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The question arose: Do you think the catholic church was too pragmatic in its approach to the lapsi (those who lapsed in their confession of the Christian faith in the face of persecution), or do you think the Novationists were too harsh? Why? Also, why do you think the Novationist position did not prevail?

Here is a little detail about the Novationsists. Essentially, they were a group of early church believers that openly opposed allowing those people who had denied their faith facing persecution to return to the church.

As a person whose life has been touched by it, I prefer to tread alongside the avenues of grace. So, I would have to believe the Novationists were too harsh in their stance against those who succumbed to the pressures of persecution and, as the text points out was the belief of bishops everywhere, failed to defend their faith in Christ—an action that consequently removed them from the community.

In all reality, each of us will face experiences that will present opportunities for a faithful demonstration of our new life in Christ. These experiences, however, could also prove not to be one of our finer moments of faith. Each follower of Christ, we will assume, would hope for the conviction and assurance that would inspire great stands against the opposing forces of our faith no matter the intensity or magnitude of the situation. Does that always happen in our lives?

Fortunately, most of us will not have to live under the threat of real persecution many of our early church brethren faced. That said, it is rather difficult to make a confident profession for either group. We can only look to their motives. Is the catholic church hoping to reestablish and/or build on the unity of the church after facing persecution? Are the Novationists looking to keep the church pure to prevent further erosion of the church?

The main question brought to mind images of the twelfth chapter of Romans. A sacrifice can take on many forms, especially in our modern world where so many other things besides faith scream for our attention and where we share a greater awareness of the needs of others. We consider weekly schedule rearranging to fit church events a sacrifice. We speak of sacrificing time in leisure to do Bible study, prayer or other forms of piety. We also spend time in our thoughts deciding whether offering assistance to someone (whatever forms that might be) was worth the time and effort, or if we would do it again. It appears our images of sacrifice, both to our God and to our church communities, might be somewhat different from early church members. This would make it somewhat difficult to consider what Paul’s words really meant to early church members. At the same time, the Novationists’ and other early church members’ idea of death being the ultimate sacrifice has not been lost in our time. That is something we are reminded of continually, especially in a time of war.

Reading on in Romans 12, Paul instructs the church to not repay evil for evil and to live in peace with others. This invitation is to be given to our enemies. It would not be a far stretch to assume our enemies would be some of those involved in our persecution. They are allowed the privilege of some sort of reconciliation, or at least a demonstration of grace. How much more so would our brothers, both in blood and faith, merit such considerations?

Also, how do the words of the One in whom loyalty is either affirmed or denied fit into the Novationists’ practice? Consider Jesus’ teaching recorded in Matthew 18:15-18. As some early manuscripts do not include the phrase “against you” in verse 15, some commentators have suggested Jesus is not merely referring to a personal misdealing with someone, but rather an issue of church loyalty and/or practice. This would be an ideal place to include the lapsi. Taken in that context we could suggest, if “your brother” sins against the church this is what you should do. It would appear the catholic church, whether intentionally or not, is in line more with that idea.

The text argues this was the only line of dissension between the two groups. If that is true then as persecution in the form the church had experienced dwindled or became less prominent, it would be safe to assume the stance would eventually be irrelevant. That is to say the issue does not sustain its priority among leaders of the church. So, the Novationists’ exclusion became less and less admirable or even necessary.

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