In his multi-volume work on church history, Philip Schaff wrote this:
Besides being assailed from without by the followers of false religions, the church suffers also from intestine wars and violence. Witness the religious wars in France, Holland, and England, the Thirty Years’ War in Germany, all of which grew out of the Protestant Reformation and the Papal Reaction; the crusade against the Albigenses and Waldenses, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition, the massacre of the Huguenots, the dragonnades of Louis XIV., the crushing out of the Reformation in Bohemia, Belgium, and Southern Europe; but also, on the Protestant side, the persecution of Anabaptists, the burning of Servetus in Geneva, the penal laws of the reign of Elizabeth against Catholic and Puritan Dissenters, the hanging of witches and Quakers in New England. More Christian blood has been shed by Christians than by heathens and Mohammedans. (emphasis added)
The last line really hit me. “More Christian blood has been shed by Christians . . .” is a terrible legacy and something that we need to face honestly.
Granted, this was written in the late 1800’s, before the totalitarian states in Europe, Asia and the Middle East have attempted eradication of Christian belief. So perhaps the last statement in the quote above is no longer technically true.
But this highlights one of the secrets of the church that we should be open and honest about. That secret is that membership in the church does not immediately fix all of our problems.
Let’s set aside the issue that not everyone who claims to be a Christian is actually in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus himself told us that many who claim relationship with him will be turned away in the end (Matthew 7:21-23). We might offer the excuse that much of the Christian on Christian crime was perpetrated by those who were not true believers.
But, to face this issue in a serious manner requires that we look at our own behavior and acknowledge our own failures, even if those failures to not actually end in the death of another believer.
Our failures include so called “discernment ministries” that destroy the reputations of pastors and leaders without any attempt at reconciliation and restoration. Our failures include turning non-essential Christian doctrines into spiritual litmus tests for orthodoxy and pronouncing anathema upon those who disagree. Our failures include any and every attempt to appear more holy than we really are. Our failures include a long list of ways that we do not live up to what we claim to believe.
We may not have literally shed the blood of other Christians, but as Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, it is the intent, not the result that makes us guilty. Stopping short of murder does not relieve us of the sin of inappropriate anger (see Matthew 5:21-26).
A proper reading of Scripture reveals that we (collectively and individually) have much to repent for. It turns out that we are not better than the culture around us. Our mess stinks just as much as everyone else’s.
But this highlights the beauty of the Gospel. We are accepted because of the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ, not on the basis of our own obedience.
We are failures, but God loves failures.
So rather than revel in (and gossip about) the failures of others, it seems that we should be honest about our own. We might then have an opportunity to point to Jesus as the one who accepts us as we are.