Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | June 28, 2008

Alternate Views in the Ancient Church

Alternative Views in the Ancient Church

 

It is a common misconception in our day that there was a unified, cohesive and undivided form of Christianity in the ancient era.  Whether this is just assumed by some or a perceived impression that is advocated by the Church itself, it is not an accurate description.  This is especially problematic when opponents of Christianity discover ancient documents that refute this conception.  It is then touted that these newly found documents were allegedly suppressed by the institutional Church to maintain a unified perception.  When differences of opinion within Christianity are discovered within these circles they are then deemed as adequate justification to debunk the orthodox expression of the Christian faith.  This feeds into a particularly American presupposition that institutions are inherently corrupt.  The Church, which is seen as one of the oldest institutions, is then characterized as corrupt as well.  Thus, it is presumed that the previously unknown views of Christianity are more truthful than the known versions.

 

The main thing we want to be aware of as students of history is the fact that there were varying views and alternatives to the Christian faith.  This is abundantly obvious with even a cursory review of the New Testament documents, especially the Epistles, which are characteristically occupied with addressing errors such as the Judaizing heresy.  These heretics in particular claimed to be Christians, yet were adamant to impose the Mosaic economy on Gentiles.  It should then not come as a surprise to us that from the earliest stages of Christianity there were competing visions on what true Christianity was.  The New Testament represents the genuine apostolic Christianity, described by Jude as the “faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” 

 

There were groups who dissented in fundamental ways from the apostolic faith, of which the Church was thoroughly aware of.  Thus, we have works such as Irenaeus’ Against Heresies, which is addressing the heretical views of Gnosticism.  Although it is fair to point out that it is possible that Irenaeus did not fairly represent the views of Gnosticism, it at minimum preserves the fact that there was a competing view to orthodox Christianity known by that name.  As a result, we’ve always known that there were writings from Gnostic’s and the discovery of new writings should not be surprising.  We do not study the history of the Church to learn that everything was always done well and right.  It should be recognized that great causes have great enemies and the truth of the Gospel has always been opposed by great enemies.  These enemies, invariably never would confess or admit “I am the heretic,” which is an unchanging principle when studying Church history.

 

Therefore, we should not be surprised to discover that there arise throughout Church history alternative views of the faith.  We will find that some of them are worlds away from orthodoxy and some of them substantially orthodox with just some quirks.  The Gnostics are worlds away, some of them worlds and worlds and worlds away and had lots of worlds in their system.

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