Doctrine of the Communion of the Saints
April 23, 2023 Series: Great Doctrines of the Christian Faith
Topic: Of the Communion of the Saints Scripture: Psalm 50:1–6, Romans 12:1–12
- Psalm 50
- Romans 12.1-12
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 26
Article 1, 2
Introduction to the Covenant Community
We are starting a new series, looking at the Doctrine of the Communion of the Saints.
I don’t believe this is something typically taught in the church today.
Many professing Christians believe being a Christian is an individual sport.
- That I can go to whatever Church I want.
- That I can go whenever I want.
- That it doesn’t matter what I do because:
- It is really all about me.
- It is really about how I feel.
Many professing Christians do not understand:
- The meaning of a covenant community.
- The meaning of the body of Christ and its implications.
These are the things that we will be addressing as we study this doctrine.
Historically, in the Reformed churches, a particular visible church is called a covenant community.
- because the people of that church
- take vows of membership
- and is thus formally recognized as members.
- because those vows and membership requirements/ expectations
- are consistent with the understanding of the administration on the covenant of grace in our churches.
Thus, it is called a covenant community.
There is a formal relationship in the taking of vows.
It is an expression:
- of the biblical concept of covenant taking.
- as a means of identifying oneself with Christ via His kingdom.
Without these proper vows:
- there is no other external expression of taking the covenant.
- there is no other external expression of being in the visible community of the church.
We see the example in Exodus 24.1-11
- The vows they took drew them together as God's people.
- The vows separated them out from the rest of the world.
- They were recognized as the people of God.
They did this by way of making a covenant.
We see that same thing in the book of Acts.
- people were gathered together in the church
- they were added to the church rolls
Members of the Body of Christ
The Covenant is administered to the visible church.
- through baptism
- through vows of membership in the local church
The people of God take these vows.
- to join themselves to the Lord
- to join themselves to one another
- to distinguish themselves from those who have not entered that covenantal agreement.
At NCRPC, we have these vows
- to demonstrate membership in the visible church
- to demonstrate our public confession of Christ
- to demonstrate our commitment to one another
In these vows, the people promise:
- to obey the Lord as He speaks to us in His Word.
- in the giving, teaching, and enforcement of His law
In these vows, the people promise:
- to serve and to be served.
In these vows, the people promise:
- to love and to be loved
- within that community of saints who have made similar vows to cleave unto the Lord their God and to swear by his name.
In these vows, the people promise:
- to submit to the Lord's government.
- taking our place in his church
- taking our place among the people of God
This is called the covenant community.
We are a community of saints bound together:
- by the taking of vows to be the Lord's people
We are bound together:
- to believe what He said in His word
- to cleave unto Him
- to obey Him
We are bound together not as private citizens:
- but as a unified people
- but as a people for his possession
Individualism is not destroyed in the covenant.
- But there is something that is added to it.
We become members of something larger than simply ourselves.
We become members of something larger than our personal relationship with Christ.
We become members of something larger than our personal duties to Him.
We become a part of the body of Christ.
- within the visible church
Understanding the Metaphor of the Body
There are many metaphors used but probably the biggest and most important metaphor is the metaphor of a body.
- 1 Corinthians 12.12-22
- Ephesians 4.10-16
- Colossians 3.20
- Romans 12
We hear of this metaphor, of a body:
- with one head and many members.
- all vitally connected to Christ.
We must consider this teaching of Scripture:
- of what it means to be a body.
- of what it means to be part of a body.
- of what it means to be an assembly of people.
- of what it means to be members, one of another in Christ.
This speaks to this singular focus and understanding of what it means to be a part of something, to belong.
Being a member of something is commonplace in society
This is not something unknown to the human race.
We gather ourselves in kinds of groups all the time.
- Soldiers group together to become stronger as one unit rather than as individuals.
People will identify themselves by their hobbies.
- Knitting and Sewing
- Political preferences
- Homeschooling, etc.
Today we are talking about a biblical way to draw ourselves together.
- This is something God has commanded we do.
We are to consider ourselves by ourselves and within ourselves.
We don’t go to heaven based on our parents or grandparents.
- We must all embrace Jesus Christ.
And, as we embrace Jesus Christ:
- we also embrace His covenant.
- we also embrace His covenant community.
But this gathering in groups, this is a biblical manifestation of the natural propensity that we have to join together with people in common.
Remember, the Bible, tells us very consistently, that there are two and only two humanities, defined in Genesis 3
- the seed of the woman → which are those who will believe in Christ.
- the seed of the serpent → which are those who are the enemies of Christ.
So, we were made to gather with likeminded people that are of the see of the women.
- To know where to find these people, we look in the public profession of the the visible church
- we look for people who have taken those vows.
Being a member is being a part of the body of Christ.
We are vitally connected to Christ.
- like a finger, or an arm, or other appendage cannot survive being separated from the body.
We must maintain that unity and connection in this same sense, in order to maintain our spiritual lives.
Dividing yourselves out from the people of God and refusing the assembling of yourselves together
- eventually can lead to apostasy.
- eventually can lead to heresy.
- John 15.5 - apart from Christ we can do nothing.
How do we remain connected to Christ?
- in part by maintaining this body.
- in part by understanding and taking our place as members of that body.
We cannot expect to remain connected to Christ.
- if we separate ourselves from His body.
- His body is the church. (Colossians 1.18)
Duties to the Lord as a member of the body of Christ.
In the doing of our duties, we ought not to consider them a burden.
Your earthly boss may command you to duties:
- so that you wear out in the doing of it.
- so that you are empty/ exhausted from the labor.
But the Lord doesn't leave us empty like that.
- He calls upon us to do these things.
- He calls us to come and to worship Him.
Ruth, at the feet of Boaz, was not sent away empty.
So then, what are the duties that we owe unto the Lord in this covenant community?
The duty of knowledge in the knowing of Him
- Philippians 3.10
The duty to worship as a habitation of God and the Spirit
- Ephesians 2.22.
The duty to pursue holiness and sanctification
- 2 Corinthians 6.11-17
- talks about being separated from the world, unto Christ, and unto holiness in Him,
- Philippians 1.27
- Obedience/ attendance on His ordinances
- Hebrews 10.23-25
- Perseverance/ remaining faithful in trial
The duty to be living sacrifices
- Romans 12.1 – we are to be living sacrifices.
We gather that sacrifices have not stopped.
We enter into covenant by giving ourselves to Him as living sacrifices.
- Not like dead sacrifices, as in the Old Testament.
- But living sacrifices, in the New Testament.
This is in the context of him speaking about:
- Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree
- faithless Jews who were broken off of that tree and being grafted back in again.
Both come by way of sacrifice, by way of covenant.
This is biblical language that we are not accustomed:
- in many cases, today we tend to be New Testament Christians
- we must understand this in whole bible language.
We must understand what is meant when the Apostle says we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.
Sacrifices were always offered in a public context.
Sacrifices were offered in the assembly.
Sacrifices were covenant expressions in the assembly.
This, too, is a public context for living sacrifices.
The Lord has granted us visible particular churches:
- where we can present ourselves as living sacrifices
- where we can serve in covenant with God
We are to offer ourselves, therefore, as living sacrifices.
What are those sacrifices?
- Assembly and attendance
- Singing and praise
- Hearing the word
- Giving of tithes
Being that they are sacrifices:
- They are to be given how God commands
- They are to be given when God commands
The only sacrifices that are to be offered to God are those that He commands.
- Any other offering or sacrifice, you can be assured, will not be accepted by Him
Privileges of the Communion of the Saints.
Being a member of the visible church
- brings with it certain privileges.
Read and hear what the larger Catechism says about the privileges of the visible Church → Q. 63.
Rights and privileges to those who are in covenant
We can expect.
- the Lord's favor.
- His calling us his own
- His name upon us
- He will set us apart from the world unto himself.
- He will provide for us all of his care.
- His provision, instruction correction, and so on.
These are certainly privileges of those who are the children of God.
While there may also be hypocrites among us in the visible church:
- Yet these things belong to God's people.
These things belong to those hose who have covenanted with Christ by sacrifice.
- by outward profession.
- by outward expression.
So, we see that the visible church is identified as the covenant community.
We ought not walk around professing to be Christians while refusing membership in the visible church.
- It is through the vows in the particular church that the visible church is identified
- It is through the vows in the particular church that the covenant of grace is administered
Being in that covenant, we saw the duties and the privileges as part of that covenant.
And we discussed what it means to be living sacrifices.
It would behoove us to reflect upon our duties, as well as our privileges as we work to live within the covenantal relationship with Christ and His body.
Next week, we continue by looking at what it means to be a people in covenant with one another and how that plays out in the church.
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