The final description that The Apostles' Creed gives of the Church is that it is a communion of saints. The Church, very simply, is Christians in fellowship with the Lord and with one another.
Paul does not use the word "communion" in 1 Corinthians 1:2 but he does use the word "saints". He says that the Corinthians are called to be holy, or called to be saints, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours. There is a togetherness of the people of God, a common union among all the saints, by virtue of our relationship to Jesus Christ as Lord.
Furthermore, there are two aspects to this communion. We have fellowship with saints below and saint above. That is to say, when we become Christians, there is a mystical union, not only between each believer and every other believer on earth, but also with those believers who have already gone on to be with the Lord. The writer to the Hebrews says:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.(Hebrews 12:22-24)There is, even now, a wonderful fellowship between the saints here on earth and those in heaven. Furthermore, one day that fellowship will be fully actualised when we are all together with the Lord. Nonetheless, as some unknown poet put it: "To dwell above with saints I love, to me that will be glory. To dwell below with saints I know, well that's another story."
Actualising our fellowship here on earth can be a difficult matter. Can we say that we have truly "devoted ourselves to the fellowship" just as the first disciples did in Jerusalem? (See Acts 2:42.) That word for fellowship, koinonia in the Greek, means sharing in common. And look at what those first believers shared in common:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)Why is fellowship with other Christians important? Well, let's think about this. When babies are born we know they will die without human companionship. Even if they have all the nutrients needed to sustain life, babies die without human touch. Or to use another analogy: remove one burning coal from a charcoal grill with other burning coals and soon its light and heat will dissipate.
Christians are called by the Lord to be together, to share in common, because we need each other. Apart from such fellowship, Christians wither in their discipleship.
But what about "saints," why do we confess belief in the communion of saints? As we have seen already, to be holy means to be set apart for service to the Lord. "Saint" is just a variation on the Greek word for holy. Thus, saints are those set apart to belong to God in Jesus Christ. Just as the elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion remind us of Jesus, so the whole communion of saints is to act as a witness to Christ.
A young child, seeing depictions of famous saints in the stained glass windows at church once gave this marvellous definition: a saint is someone through whom the light shines. How true that is. All believers in Jesus are saints through whom the light of God shines.
Stuart Briscoe has defined sainthood this way: "A saint is a very ordinary person who, recognising his or her sin--overt and gross or covert and respectable--has come to the point of repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, has sensed His call to belong to Him and to publicly identify with Him, and has become part of the family of believers."
I think that all too often in the past we have had the wrong picture of sainthood. The fifth century Christian, Simeon Stylites, lived for thirty years on a pillar about sixty feet high. That was how he sought to maintain his holiness. Deeply impressed by this example, Anatole of France desired to emulate Simeon. Not being able to secure a pillar, he improvised by placing a chair on the kitchen table in his home. There he arrayed himself in a simple garment, intending to spend the rest of his days in holy contemplation and prayer. The cook and the rest of the family did not see eye to eye with Anatole and altogether missed the sublimity of his intentions. They succeeded in making life so miserable for Anatole that he discontinued his project. He wrote, "I soon perceived that it is a very difficult thing to be a saint while living with your own family! I saw why Simeon Stylites and Brother Jerome went into the desert."
It is a difficult thing to be a saint while living with one's family and going to work everyday, and living a normal, ordinary life. But that is what God calls us to do. Not only that, God promises to give us the power to live out his calling upon our lives right where we are.
I like this poem written by a simple nineteen year old servant girl who worked many hours everyday at household chores....
Lord of all pots and pans and things
since I've no time to be
a saint by doing lovely deeds
or watching late with Thee,
or dreaming in the dawnlight
or storming Heaven's gates,
make me a saint by getting meals
and washing up the plates!
Although I may have Martha hands,
I have a Mary mind;
so when I black the boots or shoes,
Thy sandals, Lord, I find!
I think of how they trod the earth
Each time I scrub the floor.
Accept this meditation, Lord;
I haven't time for more.
Warm all the kitchen with Thy love,
And light it with Thy peace.
Forgive me all my worrying
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food
in room or by the sea,
accept this service that I do,
I do it unto Thee.