The Communion of the Saints
Long ago, in a church in a Korean church in Kansas City, my Sunday School teacher presciently decided that we should know the Apostle's Creed and The Lord's Prayer. The Apostle's Creed goes like this:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Creed - unlike the Lord's Prayer - is not found, per se, in the Bible, yet it draws everything from the Bible. It's so simple a child could easily memorize it - and so rich with content that theologians could study - and hotly debate - it's content for hundreds of years (This is just plain historical observation!) It is a tutorial statement and a polemic against heresy, as well as a definer of orthodoxy.
It basically says this, fundamentally, is what Christians believe. If you don't believe Jesus is the son of God, you're not a Christian; if you don't believe he was born of a virgin, you're not a Christian; if you don't believe he raised from the dead, you're not a Christian. It doesn't mean that's all you have to do - a relationship with the living God is not about mere mental ascent to doctrine. Soteriology is not the purpose of the Creed
But what I want to focus on is the phrase "the communion of saints."
It's not talking about Christians who join together on Sunday and worship by taking communion (although it doesn't NOT mean that), it means the intentional gathering of all believers for the purpose of fellowship. Here's a link for a more cogent discussion, but what I want to focus on is WHY the communion of saints is so important. This could go a long time - and in fact, learning and growing in it should take a life-time - but let me use our Grace Membership Covenant as a focus point.
At Grace, we use a Membership Covenant to help us agree on what should be corporately committed to. What is our life but the sum of our commitments? So, at Grace, we affirm three statements about what we believe we should be committed to and the consequences that might arise.
I belong to God's family with other believers. One aspect of the communion of saints means that we're fellow citizens with God's people and members of his household. I'm not alone. I a part of God's Family. I love the word family - It tells me that my gifting may be important - but that doesn't make e valuable - I've valuable because I'm cherished by God along with my brothers and sisters. Another way of looking at it is that just as I had no say in my physical birth and who my brothers and sisters are, I am included because of love - but God doesn't need my permission. And just like healthy families, he has some expectations. And that's where the next two aspects come in ...
I need the support of other Christians. The Bible tells us that we need to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds." (Heb 10:24) Now, that's quite a bit in those few words. It means that (a) we all need to be intentional towards each other about encouraging each other to love and good deeds, and (b) it means there will be times we won't want it - ergo, the "spur" comment. In fact, the Greek word means to incite, stimulate, provoke - even irritate. We need each other - and we need to need each other. We sometimes think that brotherhood just happens. But that's not true. It's nice if church staff makes it easier to make those connections, but the bottom line is that we have to make it happen - every day, every week, every year - until we die. But we do this because Jesus made it clear about his intentions in John 15:9-17: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other. Don't read over that too quickly. Think on who spoke them. Think about what he holds very dear. Because the sooner we accept the fact that this is THE goal we must reach for - of which there are grave and beautiful consequences - we will not see "loving each other" as some mere theoretical ideal. To learn to love our brothers and sisters the way that would please God is a noble, life-long ambition, and we waste not time, talent or resource on it's perfection.
I am in important part of the Body of Christ. The communion of the saints also means that there are no needless or spare parts in the Body. We are interconnected and interdependent on each other. Now you are the body of Christ, Paul said, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Cor. 12:27) Sometimes I marvel at how the Church has survived so long as fractured as we've been all these years. The answer, of course, is that God has kept us going - we may limp across the Finish Line of history, but we'll get there. But it doesn't have to be that way, right? This hints at another exciting aspect of the communion of the saints: each person brings a different but necessary functionality. Paul wrote: From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Paul had no idea of a modern understanding of the complexity of our bodies' homeostatic ability. Do you know how problematic it would be if your body couldn't regulate temperature, moisture, heart-rate, blood pressure, digestion, etc.? A thousand things are going on even as you read this ... and you don't have to think about it. God wants the Body of Christ to function similarly in this world as His Witness and incorporate more into the Body through evangelism and church discipleship. And how does the Body of Christ build itself up? Paul clarified this further when he spoke of the Spiritual Gifts God gives to the Church as we minister to each other. It is a fallacy to believe that only "the professional" pastors can do ministry - that's an indignancy to the wisdom and gifting of the Holy Spirit, and woefully inappropriate and ineffectual way for the Body to support itself. I realize that for some of us, that's VERY different from the way you "did" church - I would just ask you to attend 301 Discovering Ministry and tell me what you think of afterwards.
The Communion of Saints. Sure, the language may be archaic, and it's a mouthful - and will take a life-time - to really express. God never intended for the church to become a religious institution to explore religious thought. He meant for us to be an intentional community. So, if church really isn't a place we go to but a collective of who we are and how we relate, what is that called? But think of a world where the Body of Christ, filled with the Spirit of Christ, utilized the Gifts of the Spirit every day ... maybe there is no other way of saying it but that it is ... the communion of saints!