Chapter 26.2, part two
July 12, 2013
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).