Will Only Members of the Church of Christ Be Saved?

A common criticism about those who are members of churches of Christ is that “they think they are the only ones going to heaven.” It is likely that we have heard this or something similar to it before. The important question for us to answer is not whether people are making this claim or not. We need to be answering the question, “Is it true that only members of the church of Christ will be saved?” The answer to this question, as well as any Bible question, will not be found in the opinions of you, me, or any other man. The answer is in the word of God.

Jesus Possesses All Authority

Jesus told his apostles, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Therefore, He has the exclusive right to determine who will be saved. Judgment is going to be based upon the standard of God’s word (John 12:48). If the New Testament does teach that only the church of Christ will be saved, then man has no right to teach otherwise. If one does teach otherwise, he is a false teacher. But if it is true that only members of the church of Christ will be saved and you are in another church that teaches otherwise, then you need to leave that church and become a part of Christ’s church and take as many with you as possible.

New Testament Teaching about the Church

Jesus promised, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18). Notice that church is singular. Jesus only said He was going to build one church. As we have already seen, He has “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). He could have built as many churches as He wanted. He could have made one church that would appeal to one group of people, another that would cater to another group, and so on. But He did not do this. He built one church. That church belongs to Him. He bought it with His blood: “The church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). He is the head of the church: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body” (Ephesians 1:22-23). The church is the body of Christ and He is its Savior: “Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Ephesians 5:23). We can also see from these three passages that there is just one church. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the church – not churches. Just as one head does not have multiple bodies, Christ does not have many churches. He has one – the one He built, bought, and rules.

Is the Lord’s Church Made Up of Individuals or Denominations?

No one can argue with the passages presented that teach that there is one church. The Bible teaching is too clear. Those who will defend denominationalism are then forced to argue that the one church which the Lord purchased is actually made up of denominations rather than individuals. After all, if the Lord’s church is made up of individuals, then the individuals that are part of another church (a denomination) do not have Christ as their Savior (Ephesians 5:23).

A passage that is often used to argue that the church of our Lord is composed of denominations is found in John 15. Jesus used the analogy of a vine and its branches to describe Himself and His church (John 15:1-6). The argument by the denominationalist is that Jesus is the vine and denominations are the different branches. So while they all may teach and practice different things, they are all connected to the same vine – Christ. The first verse of the chapter shows us clearly that Jesus is the vine. But are the branches denominations or individuals?

First notice that Jesus was speaking to individuals. He was not speaking to a council made up of representatives from various churches or sects. He was speaking to His apostles who were to be part of the foundation of His one church (Ephesians 2:20). Notice what Jesus said: “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:6). Jesus was speaking of individuals being the branches (“anyone,” “he” – both singular). The branches are not denominations. The branches are individuals. Individuals make up the church (cf. Romans 12:4-5).

The denominational world teaches many different, conflicting things. Some teach that preachers (pastors, priests, ministers, or whatever other term they use to refer to the one who does the preaching) may not marry – he must remain celibate. Others teach that their preacher may marry and have children if he chooses to do so. Still others teach that the work of a preacher should not be limited to just men, but that women can also be preachers. This is just one example among many that show the point that the denominations do not agree. They teach various, opposing doctrines.

But if we look at the apostle Paul, we see that he taught the same things in every church (1 Corinthians 4:17). This included teaching against division (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Denominationalism is simply division. Some in Corinth were claiming to be of different sects (“of Paul,” “of Apollos,” “of Cephas”). Paul rebuked them and told them they all needed to be “of Christ.” Christ’s church is the one that follows His teachings (Matthew 28:20; Ephesians 5:24; 1 Timothy 3:15).

Jesus Christ built and is the Savior of His one church. His church is the one that believes, teaches, and practices the things found in the New Testament. No denomination can claim this for themselves.

Caution: Not Every “Church of Christ” is “of Christ”

While it can be shown from Scriptures that only members of the church of Christ will be saved, we must realize that not every church that calls itself a “church of Christ” belongs to Him. The church in Sardis was told, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1). We can know the reason why they were told this. Jesus told them, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God” (Revelation 3:2). One problem with the church in Sardis was that they were not completely following God’s word. They had also forgotten what they had received and heard because they were told to “remember” those things (Revelation 3:3). Obviously, because they had forgotten, they had not kept the teachings upon which they were founded. So they were told to “keep it, and repent” (Revelation 3:3). The common thread through all of this is a departure from the word of God. Having the proper name is important (Romans 16:16; Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28), but having a Scriptural name will not help a church that is forsaking or has already left the pattern in the New Testament.

Conclusion

We posed the question at the beginning: Will only members of the church of Christ be saved? We noted from Scripture that Jesus built one church. He is the Savior of that church. We also noticed that the church is made up of individuals. So the question for each of us is this: Are we a member of Christ’s church? If not, how do we become a part of His church?

In Acts 2, the church of Christ was established. God adds people to this church (Acts 2:47), not man. He added those believed the message of the gospel (evidenced by their being “pierced to the heart” in Acts 2:37), who “received his word” (the instruction: “repent, and each of you be baptized” in Acts 2:38), and who “were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Have you done these things so the Lord will add you to the church? Are you part of a congregation that is “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42)? If not, you need to become a member of His church and worship with a group that strives to do all that the Lord has commanded (Matthew 28:20). When all is said and done, only those who are members of the one, true church of Christ will be saved.


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