The Personal Indwelling of the Spirit
The ancient classical creeds spoke of the Communion of Saints. It’s true that this doctrine wasn’t affirmed in the earliest creeds; this might mean a lot or nothing much. It’d be an awful mistake to think that Christians that lived before the creeds didn’t believe truths that didn’t appear in the creeds or that the creeds determined what was truth. In the final analysis the question is: Does the biblical witness support an affirmation?
In any case I’m persuaded (along with a host of others) that the Communion of Saints is best understood to mean that all who are embraced in the redeeming work of God in and through Christ even now share the blessings of grace available to them and that they do it together, as one grand all-encompassing Community. This is true whether they live here or there, whether they are the living or the dead.
The real enemy of monotheism is not an abstract doctrine of multiple gods. It’s the denial that all humans are the one God’s creation and are loved by him. We deny that by our cruel practice and our divisive arrogance and snobbery—whether religious, social or racial—that’s what divides God (or Christ—see 1 Corinthians 1:13 and context with Romans 3:29-30). The main enemy of the unity of the entire redeemed Body in Christ is not an abstract doctrine that division is defensible. The subtlest and the most dangerous enemy is a rampant individualism that devours the West and destroys community—religious or otherwise. We’re so anxious to see that we are individually catered to that we read almost everything in the NT from that perspective and we need to put the brake on it.
The Spirit indwells each Christian but there is no such thing as an independent and free-standing unit called a Christian. To think we are Christians independent of all other members of the Body of Christ is foolishness. We are many parts or members but we are that only because we are part of the Body, the Church. Without that connection to the Head and to one another, we aren’t part of the Body at all! Fingers and eyes and feet don’t exist independently. They cannot!
The Spirit of God indwells the temple, the Body of Christ and as a consequence he indwells each member. He does not indwell each individual member independent of others, he indwells each member because he indwells all others. The human spirit (however we define it) does not dwell independently in a toe or an ear or an arm; it dwells in the entire "us". The Spirit does not dwell (to continue the metaphor) in an eye or a mouth or an ear as independent parts of the Body. He indwells the Body, as a totality, a one-community reality. Therefore and in this way he relates to each one of us personally. I don’t have the Spirit of God indwelling me independent of all my brothers and sisters in Christ. You don’t have the Spirit indwelling you independent of me. He is in us all or he is in none of us. Since he is in the entire Body therefore he is in and relates to each one of us without exception.
We misread the NT, I think, when we read the personal and use it—even unintentionally—to support this ugly individualism that destroys the world. The answer to the totalitarian or fascist spirit is not rampant individualism, which, at its worst, is little more than prudent and controlled anarchy. This, I think, is truth and is of critical importance to Christians. We do not live without each other because we cannot and because we cannot live without each other we live in a mutual sharing in the Holy Spirit which is the Spirit of Christ. The gift of the Spirit is to the Body of Christ and those that are members of that one Body share in that one Spirit as one Body and not as if they were all bodies, independent of each other.
This is the Communion of Saints.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.