The church in this age is the church that had passed through the great persecutions of the Roman Empire and which was accepted by the Roman Emperor as the state religion. At the beginning, Constantine was west of the Alps and those Britons and Gauls under him were mostly Christians. His army came mostly from these two groups of people. When he conquered Rome and became the Emperor, he accepted Christianity as the state-acknowledged religion. His motive was political rather than religious. His goal was to integrate Christianity with the pagan religions so that his empire would not fall into confusion through religion. He tried to make the church the handmaid of the empire. He himself, of course, realized that he had to be a Christian too, but he was not baptized until he was about to die.
After much suffering, it was unavoidable for the church to lean towards a compromise for existence. The policy of the Christians at that time was that, since events had developed the way they did, they readily accepted them without qualm. As such, the church stooped and accepted the welcome of the government. Hence, the church lost its purity and was joined to the world. It forgot the Lord’s name and its own testimony and accepted what was offered to it by the emperor and the world. Even saved Christians forgot what the church was and how it ought to be heavenly and not worldly. The church should testify of two things: first, the corruption of the world, and second, the love of God. When the church joins hands with the world, the testimony of the church is lost and there remains no distinction from the world. If the world can secure the compromise of the church in a few areas, we will see the church lose all its ground. "If the world is no longer persecuting us, and if it is willing to come close to us, why can we not widen the narrow gate and constricted way? Why can we not do this?" If we are willing to sacrifice the truth and glory of Christ, is there anything that we cannot do?
Satan’s altered strategy has prevailed! Formerly it was persecution. Now it is welcome. The angry face may not frighten us, but the smiling face surely wins one’s heart. If fiery punishment cannot change one’s faith, zealous natural affection will shake one’s purity. At this point the church is already in the arms of the world!
The Lord said that they had not denied His name. This is because by then they were still quite "orthodox." This was the time of the first Nicene Council of the Roman Catholic Church. There they were still adhering to the doctrine of the Trinity. They opposed the Arian heresy. They were truly orthodox in relation to Christ. However, in relation to the gospel they were perhaps beginning to be confused. Although the Apostles’ Creed mentions the forgiveness of sins, it does not mention when and how sins are forgiven. The Nicene Creed acknowledges the baptism of repentance, yet it does not mention the other one. It mentions the Lord’s suffering for us, yet it is silent concerning the way to be saved! The Athanasian Creed mentions the suffering of Christ saving us, yet it does not have a single word concerning how we can receive this salvation! Hence, it was an orthodox faith at this time, but the gospel of salvation was not clear.
The teaching of Balaam was very prevailing at this time. The church accepted many heathen ceremonies and festivals and made them part of the Christian worship and Christian festivals. The designation of December 25 as the time of Christmas is but one example. During the next one thousand years, the church degraded further and further. It has completely joined itself to the world and has lost its sojourning nature and blessed hope. It has become a colony of the world and presumes that the church has the power to change the world and can turn it into the kingdom of heaven. To them, God’s promise to the Jews is now fulfilled in the church. The Lord will not need to come back anymore, and His advent is just the time of the Christians’ death. What a pity that the church has become fully buried in the world!
As to the teaching of the Nicolaitans, there was already at this time in the church the hierarchy that rules over the laity. Those who were wise, capable, and powerful became the leaders, and the church became organized like a worldly organization.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 04: The Christian (2), Chapter 5, by Watchman Nee)