Over at “Jesus Creed” today Scot McKnight revisits the perennial question of the “marks of the church.” Probably the most widely used set of such “marks” is that found in the Nicene Creed: “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity – these characteristics make a church “church.”
While the church is these things in Christ, it has a long way to go to realize them in practice. Therefore, we confess them in hope, trusting that by God’s mercy and grace, we will be what we already are as Christ’s church.
We cannot, therefore, but treat these marks as works in progress in the church. But what might this 4th century language – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic – signify for us today? I think we get a big assist in discerning this significance from the wonderful movie "Remember the Titans." A northern Virginia high school football power is entering its first year of desegregation. It hires a black head coach to replace its popular head coach. The coach faces the difficult job of shaping his squad of white and black players into a team. As they prepare for the first game, the coach leads them in what would become their motto.
“Who are we?” the coach asks.
“The Titans!” the team answers back.
“What are we?” he asks.
And the team responds: “We are mobile, agile, and hostile.”
Mobile, agile, and hostile – I like that. And if we add “fragile” to them we have a fresh dynamic way of understanding who we are and what we are to be about as God’s people.
We are a people:
-ready to move into a new future with the Lord, participating in his mission in the world;
-on the way, who do not ultimately draw our sense of identity or vocation from kith and kin but from the One into whose name we are baptized and into the diverse community he calls to follow him;
-willing to forgo our own security for the sake of the Jesus we are following, the One who had no place to lay his head.
We are a people who:
-seek relationships, both within the community and with the world around us;
-accept and even embrace change and seek to ride the front edge of the wave;
-resist the lure of the spectacle which often renders us unable to act in meaningful ways as well as the token, often media-driven “actions” that yield little effect;
-like our Lord, are willing and able to bend the knee, take up the basin and serve all others by washing their feet.
We are a people who
-serve a Empire that “comes violently” (Mt.11:12); and a Lord who came “not to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt.10:34);
-live and tell the truth, which, in a world built on lies and illusions cannot help but disturb the peace (we tell the truth especially about ourselves, thus we are a humble people);
-practice the “violence of love” (Oscar Romero) and are equipped by God with his own “armor” for the struggle (Eph.6:10-20) and overcome the enemy (spiritual forces of evil, not human beings) by Jesus’ victory at the cross, our own faithful testimony to him, and our willingness to even give up our lives serving him, and
-are called to be part of Jesus’ subversive Counter-Revolutionary movement, to live out a different life as we play our roles in God’s Empire struggle.
-a broken people who have found healing in Jesus Christ;
-continue to be a broken people who keep on finding healing in Jesus Christ (this vulnerability to owning our brokenness and receiving Jesus’ healing touch enables us to offer others that very same comfort and healing as they face their own brokenness);
-are called to “bear our cross,” to live as suffering servants, indeed even “Silent Servants of the Used, Abused, and Utterly Screwed Up” (from Thomas Klise’s The Last Western).
Such a community - mobile, agile, hostile, and fragile – is that one, holy, catholic, and apostolic community that both reflects the will and way of the God it serves and stands in solidarity with the world around it, caring for them, receiving the gifts they bring to us, and, in prayerful solidarity, bear them into the reality of God’s love even if they do not acknowledge or embrace that love.