Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

Index by Subject

Must One Be A Member of the Church to be Saved?

The question under consideration, “Must one be a member of the church to be saved?”, is commonly asked, and easily answered. Scripture clearly reveals that fellowship in the church, as defined by God, is essential to the redemption of man. Simply put: Yes, one must be a member of the church to be saved. This assertion being made, it must be sustained and explained.

The question often arises from a misconception of the nature of the church. Many religious people think of the church as an institution that exists separate and apart from individual Christians. This common misconception is the root of our problem. Several years ago this writer had opportunity to talk with the curator of the Cane Ridge Meeting House in Paris, Kentucky, made famous by Barton W. Stone in the early 1800’s. The curator claimed for Cane Ridge the distinction of being one of the earliest “churches” of the Restoration Movement, and stated that today, Cane Ridge continues as a “church” without a “flock”. He was not referring to the building, but rather the institution. His statement was based on the aforementioned misconception of the church, and is patently absurd. Definitionally, you can’t have the “church” without the “flock”, because the church IS the flock.

Term Definitions

In order to sufficiently answer the question, terms must be defined. What is meant by “church” and what is meant by “saved”? Both formal definitions and context are important in this area. When the terms are clearly and sufficiently defined, the question answers itself.

In Mark 16:16, Jesus said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” The word “saved”, as found in Mark 16:16, literally means, “to deliver or protect: –heal, preserve, save” (Strong), and is defined by Vine as “the spiritual and eternal salvation granted immediately by God to those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (pg. 321, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). So, to expand and clarify this aspect of the question, it may be reworded to ask, “Must one be a member of the church to have spiritual and eternal salvation or safety?” This definition is understood and accepted by all. But what about the term “church”?

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus made an important promise, saying, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” The term translated “church” in this passage was commonly used in the first century. It is the greek word ekklesia and its base meaning is, “a calling out –an assembly, a church” (Strong). The term was used to refer to a called assembly of citizens, to discuss matters of national or local interest (cf. Acts 19:39), and of an unruly mob (cf. Acts 19:32, 41). In the context of Matthew 16, Vine says it refers to “the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, ‘I will build My Church'” (pg. 84, ibid.). The question under consideration does not refer to a mob, or a governmental gathering, it refers to the redeemed of God. Note that as one talks of “the whole company of the redeemed” one is talking about those who are saved by God. Therefore, the question is again expanded and clarified, and the answer becomes obvious. “Must one be a member of the ‘whole company of the redeemed’ to be Saved?” Or, “Must one be of those saved by God to be saved?” When the question reaches this final distilled form the answer becomes obvious. In fact, the question itself is reduced almost to absurdity as to ask it is to answer it. Yes, one has to be of those saved by God in order to be saved. God alone is capable of saving you. Salvation comes only by His grace. Salvation is to be found only in the church of God precisely because the church of God is the sum total of those who are saved.

Acts 2

This fact is clearly borne out by a careful examination of Acts chapter two. The chapter recounts the establishment of the church, and clearly identifies the nature of that institution. Verses 14-36 records Peter’s gospel sermon. Verse 37 gives the response of some present who accepted what Peter had to say, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Verse 38 includes Peter’s answer, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Verse 41 tells the result of Peter’s instruction, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” Note here that “souls were added.” Finally (most important to this study), verse 47 explains and clarifies verse 41, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” An examination of this text reveals that membership in the church (the called out) is automatic upon one’s being saved. You don’t “join” the church, and membership is not voluntary to those who are being saved. The Lord adds the saved automatically. When salvation is accomplished, God adds the new Christian to the “whole company of the redeemed.”

Conclusion

Perhaps it is still necessary to tie up a few loose ends in this matter.

No, membership in any particular denomination is not essential to salvation. In fact, denominationalism is sinful (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10-ff; 3:1-4; John 17:20-23). The entire concept of an institutionalized, compartmentalized and sectarian church is foreign to scripture. It has its origin in the imagination of men, and as such is not only not necessary to please God, but actually is detrimental to the spiritual welfare of believers.

Yes, God does expect a Christian to be identified with and work with other Christians in a local setting. God established the local church as a means of accomplishing His will. The local congregations are made up of individual Christians who come together to worship God (cf. Acts 20:7), work together for His glory (cf. 1 Cor. 16:1-2), and exhort and discipline one another (cf. Heb. 10:25; 1 Cor. 5). Christians are given explicit instructions to participate in these activities. For example, the instructions regarding assembling together, given in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

No Christian is excepted from his responsibility to encourage his brethren, nor excepted from his accountability to his brethren. Work, worship, organization and even discipline are on the congregational level. It is absurd to think that one can fulfill his responsibilities to God if he shirks this very important part of the life of a Christian.

The question is defined, answered and sustained. Yes, one must be a member of the church to be saved. Now it is the obligation of each seeker of God to “apply” for membership in that august insitution by obeying the gospel of Christ. The blessings of salvation are assured. “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).