The Communion of Saints
Imagine you are the head coach of a sports team that needs to win just one game to make the playoffs? Would you rather play the game at home or away? In most sports, the home team wins more games than the visiting team. Playing in a familiar environment with the encouragement of supporting fans is a proven advantage.
Imagine you are eating dinner in a crowded dining hall that includes several people whom you know. Would you rather eat alone or sit with someone you know and share your meal together? Some people enjoy the solitude of eating alone, but most people enjoy their meals more when they are shared with people they know.
Imagine the health of two small infants. One receives constant attention from a caregiving who talks, plays, snuggles, and sings to the child. The other receives basic care of food, clothing, and hygiene, but with very little verbal or physical interaction. Which child do you think would be healthier? It has been scientifically proven that language, touch, and social interaction are as essential to the health of children as food, clothing, and shelter.
Whether in competition, sharing meals, or caregiving, we are better and healthier when we have the company and support of other people. The same is true about our spiritual health. Our faith is stronger with the support and companionship of other Christians.
The name for this truth in Christian tradition is called “the communion of saints.” The communion of saints means the sharing together of believers in the benefits and responsibilities of Christian life and discipleship. The term is found in the Apostle’s Creed, and even though Baptists have not historically made much use of creeds, the communion of saints is clearly a biblical idea. Consider these two facts. (1) “Saints” is the most common word that the New Testament uses to describe members of the Christian church. (2) The word “saint” in the New Testament is always in the plural, “saints.” In the New Testament, no one is a saint without the other saints.
Saints, Christians, believers, disciples, are stronger and better together than alone. We need each other to worship God effectively, to pray faithfully, to act lovingly, and to bear our burdens patiently.
The letter to the Hebrews describes this truth in this way. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Our Christian brothers and sisters are like a crowd of supporters, cheering and encouraging us to run the race of faith with endurance. Indeed, our crowd of supporters includes not only the fellow members of our church, but also those Christians who have already finished their race and are present with the Lord. The race that we are running is not an individual event, but a relay. Each of us runs our race of faith for the sake of the whole team, and the whole team support us in running our leg of the race.
What does the idea of the communion of saints mean for us in a practical way?
1. Your presence and participation in worship, small groups, and service teams matters. You contribute something irreplaceable to the church, and the church contributes something essential to your spiritual life.
2. You are not alone, not matter how you feel at a given moment. You “are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.” There are no Lone Ranger Christians. Share your journey with your companions in faith.
3. Don’t wait for a fellow Christian who has grown distant from your fellowship to make the first step. Your initiative in reaching out may be the missing ingredient to their reconnecting with their faith family. Paul wrote the Christians at Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
As Christians, we are stronger together. You don’t have to feel like a saint to experience the “communion of saints.” We are called to be saints together in fellowship and sharing of life together.