Last week, I wrote, “The church of God is at the center of God’s salvation in every way.” What do I mean by that? What is the relationship of the church to salvation?
The saved are added to the church
Nobody joins the church of God. You can join a denomination, but you can’t join the body of Christ (which says a lot about what a denomination is and is not). This is the work of God, just as it is his work to cleanse from sin when we are immersed in water. That first moment of the gospel makes clear what the process is:
And the Lord was adding to their number every day those who were being saved. Acts 2.47.
The Lord saves and the Lord adds. This means that the church is made up of the saved, because the Lord adds them to it. So we are “the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” Acts 20.28, because we are purified by Christ’s blood.
The church is where saved remained saved. Outside of it, there is no more sacrifice for sin, Hebrews 10.25-26, because to be in Christ is to be in the church.
The church proclaims God’s salvation
God’s church has the exclusive task of proclaiming God’s salvation. He does not do it directly, and never has since the beginning of the church.
Neither does he use angels as messengers of salvation. Salvation was not for them, nor by them is it announced.
God does it “through the church” Ephesians 3.10. In our hands has been given the one thing that must be done, teaching the lost the way of Christ. That is why the “the church of the living God [is] the support and bulwark of the truth” 1 Timothy 3.15, because the truth proclaimed by the church saves, 2 Thessalonians 2.10; 1 Timothy 2.4.
The church’s identity determines its activity:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, 1 Peter 2.9.
So the church has been put at the center of salvation as God’s agent to save.
The church saves
In that sense, it is right and proper to say that the church saves. It is a secondary sense, but a true one. The New Testament speaks of God’s saints saving others:
- “I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I may save some” 1 Corinthians 9.22.
- “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” 1 Timothy 4.16.
- “Realize that whoever brings a sinner back from the error of his ways will save him from death, and many sins will be forgiven” James 5.20 GW.
- “save others by snatching them out of the fire” Jude 23.
If it is right to say that we can save ourselves, Acts 2.40, it is right to say that we save others.
It pleased God to “save those who believe by the foolishness of preaching” 1 Corinthians 1.21, so in a real sense those who preach are those who save.
Such language does not diminish salvation by the cross of Christ. In fact, it enhances it, since the church is his body and instrument of salvation for mankind. We are “vessels” 2 Timothy 2.20-21, “instruments” Acts 9.15, “clay jars” that hold the “treasure” of the gospel, 2 Corinthians 4.7, “a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved” 2 Corinthians 2.15.
The saved and saving church
People think of denominations when they think “church,” and that is why they think the church is something different from salvation. They are right, because they do not know the true nature of the church.
So the church must be a part of our proclamation. Anyone among us who diminishes the connection between the church and salvation has been influenced by denominational thinking and must be corrected or, in the lack of repentance, rejected.
There’s more about salvation and the church in the book, The Right Kind of Christianity.