Saturday, August 27, 2016

Still Clinging To Roman Ecclesiology After All These Years

Next year will feature an important date. October 31st, 2017 is 500 years to the day after the reformer Martin Luther  famously nailed the 95 Thesis to the church door in Wittenberg, an event that is traditionally known as the start of the Protestant Reformation. Those of us looking back half a millennium to those heroic reformers, from Luther and Calvin to Hubmaier and Sattler, see a cataclysmic event, nothing less than the recovery of the Biblical Gospel, bringing it out of the shadows of Roman efforts to bury the Gospel of Christ under layers of ritual, superstition and authoritarianism.

A lot has changed over the last 500 years, much of it for the better. While the splintering and re-splintering of Protestant, evangelical Christianity is deplorable as is the rise of the church-state Protestant monster to compete with or even replace the Roman church-state monster, there has also been an incredible movement of the Holy Spirit. Millions upon millions, tens or hundreds of millions, have been saved by the Gospel of Christ, a Gospel of free grace apart from works. It is a Gospel that is not simply different from but the very antithesis of the religion promoted by Rome. When you examine topics like justification and the Holy Spirit, it is apparent that Rome and evangelicalism are not talking about the same thing in spite of contemporary efforts to gloss over these differences for he purpose of political alliances.

There is one place where that clear and shining divider between the Kingdom and man-made religion is not as apparent and that is how the church is understood. Sure there is plenty of material that has been written over the centuries that highlight the Christian view of the church as opposed to the Roman view but in practice there is a lot that is the same. I was reminded of this in a link from Tim Challies that grabbed my attention right away. The title of the post is this question: Can We Be SavedWithout The Church?.

What a crazy and ultimately meaningless question. To be saved is to be in the church and you are in the church if you are saved. The two go hand and hand. When one is born-again he becomes part of the new creation in Christ, His Body we call the church. In other words it is impossible to be saved and not be part of the church but here is where it gets tricky. When someone is saved, born-again, regenerated they by definition become part of the church but one is not saved by becoming part of the church. Being baptized and showing up on Sunday don't save you. Regeneration precedes adoption although functionally they are happening at the same time. Being adopted into the family of God and becoming part of the church is a result of salvation, not a catalyst for salvation. So if you ask if someone can be saved and yet not be part of the church, of course the answer is no. The two are inseparable.

But that isn't what the question is asking in this post. What is being asked is this, can I be saved if I am not a participant in the ritual and practice of organized religion? That is easily answered in Catholicism. No you cannot. You cannot be a Catholic without the rituals involved in Catholic religion, the Mass, the confessional, the sacraments. As I have stated before, these sacramental rituals are given the power of justification and forgiveness specifically to be a means of controlling people. If an organized religious organization controls the means of access to God, then it controls you. If you step out of line, especially if you ask the wrong questions, you get cut off from the religion and therefore you believe you are cut off from God. So you keep your mouth shut and don't rock the boat and as long as you go to the confessional to spill the beans pretty much anything goes and can be covered by a few Hail Mary's and Our Father's. But is that true in evangelicalism, in Biblical Christianity? No but you might not realize that based on this post from Andrew Wilson. Wilson is quoting Cyprian and an author named Marcus Peter Johnson with minimal thoughts of his own. The quotes from Cyprian are pretty well known and are, as in this case, usually tossed out as authoritative and deep without any interaction:

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, said Cyprian of Carthage: "Outside of the Church, there is no salvation." Even more provocatively: "he cannot have God as Father who doesn't have the Church as Mother." Emphatic stuff.

Call me crazy but being a Christian who could be categorized as evangelical, fundamentalist, Reformed and Anabaptist means that I don't hold the opinions of Cyprian as authoritative and infallible. He said something, it is up to the Scriptures to affirm or deny in whole or in part what he said. I am not going to spend any time interacting with Cyprian because Wilson doesn't either except to remark that it is "emphatic stuff". Bill Clinton can get up and say emphatically that his "wife" would make a great President but it doesn't make it so. Onward.

Wilson quotes several paragraphs from Johnson. Here is the first one:

The first reason ... is that the proclamation of the gospel, the good news of salvation, is intimately bound up with the proclamation of the church. To proclaim the mystery of Christ includes the proclamation of the mystery of the church [he then cites and summarises Gal 3:26-28; Eph 3:1-12; 5:31-32; 1 Cor 6:15].

All well and good. Viewed through the linkage I briefly explained previously that salvation and the church are inextricably linked, that makes total sense, although the cause and effect make all of the difference. It is the second paragraph where we run into problems (bold type mine).

Our union with Christ provides a second reason ... It is important to point out that the Protestant Reformers affirmed that there is no salvation outside of the church precisely because there is no salvation outside of Christ. They were convinced that the church is the body of Christ, and that Christ is truly present in and through the church in the divinely ordained means of Word and sacrament. For them, a rejection of the extra ecclesiam would have meant a rejection of these dearly held, fundamental ecclesiological realities.

See how that is slipped in there. In one sentence you have a Biblical truth "the church is the body of Christ" but then they slide in the additional stuff, Christ is "truly", i.e. "only" present in the religious sacramental ritual of "communion" and the preached word, i.e. a sermon delivered by clergy. In that little fragment of a sentence you have the basis for a Protestant system that functions much like the Roman system, and in fact you see the definition of the church shift from the Body of Christ to religious organizations. The means of access to Christ, to be truly in communion with Him, is only found in the rituals of the institutionalized church and the church can only gather and properly function when an ordained cleric is officiating. Just a few words, not even a complete sentence, but it throws sand in the face of the foundations of the Reformation, or at least what the Reformation ought to have been.

What troubles me almost as much as assertions like the one Johnson makes and Wilson affirms is not just what it says but how unreservedly and blithely most Christians just accept  it. That is the result of both a general inability of most Christians to read, interpret and apply Scripture on their own and at the same time the people who are subcontracted with the task of exegesis on behalf of the church are also vocationally incentivized to perpetuate the modified Roman ecclesiology that makes them indispensable to the church and therefore puts them in a position to demand a permanent salaried job within the church. We can't have the church without the "sacraments" and the sermon and we can't have the sacraments or sermon without the clergy and as the regular Christian is not qualified to officiate the sacraments and sermon we have to hire men with specific religious training to do both on our behalf. These same men reinforce the notion that they are indispensable to the genuine Christian life of a disciple. 

Can one be saved apart from the church? If you define the church as the Bible does, the people of God distinct from any religious organization, then no, of course not. If you define the "church" as the people of God and a visible religious organization run by clergy, then yes you can. One doesn't have to be part of a "church" as a condition of salvation. If that were true then there wouldn't be any Christians in the Bible. The thief on the cross, the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul in the wilderness. All were saved and part of the church and in none of those cases was there a pastor giving a sermon and officiating the sacraments. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see described or commanded what we would recognize as a "worship service", not even in Acts 20: 7-12 which I have addressed on multiple occasions. 

There are many benefits to communal worship, prayer and edification, even in the context of a very traditional institutional church. I would agree that Christianity is not intended to be lived out in isolation from other believers but that doesn't demand a specific, clergy-centered, event-driven religious organization. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't possibly be saved unless you join their little religious club. Jesus determines who is His and He died for a people, a nation within nations, a family of adopted sinners made new creatures, moving from dead sinners to children of God. He didn't die and rise again to provide full employment for seminary graduates. 


Aussie John said...


Well said! An excellent article.

Kevin Brendler said...

You wrote:

Can We Be Saved Without The Church?

What a crazy and ultimately meaningless question. To be saved is to be in the church and you are in the church if you are saved. The two go hand and hand. When one is born-again he becomes part of the new creation in Christ, His Body we call the church. In other words it is impossible to be saved and not be part of the church but here is where it gets tricky. When someone is saved, born-again, regenerated they by definition become part of the church but one is not saved by becoming part of the church.


I don't think the question posed is so "crazy" and "meaningless." No, not at all. In fact, it is an extremely important question. It is actually a question that I encourage you to rethink. Here's why....

In your answer to the question it is clear that you conceive of the church as primarily invisible and a-historical. That's a problem because the overwhelming number of references to the church in the NT direct our attention to discrete, local, visible churches.

When Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Cor 12.27), his intention is not to inform the Corinthians of their membership in a grand, supra-temporal, invisible reality. No. The apostle is telling them that their believing community, right there in Corinth, is the body of Christ. The church of the Lord Jesus is composed of flesh and blood in a particular locale, you see, flesh and blood who have repented of their sins, trusted in Christ and who have been united together in Christ through baptism. The Christian claim for the church therefore is hardly less scandalous than what we claim for the Incarnation.

Now, as there can be no salvation apart from union with Christ, it follows then as a norm that there can be no salvation apart from the church, which is the Presence of Christ in this world. If union with Christ is sought in time and history then He must be found where He dwells in time and history - in His church. Are there exceptions? Yes, of course. So we may rephrase the dictum of Cyprian this way: *Ordinarily,* there is no salvation outside the church. That is what we ought to teach as Christian doctrine, allowing for the exceptions. But the essence of Cyprian's concern is legitimate and true, and it is in the highest interests of Christianity that his concern be recovered. It is not a Romanist concern in the end; it is a NT concern, a Biblical concern.

Beware of Gnostic or neo-Platonist tendencies. It is not the invisible realities that are more true in God's construction of the world. The invisible realities endure longer but the physical realities are no less true than the invisible ones.

kevin brendler said...

Are you going to post my comment or should i just go elsewhere?


Arthur Sido said...


"In your answer to the question it is clear that you conceive of the church as primarily invisible and a-historical."

That is absolutely false. The church is both visible and invisible, now and then and yet to come. I have never argued that the visible manifestation of the church is unimportant, quite the contrary I have blogged a ton about the church visible over the last decade. What I am talking about here is the notion that we have to gather as the church in a particular, culturally traditional manner to be a legitimate part of the church. A couple of families who gather to mutually edify and encourage one another and break bread is at least as valid an expression as the pulpit-n-pew model.

What you seem to miss is the main point which is that the church, being both visible and invisible, is inextricably linked to salvation. If you are saved, you are part of the church regardless of how you gather with the church. If you attend church but aren't saved you are not part of the church no matter many times you show up on Sunday or how much money you put into the offering plate. I might suggest you re-read the post for what it actually says rather than what you assume it says.

As a side note I often go a while between moderating comments so snarky complaints are not necessary.

UncoverMedia said...

You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel when you bemoan “organized church” and turn a blind eye to false doctrine.

Yes, the re-organized Roman Catholic church known as protestant is still teaching and espousing the false doctrine of men; specifically the idol worship of the trinity doctrine.

You can thank Roman Emperors’ Constantine and Theodosius for empowering the bishops and using Roman decrees backed by the sword for successfully stamping out the one true God of Israel – Yahweh, and replace Him with an “essence” made up of three co-equal persons.

By the time Theodosius had become emperor, Arianism had grown from a minority to a majority. Theodosius had grown up Arian but later converted his views upon being taught by Church Bishops who believed the Messiah was divine. He was baptized by the Orthodox Catholic bishop of Thessalonica, Ascholios, after assuring himself that the bishop was not an Arian.

Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of Rome and presided over the council of Constantinople, which officially ordained the trinity doctrine.

“At the close of this council Emperor Theodosius issued an imperial decree (30 July) declaring that the churches should be restored to those bishops who confessed the equal Divinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and who held communion with Nectarius of Constantinople and other important Oriental prelates whom he named.”

He later decreed, by point of the sword, that the trinity doctrine must be believed – as were all Catholic doctrines. He went on to stamp out Arianism throughout Rome. He also stamped out paganism.

Previously Emperor Constantine ordered the Edict of Milan, a proclamation that permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire. It was the outcome of a political agreement concluded in Milan between the Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius in February 313.

The Council of Constantinople and subsequent decrees of Theodosius made it clear that the man who was the Messiah would not be welcome in his own church.

The image of the idol trinity is worshiped by those calling themselves Christians. It is a different god than Yahweh made from the corrupted evil minds of men. It is a product of corrupted scriptures influenced by empty philosophy and paganism.

The Fourth Century......
Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God...These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the [Gnostic] heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him On the Three Natures. For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes, Plato and Aristotle. (Source: AHB Logan: Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), On the Holy Church: Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9. Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95 ).

“Christianity is the only “world” religion that begins by discarding the creed of its founder.” (The Shema) Sir Anthony Buzzard

A couple of books well worth reading:

Arthur Sido said...

UncoverMedia, that is a pretty high quality anonymous, copy-and-paste internet rant. I have no idea what you are ranting about other than some sort of anti-trinitarianism nonsense but kudos nonetheless.