July 14, 2013
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).