The Crusades: For I’m in the Lord’s Army

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I learned something about the Crusades that made me laugh, if it’s permissible to laugh about something involving the Crusades.

Since so many folks currently claim to be experts on the Crusades, and I skeptically figure “claim” is the operative word, I decided to educate myself. I found a short book (135 pages) by a real authority on the Crusades, Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam.” There are massive, multi-volume histories of the Crusades, but being a simple person, I wanted something short and sweet.

Sure enough, I’m learning, too many people are full of hooey when talking about the Crusades. It’s all very complicated and nuanced.

But I digress from the aforementioned laughing point. It regards how the Catholic Church recruited people for the various Crusades. This is back in the 1100s and 1200s, but it sounds startlingly akin to 20th century evangelistic revivals and missionary appeals.

Church leaders, accompanied by Crusade vets, would travel from town to town holding inspirational recruiting services. Many of these places had never been visited by Cardinals, Bishops, and war heroes, so they were star-struck.

They would emphasize the penitential aspect of the Crusades–forsaking everything, putting your life on the line to engage in this holy pilgrimage to liberate the Holy Places from the Muslims. Do you want to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Christ? Then join our holy Crusade. Demonstrate your unreserved love for God, and watch God return the favor.

They held services which, intentionally, tugged mightily at heartstrings. They would read a letter from the Pope himself. Crusaders would testify to the holiness of the mission and how it had deepened their devotion for God.

Then they would invite men to come forward to dedicate themselves to the upcoming Crusade. It was like an altar call. Peasants, nobles–anyone yearning for a deeper relationship with God, and wanting to be absolved of their sins and get a fresh start–would come to the front and be embraced by church leaders. Probably a few psychopaths, too. A cloth cross was pinned to their clothing; they were to wear it until they returned home, their vow fulfilled.

It was not unlike a challenge to missionary service, inviting someone to leave everything behind to serve God in a foreign land–and perhaps die there.

Here’s the part that made me chuckle. When the invitation was given, the standard order of service required a hymn being sung underneath, probably by a choir. They found that very effective in pulling on emotions. It was not “Just As I Am” or “I Surrender All,” but probably close. Maybe some combination of “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go.” In Latin.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. Billy Sunday was just ripping off the Crusades.

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