Four Marks of the Church

Four Marks of the Church

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The Four Marks of the Church is a term describing four specific adjectives—one, holy, catholic and apostolic—indicating four major distinctive marks or distinguishing characteristics of the Christian Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

. The belief that the Church is characterized by these four particular "marks" was first expressed by the First Council of Constantinople
First Council of Constantinople
The First Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Second Ecumenical Council by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was the first Ecumenical Council held in...

 in the year 381 in its revision of the Nicene Creed
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

, in which it included the statement: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." In Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 theology these are sometimes called the attributes of the Church. They are still professed today in the Nicene Creed, recited in the liturgy of Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

, Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, Anglican, and many Protestant churches' worship services.

While specific doctrines, based on both tradition and different interpretations of the Bible, distinguish one Church or denomination from another, largely explaining why there are so many different ones, the Four Marks, when defined the same way, represent a summary of what historically have been considered the most important affirmations of the Christian faith
Faith in Christianity
Faith, in Christianity, has been most commonly defined by the biblical formulation in the Letter to the Hebrews as "'the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen". Most of the definitions in the history of Christian theology have followed this biblical formulation...

.

History


The ideas behind the Four Marks have been in the Church since early times
Early Christianity
Early Christianity is generally considered as Christianity before 325. The New Testament's Book of Acts and Epistle to the Galatians records that the first Christian community was centered in Jerusalem and its leaders included James, Peter and John....

. Allusions to them can be found in the writings of 2nd century
Christianity in the 2nd century
The 2nd century of Christianity was largely the time of the Apostolic Fathers who were the students of the apostles of Jesus, though there is some overlap as John the Apostle may have survived into the 2nd century and the early Apostolic Father Clement of Rome is said to have died at the end of the...

 early Church Father and bishop, Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology...

. They were not established in doctrine until the First Council of Constantinople
First Council of Constantinople
The First Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Second Ecumenical Council by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was the first Ecumenical Council held in...

 in 381
381
Year 381 was a common year starting on Friday of the Julian calendar. At the time, it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Syagrius and Eucherius...

 as an antidote to certain heresies that had crept into the Church in its early history. There the Council elaborated on the Nicene Creed
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

, established by the First Council of Nicea 56 years before by adding to the end a section that included the affirmation: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." The phrase has remained in versions of the Nicene Creed
Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

 to this day.

In some languages, for example, German, the Latin "catholica" was substituted by "Christian" before the Reformation, though this was an anomaly and continues in use by some Protestant churches today. Hence, "holy catholic" becomes "holy Christian."

Roman Catholics believe the title "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" only to be applicable to the Catholic Church, as they believe it was directly founded by Christ in the first century
Christianity in the 1st century
The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic, Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The Apostles and others following the Great Commission's decree to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations," had great success spreading the religion to gentiles. Peter,...

. Further, they maintain that the Catholic Church, under the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

 as the Bishop of Rome, is "the one, true Church of Christ" that does not include those groups that have emerged from the Protestant Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

. They are considered by Roman Catholics to be "false" claimants.

The Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

, in disagreement with the Roman Catholic, regards itself as the historical and organic continuation of the original Church founded by Christ and his apostles.

The Four Marks


According to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles
Acts of the Apostles
The Acts of the Apostles , usually referred to simply as Acts, is the fifth book of the New Testament; Acts outlines the history of the Apostolic Age...

, describing the earliest days of the Church, the Apostolic Age
Apostolic Age
The Apostolic Age of the history of Christianity is traditionally the period of the Twelve Apostles, dating from the Crucifixion of Jesus and the Great Commission in Jerusalem until the death of John the Apostle in Anatolia...

, “They devoted themselves to the apostles
Apostle (Christian)
The term apostle is derived from Classical Greek ἀπόστολος , meaning one who is sent away, from στέλλω + από . The literal meaning in English is therefore an "emissary", from the Latin mitto + ex...

’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."

Since Catholic and Orthodox Christians consider their Churches to be "the one, true Church of Christ" and Protestants to be "false" claimants, there is no agreement among all Christians as to the exact definition of the adjectives "one" and "catholic" in the Creed.

One


"There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father
God the Father
God the Father is a gendered title given to God in many monotheistic religions, particularly patriarchal, Abrahamic ones. In Judaism, God is called Father because he is the creator, life-giver, law-giver, and protector...

 of all who is over all and through all and in all."" One describes the unity of the body of Christ. These words from the Creed speak of the followers of Jesus Christ as united in their belief in one God, one Lord, Jesus Christ. In the "Upper Room" (possibly the Cenacle
Cenacle
The Cenacle , also known as the "Upper Room", is the term used for the site of The Last Supper. The word is a derivative of the Latin word cena, which means dinner....

) Discourse—Jesus' final interaction with his disciples on the night of his arrest—Jesus prayed three times the same request—that we may "be one."" He prays for Christians to have unity, saying this unity will provide the most compelling evidence to the world that he is the Savior of the world.

Holy


The word holy means set apart for a special purpose by and for God. It does not imply that the members of the Church are free from sin, nor that the institution of the Church cannot sin. Christ's Church is holy because it is Christ's Church: "...upon this rock I will build my Church." Jesus founded his Church to continue his redemptive and sanctifying work in the world. Christians understand the holiness of the universal Church to derive from Christ's holiness.

Catholic


The word "catholic" means "universal" according to most Western interpretations, pronouncing the universality of Christ's church. It refers to the wholeness and totality of all true believers in Jesus as the Christ. The Church as the Body of Christ is not limited to a time, place, race or culture.

Protestants believe that it encompasses every Christian of any denomination, even though they each hold to certain distinctive doctrines, beliefs, practices, and social views.

On the contrary, Roman Catholic and Orthodox interpretations make a distinction between actual geographical universality and completeness of the true faith that is intended for all. whether they accept it or not:
The phrase "all nations" in the above quote of the Great Commission
Great Commission
The Great Commission, in Christian tradition, is the instruction of the resurrected Jesus Christ to his disciples, that they spread his teachings to all the nations of the world. It has become a tenet in Christian theology emphasizing missionary work, evangelism, and baptism...

 implies universality, making Christ's Church on Earth open to all: all classes, all genders, all nationalities.

Apostolic


This describes its origin and beliefs as rooted in the teachings of the Apostles of Jesus (cf. the 1913 Webster's Dictionary). All Christians understand apostolic to mean that there is continuity in the church's teachings from the apostles throughout history, not just in the first century
Christianity in the 1st century
The earliest followers of Jesus composed an apocalyptic, Jewish sect, which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity. The Apostles and others following the Great Commission's decree to spread the teachings of Jesus to "all nations," had great success spreading the religion to gentiles. Peter,...

. The Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 and the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 also claim that each of their respective Churches alone is the true Church, although they believe that both Churches have "Apostolic Succession
Apostolic Succession
Apostolic succession is a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were...

" of the priesthood. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church further believe that their bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s derive their authority through a direct line of laying on of hands
Laying on of hands
The laying on of hands is a religious ritual that accompanies certain religious practices, which are found throughout the world in varying forms....

 from the apostles. Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

, on the other hand, holds that apostolic continuity is preserved through the written word. As Milne put it, "A church is apostolic as it recognizes in practice the supreme authority of the apostolic scriptures."

See also

  • First Council of Constantinople
    First Council of Constantinople
    The First Council of Constantinople is recognized as the Second Ecumenical Council by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, the Old Catholics, and a number of other Western Christian groups. It was the first Ecumenical Council held in...

  • Marks of the Church
    Marks of the Church
    In Protestant theology, the Marks of the Church are those things by which the true church may be recognized. Three marks are usually enumerated: the preaching of the Word the administration of the sacraments and church discipline...

  • Nicene Creed
    Nicene Creed
    The Nicene Creed is the creed or profession of faith that is most widely used in Christian liturgy. It is called Nicene because, in its original form, it was adopted in the city of Nicaea by the first ecumenical council, which met there in the year 325.The Nicene Creed has been normative to the...

  • State church of the Roman Empire
    State church of the Roman Empire
    The state church of the Roman Empire was a Christian institution organized within the Roman Empire during the 4th century that came to represent the Empire's sole authorized religion. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox churches claim to be the historical continuation of this...


Further reading