Must One Be a Member of the Church of Christ?

By D Rader.

You have probably either asked or have been asked the question "Do you really believe that a person has to be a member of the church of Christ in order to go to heaven?" Whether you were asking or answering, you found that answering the question wasn't the real problem. The real difficulty was in swallowing the answer that was given. The religious world in general cannot imagine that the Bible could answer that question in the affirmative. Part of the problem is in understanding what the church really is.


The first thing we must do is agree upon a standard of authority to answer the question. We never will come to any agreement until we use the same standard. Thus, our first concern is expressed in the words of Peter who said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?" (John 6:68). To whom shall we turn for an answer to our question?
We must NOT turn to :

1.      The ideas of men. The philosophy of some man is of no avail in that God said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways... For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
2.      Our own thinking. My own human reasoning will not be sufficient for "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Prov. 14:12).
3.      Parents and Family. One of the first responses to any suggestion that one must be a member of the church of Christ is that if that is so then that would mean that a mother or grandmother would be lost. Since no one likes to face the fact that a close relative will be lost in hell, he or she rejects Biblical statements in favour of family members. However, the one who wishes to be a disciple of the Lord must love the Lord MORE than father or mother (Matt. 10:37).

Our standard must be the Word of God. Peter went on to say "thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). John suggested that we determine whether a man is speaking truth or error by whether or not his ways agree with what has been revealed unto the apostles (I John 4:6). When this life is over we will be judged by the words of Christ (John 12:48).


When one misunderstands what the church is he has a hard time seeing that it could be essential to salvation. Many think of the church in terms of a denomination, rather than the body of the saved.
To refer to the church as a denomination or a group of denominations indicates several things. The word "denomination" suggests the idea of division or fraction. When asked by a bank teller "what denomination" she means what division of money ( e.g. ones, fives, tens or twenties etc.). Thus, the concept of denominationalism indicates (1) division is approved, (2) one division is as good as another (e.g. four fives are as good as one twenty and two tens are as good as twenty ones) and (3) there are no wrong choices (i.e. no one is going to condemn you for choosing the two tens instead of the four fives).
The same is true if the church of Christ is a denomination or a group of denominations. That would mean:

1.      All are divided with the approval of God. Yet Paul plainly stated that God does not approve of division (I Cor. 1:10 ; Phil. 2:2 ; Eph. 4:4).
2.      That one church is as good as another.
3.      That there are no wrong choices (i.e. if one chooses to be a member of one denomination while another chooses another denomination, neither one has done any wrong).
4.      That the things that distinguish one church from another are of human origin.
If the things that distinguish one church from another were of divine origin, then one church would not be as good as another. Thus, in denominationalism the different names, doctrines and practices are of human origin. If the Bible teaches that there is one church and that one must be a member of that one church, then the church is not a denomination as many want to believe.


The Bible could not be clearer on any point than it is on the matter that there is just ONE church. The apostle Paul said, "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4). What is the body? The same writer says that the body is the church (Col. 1:18 ; Eph. 1:22-23). Thus Eph. 4:4 is saying there is ONE CHURCH! Oh sure, there are many churches like there are many gods and many faiths, but only ONE GOD is true and only ONE FAITH is true and only ONE CHURCH is true.
Jesus spoke of his church (singular), not churches (Matt. 16:18). Paul said that all are reconciled in ONE BODY (Eph. 2:16). Jesus is the one shepherd having ONE FOLD (John 10:16).

If the church and those who are saved are one and the same, then obviously one must be a member of that church to be saved. The evidence is great that the church and the saved are one and the same.

1.      The saved are added to the church (Acts 2:47). Those whom the Lord saves are added to the church. Thus, the church is the saved.
2.      Christ is the Saviour of the body (Eph. 5:23). Remember, that the body is the church. Christ is the Saviour of the church. Thus, those whom Christ saves are in the church. There is no promise to save anyone out of the church.
3.      The church was purchased with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). IF the church is not essential to salvation, then the blood is not necessary either! However, if we are saved by the blood of Christ, then we must be in the church to be purchased or saved. If you purchase a pair of shoes for $ 45:00, then any benefit you get out of the $ 45:00 will be in the pair of shoes. Likewise, since the church was purchased by the blood of Christ, any benefit we receive from the blood must be in the church.
4.      "Ekklesia" is the Greek word that is translated by the English word "church." Ekklesia literally means the called out (ek  out of ; kneo - to call). Those in the church are those who have been called out of darkness into the light (I Peter 2:9 ; Acts 26:18), out of the power of Satan unto the Power of God (Acts 26:18) and from sin unto the forgiveness of sins (Acts 26:18).
5.      The church is the house of God (I Tim. 3:15). A house is a family (e.g. the house of David  Luke 2:3). The church then is the family of God. To be in the family of God, one must be in the church.
6.      We are saved by the blood of Christ in the one body. Notice the parallel statements: Redeemed - In Christ - Through the Blood (Eph. 1:7), Made Nigh - In Christ - By the blood (Eph. 2:13). Reconciled - In ONE body - By the Cross (Eph. 2:16).

From these passages I learn that we are saved (redeemed, made nigh and reconciled) by the blood (through the blood and by the cross). But, it is in Christ or in the one body that we are saved by the blood. One enters into Christ or the ONE BODY by being baptized (Romans 6:4 ; I Cor. 12:13).

In view of all the above who would deny that one must be a member of the church of Christ to be saved?

Presented by the Cape Rd Church of Christ.