The Holy Spirit and the Communion of Saints
The Holy Spirit and the Communion of Saints
At Pentecost we confess the church as the communion of saints. One only has to open Acts 2 to see that our confession of faith rightly, in a sense of continuity, unites these two: “I believe a holy, catholic, Christian church; the communion of saints.”
After all, in the first congregation of Christians, there is no possible question whether the church, the congregation, is anything different from the communion of saints. One sometimes hears the argument for the use of the word “church” for the organization, the institution, while the word “congregation” is to be reserved for the church as community. This is not appropriate.
Whoever reads Acts 2 finds the church gathered there. The church is the congregation. It is formed through the believers, who, in a heartfelt bond, receive the things together, believe together, and witness of it together. In this union, the congregation indeed flourishes. The distributed tongues of fire are found on each one of them. That means, first of all, that each member personally shares in the salvation, but at the same time that no one has this for themselves. The Holy Spirit institutes true, living communion. We wrote that the confession of faith also speaks about the church in the same way. She is an institution of the Holy Spirit. For that reason too, she is the communion of saints.
These two concepts are therefore not opposed. They also do not complement each other, but they function, more or less, as synonyms, that is to say, as words which have approximately the same meaning. They receive their purpose and content from the work of the Spirit. The church is the communion of saints. This section was given the title of the Greek word for this: koinonia. This word appears in many places in Scripture. A Christian has fellowship and acknowledges union with each other.
The Spirit Institutes Fellowship←⤒🔗
The Holy Spirit is the bond of the unity between Father and Son. The communion which exists between the two, between the Father and the Son, is one in the Holy Spirit. We should think of this first of all, when in the blessing, the congregation is placed in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Something of that communion is reflected in the communion of saints. They have been allowed to partake in the godly communion which exists between the Father and the Son, a communion beyond our understanding. Therefore, in the interconnectedness of the believers the work of the Father manifests itself, but no less the work of the Son.
Whoever speaks about the communion of saints must remember first of all that the Spirit binds the people to each other in a “natural” manner. The creation knows things that are not altered in this communion. They are made holy. Therefore, one can say, that a “natural” reality, as that of a family, can be taken up within the communion of saints. One of the signs of the last days is that natural love will grow cold. The relationship between parents and children, between siblings, between relatives and friends will be broken. But the work of the Holy Spirit asserts itself against this. After all, his work raises the natural bond to a higher level. Whoever loves the Lord will also love father and mother, indeed not above him, but still in him and because of him.
This communion of saints is most gloriously experienced in the common faith experience of the outcry “Abba,” Father. It is commendable to say that this outcry of the Father’s name took place in the liturgy of the Christian congregation. With this the communion is indeed built up.
Then Pentecost becomes a family celebration. And in a very special way. In the fact that the members of a family also recognize each other as members of the great communion of saints.
First as Communion in Faith with Christ←⤒🔗
That recognition is only possible when the communion of faith with Christ is sought and known. After all, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. “He will glorify me” (John 16:14). True relationship in faith occurs when the relationship with Christ ties us to each other. That characterizes the communion of saints. They are not saints in and of themselves. They are only saints in him, who is given to us, not only for justification, but also for sanctification. They do not have perfection in themselves, but only in him. Through the work of Christ the congregation is built. In him she finds her basis, her foundation. Thus, we no longer speak of religious, pious communion to exercise an elusive form of spirituality. This is the way the pious world would like to express it today. The world roots her understanding of communion in her own experience with people, whatever that experience may be.
The communion of saints does not know such a neutral understanding on experience. She owes her authentic experience to fellowship with Christ. That experience in faith builds the congregation, for a person is personally linked to Christ, however never alone. When it is the Spirit himself who builds the communion of saints, should not the emphasis fall on the Spirit even more than before? Do we pay sufficient attention to his work and his person? Isn’t the criticism directed toward us from all sorts of movements who do ask attention for the Spirit, justified? The Lord Jesus said, he will not speak of himself. The Holy Spirit is humble, and he humbles others. He causes the full light to fall on the Lord Jesus Christ. And, through him, he leads us to the Father. That is enough for him. Let it also be enough for us, so that we will not be wise beyond that which is within our ability to grasp.
That He Is Also Given to Me←⤒🔗
The gift of the Holy Spirit is a truly personal gift. In voicing our confession, we recognize this intensely personal approach also in other phrases. This “also to me” stood out for us in the description of the faith itself. Not only to others, but also to me personally, forgiveness of sins, eternal righteousness, and salvation were granted out of pure grace, only because of the merits of Christ. One could say that this gifting is in the nature of the promise. In the promise, salvation is spoken to us, but it must also be attributed to us. This is now the work of the Holy Spirit. He is given to us, so that he makes us partakers of Christ and all his benefits through a true faith.
In this way the communion of saints comes into existence. After all, she firstly consists in this, that the believers, singularly and as a whole, are members of Jesus Christ and have all his treasures and gifts in communion.
Also me… This means that there must be a very personal share in the treasures and gifts of Christ. However, we only share in that by partaking of Christ himself.
Here it comes down to the correct sequence. First there is the sharing in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. After that, and proceeding from him, there is the sharing in the treasures and gifts of Christ.
The Service of Office-Bearers and the Office of Priesthood of All Believers←⤒🔗
This happens within the communion of saints. For the service of office-bearers within the congregation means nothing other than that the congregation of saints is entrusted to this mutual offering of service. In the preaching of the Word, Christ is given to us. This preaching of the promise is blessed by the Spirit. The Spirit makes it effectual. Thus, the belief is engendered that says: not only to others, but also to me. But this official ministry of the Word does not diminish the priesthood of all believers. On the contrary, this priesthood is strengthened and promoted by it. Everyone must know themselves accountable to use their gifts for the benefit and salvation of others, willingly and with joy!
In this way also the church, as communion of saints, receives a task and competency in the administration of salvation. Let us admit that this side of our existence as a congregation is not the strongest side of our church life. To a large extent, we have become “sermon congregations.” The official ministry of the Word is carried out in most places on Sundays. Concerning this part of the service, the preaching of the Word need not suffer any loss.
But does the preaching of the Word adequately stimulate the distinctive experience of the communion of saints? Do the people rise to help each other in the office of priesthood of all believers?
These are questions that connect with the essence of Pentecost. Our catechism speaks about the fact that everyone must know himself accountable to use his gifts within this communion of believers.
This statement proceeds from what the Bible says about the work of the Spirit in the body of Christ. He gives to each as he chooses. That means that, with the body of believers, there is truly no one who has not been given a spiritual gift. In principle, every congregation is a charismatic congregation. The gifts of the Spirit are given in order to be of service to the whole body. It can never be the intended to happen with a sigh. The Spirit who gives gifts, also gives the desire and the love to utilize those gifts. In the way the body of Christ functions as a congregation of saints through the Spirit.
We celebrate our Pentecost in a cold world. The focus on self has never been this strong. Let us see it as a privilege that the Spirit would have us share in the fellowship with Christ. Also that in this way, he grants us to share with each other in the gifts of the true koinonia, to the upbuilding of the whole body of Christ.
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