For the first three hundred years, persecution came in ten â€œwaves,â€? with periods of relative peace between. Many were faithful and did not yield to temptations to deny Christ. These were the Confessors [faithful survivors of torture and prison] and Martyrs.
Others weakened and compromised their faith out of fear, cowardice, or unbelief. Yet when the â€œwaveâ€? had passed and persecution had died down, multitudes of these Lapsed [fallen/apostate] sought to be received into the fellowship of the church once again.
Some had actually sacrificed to the pagan gods. Others had paid to obtain false documents saying that they had sacrificed. Traditores [traitors] handed over the Scriptures to be destroyed in order to spare their lives.
What was to be done? Should they be restored and received back into the church? If so, on what basis? These questions caused serious division in the churches throughout the empire.
Some said that those who sacrificed could not be re-admitted until their death-bed or until they proved themselves faithful during the next persecution. Others said they must be restored because of the forgiveness of Christ, while others proposed various forms of discipline for the Lapsed to show their sincerity.
Who should decide? Many thought that the Confessors should be the ones to make that judgment. Few Bishops agreed, thinking this would weaken their authority over the churches.
Stop and think: In your church gathering is the widow of a Martyr along with her children, a Confessor who is partially crippled due to his sufferings, and several others who had homes and businesses destroyed by persecution. The persecution has ended for the moment and three Lapsed request to join you at the Lordâ€™s Supper. What should that church do?