10 June 2017

Understanding the Four Marks

What is the Church? I think that question is very easy for most of us to answer. In the Smalcald Articles, one of our confessions, Martin Luther called it "[the] holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd." In other words, the Church is all people who hear the word of Christ and believe in Him (Rom 10:17).

Toward the end of the Nicene Creed, we confess our belief in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We know what the Church is as an entity; what is the meaning of her Four Marks? In this post, I shall go over what it means that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic from a Lutheran perspective.

Jasper Lutheran Church in Jasper, Alberta. Original photo by Chris06. (CC0 1.0)
The Church is one. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession tells us that the Church is one because it is the assembly of saints. Moreover, her members have one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. Her members know the same gospel and they receive the same sacraments because of her oneness.

The Church is holy. It is stated in Part III, Article XII of the Smalcald Articles that the Church's holiness "consists of the Word of God and true faith." She is made holy, i.e., set apart by God's Word and the faith she receives through it.

The Church is catholic. The article concerning the Church in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says she is catholic or universal because she is made up of people scattered throughout the world who have the same gospel, sacraments, etc.

The Church is apostolic. In the Treatise it is written that the Church is built on the ministry of the confession made by the apostle St. Peter on behalf of all the apostles while in Caesarea Philippi, viz., that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The New Testament ministry that nourishes the Church is rooted in the apostles' confession.

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. (Song of Solomon 6:4, NRSV)

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