THE COMMUNION OF THE SAINTS
Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
Having explored some of the intellectual and moral disagreements between
Christianity and modern thought, we can turn from the negative to the positive.
The Christian life and the Biblical world view can not only withstand critical inquiry,
but they can inspire critical inquiry. Christianity is a positive advantage to the
person who seeks knowledge and truth. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
proved themselves “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters” at the
University of Babylon (Daniel 1:21). Not only were Daniel and the others allowed
to study at Babylon, but they excelled. Modern Christians may not be able to attain
the same ratio over their unbelieving colleagues, but the principle seems to be that
those faithful to the God of the Bible have an actual advantage in the pursuit of
The intellectual resources of Christianity are vast and rich. Christians, though, must
learn to draw on those resources; if they do not, it will be difficult for them to
stand against the onslaughts of the unbelieving mind.
One of the Christian’s most precious, and often most underused, resources is the
Church. The Bible teaches that a group of Christians becomes greater than the sum
of its parts. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the
midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). When even two Christians come together in the
name of Christ, Jesus Himself is there. In fact, groups of ordinary Christians make
up no less than the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
It is difficult to be a Christian by oneself, especially in a hostile environment. Christ
ordained that the Christian is to be nourished and supported by other Christians.
The local church, fellowship with other believers in one’s profession or field, the
solidarity with the Christian Church through the ages, with its store of wisdom and
with its great intellectual tradition—all of these manifestations of the universal
Church can be a bulwark against the intellectual and moral temptations of the
modern age. The Church can also offer support, direction, inspiration, and a rich,
complex source of ideas that can provide a context and a foundation for one’s own
studies. Christian students and thinkers need to take advantage of the spiritual and
intellectual interplay that can be found in what the creeds refer to as “the
communion of the saints.”
Being a part of the community that is the Church is extremely helpful in battling
what may be the most subtle and damaging temptation of them all in academic,
professional, or intellectual circles: worldliness. The desire to be accepted by
colleagues, to be fashionable, to fit in with the dominant social or intellectual circle,
is very powerful. Such desires may be innocent at first, but after a while they can
make the Christian faith seem embarrassing, then an obstacle to full acceptance by
the group. The desire to be intellectually respectable can lead to hybrid breeds of
secularism and Christianity as seen in modern liberal theology or to sheer unbelief.
The desire to be socially respectable can erode the sternness of Biblical morality
into a free and easy tolerance that can come to excuse, both in others and in
oneself, the rankest immorality.
Such peer pressure (which is just as common in adults as in young people, by the
way) is what the Bible means when it warns against the temptations of “the
world.” The Church can offer a counterweight, a good peer pressure, so to speak,
that can keep a person from sliding away into conformity with an unbelieving
world. Such conformity not only can be caustic to faith, but it is also stifling
One form of peer pressure common in academia and other professions is that of
social class. Peter Berger, the great contemporary sociologist, argues that there is
a new elite in American society, a social class that is based not upon wealth, as in
the old social classes, but upon information and the manipulation of symbols and
knowledge. This new elite social class includes educators, journalists, artists,
members of the helping professions, social scientists, and government workers.
This new class tends to stress liberal social, intellectual, and moral values. It is thus
in conflict with the old business class, with its more conservative, business-oriented
values. Because academics and intellectuals find themselves in this particular social
class, they will experience pressure to conform to its beliefs and symbols.
Berger points out, for example, how difficult it is for a faculty member in a typical
modern university to admit having conservative values. Friends, colleagues, and
the academic institutions themselves exert pressure upon the faculty member to
exhibit the class values of moral libertarianism and progressive social theories. Such
acculturation is casual and informal, but the small talk in the faculty lounge, the
jokes, and the social atmosphere tend to enforce an ideology. Certain opinions and
attitudes become symbols of right thinking, of solidarity with the world of
intellectuals and scholars. As Berger points out,
The symbols of class culture are important. They allow people to “sniff
out” who belongs and who does not; they provide easily applied
criteria of “soundness.” Thus a young instructor applying for a job in
an elite university is well advised to hide “unsound” views such as
political allegiance to the right wing of the Republican party (perhaps
even to the left wing), opposition to abortion or to other causes of
the feminist movement, or a strong commitment to the virtues of the
Believing in abortion has thus become a shibboleth for the new elite. The young
instructor may never get a job at that elite university if such “unsound” views are
detected. If the instructor does get the job, in a few years of acculturation in the
faculty club, those “conservative” views may very well give way to ones that are
more socially acceptable. The same pattern is no doubt behind the political
phenomenon of conservative officeholders becoming more liberal to the extent
that they become involved in the social life of Washington, D.C.
This class struggle, as Berger describes it, is also manifested in the contemporary
Church. The mainline theological establishment—theologians at prestigious
universities, Church leaders who manage large bureaucracies, and ministers
grounded in the social sciences or helping professions—is also part of the “new
class.” Berger goes even further:
One of the easiest empirical procedures to determine very quickly
what the agenda of the new class is at any given moment is to look
up the latest pronouncements of the National Council of Churches
and, to a somewhat lesser extent, of the denominational
organizations of mainline Protestantism.2
Berger does believe, at the same time, that “the Christian New Right represents
the agenda of the business class (and of other strata interested in material
production) with which the new class is locked in religious battle.”3
It is probably inevitable and, to a certain extent, theologically indifferent for political
beliefs to be shaped by social class, special interests, and other secular concerns.
The moral and religious beliefs of a Christian, on the other hand, need to be shaped
by the Word of God, not by the world. Christians need to be critical thinkers and to
use discernment, forging their own ideology based on Scripture, not the social class
that they aspire to. Christians should not be so easily labeled. “Thus,” says Berger,
“one might conclude on grounds of Christian ethics that the new class is ‘more
Christian’ in its resolute antagonism to racism, but ‘less Christian’ in its uncritical
allegiance to the cause of abortion.”4
The point is, social pressures can and do erode Christian orthodoxy, probably more
than any actual intellectual arguments. Ironically and tragically, the temptations of
the world increase in direct proportion to one’s success. When a Christian starts to
succeed—academically, financially, politically, or professionally—the world will
become more and more seductive. With prestige comes dependence upon the
opinion of others. With status comes the invitation to join the “inner circles.”5 With
the feeding of one’s pride comes self-deification. I do believe Christians can be
successful, but they must beware of what temptations they will face. They will also
need the ministry of the Church.
DANIEL AND CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP
When Daniel was in Babylon, he relied on the support of his fellow-believers. Four
Hebrews bound together in fellowship and prayer were able to withstand the
temptation of conforming to the status and glory of Imperial Babylon. Daniel’s
experience as described in Scripture gives a model for how a Christian in a hostile
environment can draw on the spiritual strength of other believers.
After Daniel’s formal education was completed, the whole academic community of
which Daniel had become a part was almost put to the sword. It began when
Nebuchadnezzar had a bad dream. The king had the feeling that the dream was
important, but, as with most dreams, he could not even remember what it was.
He summoned the academic community and insisted that they tell him what his
dream was and what it meant. “Tell us what the dream was,” they replied, “and we
will interpret it.” The king would not make it so easy:
The king answered the Chaldeans, “The word from me is sure: if you
do not make known to me the dream and its interpretation, you shall
be torn limb from limb, and your houses shall be laid in ruins.” . . . The
Chaldeans answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can
meet the king’s demand; for no great and powerful king has asked
such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. The thing that
the king asks is difficult, and none can show it to the king except the
gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” Because of this the king was
angry and very furious, and commanded that all the wise men of
Babylon be destroyed. (Daniel 2:5, 10-12)
Nebuchadnezzar was asking for the impossible. His “wise men,” however insightful
they might be, could not read his mind. Nebuchadnezzar exploded. “What am I
paying you people for if you cannot answer a simple question that it tormenting
Even today people are infuriated when intellectuals cannot answer questions that
are impossible for them to answer: How can we decrease crime? Why are our
children misbehaving? When does life begin? What should we do about genetic
engineering or the threat of nuclear war? How can we establish the perfect society?
Such questions of values and the mysteries of the human condition ever elude
confident answers from human wisdom, and we become frustrated when our great
“thinkers” are, as they must be, as mystified by all of this an anyone else.
The result of Nebuchadnezzar’s frustration was the threat of an anti-intellectual
bloodbath. In the Red Guard frenzy in China, scholars and teachers were routinely
rounded up and brutalized simply for being intellectuals. The Khmer Rouge in
Cambodia at one point killed anyone with glasses because that was evidence that
the person could read. The same sort of violent anti-intellectualism breaks out
from time to time. Christians are usually also victims in these crusades against
anyone who thinks.
So the decree when forth that the wise men were to be slain, and
they sought Daniel and his companions, to slay them. Then Daniel
replied with prudence and discretion to Arioch, the captain of the king’s
guard, who had gone out to slay the wise men of Babylon; he said to
Arioch, the king’s captain, “Why is the decree of the king so severe?”
Then Arioch made the matter known to Daniel. And Daniel went in and
besought the king to appoint him a time, that he might show to the
king the interpretation. (Daniel 2:13-16)
Daniel was one of the “wise men” condemned to be slaughtered. He replied with
courtesy and respect even to his executioner, another striking example of his
submission to authority. This bought him some time. Daniel made the appointment
with the king before he had any idea what the dream was about or what he would
say. He acted in faith.
Immediately, he went to his fellow-believers:
Then Daniel went to his house and made the matter known to
Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions, and told them to
seek mercy of the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that
Daniel and his companions might not perish with the rest of the wise
men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision
of the night. (Daniel 2:17-19)
Daniel prayed, a valuable weapon in the believer’s arsenal. He did not just pray by
himself, though. He asked his three friends to pray for him. He “told them to seek
mercy of the God of heaven concerning this mystery.” Certainly God answers
solitary prayer, but there seems to be special power in the prayer of a group. “If
two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my
Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). At any rate, Daniel himself felt a need for the
support of the group. Immediately after he was confronted with this insoluble
problem, he sought out “his companions” in the faith.
That night God gave Daniel exactly what he needed to know. This crisis led to
Daniel’s great prophecy of Christ triumphing over the world kingdoms (Daniel 2).
The outcome was an opportunity to witness for the true God that made
Nebuchadnezzar himself acknowledge the God of Israel (2:47). What looked to be
disaster led to the advancement of God’s people as Daniel was made ruler over all
of the pagan wise men and his companions were made rulers in Babylon.
The principle here seems to be that Christians in a hostile environment need to
seek out other Christians in that hostile environment to support each other in
fellowship and prayer. Bible studies, prayer groups, and Christian friendships can be
spiritual anchors. On a college campus, that might mean getting involved with
organized campus ministries or informal Bible study groups or simply getting to
know other Christians in one’s dorm or classes. At work that might mean finding
out about other Christians in the company or in one’s profession.
To meet together with other Christians for Bible study and prayer is to tap
enormous spiritual power. This will seem especially true when confronting hostility
to the faith. Encountering spiritual opposition can make a Christian hunger for
God’s Word, drawing from it nourishment that is constantly renewing and life-giving. When a person is engaged in spiritual combat, the Bible seems to speak
most clearly and most intimately. A text will sometimes almost leap up out of the
page. My college Bible is marked to tatters by underlining, notes, and dates
referring to situations and problems that were directly spoken to in my daily Bible
reading and in the insights of my friends as we studied the Scriptures.
Praying with and for other Christians is also a vast spiritual resource. Few of us
realize how powerful prayer is. To share one’s needs and to accept the prayers of
others is to experience true spiritual intimacy. Conversely, to take not simply one’s
own needs but those of another person before God in prayer is to experience
selflessness and true love for another person. God answers those prayers and in
so doing builds up the solidarity of His Body, the Church.
It is a mysterious fact of history that the Church is always at its best when it
encounters the most opposition. When the Roman Empire was slaughtering
Christians by the thousands, the Church seemed most real, most pure. The Age of
the Martyrs is always the Golden Age of the Church. During the Reformation,
people were given the choice of either renouncing the gospel or being burned alive.
On the mission field, many missionaries have been killed because of their message.
In many places, to be baptized means a death sentence. Today, in the Soviet
Union, Eastern Europe, China, and other places of religious oppression, the
Christians who meet together secretly, treasuring worn fragments of the Bible and
risking their very lives to worship Christ, are heroes of the faith. Whenever the
Church encounters persecution, the true power of the Holy Spirit is made manifest.
The opposition is not so severe on modern campuses or professional circles. Still,
the hostility of the modern intellectual establishment to orthodox Christianity can
and does create Christian fellowship that is purer and more alive than one often
finds in less dangerous environments. There are few who are Christians in name
only in campus fellowship groups. Those who band together in the face of
opposition are highly committed to their cause. Nominal Christians and the
uncommitted will not bother. As a result, the Christian fellowship one experiences in
college, for example, tends to be unusually vital, rich, and inspiring.
College Christians often experience a crisis when they graduate and move away
from the campus. They become used to an intense kind of fellowship, Bible study,
and mutual support that is difficult to find in an ordinary church. The point is, the
Church thrives in a hostile atmosphere, not only in spite of the opposition in
encounters, but because of the opposition.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
Informal fellowship as experienced in Christian friendships, Bible studies, and prayer
groups is no substitute, however, for the local church. Modern-day Christians often
prefer to meet with people just like themselves in informal settings, disdaining the
institutional Church. This can be a dangerous mistake. The best safeguard against
elitism, which is the sure mark of worldliness, is intense involvement in the local
church. Most churches contain people with whom we would never associate on our
own. Yet in the Church, something wonderful and profound takes place. People
from every age-group, every occupation and social class, will all come together on
Sunday morning to unite in worship of their Lord: the wealthy banker, the farmer,
the elderly widow, the four-year-old; the well-educated, the illiterate; the highly
sophisticated, the naïve and uncultured. In the Church the infinite variety of human
beings—all ages, occupations, interest, and personalities—are united in Jesus Christ.
It is natural and desirable to associate with people with whom we have things in
common, to form homogenous groups based on age, interests, social background,
or academic field. This can have its value, as long as relationships with the rich
texture of humanity are not neglected. The “ordinary” people of one’s local parish
ought never be despised.
Christianity calls into existence a diverse community of believers. The Christian
ethic is based on love, and love implies relationships. Although it may be easier to
love if we never have to actually deal with anyone, Biblical love is that messy kind
that means getting involved with real people. This requires people meeting together
and sharing their lives and faith with people who are as different from each other as
a foot is from an eye (1Corinthians 12:14-26). The problem with private Bible
study groups alone is that they can tend to be made up of all feet or all eyes.
The ordinary church on the corner, if it holds to Scripture and proclaims Christ, has
been established by God for the sake of His Kingdom. Worship of the living God is
to be done not only individually but corporately, as the whole body of believers in
all of their diversity comes together to hear the Word of God proclaimed and to
sing praises to God. In corporate worship Christians also take part in the Christ-ordained rites of baptism and Holy Communion, in which our union with Christ and
with each other is made manifest most intimately. Christians, no matter how
intellectually sophisticated they might be, should submit to the discipline and the
fellowship of a local congregation, and in doing so they will find a precious spiritual
THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
The Body of Christ includes not only one’s Christian friends and local church. It
includes all believers in Christ around the world. It extends also back through time
to include the believers in Christ who lived and died hundreds of years ago.
Someone who believes in Jesus Christ is unified with all other Christians, living and
dead. As organic members of Christ’s Body, we become part of the company of all
the saints. Paul of Tarsus, Augustine, Francis of Assisi, John Hus, Martin Luther,
John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, the Christians in the
Soviet prison camps—all of these Christians, in all of their variety, partake of the
same Holy Spirit who has drawn us also into the Christian faith. This universal
Church, with its rich intellectual tradition and its heritage of spiritual wisdom and
example, is a strong ally for someone trying on the modern secular establishment.
According to the Bible, each individual believer is made part of the entire company
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are
fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus
himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined
together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also
are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the
members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with
Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jew or
Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. . . . If
one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all
rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 26)
There is certainly variety in the universal Church—different personalities, different
cultures, different traditions. Biblical unity is not drab uniformity, neither the
nothingness of Eastern religions which eradicate individuality and uniqueness, nor a
bureaucratic lowest common denominator. Instead, the Bible stresses a unity of
things that are very different from each other. This unity amidst diversity is imaged
in the human body. The lungs are nothing like a toe, the spleen is not even close to
an eyeball, but all of these individual organs nevertheless work together and make
up one body.
The same is true in the Church. The usher standing in the back of the sanctuary
passing out bulletins may not seem very similar to Justin Martyr who was killed for
his faith in the second century, but those differences should not obscure the very
real unity they have in Jesus Christ. Even in the discords and theological
disagreements which mar the outward unity of the church, there is a fundamental
oneness among true believers in Christ.6
The Christians of the past constitute a heritage of spirituality and insight which can
be especially helpful for present-day Christians in academia. Through God’s great
gift of writing, ideas can be stored and passed on to other generations. Even after
an individual dies, his or her mind and insights can live on, preserved forever in the
pages of a book. When we read, we can tap in to a great Christian’s mind, sharing
in the person’s faith, experience, and wisdom. Reading the works of Christians
through the ages—Augustine and Eusebius, Aquinas and Dante, Luther and Calvin,
Herbert and Milton, Wesley and Johnson, MacDonald and Chesterton, Eliot and
Lewis—is similar to the commerce of minds and faith that one finds in an unusually
lively Bible study. The same kind of nourishment, the same kind of “communion of
the saints,” is possible, working not only vertically through people in our own
circles, but horizontally through time.
Modern-day Christians are heirs to a great Christian intellectual tradition. This
tradition of active thought and practical problem-solving is a vital ally for Christians
fighting against the intellectual trends of the modern world. Drawing on the insights
of the past can give a valuable perspective on present-day issues. We can thus be
freed from the tyranny of the present, the assumption that the way people think
today is the only possible way to think.7
If confused by modern atheistic and nihilistic philosophy, read some classic Christian
philosophers. By any criterion, who is the better philosopher, Nietzsche or St.
Thomas Aquinas? If troubled with modern theologians who deny the truths of
Scripture, take a look at the Church Fathers, the theologians of the first few
centuries after Christ. Notice along with C. S. Lewis how the “new” theologies turn
out to be simply old, worn-out heresies that real theologians dismissed a long time
If interested in the arts and literature, but disturbed because your artistic friends
despise your faith, saturate yourself in Bach, Rembrandt, and Milton. Or, if you
need someone more modern, study Poulenc, Roualt, and T.S. Eliot. How do these
Christian artists measure up? Aren’t they rather impressive, even to your
If you are interested in science, but having difficulties reconciling science to
Scripture, read almost any of the founders of modern science, who were also
usually devout Christians. Read Sir Isaac Newton, or, for a real jolt of spiritual
energy, read Blaise Pascal. Notice how religious faith and scientific knowledge can
actually build on each other.
Whatever your field of study or interest, do some extra research and find the
Christians who were also involved in that field. There are almost always some;
often they are the pioneers, the intellectual giants of the discipline.
In addition to the thinkers of the past, make contact with the Christian thinkers of
the present. For a time it seemed that Bible-believing Protestants had abandoned
the battleground, leaving the academic debate and the great questions of the
modern world to the secularists. That is the case no longer.
When I was in college, I remember looking for a Christian response to
existentialism and other ideas I was confronted with in college. The best resource I
could find was The Catholic Encyclopedia. It was genuinely helpful. Catholicism’s rich
intellectual tradition has kept abreast of modernist ideas and subjected them to a
Christian critique. As a Protestant, I wished my fellow-Protestants would do more.
Later I discovered the world of evangelical scholarship, which is continually growing
more vigorous and more sophisticated. Subscribing to Christianity Today helped
put me in touch with this kind of thinking. I also started hanging out at a good
Christian bookstore. I found writers such as Francis Schaeffer taking on the whole
Western tradition from the point of view of Biblical Christianity. I discovered
theologians such as Carl Henry, who magisterially answered my questions about
philosophy and modern theologians. I was already familiar with C. S. Lewis, that
most indispensable of modern Christian writers, but I found author after author,
book after book, that dealt in a Biblical way with topics and issues I was facing in
I discovered whole publishing companies devoted to exploring the relationship
between the Christian faith and every area of life—Crossway, InterVarsity Press,
Baker, Zondervan, Eerdmans, etc., etc. There are also scholarly journals that relate
one’s subject specialty to the Christian faith. Christian Scholar’s Review offers a
broad-ranging sampling of Christian scholarship with reviews that can alert one to
the latest books on nearly every topic. In my field there is Christianity and
Literature, and similar specialized Christian periodicals exist for almost every
profession and field of study. There are also organizations in which Christians of the
same profession—scientists, nurses, attorneys, business executives—can make
contact with each other for mutual fellowship and support.
Today it is possible to find the Christian point of view on nearly every topic of
debate, in nearly every field of knowledge. The social sciences and the hard
sciences, the humanities and the vocations have all been sensitively explored by
Christian writers. Subjects such as clinical psychology, creationism vs. evolution,
the dynamics of the arts, the foundations of political action, the ethical problems in
the fields of nursing or business have all been treated in a helpful way by people
applying the Word of God to modern thought and experience.
A special manifestation of the Church engaged in the pursuit of knowledge is the
Christian school and the Christian college. Here Christian faculty and Christian
students can join together in a fellowship that is both intellectual and spiritual. Here
the integration of Christianity with all areas of knowledge and of life is the daily
work and the basic assumption of the whole institution. Here Christian scholarship
and Christian thinking is encouraged and nourished. Strong, excellent Christian
colleges are an important arm of the Church as a whole.
There is still a great deal to do. The Christian intellectual tradition needs to be
passed on to new generations of thinkers. It needs to be reinvigorated. There are
still many questions that have not yet been fully answered. There are errors that
need to be challenged and truths that need to be defended. The Christian
community needs the support of Christian thinkers, and secular thought needs
persuasive, effective applications of Biblical truths.
The individual Christian can find nourishment and support in the Church. In a hostile
climate, the company of fellow-believers is essential. Christians today may draw on
and become a part of the Christian intellectual tradition that has had such an
impact on the world. One of the keys in resolving the dilemmas that a Christian will
face in the modern world is to realize that no Christian need face any problem
1Peter Berger, “The Class Struggle in American Religion,” Christian Century, 25 February 1981, p.
4Ibid., p. 199.
5For a good discussion of the spiritual dangers of “inner circles,” see C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters
(N.Y.: Macmillan, 1958), pp. 53,54.
6I do not intend here to minimize the importance of theological disagreements. I refer not to the
“visible Church,” which is marred by serious theological schisms, but to the “invisible Church,”
which is united in Christ.
7See C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1970), pp. 200-207.
8C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (N.Y.: Macmillan, 1952), p. 120.
Taken from Loving God With All Your Mind by Gene Edward Veith, Jr., copyright © 1987. Used by
permission of Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187. This
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