Can One Be Saved
Outside The Church?
By Harold Hazelip
All of us have heard this question often: “Must one be a member of the Church to be saved?” We all know the common answer, but have you ever really tried to find the Bible answer? The Bible is God’s only revelation of His will to men; what does the Bible teach about membership in the Church that Jesus built?
God has always located salvation in
a certain place. In Noah’s day,
salvation was in the ark. In the day of
the tabernacle which the Israelites constructed at
Christ’s Attitude Toward The Church
In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify it and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to him self a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.” (Ephesians 5:22-31).
The importance of the Church can be seen in Christ’s attitude toward it, as stated by Paul. Christ loved the Church, and gave Him self as a sacrificial offering for the Church. He sets apart and cleanses the Church, nourishes and cherishes it, and one day will present it to Himself as His Heavenly bride for eternity. It is difficult to understand how the idea of unimportance ever came to be associated with the Church in men’s minds in view of Christ’s attitude toward His Church. In Acts 20:28, we learn that Christ purchased the Church with His own blood. In Ephesians 1:23, we are told that the Church is the fullness of Christ. Why, then, do men speak lightly of membership in Christ’s Church?
Surely the attitude of indifference many of us have toward the Church is occasioned by a misconception of the Church as presented in the Bible. We often hear it said that “the church can’t save anybody.” This is true, and yet this does not prove that anybody can be saved outside the Church. The Church does not save; God does. Nobody in the Church can save any one else from a single sin. No one can absolve our sins except God through Christ. Jesus once told the Apostles, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23). But it was centuries before any one thought that Jesus meant the Apostles were to personally for give men’s sins. The Apostles certainly did not understand Him to mean this; they only understood that they, guided by the Holy Spirit, would be able to divinely set forth the conditions by which men’s sins would be remitted or retained by God. The Apostles never tried to absolve any one’s sins; rather, when men inquired what to do to be saved, the Apostles told these men the conditions upon which God would forgive their sins. These conditions of pardon were not devised by the Apostles personally, but consisted of the commands of the Great Commission for alien sinners, and of repentance, confession of faults to one another, and prayer for forgiveness by the erring Christian. So the Church does not save; no one in the Church can forgive us of a single sin.
Whom Does Christ Save?
But the real question is, “Whom does Christ save?” Remember Paul’s words, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the both.” Christ is the saviour of the body. What is the body? In the same epistle, Paul wrote, “And (God) hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Notice his language: “The church ... which is his body . . . he is the saviour of the body.” According to Paul, Christ is the saviour of the Church! The Church does not save, Christ does; but Christ saves the Church! This is New Testament teaching.
To Be “In Christ” Is To Be “In The Church”
There is another chapter in Ephesians where Paul teaches us this same lesson. Notice his words: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who some times were far off are made nigh by the blood of
Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.” (Ephesians 2:
The Gentile Christians at
Saved And Added to The Church
By The Same Process
Another simple way to see that being in Christ and being in His Church are synonymous expressions to describe exactly the same relationship to God is for us to observe that the same process which saves the sinner also makes him a Christian and adds him to the Lord’s Church! In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus told His apostles how every human being could be saved from sin: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall he damned.” Our Lord here says that the sinner must believe in Him and be baptized in order to be saved, In Galatians 3:26-27, Paul describes the process by which the Galatians had become Christians: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The Galatians had become Christians by faith in Christ and baptism into Christ. In Acts 2, the events of the day of Pentecost are described. This was the birthday of the Lord’s Church, and sinners were told what to do to he saved by the Apostles. In Acts 2:41, we read the result: “Then they that gladly received the word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” In verse 47, it is said that those who thus obeyed the Gospel continued “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The people were added to the Church by “gladly receiving” the word, or by fully believing the Gospel, and being baptized.
Now let us see what we have
learned. The process by which a sinner
is saved is: faith in Christ and baptism. (Mark
16:15-16). The process by which a
sinner becomes a Christian is: faith in Christ and baptism. (Galatians 3:26-27). The process by
which a sinner is added to the Church by the Lord is: faith in Christ and
baptism. (Acts , 47).
If we are guided by what the Scriptures say, we should realize that the
same process by which a person is saved from sin and made a Christian also,
without any more or less being done, makes him a member of the
Don’t Join Any Denomination
Usually when people talk of being saved without being members of the Church, they actually mean that they can be saved without joining any denomination. This, of course, is true. In the New Testament period there were no denominations; there was only one Church — the church that Jesus built. Most people agree that when the sinner is saved, he becomes a member of the Lord’s Church, but many believe that he should then go and join some denomination to make it his church home. The churches of Christ are made up of people who have simply obeyed the Gospel, which made them members of the Lord’s Church. We have not joined anything else religiously. We are just Christians. We do not want to be members of two churches — the Lord’s and someone else’s. We just want to be members of His Church. And one cannot be saved without being a member of His Church as we have seen. This is actually what we mean when we introduce every one of these programs as being presented in the interest of “undenominational, New Testament Christianity.” If the Church that Jesus built was the only one in existence in the days of the Apostles, it is the only one we should be members of today. If the doctrines and practices of the Church that Jesus built have been changed through the centuries by human decrees and traditions, our greatest responsibility is to restore New Testament Christianity today in our lives as it existed in the first century. If we only follow the Bible, we will not become members of any denomination; we will just be members of the Church that Jesus built. And the same faith and obedience which causes the Lord to forgive our sins will also cause Him to add us to His Church! Obey the Lord today. Become and be just a Christian!