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Reflections on Reconciliation; An Introduction to Christians, Their Enemies, and The Last Days


And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. (Matthew 24: 6)

At the end of the first Christian millennium, apocalypse loomed over the New Testament church. Biblical signs were everywhere: Antioch was shaken with earthquakes, the moon was tinged red and the sun was darkened by volcanic activity. Massive armies swept into Asia Minor from the distant North, traditionally the land of Magog. Adorned with exotic clothing and long flowing hair, these warriors confessed the Muslim creed, denying that God could have a son. To the early church, this was the final evidence that the Antichrist was at hand.

Less than a hundred years later, the great Christian Byzantine Empire lay defeated, cowering in the sanctuary of Constantinople. By now, Europe too was feeling the threat of the Turks. As reports filtered back to the west describing the resurgence of Islam and the disarray of Eastern Christendom, the leaders of the Western Church sensed an opportunity. They soon began to entertain thoughts of a campaign to re-take the biblical lands of the Near East, and with encouragement from the besieged Byzantine Emperor, the Pope finally decreed a holy war in 1096.

Beginning with a genocidal campaign against the Jewish communities of Europe, the holy war achieved its goal three years later with the conquest of Jerusalem. By all accounts, the two-day slaughter of Jews and Muslims in the "city of peace" was remorseless, shocking to the senses of the most jaded Middle Eastern warriors. Even Christian sources document the cruelty of Jerusalem's subjugation to the Cross: "After having put to death in the various neighborhoods of the city all those they came across…they flooded the place with the blood of the infidels. One could not look upon the multitude of corpses without horror, scattered arms and legs heaped on the floor on all sides and streams of blood flooding the surface…"

Battle Scars

For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…(Matthew 24:7)

This was the First Crusade, a blood-bath that stained an indelible image upon the Muslim and Jewish spirit that remains undiminished to this day. Because of it, the meaning of the Cross rings clear to the current residents of the Middle East: Christianity is about power, wealth and earthly authority at any cost.

How can any other conclusion be drawn when every Crusader was ordained by the Church and bore the Cross of Christ? Never mind that the Muslim community recovered to eventually expel the Crusaders from their midst. Never mind also that Christian Europe can point to earlier and later atrocities by Muslims against them. In the end, the West seems to have won out. More importantly, regardless of who won, the Crusades presented a massive and persuasive witness to what it means to be Christian. No amount of Muslim conquest in the interim could cancel this fact.

Neither has time been able to neutralize the impact of the name and symbol of Christ being wielded as a vicious sword. Today, when a Turk utters the word "Crusader," in his mother-tongue it unequivocally announces "man of the cross." We in the West barely notice that "crusade" too is derived directly from the word "cross". In Turkish however, it smacks the speaker squarely in the face. Moreover, the Crusades were the last occasion when Muslims and Western Christians were in close proximity; since then, when the two parties have come together again, it has repeatedly been in terms of conflict. Consequently, both parties now see the other through the experience of the Crusades, their last great encounter; each acting reflexively to protect its wounded history.

For the West's part, it subconsciously nurtures a millennial fear of the antichrist Turk, only visiting this realm when it can be assured a dominant position. Usually, Western forays into the abode of Islam involve armaments. At times this takes the form of exploitation, and sometimes it is outright battle. In either case, it is not difficult to discern the eschatological under-currents that enliven our rhetoric. The West's recent involvement with Iran and Iraq bear this out: The West exploited each of these nations as its "staunchest Islamic ally" and then demonized them in nothing short of religious tones when their interests dictated it. It seems that even in an age when the West denies its Christian base, its historical reflexes involuntarily raise the specter of apocalypse when faced with an Islamic challenge.

In contrast, the softer face of Christian evangelism and humanitarianism has scarcely attempted to cross the threshold of Islam, ground which it perceives as lost to the forces of darkness. Martin Luther captures the essence of this categorical Western view of Islam in a common prayer whereby the Church prays for deliverance from "the world, the flesh, the Turk and the Devil." Most devout Christians scarcely know what to make of Muslims or Jews; to them, theirs is a world beyond the pale, only to be approached through an eschatological filter: Muslims represent antichrist and Jews are harbingers of the end-times. Few conservative Christians know how to approach either group as just ordinary men and women.

On the far side of this chasm, the East remembers mainly the brutal power politics of Christ's emissaries, recoiling against the presumed political, cultural and military motivations behind the innocent face of Christianity. Whether faced with Christian evangelism, humanitarian assistance or cultural influences, Muslims and Israeli Jews instinctively raise a defensive shield to ward off the hidden exploitation that experience has taught them always lies at the heart of Christianity.

At the same time, the pervasive atmosphere of imminent threat feeds a paranoia in the Middle East that often justifies the persecution of local Christian minorities and stifles civil rights for citizens not so fearful of Christendom. Needless to say, this apprehension is nurtured by unscrupulous totalitarians who play upon the collective fear of the West to justify draconian laws, military-heavy governments and wars of annihilation against enemies who are trumped up to be stooges of Christian powers. (It is ironic that Israel is lately the icon of Christian imperialism. Not too long ago, Muslims and Jews were united in their common fear of Christendom.)

The extreme violence of the Middle East reflects the desperation of the wounded and exploited. Although Islam can boast of victories and glorious empires, it cannot be denied that it views the West as the long-term victor. Israel possesses the incomparable strength of a culture rooted in antiquity and a recent history that suggests an indomitable fate. Yet, Israelis still bristle and flinch involuntarily when the West touches its deep historical wounds. This is most noticeable with regard to Christian evangelism, but it is also observable on many other levels. In short, inferiority pervades the senses of the Middle Eastern elite, a defensiveness displayed as sacred rage among the poor. This strong urge to shield its wounds indicts us who inflicted them.

The counterpart of the East's hyper-sensitivity is the West's often offish attempts to act intelligently. At times it appears as though the West has no memory of these things, even though it too behaves with a repetitive reflex shaped over the course of a thousand years. The inability of the West to comprehend the region is displayed prominently in an endless parade of diplomatic missteps that leave "area experts" dumbfounded as to where they went wrong. (Again, the tragic recent examples of Iraq and Iran speak to this with great volume.) This too is a legacy of the thinking and the faith that gave birth to the Crusades.

All this represents gross relational dysfunction on a grand scale. These are psychological wounds, traumas of war. They must be dealt with as such. We recommend a therapy, a form of mass confession and forgiveness that can serve to expose and heal the festering wounds of history. Self-examination, memory therapy, dialogue, confession and forgiveness must be applied on an historical scale. Perhaps then, a clash of civilizations can be proved avoidable.

Led Astray

Jesus answered them, "Beware that no one leads you astray… Then if anyone says to you, 'Look! Here is the Messiah!' or 'There he is!'–do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:4, 23-25)

To begin to resolve these issues requires that we deal with deep wounds and firmly rooted presuppositions. As Westerners, a good starting place is the origin of the Crusades themselves. What motivated the Crusades? Historians present us with a complex answer that includes greed, fear, and political ambition. Many Crusaders were peasants seeking their fortune; others were nobles who needed to find a domain for themselves when Europe was overcrowded with heirs. We know that for many knights, embarking on a Crusade was expensive and risky. Certainly some of the movement's leaders had personal ambition. However, none of this would have been motivation enough had it not been for the promise of salvation.

The Crusades were ushered in and sustained by preachers, the most famous of which is Peter the Hermit. They fired the flames of conquest by a zeal for heaven on earth, and a fear of hell in the hereafter. To achieve the Crusade's goal by destroying the "infidel" was to earn an eternal reprieve. Thus, the Crusades were what we now commonly call a "jihad." This is a Muslim term, yet it was perfected by Christians long before the Ayatollah Khomeini came to personify the concept in the 1970's. The main motive of the Crusades was theological.

More precisely, the theology behind the Crusades sanctioned violence in order to "liberate" the lands held by the infidel Muslims and Jews. Land and political authority stood at the heart of Crusading. In the Crusader's mind, the Muslims and Jews (and ultimately Eastern Christians) were impediments to the physical and political implementation of God's kingdom. Since establishing God's kingdom was an act of love, killing "the infidel" was, consequentially, also an act of Christian love. The call to Crusade was a call to enforce the rightful claims of God's kingdom.

Moreover, the Crusaders considered their actions the highest example of God's love, to lay down one's life. In their written exhortations to take up Crusading, the idea of family honor and vengeance is prominent. It was an "us versus them" way of thinking that exalted suffering and death for friends and family who were under threat of the enemy. The Crusaders applied this argument to defending their Eastern Christian "brothers" and also to liberating the holy land of their heavenly "father" and their "brother" Jesus.

The idea of the blood-feud was in this way adopted as Christian doctrine, affirmed by scriptural examples of Israel's battles against her enemies and the perversion of something Jesus said: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." In the Crusader mind, this had to do with dying in the attempt to avenge your friend against his enemy. Ergo, to avenge, is to love. It seems obvious that this does not square well with the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles. Nor does it fit the overall biblical view of God's dealings with his enemies:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:43,44NRSV)

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21 NRSV)

It may be argued that Jesus also spoke of a sword. However, this was the sword of persecution against his followers, wielded by those who Jesus predicted would reject his message. Jesus' advice was to endure it. Jesus never indicated that vengeance or retribution was the domain of the Church. To the contrary, Jesus' teaching concerning our enemies embodies the ideals of enduring persecution and loving our persecutors while trusting God to deal with them when necessary. God may wield a sword in time, but we are called to participate in a more immediate mission, the ministry of reconciliation as demonstrated by Jesus.

This is concisely illustrated in the moment of Jesus' arrest:

"Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:51-54 NRSV)

In this example it is clear that God does not need the aid of Christian swords. Jesus deliberately informs us that although he has the authority and the raw power to destroy his enemy, he chooses not to do so. His mission could only be fulfilled by himself taking the path he taught to his disciples.

As history proves, these noble concepts are fine until we encounter a direct threat. No doubt Jesus' words sat just fine with Peter until the moment when arrest and torture was at hand. At such times, other justifying factors come into consideration.

One of the most compelling justifications is the end-times or apocalyptic threat. Many Jewish revolutionaries of the first century operated on the grounds that with a clear last-days threat from the infidel at hand, God required his people to obtain his kingdom by force of arms. The disciples also entertained this idea about Jesus. Their expectations of the Messiah included an immediate, physical and political liberation of Jerusalem.

Fortunately, Jesus addresses this subject point-blank. Let us take the example of Matthew chapter 24. Even today preachers use this passage to invoke a sense of urgent threat. It is this sermon that records "the signs of the times." The discourse begins when a disciple asks Jesus about the sign of the end of the age. In the course of his reply, many apparently concrete signals are discussed; including wars, famines, earthquakes, persecution, the erection of an abomination on the Temple site in Jerusalem, and the darkening of the sun and moon. These are all themes that preachers seize upon to motivate their listeners.

Peter the Hermit and other preachers also relied on this rhetoric to inspire the masses to acts of violence. With the end-times upon them, the anti-Christ Turks could be justifiably killed for eschatological reasons. We should understand that while the general population may have been ignorant of most scripture, they were exceedingly well versed in apocalyptic lore. In particular, the Sibylline Oracles of Tiburtian and Pseudo Methodius made a terrific impact on the Christian world. Both oracles claimed that in the end-times, God would raise up a ruler who would literally lead his people to Jerusalem, expelling the Muslim infidel and an antichrist inspired horde that was to descend from the unknown North. This was to usher in the New Jerusalem.

As coincidence would have it, the late 900's introduced an era that would witness an unprecedented convergence of the "signs of the times." Matthew of Edessa records events that are staggering to the imagination. First was the rise of Islam and a subsequent period of ceaseless and destructive warfare. The Muslims even constructed a building on the Temple site that displayed blasphemous words against the Son of God, a possible fulfillment of the "abomination" that Jesus predicted would be built there.

Next came a range of interrelated natural phenomena. Matthew writes of devastating earthquakes and loss of life in the Christian city of Antioch (the place where they coined the very name Christian.) Then there was a darkening of the sky that made the sun dim and the moon appear red. Following this was a "red snow" that destroyed crops and live-stock, causing a horrendous famine. If that were not enough, a large and bright "tailed star" then appeared that was reportedly visible even in daytime. The conclusion was obvious: the end was near.

The final evidence however, was in the timing of the Turkish Muslim invasion of Christendom. Church leaders in Antioch and Edessa announced that God was freeing Satan from his chains. They derived their logic for this directly from scripture: "He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and locked and sealed it over him, so that he would deceive the nations no more, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be let out for a little while." Since this was the year 1000 AD it was reasonable to conclude that Satan was on the loose. It was at this juncture that the Turks poured out of the far North, the land of Magog, to wreak havoc on Christendom.

All this is to say that end-times preachers had a good case if ever they would have one. The signs were unarguably impressive. Yet with all that, in truth it was not the end. The truth, however, did not stop hundreds of thousands from leaving home and family in order to hack their way to Jerusalem. They believed fervently that they were marching to a new Jerusalem and eternal bliss. Their enemy was not mere flesh and blood, but the eschatological hordes of the antichrist.

Cold Love

Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:10-12)

If we return to Matthew and this time focus not on the signs but on Jesus' teaching, we will see an entirely different picture from the one used so effectively to justify Christian violence. To begin with, Jesus answered the end-times question directly with a strong word of caution: "Beware that no one leads you astray."

That this warning prefaces the famous list of signs means that Jesus is concerned that theses tragedies in themselves can be used by false Messiahs and prophets to lead astray, "even the elect." (See verses 24.) Jesus adds, concerning the signs, "See that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet."

Continuing, Jesus raises the issue of persecution by our enemies: "Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved."

Again, Jesus warns that false prophets will exploit these circumstance to lead his people astray. He instructs them to endure, saying that if they are led astray, they will become one of the "many" who will "fall away." Pointedly, the end result of apostasy is that their Christian love will grow cold.

Throughout the remainder of this passage Jesus emphasizes the warning about being led astray by people claiming that the end has come. "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Instead, Jesus predicts that his arrival will be unmistakable, sudden and virtually without warning, "as lightening," he says. He likens the time leading up to this flash of glory to the days of Noah: "For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man…. they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man." The notable sign of Noah's day was the absence of any compelling sign. These were peaceful, prosperous times.

In summary, Matthew 24 teaches Christians that there is real danger of preoccupation with supposed signs of the end. He urges the disciples to live as though he were coming at any moment, yet to understand that the moment will be unknown and specifically, unanticipated. Signs are plenty, but Jesus warns they are not indications of the end. His most specific warning is not to be led into a position where our Christian love grows cold.

What love is it that grows cold, if not the uniquely Christ-like love of our enemy? Bear in mind that the Crusaders precisely described their slaughter of Muslims and Jews as an act of love. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.… If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48 ) Jesus taught that this was a measure of the Father's perfection, a love not just for brothers and friends, but for enemies.

This was not only an issue just prior to the Crusader era, it was also an immediate concern for the early church. Following Jesus' death, numerous prophets and messianic pretenders appeared, often in the Judean wilderness. They called the Jews to revolt against Rome and liberate Jerusalem. This would have been a great temptation to the still very Jewish infant Church, a point so explicit that liberal interpreters believe that the editors composed this passage after Jesus' death to combat just such a temptation. Conservatives can only conclude that Jesus was prophetically revealing a source of immediate and continual temptation to the Church: the temptation to justify political aims, coercion and violence by the threat of the end-times.

What does this say to us in our day? Many of the same phenomena apparent 2000 years ago (and 1000 years ago) are present with us today. We are again on the cusp of a millennial turn. Once more there is urgent talk of the signs of the times. Again, many people are more familiar with extra-biblical apocalyptic interpretation than they are with the scriptures they are based on. Not the least example of which is the tendency to remember Matthew 24 for its signs rather than its cautions concerning them. Christian action drifts increasingly to the political and military spheres. Enemies of Christendom are frequently attacked. (This is attested to by right-wing militias, abortionist assassinations, and most alarmingly, support for violence prone, right-wing groups in Israel by middle class Christians for the sole reason that it suits their eschatology.)

The application for our time is clear: we must not allow ourselves to be led astray. The message of Jesus is one of voluntary transformation, not forced obedience. We must love even our enemies.

This in not an argument to do away with the rule of law. Neither is it a claim that violence has no role whatsoever in the world. It has a role via the state in the punishment of real crime. This too, may apply to the state's right to fight a just war. However, even here we should carefully examine our motives. When we call for harsher legislation and more police do we forget that the only real transformation is a voluntarily repentant heart? Satan tested Jesus by offering him the power of this earth's kingdoms. Since then the greatest temptation facing the church remains the substitution of power for love.

For example, a Christian may uphold the death penalty, but he should grieve with God over the execution of it. If we believe that Jesus was punished with the full extent of the law himself, we should realize that he winces with every application of it today. Can you imagine the depth of his empathy with every incarcerated or executed prisoner? God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. To him it must be a profound sense of waste and grief to view a man who dies unaffected by the work of redemption. When violence is rightfully implemented by the rule of law, it should bring the same response that David revealed when his son Absalom perished after spurning his father's unending offers of restoration: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" (2 Sam 18:33)

When faced with threat we must remind ourselves that this is an age of mercy. God is willing to wait, even to suffer for his enemies in the hope of redemption. We must question not only our politicization of Jesus in the face of what we perceive as an end-times lawlessness, but also our view of what has come to be called Spiritual Warfare. It is striking that the language of spiritual warfare is derived largely from Israel's wars of conquest, the same model that the Crusaders' reveled in a thousand years ago.

We must understand what they did not understand: Israel's wars were a limited exception to the rule. They were acts of strategic necessity ordered by God in an extraordinary manner at a unique point in antiquity. Furthermore, Israel was acting as a nation, not as the body of Christ. Still yet, we know from the biblical revelation of God's character and the demonstration of His willingness to die for his enemies on the cross that even in Israel's conquest of Canaan, God still took no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It was a hard choice on his part, and a choice that God alone has the right to make.

If the church were to pour the energy that it exerts against its enemies into love and emulation of Jesus, we would see hearts transformed and there would be far less need for legislation and the state's use of the sword. The fact is, too often our zeal is a demonstration of the fear-motivated cold love of those who have been led astray. This was certainly the case during the Crusades. How might things be different today, if a thousand years ago, an army of evangelists had gone forth? What would have happened if they had been prepared to suffer persecution while they demonstrated the love of God for his enemies?

God's Sons

"Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions." (Matthew 24:45-47)

The idea of peace, in its biblical application is one of total health. In Hebrew it is related to the word for completeness. It is soundness in mind, spirit and body. Earlier we called for historical counseling to heal the wounds of history and perhaps avert the clash of civilizations. We have attempted to undertake some measure of this counseling upon ourselves by touching the hidden memories and motives of earlier conflicts that have left us wounded. This is just a beginning. To have any hope of healing, we must take this dialogue and confession to the people we have wounded. If peace is wholeness, then this type of deep corporate emotional healing is the essence of peacemaking. At the very least, we can scarcely posses the more conventional definition of peace, (the absence of war,) unless these historical sensitivities are dealt with fully.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God." We believe that he chose this attribute for peacemakers because, as the Son of God, he identified his own ministry most strongly with peacemaking. Hence those who practice it would be likened to the Son. We must look to him for a model or approach to peacemaking.

We already know that love of our enemy is a prerequisite. Jesus was concerned that as time went on, as history buffeted his followers, that their love would grow cold, as indeed it has. Therefore, an essential step in healing must be to rekindle that love. This can happen by simply catching the flame from the great Peacemaker himself.

As a practical application, let us look at Jesus the peacemaker. Paul describes this work as a work of reconciliation: "Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life." (Romans 5:7-10 )

Paul summarized Jesus' work in this brief passage. Its parallels with Matthew chapter five are note-worthy. Both stress that its easy to love the good and familiar, possible even to die for a good man. However, Jesus records that God's perfect love is for the enemy and the estranged. Jesus' death is not the chivalrous death for his friends: "while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son." The Christian standard, "Love your enemies," was the key to becoming "sons of your father in heaven." Jesus the son died for his enemies, peacemakers will be called the sons of God by loving their enemies.

Consider some of the elements involved in this. Jesus humbled himself, not considering "equality with God something to be grasped." (Philippians 2:6) In becoming human, Jesus traveled across space, time and culture. However the scope of that journey is far beyond anything we can imagine. If we picture a great King, accustomed to every luxury and absolute power traveling to a far away place, laying down all his power and taking up the life of a peasant in a disease-ridden, violent nation, it only hints at the lengths that God went to in attempting peacemaking. By making this move, Jesus was willing to face hostility, pain and death without ever relying on the power at his disposal to save himself or his followers. While on this mission, Jesus only uses his power to heal, never to destroy. (It's interesting that while Jesus does forcibly evict demons, he does not destroy even them. Neither does he destroy Satan, even when in direct confrontation with him. We know that eventually judgment and power will be unleashed, but it is not for this age, in which God's sole concern is peacemaking and reconciliation.)

Another aspect of peacemaking demonstrated by Jesus is that he did not accuse. He was willing to forgive first. This was a profound risk. He was willing to be blamed, an astonishing choice for the only blameless man. To do this carried a heavy cost, for Jesus was also the governor of the universe. As such, he could not offer forgiveness without a corresponding example of punishment for lawlessness. So as not to undermine the authority of his kingdom and to justify forgiveness, he not only carried wrongful blame but was punished for it. Again it is the magnitude that is compelling: as the King of the Universe, any amount of unjust blame and suffering far outweighs the demand for justice to those he is forgiving. Execution on the cross was a shameful and terrible death, but the real power of Christ's crucifixion is not the manner of death, but who is dying and why.

All this for the hope of reconciliation. There was no guarantee that even one person would be reconciled by these actions. Yet the risk was deemed the right thing to do, and worthwhile. However, scripture demonstrates that the risk Jesus took to be weak and vulnerable, blamed and accused, resulted in the miracle of reconciliation, healing and peace. This is the love that we must see rekindled through our relationship to Christ. It is the only hope for healing the wounds of history.

Christ's Ambassadors

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

This year, through 1999 marks the 900th anniversary of the first Crusade. This event offers us a chance to put into effect the ministry of reconciliation. If the example of Christ's love has warmed our own hearts with compassion, we too can take some of the steps that Jesus took as a peacemaker. To do it, we will have to emulate the incarnation by traveling a distance to a foreign land and culture, we will have to go with forgiveness already extended towards the people at our destination. Once there, we will have to take the risk of self exposure, taking the blame for acts that were committed by others hundreds of years ago.

To facilitate such a movement we began the Reconciliation Walk. Already underway, the Reconciliation Walk invites participants to come to Turkey in 1997/98, and to Israel in 1999. The goal is to see every step of the Crusader route to Jerusalem traversed by Christian peacemakers who will deliver in body and word a message of reconciliation to the Muslim, Jewish and Eastern Christian residents along the way. There will be no thought of victory, conquest or accomplishment. Our only goal will be to apply the reality of Jesus' ministry of reconciliation in its purest and most innocent form.

Too often, we have delivered the words of the gospel as a set of ideas to be submitted to. This has turned what was a powerful, heart transforming message from the Word of God into an intimidating, coercive, religious ideology. In the Reconciliation Walk, we call upon Christians to return to the ministry of Jesus by embodying it. Evangelism not as the conquest of lands and souls; but evangelism as the ministry of reconciliation.

The heart of this movement will be exposure and confession. By going on the anniversary of the Crusades we know that we will expose some painful wounds. Our hope is to achieve a measure of healing by confessing our sin and assuming responsibility for the damage. It may be a naïve gesture; yet somehow, this kind of foolishness is at the heart of the Gospel.

The strength of the movement will be in its individual participants. Each participant will express the peacemaker's love to another living across the chasm. The changes will occur one heart at a time. Perhaps if the call to reconciliation is as broadly supported as the call to fight, the chain reaction of peace will one day reach a critical mass. At the very least, this is an effective strategy for steering clear of the millennial madness that Jesus warned against. In short, this is the right thing to do.

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