The communion of saints

The Communion of the Saints is a topic that is seldom understood or taught in the Christian church. Most people think it means taking the “Lord’s Supper” which is the ritual or sacrament held as a memorial of Christ’s death. This, however, is very far from the truth.

Communion is the assembling of the Church where we use our talents, abilities, gifts, and possessions to help the poor, needy, and all people for the betterment of the world in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

What is the Communion of the Saints?

Communion has nothing to do with the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The Westminster Confession of Faith explains the communion of the saints the best.

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.
Chapter 26 Of the Communion of Saints Section 1

So then, the communion of the saints is the “performance of duties” for each others “mutual good.” Although the Church is “obliged” to perform communion, it is not out of spite or forceful obligation.

Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.
(2Co 9:7 NAS)
For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord, begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints
(2Co 8:3-4 NAS)

Paul sums up the communion of the saints in Romans. He said,

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
(Rom 12:4-13 NAS)

What Paul says in the previous quote is the communion of the saints and is the basis of “Christian fellowship.

What is Christian fellowship?

The word “fellowship” is found in the Bible and means to contribute, share, or participate.

<2842> κοινωνία, ας, ἡ (koinonia)
Meaning: fellowship
Origin: from 2844
Usage: contribution(2), fellowship(12), participation(2), sharing(3).

The Westminster Confession a Faith explains this further.

Saints by profession are bound to maintain an holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God, and in performing such other spiritual services as tend to their mutual edification; as also in relieving each other in outward things, according to their several abilities and necessities. Which communion, as God offereth opportunity, is to be extended unto all those who, in every place, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus.
Chapter 26 Of the Communion of Saints Section 2

So then, "fellowship," "contributing," "sharing," and "communion" are all the same thing. Fellowship is performing services to help others inwardly and outwardly. This is a required part of a Christians life.

Fellowship in the church assembly

The communion of the saints is carried out through the assembling of the saints. This is the Church assembly, where, we have unity with God, teach God’s Word in truth, and look out for the needs and interests of each other.

Fellowship in God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Fellowship in the church assembly is in unity with God and those who believe in God. Christian fellowship is based on the unity of the trinity.

God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(1Co 1:9 NAS)
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
(1John 1:3 NAS)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
(2Co 13:14 NAS)

We have fellowship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The unity we have in the trinity is pure and holy. Those who do not believe will no have unity with the believers.

Fellowship is between believers in the truth of God

The church does not get together to discuss Athiesm and why there is no God. Christian fellowship is between believers and in the truth about God.

Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
(2Co 6:14 NAS)
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
(1John 1:6-7 NAS)

The purpose of communion is the building up of each other in the Faith. This Faith is built up through the teaching of God’s truth in righteousness.

Communion is effective through knowledge

Christian communion is effective in being devoted to the teaching of the Word of God and prayer.

And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
(Act 2:42 NAS)
I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.
(Phm 1:4-6 NAS)

The teaching of God’s Word is not to be self serving or based of selfish motives; but, for the benefit and help of others.

Looking into the interest of others

The purpose of communion is to serve others and not to seek out selfish needs.

Therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
(Phil 2:1-4 NAS)

This means that, in communion, Christians are to be humble and not merely talking about their own personal interests. Communion is to share in the suffering people go through in life.

That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
(Phil 3:10 NAS)

Life is very difficult for many people. We as Christians are supposed to help everyone in life to bring about a better life for all.

The church fellowship in the community

Not only are Christians required to teach the Word of God, Pray, and attend to the needs of others, communion is also the giving of possessions, food, clothes, money, and other needs for the help of those in need.

Supporting Missionaries

An important reason for donating money to the church, is to support missionaries who cannot support themselves when ministering the gospel to areas they cannot support themselves in.

For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we should reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.
(1Co 9:9-12 NAS)
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
(Rom 15:26-27 NAS)
And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
(Act 11:29-30 NAS)

This does not refer to pastors of local churches where the pastor can work and provide his own income. This is for the homeless ministers preaching the gospel abroad who do not have the means to support themselves.

Giving possessions and contributions to the needy

Church donations are also for providing the poor and needy things they need to survive. During the Apostles time, people would sell there possessions and give to the poor so the poor could live.

For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each, as any had need.
(Act 4:34-35 NAS)

And they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
(Act 2:45-47 NAS)
For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. Yes, they were pleased to do so, and they are indebted to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are indebted to minister to them also in material things.
(Rom 15:26-27 NAS)

They would sell property they had in excess and give to those who were impoverished. Communion is the assembling of the church to give to the poor out of our excess.

Giving is not just for the Church but everybody

Giving was not to the church members only; but, to those poor and needy in the community.

And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
(Gal 6:9-10 NAS)

It is the churches mission to bring to gospel to those who have not heard it. We are also responsible for defending the faith and explaining it clearly to those who heard it incorrectly.

Consequences of not giving to the poor

The Apostles were serious about those who would not give to the poor. In Luke, we read about the Rich man that let the poor man Lazarus die. He was in Hades while watching Lazarus in heaven.

Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. “And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. “Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
(Luk 16:19-23 NAS)

John says,

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
(1John 3:16-18 NAS)

Giving to the poor is one of the most important parts of communion of the saints.

Partaking in communion does not save you

Simply partaking in the Church Assembly and the Communion of the saints does not save you.

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame
(Heb 6:4-6 NAS)

The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this well.

This communion which the saints have with Christ, doth not make them in any wise partakers of the substance of his Godhead; or to be equal with Christ in any respect: either of which to affirm is impious and blasphemous. Nor doth their communion one with another, as saints, take away, or infringe the title or propriety which each man hath in his goods and possessions.
Chapter 26 Of the Communion of Saints Section 3

Clearly the point of helping the needy is to lift them out of poverty so they can take care of themselves without having to steal or use crime as a living.

Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.
(Eph 4:28 NAS)

So therefore, poor people cannot just walk into your house and start taking your possessions in the name of communion. All things must be given from a generous intention.
For information on what fellowship is NOT, please read my article on “What fellowship or communion is NOT.”