Missional Marks of the Church

No Silver Bullets by Daniel Im is one of the finest books on intentional discipleship I have read. It is a privilege to feature this excerpt from Daniel’s book where he challenges Christian leaders to shift to a kingdom perspective. In this post, he calls us to be intentionally missional in how we live our lives. I love Daniel’s goal of making missionary disciples of Jesus. He says ‘When you focus on developing missionary disciples, you will always get mature disciples.’ This is so true. Read my review of No Silver Bullets here.

– Darryl Eyb


If we go all the way back to the year AD 325 to the Council of Nicea, we encounter one of the first times the church had to clearly define itself in the face of heresy – the Arian controversy. The result of this council was the development of the Nicene Creed – the “most universally accepted Christian creed” – since it is accepted by both Western and Eastern churches, in contrast to the Apostles’ Creed, which is only accept by the Western churches.1 In the revised version of the Nicene Creed, which took place at the Council of Constantinople in AD 381, four words were added that outlined the marks of the church: “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”2

In God’s Missionary People, Charles Van Engen suggests a fascinating twist on these four marks from the Nicene Creed.

Maybe it is time we begin to see the four words of Nicea not as adjectives which modify a thing we know as the Church, but as adverbs which describe the missionary action of the Church’s essential life in the world. This would make the four be more than static “attributes,” more than testing ”marks,” and even more than dynamic “gifts and tasks.” It would see the four as planetary orbits of the Church’s missionary life in the world.3

By rewording these four marks from adjectives into adverbs, we discover a view of the church that has an end in mind. We can call these missional marks of the church. Lets walk through each one of them.

Nicene Missional Marks of the Church - Daniel Im No Silver Bullets
The Nicene Missional Marks of the Church4

1. One/Unifying

Missional Marks - Daniel ImChurches can take one of two postures when it comes to the first Nicene mark of the church. They can either draw out clear boundaries and police them, in order to define who is part of the one true Church and who isn’t, or they can actively join Christ in the work of unifying, since he said, “May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me” (John 17:21). As we see in this verse, churches that take on the task of unifying realize that unity is connected to mission. They also understand that while churches may not agree on everything, the one thing they can agree on is the Great Commission.

Consequently, this first missional mark is all about being a church that actively partners with others in Kingdom ministry around God’s mission and plan for the world.

2. Holy/Sanctifying

Churches can set themselves apart and detach from the world in their quest for holiness, or they can refuse to be like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and instead be a sanctifying force like the Samaritan – not just in their own member’s lives, but in the lives of those outside their church (Luke 10:25-37). After all, Jesus did not just stay on the mountaintop after the transfiguration; he came down and immediately ministered to a man who was possessed by a demon (Mark 9:1-29). As Jesus cast the demon out of this man, he helped start this man on his journey of sanctification. In this second missional mark, the church is called to be a sanctifying force by showing and demonstrating the effects of forgiveness and healing in Christ to this world.

‘Jesus did not just stay on the mountaintop after the transfiguration; he came down and immediately ministered to a man who was possessed by a demon’

3. Catholic/Reconciling

The third mark is not a jab at the Protestant church. Rather, it’s the generic use of the word catholic, which means “including many different things.”5 The missional adverb form to this adjective is reconciling. As a result, in the midst of brokenness, hatred, racism, and wars in our world, the church cannot be exclusive if others decide to join. Instead, the church has to be actively be about the ministry of reconciliation because we were first reconciled to God and then given this ministry (2 Cor. 5:17-20). It’s the church’s task to be “peacemakers” (Matt. 5:38-42). This is not passive catholicity; it’s active reconciliation.

It’s the church’s task to be “peacemakers”

4. Apostolic/Proclaiming

Lastly, while it’s definitely true that the church is built on the backs of the teaching and preaching of the biblical apostles, the fact is, the Word of God is still living and active today. Thus, we do not teach a dead historical document; rather, we proclaim the Word of God that “is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow” (Heb. 4:12). The church is called to follow the lead of the biblical apostles – though not claiming the title for ourselves – in continuing to preach, teach, disciple, witness, mobilize, and send for the sake of the gospel and the salvation of others.

‘We proclaim the Word of God that “is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword’

Missional Marks - Daniel ImWhen we alter the Nicene marks of the church from adjectives to adverbs, we make the micro-shift from maturity to missionary. Instead of maturing our churches to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, we are sending them out as everyday local and global missionaries to be a unifying, sanctifying, reconciling, and proclaiming force in this world that desperately needs to hear the good news of Christ. Thus, mission becomes central to the identity of the church, rather than a peripheral task that it checks off. “The essential nature of the local congregation is, in and of itself, mission, or else the congregation is not really the Church.”6

Read the Review of No Silver Bullets.

Excerpted with permission from No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that will Transform Your Ministry by Daniel Im. Copyright 2017, B&H Publishing Group.

Read the review of No Silver Bullets.

Daniel Im blogs at danielim.com.

Notes:

Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Present Day (Peabody, Prince Press, 2007), 165.

2 http://www.theopedia.com/nicene-creed

3 Charles Van Engen, God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church (Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Books, 1991), 68.

4 Ibid., 69.

“Catholic.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed October 21, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/catholic.

Van Engen, 70.

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