The Historical Four Marks of the Church: One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church
So how do you understand the meaning and relevance of the historical four marks of the church?
I put my hat in with Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen as he recognizes that the four marks are both a gift from God as well as something we should seek to actualize. God has given us unity, but we in the power of the Spirit should maintain the unity we have been given. God has made the church holy, but we are “to be holy as He is holy”. God has made us whole, lacking in nothing (catholic), but we are to become catholic – universal, orthodox, extending to the ends of the earth. And God has made us apostolic, and we should seek to “live in continuity with the apostolic life” by being a charismatic missionary church that stands on the inspired words of the apostles (scripture).
In regard to my own ecclesiological context, we hold to the Nicene Creed and consider these four marks as vital, as it establishes the free church with the whole church. We have also appreciated how missiologist Charles Van Engen has suggested that the marks be read as adverbs rather than just adjectives in order to capture the dynamic character of the church’s missional faithfulness. So the marks describe the missional ministry of the church as unifying, sanctifying, reconciling and proclaiming. I also find his recommendation to reverse the order of the marks helpful, in that it reminds us of our missional posture and paints the path we should be moving toward – a church that is a “proclaiming, reconciling, sanctifying and unifying” community.