Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is Christianity a Violent Religion?

Many of its critics would like you to believe that Christianity is a violent religion, one responsible for millions upon millions of deaths and countless wars throughout its history. I have heard it said that the majority of all wars fought were religious in nature. Its attackers want you to believe that Christianity forces itself upon individuals and entire nations. This is what they want you to believe, however, to the reasonable person, the facts will prove them wrong. Let's examine a few facts regarding Christianity in regards to violence.

1. Jesus Never Advocated Violence Toward Those Who Would Not Convert to Christianity.

It is important to note the difference in what Jesus actually commanded his disciples to do. In Mark 16:15 Jesus said, "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.'" The command here was to go out and preach to every nation. He did not advocate any act of violence toward anyone who would not convert. However, He did give instructions to His followers regarding what they should do if someone refused to convert. He told them in Luke 9:5, "And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them." So what did Jesus mean when He said this? In modern terms we would say it something like, 'Completely forget them. Leave them to their decision, and and the fate they've chosen.' This certainly doesn't make Jesus an advocate for violence against those who will not convert. In fact, it serves as very difficult testimony against those who would like you to believe that Christianity is a religion based in violence.

There is an old saying that goes something to the effect of, "No one ever truly converts through the barrel of a gun". Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, knew this to be true and guided His disciples based on this principle.

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and questioned regarding the charges against Him, Pilate asked Him if He was in fact the king of the Jews. Jesus' response again serves as testimony against the charge of Christianity and violence being married. John 18:36 says, "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence."  Had Jesus set up an Earthly kingdom, then would His followers (Christians) raise their swords to keep Him from being delivered. However, we are not concerned with the ways of the world, we strive for a higher purpose; to live forever with God in heaven. This is where Jesus' eternal kingdom is set up.

2. We Must Make a Distinction Between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

When Christ was crucified on the cross, one of His last statements was recorded in John 19:30, "When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." The important question here is, what exactly is the 'it' Jesus is referring to as being finished? What exactly is finished?

When Jesus made this statement He is referring to the Old Law, or the Old Testament way of doing things. The reason we have a New Testament in the Bible is because it is a New Law. To better illustrate this point, let me ask you a question. When does a last will and testament of someone go into effect? After their death, right? This is the case with Jesus' will, the New Testament. Just as someone else's last will and testament is a binding legal document, so is the New Testament for Christ. It is separate and apart from the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament law, required obedience was necessary to every point of the law, and the punishment of disobedience was certain death. This is illustrated by the fate of Uzzah, who steadied the Ark of the Covenant from falling. Regardless of his intentions, this was unacceptable by Gods standards. 2 Samuel 6:7 says, "And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for [his] error; and there he died by the ark of God." Why would God strike Uzzah dead for a seemingly good act? Because God gave specific instructions regarding who and when someone could touch the Ark of the Covenant. Uzzah was not that person, and he touched it at the wrong time. Obedience to God was very specific, and the price for disobedience was death.

This concept is better illustrated by the New Testament authors themselves. The author of Romans says in Romans 8:1,2 "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." The days of the law of sin and death (i.e., The Old Testament) have now passed.

Regarding the concept of Christians still holding to the Old Law, James 2:10 says, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all". In other words, if you keep one part of the law, you must keep the whole law. If you do not, then you are guilty of offending the whole law. This is impossible considering the old laws' purpose was to prepare the people for Jesus and His New Law.

3. It Is the Christians Who Have Suffered Persecution and Violence for Their Beliefs.

A study of the New Testament and the fate of its authors will clearly show that the early Christian church was persecuted on several fronts, along with its members. During the beginning chapters of the Book of Acts, this is outlined very clearly with the arrest and persecution of the apostles, and disciples of Christ. Within the first 6 chapters of the Book of Acts, Christians were arrested multiple times, thrown in jail for preaching the name of Jesus, and culminating in the stoning to death of the disciple Stephen (Acts 7:59,60).

Stephen was not the only member of the church to suffer persecution. According to many commentaries, the Apostle Paul spent approximately 5 1/2 to 6 years of his ministry in one form of prison or another. These include a Roman jail, Philippian jail with Silas, two years in a prison cell in Caesarea, and finally for a third time he is imprisoned by the Romans, this time culminating in his execution for preaching Jesus.

Through tradition, we know of many other Apostle's fate. Notice the information borrowed from Agard's Bible Timeline regarding the fate of the other apostles:

Simon surnamed Peter: died 33-34 years after the death of Christ.  According to Smith’s Bible Dictionary there is "satisfactory evidence that he and Paul were the founders of the church at Rome, and died in that city. The time and manner of the apostle’s martyrdom are less certain. According to the early writers, he died at or about the same time with Paul, and in the Neronian persecution, A.D. 67,68. All agree that he was crucified. Origen says that Peter felt himself to be unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master, and was therefore, at his own request, crucified with his head downward." 
James the son of Zebedee:  He was put to death by Herod Agrippa I  shortly before the day of the Passover, in the year 44 or about 11 years after the death of Christ.  From Acts 12: 1-2. 
John: No death date given by early writers.  Death date is by conjecture only and is variously assigned as being between 89 AD to 120 AD
Andrew:  No accurate death date given. A variety of traditions say he preached in Scythia, in Greece, in Asia Minor and Thrace.  He is reported to have been crucified at Patrae in Achaia. 
Philip:  Again, the Bible does not say when he died nor do we have accurate information.  According to tradition he preached in Phrygia, and died at Hierapolis. 
Bartholomew: There is no information concerning his death, not even by tradition
Matthew: He must have lived many years as an apostle, since he was the author of the Gospel of Matthew which was written at least twenty years after the death of Christ. There is reason to believe that he stayed for fifteen years at Jerusalem, after which he went as missionary to the Persians, Parthians and Medes. There is a legend that he died a martyr in Ethiopia
Thomas: The earlier traditions, as believed in the fourth century, say he preached in Parthia or Persia, and was finally buried at Edessa. The later traditions carry him farther east.   His martyrdom whether in Persia or India, is said to have been by a lance, and is commemorated by the Latin Church on December 21 the Greek Church on October 6, and by the Indians on July 1. 
James Alpheus: We know he lived at least five years after the death of Christ because of mentions in the Bible.  According to tradition, James son of Alpheus was thrown down from the temple by the scribes and Pharisees; he was then stoned, and his brains dashed out with a fuller’s club. 
Simon the Canaanite: No information either in the Bible or by tradition.
Jude (Thaddeus): according to tradition Jude taught in Armenia, Syria and Persia where he was martyred.  Tradition tells us he was buried in Kara Kalisa in what is now Iran.
Judas Iscariot: Shortly after the death of Christ Judas killed himself. According to the Bible he hanged himself, (Matthew 27:5) at Aceldama, on the southern slope of the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, and in the act he fell down a precipice and was dashed into pieces.

I would also like to note that by todays standards, the church is still persecuted. Take for example the way Christians are treated in mainly Muslim countries. By most accounts, they are outlaws, forced to worship in secret under fear of death. This is clearly seen in countries such as Iran. Also notice the way other religions are treated in "Christian" countries. There are no courts set up to persecute them, nor are there followers of other religions being put to death for their beliefs. Though you will find them in other countries, no "Christian" nation has such, because it is against our belief system.

4. It Is Incorrect to Say That a Majority of Wars Are Fought Over Religion-Let Alone Christianity.

This claim is easily refuted by simply examining the evidence. The book, Encyclopedia of Wars by Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod documents 1763 wars, of which 123 have been classified as a religious conflict. So, what atheists have considered to be "most" really amounts to less than 7% of all wars. It is interesting, however, that 66 of these wars (more than 50%) involved Islam, which did not exist as a religion for the first 3,000 years of recorded human warfare, and well over 600 years after the birth of Christianity!

The evidence is overwhelming to show that Christianity is not a violent religion. Anyone who would like to convince you otherwise is either ignorant of the facts, or is maliciously trying to spread misinformation. Both of which is unacceptable. 

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