About Jesus - Steve Sweetman

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Can We Learn From The 11th Century Crusades To The Holy Land?

Iíve recently watched the movie entitled "The Kingdom of God" which is a factually based movie about the Christian Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries. These werenít Billy Graham style crusades as we know it. They were military attacks on Muslims and Jews in the middle east.

I ask myself two questions. One, "why were so many people enthusiastic about killing people in the name of Christianity"? Two, "can we learn anything from these events"?

Feel free to give me some input on this subject. Iím not a historian, but I do understand certain historical facts. I understand that the Popes authorized these crusades, and the common person submitted to the Popeís edicts or else they were in serious trouble. Also, the culture of the day influenced these people, as it does today. The notion of a military conquest in the name of religion was not a foreign idea, but fundamental to religious teaching, both in Islam and Christianity.

Many men and women went to war to kill Muslims and Jews in the name of Jesus and thought it was their duty to do so. They anticipated a Heavenly reward as they attempted to reclaim the Holy Land for God.

So why did these people engage in this activity? One reason could be that the common person in those days did not have access to the Bible, and maybe couldnít read it if they did. Their knowledge of Scripture was based on what was taught them by the Pope and his subordinates, much of which was not Biblically accurate.

For this reason they may never have known that Jesus told Pilate His kingdom was not of this world, and therefore He would not fight with the sword. (John 18:36) As a matter of fact, just a few brief hours earlier Jesus replaced the ear of a soldier that Peter cut off with a sword. Peter wanted to defend Jesus with a sword as the Crusaders did a thousand years later. Jesus fixed the damage done by Peterís sword, and told Pilate that He would not fight. You can certainly see Jesusí thinking about spreading the Kingdom of God by military conquest

It is therefore clear to me that the Crusaders did not have a Biblical understanding of the true nature of the Kingdom of God. Like Peter prior to Pentecost, they understood the Kingdom of God to be geographical, with a distinct land mass. They thought the Kingdom of God was like the kingdoms of men, as many others have done over the centuries.

Another thing to note is this. The Popes had politicized the church over the centuries. The church was never meant to be what it was in 1000 AD, that is, a political identity, a nation in itself.

I see at least two points for us to learn from this time in history. The first point is how we treat the Bible. The Crusaders were not allowed to have the Bible to see first hand what Jesus said. We have the Bible today but in many respects act as if we donít. There is a measure of Biblical illiteracy in the church today. This Biblical illiteracy was not forced on us as it was in the church of the past. It is based on our choice to leave the Bible on a shelf. If we are to be judged on our Biblical understanding, weíd be judged more severely than the Crusaders because our lack of Biblical understanding is by choice.

The second thing I feel we can learn is that the Kingdom of God was never meant to be political. It is not a geographical nation, but a spiritual community of people. Our church structures today come close to politicizing Godís Kingdom because in many cases the church is not much different than any secular institutions. Another example of this is our attempt to Christianize our nation through political action. I donít believe that there is anything inherently wrong with trying to put Christian principles into government and thus the nation. Our civil rights allow us to make this attempt. But we should realize that the first and foremost way to change a nation is to introduce people to Jesus. I believe we can safely say that the Apostle Paulís desire was to influence people and nations towards Jesus. The way he did this was to preach the gospel, introducing individuals to Jesus. He did not become a Roman politician to accomplish his desire. Changing one life at a time will eventually change our nation.

In conclusion, we need to cultivate a love for Godís Word. It needs to "dwell in us richly" as Paul said. Also, we need to understand that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom, and is demonstrated on earth as a subculture that can penetrate all aspects of society. We should not limit Godís Kingdom to denominational structures confined to religious buildings. It is a movement of Godly people, representing Jesus to others as we live and walk the streets of this world.

One final note. I have used the terms "Kingdom of God", and "church" in this article. To make these terms clear in our understanding, they have two distinct meanings. The church is not the Kingdom of God. The church is the visible expression of the Kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom of God is spiritual in nature and includes all things that are under the rule of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Here is a link to another article on the Crusades.


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