by Layton Friesen
Do I need to be a member of the church in order to be a disciple of Jesus? Can I be saved if I am not a part of the church? By church I don’t mean some invisible, “spiritual” church, but the real live congregation of believers that meets in Jesus’ name down the street.
This is a live question today for many of us. Every age has its own reasons for doubting Jesus. People today will say, I can believe in God, but I cannot believe that somehow being baptized, or taking the Lord’s Supper, or joining the mission team, or chaperoning the youth group sleep-over, or joining in Sunday worship—I cannot believe that this is anything more than joining whatever other club or association we can think of.
Yet it is hard to make a biblical case for separating being a Christian and being a member of the church. I can’t think of any passage of Scripture that would indicate that there is a meaningful division between those two things. Galatians 3:26-29 is a good example of how the New Testament talks generally. Being clothed with Christ is here deeply joined with being a part of the new community of baptism in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is no longer male nor female. Being in this community of new relations with my new brothers and sisters is one aspect of being clothed with Christ.
Now someone will immediately ask, and properly so, does this mean that everyone who is not a part of a church cannot be saved? To say that no one who is not a part of a church can ever be saved is more than we should say. But let me give you an analogy to show you how this might work.
If I as a newcomer to Manitoba, without a map and living in Winnipeg, asked you how I could get to Kenora, Ont., you would tell me, “Take the No. 1 highway going east. Drive on the No. 1 and you will get to Kenora, and you don’t need a map. Signs will point you there once you are on the No. 1.” But if I said to myself, “Well, that’s what she says. I think I can get there by taking the No. 75 southbound,” I would be on my own. With a fair bit of luck and a lot of trial and error it may by chance be that I would eventually find myself by many wandering paths in Kenora. Yet that’s a foolish plan.
God has given us a path of salvation and it includes being a part of the church, the body of Christ. It includes baptism and the Lord’s Supper, accountability to other members, gathering for worship, and serving my brothers and sisters in need. It includes learning the Scriptures from the people the church has chosen for that purpose. That is the No.1 highway to Kenora.
If I choose to go it on my own, God in his unsearchable mystery may find a way of bringing me home, but it will likely involve a long and winding path back to the No. 1 somewhere and somehow. Why not follow the path that God has given us, the path that he has promised brings us to our home in him?
Do you want to follow Jesus? Follow the church. God has appointed the humble, often fumbling church as the guide to salvation.