Can we describe the Knights Templar International as a ‘Christian’ group?

15th-century depiction of the Conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204
15th-century depiction of the Conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204

The BBC this week ran a number of stories about Jim Dowson, founder of Britain First and a central figure in a group known as Knights Templar International, and whom it described as possibly “Britain’s ‘most influential’ far-right activist.”

It described Knights Templar International (KTI) as “a Christian militant group based in the UK.” But is it legitimate to describe KTI as a ‘Christian’ group?

I must confess I had never heard of Jim Dowson or of KTI until I saw this piece on the BBC website on Tuesday. The series of stories on the BBC follows an investigation carried out by them in collaboration with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, which has revealed how Dowson has been using social media — often in the form of enormously popular and quite innocent-looking Facebook posts — to promote the group.

“[Knights Templar International] is the front group that [Jim Dowson] set up, [to defend] Christianity from these barbaric hordes of cultural Marxists, homosexuals, Muslims and any number of individuals or organisations that he doesn’t like.”

Matthew Collins from anti-racism group Hope Not Hate (quoted on BBC website)

The article was at once both disturbing and eye-opening. After all, the idea that paid, UK members of KTI are funding the delivery of bulletproof vests and night vision goggles to Kosovo — well, it reads like something out of a television spy thriller drama. Not that anything really surprises me any more.

Several references are made in the article to KTI as a ‘Christian militant’ group:—

In 2015, Knights Templar International (KTI) — a militant Christian group that harks back to the age of the Christian Templars — emerged. Based in the UK, it has members around the world.

“[KTI] is the front group that he [Dowson] set up, [to defend] Christianity from these barbaric hordes of cultural Marxists, homosexuals, Muslims and any number of individuals or organisations that he doesn’t like,” [claims Matthew Collins from anti-racism group Hope Not Hate].

Is it valid to call KTI a ‘Christian’ group?

Now I entirely understand the BBC’s description of KTI as a ‘Christian militant’ group. If that is the group’s self-description — which Matthew Collins’ comments seem to imply it is — then the BBC’s use of the term is perfectly reasonable.

“I would like to put on record here, that I, and the overwhelming majority of genuinely Bible-believing Christians, feel abhorrence that a far-right group promoting anti-Islamic extremist sentiment describes itself as a ‘Christian’ group.”

I would like to put on record here, that I, and the overwhelming majority of genuinely Bible-believing Christians, feel abhorrence that a far-right group promoting anti-Islamic extremist sentiment describes itself as a ‘Christian’ group.

It is an unfortunate tendency of far-right groups to latch onto Christianity as a label giving them a veneer of respectability.

The idea, as far as I understand it, is to use the term ‘Christian(ity)’ in a jingoistic and nationalistic sense. We are, after all, a ‘Christian country.’ And sadly, this conception of Christianity seems to be one that resonates with many.

There also seems to be the following identification going on: If something is ‘anti-Islam,’ then it must therefore be ‘Christian.’ As though Christianity and Islam were direct, polar and exact opposites. Whatever is anti-Christian is Islamic, and whatever is anti-Islamic is Christian. No, no, no.

Why Christianity is not defined by being ‘anti-Islam’

Christianity is only ‘anti-Islam’ in the sense that it disagrees with much of what Islam teaches. For example, Christianity explicitly asserts that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God; Islam flatly denies this (Qur’an 19:34-36).

“What defines Christianity is that it’s God reaching down into the world in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ, to save the world from its sins and from his righteous judgement.”

But on this very point, you can equally say that Christianity is anti-Judaism,[1] anti-Atheism, anti-Communism. In other aspects you can say that Christianity is anti-Capitalism, anti-Secularism, ‘anti-’ lots of other movements and ideologies.

But none of these is the definition of Christianity. What defines Christianity is that it’s God reaching down into the world in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ, to save the world from its sins and from his righteous judgement.

Why not rather say, then, that Christianity is for the world? —

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17[2]

Why Christianity is not defined by nationalism or jingoism

But neither is Christianity defined by nationalism or jingoism.

It is true that for many centuries, most of Europe viewed itself as ‘Christian.’ This is the idea better conveyed by the term ‘Christendom’ — the Christian ‘commonwealth,’ the domain of Christianity on earth.

“The idea of a ‘Christian state’ is one that does not sit well with many, many Bible-believing Christians precisely because the New Testament has no concept of such a thing — at least not until Jesus returns in person to judge the world.”

The Knights Templar were of course an order of Crusaders to the Holy Land from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.[3] Presumably it is to this crusading order that KTI is harking back in its choice of name and in its goals.

The idea of a ‘Christian commonwealth’ or ‘Christian state’ first arose in the fourth century with the Roman Emperor Constantine’s advocacy of Christianity and in particular with the Emperor Theodosius the Great’s decree in A.D. 380 making Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Once started, it was an idea that persisted for an extremely long time, and to some extent still persists today.

However, the idea of a ‘Christian state’ is one that does not sit well with many, many Bible-believing Christians precisely because the New Testament has no concept of such a thing — at least not until Jesus returns in person to judge the world.

The idea of ‘God’s nation’ is in fact the revival of an Old-Testamenty concept.

In the Old Testament, God forged a nation of people — Israel — belonging to him. They were to worship him alone and to keep his laws. In effect, Israel was a ‘God-ruled state’ or ‘theocracy.’

“When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.”

1 Corinthians 4:12b-13

 

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

But the nation of Israel singularly failed to keep his laws or to remain faithful to him. And so already in the Old Testament there emerges this idea — an announcement of something to happen in the future — of a ‘new covenant’ that God will make with his people. This ‘new covenant’ is to be written on people’s hearts, not on tablets of stone or indeed in statute books.

And so in the New Testament, when Jesus announces the arrival of “the kingdom” (e.g., here), he is not speaking about a nation. He is speaking about a community of people scattered around the world, but united by their faith and trust in him.

And so the New Testament knows nothing of a ‘Christian state’ in this world. Rather, it expects Christians to be the underdogs, the downtrodden, the ‘refuse of the earth’:—

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
1 Corinthians 4:12b-13[4]

It expects Christians to be reviled and persecuted, just as the faithful prophets were in Old Testament times — and as is still happening in many parts of the world today.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12[5]

So no: Christianity is not defined by being ‘anti-Islam,’ nor is it defined either by nationalism or by jingoism — however much the far-right would like it to be.

What defines Christianity is trusting in Jesus Christ the Son of God, and living for him.

If you would like to understand better what Christianity is — and isn’t — and what Christians really believe, why not read one of the Gospels today? They can be obtained quite cheaply from your local bookstore, or online (e.g., here).

 

 

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Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] By which, of course, I don’t mean ‘anti-Semitic.’

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+3%3A16-17&version=ESVUK

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knights_Templar

[4] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+4%3A12-13&version=ESVUK

[5] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A11-12&version=ESVUK

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