A pilgrimage and discovery of the five marks of Christ’s Church…
In the Nicene Creed, also known as the ‘Symbol of Faith’ to Orthodox Christians, we confess the following: “I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”. This creed was the result of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD – Ecumenical (or universal) Councils convened to bring the Church together as one, and to define and defend the essentials of the faith. Today’s post has to with Unity – the mark of the church that demonstrates that the oneness of faith and practice unites the Church throughout the world – and this is an established unity that is passed on from generation to generation; not created or invented in each generation. To experience the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom while worshipping in Moscow, would be the same as the liturgy in Memphis, to pray Vespers in Tacoma, would be identical to the prayers you would pray in Toronto. Yes, there are varieties of languages, chant tones, and various cultural and regional customs of how the liturgy and prayers are sung – but the essential words, beliefs, sacraments and actions are identical throughout the world – and they in turn unite us, and make us one. Listen to Thomas Howard’s point of view on this.
Mark #3 – Unity
Third, the Church in its unity confronts me. This is the most difficult and daunting matter. But one thing eventually became clear: My happy Evangelical view of the Church’s unity as being nothing more than the worldwide clutter that we had under our general umbrella was, for good or ill, not what the ancient Church had understood by the word unity. As an Evangelical, I could pick which source of things appealed most to me: Dallas Seminary; Fuller Seminary; John Wimber; Asuza Street; John Stott; Hudson Taylor…. Keswick theology, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli… And in one sense, variety is doubtless a sign of vigorous life in the Church. But in another sense, of course, it is disaster. It is disastrous if I invest any of the above with the authority that belongs alone to the Church. But then, who shall guide my choices?
Once again, we come back to the picture that we have in the ancient Church. Whatever varieties of expression there may have been – in Alexandria as over against Lyons or in Antioch as over against Rome – nevertheless, when it came to the faith itself, and also to order and discipline and piety in the Church, no one was left groping or mulling over the choices in the flea market. There was one Church and the Church was one. And this was a discernible, visible and embodied unity, not a loose aggregate of vaguely like-minded believers with their various task forces all across the globe.
…my only hope is that you test your own understanding of the Church against the Church’s ancient understanding of itself as united, as one. What is that unity? It is a matter that has perhaps been answered too superficially and frivolously for the last two hundred years in American Protestantism.
The Church in its unity is here, judging us.