Can One Be Saved Outside The Church?

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:" (Eph 1:3).


    This is the title of a beautiful and edifying song, written by T. 0. Chisholm and Charles H. Gabriel, first copyrighted in 1904. It has been sung around the world by faithful brethren, as they have taught the lost and admonished the saved. It ex- presses the sweet and clear scriptural teaching that salvation is located only "in Christ." The first verse of the song reads:

"Only in Thee, 0 Savior mine,
Dwelleth my soul in peace divine,
Peace that the world, tho' all combine,
Never can take from me.

Pleasures of earth so seemingly sweet,
Fail at the last my longings to meet;
Only in Thee my bliss is complete,
Only, dear Lord, in Thee!"

Literally hundreds of times the song has been sung with great feeling as a penitent soul emerged from the waters of baptism!


    There are those who do not agree with the sentiments of this song. It is not unusual to hear some say, in opposition to plain Bible statements, "One does not have to be a member of the church to be saved today." Others strongly contend, "The church does not save anyone," indicating, if not saying, that men can be saved outside the church, as well as in the church of Christ. Still others say, "One can be Christian and not be a member of any church"; and, "All one must do to be saved is to live an upright, moral life and be a good citizen, and Heaven is assured, though he is not affiliated with any church." Still others face members of the churches of Christ with the statement, "I have heard that you church of Christ people believe that you and your church are the only ones who will be saved! " May we ask a question that we believe will overcome any prejudice in asking this question? With consideration for your honest concern, "Who do you believe will be saved?" Is your answer, "I believe that all who obey Christ will be saved"? Well, that is exactly what members of the churches of Christ believe! But will you agree that those who will not obey Christ, in the name we wear, the creed we follow, the worship we perform, the life we live, will not be saved? We would go so far as to affirm, even some who have been members of the churches of Christ will not be saved, according to Peter's teaching in II Peter 2:20-22:

"For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb. The dog is turned to his own vomit again: and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
So, can we study together? Is it possible that we may have been taught wrong? Though honest in conscience, we may have breathed the wrong atmosphere so long we may be spiritually blinded. We need to really study and understand the Bible's teaching. There are many differences in the church built by Jesus and the ones built by men. In the words of Isaiah, we plead, "Come now let us reason together!" (Isa. 1: 18).


    If the Bible teaches that one, or one thousand, can be saved outside of being "in Christ" or His church, then let us assure you, we want to teach and uphold that doctrine. However, it is hoped that if we, with the study of the New Testament, find these positions to be in error, all will with equal fervor honestly accept, believe the Truth with all our heart, and teach the same to others.  It appeals to us that this is fair to all parties involved, and upon this all can agree. Let us be reminded that Jesus said, "...If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:31-32). And Peter's inspired command, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (I Pet. 4: 11). For the sake of our souls, those of our families, and all others whom we may influence this side of eternity, let us put aside all preconceived ideas, for at least the length of this study, study and submit the Scriptures that directly apply to the subject, combine them, summarize them, and then draw our conclusions.


    It is a fact to which we can all agree that the Lord invites, encourages, and wants to save all! (Matt 28:18-20). Further, it should be an acknowledged and accepted fact that the Lord is able, ready, and willing to save. Therefore, is it not also reasonable that the Lord has the right to say when, where, and how men are to be saved? It is our prayer that all, with study, will come to the conclusion that any one who denies these Bible facts is not of the Truth, and must be marked as a false teacher (Rom. 16:17).
    Jesus warned at the outset of His personal ministry, "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matt. 7:15). Let us beware of those whose teachings do not parallel the Lord's! Jesus says they are dangerous to our soul's eternal welfare!
    Through the peerless apostle Paul, we learn our  responsibility to "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thess. 5:21). Let us be sure to  prove every statement by which we live (Acts 17: 11)
    In the previous thoughts of I Thessalonians 5,  Paul declared some very important things the saved are to keep in remembrance until Christ comes again.  Inspiration states, "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:9). What an encouragement to  give, with God's help, every effort on our part to secure our salvation! If God had appointed us to wrath,  we would have been in a hopelessly lost state! But now, how cheerful is the hope of victory. Peter also reminds all that "the Lord is not slack concerning his  promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should  perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). How sweet it is to read, "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Tim. 2:34). And again, "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Tit. 2:11-12).
    It is quite evident from these passages that God indeed wants to save all men! But let us examine the next important step in our study.


    Until we study God's revelation, we must admit that none of us know where God will save (I Cor. 2:9-11). Just as God and Christ have the power and right to say that they purpose to save, so also they have the authority to say where salvation has been placed. We affirm that the Bible says salvation is found "Only In Him," just as the song expresses!
    Though religious men teach there are many bodies or churches today, before we draw any conclusions, let us study for a moment what the Bible says. First we note, the prophets identify only one body in which salvation would come. Isaiah says, the redeemed would walk in "the way of holiness" (Isa. 35:8-9). Jeremiah points us to the time of salvation under Christ as the "one way, one heart" (Jer. 32:38-40). In the New Testament, Jesus teaches there are only two ways in which men can travel, but He says only the "narrow way" leads to eternal life (Matt. 7: 13-14). Jesus also singularly points to Himself as being "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6). He had already said in teaching His disciples, there is "one door" that leads to life, and only the thief and robber would seek another (Jn. 10: 1,9). In the same chapter, He affirmed there is only "one flock, one fold, and one shepherd" (Jn 10: 16). We also learn from Ephesians 4:4, that there is "one body"; and from Ephesians 1:22-23, that Jesus is the one Head of "the body, the church" (Col. 1: I8; Eph. 4:5-6). Would not honesty demand, then, that we believe that Jesus meant to build only one church, which would follow one doctrine? He said  ".....  upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Though the sinful world opposes these Bible facts, sincerity presses us to know and believe the Truth (Jn. 8:31-32).
    Paul clearly says, "For by one Spirit (His teaching, GC) are we all baptized into one body..." (I Cor. 12:13). The Lord should not be likened to a freak by implying or teaching that He is the head of many "bodies"; nor should we teach He has many "brides," implying and teaching that He is an adulterer! Further, this is a blood-bought institution, and therefore highly important for salvation! (cf. Acts 20:28).


    We are aware that with some this divine institution purchased with the blood of Christ is considered to be non-essential! It is by them ignored in its importance in salvation. Others have minimized it in their thinking and affections; and still others, even while claiming to be religious, have sought to eliminate it completely! Jesus, the Son of God, thought so much of the church of Christ and its important existence in the world, that He wrote seven letters to the churches in Asia! It did exist! He did not ignore, minimize, or eliminate this important institution, which He went to the cruel cross to purchase! It is also a written fact in the New Testament that Jesus will save those in this body or "in Christ" (Eph. 5:23). "In Christ" is the accepted place where it is proclaimed that "there is now no condemnation" or sentence of death! (Rom. 8:1-2). And, Peter adds with certainty, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). On the notable day of Pentecost, the inauguration day for the church of Christ, it is recorded that all the saved were added to the church (Acts 2:41,47).  Is this an important institution? Indeed it is!!


     It is not possible in our brief study to list all of the times the Bible mentions advantages for man "in Christ." However, it is our purpose to enumerate twelve of these New Testament references which we believe will impress the honest soul. Please be knowledgeable of the fact, not one of these privileges is ever said to be found out of Christ! The Bible identifies the following as being "in Christ":

1. All spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3).
2. All the promises of God (II Cor. 1:20).
3. All acceptance of man by God (Eph. 1:6; Acts 10:34-35).
4. All forgiveness, pardon, and reconciliation     (Eph. 1:6-7).
5. All grace offered by God (II Tim. 2: 1).
6. All inheritance of sonship (Eph. 1: I1; Rom. 8:15).
7 .All sanctification (I Cor. 1:2).
8 .All new life (Jn. 3:3-5; II Cor. 5:17).
9. All the calling of God (Phil. 3:14).
10. All members of the one body (Rom. 12:5).
11. All the blessed dead (Rev. 14:13).
12. All inhabitants of Heavenly mansions (Jn. 14:1-6).
    How can we help but be impressed with the majestic privileges of having these blessings? They are all to be found "in Christ"! No one should fail to avail themselves of these profound blessings (Matt. 16:26). How can we help but be focused on the greatness of the unsurpassable love of God, Christ's beneficial sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit's perfect deliverance of such bountiful plenty offered to every individual! Better to have never lived than to miss these blessings, "in Christ"!


With the same reasoning process of the Scriptures by which we have learned that God wants to save and where He proposes to save, we must with like fervency believe that the Scriptures are the only source given to tell us when God will save. Surely we all agree that man must obtain salvation from God. But when does the New Testament say one obtains salvation from God? The Scriptures make it clear, the when of salvation comes at the time a man or woman obeys the Gospel (Mk. 16:15-16). Let us study this point with diligence also.


     To the Hebrew Christians it was stated ."... and without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). The Gospel consists of the facts of the death (wherein Christ shed His blood), of His burial, and of His victorious resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-3). But Paul assures us that we must obey "from the heart" the "form" of these facts by having faith, repentance, confession of Jesus' name, and baptism into Christ. Sinful man must in this way reach the benefits of the shed blood of Christ! We know that the act of baptism consummates our obedience, bringing us "into Christ," as the reenacting of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4). In this reference Paul said,

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
    We are assured that this is the when in which God changes us, in His mind and in our lives, from "servants of sin" to "servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:16-18).  At this point of "birth," new life begins (cf. Jn. 3:3-5)!  As an illustration, please notice that after those on Pentecost had heard and believed the Word, delivered by the Holy Spirit through the apostles, they were then commanded to:
"...repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38)

    All examples of those who received salvation to be "in Christ" in the New Testament, were saved in the same manner, and at the same point in time when they obeyed in baptism. They came "unto" salvation by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10: 17), "unto" salvation in repenting of the sins of their lives (Acts 17:30-31), "unto salvation" by confessing with their mouth Jesus as their Lord (Rom. 10:9-10), but they came "into Christ" and the benefits of His blood by being baptized in water for the remission of their sins. Please notice closely the only two passages found in the New Testament in which we are informed exactly when one enters "into Christ":

"Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Chnst was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3-4).

"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).

    We do not read of any who "believed into Christ," who "repented into Christ," nor even who "confessed into Christ"! When God proposes to save, then, is made very clear in the New Testament! It is when man consummates his faith in Christ by baptism.


    Baptism is not the end for our eternal salvation, but the beginning of new life "in Christ." The new life begins at the point of baptism, with all of our past sins forgiven or "blotted out" (Acts 3:19). The Way must continue to be followed "in Christ." We must continue to progress in spiritual life. We are to grow by following the direction of the Word of God (II Pet. 3:18). As newborn babes desire their milk, we are to desire God's Truth (I Pet. 2:1-2; Matt. 5:6). Peter further says:

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leavng us an example that ye should follow in his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (I Pet 2:20-22).
    In his second epistle to Christians, Peter gives the intervening life we are to live as we await our entrance into the eternal city called Heaven. By the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit, he writes:
"And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall. For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 1:5- 11).
Thus we can see the rich rewards that await those "in Christ '! When we have traveled in obedience to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we are awarded for our faithfulness the "crown of life" (Rev. 2: 10). In the Heavenly Abode we shall enjoy all of the blessings of the Home where God dwells! All of the redeemed of all the ages will be reunited in the Heavenly city! (Cf. Heb. 11: 10). It should be our highest objective in life to go to Heaven!
      We invite all to come to the cross of Christ! And then, sing with us:

"Only in Thee, dear Savior, slain,
Losing Thy life my own to gain,
Trusting, I'm cleansed from ev'ry stain,
Thou art my only plea.

"Only in thee, my heart will delight,
Till in that land where cometh no night,
Faith will be lost in heavenly sight,
Only, dear Lord, in Thee!"

By Gary Colley