Must Christians be Crusaders?



In the summer of 2011, the well-known evangelical campus ministry Campus Crusade announced it was planning to change its name to the strange abbreviation “Cru.”[1] The word “crusade” had negative connotations, particularly overseas. It was identified with the medieval Christian crusades against Islam. Apparently the word became a barrier to today’s campus evangelism. Similarly, when I attended Christian schools in the 60s and 70s, many of them chose as their team name “the Crusaders.” This in fact was the name of my own high school in northern Ohio.


Times have changed. Many people even in the United States believe that the Crusades were a great blot on Christian history. It’s true that they were far from perfect, and Christians committed atrocities. On the other hand, the goal of the crusaders was to retake Christian territory that had been forcibly overthrown by Islam.[2] We could certainly make the case that if there’re any room for just war, this would be it.[3] Getting rid of violent, murderous Islam (like ISIS today) is a legitimate military aspiration.


Whatever you may think of the Crusades, however, you should know this: Christianity is a crusading Faith. I don’t mean principally physical warfare. I mean as a spiritual and ethical and intellectual force in the world. I’ll go so far as to say that if you want to purge crusading from Christianity, you’ll need to abandon Christianity.


The Call to Peacemaking


At first glance, this assertion might conflict with the Bible’s truth about seeking peace and unity. At his birth, the angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace to earth (Luke 2:14). Solomon offers this proverb: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14). Paul exhorts the Corinthian saints, “[A]gree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11b). The Bible expects that God’s people won’t be quarrelsome. Unity and peace in the world and among the people of God are nothing short of beautiful: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).


The Call to Crusading


But the Bible also expects that Christians will fight the good fight of faith in this sinful world. The Bible bristles with martial terminology applied to the Christian life and the church. As Paul sums up his own Christian life, he writes to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He employs three metaphors to describe this Christian life: a battle, a race, and a stewardship. He has completed the great battle of life. He has run the marathon God laid out for him. And he has protected and preserved the deposit God placed in his care. He first mentions the battle, and there can be no Christian life without it. He’d already written in Ephesians 6 that the Christian life is a battle, and we’re soldiers.


Today’s Irony


We live in ironic times. Never before in recent memory has there been as much violence and conflict on TV and the movies and videogames. If you spend time on the Internet, you know of the utterly vicious language often used. More and more more kids in public schools are bullying children, and even raping them. People treat one another hatefully.


And yet there’s a pervasive political correctness that shouts down and extinguishes even the mildest objections to, for example, atheism, abortion, and homosexuality. You can be as vicious as you want supporting homosexuality, but if you even raise a voice to oppose it, you’re shouted down as unloving and intolerant.


From this we learn that crusading is an inescapable concept. We will crusade either for righteousness or for unrighteousness, for godliness or for sin, for truth or for error. But we will not do is avoid crusading. We will always crusade for or against something — or someone.


Our charge is to crusade for Jesus Christ and his truth. If we do not, we are not faithful Christians. Faithful Christians are both peacemakers and crusade-makers.

[1] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Campus Crusade Changes Name to Cru,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/campus-crusade-name-change.html, accessed May 2, 2017.
[2] Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions (New York: HarperCollins, 2009).
[3] Harold O. J. Brown, “The Crusade or Preventive War,” War: Four Christian Views, Robert G. Clouse, ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 1981), 151–168.