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Heresy! Heretic! That was the term used to blast one who didn’t believe a certain way. The interesting thing is that the word “heresy” means to have an opinion. Thomas Hobbes, who lived 1588-1679, wrote a controversial book, Leviathan. He says here: “They that approve a private opinion, call it opinion; but they that dislike it, call it a heresy: and yet heresy signifies no more than a private opinion.” Hobbes almost lost his life over these words, as the Church deemed him a heretic.
Toward the end of the second century, Bishop Irenaeus, saw the dangers of numerous opinions developing. He attempted to establish an orthodox body of teaching. He wrote a five-volume work against heresies. He also claimed that there was only one proper Church, outside of which there could be no salvation. Other believers were heretics and should be expelled, and if possible destroyed. The first Christian Emperor agreed him.
From the mid-1600’s on, no-one in England lived in fear of burning for heresy. In Ireland the heresy law was repealed in 1696, and in most of Continental Europe much later. A schoolmaster was hanged in Spain in 1826 for heresy. His heresy had been to substitute the words ‘Praise be to God’ in place of ‘Ave Maria’ in school prayers.
Now, get this! In the first century there was no heresy for the simple reason that there was no orthodoxy. The ‘heresies’ referred to in New Testament writings meant destructive opinions. Small Jesus communities believed what they wanted to, and worshipped as they chose. As we have seen, there were no central authorities, no set rituals, no agreed upon translation of scripture, no Church hierarchy, and no established body of doctrine. In line with the toleration practiced throughout the empire, each group of Jesus followers was free to believe whatever it wanted. Hmmmm!
Heresy is only a human opinion. Compared to knowing Jesus, it just doesn’t matter!