Summary: We have begun to look at what theologians and church fathers across the centuries have called the "marks" or the "notes" of the Church. Perhaps we can get a fresh look at God's words about the Church.
We have begun to look at what theologians and church fathers across the centuries have called the "marks" or the "notes" of the church. Coming without apology from an evangelical and scriptural perspective, still we are seeking to avoid the unproductive tension between fundamental-liberal extremists, and perhaps get a fresh look at God's words about the church.
One of the four characteristics that belong to the church universal is the mark or note of UNITY. The Church of Jesus Christ is ONE.
Any study of the church begins with the scriptural concept of faith as corporate, or that which is held in common among all the spiritual fellowship of God's people.
THE IDEA OF CORPORATE FAITH
We are so attuned to think of faith as a purely subjective, individual matter that it is almost startling to find, when we are looking for it, just how "corporate" the concept of faith as expressed in the New Testament really is. Actually, the "corporate nature of faith" shines in both divisions of the Bible:
In the OLD TESTAMENT "salvation" was equivalent to being or becoming a member of the people of God; "damnation" was the equivalent of being cast out or excommunicated from the rest of this group.
The NEW TESTAMENT carries this group identity idea forward; with emphasis on "belonging" to the ekklesia: Jesus called the disciples one by one, and they joined a group (which was the church anticipated during Jesus' ministry;)
The church-in-the-making waited in one accord for the initial Baptism of the Spirit. They carried this UNITY forward throughout the pages of Acts and the New Testament (Galatians 2, etc.) The word "saint" is used in the singular only twice in the New Testament, both times in relationship to the church; all other appearances of the word is in the plural, "saints!"
Speaking of the use of the word "church" to mean the common faith, in his sermon "Of the Church" (vi:392) John Wesley made the statement, "A more ambiguous word than this, the Church, is scarce to be found in the English language. It is sometimes taken for a building, set apart for public worship; sometimes for a congregation, or body of people, united together in the service of God. Wesley goes on to say that when he speaks of the church he means the latter, the "body of people UNITED together in the service of God."
H. Ray Dunning says: The place to begin a study of the church is in the corporate character of biblical faith.
This corporate nature of faith has been an essential part of the church from the beginning. The faith has not been something to "JOIN" like a club or an army or a work force; it has been something to be BAPTIZED INTO, to be BORN AGAIN INTO, to become part of as we change direction, and begin a new way of living.
This corporate nature of faith is still valid; it is still something we need to recapture and re-emphasize. Our individual walk with God is to follow this pattern. The church in other days and other cultures understood this better than we do, perhaps.
It is easy for us to make church a matter of convenience in our weddings and burials and christenings, as well as in our worship. But especially these sacrament-like occasions are set in the context of the strength of the corporate faith.
As Christians we are members of each other! We exist to lift one another up and bless each other. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers!
Our burials should be as often as possible from the church, by the church, in the church; our marriages should be solemnized as sacred services of worship, and reflect the corporate faith, and the fact that the church is the greater family. Our christenings are powerful statements to three worlds that our children belong to Christ's Body, and all others may keep "hands off!"
It is this CORPORATE faith that underlies all we say about the church. The marks of the church have their reality and existence in this shared LIFE.
THE CHURCH IS ONE
We have already recognized that all Christendom has agreed that the Church of Jesus is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The church is:
ONE (and yet it is diverse;)
HOLY (and yet it is very human and imperfect!) The true church is holy because it belongs to a holy God; yet it is imperfect because it has ME (and you) in it! But we are washed in the blood, and are being made in the image of Christ!)
CATHOLIC (world-wide, and yet very local and provincial) The Gospel fits the whole world; and yet there are cultural adaptations; differences, applications.
APOSTOLIC (true to the ancient Word; yet up-to-date and experiential, what we term "confessional!") The true church lives by every word that proceeds from the Father; it abides in the True Vine, the Son.