Articles

The Communion of Saints, by A.W. Tozer
 

 The Communion of Saints By A.W.Tozer

"I believe in the communion of saints."-Apostles' Creed

THESE WORDS WERE WRITTEN into the creed about the middle of the fifth
century.

It would be difficult if not altogether impossible for us at this late date
to know exactly what was in the minds of the Church Fathers who introduced
the words into the creed, but in the Book of Acts we have a description of
the first Christian communion: "Then they that gladly received his word were
baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand
souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and
fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."

Here is the original apostolic fellowship, the pattern after which every
true Christian communion must be modelled.

The word "fellowship," in spite of its abuses, is still a beautiful and
meaningful word. When rightly understood it means the same as the word
"communion," that is, the act and condition of sharing together in some
common blessing by numbers of persons. The communion of saints, then, means
an intimate and loving sharing together of certain spiritual blessings by
persons who are on an equal footing before the blessing in which they share.
This fellowship must include every member of the Church of God from
Pentecost to this present moment and on to the end of the age.

Now, before there can be communion there must be union. The sharers are one
in a sense altogether above organization, nationality, race or denomination.
That oneness is a divine thing, achieved by the Holy Spirit in the act of
regeneration. Whoever is born of God is one with everyone else who is born
of God. Just as gold is always gold, wherever and in whatever shape it is
found, and every detached scrap of gold belongs to the true family and is
composed of the same element, so every regenerate soul belongs to the
universal Christian community and to the fellowship of the saints.

Every redeemed soul is born out of the same spiritual life as every other
redeemed soul and partakes of the divine nature in exactly the same manner.
Each one is thus made a member of the Christian community and a sharer in
everything which that community enjoys. This is the true communion of
saints. But to know this is not enough. If we would enter into the power of
it we must exercise ourselves in this truth; we must practice thinking and
praying with the thought that we are members of the Body of Christ and
brothers to all the ransomed saints living and dead who have believed on
Christ and acknowledged Him as Lord.

We have said that the communion of saints is a fellowship, a sharing in
certain divinely given things by divinely called persons. Now, what are
those things?

The first and most important is life-"the life of God in the soul of man,"
to borrow a phrase from Henry Scougal. This life is the basis of everything
else which is given and shared. And that life is nothing else than God
Himself. It should be evident that there can be no true Christian sharing
unless there is first an impartation of life. An organization and a name do
not make a church. One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by
careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead
men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.

The apostolic fellowship is also a fellowship of truth. The inclusiveness of
the fellowship must always be held along with the exclusiveness of it. Truth
brings into its gracious circle all who admit and accept the Bible as the
source of all truth and the Son of God as the Saviour of men. But there dare
be no weak compromise with the facts, no sentimental mouthing of the old
phrases: "We are all headed for the same place .... Each one is seeking in
his own way to please the Father and make heaven his home." The truth makes
men free, and the truth will bind and loose, will open and shut, will
include and exclude at its high will without respect to persons. To reject
or deny the truth of the Word is to exclude ourselves from the apostolic
communion.

Now, someone may ask, "What is the truth of which you speak? Is my fate to
depend upon Baptist truth or Presbyterian truth or Anglican truth, or all of
these or none of these? To know the communion of saints must I believe in
Calvinism or Armimanism? In the Congregational or the Episcopal form of
church government? Must I interpret prophecy in accord with the
pre-millenarians or the post-millenarians? Must I believe in immersion or
sprinkling or pouring?" The answer to all this is easy. The confusion is
only apparent, not actual.

The early Christians, under the fire of persecution, driven from place to
place, sometimes deprived of the opportunity for careful instruction in the
faith, wanted a "rule" which would sum up all that they must believe to
assure their everlasting welfare. Out of this critical need arose the
creeds. Of the many, the Apostles' Creed is the best known and best loved,
and has been reverently repeated by the largest number of believers through
the centuries. And for millions of good men that creed contains the
essentials of truth. Not all truths, to be sure, but the heart of all truth.
It served in trying days as a kind of secret password that instantly united
men to each other when passed from lip to lip by the followers of the Lamb.
It is fair to say, then, that the truth shared by saints in the apostolic
fellowship is the same truth which is outlined for convenience in the
Apostles' Creed.

In this day when the truth of Christianity is under serious fire from so
many directions it is most important that we know what we believe and that
we guard it carefully. But in our effort to interpret and expound the Holy
Scriptures in accord with the ancient faith of all Christians, we should
remember that a seeking soul may find salvation through the blood of Christ
while yet knowing little of the fuller teachings of Christian theology. We
must, therefore, admit to our fellowship every sheep who has heard the voice
of the Shepherd and has tried to follow Him.

The beginner in Christ who has not yet had time to learn much Christian
truth and the underprivileged believer who has had the misfortune to be
brought up in a church where the Word has been neglected from the pulpit,
are very much in the same situation. Their faith grasps only a small portion
of truth, and their "sharing" is necessarily limited to the small portion
they grasp. The important thing, however, is that the little bit they do
enjoy is real truth. It may be no more than this, that "Christ Jesus came
into the world to save sinners"; but if they walk in the light of that much
truth, no more is required to bring them into the circle of the blessed and
to constitute them true members of the apostolic fellowship.

Then, true Christian communion consists in the sharing of a Presence. This
is not poetry merely, but a fact taught in bold letters in the New
Testament.

God has given us Himself in the Person of His Son. "Where two or three are
gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." The
immanence of God in His universe makes possible the enjoyment of the "real
Presence" by the saints of God in heaven and on earth simultaneously.
Wherever they may be, He is present to them in the fullness of His Godhead.

I do not believe that the Bible teaches the possibility of communication
between the saints on earth and those in heaven. But while there cannot be
communication, there most surely can be communion. Death does not tear the
individual believer from his place in the Body of Christ. As in our human
bodies each member is nourished by the same blood which at once gives life
and unity to the entire organism, so in the Body of Christ the quickening
Spirit flowing through every part gives life and unity to the whole. Our
Christian brethren who have gone from our sight retain still their place in
the universal fellowship. The Church is one, whether waking or sleeping, by
a unity of life forevermore.

The most important thing about the doctrine of the communion of saints is
its practical effects on the lives of Christians. We know very little about
the saints above, but about the saints on earth we know, or can know, a
great deal. We Protestants do not believe (since the Bible does not teach)
that the saints who have gone into heaven before us are in any way affected
by the prayers or labors of saints who remain on earth. Our particular care
is not for those whom God has already honored with the vision beatific, but
for the hard-pressed and struggling pilgrims who are still traveling toward
the City of God. We all belong to each other; the spiritual welfare of each
one is or should be the loving concern of all the rest.

We should pray for an enlargement of soul to receive into our hearts all of
God's people, whatever their race, color or church affiliation. Then we
should practice thinking of ourselves as members of the blessed family of
God and should strive in prayer to love and appreciate everyone who is born
of the Father.

I suggest also that we try to acquaint ourselves as far as possible with the
good and saintly souls who lived before our times and now belong to the
company of the redeemed in heaven. How sad to limit our sympathies to those
of our own day, when God in His providence has made it possible for us to
enjoy the rich treasures of the minds and hearts of so many holy and gifted
saints of other days. To confine our reading to the works of a few favorite
authors of today or last week is to restrict our horizons and to pinch our
souls dangerously.

I have no doubt that the prayerful reading of some of the great spiritual
classics of the centuries would destroy in us forever that constriction of
soul which seems to he the earmark of modern evangelicalism.

For many of us the wells of the past wait to be reopened. Augustine, for
instance, would bring to us a sense of the overwhelming majesty of God that
would go far to cure the flippancy of spirit found so widely among modern
Christians. Bernard of Cluny would sing to us of "Jerusalem the Golden" and
the peace of an eternal sabbath day until the miserable pleasures of this
world become intolerable; Richard Rolle would show us how to escape from
"the abundance of riches, the flattering of women and the fairness of

youth," that we may go on to know God with an intimacy that will become in
our hearts "heat, fragrance and song"; Tersteegen would whisper to us of the
"hidden love of God" and the awful Presence until our hearts would become
"still before Him" and "prostrate inwardly adore Him"; before our eyes the
sweet St. Francis would throw his arms of love around sun and moon, trees
and rain, bird and beast, and thank God for them all in a pure rapture of
spiritual devotion.

But who is able to complete the roster of the saints? To them we owe a debt
of gratitude too great to comprehend: prophet and apostle, martyr and
reformer, scholar and translator, hymnist and composer, teacher and
evangelist, not to mention ten thousand times ten thousand simplehearted and
anonymous souls who kept the flame of pure religion alive even in those
times when the faith of our fathers was burning but dimly all over the
world.

They belong to us, all of them, and we belong to them. They and we and all
redeemed men and women of whatever age or clime are included in the
universal fellowship of Christ, and together compose "a royal priesthood, an
holy nation, a peculiar people," who enjoy a common but blessed communion of
saints.

(From "Man, the dwelling Place of God" by A.W.Tozer)


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