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It is one thing to content oneself with a replica watch, a knockoff purse, or a genuine imitation football jersey. But who wants a fake relationship? When it comes to companionship, friendship, and finding true love, we are looking for something real. And yet, the ambitious culture of the workplace, the lightning speed of the urban hustle and bustle, and the thin veneer of social media all make it a challenge to find genuine, meaningful relationships.

Thus, people should find something different when they turn to the community of the church. The church should rise above the community of our workplace, our school, our neighborhood, and perhaps even our family. People should find a level of acceptance, understanding, accessibility, and genuine care that is unlike anywhere else. This is what we are claiming about ourselves every time we say, “I believe in . . . the communion of saints.”

What We Mean

Many Christians will recognize those words from the Apostles’ Creed, which the church has confessed since the eighth century. That creed comes from a baptismal formula from the late second century. The church fathers, the Reformers, and present-day Christians all agree that the church is a communion of saints. So, what does that actually mean?

The phrase refers to the fellowship that exists among those whom God has called out of the world. It is more than a spiritual connection that we feel. It is built on a foundational unity that we have—namely, the union and communion we have by faith in Christ. We are united to Christ in His accomplished work and have fellowship with Him in His graces and gifts; so also, we are united to one another in love and share in each others’ graces and gifts. This is the testimony of churches that stand in the Reformed tradition.

The Reformed confessions affirm that since we are united to Jesus Christ by faith and commune with Him in His graces, so also we are united to one another in love and commune in each other’s gifts and graces. These historic statements show that the communion of saints expresses what the church is, and also what the church must do.

Beautiful things happen when the communion of saints is not just words we confess but a truth we embody.
What We Must Do

This communion calls for every brother and sister in Christ to serve one another through spiritual gifts so that the church might “build itself up in love” as each does his or her part (Eph. 4:16; 1 Peter 2:6). The Holy Spirit gives gifts to every believer that they are to use for the good of others in the church family (1 Cor. 12:7). All of us are called to use our gifts as good stewards and with the faith God gives us (1 Peter 4:10). Such gifts can be practical, as we see how the early church expressed her communion in tangible ways: by sharing food (Acts 2:42), by contributing to the needs of other churches (2 Cor. 8:4), and by financially partnering in the gospel ministry (Phil. 1:5).

Every Christian is called to exercise mutual love and service in what are often called the “one another” commands. Every member of the church is called to serve, forbear, forgive, accept, comfort, greet, welcome, encourage, exhort, admonish, teach, instruct, build up, confess sin to, speak the truth to, live in peace with, be kind to, do good to, pray for, show hospitality to, and love one another. When we obey these commands, it shows the world that we are what we claim. This is a community unlike any other. Here is a people who genuinely love.

This is precisely what Christ said would be true: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The love we express in our mutual service encourages our brothers and sisters in Christ, but it also demonstrates the credibility of what we claim to be before the world—that we are followers of Jesus Christ in both word and deed.

How many people have come to us crushed by a world of cruelty, malice, and ugliness? And then when they are received with kindness, forbearance, forgiveness, service, and the beauty of a Christlike love, they are almost in disbelief. They have finally found something real, something beyond what they have experienced in the past. Beautiful things happen when the communion of saints is not just words we confess but a truth we embody. But in order for us to live up to such a claim, there is one important thing to remember.

What We Must Remember

Christ said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In the context, Christ discusses the need for us “branches” to abide in Him, the “vine,” if we are to bear fruit. Without our connection to Him, there is no fruit. Similarly, all of the vitality of the communion of saints stems from our union and communion with Christ. We are able to love, forgive, and show mercy to one another because God has loved us, forgiven us, and shown us mercy in Christ. All this assumes that the fellowship we have with one another is sustained by that which we have with God the Father, by God the Son, and through God the Spirit (Phil. 2:1; 1 John 1:3). All the blessings we enjoy from the living God flow into what we share together. Without Christ, we can do nothing, but with Christ, we can do all things. Let us continue to be the communion of saints for the world’s sake—for the sake of every person who comes into our midst and maybe for the first time has found something real.

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