Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Communion of Saints

Protestants don't talk much about "the communion of saints"; Roman Catholics seem to focus only on it meaning that we commune with dead saints.

I take it primarily as a summary statement of the communion we have with one another in the church (and specifically in the visible, local church). As in Paul's comment in Ro 12.5, "So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."

Paul here seems to teach that we're not just all individually united with Christ, but that we're united with one another as well. Because we are united vertically with Christ, therefore we are united horizontally with one another. Therefore we rejoice when another rejoices, we weep when another weeps, & etc.

This "communion" seems to me to answer how it is that those who leave "house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for my sake and for the gospel's sake . . . shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the world to come, eternal life" (Mk 10.29-30). We receive a hundred times as much because we are united with Christ's body, which is to say in being with Christ we are united with all others who are united with Christ. As a result, we have what they have, and so we gain hundreds more of what we left.

Jesus seems to say that the expression of our communion with one another is one means by which the world recognizes us as his disciples: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13.34-35).

I don't want to go all misty-eyed here, but my sense is that the church -- and local churches in particular -- really need to ratchet up this aspect of their life together in Christ, both for their own good (and just to "be" the church that Christ intends us to be), but also in order to speak to non-Christians (and nominal Christians) in this age. While I gag at the phrase "authentic community" -- the existence of "authentic community" seems inverse to the number of times the phrase is invoked -- I do think that striving better to live out "the communion of saints" in our churches is one way that the Spirit can use to show Christ to those who are alienated from God.


Blogger CPA said...

Good solution to that passage in Luke. It's puzzled me for a while, but I'm sure you're right on how it is to be interpreted.

Have you read Jim Ault's "Spirit and Flesh"? It's a wonderful sociological picture of a fundamentalist church that concentrates on precisely that aspect, and also how it governs the perception of churches in society. Highly recommended!

April 19, 2007 6:17 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I'll take a look at Ault's book. Thanks for the tip!

April 20, 2007 7:53 AM  

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