"One Another's" and the Communion of Saints
Our current sermon series at Faith Church is going through many of the “one another” passages that we find in the New Testament (there are around 59 of them; you can find all of them listed here). As we have examined (or will examine) these calls to love one another (John 13:34, 35; 15:12, 17; Romans 15:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 3:8; 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5; also see Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 3:12), forgive "one another" (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), live in harmony with "one another" (Romans 12:6; 1 Peter 3:8), bear the burdens of "one another" (Galatians 6:2), be hospitable to "one another" (1 Peter 4:9), and encourage "one another" (1 Thessalonians 4:18; 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25), my mind has turned often to the part of the Apostles’ Creed that discusses the concept of the “communion of the saints.” What exactly does that mean? As a younger Christian, I wondered if this referred to taking communion together or something else related to that, but I was thankful to learn more about it from a couple of our church’s confessions of faith - the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession.
Communion of Saints in Heidelberg
The Heidelberg Catechism goes through the Apostles’ Creed and explains each phrase. The explanation given for “the communion of saints” covers two things. “First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts. Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members” (Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 56). This is a good reminder in this season that we need to focus not just on our own needs but also on the needs of others, as God has blessed us with gifts to help others and also has placed us in Christian community in a local church. I know I have been so caught up in my world and thinking through my own context that I have not been as focused as I could be on the needs of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I need to think of using my gifts to serve others not as an option but as a duty. These “one another’s” are not the sort of things to do “when I get around to it” but should be on the forefront of my mind.
Communion of Saints in Belgic
The Belgic Confession also discusses the communion of saints in Article 28, as it talks about “the obligation of church members.” Let me include the text of the article as a whole and then make some comments on it:
“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, people ought not to withdraw from it, content to be by themselves, regardless of their status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body. And to preserve this unity more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to God’s Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, in order to join this assembly wherever God has established it, even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result. And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.”
I wrote more about this article back in 2017 (see that post here), but wanted to take an excerpt from that previous post and apply it to our context today. The overall idea of this article is that we need to be part of a local church; it is not an optional thing but the obligation of one who is a Christ follower -- and it is not just that one should go to a church but identify with that church, serving to build up its other members and being guided by the leaders of the church (which best happens through some sort of formal membership when we make vows and then are held accountable). We live in a day and age when you can get all sorts of teaching and even worship experiences along with videos and podcasts, but these things do not fully offer what is found in the church, which is community. We must always remember that Jesus didn’t just die for you, he died for the church to make and build a church. He calls the church His bride; if you love Jesus, you need to love His bride (which you are a part of). As the confession reminds us, the church is labeled the body of Christ; if you love Jesus, you need to love His body. In fact, you can’t fully obey Jesus and live out these “one another” commands by listening to a podcast or just worshipping via video; you need a community of people to be obedient and live these out. This is especially important in this time in which it is easy to “consume” church by watching services online; even if we are staying home for health reasons, are we connected to a local church and also committed to using the things that God has given to us to help those in that particular local context?
The Gift of Community and Our Responsibilities in Light of It
These past few months have reminded us that being with others is a gift we can all too easily take for granted. et us embrace this gift and not only use it, but share it. The community of faith blesses us but also reminds us of our opportunity and responsibility to serve others. Let us love one another and live out these “one another’s” in our church communities now, showing a better way forward to the world around us.
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