We know, from the Didache that the early Christians were also called followers of ‘the Way’. The ‘Way’ we are to choose is that of ‘life’. What does that entail?
1:4 Abstain from fleshly and bodily lusts. If anyone gives you a blow on your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you will be perfect [full-grown, fully-mature]. If anyone compels you to go a mile, go with him two; if anyone takes your cloak, give him your coat also; if anyone takes from you what is yours, do not ask for it back nor try to use force.
Examples of this would include: Matthew 5:27-30, Ephesians 4:22, I Thessalonians 4:3-5, I John 2:16-17) as well as Matthew 5:39-41 and Luke 6:29.
We have recentlly been looking at who is and is not saved, and we have had a considerable amount of argument about how Christians should treat each other.’ The Way’ is clear:
4:3 You shall not desire schism, but shall set at peace those who contend. You shall judge righteously; you shall not show partiality when rebuking for transgressions. 4 You shall not vacillate about whether a thing will be or will not be. 5 You shall not be one who stretches out his hands to receive but one who draws them back when someone is giving.
So we are asked to exercise self-restraint and humility. I am tempted to say that all the ills evident in Christian history come from our tendency to ignore this and to do the opposite; to exalt our own opinion and to say so loud and often. The moment Christians were able to call on the power of the State, they did so to put down those who dissented.
That temptation is obvious. But there had always been those who dissented, and the Church had dealt with them without the arm of the State being on its side. Some of the early heresies spawned off-shoots from the Church, so much so that some modern historians like to claim there never was an orthodoxy. But those sects exiled from the church died out in time, and the Church did not. But from the time when the Church took to using the State to enforce orthodoxy, those groups persecuted tended not to die out.
Marcionism was one of the earliest and most tenacious of the early heresies, but it died out across a period of three hundred years, even if some of its ideas have cropped up again and again (there are few new heresies it seems). Those who refused to accept the Blessed Virgin as Theotokos were roundly dealt with at Ephesus and after – and their church persists to this day; the same is true of those persecuted for not accepting Chalcedon; as well as those who rejected the Catholic Church as corrupt. In all these cases Christians were able to call on the State to deal severely with heresy – and in all these cases failure was the result.
We seem not to get the message. Here the Anglicans may well have something to tell us all – however hard it is, however frustrating it is, it is better to deal with these things by long dialogue than by resorting to anathemata.