Was there any unification in the early Church or was it the wild west?
Your best resource for this will be the New Testament itself, then the earliest authors, especially Irenaeus (see Against Heresies). There was good cohesion of doctrine and liturgy, but not perfect cohesion in some things… As evidence of this, which goes to show right away how important the pope was from the first ages, the Quartodeciman controversy can be noted. That’s worth a look too. You can also read the first councils - ecumenical and local. And the Church Fathers in general will explain the milieu of their own day and frequently talk about times past, as you’d expect.
Priests and bishops were appointed by the apostles after teaching them; they were commissioned to, and vowed to, teach only Apostolically what they received as the apostolic truth.
Non ordained, like the circumcision party in Acts, proclaimed error in disobedience because they had no commission to shepherd. Also, disobedient apostolic messengers, like Peter who separated himself from the Gentiles to maintain an image, taught something other than they were commissioned to deliver, until corrected, like Peter by Paul and by the magisterial council of Jerusalem.
Only one Apostolically, but disobedience repeatedly.
There was quite a bit of deviation from the apostolic doctrine, even from the beginning. We can see this evidenced in some of Paul’s letters such as the letter to the Galatians, Colossians, and the pastoral letters. We also see this in a number of the general epistles (John’s letters, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation). That being said the apostolic epistles and gospels were written to correct deviations from the gospel, and served as the means of correction for later heretical movements such as the gnostics, modalists, adoptionists, etc. The Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople were instrumental in developing the Niceno-Constanipolitan Creed, which summarized the scriptural witness of what we believe about the Trinity. So, the answer to your question is no, but with an asterisk. The controversies of the early centuries forced the early church fathers to examine the teachings of the apostles as handed down in the scriptures of the old and new testaments, and to clarify doctrine.
There was One Catholic Church with some believing in error. That is why there were Councils and later Creeds.
It’s a long and complicated history. Maintaining unity was always difficult in the early years, when Christians were constantly subject to persecution at various levels. The situation changed radically when Constantine became emperor in 312, but there were people in the Church who resented what they saw as undesirable state interference. Depending on how much detail you’re looking for, you may find Edwin Hatch’s book useful, particularly Lecture 7, titled Councils and the Unity of the Church. It begins on p. 165.
I would say the early Church, East and West, was in communion with one another. There were, and are now, different theological ways of thinking between the East and West, but the early Church shared the same Eucharist despite that.
And they still do!
I used to be Byzantine Catholic, so yes, there are Eastern Churches in communion with Rome.
There were several erroneous teachings in the early church. One of the earliest, occurring in biblical times was Docetism. Docetists believed that Jesus did not have a body; that he only seemed to have a body. The word itself comes from the Greek word “to seem”.
This goes against biblical teaching. In Luke, Jesus shows himself to the disciples, and they fear that they are seeing a ghost, but he reassures them that he is flesh and blood:
36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace be with you." 37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24)
The point here is that Jesus had a physical body. He did not just SEEM to have a physical body, he actually had one. The Docetists claimed he didn’t. There are at least three verses from the New Testament that warn against their teachings:
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. (1 Cor. 15:12-17)
1. Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, 3 and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world. (1 John 4: 1-3)
Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh; such is the deceitful one and the antichrist. (2 John 1:7)
Saint Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians means that if Jesus did not have a body, he could not have died and thus he could not have been risen from the dead.
There were other heresies as well. The Church has been fighting against erroneous teachings from the get go. If I get a chance, I’ll try to add to this thread. If you want to explore more about Docetism, here is a link to Catholic Answers: https://www.catholic.com/encyclopedia/Docetae
No wild west as had existed w/the Jews by the time of Jesus …
But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and addressed them: 'Fellow Jews, and all you who live in Jerusalem, mark this and give me a hearing. 15These men are not drunk, as you imagine; for it is only nine in the morning. 16No, this is what the prophet spoke of: “God says, ‘This will happen in the last days: I will pour out upon everyone a portion of my spirit; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy; your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 18Yes, I will endue even my slaves, both men and women, with a portion of my spirit, and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the sky above, and signs on the earth below-blood and fire and drifting smoke. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before that great, resplendent day, the day of the Lord, shall come. 21And then, everyone who invokes the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
22’Men of Israel, listen to me: I speak of Jesus of Nazareth, a man singled out by God and made known to you through miracles, portents, and signs, which God worked among you through him, as you well know. 23When he had been given up to you, by the deliberate will and plan of God, you used heathen men to crucify and kill him. 24But God raised him to life again, setting him free from the pangs of death, because it could not be that death should keep him in its grip. 25 [ [Ps.16.8-11]
6Let all Israel then accept as certain that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’
37When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the apostles,. ‘Friends, what are we to do?’ 38’Repent,’ said Peter, ‘repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God may call.’ 40In these and many other words he pressed his case and pleaded with them: ‘Save yourselves’, he said, ‘from this crooked age.’ 41
Then those who accepted his word were baptized, and some three thousand were added to their number that day.
42They met constantly to hear the apostles teach, and to share the common life, to break bread, and to pray.