Seven Ancient Marks of the Church

nicene creedA few years ago Mark Dever released a helpful book called Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. I’m not going to attempt to build on those, but instead offer seven marks springing from a couple of significant people or groups over the last 1700 years. Four hundred (ish) years ago Calvin stated that the three marks of the church are:

  1. The preaching of the word
  2. The administration of the sacraments
  3. Church discipline

I’ve often found these helpful in thinking about priorities and distinguishing marks of biblical ministry. There is, however, another list even more ancient of ‘marks’ of the church. The First Council of Constantinople (and the subsequent Nicene Creed) in 381 declared “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The Church globally and historically is one body with one Lord and one faith; The Church is holy – set apart for noble use; The Church is catholic (small ‘c’) meaning kata holon (Greek – according to the whole) – it’s a universally joined up whole; the Church is apostolic, founded upon the teaching of apostles.

These two lists taken together are pleasingly complimentary. The first speaks of what the gathered assembly of believers are to do to build one another up. The second speaks of what we are and how we relate to the wider church and wider world. I’ve spent time before thinking about the first three from Calvin, but I need to think more about the meaning and implications of the Nicene four marks. One recent writer pointedly notes Calvin’s set are in danger of making the church into a place where you go to; the Nicene marks speaks of what the church is and what they are to be about. Personally I don’t think they’re in competition, but it’s definitely provided food for thought.


4 Replies to “Seven Ancient Marks of the Church”

  1. Hello Mate,

    Interesting stuff…I was thinking about those 7 the other day after looking over some of the ecclesiology stuff we did with Ray at The Hill. Do these 7 miss out some sort of ‘spreading’ the word / mission aspect of the church do you think, or is it bound up as a natural response to the preaching of the word and the teaching of the apostles, and for that matter being ‘holy’ and distinctive in the world?

    Just a thought.

    1. Thanks Dan. I came across these thoughts in a book about the missional church. The were pro-Nicene arguing that the “holy” bit referred to a set apart-ness for service, particularly regarding serving the world in mission. Hope that helps clarify. Hope you and the family are well. Ideas of next steps yet?

  2. Preaching on 1 Thes. 1 on Sunday – about as ancient as you can get on NT church 🙂 The church is the “model” church 1(v.7), so I’m thinking of writing “Marks of a Model Church” (may be my retirement fund). I think there are three or four marks there (can’t decide whether to have vv.3-5 as one mark under God’s choice or two), but interestingly that missional holy people thing is quite clear in v.8.

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