I belong to a relatively new congregation that was formed last January and is working on clarifying what we believe as a congregation. Ensuring that all who become voting members of our church believe the pure Gospel as we understand it is important to us because we come from a larger church body that has moved away from the Gospel and the supremacy of Christ and His Word in many ways. Last Sunday in church, our interim pastor explained the Statement of Faith that all voting members will be required to sign. It tracks closely the Apostles’ Creed, which we recited together as a congregation after the sermon. It was a wonderful service in which the truth of God’s Word and the power of Christ alone to save us was exalted.
After church my family was sitting around trying to decide how to spend the rest of the beautiful sunny day. Out of the blue my husband asked “What is the communion of saints?” We had recited as part of the Apostles’ Creed that we believed in “the communion of saints,” but I was surprised to find that I couldn’t immediately answer his question. So I went and got my reader’s edition of the Book of Concord, which contains the Lutheran Confessions, including Martin Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms, and looked up the Apostles’ Creed.
In the Large Catechism Luther discusses the third article of the Apostles’ Creed and explains that “the communion of saints” is a poor translation of the original, and that it means the community of saints. It is essentially the Church, those people around the world who are Christians. He notes that this third article of the Apostles’ Creed begins with the statement that “I believe in the Holy Spirit” and that the entire article is about the Holy Spirit’s role in bringing the Church together. I particularly liked this segment of his explanation of why this articles includes “the communion of saints” as something Christians believe in:
But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ. This group is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with many different gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of this same group, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses. I am brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Spirit through having heard and continued to hear God’s Word, which is the beginning of entering it.
This reminded me of the connection I have made with a number of fellow bloggers who are part of “the communion of saints” with me. We have been “called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith.” The fact that we are all in agreement about the power of Christ alone to save us from our wretched state, that we found each other at all, is the work of the Holy Spirit. We can take no credit for it. We have each entered into the community of those who believe by the power of the Holy Spirit by having heard God’s Word.
But it is not just us who make up this community. We come from a variety of backgrounds and countries, we have very different perspectives and talents, but we are One in the Spirit. And we are connected to others who we do not even know yet, but who share in our understanding of who God is and what He has done for His children.
In the editor’s introduction to The Smalcald Articles, also part of the Book of Concord and written by Martin Luther, the editor writes, “When clear confession is necessary, it is wrong to speak in ways that can be interpreted to fit everyone’s opinion.” We live in a time when clear confession is essential. The truth of the Gospel is being watered down and set aside so that no one is offended. Adding numbers to the local church membership has become more important than drawing the lost to the one true Savior.
Within each local church there are those who belong to this “communion of saints” drawn together and drawn to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, within many local church bodies there are those who fail to heed the call of the Holy Spirit and do not belong to the Church, the communion of saints. Rather than trust in Christ, they trust in their own works or on the fact that they attend church each week to save them. Their pride prevents them from entering into this communion where only the humble, those willing to admit their weaknesses and inability to save themselves, can enter in. And many churches do nothing to prevent this trend from growing.
In my local church, we have developed our Statement of Faith so that those who come through our doors will understand the truth of the Gospel. We stand on the power of the Holy Spirit to draw the lost to the truth and on the knowledge that it is only by the Grace of God that we can be saved. I pray that the Statement we have put on paper, which is supported by Scripture, will not be only words on paper, but that everyone we have the opportunity to impact becomes one with the communion of saints through the power of the Holy Spirit.