" THE MARKS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH"
At a seminar, a man stood up during the question period. "What is the name of Christ's church according to the New Testament?" he asked.
"What do you mean?" was the reply. Our speaker thought the man was going to note the Bible doesn't use the term "Roman Catholic Church."
"Would you say the name of the church is the Church of Christ?""Naturally, Christ' church could be called the Chruch of Christ since it's Christ's Church."
"Well," said the questioner, "I'm a former Catholic. Now
I'm a minister in the Church of Christ [a Protestant denomination],
Not surprisingly, our speaker didn't quite know what to say, except that he wasn't impressed with this logic. He was tempted to ask, but didn't: "If we Catholics change the name of our church to `the Chruch of Christ,' would you then say that ours is the church Christ founded?"
If we can't tell from the names alone which of the hundreds of Christian
churches is the one established by Christ, how can we tell? Only by examining
a church's credentials. The credentials
There are two aspects to a mark:
First, it must be an outwardly visible
sign. If it's not, it's useless as a means of identification. Your house
The seconcd is that the mark must be an essential characteristic, one
without which the Church couldn't even be. Marks of the Church don't exist
only as a means of identification, as does a watermark on paper, but must
be parts of the very nature of the Church. Infallibility, which is an essential
characteristic of the Church, is not visible, so it's not a mark. Miracles,
which are visible characteristics, are not essential, so they aren't marks
either. But unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are both visible
and essential, and they're the four marks of the
HOW NOT TO DISCUSS MARKS
Before we go further, let's keep in mind the wrong method of discussing
the marks. This kind of syllogism is no good at all:"If God founded
a church,it would have to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. In fact,
the Catholic Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Therefore it's
the church Christ
founded." First, it isn't evident from the mere stating that the
Church would have to have these four characteristics. Second, this
syllogism doesn't prove that some other church couldn't share them.
The most it proves is that if Christ founded a church, and if that
church still exists, and if no other church has these four marks,
A better, but still inadequate, argument is this: "Our Lord
said his Church would be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The
Although we've identified the marks, we still haven't identified the method to be used to discuss them.
The right method of argumentation is this. Begin with the
First, describe the marks as graphically as possible. It
isn't enough just to give their names. That won't convince anyone.
Do the same kind of thing for holiness. We're not talking
here about peering into men's consciences. You can't do that, and
When you come to apostolicity, use the historically unbroken
descent and use Rome as the central peg. Illustrate the missionary
work of the Church (in all ages, not just since the nineteenth
If you have described the marks well, there won't be any question about their existence. Then you have to show what their existence proves.
THE CHURCH IS ONE
Look again at unity and catholicity, which can be considered
together. The key here is miracles, because these marks are
The Church has been unified throughout the centuries, teaching
one doctrine. True, individuals Christians have lost that unity,
going this way and that, sometimes doing so corporately in the form
of sects that split off from the Church. But the Church itself has
always remained one, no matter how many have left its unity.
(Side note: It's proper to pray for the unity of Christians,
but not for the unity of the Catholic Church. The Church always
WHY DIDN'T IT DISAPPEAR?
The catholicity of the Church is something that is naturally
inexplicable. During nineteen centuries, if the Catholic Church
It should have been stopped before it could spread far. You
can't account for its duration and extent by pointing to
Now turn to apostolicity. This shows that today's Church is
one with the Church of the apostles. Trace apostolic succession
WHAT HOLINESS SUGGESTS
The last mark you will turn to will be holiness. Demonstrate that the outwardly manifested holiness of its members argues to the inward holiness of the Church, that the Church is the source of all holiness.
Note that you will have made no use of the New Testament so
far, for the very good reason that the Church existed before any
part of the New Testament was written, and so did the marks of the
Although the marks themselves will be sufficient proof for the atheist, with "Bible Christians" it may be useful, as a concession, to end with scriptural references, but never should you begin with them. If you do, you'll end up squabbling about the meaning of each text -- something that can be avoided if the meaning of the marks is first made clear.
Published with ecclesiastical permission.