Jesus’ teachings seem to have been understood rather clearly during the first few hundred years after his death and resurrection. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common among his early followers. For example, the Didache, written around AD 90, calls readers to “share all things with your brother; and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish.”  At this time, Christianity was countercultural, untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.
However, when the imperial edict of AD 313 elevated Christianity to a privileged position in the Roman Empire, the church increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and class. Morality became individualized and largely sexual. Formal Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call “religious life” began, and flourished, after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big church.Read More »