Continuing up to the fourth century, the Christian community was very loosely organized. There were no centralized teachings or authorized dogma, other than having faith in Jesus and in the promise to be with him in heaven, and getting baptized to receive holy spirit. Each disciple taught about Jesus according to what he understood. The congregations were organized around their foremost teacher and in some instances, conflicts and dissension arose over what was part of the true good news, such as whether the Gentile converts to Christianity would have to keep the law of Moses, and things like these. (See, 1 Corinthians; Galatians; Colossians; Hebrews.)
Early in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine called together the leading ‘church fathers’ to centralize and codify the Christian teachings in an effort to unify and control the burgeoning Christian population in Rome. At this council, called the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., these ‘church fathers’ determined which of the hundreds of Christian writings would make up the acceptable teachings about Jesus.
These men sifted through the more popular notes and letters, and selected 27 of the writings that they felt best represented the teachings of Jesus as they understood them and provided the most continuity. Unfortunately, this codification of acceptable Christian teachings was the first step in officially changing the free-flowing nature of original Christianity into a centralized clergy/laity class that had far reaching, and not always positive, implications.
Most importantly, the Christians fell back into spiritual bondage to these ‘church fathers’ (essentially the Roman Catholic Church) who had set themselves up as authorities, lords and intercessors. They appointed themselves as doorkeepers to the kingdom of the heavens and the sole channel of salvation. They forced, on threat of death, the unswerving allegiance of all Christians. They snatched away the ministry of reconciliation and relegated the brothers to passive audience members. Like the nation of Israel, their leadership had lost sight of their spiritual mission and fought for secular and political power. Thus, throughout the middle ages, liberty was stalled and mankind was thrust back into servitude to a religious organization very similar to the Jewish system from which they just been freed.
Notwithstanding all of these negatives, the Council’s work and the decision to organize the Christian faith proved to be an important development toward preserving enough of the pure teachings of Jesus that would allow us to regain our liberty if we would truly ‘pick up our cross and follow Jesus.’ (Matthew 10:38) No, true Christianity did not die. It merely slumbered, awaiting a more spiritual age where the Master’s teachings may enjoy a fuller opportunity for development.