Marks of the Church

As some of you know, I have recently started running a Saturday morning theology course at my church, which will run for five sessions over the next few months. We’ve had the first already, and I am currently working on my talk for the next session.

We will be looking at the "Marks of the Church". The way I am planning to tackle it is to start off by looking at some important historical formulations of what the marks of a true church are. The two main ones I have come up with are:

1. The Nicene Creed

The Nicene creed simply states "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church". These four points or marks of the church seem to be the main focus of Roman Catholic attempts to define the church. They emphasise its oneness, so that churches not part of Roman Catholicism are not considered true churches. Also under the term "apostolic" they include the concept of apostolic succession as well as apostolic doctrine. So while the Nicene creed is an "ecumenical creed" in that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians will all assent to it, their interpretations of this statement can vary.

2. The Reformers

When I looked through Calvin’s Institutes to see what he said about the church, I was surprised by the simplicity of his answer. He simply defined the marks of a true church as right preaching of the word and right administration of the sacraments. Having spoken to various other people, it has become clear that the reformers did in fact have more to say on the nature of the church than just those two things (e.g. worship, biblical discipline/order, compassionate ministry of deacons, mission etc), but still I find it interesting that those two are picked out as the key marks. The high place of the "sacraments" in their ecclesiology is not matched by most of the modern books on church I have read.

Modern Marks of the Church

Most modern discussions of the marks of the church seem to be more interested in answering the question "what is a healthy church", than "what is a true church". I guess we all take it for granted that our church is indeed a true church.

I have some notes gathered from various sources on what modern church leaders have identified as the marks of the church, but I thought perhaps that some of my blog readers might like to suggest some answers.

If you could list up to five marks of the church, what would they be?

Feel free to give your own answer, or suggest an answer representative of different groups of churches (e.g. charismatic, emerging, reformed, mainline protestant etc).

1 thought on “Marks of the Church

  1. My answer is representative of the New Testament Acts Church stream 😉 (and it’s inspired by Ephesians 2:19-22).

    1. Church is a place where there is no hierarchy or clergy/laity but all are “fellow citizens with the saints”.

    2. Church is a place built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (not just the dead ones) with Christ Jesus living and reigning being the Chief Cornerstone.

    3. Church is a place that is growing into a holy temple in the Lord – where holiness is not a set of rules and regulations imposed legalistically but holiness is a naturally flowing out of a realisation of our position in the righteousness of Christ – it’s all about a relationship, not rules.

    4. Church is a place that is increasingly becoming a dwelling place for God – the manifest Presence of God is more and more evident until unbelievers are coming in and rather than remaining indifferent are saying; “God is TRULY among you”.

    5. Church is a place where all of this is possible “by the Spirit”. We recognise that all we do is only possible because we live in a “more glorious covenant” where we ALL are “ministers of the Spirit”. Where it is not just about what we SAY but about what we DO. That the Spirit makes His Presence known by what we say (prophecy, tongues/interpretation, power preaching), what we do (signs, wonders, healing and miracles), how we live personally (crying “Abba! Father!” – relationship with God Himself) and where we are going (seeing the entire earth covered with the glory of the Lord). ALL because the Holy Spirit has been poured out and is our inheritance!!

    I know I am no Calvin … but I am too thick to write more simplistically. Just my thoughts!! 🙂

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