The mark Jesus gave His followers was what? "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have the right belief system?" No. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if beat them into submission using the Bible; clobber them with truth!" No. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35) Did that work? You tell me.
Jesus launched His movement, that we call Christianity today, in an obscure part of the Roman Empire. Many historians call it the armpit of Rome. He didn't raise an army, didn't convince people to follow Him by what he taught, but by what they saw.
Then, His followers, not the most influential people society had to offer, began to talk about a ridiculous notion of a physical resurrection of Jesus after He had been executed by Rome. I've got to tell you, that's not a very compelling message. A virgin birth, a horrible death, and a resurrection; when the people at Athens heard that message they thought Paul had lost his mind (see Acts 17:32).
These early believers didn't even have a New Testament to guide them. Couple this with the fact that the faith was persecuted. Both Jewish leaders and later Roman emperors wanted to shut it down, and tried desperately to do so for four centuries.
What was it that drew people to these early Christ-followers? I'll tell you: they took Jesus' command, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" seriously, and when people saw how these early believers behaved they became interested in knowing what they believed.
That all changed in the fourth century when Constantine not only legalized the movement, but claimed to convert to Christianity himself. Suddenly, the church had a new way of influence; they had political clout and they began to use it.
Before long, the church resorted to coercion to get her way, rather than compassion, and it is that model, by and large, that we have brought into the 21st century. How's that working for us? From the look of recent rulings of the Supreme Court, of policies coming out of the White House, and rulings from the courthouse, not to mention the wave of popular opinion, I have to say, "Not so well!"
What do you think would happen if we stopped relying on our treasured traditions, stopped trying to force our version of truth on people who don't share our views, and once again took Jesus seriously and started loving God fully and others honestly. What would happen if we started behaving like Christ followers, by the instruction of the Christ who started it all?
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway website at www.gatewaycommunity.org.