In the ancient creeds, what is meant by 'communion of the saints'?
The Apostles' Creed mentions the "communion of the saints" in its text. What does this mean and why is it important?
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The Apostles' Creed refers to communion of the saints in reference to all believers, past and present, who share in salvation in Jesus Christ. This includes deceased Christians who live with Christ today and those still alive. This affirms one salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 4:12) that applies to all people.
Some have though that "communion of the saints" refers to the ordinance of communion (also known as the Lord's Supper or Eucharist). However, the final paragraph of this creed (in modern English), states: "I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic [universal] church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." The context is clearly on believers in Christ, our common salvation and forgiveness, and our ultimate reconciliation with God and eternal life.
The idea of communion also emphasizes fellowship or community. In other words, communion of the saints includes the idea of living in unity with other believers. One of the important aspects of the ancient creeds such as the Apostles' Creed is the unity that these early statements of faith provided for believers from various locations and backgrounds. A Christian from any part of the world could affirm the same words, enjoying a common unity found in the essentials of the Christian faith in the form of a creed. Still today, the words of the Apostles' Creed are recited around the world by Christians of many backgrounds. Its words offer an early and important summary of Christian beliefs that has stood the test of time.
The idea of saints refers to all believers. Paul often addressed his letters to an entire church, calling all of the believers "saints" (Romans 1:7). Only later in church history did the additional idea of naming certain special people as saints develop.
Biblically, the communion of the saints can also be found in 1 Corinthians 12. In this chapter, Paul emphasizes the church as a single body, with each member serving as individual parts working together for the good of the whole.
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