church [probably Gr., = divine], aggregation of Christian believers. The traditional belief has the church the community of believers, living and dead, headed by Jesus, who founded it in the apostles. This is the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ (Eph. 1.22–23). Some divisions speak of the church militant (the living), the church suffering (the dead in purgatory), and the church triumphant (the saints of heaven). The church is said to be recognizable by four marks (as in the Nicene Creed): it is one (united), holy (producing holy lives), catholic (universal, supranational), and apostolic (having continuity with the apostles). In the Orthodox Eastern Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of England, crucial importance is attached to the unbroken tradition, as handed down through the Holy Ghost (see apostolic succession); with this doctrine goes the apostolic power to administer grace through the sacraments. Certain men of the Reformation rejected the doctrine of apostolic succession and substituted for the authority of the church the authority of Scripture alone. Protestants generally interpret the oneness of the church in a mystical sense; the true church is held to be invisibly present in all Christian denominations. The ecumenical movement in recent years has stimulated fresh study on the doctrine of the church.
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