Christianity and its Persecution of Heretics

In the first century there was no heresy for the simple reason that there was no orthodoxy. The 'heresies' referred to in old translations of the New Testament are merely differences of opinion . Small Christian communities believed what they wanted to, and worshipped as they chose. There were no central authorities, no set rituals, no agreed canon of scripture, no Church hierarchy, and no established body of doctrine. In line with the toleration practised throughout the empire each group of Christians was free to believe whatever it wanted. The natural consequence of this state of affairs was that ideas and practices in different communities diverged.

Towards the end of the second century Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, saw the dangers of numerous opinions developing. He attempted to establish an orthodox body of teaching. He wrote a five volume work against heresies, and it was he who compiled a cannon of the New Testament. He also claimed that there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation. Other Christians were heretics and should be expelled, and if possible destroyed. The first Christian Emperor agreed. Gibbon summarises the edict which announced the destruction of various heretics: Read More

Given that we have a chance to finally escape this MONSTER, should we not take it?


  1. I've got a problem.

    Being white, I've sometimes been lumped in with, and condemned for the activities of my suspected forefathers with regard to slavery.
    Now, I personally have never owned a slave. I believe that it is immoral for one person to "own" another. I hate the very idea of slavery. It violates the Golden Rule, which my grandmother taught me when I was first learning to talk.

    Now that I am a Christian, I've found that some want to look to a slightly different heritage, and to condemn me in much the same way. I have never tortured, or killed a single heretic. "Your people burned witches, started the crusades and most of the wars throughout history", they say.

    My beliefs are different. I believe that every human is a child of God. It is up to God to educate people from their different mindsets. Torturing people until they embrace Christianity is self defeating. In addition to being inhumane, and usurping God's prerogatives, it destroys the power and purity of a freely made personal decision. There is no value in that.

    Irenaeus wrote. He appealed to the logic of his readers. Nothing wrong with that. This is something we try to do on the forums and blogs, today. There is a big difference between that and the decidedly non-Christian practice of conversion by torture or martyrdom.


  2. Yeah, nearly all Christians say that now - but just a couple of hundred years ago . . . well, they talked a lot different then while they could carry a stick.

    Things change and should they change back, it would be the exact same story again.

    We are just lucky, extremely lucky, that Christianity lost its power to rule with a rod of iron. Otherwise, you'd see a different face on it than you do.

  3. I don't know that it was *every* Christian group that was doing this, though, Corky. That any Christians at all would do it is appalling, but I'm not sure that you could forecast that every empowered church group would find it necessary to kill dissenters, just by virtue of being Christians. The Amish, as an example, will shun. But, in their traditional areas, they almost enjoy the same autonomy as do Native Americans on the reservations. Yet, Amish communities are known to be very peaceful. Non violent sects like the Quakers would also be unlikely to kill heretics. It's the zealots, and fanatical practishioners of Christianity that would be more likely to kill. Early colonial witch burners, gay burners, lynchers, etc.

    We in the USA are fortunate in that our forefathers went to great lengths to allow for freedom to practice one's beliefs, while at the same time protecting us all from the fate we would suffer had there been a state-sponsored religion. The church is prohibited from also becoming the government.
    The law provides for due process, and trial by a jury of one's peers. People who violate this are tried as criminals, and severely punished.

    We've all experienced abuse at the hands of the cult. And, we got it from inside sources, and outside ones. For our beliefs, many of the "mainstream" church members in our communities had a bit of fun at our expense. It was certainly good to have Jewish friends while growing up, because they understood to a great extent what we were going through. But, at least, the US is not, and was not, a theocracy where the name calling would have been official.

    I imagine that it would have been very difficult to have grown up WCG in Italy, or Mexico. Even so, from the fifties to the present, I can't even recall ever hearing of any great persecutions of non-Catholics in the Catholic nations. I'm sure there was some name calling from time to time. In contrast, it is well documented today that Christians are currently being persecuted in the Muslim nations. They are being jailed and martyrred, and their churches shut down.

    What is really puzzling, is Christian on Christian crime. The most flagrant example of that in recent history is the torching of Black churches by some of the Christian KKK members. It certainly doesn't help the Christian cause that we have examples like the "God hates fags" dude, who is an ordained Christian minister. Legitimate members of the Christian clergy vehemently deplore his actions, though.

    We also need to remember all of the persecution which has occurred in the so-called godless commnunist countries. People killing people over ideology, even when religion is totally uninvolved. That would seem to suggest that even if
    Christianity were completely wiped out, humans would still persecute people with different ideologies from the approved model.


  4. "Irenaeus wrote. He appealed to the logic of his readers."

    He appealed to the witch-burning emotions of his readers, as evidenced by the vast divide between his On Heresies and the Nag Hammadi texts, discovered in 1945.

    But Irenaeus, like all self-appointed holy men, had his own agenda to push, that of the canonization and Romanization of the Christian religion.

  5. "People killing people over ideology, even when religion is totally uninvolved."

    Religion is ideology.

  6. Well, I know that I include religion into the greater category of ideology. But, I've been corrected either way.

    A lot of religious based killing was going on in the early centuries, but do you have any links or references indicating that Irenaeus was either perpetrating such violence, or recommending it as a solution to heresy?

    Jesus had a different solution for witchcraft, one that I much prefer. He cast out demons, and healed the mentally ill. That, to me, indicates the type of attitudes and solutions which Jesus will be bringing to mankind upon His return.

    The apostles sometimes marked and shunned heretics, but even Simon the magician was permitted to continue living. The book of Wisdom indicates that the God of Israel allowed the wicked to continue living, giving them room and space for repentence. The book of Malachi places great accountability upon false teachers, because of the damage which they do to the spiritual development of their followers.


  7. "The book of Malachi places great accountability upon false teachers, because of the damage which they do to the spiritual development of their followers."

    Something you'd do well to keep in mind, Bob.


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