By the time the third century rolled around persecution of Christians had become the new “it” thing. Since Christianity was now seen as being distinct from Judaism and was not an ethnic religion it had no protection from the state. Since there was no protection, there began to be orders that high ranking clergy were to perform rituals to pagan gods or suffer the consequence. Needless to say this raised a lot of questions within the church itself. There were some who felt that those who had fallen away (also called the lapsi) should be given letters of pardon immediately while there were others who felt they should never be allowed back in the church.
There were two main sides of this issue one side was called rigorism which felt apostates should not be restored to full fellowship, but must be kept in the condition of penitents for the rest of their lives. Those who tended to be more rigorous felt that their way would teach the seriousness of sin while strengthening the faithful to have a strong confession during periods of persecution. The opposition to this stance were considered lax, and considered that the apostate could be restored to full communion immediately.It has been said that the laxist side would restore the numbers of the fallen to the church while trying to strengthen them against further temptation.
There is another view and it is one that I agree more with and that is Cyprians middle of the road view. We should not keep someone away from fellowship forever for a lack of momentary (or however long) courage. While at the same time we should not go around promoting that it is acceptable to deny your beliefs in the face of hardship and when it is smooth sailing again come back on board. Cyprian felt that depending upon the nature of your disavowment determined the severity of discipline. There were pretty much three levels of transgression: actually making a sacrifice to a foreign god, obtaining a certificate of sacrifice falsely, and privately entertaining the thought of sacrificing. Those who actually sacrificed would have to wait until death to be fully accepted back into the fold, while those who had the certificates had to wait a described amount of time, and the other made private confession to their bishop.