Christianity, Inquisitions, and Heretic Burnings
Christianity is often charged with barbarism due to dark deeds done in her name, specifically the Spanish Inquisition and European and American witch trials. New atheist Sam Harris puts the charge this way in his book, Letter to a Christian Nation:
. . . You probably think the Inquisition was a perversion of the “true” Christianity. Perhaps it was. The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries. . . . (page 11)
Because these crimes were done in the name of Christ, Christians need to answer accusers such as Mr. Harris. To do so, one question that is central to the matter must be answered: Were these actions at the behest of Christianity’s founder? Did Christ or His apostle advocate the “wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches?” (pg. 12, Letter to a Christian Nation)
Who Bears the Sword?
In Scripture the “sword” is given to the state not the church (Rom. 13; Belgic Confession, article XXXVI). Instead of using the sword, the church is called to preach the law and the gospel to those on the outside, such as "Jews and witches" (Ps. 96:2–3; Acts 10:42–43; 2 Cor. 5:11; Westminster Larger Catechism, Q and A 59 – 61). For those who claim Christ, such as "heretics and apostates," they are to have the Lord’s Table withheld from them. Here’s how the Heidelberg Catechism (Q and A 82) puts it . . .
Are they then also to be admitted to this Supper, who show themselves to be, by their confession and life, unbelieving and ungodly?
No: for by this the covenant of God is profaned, and His wrath provoked against the whole congregation; wherefore the Christian Church is bound, according to the order of Christ and His Apostles, by the office of the keys to exclude such persons, until they amend their life.
(1 Cor. 11:17-32; Ps. 50:14-16; Isa. 1:11-17)
If they still refuse to repent of their errors they are removed from the church through excommunication. Again from the Heidelberg Catechism (Q and A 85) . . .
How is the kingdom of heaven shut and opened by Church Discipline?
In this way: that according to the command of Christ, if any under the Christian name show themselves unsound either in doctrine or life, and after repeated brotherly admonition refuse to turn from their errors of evil ways, they are complained of to the church or to its proper officers, and, if they neglect to hear them also, are by them excluded from the Holy Sacraments and the Christian communion, and by God Himself from the kingdom of Christ; and if they promise and show real amendment, they are again received as members of Christ and His Church.
(Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:3-5, 11-13; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; Luke 15:20-24; 2 Cor. 2:6-11)
An honest inquirer would do well to take some time to see what Christ and his apostles actually teach in the pages of Scripture, and what the church actually teaches through the creeds, confessions, and catechisms. That way he could compare those teachings to the actions of those he finds morally detestable and determine if Christianity is really to blame. Regarding this claim, Christianity is clean, while some who counted themselves among her ranks have blood on their hands.