Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 8, 1962
NUMBER 39, PAGE 8-9b

Must One Be A Member Of The Church To Be Saved?

Jack L. Holt, Longview, Texas

The above question is very pointed and plain. It is not must one be a member of "a" church to be saved, but must one be a member of "the church" to be saved. There is so much false doctrine in the religious world concerning the church that the issue must be plainly drawn. Can one be saved and not be in the church of Christ, or the church of the Bible? Can one be saved out of the church built by Christ (Matt. 16:18), and purchased by His blood? (Acts 20:28) The question has nothing to do with the churches of men, but concerns the church. "He is the head over all things to the church." (Eph. 1:22) "Husbands love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it." (Eph. 5:25) Must one be a member of this church of which Christ is the head, and for which He gave Himself, to be saved?

If one were to answer the question based on the teaching of most of the religious world, his answer would be "No." The essentiality of the church is ridiculed and belittled by many religious teachers and worldly wise philosophers. To them the church is non-essential and unimportant to the saving of the soul, and one can be saved out of, as well as in the church. This false teaching springs from the error of thinking that God's institutions are no better, or more important than man's. And since human churches have nothing to do with salvation, then neither does God's church. But is God to be judged by man? Shall the creature inform the creator? "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning." Did Jesus die for a non-essential? Did God raise Him from the dead to make Him the head of an institution that has nothing to do with the salvation of the soul?

Believing the church to be non-essential men are filled with the sentiment "one church is just as good as another." Or, "I had as soon join one church as another." And again, "There is good in all churches." If there is good in all churches then why not join them all and get all the good? Of course if the church is non-essential, if it has nothing to do with salvation; if it also is human, then one church is as good as any other church. But is the church of which Christ is the head human or divine? Did the blood of Christ purchase just one of many human organizations? The church built by Christ was built upon the fact that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:18) Having a divine foundation, a Divine head over it, and a divine book to guide it the church of Christ is divine, and is as far above the churches of men as God is above man.

But it is also said, "The church doesn't save." This is true. Christ saves, but He saves the church. "He is the savior of the body." (Eph. 5:23) "The church is His body." (Eph. 1:23) Very few object when we teach that Christ is our savior, but many object to the teaching that reveals where or what Christ saves.

Let us briefly examine the question, "What is the church?" The church is not a material building. It is not composed of brick and mortar, but of "lively stones, built up a spiritual house...." (1 Pet. 2:5) The word church which referred to any assembly originally came to be used primarily to denote God's assembly, or God's called out people. The church is a people who have been "called out of darkness into His marvelous light." (1 Pet. 2:9-10) This church or called out body is the temple of God (Eph. 2:21), the body of Christ (Col. 1:18), the house or family of God (I Tim. 3:15), the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13), and Jesus is the head of it. (Eph. 1:22) Yet men say it is non-essential! Now can one be saved and not be a member of this church?

The New Testament teaches that Christ saves the body (Eph. 5:23), and the body is the church. (Col. 1:18) Hence, Christ saves the church. True, Christ is the savior of all men, that is He died for all, but only those in the church have obtained the benefits of His death. "He is the savior of all men, especially of them that believe." (1 Tim. 4:10) Paul here affirms that though Christ came to save all, only the believers will be saved. These saved believers make up the church. Believers are those who "received his word." Then they that gladly received his word were baptized and there were added unto them that day about three thousand souls." (Acts 2:41) The expression "added unto them," is equivalent to "the Lord added to the church." (Acts 2:47) The "baptized and the added," of V-41, were members of the same body as the "saved and the added" of V-47. In Acts 5:14 we read, "And the believers were the more added to the Lord." Thus the Bible teaches that the baptized were added, the saved were added and believers were added. Hence, the believers that were added were the baptized or the saved believers. These compose the church. The Lord saves the church, and is thus the savior, specially of them that believe. There are no saved believers out of the church.

The Bible not only teaches that Christ saves the body, but it also teaches that there is but one body. As the affirmation that "there is one God" (Eph. 4:6), rules out all other gods, so the affirmation that "there is one body" (Eph. 4:4), rules out all other bodies. This body is the church. Christ is "the head of the body which is the church." (Eph. 1:23) If the head means one head, what does the church mean? If we have the scriptural authority to speak of two churches, and to say that one church is as good as another, then what would be wrong in saying, "one head is as good as another?" One may as well reject the headship of Christ as the body of Christ. In fact, when one becomes a member of a human church he has rejected the headship of Christ because he is not in the body of Christ. Christ is not the head of "the bodies," but of "the body." Thus when one is out of the body of Christ he is not under the authority or headship of Christ. Can one be saved and not be under the headship of Christ? The sentiment of some in the day of Christ was, "we will not have this man to rule over us." The same rejection is made today by all who reject His church. Are we members of the church, and thus under the headship of Christ?

If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without the blood of Christ. We can be saved only through the blood of Christ, for only through His blood can sins be forgiven. "It is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin." (Heb.l0:4) And also, "by the deeds of the Law (any law, Moses or moral) can no flesh be justified." (Rom. 3:20) It is by the blood of Christ that we have redemption "through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:14) Only those who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ have the remission of sins, or are saved. All who are out of the church are still in their sins, and thus unsaved. This is a strong indictment but it is true. The Word of God teaches that "Jesus purchased the church with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) The church consists of its members. The members of the church are those whom Christ purchased with His own blood. If the blood of Christ is essential to our salvation, so is the church of Christ, for only those in the church are purchased with his blood. How do we now answer the question, "Must one be a member of the church to be saved?"

We become members of the church of Christ by entering Christ. To become members of Christ, or getting into Christ is the same as becoming members of the church. "We are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26) Or what is the same, children of God by faith in the church. This locates salvation. We are not children of God out of Christ, or the church, but in Christ or the church. We are children of God by faith when faith obeys. The next verse says: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" Have we been baptized into Christ where we are children of God by faith? Are we members of the church? From all we have said we think it proper to affirm, "One must be a member of the church to be saved."