John Armstrong has an interesting Protestant perspective on the four marks of the Church, which, by the way, are One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. He quotes the theologian Jürgen Moltmann. In response to this, a commenter named Bryan Cross responded pretty convincingly:
Concerning Moltmann’s notion about the marks:
“Whenever we speak of any one of these marks, or all four of them together, we are making statements of hope, not statements about full possession.”
That seems to me to be a subtle way of saying “We do NOT believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. It is a way of denying the present full possession of the marks, on the ground that they will be more fully visible in the eschaton. But the greater future visibility of the marks, should not be taken to imply that the Church does not now fully possess them. In the Creed, the “resurrection of the dead” and the “life everlasting” are things we “look for” [Προσδοκῶ, expecto] as future. That’s why they are placed after the lines about the Church and baptism. The wording of the Creed is not such that we “look for” (as future) the marks, or baptism. Those are things the Church has now. The baptism we receive for the “forgiveness of sins” is placed right after “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” because this baptism is found (fully) in that Church. The Church doesn’t partly possess the marks, just as she doesn’t partly possess baptism.
Denying the Church’s present full possession of the marks is just one more way of excusing disunity among Christians as something we should expect until Christ returns. If the Church fully possesses the marks, then we have an obligation to be united to the Church’s unity. But if the Church does not fully possess the marks, then who are we to go beyond what Christ thought was proper to give to the Church in this age? And there goes the incentive for pursuing unity. If the Church does not already fully possess unity, then unity pursued in this age by ecumenicists becomes a man-made thing, rather than something that the God-man Jesus Christ deposited irrevocably and indefeasibily in His Church.
In the peace of Christ,
This response got me interested. Sure enough, Cross is a convert to Catholicism (by way of first Pentecostalism, then Calvinism, then Anglicanism), and runs a blog dedicated to Christian unity. It looks excellent, so I’m adding it to the right side of the page. Feel free to check it out!
For his part, John Armstrong replied to Bryan pretty intelligently. While conceding the brunt of his analysis, John pointed out that we pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” even though the Kingdom has already arrived. We’ve got it now partially, and we’re praying for it to come in the future fully. I can certainly see where he’s coming from, but I still feel that given the full Creed, Bryan’s got the stronger argument.