Must I be a member of Christ’s church to be saved? Why can’t I be a Christian without being a member of His church? These are valid questions which must be answered from the Bible.
It is not the church, but the Lord who saves. Only the Lord has the right to establish the conditions upon which He will pardon our sins. So, we ask: “Where does the Lord save and upon what conditions does He pardon?” And, again: “Does the Lord save good people outside the church or must one be a member of Christ’s church to be saved?”
It is not a question of desire. God wishes that all might come to repentance and be saved from their sins (2 Pet. 3:9). But, God has always required that certain conditions be met before His blessing of salvation might be enjoyed by man. Otherwise universal salvation would render null and void both the message and character of God.
In the days of Noah, salvation was offered to all. But, only those who accepted the offer and entered the ark were saved from the waters of the flood (2 Pet. 3:19-20). Salvation was in the ark and all who remained outside were lost. No other refuge afforded safety. Eight souls were saved because they were in the ark and the rest died because they failed to meet that requirement. Who was to blame for their destruction? God? Not so, for He provided the means of deliverance. Those who perished in the flood had only themselves to blame because they did not take advantage of God’s means of deliverance. Salvation was located in the ark.
Where has God placed salvation from sin today? The Bible plainly teaches that salvation is in Christ (2 Tim. 2:10). There is salvation in no one else for He is the only way to the Father (Acts 4:11-12; Jn. 14:6). With this most would heartily agree. But, what many fail to realize is that to be in Christ is to be in His church. The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). He is the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23). Since the church is the body of Christ, and Christ is the Savior of the body, how can one be saved without being a member of the church? The church is comprised of the saved. The church does not save anyone. It is the Lord who saves. Sinners are saved and added to the church at the same time (Acts 2:47). They are not first saved and then added, nor are they added and then saved. They are saved in being added and added in being saved. There are no saved people outside the church because God adds all the saved to His church.
God saves in Christ. Baptism brings us into Christ (Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27). Baptism is also the means by which we enter into the church (1 Cor. 12:13). Those who are in Christ are in His church. The church is that body of believers who have been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). One is either in Christ or out of Christ. If in Christ, then also a member of His body, the church.