The Church and Salvation

O.C. Birdwell, Jr.
Cullman, Alabama

Many do not understand what the church that Jesus built is, and often have no concept of the nature of the church. Because of this there is much misunderstanding about the relationship of the church to salvation. We, therefore, hear such statements as, "The church is not the Savior," and, "The church is not essential to salvation." Let us give some serious study and thought to this important subject which is vital to our salvation.

When we discuss the church and salvation, we do not have in mind the many churches in the world that have been built by men. Such churches are not "of Christ," they are "of men." They were built by men. They are named after men. They teach the doctrines of men. They belong to men. If they promise any salvation, it is merely man's promise. Worship offered to God by such churches is in vain. Of similar bodies Jesus said, "But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9). We are not, therefore, affirming that salvation is in any of these churches. On the other hand, we even deny that they are essential to salvation. We do affirm, however, that the church Jesus built, the church that is in existence by his authority, the church one reads about and finds described in the New Testament does relate to salvation.

Is This Your Question?

Recently this writer was asked a question with a request made that it be answered on our local radio broadcast and in Bible Facts, a monthly paper we publish. The question was, "Where is the passage that says one must be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?" Since a Bible passage was requested, the following one was given: "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23). This statement by the inspired apostle is in every properly translated New Testament. Yet, it is generally overlooked and disregarded. Christ is head of the church and savior of the body. There is one body (Eph. 4:4), and that one body is the church (Eph. 1:22, 23). These passages make no mistake about the importance of the church to our salvation. Christ is the savior of the church. We, therefore, must be a part of the church to be saved.

How the Church Relates to Salvation

(1) The church is God's family. Paul wrote, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:14, 15). The word "house," as used here, means "family." Paul is not expressing concern about conduct in a church building; but rather he is speaking of one's conduct as a member of the family of God. The church is that family.

(2) Christ is a Son over. God's house. He is called by the writer of Hebrews an Apostle, High Priest, and Son over God's house (Heb. 3:1-6). The Father gave Him to -be head over all things to the church (Eph. 1:23). He has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).

(3) Reconciliation to God is in the church. The mystery of the salvation of the Gentiles and their reconciliation unto God was revealed by Paul. How God planned to save the Gentiles was a mystery until it was fully revealed by inspired men. In Eph. 2:11-22, Paul tells how both Gentile and Jew are presently reconciled unto God. "But now in Christ Jesus ye that once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even -the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself on the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (vs. 13-16). Notice that reconciliation to God of both Gentile and Jew is "in one body." We have already shown that this body is the church.

(4) The church is a habitation of God. Paul speaks of the "household of God" and calls it a t "holy temple" and "a habitation of God" (Eph. 1:19-22). Again, we note that he is not talking about a material building, but those whom he calls "fellow-citizens he saints." These are the household of God. They are the church. This is where God dwells.

(5) The Lord adds those who are being saved to the church. "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved" (Acts 2:47, ASV). In the KJV we read, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." When one repents, is baptized, and receives remission of his sins, he is immediately added by the Lord to the church. The Lord does His job daily. He does not get behind. He adds people who are being saved to his church, not to the churches of men. Hence, there are no present day, accountable, saved people outside the Lord's church.

Modern False Concepts

With many, decisions are made and minds molded by human concepts and worldly wisdom rather than by the word of God. What they know about the church comes from human creeds. The same is so with their understanding of salvation. Consequently, their attitude toward the relationship of salvation to the church depends on their concept of the church and salvation as taught by men.

Theory: The Church is an Afterthought

Some hold the position that the church is merely an afterthought of God and never in His plan for man. Many premillennialists believe the church to be no more than a filler, to fill in a "gap" or a "parenthesis" in God's plan for national Israel. They affirm that Jesus came to establish an earthly kingdom, but being rejected by the Jews, the church was established instead. There is no wonder that so many of these people have such a low estimate of the church. Contrary to this theory, the church is the spiritual kingdom of Old Testament prophecy. It is that kingdom which was "at hand" during the days of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-3). It is the church Jesus said, "I will build" and then called the kingdom (Matt. 16:18-19). Rather than being an afterthought, the church reveals the "manifold wisdom of God," and is in His "eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:10, 11). The church was purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). One should not disregard or take lightly such a high-priced institution.

Theory: There is a Subjective Body With Many Objective "Christian Communions"

There are many who affirm that all who believe that Jesus is the Christ make up the church of Christ. The idea is that there is a universal, subjective, church of Christ, made up of those who give mental assent to Jesus as the Christ. These people then, according to the theory, make up different objective bodies with divergent beliefs and traditions.

In a book called What Present Day Theologians Are Thinking, Daniel Day Williams, the author, has a chapter on "The Church." He presents the theological concept of the church as a universal subjective body with many objective communions. He makes the following statement: "Within nearly every existing Christian communion there is a growing challenge to complacency with existing forms and traditions. Each communion is actually only a fragment of what the full Body of Christ should be. The question being asked from within the churches is, `How can the universal church of Christ be more adequately expressed in our particular tradition."' If these people believe in any salvation they relate it only to this concept of the universal church to which they affirm one belongs only by a specific faith that Jesus is the Christ. One then may, or may not, become a member of what they call a "Christian Communion" as being of human origin. This is indeed the truth, and it is of these we have already said, "we deny that they are essential to salvation."

Their concept of the universal church is also incorrect. They church universal is God's family. It is made up of those who are born of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). "Faith only" does not constitute the new birth. A part of it is baptism as commanded in the Great Commission (Mk. 16:15, 16), and as taught and administered by the apostles and early disciples (Acts 2:38, 8:38). One comes forth from baptism a new creature in Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12; 2 Cor. 5:17). He has been baptized into Christ, entering the body of Christ, the church (Gal. 3:27; Acts 2:47). This is where there is salvation for those who are faithful.


Those who have thus obeyed the first principles of the gospel of Christ are called Christians. They take on no human religious name. They assemble with others who have obeyed the same gospel. They teach only what. the Holy Spirit has revealed in the Bible. They worship Gad as the New Testament directs. Congregations of such people in different places are called "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). Dear friend, we encourage you to do only what the New Testament asks you to do; be only what the New Testament asks you to be; and worship God only as the New Testament dictates that you worship. When this is done glory will be given unto God in the church (Eph. 3:21). This is the church Jesus purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28); which He will save (Eph. 5:23); and which kingdom He will deliver up to God the Father (I Cor. 15:24). The church does relate to salvation.


  1. Is the church God's appointed dispenser of salvation? Can you think of any church which believes that it can give or withhold salvation to a man?
  2. What affect do human additions to worship have on that worship being accepted by God?
  3. Must one be a member of the church to be saved? Prove your answer.
  4. If the church is compared to a family, does God have children outside His family?
  5. Can one "Join" the church? How does; one get into the Lord's church?
  6. How does premillennialism undermine the biblical doctrine of the church?
  7. Does the word "church" refer to an invisible group of those good, honest, sincere people in all of the denominations? Prove your answer.
  8. Can one be reconciled to God without being in the church? See Acts 2:47 and Eph. 2:16.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 19-21
January 3, 1980