Today in the sermon I gave a quote by Cyprian, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” That is a hard quote, but we talked about what that means, and how it makes sense biblically, and how it doesn’t mean if you don’t come to church every week it does not mean you aren’t going to heaven (and going to heaven isn’t the point!).
Cyprian didn’t just give us a quote, he led the Church through one of the hardest moments of Her history:
In AD249, Decius became Emperor of the Roman Empire, and he was determined to wipe out Christianity. He knew that killing them didn’t work – that only created martyrs, and that only grew the church even more. So he decided to torture them (after almost 40 years of peace for Christians). The Church was not ready, and many “lapsed” – sacrificing to idols, or lying and saying they did. Others gave up the Bible. Those who stood firm, and were tortured, were called the Confessors – they chose to disobey the law of their king, to obey Jesus – they were half burned, had limbs cut off, were mutilated, and more – but they stood firm in their faith. Even Pope Fabian was killed.
A few years later, Decius died. And now the question came up: what to do with the Lapsed? Novatian, a Roman priest, said that NO ONE who had lapsed could ever come back – they had denied Christ, and they could not be allowed back into the Church. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, later killed for his faith, wanted to allow the Lapsed to show signs of remorse and repentance, then allow them back. This was a big debate, but in the end the leaders of the Church saw decided to follow Cyprian, and allowed the Lapsed to come back into fellowship.
This debate, though, still goes on in the church today – how hard is the church supposed to be on sin? Forgive all? Confront everything?
What do you think?
(After the persecution of Decius, there were other persecutions, and more Confessors. At the first all-church Council in AD 325, Athanasius, a 20 year old deacon from Alexandria, describes with wonder how many of the older bishops had survived those days of torture, and bore in their body the marks of being tortured and confessing Christ. He viewed them with complete honor.)