At times one sees disharmony, bickering, and even hatred at evidence in the church of Jesus Christ as it is manifest here below. There is, perhaps, nothing that grieves the soul of a pastor more than to see such lack of love and mutual concern in the flock which he shepherdizes.
Certainly, these things do not reflect the image that the Scriptures give to us of the church. She is the body of Christ and each of us are members in particular of that glorious body. We are Christ’s body! That means that as His members we are partakers of His love, mercy, lovingkindness, tenderheartedness, gentleness, and the root of all these, His Spirit. How sad, how unbecoming, when we as Christ’s members let sin obscure the wonderful gifts which He has given to us. Oh, true, this side of the grave we are plagued and subverted by the flesh. But this must never become an excuse! We must at all times, with great spiritual reign, manifest our true essence as Christ’s body amongst ourselves and so be manifest as such before the world.
To the end that we, as congregations and churches, may better be equipped for this high calling, we desire to furnish a few practical remarks and observations.
In order to be sufficiently impressed by the seriousness of the matter under consideration it would not be superfluous for us to touch upon the Scriptural basis of the idea of the communion of the saints. The fellowship that must be present in the church is implicit in the definition of the church which the Bible gives us. We read, “. . .and gave him (i.e. Christ) to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body. . . .” (Eph 1:22, 23) Here and in other places the Scriptures use the figure of a body to reveal to us the idea of the church. We may therefore assume that there is a certain identity between the church and a body. And the characteristic which is of chief interest to us here, is that a body is a whole or unity that functions through various diversified members. To illustrate this we may consider ourselves for a moment. If I set out to accomplish a certain task, many members of my body must properly function in order to accomplish it. I must direct my hands and feet with my head. Yet the head without the dexterity of my fingers is useless. Or, if my feet refuse to function, I am immobile. Every member must work together in its own differing capacity, and only then will I be able to accomplish my end purpose. It is no different with the church. This physical figure illustrates to us a spiritual reality. The church is Christ’s body spiritually. That which binds every member, each of us, into one whole is the tie of faith which we have to Christ. We are spiritually one because we all possess His Spirit.
But, lest we miss a vital point, let us add immediately, that in the application of this spiritual truth it is an impossibility to sever the spiritual from the physical. Let us make this plain. Someone may say to us, but your tie is spiritual, that has nothing to do with your physical day to day dealings. Exactly here you have the key point regarding our subject. This we must clearly understand. Our spiritual unity must override and encompass our physical relationship. Does not our spiritual rebirth drastically affect our daily physical life in every activity? So also, the spiritual unity which we have in Christ manifests itself in our natural relationships.
Having these things ingrained in our consciousness we can proceed to the idea of the communion of the saints itself. We must take note that the communion of which we are speaking is enjoyed exclusively by “saints.” There is one erroneous conception which must be eradicated regarding the word saint, namely, the lingering Roman Catholic notion that a saint is a canonized, Christian hero of sorts. Often times our children hold this misconception. We must not think of a saint as a “super-Christian” who has earned his title by his pious life and deeds. Rather, a saint is a Christian. We who profess to belong to the church of Christ are saints! We need simply to follow biblical usage here. The Psalmist speaks of the “congregation of the saints.” Paul in his epistles addresses the churches as “saints.” Literally the Scriptural word is “holy ones.” This does not mean that we are called saints because of our own holiness and perfection. But rather, we are called saints because we belong to the church of Christ and are made holy and perfect in the blood of Christ Who redeemed us unto Himself as God’s Church. Our holiness, or sainthood, if you prefer, is grounded in the fact that we are members of His body! We reiterate that the communion of which we will presently speak, is the exclusive experience of such saints. We might mention here as an aside, that the modern church world does not understand this. Though some speak of a certain bond of brotherhood from a material viewpoint, the truth is that the fellowship and communion necessary and vital to a congregation is rooted in a common, spiritual bond with Christ. An emphasis upon social functions, parties, corps, and what have you can never be the root of a true unity. Rather, these are the outgrowth of a deeper unity that is a bond with Christ, the Head of His Church. It is for this very reason that they attempt to bolster congregational unity, lagging church attendance, and waning membership roles by scheduling all manner of social interaction instead of preaching the Gospel that commands, “be ye holy as I am holy.” They can never be successful.
At any rate, true saints experience fellowship in the bond of Christ. The word communion, which in our confession designates this fellowship, is a very expressive word. Communion is an act of sharing, participation, and mutual intimate intercourse. An inherent characteristic of this word is that it presupposes interaction. Communion is never one-sided. This is an impossibility. It always designates friendship, mutual sharing, and concern. It requires more than one party. Communion of saints, therefore, designates that “holy ones” have mutual intercourse, sharing and concern, between and among themselves.
We must move on to consider together how such a communion of the saints works itself out in an extremely practical way in the church. A certain implication is that there is one common, unifying principle that is spiritual in the church. But we have dwelt upon this at great length. Let us move on to the practicalities. This unifying principle dictates that there be one common life style amongst us. We do not mean by this that from a physical viewpoint we all live exactly the same. This is not so. We all have our natural likes and dislikes. Our tastes vary. Our fellowship is not in and around natural, physical things or interests. This is the manner of the world. But, all those who are saints have a certain underlying spiritual principle that guides them in the whole of their life. And that principle is the dictator of the Spirit of Christ. According to this principle we strive after a godly life, struggle against the desires and lusts of the flesh, and walk as pilgrims and strangers here below.
Implied in the communion of the saints is yet something else. Not only is there a principle that unifies the saints but there is also a necessity of diversity. That is, in order to have fellowship as saints in Christ, we must have a common ground, namely the indwelling of His Spirit. But at the same time, there must be differentiation among us. The latter is easily understood. For example, if you had two individuals that were identical, communion would be impossible. If they were one in thought, activity, personality, and ability, then there could be no interaction of any kind. An exchange of various ideas or a helping each other with regard to differing abilities would be out of the question. So it is with the church of Jesus Christ. We are all members in particular! Just as our bodies are not all thumbs or feet, but diversified and specialized members that make up the whole, so God endows His saints with widely varying gifts. To some within the congregation God gives the ability to teach, to others the ability to pray, and to yet others ability to comfort. These spiritual and physical gifts and abilities are in order that the whole might plausibly function.
This very fact carries with it an injunction. We must employ and exercise ourselves as particular and unique members in the church of Christ as a whole. This is not some nice theory but a serious calling. As members of the church, God does not give unto us varied abilities for our own advancement and welfare. Though this may go with it, the primary purpose of our specific gifts is to benefit the church as a body! We must never serve ourselves but each other and in this way the communion of the saints is advanced and strengthened. Does God give us a strong faith? Let us use it to strengthen the weak and so to build the church. Don’t hide the gift of wisdom, but share it dutifully to the enlightenment of the church.
Our calling is inescapable. We are members of the body of Christ. No member of Christ’s body is dispensable! When a member does not function, the body is hindered. If we do not function in our place and specific calling in our congregation, the body of Christ becomes spiritually hindered. Let us determine our gifts and talents and use them to further the body of Christ. Then God is more fully glorified. Then we walk in His fear!