An imaginary case.
Several young people appear at the consistory.
To make confession of faith? No. They are confessing members, and very pious.
What brings them here is this: The minister had most excellently preached on Lord’s Day XXI about the communion of saints and had emphasized that “everyone must know it his duty readily and cheerfully to use his gifts for the advantage and salvation of other members”. The minister could not, of course, elaborate on every detail of this Christian function.
But it was just those details that brought the young people here this evening.
So their problem was: exactly what does it mean in our congregation to practice this communion of saints? What does that mean to us and to all of us?
In short, they wanted to have the church interpret for them, in practical terms, how they may use their gifts unto the advantage of the other members.
The consistory had truly never been confronted with anything quite like this before. And the minister saw it was his duty to give these young people, of both sexes, an answer to their pious and urgent question.
An answer ought to be given.
Someone proposed that they should know by this time what the communion of saints means and what it means to use their gifts to the advantage and salvation of other members. But what of it if they should know it? They do not know it, and they must be assisted.
Generalities would not do. All were agreed on the Reformed truth which underlay the communion of saints. . . . what the young people wanted to know was how to interpret the communion of saints in terms of their every day life.
To give this answer was not so easy.
Should they approach it this way as to tell the young people exactly what work the church can do, and then leave it to them how they would take part in that work? If it is the duty of the church to preach the Gospel, is that then the duty of one or a few or is this the calling of all of them together? So that would need explanation.
One of the elder brethren remarked to the effect that the “work” of the church was being carried out by the elders, ministers and deacons. And that remark was to the point, indeed. But would that mean that just those few men were functioning and the rest look on. Each has his own appointed office, and God has set them in their places, and called them so that the one may not intrude into the work of the other. But have just those few a “calling” and the others none.
Another remarked that there were pianists and a janitor, but that “work” was being done. Hence the young people could have no part in this work now. All were doing their work well and using their gifts to the advantage of the whole, and it were presumption on their part to intrude.
On that basis there was really not much that these young people could do. Or should they approach it this way that they ascertain what gifts each one had and then attempt to direct the use of that gift toward the welfare of the whole?
That would not do either.
Before there could be an answer given to these young people the consistory itself had to come to a united opinion.
Dogmatically they well understood that one of the priceless treasures handed down to us from the days of the Reformation was that of the Office of All Believers. In this office however they function not only toward within, but also toward without. That is, they stand in the office of all believers also in the home, the factory, the shop, everywhere where they confess their Lord. Surely Christ has instituted the special offices, elders and deacons, but Christ has also instituted the office of all believers. That was dogmatically sound. And it is good always to be dogmatically sound. But in practice things were not so sound. As far as the consciousness of the church was concerned the people figured that if the minister, the elders and the deacons functioned, there was little other work left. Besides that, in practice, the work was pretty well left to them also. Several people therefore functioned, the rest, well, really, what could they do?
It was just that thing which pressed for a solution.
One of the brethren proposed that perhaps the church could stand a few ushers. That was a solution. Or wasn’t it?
No, that is not the solution.
There is danger here of becoming mechanical. The church is surely not a factory where men create jobs and other men apply. God forbid.
The communion of saints is the mystical union, with Christ, and then with one another. And the members are members of one body. The Body grows from within. Beware then, let’s not become mechanical.
But now, let the consistory indicate plainly what the communion of saints means, and then tell these young people how they can use their gifts unto the end that the body may be edified.
What can they do?
It is difficult to tell them just what they can do.
It is splendid however that they want to function, and that must not be discouraged.
We could answer them, and say: if any of you feel the calling and have the gifts to become ministers, teachers, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, nurses, Christian doctors, develop these gifts. Acquire the proper education and wait until the Lord calls you here or there. All the while that you do that, you are doing something, and actually using your gifts for the advantage and salvation of others. Doing something includes also preparing yourself for your life’s service or calling. But this is the long-range view.
What about now and today?
What can we do for the edification of the brotherhood?
Can you do a day’s work? Yes, all of you can do that. Isn’t it a gift that you are capable of performing a day’s work, of maintaining a family and bringing up that family in the fear of God. What would become of the church if you refused to have children, refused to raise families, refused to bring them up in the fear of the Lord. There at least is a task in which you can engage, and in fact you are already engaged.
And by your successful occupation you have something to contribute toward the cause of the church, something to give to the Christian school, for the missions, and the poor. That you labor diligently, and bring the overflow of your gratitude to the collection plate; isn’t that the communion of saints in practice?
And isn’t it edifying for the church to see you and your family in church every Sunday with unfailing regularity. We assure you that regular attendance at the services and consecrated interest in what is preached are two things which help immeasurably for the edification of all the brethren.
It helps the Men’s Society when you are present there and when you take part in their activity. The more of you that are present and the more of you that take part, the more all are edified.
Can you pray? Pray for one another.
Can you confess your faults one to another, then James says: do that.
Can you sing? If you can’t you can learn it. And sing when you are in church, sing then with others, sing with the family.
What can we do?
The field is still larger than we have indicated.
You may also make it your work to find that still larger field.