The Mission Of The Church As A Mark Of The Church -- By: John Hammett
JBTM 5:1 (Spring 2008) p. 31
The Mission Of The Church As A Mark Of The Church
Professor of Systematic Theology
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
This paper attempts to bring together the theme of this conference, the mission of the church, and an important theme in the history of ecclesiology, the marks of a true church. It will begin by surveying and evaluating three important formulations of the marks of the church that have been developed over the years. It will then argue that there is a need for a fourth formulation today, and that such a formulation centers around the mission of the church, understood as the church’s mandate to provide certain ministries to bodies of believers.
The Patristic Formulation:
“We Believe In One, Holy, Catholic, And Apostolic Church.”
The single most influential statement concerning the church from history comes in the line from the Nicene Creed1 quoted above giving the four classical notae of the church: unity or oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity. These four marks are the starting point for many discussions of the church, and are widely accepted by both Protestants and Catholics.2 We note that this confessional formula emerged in the context of the church’s struggle to define itself against a variety of challengers.3 This origin raises some questions.
JBTM 5:1 (Spring 2008) p. 32
Are these four marks as prominent in Scripture as they are in the creed? In other words, did the historical circumstances lead the early church to emphasize the importance of these four adjectives (one, holy, catholic, apostolic) beyond their importance in Scripture? How sufficient or comprehensive are these marks in identifying a true and valid church? Are there other marks that need to be added?
While a full investigation of these four marks is beyond the purpose of this paper, a few evaluative comments by way of response to the questions just raised will be offered. First, I do think the historical circumstances materially affected the elevation of these four marks to the status of identifying marks. While unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity all have some importance for churches, there seems no biblical warrant for seeing them as indispensable to the validity or ecclesiality of a church. In fact, in spite of their widespread acceptance throughout the history of the church, the four classical marks, while helpful, do not seem to be comprehensive or definitive in understanding what the church is, for a number of reasons.
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