What Do We Mean by “The Communion of Saints”?
When Christians recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship, we speak the line: “I believe in … the communion of saints.” What does this mean? The word “saints” here does not refer to a select group of super-Christians but to any and every believer in Jesus Christ. The word “communion” is not talking about the Lord’s Supper but about the relationship that exists between Christians.
When we affirm our faith in the communion of saints, we profess our belief in three basic biblical truths.
1) Christians are truly united to each other in Christ.
The Bible teaches that, when we come to faith in God’s Son, we are given a union with Christ that is spiritual, eternal, and real. 1 John 4:13 says that “we abide in him and he in us.”
Since all Christians are united to Christ, we are also united to each other. We are spiritually connected to all people who call on the name of Jesus, whoever they may be, of any nationality, of any denomination, male or female, rich or poor, in heaven or on earth.
This union between believers exists whether we acknowledge it or not. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
An old chorus that used to be sung in Latino churches is “Dame la mano.” The song says, “It does not matter what church you attend. If you stand at calvary and your heart is like mine, give me your hand. You are my brother or sister.” This song celebrates a truth expressed in the doctrine of the communion of saints. In Christ we are one.
2) Christians have a duty to live in fellowship with other believers.
Affirming our belief in the communion of saints is more than just a tip of the hat toward a theoretical doctrine of spiritual oneness. It is also a confession that we have a responsibility to live in community with other believers right now.
Anyone who recites the Apostles’ Creed in private, but never participates in the life of a local church, will be lying when they come to the line about the communion of saints. If we truly believe that we are spiritually connected to other Christians, then our lives ought to show it. Our Savior does not want us to isolate ourselves from other believers. (See John 15:12 and Hebrews 10:25.) A Christian who shuns active involvement in a community of faith is outside the will of the Lord. As members of Christ’s body, we are to stay connected with each other. 1 Corinthians 12:21 says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’”
3) Christians are called to serve each other spiritually and physically.
In its explanation of the doctrine of the communion of saints, The Heidelberg Catechism says that “each member [of the Church] should consider it a duty to use [their] gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.” In other words, since I am united with other believers in Christ, I must not turn my back on a brother or sister in need.
What might other believers need that I can offer? One may need a word of encouragement. Another may need to be uplifted in prayer. Perhaps a sister will need me to forgive her for having hurt me. Maybe a brother will need a warm meal in my home. The Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us that we are “bound to [perform] such spiritual services as tend to [each other’s] mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to [our] abilities.”
So, these are the truths we affirm when we recite, “I believe in … the communion of saints.” We declare that, in Christ, we are spiritually connected to all believers everywhere. We acknowledge that we have a responsibility to live in community with other Christians. And we state our intention, with God’s help, to serve our brothers and sisters as we are able. The fact that these matters are included in a historic creed of the Church indicates that our relationships with each other are of primary importance to our Lord.