Results tagged “communion of saints” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 26.3

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iii.This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of His Godhead; or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous. Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.
When necessary, the Westminster Confession of Faith protects its doctrines from misunderstanding, or even heresy. Here the Confession clarifies the communion of the saints by considering two inferences that someone might reasonably make from this doctrine and then ruling them out.

The first wrong inference is that the connection the saints have with Christ somehow makes them divine. The Confession's strong doctrine of union with Christ emphasizes the closeness of the connection we have with Christ in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and glory. We are his very body.

This might lead some to believe that we ourselves become part of God himself, sharing his deity. Indeed, some branches of Christendom have argued for the divinization of redeemed humanity. But the Confession straightforwardly denies that we participate in the substance of the Godhead or become equal to Christ. Our union with Christ and communion with one another do not erase the proper distinction between the Creator and the creature.

Another inference some may draw from the communion of the saints is that Christians do not have the right to personal property. After all, caring for the material needs of other believers is not an option for us, but a duty. Furthermore, in saying that the saints "have communion in each other's gifts," the Confession says that we have a rightful claim on the goods of other believers.

But this inference, too, is mistaken. The right of personal property is taught throughout the Scriptures. Even in the Jerusalem church, when the followers of Christ shared everything in common (Acts 4:32), the apostles defended the right of individual Christians to hold, sell, or give away their property (Acts 5:4)--a right that preserves the freedom and the joy of generous giving.  

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and author of Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway 2012).

Chapter 26.2, part two

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ii. Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. 
The communion of the saints is not merely local; it is also global. As God gives us the opportunity, the Confession says, our co-union in Christ "is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus." 

This statement casts a surprisingly expansive and inclusive vision for the communion of saints, especially when we remember the context in which it was written. Recall that the Westminster Confession was drafted during England's civil war. Remember as well that this was centuries before the missionary work of the gospel became a priority for most reformed and evangelical churches. Nevertheless, the pastors and theologians of the Westminster Assembly believed that they were part of a spiritual communion that was, in principle, as big as the whole wide world.  

The communion of the saints includes every believer--anyone who names Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. No distinction of gender, determination of age, or discrimination of ethnicity should set a limit on our love or establish a boundary on the care we offer to the bodies and souls of other believers. The Confession thus establishes--ahead of its time, in many ways--a principle of Christian inclusion that can break down generational barriers, destroy sexism, and defeat racial discrimination. Our co-union with Christ connects us to every other Christian.

To repeat a qualification that has already been made, this does not mean that we have an obligation personally to meet every need. Even if we have communion in Christ with saints in far places, we may not always be aware of their needs or in the best position to meet them. But the Confession rightly calls us to look far beyond our own immediate context and to consider how God may call us to serve any believer anywhere.  

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and author of Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway 2012).

Chapter 26.1, part two

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i. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.

Because we are united to Jesus Christ, we are also united to one another--a communion of love. 

The love we share within the communion of the saints is not a mere emotion. Still less is it a spiritual abstraction. Rather, the love that unites us comes to practical expression as we share our "gifts and graces" with one another.

In referring to "gifts" and "graces," the Confession is not trying to make a careful theological distinction, but to be all inclusive. Whatever we have--natural abilities, spiritual gifts, material resources--is meant to be shared with other believers in Christ. 

God has not given us these "gifts and graces" solely for our own benefit, but for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ. What belongs to one person is meant to be shared with everyone. This is what it means to have communion "in each other's" spiritual and material blessings: what God has given to us is designed to be used for others, so that we can all share in his blessing.

This principle--that the communion of the saints means sharing our gifts and graces--gives every believer the holy duty to do all the good we can for one another. 
We will do some of this good in public, such as the pastor who uses the gift of preaching the spiritual benefit of his congregation. Some of the good we do for one another will be done in private, such as the gift card we leave in the mailbox for a family with financial needs. The communion of the saints calls us to care for the bodies and the souls of our brothers and sisters in the family of God.  

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and author of Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway 2012).

Chapter 26.1

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i. All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. 
"I believe in the communion of saints."

Although many Christians make this confession when they recite The Apostles' Creed, few have any clear idea what it means. Who are the "saints"? And what kind of "communion" do they share? Westminster Standards is nearly unique among Protestant confessions in devoting a full chapter to the exposition of this vital but little understood doctrine.  

The communion of the saints does not refer to the fellowship that departed believers enjoy in heaven, or to some form of personal communication between the living and the dead. It is not identical with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or with the church, although those are both places where saints have communion with one another. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith puts the practical doctrine of the communion of the saints in its proper theological context by beginning with union with Christ. As the Confession has explained elsewhere, every believer is united to Christ. By the Holy Spirit and by faith, we are spiritually connected to everything that Jesus has done for our salvation: his death, his resurrection, and his glorification.  

But if we enjoy a living relationship to Christ, then we must also be joined to one another. We are in co-union--or communion--with everyone else who is united to Christ, whether living or dead.  

So "the communion of saints" is first of all a spiritual reality. The bond that joins us together is love. Our living relationship with all other believers is also a loving relationship. And as we shall see, this has wide-ranging implications for the Christian life.

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College and author of Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway 2012).