submerged. Muslims have cited Christian crusader actions as justification for their own brutality. This is not a surmise, but openly declared by contemporary Islamic jihadists, whose portfolio of rallying cries includes something close to, “Remember the crusades.” They legitimize their call for revenge by pointing to what the Christians did in the crusades. This is, of course, completely disingenuous but nevertheless effective.
Promotion of religion by force of arms demonstrates the weakness of Muslim ideals, ethics, and message. To spread the faith by means of intimidation is the worst possible program, one that no one can respect. Not only the Muslims but also Christians have been guilty here. (This topic will be explored in greater detail in the second section of this essay, “The Inquisitors.”)
As early as the fifth century, and many say long before, becoming a Christian required baptism by an ordained priest of the one Catholic and Apostolic Church. Faith and grace now abandoned, the Church became a power structure and fell into the same tactics employed by many other secular institutions. Some use the word “Christendom” to describe the Church as empire, combining religion with the state.
The crusades marked a departure from the Church’s mission to preach the Gospel to all nations. By picking up the sword, it was giving in to the barbaric culture of that day. The Church was intertwined with the state, the state using the Church and the Church using the state to advance goals and consolidate power.
As a result, the core doctrine of conversion was severely compromised. To coerce a person into leaving one faith for another is absolutely unbiblical. Requiring a choice of whether to convert, die, or pay the tax is not exactly proper evangelism, but the Church was guilty of this just as were the Muslims, and contemporary Muslims still employ these means. It cannot be said today that the Christian Church advances by means of force and fear. (Note: Instances of wrongly motivated attempts to convert so-called “primitive” people groups were occurring well into the nineteenth century, e.g., the forcing of Western/Christian culture and religion on Native Americans on reservations and similar activities by Britaish missionaries in India. Broadening the argument to include these examples or others is not possible in the space allowed, but we acknowledge needing to discuss this elsewhere.)
The same mentality that was seen in the crusades also resulted in the persecution of those we today call evangelical Christians, especially those who reject infant baptism, transubstantiation (Jesus being actually present in the Bread and the Cup), and the necessity of receiving other sacraments in order to go to heaven—in other words, those who adhere to salvation by grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone.
The story of two ancestors of mine might be of interest now. The first concerns Sir John Philpott.
John Philpott was a “Salter and Pepperer” (a grocer) who lived in the latter part of the fourteenth century in London, England, while the One Hundred Years War with France was underway. He relied on his merchant fleet to bring foodstuffs into England from the Continent, but a combination of a weak English king and an aggressive French king meant Philpott’s business was faltering. He was able, however, to convince the English king to allow him to outfit his ships into a navy and be crewed by convicts from London’s prisons, of which there were plenty. The result was a series of victories by Philpott’s navy, and on the strength of that he was elected Lord Mayor of London in 1388 and 1389. He was a faithful Christian, and in his will he left 100 pounds to be distributed amongst the poor of London at Christmas time each year. In the old city of London there is still Philpott Lane where a plaque commemorating this faithful Catholic and Christian man has been installed.
Then there was another Englishman, again named John Philpott, this time living in the sixteenth century. He was a Puritan, meaning he hoped that the newly founded Church of England that broke away from the Roman Church, precipitated by King Henry VIII, would be purified—that is, would conform more closely to what we see of the church in the New Testament. Philpott was forced into the Court of the Inquisitors and found guilty. Refusing to recant, he was burned at the stake in 1555. (Burning at the stake was desirable form of execution because it was thought the destruction of the body made resurrection impossible.)
PART TWO: The Inquisition
Although the story of the development of the Church in the centuries leading up to the “Dark Ages” (stretching from approximately AD 500 to 1500) is not so easy to uncover, there is evidence that the faith of Jesus and the early disciples was not extinguished. That it was diverted, perverted, and undermined, especially toward the end of the third century, is fairly plain history, at least as evangelicals read it.
During that dark time, the vibrant faith we see in the New Testament gradually shifted to a more formalized, mechanical, ritualistic, even magical understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. Especially after the so-called conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century, people became members of the Church and were counted among the faithful, despite their never hearing the real Gospel message or knowing much of anything about the core doctrines of Scripture.
The power of the Church over salvation, the only really important issue in life, was under the control of an ecclesiastical hierarchy. Those who rebelled against this were the targets of the Inquisition, the first court of which was formed around the year 1231 and continued for some three or four centuries. From the Church’s point of view, the Inquisition was necessary, because many good Catholics were turning away from the doctrines of the Church, especially after publication of the Bible in common languages, which allowed people to see what the Bible actually taught. For nearly a thousand years it had been hidden in a dark covering of non-intelligible Latin, Greek, or Hebrew.
The renaissance of Biblical understanding forced the established Church to react, and energetically; heresy became the most heinous of all crimes. There is evidence that many were troubled by the means used to keep the Church pure. Ecclesiastical leaders would often plead with secular authorities for sentences to be carried out mercifully. In the early days of the persecution, Roman Church officials acted ruthlessly. For instance, the Cathari (or Albigenses) and the Waldenses were persecuted, sometimes to death, during the 1220s by the order of Pope Gregory IX.
Fringe Christian groups were not the only ones to be sought out by the Inquisitors. As with John Philpott in 1555, the point at the center of the trials had to do with the elements of the Mass, otherwise known as Communion, Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Along with the Reformers (i.e., Martin Luther and John Calvin), Philpott believed the bread of the Eucharist was just bread and the juice in the cup just juice. But the Church had developed the concept that the bread was transformed by an act of the priest into the actual body, the flesh, of Jesus. Likewise, the juice invisibly, magically, became the actual blood of Jesus.
Two Latin words were actually pronounced by the priest before the Mass began—hocus pocus—and when the words were pronounced, the magical power inherited from Peter and passed down through the properly ordained priesthood transformed the substances, shazam!
How this came to be is not possible to describe here, but there is an actual history to it. The short version is this: The Church had become far too Western in its understanding of the Middle-Eastern document we call the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. And when Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” (John 6:53-55), the Roman Church took His words literally.
To take Jesus’ words literally, however, would have been ludicrous for a Jewish person in the first century. And the early history of the Church clearly reveals that the passage was taken metaphorically—after all, the Church was composed mostly of Jews for the first generation. The point was that the disciples were to trust in and believe in Jesus as the Savior and that His death on the cross, with His broken body and shed blood, was the once-forever sacrifice for sin. Therefore, long after the “Eastern” sense of things was lost, the “Western” mindset misunderstood much of the nature and means of salvation.
The Inquisition was aimed at Christians, but Muslims and Jews were also tried, and many were executed. It is only natural that Muslims and Jews would have a negative reaction to this, and it is certainly possible that it yet lingers as something else horrible that Christendom perpetrated and thus could be avenged in whatever era.
During the period of the Inquisition there were undoubtedly thousands of bishops, priests, and regular members of the Roman Church who sincerely thought they were being faithful Christians to support and participate in what they perceived as a cleansing of their Church from heretical doctrine and practice. Undoubtedly, there were thousands of Christians who were horrified at what was being done in the name of Jesus Christ. And during the period of history when the Church and state were wed, significant resistance was virtually out of the question. Such resistance finally came in 1517 under the inspiration of a Catholic monk named Martin Luther.
PART THREE: Yes, No, Maybe
Were those who conducted the Inquisition real Christians?
Were the crusaders real Christians?
Were the Muslims who fought against the crusaders real Muslims? Or, to put it another way, are those Muslims who engage in violent jihad today the real Muslims?
To these questions the answers are, Yes, No, and Maybe.
Looking at Christians
It must be said that no one could possibly know for sure whether real and actual born-again Christians committed atrocities against Muslims and Jews, in that day or in this. If a group of careful observers had watched the murder of Muslims and Jews at the hands of people known as Christians during the crusades and at other times, would they have know for certain which was the right conclusion? The proper answer would have to be, No!
Why is this so? The core of the answer lies in the mystery of conversion. While one can be baptized, join a church, and even reform his or her life, this is far from genuine Christian conversion. Being a part of a church does not mean one is a Christian. Conversion means that the Holy Spirit indwells the one believing in Jesus, the one who has had all sin removed and forgiven. It is a profound spiritual experience not an intellectual or emotional one. It is something God does completely apart from anything an individual can do. It is miracle and mystery. Every pastor who has ministered to a congregation for ten or more years knows that in that congregation are those who have truly been born again and those who have not.
Not that every real Christian does right and lives right. The Christian life is a growing up into the fullness of Christ, little by little—first as an infant, then a toddler, young child, older child, adolescent, teenager, young adult, adult, older adult, and senior. Still after a lifetime of maturing, the Christian is not anywhere perfect until in heaven and in the presence of our holy God.
Is it possible that a Christian could be deceived into thinking that killing and persecuting others because they believed differently is justified? Yes, it is possible.
Might Christians commit horrific acts, because they were told to do so by powerful religious authorities? Maybe. Might Muslims? Maybe.
Would a Biblically literate Christian believe he or she was serving God by persecuting or even killing “infidels”? No, unless there was some unknown source of intimidation going on behind the scenes and/or such Christian had his or her mind bent to the point that they became merely tools of evil.
Perhaps the right answer for all of these questions is, Maybe!
Would persecuting or killing a non-Christian win approval with God? Would it ensure a place in heaven? To both of these, the answer is an unequivocal, No!
Would defending the cause of Christianity, the Church, a Christian leader, or anything else in all creation by harming others merit the favor of God? Certainly not! Would dying in defense of the God of Scripture assure a place in paradise? In no way!
This is my solemn opinion as a follower of Jesus.