During the 3rd c., Christianity had a different story. Christianity had to be practiced in secret, considered illegal and blamed for the problems of Rome, those who believed signed themselves up for a life of persecution, gladly, knowing that it was for the glory of Christ and He is worth it.
Once Constantine converted to Christianity (whether you believe it to be genuine is not the point) everything changed. Constantine converted in 312 and in 313 he signed the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christianity. Now Christians could come out of hiding and practice publicly. Later in 381, Theodosius (Constantine's successor) make Christianity the official religion of the empire. These two events, Constantine's conversions and Theodosius declaration, drastically changed the whole of Christianity. From this point on Christianity went from being a a group of disenfranchised followers to a powerful political tool. Another problem with this even is that in some ways Christianity was weakened. Now that Christianity is legal and the official religion there were mass conversions, many of which were not legitimate, and powerful people converted simply for political gains.
These changes within society and the church led to the growth of the monasteries. Around 530 St. Benedict reformed a former Rule (a detailed way of life for those in communal living/monasteries) adding more grace and humility. Those who joined the monasteries were seeking something deeper, they were tired of what Christianity had become and sought to get back to the roots of Christianity.
SO what is the cost for us today, living in America, following Christ? This country, founded on the principal of freedom of religion, boasts of a toleration ideal that in practice falls seriously short of its ideals. And yet if one truly desires to follow Christ, walk in humility and love the cost will quickly become evident. The comments from friends and family will start, subtle at first, then escalating. Before long you may be labeled as self-righteous. To be clear there are many who are experiencing "Cost" due to their faith but in reality it is because they are a jerk and treat people harshly and lack grace. I am talking about one who truly desires to follow the precepts of God and show love, not give into gossip, repent after lying etc. Take just one of those and think of the implication. If you were to not only stop gossiping (or strive to) but also stop listening to and even correcting, always in love, those who gossip, what do you imagine their response would be towards you? I experienced this in a former work place where there was much gossip. God convicted me of the 'small' comments I would make and so I repented, apologized to those I had talked about and tried to guard my speech. This part was o.k. with most of my coworkers. When I recognized that listening to gossip was equally as destructive, I began to walk away or try to redirect conversations. This was not accepted to the same degree. People made comments, made fun of me, stopped talking to me at times etc. Later I realized that, sometimes, it was necessary for me to speak up, in a non-condemning way, and look for the real issue that was often under the gossip. At this point I noticed that at times, when I would walk in a room people would stop talking and would not finish their conversation until I left. This was hard until one day another coworker began sharing with me some significant personal problems they were experiencing. I did not understand why they were sharing this with me until they said 'I'm telling you this because I know your the one person here who will not tell anyone else'.
That one event made the cost worth it for me. After that conversation I became all the more diligent to guard my speech and my ears.
So today, as I think through history and the changes within society and the church (which many times are inseparable) I hope to see the thread of human nature woven through and to learn from the cycles of history so that I can do what is right and pleasing to God, hopefully avoiding mistakes that we, the church, have been making since the beginning.
"Don't forget your history nor your destiny"