Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

As regards the relationship of salvation and the “Church”, the Magisterial Reformers taught “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” that is “outside the Church there is no salvation”. The origin of the term is understood to have come from Cyprian the so-called Church Father. In his comprehension, “Christ and his church are so closely joined that one cannot enjoy Christ and his salvation unless one is joined to Christ’s church.” Another way he communicated this thought is that an individual “cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your mother”.[1] The following is the commentary is the Reformed view position on this matter.

Martin Luther: “The church is not wood and stone but the assembly of people who believe in Christ. With this church one should be connected and see how the people believe, live, and teach. They certainly have Christ in their midst, for outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.”

John Calvin . . .“For those to whom [God] is Father the church may also be mother . . . . Away from her [the church’s] bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith: “The visible church . . . consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.”[2]

Yet this does not convey the idea “that salvation can be found by virtue of the mere association with or participation in the ecclesiological practices of a particularized institutional form of the church.”[3] In other words, the Bible speaks of individuals subsisting as Christ, the Bible refers to the ekklesia as “Christ’s body, and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Looking at the matter from the Reformed perspective the gospel, ekklesia and Christ are intertwined and to go without any of those components personal salvation is not possible.

Now the question is does the Anabaptists hold to something similar?

The answer in short is yes, but their conception of redemption or salvation is different from the Reformers and Roman Catholics. While the proto-Anabaptists had a notion of “grace” and “faith”, their view consisted of more than “my personal salvation and my religious history”.[4] The gospel that die Täufer preached was not a soterian gospel but one that focused outside of oneself. It did not concentrate on “my place” in the Kingdom but on welcoming others and making sure that, their fellow brothers and sisters maintained their place it in. In Anabaptist thought “[r]econciliation between individuals belongs as much to the essence of salvation as does reconciliation to God; the two dimensions are inseparable.”[5] To them “man cannot come to God except together with his brother” but not just one’s spiritual sibling but also “the neighbor”, these “constitutes an essential element of one’s personal redemption.”[6]

This is grasped in the Gospels when for instance Jesus said while delivering the Sermon on the Mount. In the fifth chapter of Matthew Jesus articulated:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”[7]

While this entire section addresses the importance of interpersonal relationships and reconciliation between an individual’s brother and sister within the context of one’s faith family. There is more being stated here that is not generally grasped. Usually, these passages are taken no more seriously, than some helpful advice passed on by the Messiah. Yet Jesus employs some strong terms in regards to the consequence of failing to heed his words. He mentions “judgment” and “hell” or more accurately γέενναν (geennan) which is the symbol of eternal destruction or death i.e. the “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20; 20:6, 14). Yet the focus needs to be narrowed to verses 23-24. It reads:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

Now Jesus puts the hearer in a setting a first century Jew would be very familiar with, it involves worshippers at the temple in Jerusalem during Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the year for it was the day that Israel received forgiveness of their sins; it was a means of purifying themselves before God. In other words, it was their means of remaining in a saved state. Yet Jesus communicated that more was required than just that, peace or shalom between one’s spiritual brothers and sisters was a key aspect in redemption.

Jesus reminded his Jewish listeners that when someone sinned they disturbed their relationship with God and the sacrifice was meant to reestablish that relationship. Yet it was more to the matter than that, sacrifices was never intended to atone for “deliberate sin, for what the Jews called ‘the sin of a high hand’.”[8] The sacrifices was for unintentional sin, that is if “someone committed a sin unawares, or was swept into sin in a moment of passion when self-control broke, then sacrifice was effective; but if a person deliberately, defiantly, callously and with open eyes committed sin, then sacrifice was powerless to atone.”[9] In order for their sacrifice to be effective the:

sacrifice had to include confession of sin and true penitence; and true penitence involved the attempt to rectify any consequences sin might have had. The great Day of Atonement was held to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation, but the Jews were quite clear that not even the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement could avail unless people were first reconciled to their neighbors. The breach between human beings and God could not be healed until human beings could reconcile their differences . . . . The Jews were quite clear that people had to do their utmost to put things right themselves before they could be right with God.

Therefore the Israelite would himself positioned before the very altar of God ready to set things right between himself and the Creator and realize that there is conflict between himself and his sister or brother. Upon realizing this, they would leave their sacrifice and search the whole of Jerusalem in order to reconcile. After the person would have, done all they could to repair damaged relations regardless of the outcome they would only then return to offer their sacrifice to God with a clear conscience.

From the perspective of Protestant soteriology, one takes care of their personal salvation first then looks into other matters. Yet the way of God, Jesus and Anabaptism the welfare of others is priority over one’s own.

Loving one’s neighbor is also stressed in scripture and it too conditions salvation. When asked, “which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). No one has to guess which individuals or groups makes is a person’s neighbor. A neighbor is comprised of the entire body of humanity (Luke 10:25-37). The Apostle Paul summed up the matter by saying, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Therefore, in light of this one can conclude that yes there is no salvation outside of the church but there is also no salvation without doing good works in the church and outside of it.




[1] Marcus Peter Johnson, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 206.

[2] Ibid., 207.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Denny Weaver, Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2005), 190.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation (1973; repr., Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 81.

[7] Matthew 5:21-26 New International Version

[8] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, rev. and updated. ed., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 164.

[9] Ibid.


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