Atheists and skeptics often attack Christianity by pointing to the historic atrocities that have been perpetrated by those who call themselves Christians. The skeptics appear to say that the reason these so-called Christian atrocities happened was BECAUSE of the Christian beliefs held by the perpetrators.
This is a tired argument against Christianity, and God, and the skeptics should let it go. It stems from the skeptic’s failure to understand what constitutes a “true” Christian (or it stems from the skeptic’s blatant dishonesty. However, for this article, we’ll stick to the “failure to understand” scenario).
Most Americans, when asked if they are Christians, respond in the affirmative. Some of these same Americans get drunk, lie, cheat, steal, practice homosexuality, engage in adultery, etc. These are the very types of behavior the Bible says prevent one from being a Christian:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV)
In contrast, the true Christian is freed from those sins and lives according to the holy, loving, just, and pure, Will of God:
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:11 ESV)
Therefore, one is not a Christian simply by saying, “I am a Christian”, any more than one is a neurosurgeon simply by claiming to be one. There are conditions which must be met in order to actually be what they claim to be.
A true Christian is one who loves God completely; who believes in Jesus’ sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection; who makes Jesus the Lord of their life; and who seeks to live a pure life out of gratitude for all God is and all He’s done for us:
'And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' (Luke 10:27 ESV; cf. Mark 12:30, Matthew 22:37)
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:9-10 ESV)
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1b ESV)
whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)
Being a true Christian involves a total change of heart. No longer is my goal on earth to please myself, it is to please God. Self-promotion, revenge, pride, and a host of other motivations are rejected in favor of living the way the loving Creator would have me live. If one’s lifestyle does not reflect a drastic change when one claims to have become a Christian, chances are this person does not really have a relationship with Jesus and is still lost in his or her sins.
Consider this; if a person rejects every tenet of a certain belief and behaves totally contrary to that which he claims to believe, do we consider that person to honestly be what he claims to be? For instance, if one rejects every tenet of evolution, can he rightly be considered an evolutionist? It seems that only when it concerns Christianity do non-believers say that one can live in total denial of Christianity’s beliefs, in both words and actions, and still be considered a real Christian (see above definition of ‘real Christian’). In no other discipline does this hold true.
Even when true Christians do something bad, it doesn’t follow that God is bad. If a son does something bad, this does not automatically mean that the parents are bad. If a worker is bad, it doesn’t mean the boss is bad. God has given us holy, pure, loving, and righteous ways in which to live. It is we who fail to follow Him and His will. It is we who therefore engage in misconduct…by our own free choice.
So, those “Christians” accused of committing terrible acts of violence (e.g., the Crusades, the Inquisition, Jim Jones Guyana, etc.) were not Christians at all. They simply hijacked the name of God in order to give their own plans some sort of perceived divine sanction.
On the other hand, consider the atrocities carried out by those NOT claiming to be Christian. Simple math shows us that those NOT claiming any affiliation with Christianity have done as much, or more, harm than those claiming to be Christians. For instance, if we add up the number of atrocities carried out in the name of Christianity, subtract that number from the total number of atrocities carried out; we are left with all the atrocities committed by those NOT claiming to be Christian. This shows that non-Christians have done their fair share of murders, rapes, thefts, etc. even without blaming it on any Christian beliefs.
If we look closely, and honestly, we see that there are very few, if any, atrocities committed by real Christians at all.
So, the skeptic’s accusations actually end up being a self indictment of themselves.