Recently at church camp, the speaker mentioned about the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381 in his discussion about the mission of the church, where it states, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Traditionally, these have come to be known as the Four Marks or Attributes of the Church. As we explore the Book of Acts, particularly the life of the early church, it is worth considering what each of these attributes mean for us and the church.
Firstly, “one” suggests a sense of oneness in the body, the Church, through what Christians have in common. The song “People of the Lord” which begins, “There is one body” (from Eph. 4:5-6) reminds us of the unity we are to preserve as we proclaim His praises, for the sake of Christ. Are we as churches guilty of building up our own little kingdoms, instead of building up the kingdom of God? Is our love marked by unity, so that others see us as disciples of Christ, bearing His image and reflecting His character and glory in our lives and ministries?
Secondly, “holy” reminds us that we are set apart for His purposes and called to be holy, even as He is holy (Lev. 20:26; cf. 1 Pet. 1:15-16). What if we come to realise that God has created us not just simply to be happy, but to be holy? The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer follows, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Are our personal lives marked by holiness, and do we as a church reflect His majestic power and awesomeness through our reverence and worship of our Creator and Saviour God?
Thirdly, “catholic” (from Greek katholikos, meaning “general” or “universal”) reflects that the wholeness of the Christian faith is proclaimed to all people without exclusion of any part of faith or group of people. The Lausanne covenant includes the phrase, “evangelisation requires the whole church to take the whole gospel to the whole world.” Being on mission with God requires men and women in the body of Christ to rise up and step out to be gospel ambassadors for the fulfillment of the Great Commission laid out by Christ. Is our church poised with open doors and ready feet to share God’s good news to the world at our doorstep and across our shores?
Lastly, “apostolic” describes the Church’s foundation and beliefs rooted in the traditions of the apostles, not in the sense of lineage or succession, but in preserving their original teachings. Many would pride themselves in this aspect, acknowledging that in the Reformed traditions, the priority and centrality of God’s word is one of our distinctives and strengths. One preacher once said, “God’s word does not transform lives. God’s word applied transforms lives.” Do our lives truly exemplify God’s word applied, and do we focus on listening to God speak through His Word, and to honour and obey Him in loving response? Not just head knowledge, but heart change? Do our churches not only have a high regard or emphasis on the Word, but also work out our ministries and church life with clear biblical convictions and driving principles?
May God by His Spirit and His Word equip, enable and empower us to be His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church for His glory and kingdom forever!