It belongs to the nature of Christian theology that all of its questions have a practical, vital character. In the trinitarian and Christological controversies which accompanied the decline of the ancient world, the issue was: what did it mean that God had entered the world to redeem it. The doctrinal discussions of the age of the Reformation centered on the vital question of how man can stand in the divine judgment toward which all human life is moving. Thus a very practical question also stands behind the theological debates which in this “century of the church” dominate the theology of all Christendom: If we all confess the only holy Church, what do we mean by that and what does the reality of this Church mean to an age in which the entire social life of mankind is undergoing unprecedented revolutionary changes?
What is the Church? Every branch of Christendom has to give its answer, and none of the answers so far given can claim finality. This is shown by the remarkable fact that even the elaborate doctrinal system of the Roman Catholic Church to this day does not contain a dogmatic statement on the nature of the Church. Up to the beginning of the sixteenth century all Christendom was satisfied with the clause of the Nicene Creed: “I believe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” The churches of the East have never gone beyond this. They have left the exposition of this article to the theologians. But none of their theories have become dogma.
It was the Reformation which caused the first dogmatic statements on what the Church of Christ is. When the Reformers found themselves excommunicated by the pope, they had to show that this condemnation did not exclude them from the Church which is confessed by the creed. The ...1
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