The communion of the saints is bipartite in focus; the two paragraphs that comprise this chapter of the LBC 1689 first present the saints’ communion with Christ, then the saints’ communion with one another. This follows a Scriptural pattern wherein the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) and Christ’s discussion of the most important commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) deal first with our relationship to God as this is where we find the source of meaningful relationship with each other.
Communion is a beautiful word that consists of the words commune/community and union/unity. The concept of intimate sharing together is intrinsic to communion and is an identifying feature of what it means to be a saint - a true follower of Christ Jesus. Walking together in communion with our Lord necessitates walking in communion with other believers, and walking in communion with other believers necessitates walking in communion with the Lord. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer asks that His followers may be one as He and the Father are one (John 17.21). The love displayed in this communion testifies to the world that we are Christ’s disciples - in communion with Him (John 13.35). 1 John warns that if we fail to love one another then the love of the Father is not in us ( 2.9,11; 4.20-21). If we have no communion among saints, we have no communion with Christ.
The principle of the saints’ communion with Christ and with one another is conveyed in a few places pictorially. We are branches apart of a tree, the root being Christ (John 15.4-8). We are a body, all members of which work together for the mutual upbuilding and operation of the whole (Romans 12.1-21). The church is the bride waiting for her bridegroom - Christ (2 Corinthians 11.2, Ephesians 5.25-27, Revelation 19.7). We are a building in which God’s people are living stones being built up with Christ as the cornerstone (1 Peter 2.4-6). Each of these shows a part that finds identity, meaning, and fulfilment in the whole. A branch on its own has fallen or been cut from a tree and either rots, is used for firewood or is otherwise disposed of. In order to be a bride, you must have a groom. In order to be a body, you must have different body parts that operate for better or worse in conjunction with one another. A stone on its own is a bit of rubble that seems to serve no great purpose - when collected with others, it can comprise a great building.
There is indeed another picture that points to our communion with Christ and with one another; this is through the profession of faith made in baptism. The confession acclaims that we have fellowship in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. The Scriptures indicate that baptism is the profession of this new-birth reality. In baptism, we assert: “buried with Christ in baptism, raised [with Christ] to walk in newness of life”. Baptism, while a testimony to union with Christ, should also serve as an indicator of union with God’s people in the local church. We are not raised to walk-in newness on our own but as part of the body of believers. Hence why my personal encouragement is for churches to see baptism as the beginning point of church membership. It does not seem to be in keeping with God’s Word and the truths confessed in the LBC 1689 to delay the welcome and responsibilities of church membership after an individual has been baptised by imposing further processes for entry that are, frankly, extra-biblical. In professing communion with Christ, there should also be an understanding of communion with each other - communion in each other’s gifts and graces. Very much in affirmation of the imagery of Romans 12, we are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward. The faith we profess in baptism must naturally lead to the maintenance of communion with each other in order for that faith to be known as living. The gathering together for worship and encouragement of one another is not a mere nicety to be prioritised in peacetime but a necessary tonic to encourage, strengthen, revitalize, and renew when times are tough. It is through Christian communion with one another that we find the context of relieving one another as able and necessary, bearing one another burdens. While this communion finds its place specifically in local church practice, the same spirit of generosity and love should be offered when an opportunity arises to the household of faith - all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
Confessionally, it is essential for the life and health of local churches to make more of the communion of saints. We can become so busy with our own little lives that church is not really a family of belonging, but a place we go a couple of times a week to carry out observances. Sadly many that hold to the 1689 I fear remain locked most days of the week with minimal familial behaviour between members, and in some cases, I suspect next to no community impact. To be sure, once a church has lost its love, it can be a long process to see such communion restored. Therefore, it is essential that churches prioritise maximise their application of this oft ignored point of confession and where it has fallen by the wayside, prayerfully re-confess and enact these most beautiful and rewarding truths founded in Christ’s life, death, burial, resurrection, and promised return.
Thursday 30th December 2021