Part of last night's Church History lecture was on constructions of "orthodoxy" and "heresy" in the early Church. I found myself getting a bit frustrated at some points, as the Gnostics were portrayed in a rather favorable light at times, and people like Irenaeus were portrayed as deceptive and slight hypocrites because he came up with a new, innovative system for determining what is "right" and what is "wrong."
I fully understand that there was no "Golden Age" in church history, where everybody got along, agreed with each other, and there were no disputes about anything. The diverse perspectives in the New Testament clearly refutes this, and there is loads of conflict: between Jews and Gentiles, between people who claimed to be baptized by Peter vs. those baptized by Apollos in 1st Corinthians. No group ever got it all right.
But at the same time, there's something to be said for the creation of boundaries. In my opinion, Gnostics clearly were outside of the Christian faith, no matter how much they called themselves "Christian." So what if they were "new" and "innovative" and "diverse"? Just because it was such doesn't mean that the philosophy itself was in any way good. The claim that Jesus didn't come in the flesh or that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was not the God of the New Testament seems completely against what the scriptures teach.
Oh. Wait. I forgot -- the creation of the Christian canon was an attempt to exclude differing opinions and was completely a socio-political move for those who were in the "right" to solidify their power. How could I have missed that???
I think we need to remember that these people had very good reasons for including what they did in the Bible. Apostolic succession isn't a bad theory, and I think it works rather well. I mean, doesn't it make sense that those who were closest to Jesus probably knew better what they were talking about than people like Marcion or Valentinus who just made everything up on their own?
At the same time, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, I love belonging to a church without a creed. There is a way in which theological diversity makes for greater richness in the sharing of ideas. Additionally, there is the freedom to accept what you wish and disregard something you happen to disagree with. I would add, however, you at least have to listen to what other people are saying. But there are still some boundaries; United Methodism does hold to some general principles. "United Methodists profess the historic Christian faith in God, incarnate in Jesus Christ for our salvation and ever at work in human history in the Holy Spirit." (From www.umc.org.)
Today this "orthodox"/"heresy" debate gets disguised as the "conservative"/"liberal" in which each "side" claims to have the unique truth and the other gets denounced as blasphemous and heretical. While on the one hand, I wish that some middle ground could be reached (since I think that's where the majority of Christians live), on the other, I realize that I'm just imposing my own view on what I think is "right" and I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.
Truth is out there. We will just never know it fully. Why can't we all just leave it at that?