I Believe…The Communion of the [Sinful] Saints

Somewhere along the line, someone started the rumor that church-going people are decent people, that they’re good and wholesome, that churches are made up of people who have their ethical ducks in a moral row.  When non-church goers who believe that rumor go to a church, they often complain that they “got burned” because they found “hypocrisy” there.  There is hypocrisy in the church, for sure.  And I’ve not yet found a church wherein all the people are good and wholesome.  In fact (HT to R.C. Sproul here), should I find a church where there are no hypocrites or sinners, I would stay out lest I ruin it.

Building off of yesterday’s post (here), when we say the Creed, “I believe…the communion of the saints,” we’re saying “I believe the communion of saints who believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  Or, in Reformation terms, “I believe in the communion of sinful saints” (the Latin for that sounds cool!).  So if you want to find real sin and hypocrisy, go to church.  In fact, solid churches have a public confession of sins each Sunday – a time where people beside you will say “Against you, Lord, and you alone I have sinned and done this evil in your sight.”  It is like a big sign that says, “we’re not good and perfect!”  If you stay out of church you’ll have to deal with sin and hypocrisy on your own, but if you go to a good one, you’ll at least be able to confess it out loud with a bunch of other sinners and hear about forgiveness through faith in Jesus’ blood.  You won’t find that at Starbucks (or McCafe, whichever you prefer).

Once we get the proper perspective on the Christian life (saint and sinner at the same time), we understand why God said something like “Let there be a church.”  Cyprian (over and over in his epistles) called the church the nourishing mother of Christians.  Calvin used that term as well, along with others. The institutional church (with pastors, elders, deacons, preaching, teaching, sacraments, and such) is a tremendous gift of God for his people.  Just like a godly Christian mother is one of the “chiefest” blessings in this earthly life, so too is the institutional church.  If you’re not too sinful, church might not be for you.  But if you’re a bona-fide sinner like me, you need the church like we need our mothers when we’re infants – our mothers who feed us, pray for us, discipline us, and embrace us.  Augustine knew a little about Christian mothers and the church.  Here’s what he said:

“Those who do not have the church as their mother do not have God as their Father” (On Baptism, VII). 

Here’s Bavinck.

“It [the church] is a gathered company (coetus) but also the mother of believers (mater fidelium).  …As it is in the natural world, so it is in the spiritual.  Every human being is a product of communion, and the individual believer born from the womb of the believing community.  The universal church is anterior to the particular church and to individual believers just as in every organism the whole precedes the parts.  The church of Christ is indeed a mother, but she is that not only as institution but also as organism.  Believers are simultaneously producer and product…through the church Christ gathers his church.”  (Reformed Dogmatics, IV.II.6).

I’ll have to expand on this some other day, but for now the main point is that the Christian life (sanctification, simil iustus et peccator) has to do with the communion of the saints, which is all about church.  And the church (pastors, elders, & deacons included) is an amazing gift God has given us to help us stumble upwards on the pilgrim way.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

5 thoughts on “I Believe…The Communion of the [Sinful] Saints”

  1. That is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, though perhaps you do err not knowing the scriptures. Either way you do greatly err.

    Now in a religious organization or in a collective assembly at a particular place you might have some sinners and hypocrites involved or you might have a collective group of all sinners and hypocrites gathered together but in the church, which is His body there is no sin (ref. Ephesians 1:22-23). God is light and in Him is no darkness at all if we say we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness we lie and do not the truth. 1 John 1:5-6

    And we know that He was manifested to take away our sins and in Him is no sin. 1 John 3:5


    1. Thanks, calledsoldiers. I’ll assume you’re new to this blog, and not worry about your accusation of not knowing Scripture…no worries there.

      I realize what you mean: in Christ, the Christian gathering is set apart. Christians are saints based on what Christ has done for them. So in one sense we say “I believe the holy catholic/universal church.” At the same time, as you mentioned 1st John, we know that if we (plural) confess our sins (which John knows we have!) he is faithful and just to forgive us.

      Also, consider the OT saints – David’s Psalm 51 confession, the whole nation of Israel confessing sins together (cf. Neh. 9.3), and the prophets calling God’s people to repentance for sins. Finally, consider Paul’s epistles – many of them begin with “to the saints in ____.” Later in those epistles, he chides them for certain sins (1 Cor is pretty messy!). Paul saw the church as saints who struggled with sins; we must do the same.

      Thanks again,


      1. The quote about not knowing the scriptures is what Christ said to the Pharasies, masters of the law, could quote it by heart; so I hope you take it in the intended context. One may be familiar with the wording of somethings but not have the requisite intimate knowledge that makes you free (ref. John 8:32).

        Now let’s look briefly at the scriptures you quoted and see why I said what I did.

        1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. – this doesn’t imply that the Christian has sins, but says that we can be forgiven for our sin by confessing them to God. Notice it says He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. We are made free from sin when we confess our sins, Praise God! John wasn’t endorsing the Christian to sin or saying that the Christian has sins that need confessing. In fact in 1 John 2:1 He says these things I write unto you that you sin not. – John’s whole point in writing was to keep people from sinning not endorse or excuse it.

        Now as far as the old testament, they weren’t even under grace… Christ hadn’t died to make a way for the plan of salvation we have today. We don’t endorse the things done in the old testament. If you did what they did then you’d be put in jail and maybe given the death penalty depending on what state you were in. We are not under the law but under grace. What should we say then since we are not under the law but under grace, should we sin that grace may abound? God forbid (ref. Romans 6:1-2). God forbids sin.

        Also we see that David suffered greatly for his sins. He was punished. God didn’t just overlook His sin, every time He sinned He was punished by God.
        If you read Psalm 51, it was the most pitiful repentance. David had not desire or intention to want to sin against God ever again. Therefore Proverbs 28:13 says whoso confesseth and forsaketh sin shall have mercy. Not just going and talking to some clergyman and saying I did this and I did that, but falling on your knees before God and saying Lord I don’t ever intend on doing that again, I’m sorry, forgive me… See you have to come broken up and contrite. David said a broken and contrite heart… you can’t have no more affection for the sin you committed. David said if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me (ref. Psalms 66:18). I can repent all I want, but if I want to do it again God doesn’t even recognize my repentance.

        I pray you consider what I have typed and not just think of ways to combat what I am saying to you.


      2. Thanks again for the comments. Obviously, we’re not on the same page here at all. Also, the comment section in a blog is one of the least productive ways to cordially discuss such disagreements. Please keep reading if you wish, but I’m not going to discuss this here, it would only be unfruitful.



  2. If any man say they are without sin, he is a liar and has been deceived by the devil! Only Christ was without sin! But lets be fair here for Gods says, let all man be found liars! Thank God ever so greatly for the victory which belongs to christ! It is as we walk by grace through faith that we are saved and that a free gift of god that no man can boast. Can any man boast that he is without sin?

    Thanks be to Jesus our savior, our Lord and the communion of saints which praise and adore him for all he did! Thank you so much lord so gracious to me a sinner! Thank you so much with grace abounding over sin! Oh, I praise your name and adore you for all you have done for this great wretched sinner!


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