Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 14, 1962

Does One Have To Be A Member Of The Church To Be Saved?

James E. Cooper

Some time ago I wrote several articles on the general theme of "The Foolishness of Preaching vs. Foolish Preaching." Men engage in foolish preaching when they teach things not contained in the Bible. Paul said that "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor. 1:21) He did not say that foolish preaching will save.

No church is as important as the one Jesus Christ established on the first Pentecost after His resurrection. Although denominations claim to be a part of this great universal body of Christ, they are false churches. They teach and practice things that are not in harmony with the Word of God.

In this article I wish to consider the statement, "One doesn't have to be a member of the church to be saved." Sometimes we hear preachers say, "The church doesn't save you." But, at the same time the person making that statement is trying to get people to "join" the church with which he is affiliated. If it doesn't make any difference, why do they spend so much time trying to get people to "join" the church for which they preach? Preachers are inconsistent when they say that "one church is just as good as another " and then try their hardest to convince people that they ought to "join" the denomination for which they preach. If I thought one church were as good as another, I would cease trying to teach people in denominationalism that they are in error.

Some say that "one doesn't have to be a member of the church to, be saved" because they have been so taught. If, as they claim, one doesn't have to be a member of the church to be saved, one church would be as good as another. And, if one church is not as good as another, it necessarily follows that there are some features about one church not characteristic of all the rest.

The church of Christ is the church which Christ built. It is scriptural in its name, its origin, its faith, its doctrine and its practice. No denomination can make such a claim. No denomination can prove itself to be scriptural. I will readily admit that one denomination is as good as another, for they are all wrong. The church of my Lord is not a denomination; it is simply the church of Christ. It is neither Protestant nor Catholic in the ordinary usage of the terms. It is both Protestant and Catholic in another sense. It is Protestant in the sense that it protests against the errors of both Catholicism and sectarianism. It is catholic in the sense that it is universal. Its catholicity is not limited to Rome, nor to any other sectarian designation. It is the church of Christ; it is the body of Christ.

The foolishness that one church is as good as another is based on the idea that baptism is not essential to salvation, but it is essential to church membership. Have you ever noticed that the very denominations that preach the hardest against baptism as essential to salvation are the very denominations which are so strict about baptism's being essential to church membership? The Bible teaches that baptism is essential to salvation, and that salvation is essential to membership in the Lord's church. The Lord adds "to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47)

Matt. 28: 18-20 reads, "And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Notice: Jesus has all authority. Upon this authority he commanded them to "Go ye therefore teaching all nations, baptizing them...." Jesus commanded that those who became believers were to be baptized.

Mark's account of the Great Commission says, "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 be damned." Putting the two passages together, we see that upon the authority given him, Christ commanded the apostles to go forth to the whole world preaching the gospel. Those who believed and were baptized were saved, but those who rejected the gospel were damned.

Peter was laboring under the Great Commission when he said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," (Acts 2:38) Peter was talking to people who had heard his sermon designed to produce faith in the resurrection of Christ. When they heard it, and believed it, they were pricked in their hearts and cried out, "What must we do?" Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins. He did not preach that they were saved by faith only and should be baptized to "join" some denomination. He did not tell, them to be baptized "because of" remission of sins, but "for" the remission of sins, then, in Acts 2:47, we find that the Lord "added to the church daily such as should be saved."

In Acts 22:16 we learn that Ananias found Saul of Tarsus praying and said, "And now why tarriest thou, arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." He found Saul a believing penitent, but still a lost man. If Saul had been saved on the road to Damascus, he was the most miserable saved man of whom you ever heard. If he was saved on the road, the Lord didn't know it, for he told him to go into the city and be told what he must do, and then appeared to- Ananias and told him where to find him. If Saul were saved on the road, the Lord didn't tell Ananias about it for Ananias told him to "arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins...." False teachers say that Saul was saved on the road before he got to Damascus, but the Bible does not say that.

In Gal. 3:26-27, Paul said, "For ye are all the sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ." The reason Paul could say they had been made children of God by faith is given that they had been baptized into Christ and therefore had put on Christ. If a person has not been baptized, he has not entered Christ, and has not put on Christ. Notice the result of turning this positive statement into the exact opposite: "For ye are not all the sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were not baptized into Christ did not put on Christ."

Foolish preachers will admit that one must be in Christ before he can enjoy salvation, or any spiritual blaming. (Eph. 1:3) But they will not admit that it takes baptism in order to get Into Christ. They try to tell us that one is baptized who is already in Christ. Gal. 3:27 says, "baptized into Christ" and not "baptized in Christ." False teachers need to learn the difference between "in" and "into."

Others think one doesn't have to be in the church to be saved because they think morality alone will save them. The Kentucky Monitor, in answer to the question, What in fact, are the true wages of a Master Mason?" says, "They are the rewards of a well-spent life, a glorious immortality." (P. xiii) Immortality means eternal life, and glorious certainly doesn't mean Hell. The cardinal doctrine of the Masonic movement is that the soul of man is immortal and it teaches virtue as the way of living a life to attain that end. Hence, the "true wages" is called the "rewards of a well-spent life, a glorious immortality." The Bible teaches that Christ is the Saviour of the body, the church. (Eph. 5:23) He is the only Saviour and did not come to be the saviour of any secret, human, fraternal organization.

Since Christ is the Saviour of the body, and the body is the church, then Christ is the Saviour of only one church as there is "one body." (Eph 4:4) No — the church does not save you. But — one must be in Christ's church in order to be saved. He is the Saviour of the body; the body is the church. He has only one body. He has only one church, and no salvation is promised outside of it. The saved are in the church, as Christ "adds to the church daily such as should be saved." Be is the Saviour of the body. (Eph. 5:23) It, the church, is not the saviour; it is the saved. If you are saved, you are in the church. If you are not in the church, how can you say you are saved?

Clarkson, Kentucky