Read Ephesians 4:14-16 …
When discussing who is a member of the Church, one often falls into a denominational pattern of thought and comes to this conclusion, “The members of the Church are those that have joined us.” In the Scriptures, this is never the pattern that is set forth. Everett Ferguson puts it this way:
“The church, therefore, may be defined as a community of the saved. In other words, soteriology determines ecclesiology.”[i]
Again, there are a couple of big words that should be defined. Soteriology is a part of theology that has to do with one’s salvation, while ecclesiology is a branch of theology that considers the nature and structure of the Christian Church. When Ferguson says that “soteriology determines ecclesiology” it is merely a formal way of saying that the Church is a community of those persons that are saved from their sins.
This understanding goes directly to the mission of Jesus while on this earth. When Jesus went into the home of Zacchaeus and had dinner, the evening ended with Zacchaeus finding himself. Jesus said this was the whole reason that He came, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Similarly, Matthew records that when Jesus looked upon the people, He had compassion for them. Why? Because they were “weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (9:36). It is in Jesus Christ that one sees the purpose of God, the salvation of humanity, and the Church is the product of that expression.
Therefore, contrary to the typical denominational understanding of joining a church, the Christian – once they are saved – is said to be placed into the Church by God. The NASB translates the latter half of Acts 2:47 in this fashion, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Because of textual differences in the Greek other translations add “to the church” or “to the assembly,” but even without that little phrase, the same result can be seen. The Lord adds those that are saved to the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the Church (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 3:6; 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24).
This is exactly what is meant by the expression “soteriology determines ecclesiology.” Those that are saved, that have obeyed the Gospel, are placed into the fellowship that is the body of Christ. This leads one to two important conclusions. First, it is not now, nor has it ever been that the Church is the saving entity of humanity; although, the Church is a fellowship of the saved. Second, simply because one goes to church, does church things, and speaks church language, does not ensure salvation from sins; although, those that are saved should certainly want to be with others that are saved and do things that are associated with that community.
Sadly, this leads to one inescapable conclusion. A person is either church or not-church. There is no understanding in the Scriptures of a person being saved and being outside of the Church at the same time. Every saved person has been added by God to the same community of believers. As far as the Scripters are concerned, just as there is only one body, there is only one church (Eph. 1:22; 4:4). Which in turn leads to the most important question an individual can ever ask, “What must I do to be saved?”
[i] Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 136.