I am going to jump ahead a little here so that I can put something into your mind before we tackle early church leaders. To illustrate my point I want to once again use a quote from The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox:
Thus, it is now clear that the “official Christianity” that eventually emerged was only one among a range of “Christianities” that thrived during the earliest years. The distinction we still make today between “orthodox” and “heretical” movements did not exist. There was nothing inevitable or preordained about which version, if any, would predominate.
It is very important in our study of church history to remember that what we know today as “the church” was initially only one of several Christianities that thrived during the early church history. We will be studying how this one version came to dominate all the others. I think you will be surprised at how that came about.
For now it is enough to know that for several centuries there were no distinctions such as heresy or orthodox. To me heresy has a particularly brutal history of its own. What the power structure did to stamp out opposing beliefs was initially beyond my comprehension. I had no idea how draconian those practices were.
I only bring up this particular topic as being one of many surrounding church history. We must never forget that the church was not immune from the old saying that “power corrupts and absolute power absolutely corrupts”. Like our constant disputes today between Republicans and Democrats in empire politics the church has had similar battles throughout its history. Each side was totally convinced that they are right and the other side was wrong/heretics/blasphemers.
We must remember that the history of the church is also and maybe primarily about the history of man and power struggles. All power seekers claimed divine inspiration but the “official Christianity” that survived was more, at least in my mind, because of the brutal power they held over their advocates than having more divine authority.
Church history is indeed a very messy history that is only recently beginning to see the light of day. But it is necessary to see this mess in order to understand why the Age of the Spirit will likely dominate in the decades and centuries ahead…..