An alternative history of Western Christianity . . .
The early Christians were passionate and obedient followers of the living, resurrected Jesus Christ. The government didn’t like them and put many of them to death.
However, the love, lifestyle, and power of the Christ followers continued to win many people until in the early 300s the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire and turned what had been a living fellowship of believers into a wealthy, top-heavy institution.
Mobs of people suddenly wanted to be a part of Constantine’s idea of government sponsored Christianity now that it was becoming popular. Membership was good for business and social standing.
Over the centuries the rolls of the Christian institution continued to grow, however, there were still lots of people who didn’t join. Then someone came up with the idea of Christendom where you automatically were a member of the Christian institution at birth.
If you didn’t want to be a Christian or if you wanted to follow Jesus with others, independent of the Christian institution, you would be persecuted, tortured, or even killed in the name of the church. Still many chose to follow the living Jesus Christ rather than the institution. They were given the name heretics and crushed by the power of church and state. (And many genuine followers of Christ stayed with the institution which was a mix of believers and unbelievers.)
Then in 1054 Christendom officially split in two. The Eastern part became the Orthodox churches and the Western part became the Roman Catholic Church. Over several hundred years the Western part sent armies to attack Muslims and they also attacked Orthodox Christians several times.
The next big thing happened in 1517 when a Roman Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed 95 theses for improving the Roman institution on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany. He was quickly declared a heretic and persecuted, but some political people protected him and his ideas got out.
This caused a huge exodus from the Roman Catholic Church and then from the new churches that had formed. This exodus continued until today, kind of like the down-line in a multilevel marketing scheme. The world is now filled with too many tens of thousands of independent Christian institutions to count.
Through out the process of this 2,000 years of history, however, there have been uncountable numbers of passionate, obedient Christ followers, who regardless of the social, economic, and personal cost; have put loyalty to the living, resurrected Jesus above loyalty to any institution (religious or secular). Some of their stories are written down and available to us. (I’ve read many dozens of them.) Others are lost to human history. There might even be a Christ follower near you as you read this. (Or you, yourself, could be one.)
You will know they are Christians by their love.