Classical Christianity, following the words of the first two great ecumenical creeds, spoke of the church of Jesus Christ as demonstrated by four great realities. These marks confess that the church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”
I grew up in a part of the Christian church that did not use creeds. For this reason I did not hear these words until sometime near the end of my college experience. Even my evangelical college, Wheaton (IL), did not use the creeds. Thus I am unclear about where and when I first heard these four words. I know that when I heard them my first reaction, like so many from my background, was to react to the word “catholic.” But at the same time these words made me want to explore their meaning and grasp their deeper significance.
Following college and graduate studies I still knew very little about these marks. I planted a Baptist church (1972-1976) and then moved back to Wheaton to pastor another Baptist church (1976-1992). Somewhere, during my second pastorate, I began to study the creeds and their doctrinal/historical importance. I sincerely believe the thing that pushed me to this study was my relationships with pastors from churches other than my own. Simply put, my growing relational and practical ecumenism brought me into a dialogue that stretched me profoundly. The last ten years of my pastoral ministry (twenty years in all) I began to actually use the creeds in my own teaching and preaching.
It was in 1993-94 that I was leading a new mission (ACT 3) and worshiping in a larger church in Wheaton that used the creed in worship. Thus every week I said the creed. I decided then to study it and to make extensive notes as I did. Then one Sunday, as I recited the creed, the words “one, holy, catholic church” struck my heart so profoundly that I was moved to speechless silence, to a quiet, deep sense that I did not “really believe” these words. I resolved, as the Spirit spoke to my inner being, that my life and ministry needed to change as a result of this confession. I tell this story more fully in Your Church Is Too Small.
This week’s video clip on my book takes you into some of my thinking about this vital issue of the four marks of the church.