Salvation outside the Church?

Quite often in debates on Christianity, we hear the argument regarding whether or not there is salvation outside the Church. For the apostolic Christian, those holding the Catholic and Orthodox faiths, the debater means precisely those Churches. He is then villified by heterodox Christians, secularists, and those adhering to other beliefs for holding that stance, especially in today’s “I’m OK, you’re OK” world.

In a very real sense, however, such a statement by an apostolic Christian should be rejected. We are told throughout the New Testament, in the words of Christ, Paul, James and others, that judgement belongs to God alone, that God shows mercy to and blesses whomever he wishes, that what we cannot lovingly forgive in others we will not be forgiven of ourselves. In light of these revealed teachings, it seems clear that I am wrong whenever I judge another’s prospects for salvation before God; in fact, I endanger my own soul.

We are called to discernment, however, and we are called to preach the Faith as received into the Church through Jesus Christ and His Apostles. There are things we need to shout out from the rooftops and be willing to die for (as did the martyrs of the Church,) namely:

THERE IS SALVATION WITHIN THE CHURCH, WHICH CONTAINS THE FULLNESS OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST…THROUGH THE GRACE OF GOD, THE CHURCH RECOGNIZES AND DISTRIBUTES THE MEDICINE OF IMMORTALITY THAT IS THE EUCHARIST. 

The Medicine of ImmortalityWe live by keeping the commandments of Christ to draw life from His Body and Blood. Compare the words of Christ in John Chapter 6 and the actions of Christ at the Last Supper, the Eucharistic meal of Mark Chapter 14. Christ did not reveal the Eucharist as a symbolic act only.

Those who deny the presence of Christ in the Eucharist as faithfully maintained in the Apostolic Churches are either ignorant of or willfully in denial of the earliest teachings of the churchmen who immediately followed the Apostles. 

One example among many is from Justin Martyr. He was born not long after the composition of the Gospel of John and the time of that Apostle’s death. Justin lived until around 165 AD. His writings form one of the largest deposit of early records of the Church. From his work, The Apologies:

This food we call the Eucharist, of which none are allowed to be partakers but such only as are true believers, and have been baptized in the Laver of Regeneration for the remission of sins, and live according to Christ’s precepts; for we do not take this as common bread, and common wine. But as Jesus Christ our Saviour was made flesh by the Logos of God, and had real flesh and blood for our salvation, so are we taught that this food, which the very same Logos blessed by prayer and thanksgiving, is turned into the nourishment and substance of our flesh and blood; and is in some sense the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus. For the Apostles, in their commentaries called the Gospels, have left this command upon record, “That Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He said, Do this in commemoration of Me, for this is My body; And in like manner He took the cup, and when He had given thanks, He said, This is My blood,” and delivered it to them only… After this sacrament is over, we remind each other of the obligations to his duty, and the rich relieve the poor; and upon such charitable accounts we visit some or other every day.

So it was from the very earliest points of faith in our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, through the undivided First Thousand Years of the Church, and up until the falling away of the past few hundred years due to the teachings of Protestant extremists. Salvation was known to come to us through living out our baptism: keeping faith with Christ by uniting ourselves with His Altar and receiving the Eucharist and the Real Presence, while we imitated Him in all things and lived with everyone in love, peace, and self-sacrifice. 

I risk judgment on myself if I dare to ask who outside the apostolic Churches can be saved, especially as I abuse Christ and deny God every day in my own sinful life. If there is such a question to be asked, however, this is it: “Except through His abundant mercy and compassion, how does God save where the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is denied?” 

The prayer of the Eastern Church just prior to the faithful’s receipt of the Eucharist:

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for eternal life. Amen 

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me. 

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation. 

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your Kingdom.

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2 thoughts on “Salvation outside the Church?

  1. John Hobbs says:

    This is a debate that will take place as long as there is time and other religious beliefs. However, for those of orthodox christian faith, I would like to make 2 points. One, there is a difference between judgment and understanding. We should not judge others in respect to salvation, as God only truly knows the heart, but the knowlege of scriptural requirenent for salvation is evident. That is why scripture say in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “Examine (judge for) yourselves, to see if you are in the faith…”. Additionally, we do judge the fruit of righteousness or unrighteousness of those in the faith (in the church) as in 1 Corinthians 5:12; but, not those outside the church. Salvation by grace through faith in the atoning work of Christ alone is the requirement.

    Two, it depends on your definition of church. If you define church as an institution, system or building; then there is salvation outside the church. However, the scriptures never use the word ecclesia (church) as defined in that way, nor in its non-religious use in biblical times. Secularly it was those called out into a public gathering. In Roman culture it was one called out from private life into public service. Those called out, when gathered together were the ecclesia (church). This is why Jesus made the distinction in Matthew 16:18 saying “I will build My Church.” The emphasis is on “My” not “Church”. The reason is the Church is unique, because it is called the church, but because it is the assembly of believers that belong to Jesus, that are the church.

    Now if you define the church as a “Holy temple made of living stones”, a living entity, His children born of God; then there is only salvation in the church. Or, more accurately only salvation make you a member of the church, His body.

    Do I judge those outside the faith? Absolutely not. Unless I risk judgment. My job is love. My focus is hope for all who call on the name of the Lord.

    As for those in the faith you put it beautifully:

    “Salvation was known to come to us through living out our baptism: keeping faith with Christ by uniting ourselves with His Altar and receiving the Eucharist and the Real Presence, while we imitated Him in all things and lived with everyone in love, peace, and self-sacrifice.”

    – Blessings

    • Nepsis says:

      Thank you very much, John, for your thoughtful comments. Please remember me in your prayers.

      In reply to two points of yours:

      1) “We should not judge others in respect to salvation, as God only truly knows the heart, but the knowledge of scriptural requirement for salvation is evident.” Jesus healed the sick and blessed the sinners who came to love Him without an examination of their particular faith or spiritual learning. He surely knew their hearts when He healed them, but He gave them the leave to go without theological correction or to enlighten them from the Hebrew Scriptures. Neither does He say in Matthew Chapter 25 that anything other than serving Him through the loving and selfless care of others is a requirement for being placed on the right hand of God. At the same time, Scripture clearly says that Jesus is the only way to the Father. He is the Gate, He is the Narrow Way, He is the Truth and the Life.

      All this says to me personally that, through the wisdom and will of Christ, God saves who He wishes, in the matter in which He cares to save them. I am only responsible for judging and keeping vigilant over the health of my own soul, along with seeing that I never do harm to another’s spirit. In doing so, I embrace the Word of God as revealed in Jesus, Scripture and the Church as the clearest way for humankind to see into and understand the mind of God.

      2) Regarding the nature of the Church, I suppose that I am maintaining that the offering of the Eucharist and the recognition of the real presence itself is the mark of the Church, as it was for the First Thousand Years and beyond.

      From the writings of the Orthodox Priest Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in ‘Theology and Eucharist’
      :
      “For the Eucharist, we have said, is a passage, a procession leading the Church into “heaven,” into her fulfillment as the Kingdom of God…

      Thus, for example, the coming together of Christians on the Lord’s Day, their visible unity “sealed” by the priest (“ecclesia in episcopo and episcopus in ecclesia”) is indeed the beginning of the sacrament, the “gathering into the Church.” …

      For Eucharist — “thanksgiving” — is indeed the very content of the redeemed life, the very reality of the Kingdom as “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit,” the end and the fulfillment of our ascension into heaven. Therefore, the Eucharist is consecration and the Fathers called both the prayer of consecration and the consecrated gifts “Eucharist.” …

      Our earthly food becomes the Body and Blood of Christ because it has been assumed, accepted, lifted up into the “age to come,” where Christ is indeed the very life, the very food of all life and the Church is His Body, “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). It is there, finally, that we partake of the food of immortality, are made participants of the Messianic Banquet, of the New Pascha, it is from there, “having seen the true light, having received the heavenly Spirit,” that we return into “this world” (“let us depart in peace”) as witnesses of the Kingdom which is “to come.” Such is the sacrament of the Church, the “leitourgia” which eternally transforms the Church into what she is, makes her the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” [‘Letourgia’, as understood by the apostolic Churches, is the “public duty for which citizens were called out of private life and into the Church,” which is the offering of the Eucharist by the people of God for the life of the entire world- Nepsis]

      Those interested in reading the entire piece will find it at http://www.schmemann.org/byhim

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