Communion of Saints
Communion Of Saints one of the points of a Christian's faith according to the Apostles' Creed.
1. According to the Roman Catholic definition, it is the "union between the Church triumphant (in heaven), the Church militant (on earth), and the Church suffering (in purgatory). These three form the one body, of which Christ is the invisible head, and of which the pope, Christ's vicar, is the visible head. Its members are united by a mutual communication of intercessions and prayers" (Bergier). This definition, it will be seen, prepares the way for the Roman superstitions of the invocation of saints and prayers for the dead. The saints in heaven are to be venerated and invoked by the Church militant, and the members of the latter are to be supported by the intercessions of the former. The Church militant is to support by her prayers the Church suffering; and the members of the Church militant may also offer prayers for each other. See Wetzer und Welte, Kirchen-Lexikon, 4:929 sq.
2. The Protestant definitions vary somewhat.
(a) The Westminster Confession says: "All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by his Spirit and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. And being united to one another in love, they have communion in each others' gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man. Saints by profession are bound to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification, as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities'; which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be ex-tended unto all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. This communion which the saints have with Christ doth not make them in anywise partakers of the substance of his Godhead, or to be equal with Christ in any respect; either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous."
(b) Pearson and Leighton agree, substantially, in stating that 'Christians have communion or fellowship with the Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift (1Jo 1:3; 2Pe 1:4), with his son Jesus Christ, through whom forgiveness and mercy are conveyed to us (1Jo 1:3; Joh 17:20,23), and with the Holy Ghost, whose sanctifying graces are conferred on those whose hearts are duly prepared for their reception (Php 2:1; 2Co 13:14); that Christians have also communion with the holy angels, who are ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb 1:14; Lu 15:10; Mt 18:10); that, besides the external fellowship which they have in the word and sacraments of the Church, they have an intimate union and conjunction with all the saints on earth, as the living members of Christ (Joh 1:7; Col 2:19); and that Christians have communion not only with the saints on earth, but are of one city and one family with all those who have ever died in the true faith and fear of God, and now enjoy the presence of the Father, and who, in their state of glory, still sympathize with the faithful below, assisting, comforting, and praying for them (Heb 12:22-23). The belief of this communion of saints should excite and encourage us to holiness of life. If 'we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another;' but 'if we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth' (1Jo 1:6-7). It should induce us to wish well to all mankind, and to render them every good in our power. To those who have obtained the like precious faith with ourselves, we are still more nearly related, as being in a peculiar sense children of the same Father, disciples of the same Master, animated by the same spirit, and members of the same body" (Seeker, On Catechism, lect. xiv; Pearson, On the Creed (ed. 1710, p. 759); Leighton, On the Creed (Works, 2:412).
(c) Another view is given by Wilson, who remarks that, while the Romish view is unscriptural, that of Pearson and others is vague. His work aims to show that the bond of union among Christians (denoted by the communion of saints) is not to be sought (1) in identity of doctrinal beliefs, or (2) in identity of religious feeling or experience, as feeling, or (3) in identity of forms of Church government in worship, but in moral unity, founded in the action of the grace of God not merely in the hearts, but in the activities of Christians. See Wilson, Bampton Lectures (Oxford, 1851, 8vo).