Moltmann on the Marks of the Church

Happy Moltmann Monday, all! Since we’ve been talking about church, I thought I’d share from The Church in the Power of the Spirit today. It’s from one of the last chapters entitled “The Marks of the Church” where Moltmann discusses what he believes the “one, holy, catholic church” (Apostles Creed) or the “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church” (Nicene Creed) mean. We’ll jump right in:

 If we see them as the conditions (criteria) of the true church then we look for what distinguishes it from the false church, and ask what the premises are for fellowship between the different churches. If we see them as the signs (signa) or characteristics (notae) of the church, then we ask about the form by which it can be recognized in the world and their character as testimony. It is therefore important to substantiate these statements about the church theologically and fully if we are to legitimate their use and avoid one-sidedness.

The statements about the church are a component part of the creed. They are made by faith, and unless they are made in faith they lose their meaning…This distinguishes the ‘characteristics’ of the church named here from the characteristics of any other object of experience…They are consequently not merely distinguishing marks, but creedal marks as well…

If the church acquires its existence through the activity of Christ, then her characteristics, too, are characteristics of Christ’s activity first of all. The acknowledgement of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church’ is acknowledgment of the uniting, sanctifying, comprehensive and commissioning lordship of Christ. In so far they are statements of faith. The unity of the church is not primarily through the unity of her members, but the unity of Christ who acts upon them all, in all places and at all times…The holiness of the church is not initially the holiness of her members or her cultic assemblies; it is the holiness of the Christ who acts on sinners….The catholicity of the church is not initially her spacial extent or the fact that she is in principle open to the world; it is the limitless lordship of Christ, to whom ‘all authority is given in heaven and on earth.’.. Her apostolic character is also to be understood in the framework of the mission of Christ and the Spirit. Founded by Christ’s apostles in the Spirit, her charge is the apostolate in the world.

Well. That’s just lovely, isn’t it? Moltmann continues this section by describing these attributes also as statements of hope, and statements of action. We begin with our reality grounded in the reality of who Jesus is and not what the church is, but we are then called into action by our faith, by our hope, by our actions.

That’s a pretty healthy approach to being and doing church, guys. I’ll take it.

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