July 8, 2013
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).