I’ve been indulging a fantasy lately. What might the church look like today if it had managed to avoid so many of the missteps (as I see them) since that first Pentecost? What if, when people suggested placing powerful bishops in each city to ensure that heresy couldn’t spread, enough Christians had stood up to say that Jesus had taught that they were all brothers, and had one teacher, the Messiah ((Matthew 23:8-10)) ? What if they had pointed to the promise that, under the new covenant, God himself would put the law into their hearts and no one would need to teach another, because they would know God himself ((Jeremiah 31:31-34, Hebrews 8:8-13)) ?
What if, when Constantine had secured his empire and declared it to be Christian, the church hadn’t been so demoralized by Diocletian’s persecution that they leapt at a chance at legitimacy? Could they have welcomed Constantine with open arms, but told him that the role of King was already taken? What if they told him that within the church there is no slave or master, no Emperor or subject ((Colossians 3:11)) . What if they had said that while a man could repent and follow Jesus, an empire could not?
What if, when some suggested that the church split, either because of some disagreement or so that they could be with people like themselves, the church had said, as Paul did so forcefully in his time, that within the church there is no Jew or Greek ((Galatians 3:28)) ? What if they had clung to Jesus’s promise that their unity would be the attribute that set them apart from the world ((John 17:20-23)) ?
I know each of these decisions would have been costly. I doubt I could have done better, and Jesus has shepherded his church through it all, but what if…