Western societies are generally characterised by individualism – a focus on the individual often at the expense of wider social relationships. In contrast to societies in other parts of the world, western societies have weaker social bonds, they are more fragmented and give less attention to family and community life. The church stands, or should stand, in stark contrast to such individualism. All descriptions of the church in Scripture show it is a community, and historically Christians have expressed belief in the ‘communion of the saints’. Continuing our Spiritual Check-up we ask: 6. Do you commune with the saints?
1. The covenant community
The church is not just another social club – it is the covenant community of the people of God. This is the community to which the Lord makes his covenant promise ‘I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people’ (Leviticus 26:12). We are in living covenant fellowship with God through Christ. Fundamental to the church’s identity is union:
(i) We are united to Christ. Those who were dead in sins are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, made alive as he unites us to Christ in his death and resurrection (see Ephesians 2:5-6). This is spelled out at length in Romans 6. We have died to the old life of sin and are made alive in union with Christ to love and serve the Lord who loves us.
(ii) We are united to one another. As a consequence of being united to Christ, we are united to all of the Lord’s redeemed people. This is reflected in in 1 Corinthians 12:27 ‘you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it’. The believer is linked spiritually to every other believer: ‘we are members of one another’ (Ephesians 4:25).
2. The basic attitude
The fundamental characteristic of the body of Christ is love – ‘love each other as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). The pattern of Christ’s love is to be reproduced in the church, a redemptive, self-sacrificing love (see John 15:13), a love that can be costly. This is not primarily a matter of emotions we feel. Christian love is a deep-seated desire to seek the best for fellow believers, what will enable them to be more like Christ and to serve him faithfully. Note Paul’s concern for the Galatians ‘until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 5:19). This love is a work of the Holy Spirit, an aspect of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22)
3. The mutual ministry
Love is meaningless unless made visible in action. The communion of the saints means giving and receiving loving ministry within the church he bought with his blood and which is precious to us. This requires thoughtful and prayerful consideration of the needs of others (Hebrews 10:24) and a willingness to be considered by others. It is a ministry for every believer, not just for pastors and elders. There is a range of ministry that will employ all our gifts – see 1 Thessalonians 5:11,14. Material needs are included – 1 John 3:17. The communion of the saints should be a great blessing and also a powerful witness to the world.