At the end of the second century Tertullian wrote “We are but of yesterday and we already fill your cities, island, your palace, senate and forum. We have left to you only your temples.” One reason for the amazingly rapid speed at which Christianity spread was observed by Lucian (a second century Greek satirist and critic of Christianity) when he said that Christians “despise all worldy goods alike and treat them merely as common property”. He also said that the early Christians believed “they are all brothers”.
Both the Romans and Greeks treated children very callously and human life was cheap. The early Christians, in caring for the widow, orphan and downtrodden, practiced what they preached and could say “imitate us as we imitate Christ”. They freely shared their possessions, were willing to be martyred rather than deny the Christ, were committed to prayer and empowered by the Holy Spirit, all of which was a large part of the reason for the attraction of this ‘new religion’.
However some of this image was tarnished when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. All of a sudden there were very good (political) reasons to convert to Christianity and many of those who now professed the Christian faith were not authentic followers of Jesus. Jesus foretold this in Matthew 7: 21-23 when He said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say unto me on that say, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons, and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!”
Sadly the pattern has continued through the ages. There is and always has been a large difference between the people in the church who hear the ‘shepherds voice’ and the church as an institution. Just because a person is part of a church does not mean they are followers of Christ. Hitler tried to colour his movement as Christian but it is obvious that his actions were as far removed from even the basic tenets of Christianity as heaven is from hell. In fact many Christians believed he was the antichrist.
This is not meant to imply that Christians never do that which is wrong. On the contrary because of our sinful nature we spend a lifetime struggling to gain freedom from sin's power over our attitudes and actions. (The ultimate transformation awaits the Christian only in the eternal age to come). However when Christians commit evil they are clearly acting against the teaching of Him who they profess to follow.
Also there have always been a minority voice which spoke out against the atrocities. For example there were Roman Catholics who were appalled at how native people were being exploited for economic purposes in the name of Christ during Spain’s colonization of South America. Missionaries as a group were blamed for the excesses of adventurers but theologians fearless opposed the exploitation of the New World Indians in Spanish courts.
The beginning of the end of the Salem Witch Hunts was brought about by a Puritan leader named Increase Mather who spoke out so forcefully against what was happening that it began to stop the madness. Incidently the Salem Witch Hunts are far more complicated than most people know. While the church’s influence in the trials is not to be excused there were issues to related to land, mass hysteria, belief in astral appearances, etc. It was not simply a case of Christianity gone amok.
(Also see The Real Murders..Atheism or Christianity )
Millions of Christians have been and continue to be the victims of mass persecution. To this very day Christians are being killed for their faith around the world and exist under the constant threat of murder, torture, and imprisonment. it is entirely possible, even likely, that during the inquisition (which occurred in three phases) when Pope Paul III determined to hunt down Protestants many authentic Christians were tortured and killed. Again this is not meant in any way to downplay the horrors of the Inquisition but in far too many cases religion and politics were inextricably bound up together. Heresy was often identified with political sedition.
A sad blot on Christian history has been anti Semitism, which is very ironic considering that Jesus and all His disciples were Jewish and the New Testament was written by Jews (except for the Luke and Acts). One of the reasons for this was that the Jews refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah and their part in His crucifixion made them His enemies in Christian eyes. Rumours that Jews had poisoned wells at the time of the Black Death in 1348 only added fuel to the fire. Luther in particular said some very ugly things about the Jews, much of which is believed to be caused by his frustration that they didn’t come to Christ. Many of his statements are so outrageous that all Christians should totally reject them. On the other side of the coin evangelical Christians are some of Israels greatest friends in the 20th century and have an attitude of complete respect towards Jews.
Also See Anti-Semitism in The New Testament?
There is little doubt that much has been done in the name of Christianity that should never have happened. The slaughter of the Crusades will be a blood stained blot on the Christian conscience until the end of time. Pope Innocence III actually declared that people could earn their salvation by going on the Crusades. This made a mockery of true Christianity, an opinion shared by a number of Christians in the thirteenth century. Attempts by popes to launch crusades in later years met with little or no success.
Sadly many critics of missionaries assume that native people always lived perfect lives and were always happy but there is little doubt that many of them were in dire physical and spiritual need. Some native practices were detrimental to the humanity of individuals. To broadly state that missionaries were determined to wipe out all aspects of of native cultures is simply untrue and detracts from the countless men and women who have courageously upheld the faith through the centuries and have given their lives to the service of others, often at great personal risk and sacrifice.
While no excuse can ever be made for the blood shed by Christians, it has been the exception rather than the norm. and does not take into account the millions of times when believers who are strong have reached out to the despised, the forsaken, the lost, the insignificant, and the abandoned.