The power underlying sanctification –- love to God and to brothers –alive in the early times was now transformed into monastic asceticism and the church piety of the masses.
Christian ethics split into a dualistic way simultaneously rejecting and accepting the world.
The world, after all, followed its own laws and therefore was unchangeable in any case.
The church had to accept the status quo and attempt to leaven it and make use of it.
Some reacted to this by rejecting the world of the senses, (which in their eyes seemed more and more hostile to God), and embraced asceticism for its own sake.
On the other hand, compromise, worldly wisdom, and realism soon produced the familiar conservative character of church Christianity.
Once more, A.D. 180 marks the turning point in the social and political stance of the church.
From now on, Christians exerted increasing power and influence in politics and public affairs; they were no longer criminals in the eyes of the State like the first Christians.
As part of “"The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”" used in baptismal instruction, the Sermon on the Mount stressed the unbridgeable gulf that divides the ways of death and life.
But now the Sermon on the Mount faded more and more into the background.
The early Christian ideal of a communism of love was not completely abandoned; John Chrysostom exemplified it as late as A.D. 400.
Yet incomprehensible as it was to give it up, it was still less conceivable for the church to put it into practice.
True, the theory of total love and surrender of all goods continued to be upheld, but it could not prevent Christian’'s attitude to property from becoming indistinguishable from that of non-Christians.
Wealth and luxury spread. From the third century on, more and more high-ranking civil servants and army officers, traders in luxury goods, wealthy wholesalers, and owners of large estates belonged to the churches.
Economic differences and class distinctions were now questioned so little that soon the episcopal church herself owned slaves and became richer and richer.
Only nominally did the church property belong to the poor.
Tertullian and Origen were still influenced by the early years.
They represented that the professions of judge (which is to punish) and soldier (which is to kill) were out of the question, but events gradually led (in A.D. 314) to the punishment of deserters by excommunication. No questions were asked about their consciences.
Yet the sacrifices inherent in the legacy of the early Christian witness were not made altogether in vain.
The institutional church achieved a partial softening of the rigid Roman concept of property and, still more important, public acceptance of the Christian concept of marriage.
The organized church contributed both to the gradual disintegration of the Roman empire and to its new growth.
At the same time, it was within the church that monasticism once again achieved the radical “"anarchism”" of faith responsible to God alone.
As in the first church, private property was overcome by the communism of love, and labor was given a new value.
Monasticism was simply a late phenomenon –- the heroism of early Christian faith grew one-sided and otherworldly.
The tremendous monastic movement was just one example of what is seen recurrently in the history of the organized church: her whole religious life can be nourished only from the earliest time when the power of the Spirit was revealed in authority and freedom.
By recasting Christianity, the institutional church became a recognized world power with a dominant role in world history.
In spite of all deviations from the early time of revelation, no church or sect in Christendom has ever completely forgotten that love remains “"the supreme sacrament of faith, the treasure of the Christian faith.
Bearing in mind the radicalism of sects, the narrowness of monastic exercises in devotion, and the vast responsibilities of the organized churches, Irenaeus was right in saying, “"It remains, as in the time now past, that the greatest is the free gift of brotherly love, which is more glorious than knowledge, more marvelous than prophecy, and more sublime than all other gifts of grace.
In this book the original testimonies of the transition period between earliest Christianity and the organized church speak to our times.
In the fire of first love, in the many signs of God at work, the rich, primitive force of the early Christian spirit speaks to us once again.
All the moments of power and truth characteristic of New Testament Christianity can be sensed here, including the beginnings of developments that later led to the organized churches.
Further, a clearly defined way of life and faith arises from the manifestation of God in early Christian times.
In spite of rigidity in later centuries and the changes which affected Christianity then, this way continues to be a living force today.
It comes from the wellspring of living truth and can never become a mere imitation of outward traditions.
There is only one criterion for this way: the direct, spontaneous testimony which the Spirit himself brings from God and from Christ.
It is the witness of faith, speaking to us from apostolic and prophetic experience through the pages of this book.
The original witness of the church must lead us all, though still in very different camps, into the unity and purity of the clear light.
The period of original revelation must be the point of departure for any dialogue between the many churches, sects and movements of our own day. The awakening and uniting of all who truly desire to follow Christ will be given at the source, and nowhere else.