The Marks as Signposts of the Journey to Unity in Mission

By Budde, Mitzi J. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Marks as Signposts of the Journey to Unity in Mission


Budde, Mitzi J., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


I. The Marks as Signposts of the Journey to Unity in Mission

Several years ago, I was invited to be a guest lecturer on the ecumenical agreements of my denomination for a class at a Protestant seminary. As I taught the class, it became clear to me that the students were well-informed about the Reformation divisions of the church, so much so that they became quite concerned to realize that their church had entered into full communion agreements with some of the modern-day denominational descendants of these divisions. Finally, I said to them, "You're talking about the Reformation as if it were yesterday." One of the students responded, "For us, it is like yesterday. We just finished the course two weeks ago!" At that moment, I realized that they had internalized the sixteenth-century divisions of Christianity for themselves as the key component of their identity, as the norm whereby they, as future clergy, would measure others, both inside and outside the church. Each new generation rediscovers and redraws the battle lines of division.

The marks of the church--"one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," as we confess in the Nicene Creed--challenge us to bridge the battle lines. The marks, classically considered to be notes or signs of the substance of faith, should not be considered merely a static definition of church. Rather, they are a process. We might view them as signposts on the pilgrimage, the Global Positioning System, if you will, guiding us on the journey to dialogue, witness, and engagement. The marks can be considered action verbs by which we encounter God (holiness) and engage the people of God (catholicity) in order to reveal the deep unity that exists in Jesus Christ (oneness) and transmit the faith of the church in ways that will speak to future generations, while remaining faithful to the tradition (apostolicity). The marks delineate the ways by which the Christ event becomes the church event, the way Christ's mission becomes the church's mission. No individual church can have the fullness of the marks of the church within itself; these marks "relate both to the nature of God's own being and to the practical demands of authentic mission," (1) in the context of the whole church. This is the girl and the call of ecumenism: to guide us to unity in mission.

The journey of ecumenism is to discern how fully one's own tradition reveals the marks of the church in its pilgrimage and to learn from fellow pilgrims how other traditions might broaden our own understanding of the ways and works of God. Pilgrims journey together for sharing and for safety. The church's pilgrimage provides sustenance through word and sacrament and safety through discernment and discipline. The church is the place created by Christ for a reliable encounter with the Holy Spirit through the gospel proclaimed, the sacraments celebrated, the fellowship of prayer and worship, and mutual affirmation and admonition. Church is the place where we are challenged to grow in our Christian walk, a place to be hallowed as a Christian people, a place where we are being made holy day by day, a place to be formed more deeply into the imago Dei we were created to be and to root out the sin that clings so closely. God leads God's people on the pilgrim way through the work of the Spirit, the apostolic ministry, and the priesthood of all believers, as God's people seek to discern the road and travel faithfully together with one another, in order to reach out to and engage the world. Our ecumenical work thereby draws us into mission, challenging us to deep listening, authentic engagement, and deepening trust and understanding in our pluralistic society.

Mission is first and foremost God's work in calling the church to share its message with others. It is God's event in creating, calling, converting, claiming, and caring for God's people as individuals and as the faith community that is the church. The church participates in God's mission (missio Dei) and is sent out in thankful response to God's activity. …

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