We believe. . . in the Holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins. . .
The holy catholic church; the church universal; all the believers that ever lived in all of time. I never associated that phrase with other time periods before, but it makes sense. Our learning and understanding branches from what our forbearers laid out for us in history, giving context to our current cultural debates. I think that adage holds truth – if we don’t learn from the past we are doomed to repeat it.
The communion of saints; us, right now, the local church. I love how 1 Corinthians refers to the church as a body – an illustration that everyone can relate to. It doesn’t change culturally. It’s meaning hasn’t shifted or morphed over the centuries. Body. Corporate. One, but many completely disparate entities; the perfect metaphor.
God is one, but triune. He existed always and forever in perfect community. History debunks an exclusively “personal” Christian experience. It is not good for man to be alone so he created man and then woman – similar, but not the same – before calling it good and commanding them to be fruitful and multiply. God didn’t just save Noah from the flood, but his whole family. He promised Abram a nation as an inheritance instead of just a son. God calls a whole race his chosen people. He pours out judgement on entire kingdoms. Christ died one for all.
Why the communion of saints? The easy, Sunday School answer is to glorify God. But truly, God is so much more than a person. At first glance, that seems like a treasonous, heretical statement. I’m not talking animism or paganism or that every rock and stick is a chunk of divinity. But I grossly misconstrue the image of God if I make Him out to be like me instead of groveling in remembrance that we all are made out of His likeness.
Still, He is so much more than I can even dream! My Western individualism hinders me from soaking in the fullness of such a concept much like a fingernail can hardly delight in a masterpiece painted by the artist possessing it. Our culture has crowned individualism king and that only breeds selfishness and reinforces my inflated sense of status. I imagine myself important and complete, forgetting that a spark does not give much heat on its own.
I usually fall squarely into two conflicting camps. On the one hand, I flagrantly elevate my individualism to the point where everything in the universe is all about me and my drama. Conversely and simultaneously, I cry woe is me, comparing myself to everyone around me and always finding myself lacking.
But each body part is necessary. Yes, some are more revered than others. And without some, we learn to adapt and compensate and even forget, but that is not the design or intention or purpose. The body is less and incomplete without them. We are intrinsically wired for corporate life. We are designed to function in tandem and response to each other. We are intended to give and take, exchange and reciprocate – like breathing in and then out again. We cannot do one without the other and still survive.
I’ll be the first to say it. People are hard. Community is hard. They require things of me that are usually difficult and almost always inconvenient. But each person has a unique shade and hue and vital piece in this giant tapestry of life. I often only see the contrasts that others bring as taking away my significance and then cower and pout inside my own tiny dimension.
But, to love others well is what brings God glory.
When I step from my selfish hubris and into the messy, imperfect body of Christ, the gospel becomes visible. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) And though we are all at least a little bit broken, he painstakingly places each of our shards into the stunning mosaic that reflects back his glory and effulgence – a flawless portrait of the forgiveness of sins.