The consolation in fellow believers

The consolations of God - Eighth in a series

Continuing from the previous blog post, according to the Westminster Confession (WC), accepted by many denominations as a guide to Scripture, the holy catholic (universal) church is INVISIBLE. It consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (WC 25-1) Unbelievers are not in that number, even though you may see them and sit with them in church every Sunday.

The WC then points out that the VISIBLE church is also universal, that is, not confined to one nation, but is made of all throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children.

Furthermore, to the VISIBLE church Christ has given the ministry, oracles (the Bible), and the ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, and does by his presence and Spirit assure their effectiveness. (WC 25-3) We must believe that Jesus Christ is with us in the churches, even though many have become "so degenerated as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan" (WC 25-5). It is comforting and an article of FAITH that "there shall always be a church on earth to worship God according to his will." (See the 25th chapter of the WC for the scripture references for these teachings.)

The WC states that the catholic or universal church is "the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." This statement would provide a start for a lively discussion among many today!

Now, about the COMMUNION OF SAINTS: to Roman Catholics, this refers to all those in the church, alive, in purgatory or in heaven. It includes the intercession of saints and the practice of praying for the dead. For the Lutherans, it means "union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." (Wikipedia)

For protestants generally, the communion of saints is defined in the WC’s chapter 26-1:

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 other’s 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.

The Scripture references are: I John 1:3; Eph. 3:16-19; John 1:16; Eph. 2:5-6; Phil. 3:10; Rom. 6:5-6; II Tim. 2:12; Eph. 4:15-16; I Cor. 12:7; I Cor. 3:21-23; Col. 2:19; I Thess. 5:11, 14; Rom. 1:11-12, 14; I John 3:16-18; Gal. 6:10.

The word "communion" or koinōnia (Gr) means: fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse, intimacy, the share which one has in anything.

Calvin and other church fathers wrote about the need for believers to mutually strengthen themselves in the fear of God and by sharing among themselves the benefits given to each by God. These concepts are hard to understand for unbelievers.

There is a participation in Christ that is expressed in communing with fellow Christians. It is an intimacy of relation that is tended by someone unseen, whose example we are careful to model as we commune. We feel His presence in one another and we are consoled.

We will take up this blog series again in the New Year, DV — Deo Volente, God Willing.

Consolation in Creeds

The consolations of God - Seventh in a series

We protestants over the centuries and today “confess” our faith by saying together the ancient creeds as part of worship. This is to nourish our hearts through recommitment of our minds to Truth.

In one of these, the Apostle's Creed, we state,

I believe
in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe (numbers added)
1. in the Holy Ghost;
2. the holy Catholic (universal) Church;
3. the Communion of Saints;
4. the Forgiveness of sins;
5. the Resurrection of the body,
6. and the Life everlasting.

There are two I believe’s in this creed: The first comprises some important points that a Christian must accept about God and Jesus; the second begins a list of commonly held beliefs.

Two of these points in the second part, numbers 2 and 3 , seem not to fit.

Yes, we know that (1) all Christians must believe in the third Person of the Trinity, (4) if we confess and repent of sin we are promised forgiveness, (5) our bodies will be resurrected as Christ's was, and (6) we will live forever.

It does take FAITH to believe these things, for they are outside of our natural realm of experience.

But we can SEE the (2) church, can we not? At least we can see those near us and read about those in other lands. And what is the (3) communion of saints if not the simple experience of fellowship among believers? So, is there a need to STATE that we have FAITH in these?

Is there more in these phrases, holy catholic church and communion of saints than meets the eye? Yes, and as we understand what each means and believe in them, we will be consoled. More on this in the next post.