Bound to Join: A Review and Defence
Rev. Angus Stewart
Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership
by David J.
Free Publishing Association, Jenison, Michigan, USA, 2010
European brothers and sisters of the British Reformed Fellowship
[BRF]"—this is the touching dedication at the very start of Prof. David
J. Engelsma’s book Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership.
The dedication also points to the origin of this work: e-mail
correspondence with scattered Reformed believers in the British Isles
and Europe about the distressing lack of faithful Reformed churches
where they live, arising from discussions at the 2004 BRF Conference in
England. The saints asked for instruction on this vital subject and
Prof. Engelsma duly obliged.
The "Introductory Letter"
(pp. xiii-xvi) from a concerned sister in France, with its fifteen
practical questions and statement of three "issues and scenarios," sets
the scene and gets the ball rolling. What should I do if there are no
true churches near me?
In Letter 1, Prof.
Engelsma begins with a brief presentation of the Reformed doctrine of
the church and church membership. Here and elsewhere he makes it clear
that he will be working from Scripture, the Reformed confessions
(especially Belgic Confession 27-29 and including the
Westminster Confession) and John Calvin (particularly his
Letter 2 answers a
question from one of the correspondents in the European forum about the
meaning of an "apostate" church. This in turn occasions the erroneous
charge that the Protestant Reformed Churches believe that all churches
that hold that God loves and desires to save the reprobate are apostate.
Engelsma explains that this is not the case and answers a related
question on the "Sum of Saving Knowledge," often bound with the
Westminster Standards (Letters 3-4). Back on the subject of false
churches, Letter 5 explains the process of apostasy.
The next five letters
quote extensively from Calvin's anti-Nicodemite writings and summarise
his call to professing French believers to
form or move to Reformed churches (based on, e.g., Psalm 27:4 and Psalms
42, 43 and 84). This is a difficult word to scattered saints in the
sixteenth or twenty-first century.
Suddenly two members of
the forum revise their estimate of their local British churches: they are not
that bad after all! Engelsma responds to them in Letter 11. By appealing
to the Reformed creeds (Belgic Confession 29, 33-35;
Westminster Confession 27-29; pp. 66-67, 111-112), he demonstrates
that Reformed saints cannot fulfil their "calling from God regarding
church membership by joining a Baptist church" (p. 66).
Letters 12-14 deal with
the call to join a true church even above family loyalties, in answer to
question 10 in the "Introductory Letter" (p. xiv). This undoubtedly is a
"hard saying," but Engelsma proves the point from the words of Christ in
the gospel accounts, other Scriptures (Ezra 10; I Cor. 7:15), the
confessions (Belgic Confession 28) and John Calvin (pp. 81-83).
Before his discussion of
the three marks of the church, Engelsma gives a fine response to a
question from one of the members of the forum who wondered if Christ’s
command to the faithful in the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6)
contradicted the Professor’s instruction (Letter 15). Engelsma begins
his "explanation of the marks [of a true church] by clearing up
misunderstanding and exposing erroneous notions about the marks" (p.
If only the four points he makes (pp. 97-104) were understood and
practised in the church world! What harm Christian people would avoid
inflicting upon themselves, their families and their friends! The first
mark of faithful preaching (Letter 17) and the second and third marks of
proper administration of the sacraments and the godly exercise of church
discipline (Letter 18) are treated in turn. In this connection, Engelsma
states that paedo-communion "is impure, a corrupting of the sacrament of
the Lord’s Supper" (p. 112). He warns, "The result of child-communion
will be the heavy judgment of God upon the church that practices it, as
the apostle warns in [I Corinthians 11:30-34]" (p. 112).
In answer to another
question, Engelsma provides penetrating analysis of denominations, their
biblical and confessional justification, as well as the effects of
apostasy in denominations (Letter 19). The Professor’s conclusion is
pithy and profound: "As patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels,
appeal to church unity is the trump card of the false church" (p. 122;
cf. p. 143). In Letter 20, Engelsma responds to the criticism that his
instruction needs to be more "nuanced."
The false church’s
terrible reality is the subject of Letter 21. Our author gives us his
… a false church [is]
a religious organization professing Christianity that has so
departed from the cardinal truths of the gospel, and with this
departure has so corrupted the sacraments and perverted Christian
discipline, that there is no presence of Christ in it at all by his
Spirit, bestowing the grace of life, but rather a special presence
of the evil spirit, Satan, working out the damnation of the members
by a false gospel (p. 130).
In the next letter,
Engelsma restates and clarifies his position against objections from a
member of the forum. The Professor states the wrong reason and the true
ground for leaving a church:
One does not leave a
church merely because one "does not agree with the consistory," or
because the congregation did something that was not right, or
because one is "uncomfortable" there, or, as often is the case,
because the church "refused to recognize my gifts by electing me
elder." Such grounds for leaving are not adequate. This mentality
sins against the unity of the church. The ground for leaving a
church is that the church seriously and impenitently errs concerning
the marks of the true church (p. 142).
Letter 23 explains the
development of false churches from church history (Romanism, the
Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [GKN] and the PCUSA). The last
chapter urges joining a true church in the light of apostasy deepening
as Christ’s return approaches (Matt. 24; II Thess. 2; Rev. 13). It takes
a well-deserved swipe at the World Council of Churches (p. 151) and
specifies many raging heresies of our day.
Admittedly, the "Contents"
page (p. vii) looks less than inviting—it merely lists the page numbers
at which the 24 letters begin, without giving any idea of the subject
they treat. However, as my summary of the book has shown, it would be
very difficult to provide succinct chapter headings, especially given
that Engelsma takes time to answer questions from the forum in the midst
of his development of the subject. If the book were to be reprinted in
the future, it might be helpful at least to provide headings for several
"Parts," e.g., Part I, covering letters 1-5, could be titled (something
like) "True and False Churches," Part II on "Calvin’s Call to Form or
Move to True Churches" (Letters 6-10), etc. Perhaps also the "Contents"
page could indicate that certain chapters were a response to a forum
member’s question, e.g., "Excursus" or "Reply" on "The Church at Sardis"
Helpfully, Bound to
Join concludes with appendices containing two crucial creedal
testimonies: Belgic Confession 27-29 (on the need to join a true
church) and the Conclusion to the Canons of Dordt (on the
seriousness of the Arminian heresy).
1) "But That’s Just
Both during and after the
e-mail discussion and now since the publication of Bound to Join,
Prof. Engelsma’s treatment of the necessity of joining a true church has
provoked controversy. Many have been deeply appreciative but some with
whom I have corresponded—not just in the British Isles and the United
States but also from further afield, such as Scandinavia and Africa—have
opposed the teaching. The most frequent response to the position that
"outside the church there is no salvation" (Latin:
extra ecclesiam nulla salus)
is "But that’s just Engelsma’s view!"
However, it was the
fathers in the early church, such as Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-c.108), Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) and
Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the great theologian of grace, who taught
the church there is no salvation," as Engelsma notes (p.
J. N. D. Kelly, an acknowledged authority on patristic theology, states,
"Cyril of Alexandria [d. 444] was voicing universally held assumptions
when he wrote that 'mercy is not obtainable outside the holy city.'"2
The church fathers have been followed in this position by the historic
Christian church in both West and East, which has seen extra
ecclesiam nulla salus as a faithful summary of biblical teaching.
What about the great confessions of the Reformation? We turn first to
the Belgic Confession
(1561), because it is the creed of the denomination to which Prof. Engelsma belongs and
which he quotes frequently in
Bound to Join. Article 28
is entitled "Every One Is Bound to Join Himself to the True
We believe, since this holy congregation is an assembly of those
who are saved, and
out of it there is no salvation, that no person, of whatsoever
state or condition he may be, ought to withdraw himself to live in
a separate state from it; but that all men are in duty bound to join
and unite themselves with it, maintaining the unity of the church;
submitting themselves to the doctrine and discipline thereof; bowing
their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ; and as mutual members of
the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according
to the talents God has given them. And that this may be the more
effectually observed, it is the duty of all believers, according to
the Word of God, to separate themselves from all those who do not
belong to the church, and to join themselves to this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and
edicts of princes be against it, yea, though they should suffer
death or any other corporal punishment. Therefore all those who
separate themselves from the same, or do not join themselves to it,
act contrary to the ordinance of God.
The Dutch fathers at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619) approved the Belgic
Confession, including its extra ecclesiam nulla salus in
This truth also occurs in
the Catechism of the Church of Geneva
(1545), designed for the covenant children of that great Reformation
- Why do you subjoin forgiveness of sins to the Church?
- Because no man obtains it without being previously united to the
people of God, maintaining unity with the body of Christ
perseveringly to the end, and thereby attesting that he is a true
member of the Church.
- In this way you conclude that out of the Church is nought but ruin
- Certainly. Those who make a departure from the body of Christ, and
rend its unity by faction, are cut off from all hope of salvation
during the time they remain in this schism, be it however short.3
Philip Schaff points out
that the Genevan catechism was written in French and Latin and was
soon translated into Italian, Spanish, English, German, Dutch,
Hungarian, Greek and Hebrew, before adding, "It was used for a long time
in the Reformed Churches and schools, especially in France and
Echoing the early church with its ark imagery, the Second Helvetic
Confession (1566), written by Heinrich Bullinger in 1562 and revised in
1564, also teaches extra ecclesiam nulla salus:
But as for communicating with the true Church of Christ, we so
highly esteem of it, that we say plainly, that none can live
before God, which do not communicate with the true Church of God,
but separate themselves from the same. For as without the ark of
Noah there was no escaping, when the world perished in the flood;
even so do we believe, that without Christ, who in the Church
offereth himself to be enjoyed of the elect, there can be no certain
salvation: and therefore we teach that such as would be saved, must
in no wise separate themselves from the true Church of Christ (17).5
The Second Helvetic
Confession was accepted by Reformed churches not only in Switzerland
but also in Scotland (1566), Hungary (1567), France (1571) and Poland
(1578). In fact, it is one of the most widely accepted confessional
statements among Reformed Christians throughout the world.
The Bohemian Confession (1575), produced in what
is now (roughly) the Czech Republic, was subscribed to by
the Utraquists or moderate Hussites, the Bohemian Brethren
or Unitas Fratrum, Lutherans and Calvinists in the kingdom.
Part of its eleventh article on the church states,
Then such a society of good and
bad is called the common Christian holy Church. In the
matter concerning the good fish and wheat, that is, only
the elect sons of God and the true faithful Christians,
all of them together in common and without exception are
counted to Christ, and also they are holy by a holiness
begun in them by the Holy Spirit. And they are those the
Lord is pleased to call his own sheep, whose society is
the true wife and bride of Christ, the House of God, the
pillar and foundation of the truth, the Mother of all
believers, and the only ark aside from which there is
no salvation. But concerning those admixed and
especially the willing hypocrites and other bad godless
Christians who remain in that Church, of whom usually
there exists a much larger number, those and such are
not called the holy Church, but are dead church members.
And although they are found in the Church of Christ, yet
they are not at all of the Church nor of his Body.
This article goes on to define the three marks of the
church as faithful preaching, sacramental administration and
Confession of the 1640s, on behalf of Presbyterianism in the British
The visible church,
which is also catholick or universal under the gospel, (not confined
to one nation, as before under the law,) 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
The Waldensian Confession (1662) of the saints in
Piedmont also teaches the necessity of joining a true
instituted church. Article 27 proclaims,
That everyone ought to unite to and have communion
with that church.
Isa. 4:3. This is the true church of God (Isa. 44:5;
Joel 2:32). It follows that to be saved we have to
join and comply with the true church, not the
synagogue of Satan, nor remain alone in a hermitage
or excommunicated (Acts 2:47; Gal. 4:26). Those who
therefore do not recognize the church as their
mother, obeying the pure preaching of the Word of
God, cannot say that God is their Father (Heb.
12:22–23; Matt. 18:17; 2 Cor. 6:14–18). Note that in
order to be united to the true church, it is
necessary to separate from that which is false.
To discern true pastors from false ones, we have to
see if their doctrine complies with Scripture (1
John 5:21; 4:1; 2 John 10). Those who do not
separate from the false church make themselves
accomplices of her errors and superstitions and are
joined to her in her everlasting torment, even if
they do not realize it (Rev. 18:4).
Those who therefore do not join the true church are
not members of Christ’s mystical body. Saint Paul
never mentions pontiffs, cardinals, or priests among
the ordained officers for the edification of the
church; therefore, from whence are they (Ps. 27:4;
Eph. 4:11–13)? This is the teaching of the Word of
God in the Old and New Testament (Matt. 10:14; Heb.
10:25; 13:7, 17; Acts 5:29; John 8:47).5a
From these confessions of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we see that extra ecclesiam
nulla salus was creedal in the churches of the Calvin Reformation in
Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, the Lowlands, France, Italy, Switzerland,
the Czech Republic, Hungary,
Poland, etc. Since this truth is taught in the
Westminster Standards (in which the Westminster Confession is
included) and the Three Forms of Unity (to which the Belgic
belongs)—the two most influential Reformed standards—this has been the confessional position of Presbyterian
churches in the British Isles and around the world, and the Dutch
Reformed churches in the Netherlands and globally.6
It is the same story with the creedal heritage of Lutheranism, as it
is with the Reformed and Presbyterian creeds. Luther's Large Catechism
(1529), as part of its exposition of the Apostles'
Creed's "I believe ... an holy, catholic church,"
declares, "But outside of this Christian church (that is,
where the Gospel is not) there is no forgiveness, and hence no holiness
... Therefore they remain in eternal wrath and damnation ... Outside of
[the Christian church] no one can come to the Lord Jesus." Luther's Large Catechism
is a normative text of the Lutheran Reformation movement. It was included among the Lutheran confessional writings
in the Book of Concord (1580) and so extra
ecclesiam nulla salus is creedal for the Lutheran
churches in Germany, Scandinavia, Finland, the Baltic, Bohemia and other parts of Europe
from the sixteenth century onwards, as well as in the
Lutheran diaspora and Lutheran mission fields around the
Moving from the Reformed
confessions, we begin with Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther's Large Catechism
was, of course, written by Martin Luther himself.
sermon on Luke 2:15-20 in 1521 or 1522, the German
Reformer preached the same doctrine:
Therefore he who would
find Christ must first find the Church. How should
we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did
not know where his believers are? And he who would
know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor
build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he
must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the
Church is not wood and stone, but the company of
believing people; one must hold to them, and see how
they believe, live and teach; they surely have
Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian
church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.7
In his Confession
Concerning the Christ's Supper (1528), Luther
declares, "Outside this Christian Church there is no
salvation or forgiveness of sins, but everlasting
death and damnation; even though there may be a
magnificent appearance of holiness and many good
works, it is all in vain."8
More such quotes could be provided.
Contemporary Luther scholar, Kurt K. Hendel is correct:
"Luther clearly affirms that there is no salvation
outside the church. It is either explicitly or
implicitly articulated in much of his theological
Turning to Reformed theologians, we come first to that blessed
son of France, John Calvin (1509-1564). What did he say? We have already
cited the Catechism of the Church of Geneva, which
was penned by Calvin.
himself tells us Calvin's views in Bound to Join, especially in Letters 6-10,
which chapters include lengthy quotations from the Genevan Reformer.
Moreover, most of Calvin’s writings urging believers to join a true
church have recently been conveniently collected in the book Come Out
From Among Them that Prof. Engelsma cites frequently and
Near the start of the
first chapter of his treatment of the church in Book 4 of his
Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Calvin writes,
But because it is now our
intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the
simple title "mother" how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we
should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless
this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her
breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance
until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matt.
22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school
until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her
bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as
Isaiah [Isa. 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify. Ezekiel agrees with
them when he declares that those whom God rejects from heavenly life
will not be enrolled among God's people [Ezek. 13:9]. On the other
hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true godliness are said to
inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem [cf. Isa. 56:5; Ps.
87:6]. For this reason, it is said in another psalm: "Remember me, O
Jehovah, with favor toward thy people; visit me with salvation: that I
may see the well-doing of thy chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the joy
of thy nation, that I may be glad with thine inheritance" [Ps. 106:4-5
p.; cf. Ps. 105:4, Vg., etc.]. By these words God's fatherly favor and
the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that
it is always disastrous to leave the church.11
A few pages later, the
French Reformer states,
... no one is
permitted to spurn its [i.e., a true church's] authority, flout its
warnings, resist its counsels, or make light of its
chastisements—much less to desert it and break its unity. For the
Lord esteems the communion of his church so highly that he counts
as a traitor and apostate from Christianity anyone who arrogantly
leaves any Christian society, provided it cherishes the true
ministry of Word and sacraments. He so esteems the authority of
the church that when it is violated he believes his own diminished
... From this it follows that separation from the church is the
denial of God and Christ. Hence, we must even more avoid so
wicked a separation. For when with all our might we are attempting
the overthrow of God's truth, we deserve to have him hurl the
whole thunderbolt of his wrath to crush us.12
Dutch theologian, Willem Balke observes that extra ecclesiam nulla salus was
part of Calvin's teaching in the 1539 edition of his Institutes:
Calvin heavily underscores the necessity of
maintaining the unity of the church. He takes over Cyprian's
adage "There is no salvation outside the church," and
applies this statement to the visible church [not the
invisible!]. In this way he takes his stand in
opposition to the separatism of the Anabaptists, who
wanted to strive for a church made up only of
perfecti, or an ecclesia perfecta.13
Balke continues his summary of Calvin's 1539 teaching:
The church is a means to salvation
and always stands under the sovereignty of God. If we
believe a church, and this is typically Calvin, we must
hold to the rule that "the basis on which we believe the
church is that we are fully convinced we are members of
it." To believe and then to withdraw from the fellowship
of the church is inconsistent. "I believe the church"
means to join in an active participation in the church.14
"Calvin's doctrine of [church] office is developed for the first
time in the Institutes of 1543,"15
observes Dr. Balke.
"Calvin emphasizes three things," he adds, stating, in the
First, however great the holiness in which God's children excel, they
still ... remain unable to stand before God without
forgiveness of sins. Secondly, this benefit so belongs
to the church that we cannot enjoy it unless we abide in
communion with the church. Thirdly, it is dispensed to us
through the ministers and pastors of the church, either
by the preaching of the gospel or the administration of
"It is not surprising that Calvin once again adds an
exhortation opposing Anabaptist separatism:
'Accordingly, let each one of us count it his own duty
to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has
In his Brief Instruction for Arming All the Good
Faithful Against the Errors of the Common Sect of the
Anabaptists (1544), "Calvin makes the categorical
For seeing that out of the church there is no remission of sins nor
salvation, though we have an appearance of holiness more
than angelical, yet if we do separate ourselves by such
a presumption from the Christian company, we are become
To conclude Balke's treatment of Calvin in this regard,
and in proof of the Frenchman's
insistence on the necessity of attending to "the office of
preaching," he cites two places in the Reformer's
The Spirit does not teach any but those who submit to the ministry of the Church,
and consequently they are the disciples of the devil, and not of God, who reject the order which He has appointed
[Comm. on Isaiah 54:13].
Those who neglect or despise this order want to be wiser
than Christ. Woe to their pride [Comm. on Eph. 4:12]!19
In his Calvin's Doctrine of
the Word and Sacrament,
Scottish Presbyterian and Calvin scholar, Ronald S.
Wallace summarises the Genevan Reformer's doctrine
of the church and the necessity of joining it:
Christ has bound the Church
to Himself organically as His body, and the life
of the Head flows to the members through the
ministry of the Word and Sacrament committed to
the Church. To refuse the gracious ministry of
the Church is to refuse to come to the one sure
source of the grace of Christ.20
proves his point with three citations from
"Nothing is more formidable than to be rejected
from God's flock. For no safety is to be hoped
for except as God collect us into one body under
one head. First, all safety resides in Christ
alone; and then we cannot be separated from
Christ without falling away from all hope of
safety; but Christ will not and cannot be torn
from His Church with which He is joined by an
indissoluble knot, as the head of the body.
Hence, unless we cultivate unity with the
faithful, we see that we are cut off from
Christ" [Comm. on Eze. 13:9].
Speaking on Isaiah's description of the restored
Jerusalem as a quiet habitation in which
the people that dwell therein shall be
forgiven their iniquity, Calvin says: "It is
also worthy of observation that none but the
citizens of the Church enjoy this privilege;
for, apart from the body of Christ and the
fellowship of the godly, there can be no hope of
reconciliation with God. Hence, in the creed we
profess to believe in the Catholic
[i.e., universal] Church and the
forgiveness of sins; for God does not
include among the objects of His love any but
those whom He reckons among the members of His
only begotten Son, and, in like manner, does not
extend to any who do not belong to His body the
free imputation of righteousness. Hence it
follows that strangers who separate themselves
from the Church have nothing left for them but
to rot amidst their curse. Hence, also, an open
departure from the Church is an open
renouncement of eternal salvation" [Comm. on
"Because the only begotten Son of God unites to
Himself those who believe in Him, so that they
are one with Him. It frequently happens that
what belongs to Him is transferred to the Church
which is His body and fullness. In this sense,
rule also is attributed to the Church, not so as
to obscure by haughty domination the glory of
her Head, or even to claim the authority which
belongs to Him, or in a word, so as to have
anything separate from her Head; but because the
preaching of the Gospel which is committed to
her is the spiritual sceptre of Christ, by which
He displays His power. In this respect no man
can bow down submissively before Christ, without
also obeying the Church, so far as the obedience
of faith is joined to the ministry of doctrine,
yet so that Christ their Head alone reigns, and
alone exercises His authority" [Comm. on Isa.
Wallace continues his exposition of Calvin's
Christ has committed to the Church the
ministry of His grace. He has, moreover, attached
many of His promises to the Church so that the
individual can have no certainty of obtaining
salvation and the benefits of His death and
resurrection apart from the Church. Understood in
this sense, Calvin is ready on all occasions to
state clearly his belief that outside of the Church
there is no salvation.22
In proof, he quotes four more passages from Calvin's
"They who wish to become partakers of so great a
benefit must be a part of Israel, that is, of
the Church, out of which there can be neither
salvation nor truth" [Comm. on Isa. 49:7].
"Such as forsake the Church ... wholly alienate
themselves from Christ" [Comm. on Heb. 10:26].
In his commentary on Hebrews 10:25 Calvin
identifies departing from the Church with a
"falling away from the living God" [Comm. on
On the verse in Isaiah 54:13, All thy
children shall be taught of the Lord, Calvin
says, "We see that these two things, children
of the Church and taught by God, are
united in such a manner that they cannot be
God's disciples who refuse to be taught in the
Church" [Comm. on Isa. 54:13].23
Even in his work on Calvin's Doctrine of the
Christian Life, Ronald S. Wallace is compelled to
include a treatment of the Reformer's teaching on the church
since it is necessary for the spiritual life of the child of
God. Indeed, the "Nurture and Discipline Within the Church"
is the second largest of the six parts in which Wallace
treats Calvin's teaching on the Christian life.
Wallace himself states the connection between the title
and subject of his book and extra ecclesiam nulla salus:
for Calvin, "the Christian life cannot be lived apart from
the visible Church."24 Why? "For all practical purposes
membership of the invisible Church is inseparable from
membership of the visible Church."25 In short, "Our
salvation [is] within the [visible] Church,"26 for,
as the French theologian says, "The
Lord has not promised His mercy save in the communion of the
saints [Institutes 4.1.20]."27
For the Genevan Reformer, the visible church is our
mother who bears, nourishes and cares for us, and our school
that instructs and corrects us. To this Calvin adds "the
mutual care which the members, gathered together in one body
under the same Head, have for one another."28
God, then, does not give us the
gifts and strength we need to live the Christian life
directly from His own hand. He bestows upon us what we
need through the ministry of others within the life of
the Church ... To try to grow spiritually apart from the
Church is impossible.29
This is Wallace's summarizing statement: "It is
obvious that for Calvin the sanctification of the
individual, and the growth, nurture and discipline of
his Christian life, take place within the life of the
Church, and the attitude and loyalty of the individual
towards the Church is an extremely important factor in
this matter.30 Again, "Since the individual is
dependent on the Church for his sanctification, it
becomes his duty to adhere loyally to the visible
What about "the assurance of our being
elected to sanctification"? For Calvin, "we cannot have
such sanctifying assurance apart from membership of the
Church."32 What about spiritual separation from the
It is only within the fellowship of the Church
that we can find ourselves in the true relationship of
separation from this world, for separation from the
world is not something we can achieve for ourselves as
isolated individuals. Separation, like sanctification,
is a work which God accomplishes with His Church.33
Similarly, English Calvin scholar, T. H. L. Parker
explains the French Reformer's ecclesiology:
Since the church is the society of those who are or who profess to be in Christ,
it follows that to be outside the church is to be
outside Christ, and hence, according to St. Cyprian's
famous dictum, to be without salvation. For Calvin the
Christian life is church life. He expands the old image
of 'mother church': 'There is no way to enter into life
except this mother shall conceive us in her womb, bring
us to birth, nurse us at her breast, and keep us under
her care and protection until we put off our mortal
flesh and become like the angels of God' [Institutes 4.1.4]. And in this
case, a man does not leave his father and mother; for
God is our Father and the church our mother all the days
of our life. The maternal power, however, does not lie
in the church itself, but in the Christ who by his
spirit [sic] is present in his church in preaching and
sacrament. The consequence is that none may separate
from the church. To separate from the church is to
separate from Christ.34
In short, it is crystal clear that extra
ecclesiam nulla salus is not only the teaching of
the Reformation creeds and Martin Luther but also, and
very emphatically, that of John Calvin. Numerous quotes
from the Genevan Reformer from a wide range of his
writings have been given: his anti-Nicodemite writings (cited
extensively by Prof. Engelsma), his Catechism of
the Church of Geneva, his Institutes,
his treatise against the Anabaptists and his
commentaries (both Old and New Testaments), from his
early to his later writings. Understandably, Calvin scholarship is
united on this.35
Continental Reformed Tradition
Theodore Beza (1519-1605),
Calvin’s successor in Geneva, held the same position, declaring,
Finally, we must
necessarily confess, since outside of Jesus Christ there is no
salvation at all, that anyone who dies without being a member of
this assembly [i.e., a true church] is excluded from Jesus Christ
and from salvation, for the power to save which is in Jesus Christ
belongs only to those who recognize him as their God and only
This statement occurs in
Beza’s confession, a "very popular" document.37
Nicolaas Gootjes argues persuasively that Guido de Brès utilised this
part of Beza’s confession in writing Belgic Confession 28.38
Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583) was a German Reformed
theologian, born in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), who became the
leading theologian of the Reformed movement of the Palatinate. As the
principal author and interpreter of the Heidelberg Catechism
(1563), his exposition of "the holy, catholic church" (Q. & A. 54) is
especially important. A treatment of extra ecclesiam nulla salus
concludes his discussion of this question and answer on the church:
Is there any salvation out of the Church?
No one can be saved out of the Church: 1. Because out of the church
there is no Saviour, and hence no salvation. "Without me ye can do
nothing." (John 15:5). 2. Because those whom God has chosen to the
end, which is eternal life, them he has also chosen to the means,
which consist in the inward and outward call. Hence although the
elect are not always members of the visible church, yet they all
become such before they die. Obj. Therefore the election of God is
not free. Ans. It is free, because God chooses freely both to
the end and the means, all those whom he has determined to save. He
never changes his decree however, after he has chosen, and ordained
to the end and the means. Infants born in the church are also of the
church, notwithstanding all the cant of the Anabaptists to the
What then is it to believe the Holy Catholic Church?
It is to
believe that there always has been, is, and ever will be, to the end
of time such a church in the world, and that in the congregation
composing the visible church there are always some who are truly
converted, and that I am one of this number; and therefore a member
of both the visible and invisible church, and shall forever remain
In his The Larger Catechism (1561 or 1562), Ursinus states,
"It is necessary that we join the visible church" (A. 119).40 He then
defines his terms:
120 Q. What is that visible church?
A. It is the community of persons who by their words and external deeds
profess the uncorrupted doctrine of the gospel, the
proper use of the sacraments, and the obedience owed to
the ministry, even though some in it are saints and
Ursinus explains that line from the Apostles' Creed:
125 Q. What does it mean to believe "a holy catholic church, the communion of saints"?
A. It means not to doubt that, from the beginning of the world to the end,
a church elected for external life has been gathered and
preserved on the earth by the Son of God through the
Holy Spirit and ministry of the gospel, and that we are
and forever will remain living members of that church.42
(1536-1587) was another German Reformed theologian who had (at least) a
hand in the formulation of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). The
following quotation makes clear that Olevianus was of the same mind as
his teacher, Calvin; his friend, Beza; and his co-worker in Heidelberg,
When God provides our
eyes with the sight of an assemblage which is a member of the H.
Catholic Church, the mark having been shown of true prophetic and
apostolic doctrine (under which are embraced lawful administration
of the sacraments and training in all godliness, Matt. 28:20), we
ought to unite with that assemblage. For as He is Himself our
Father, it is His pleasure that the Church be our mother, Isa.
54:1-2, Gal. 4:27-28, 31. In her we are both born and brought up
right to the end of our lives. God is pleased by the Church’s
ministry to quicken us by His Spirit, stamp remission of sins on our
hearts and reshape us daily in the same unto His own image. On the
other hand he who despises such an assemblage possessing the mark of
a true Church, to wit truth of prophetic and apostolic
doctrine—which happens when a man does not communicate in sound
doctrine and in prayers and when he does not attach himself to the
communion of saints through the visible witnesses of the Covenant,
baptism and the sacred eucharist—cannot be sure of his own
salvation. And he who persists in such contempt is not elect, Acts
After commenting on the
Apostles' Creed's article on "the communion of saints," Olevianus
explicitly affirms extra ecclesiam nulla salus:
138 Q. How do you
understand the possession of the benefits of Christ in this life?
I understand it as
follows: just as there is no salvation outside the Church, which is
the body of Christ, so also all true and living members of the
Church now possess full salvation, that is, forgiveness of sins.44
Peter van Mastricht (1630-1706) writes,
Query, whether any
Christian, if he can, is bound to associate himself with any
particular, fixed true Church. The Schwenkfeldians, Libertines,
Enthusiasts and other fanatics, with whom also act the
Socinians, say No. The Reformed recognise that there may be a
hidden Church, since you cannot join any Church [i.e., because
persecution is so fierce, no visible, instituted church can
function]. But where you can, they lay it down that you simply must.45
The two quotes above from
Olevianus and van Mastricht are taken by Heinrich Heppe, a
nineteenth-century German theologian and church historian, to be
representative of the orthodox Reformed tradition.46
Richard Muller, the
foremost figure in this field today, in his Dictionary of Latin and
Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic
Theology, states that this is the standard position of the
successors of the Reformers:
Extra ecclesiam non
sit salus: Outside of the church there may be no salvation;
a maxim from Cyprian (Epistles, 73.21) often cited by the
scholastics, who accept it as true with the provision that the
church is identified as the communio sanctorum
(q.v.), or communion of saints, and by its marks, Word and sacrament
(see notae ecclesiae). The maxim is also frequently given as
Extra ecclesiam nulla salus or Salus extra ecclesiam non est.47
theologian, J. J. Van Oosterzee (1817-1882) writes,
Indeed, the "Extra
Ecclesiam nulla salus" is here the holy truth; men must belong to the
little flock, if they will upon sure grounds solace themselves with the
promise of salvation. The community of the saints is saving, not
because everyone [who is a member of the visible church] is saved, but
because he may be assured of his salvation, who knows himself a living
member of the corpus mysticum.48
Staying with the
continental Reformed tradition but moving to the United States, we come
to Protestant Reformed theologian Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965), who
emigrated from the Netherlands to America as a boy. Like many Christian
worthies (e.g., Luther, Calvin and Olevianus), Hoeksema treats
extra ecclesiam nulla salus in connection with the Apostle's
Creed which lists the "forgiveness of sins" immediately after the
"holy catholic church" and the "communion of saints." He explains,
In the fellowship of the Church, and, therefore in the
communion of saints, the believer lays hold upon this
blessing, and makes this confession. This is the
connection between the article concerning the Church and
that concerning the forgiveness of sins.49
Hoeksema notes, moreover, that the Heidelberg
Catechism "groups all these [three] subjects [i.e., the
holy catholic church, the communion of the saints and the
forgiveness of sins] together in one Lord's Day," Lord's Day
The Protestant Reformed minister repeatedly underscores
the fact that a true believer who separates himself from the
church and lives in enmity against the saints loses the
consciousness of the forgiveness of sins (not the
forgiveness of sins) and the joy of forgiveness or
the joy of salvation (not his forgiveness or salvation).51
If, for some reason, the believer severs himself,
as far as his conscious life is concerned, from
that communion, the first effect of this error is always
that he lacks the joy of forgiveness. Perhaps,
for a time, he lives in hatred over against some of the
brethren; or he evinces an unforgiving spirit; or he
seeks the friendship of the world; or he lives in
whatever other sin may sever his fellowship with the
saints, and disturb the exercise of the communion of
saints: in that state of separation from the body of
believers, he forfeits the forgiveness of sins.52
Hoeksema expressly affirms the biblical and Reformed
doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and repudiates
the Arminian heresy of the falling away of true believer,
while stressing the need for church fellowship and
The meaning cannot be that, objectively, the child of God loses
the righteousness which he has in Christ, and which
God once imputed to him, for there is no falling
away from grace. But the parable [of the unmerciful
servant] certainly teaches that, for his own
consciousness, the child of God that refuses to
forgive the brother, and who, therefore, lives
outside of the sphere of the communion of saints, is
shut up in the prison of his own condemnation as
long as he lives in that unforgiving state of mind.53
Continuing our treatment of Americans, we come to Christian Reformed churchman, R. B. Kuiper (1886-1966).
In his work on the church,
The Glorious Body of Christ, he writes,
In the first place,
Scripture teaches unmistakably that all who are saved should unite
with the church. The view that membership in the visible church is
requisite to salvation has no basis whatever in Scripture. When the
Philippian jailer asked what he should do to be saved, Paul said
only: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,
and thy house." The apostle did not command him to join the church.
However, when he did believe he was at once baptized (Acts
16:31-33). As soon as the Ethiopian eunuch confessed Christ he
likewise was baptized (Acts 8:36-38). So were all who were converted
at Pentecost. Now according to Paul’s words, "By one Spirit are we
all baptized into one body" (I Corinthians 12:13), baptism signifies
reception into the church. It is clear that in the days of the
apostles it was universal practice to receive believers into the
What could be more
logical? He who believes in Christ is united with Christ. Faith
binds him to Christ. He is a member of Christ’s body, the invisible
church. But the visible church is but the outward manifestation of
that body. Every member of the invisible church should as a matter
of course be a member of the visible church.
in this connection is Acts 2:47—"And the Lord added to the church
daily such as should be saved." Not only does the Lord Christ
require of those who are saved that they unite with the church; He
Himself joins them to the church. And the reference is unmistakably
to the visible church. Does it follow that he who is outside the
visible church is necessarily outside Christ? Certainly not. It is
possible that a true believer because of some unusual circumstance
may fail to unite with the church. Conceivably one may, for
instance, believe in Christ and die before receiving baptism. But
such instances are exceptional. The Scriptural rule is that, while
membership in the church is not a prerequisite of salvation, it is a
necessary consequence of salvation. Outside the visible church
"there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" (Westminster
Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV, Section II).54
Peter Y. De Jong
(1915-2005), like R. B. Kuiper, was a conservative theologian in the
Christian Reformed Church in N. America. Below is De Jong’s lengthy
exposition of Belgic Confession 28’s statement that "out
of it [i.e., the church] there is no salvation:"
This sounds utterly
foreign to most Protestant ears. To many it smacks of Romanism which
makes salvation dependent upon its recognized hierarchy as mediators
between God and man. Now nothing is farther removed from the
Reformed convictions than such a construction of these words. This
is a perversion of the Biblical doctrine of the church. The true
unity of the Christian congregation may never be equated with
organizational oneness. In God’s word emphasis is laid upon our
spiritual fellowship with Christ, which comes to expression in sound
doctrine and pure worship. This insistence, however, may not tempt
us to champion the notion that the external and visible form of the
church is of little account. We learn to know God’s church only in
and through its historical manifestation. More than that, the Bible
warns against trusting our subjective judgments while disregarding
and even despising the work of the Holy Spirit in the church of all
ages. Always the individual and social, the personal and communal
aspects of our salvation in Christ are interwoven in New Testament
teaching. They do not exist side-by-side, in isolation from each
other. To be a Christian means to have fellowship with the living
Christ and in the same moment with his people. To break this
fellowship lightly, on the basis of personal prejudices and
insights, is to imperil our salvation. How else could we hear the
word of the living God, except through the preachers whom he has
sent? And how could such preachers receive their commission, except
by the church which believes and lives by the word of God? Aptly
does J. S. Whale comment, "Certain it is that for St. Paul, and for
New Testament Christianity, to be a Christian is to be a member of a
living organism whose life derives from Christ. There is no other
way of being a Christian. In this sense, Christian experience is
always ecclesiastical experience. The gospel of pardon reaches you
and me through the mediation of the Christian society, the living
body of believers in whose midst the redeeming gospel of Christ goes
out across the centuries and the continents."
Now we can understand
why Luther, Calvin and their contemporaries expressed themselves so
clearly and circumspectly on the point of the church.
They refused to
identify the true church with any specific ecclesiastical
organization. Wherever the word is purely preached, there is the
church. Constrained by the Spirit who indoctrinates us into the
truth as it is in Christ, those who are saved live in fellowship
with each other. Apart from Christ there is no salvation. And He is
pleased to communicate His grace in connection with the means which
He has instituted and preserved in this world. To separate oneself
from the assembly where the rich Christ is proclaimed in obedience
to the Scriptures is a heinous sin involving most serious
consequences. "Hence it follows," so Calvin warned at this point,
"that a departure from the Church is a renunciation of God and
Christ. And such a criminal dissension is so much the more to be
avoided, because, while we endeavour, so far as lies in our power,
to destroy the truth of God, we deserve to be crushed with the most
powerful thunders of his wrath. Nor is it possible to imagine a more
atrocious crime, than that sacrilegious perfidy, which violates the
conjugal relation that the only begotten Son of God has condescended
to form with us" [Institutes 4.1.10].
All this is plain
Commenting on Belgic Confession 28's, "We believe ... this holy
congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and outside of it
there is no salvation," Daniel Hyde of the United Reformed Church (URC)
in N. America, writes, "What sounds shocking and 'Roman Catholic' was
simply the received language of the church and was affirmed by our
Protestant forefathers."56 Hyde adds, "What is so illuminating for us who live in an
anti-ecclesiastical culture is that the Reformers never
rejected this phrase. Examples of this abound in Reformed
literature."57 This review and defence of Prof. Engelsma's
Bound to Join amply displays the truth of these statements!
Why is extra ecclesiam nulla salus, the
historical Christian and Reformed teaching? Hyde explains,
To the church Jesus gave the keys of the kingdom, the preaching of
the gospel, and discipline (Matthew 16:18-19; cf.
Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 83-85, Romans 10:14-17). Those
being saved were added daily to the church (Acts 2:47).
Jesus Christ died for the church (Ephesians 5:25-27).
For this reason the church is described as the temple of
God (I Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:11-22) and the
mother of the faithful (Galatians 4:26).58
In his on-line exposition on the Belgic Confession, URC theologian Kim Riddlebarger
explains why he affirms that there is "no salvation outside the church:"
Because the visible church (which is where the word is preached and the sacraments are administered)
is where the invisible church (the elect) takes form when we assemble for public worship,
no one can profess faith in Jesus Christ and then withdraw from the church for reasons other
than those related to the marks of the church. There is no permission given us in the Bible
to be content to be by ourselves and not under authority of creeds and confessions
(in so far as these summarize Scripture), the authority of ministers of word and sacrament
(who exercise the keys of the kingdom) and the authority of the local consistories
(the elders who rule the church in the name of Christ).59
William Boekestein, another URC
pastor, also defends the truth that outside of the church
there is no salvation. Despite the fact that "the
fall brought individualism," he
rightly reckons that "At almost no point in the
history of God’s people [except our day!] would
someone who neglected corporate worship be regarded
as a Christian." He proves the "Necessity of Joining
the Church" by developing five sub-points: "The Old
Testament Assumes Membership," "Church Analogies
Symbolize Membership," "Pastoral Care Requires
Membership," "Church Discipline Requires Membership"
and "Sanctification is Connected to Membership."60
Turning to John Philips, we
leave the continental Reformed tradition for the British
Isles. Educated at Cambridge, John Philips or Phillips
(1585-1663) served pastorates in Suffolk and Kent. He
ministered not only in England but also in Massachusetts in
New England, then a British colony, before returning to
(old) England. His wife, Elizabeth, was the sister of
William Ames (1576-1633), a Congregationalist theologian,
who laboured both in England and the Netherlands, where he
observed the great Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). Philips began
his ministry an Anglican or episcopalian, was a member of
the largely Presbyterian Westminster Assembly and became
congregational in his ecclesiology.
John Philips' recently
republished book of 120 pages is a sustained argument that
eternal life is only found in Christ's church, for it is, as
its title proclaims, The Way to Heaven
for those eternally elected by God, redeemed by Jesus
Christ, irresistibly drawn by the Spirit and justified by
his publisher) advertises and accurately summarizes the
argument and content of The Way to Heaven
in its original (1625) title page. The following six points
are listed beneath the book's title, to which I have added
comments in square brackets which further elucidate our
That salvation is only in the Church [the main thesis of the book]
What the Church is [in which alone salvation is found]
- By what means men are added to the
Church [in which alone salvation
- The Author, or Efficient of this
addition [to the church in which
alone salvation is found]
- The time and continuance of that work
[of adding men to the church in
which alone salvation is found]
- The happiness of those that are added
to the Church [and so enjoy
salvation which is found only there]61
To this is appended the following pertinent
biblical text: "This is the way, walk in it" (Isa. 30:21).
The point is that the church is the way to heaven (as
Philips' title puts it) for those justified by faith alone
in Christ alone and so God's people must "walk in it."62
The English theologian presents his thesis:
"it must be known and believed of all that desire salvation
that the Regia via, the King of kings’
highway to heaven, is the Church, without which Church,
there is no salvation."63
To "demonstrate this truth," Philips turns
first of all to the typology of "the ark of Noah, in which
was most lively figured the Church of God. A type, twice
alleged by Saint Peter, to this very purpose:
to show that salvation is and only is in the Church."64 This imagery was
judged by a few as popish when used by Prof. Engelsma in his
Bound to Join, but
it is cited as the first proof by a Westminster divine and
referred to continually by him.65 It is also found in Heinrich Bullinger's 1566
Second Helvetic Confession 17. Second, Philips explains the head-body union between
Jesus Christ and His church.66
Next, the Puritan appeals to four other
oft-recurring biblical pictures of the church: "This
position, that salvation is to be had only in the Church, is
not obscurely noted by those sacred families, so frequent in
scripture, where the Church is resembled  to a house; 
to a city,  to a mother,  to a vine."67
treating each of these four in turn, the Westminster
Assembly member identifies extra ecclesia nulla
salus as a "doctrine"
taught in the perspicuous Scriptures: "This doctrine of
salvation in the Church only is not only thus illustrated by
the bright-shining light of so many divine similitudes and
parables, but is also warranted by evident and invincible
reason, grounded on the word of God."68
states two "undeniable" principles: first,
"there is only one saving truth" which "truth is nowhere to
be found but in the Church of God" (Isa. 16:2; I Tim. 3:15;
John 16:13) and, second, "there are certain graces that
accompany salvation (Heb. 6:9) which are the peculiar of the
Church of God," namely, "The grace of election, the grace of vocation,
the grace of justification, and the grace of sanctification; all of which jointly and
independently have their period and end in glorification
... (Rom. 8:30)."69
section of The Way to Heaven is remarkable in that at
least once, and sometimes twice or three times, it is
explicitly stated on each of its twelve pages,70 in
varying formulations, that "salvation and freedom from
eternal and utter ruin belongs only to the Church, the House
of God, built firmly on the rock Jesus Christ."71
treats individually four steps in the ordo salutis
or order of salvation: election, calling, justification and
sanctification,72 showing how each is "such a property
of the Church that it cannot possibly be separated from it."73 "To conclude then, if there is no salvation without election,
calling, justification, and sanctification; and none of
these to be found, but only in the Church of God, it follows
necessarily that there is no salvation out of the Church."74
arguments for extra ecclesiam nulla salus
from biblical images of the church and from the
ordo salutis, the
Westminster divine reasons from the means of salvation,
which are placed by God in Christ's church:
There are certain means appointed of God to work and
increase saving grace, which if they shall be found to be
the prerogative of the Church, it cannot be denied, but that
only there salvation is to be had; for in reason, the end
cannot ordinarily be attained without the means leading unto
The English Puritan makes a powerful
exhortation to join a true church:
This calls all men with a most forcible
invitation, even as ever they desire to be saved, to enter
timely into this straight gate that leads to life (Matt.
7:14). Many of the Egyptians and other strangers, when they
saw the great works God did for his Church, and in what safe
and happy condition the people were in, they were over; they
left their own country alliance and friends, and joined
themselves to the Jews (Exod. 12:38). This we should
do—forsake all, and follow Christ (Mark 10:28); leave
all societies for the communion of the saints; for the
dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, but was
fain to return into the ark again (Gen 8:9): so let a
man compass the whole world, yet shall he never be able
to find rest to his soul, until by entering into the
Church, he take Christ’s yoke on him (Matt. 11:29).76
not merely teaching that there is no salvation outside the invisible
church, the company of the predestinate. He is declaring
that there is no salvation outside the visible church of
instituted congregations that manifest the two marks of a
true church: faithful preaching and sacramental
administration, as per article 19 of The
English Puritan expressly states,
roadway [to heaven] is to be joined with some visible
Such therefore as desire salvation, must join themselves
to the visible Church.
Church then, where whosoever will be saved must be
reconciled, is the Congregation of the faithful.78
If the Westminster divine
had lived in the twenty-first century and members of the
British Reformed Fellowship in 2004 had asked him for
instruction on joining a true church, he would have given
essentially the same answer as Prof. Engelsma, except that
the Puritan would have been more detailed on
extra ecclesiam nulla
salus than the Professor!79
Among the six Johns who wrote the Scottish Confession
(1560), John Knox (c. 1514- 1572) is widely recognized as
its main drafter. He also created a new order of church
service and helped write the ecclesiastical order for the
Reformed kirk in Scotland. As the greatest of the Scottish
Reformers, Knox is the acknowledged (human) founder of the
Presbyterian church in Scotland which is historically the
mother of worldwide Presbyterianism. As one would expect of
a personal friend of John Calvin who learned so much from
the French Reformer, both from his writings and by spending
time with him in Geneva, John Knox shared the church's
historic testimony that "outside the church there is no
salvation" which was so strongly highlighted in Calvin's own
robust ecclesiology. In "A Declaration of the True Nature
and Object of Prayer," John Knox explains, "WHAT IT IS TO BE
GATHERED IN THE NAME OF CHRIST."
This congregation which I mean, should be gathered
in the name of Jesus Christ, that is, to laud and
magnify God the Father, for the infinite benefits
they have received by his only Son our Lord. In this
congregation the mystical and last Supper of Jesus
Christ should be distributed without superstition or
any more ceremonies than he himself used, and his
apostles after him. And in distribution thereof, in
this congregation, should inquisition be made of the
poor among them, and support provided, during the
time of their convention, and it should be
distributed amongst them. Also, in this congregation
should be made common prayers, such as all men
hearing might understand; that the hearts of all,
subscribing to the voice of one, might, with
unfeigned and fervent mind, say, "Amen."
Whosoever does withdraw himself from such a
congregation (but alas, where shall it be found?)
does declare himself to be no member of Christ's
Puritan minister and author, John Ball (1585-1640)
was of Presbyterian persuasion and had a
very great influence upon the Westminster Assembly, even
though he was not personally a delegate, due to his
death in 1640. Ball declared, "For out of a true
visible church ordinarily there is no salvation" (cf.
Westminister Confession 25:2) in his A
Friendly Triall of the Grounds Tending to Separation
Scottish Presbyterian theologian David Dickson (1583-1663),
the author of the first commentary on the Westminster Confession,
included the following in his remarks on chapter 25, "Of the Church:"
Question 4. Is there any ordinary possibility of salvation out
of the visible church?
then, do not the Enthusiasts, Quakers, and Libertines err, who
affirm, That any man may be a true Christian, and be saved, though
he live within no visible church?
reasons are they confuted?
Because the Lord Jehovah in his visible church (ordinarily) commands
the blessing, even life for evermore, Ps. 133:3. 2nd,
Because the visible church is the mother of all believers, Gal.
4:26. By Jerusalem which is above, I understand the true Christian
church which seeketh its salvation, not by the first covenant of the
law, namely, by the works of the law, but by the second of the
gospel, namely, by the merits of Christ embraced by a true faith;
which hath its original from heaven, by the powerful calling of the
Holy Ghost. 3rd, Because they that are
without the visible church are without Christ, Eph. 2:12. 4th,
Why are men and women joined to the visible church, but that they
may be saved? Acts 2:47. 5th, Because they
that are without the visible church are destitute of the ordinary
means of life and salvation, Ps. 147:19, 20.81
Walter Marshall (1628-1680)
was born in Wearmouth, Co. Durham in north-east England.
Trained at Oxford University, he spent much of his ministry
in Hampshire in the Church of England and later as a
Presbyterian non-conformist, for he left his parish as part
of the Great Ejection of 1662. In his magnum opus, The
Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, which has been praised as perhaps the single
greatest work on sanctification ever composed, Marshall
speaks powerfully on the need for Christ's instituted
Whosoever God saveth, should be added to some visible
church, and come into communion of other saints; and, if
they have no opportunity for it, their heart should be bent
towards it. Sometimes the church is in the wilderness, and
hindered from visible communion and ordinances; but, they
that believe in Christ, are always willing and desirous so
to add and join themselves (Acts ii. 41, 44, 47). And the continued steadfastly
in fellowship (1 John ii. 19). And God binds his people to leave the
fellowship and society of the wicked as much as may be (2
Cor. vi. 17). And, so far as
we are necessitated to accompany them, we ought to show
charity to their souls and bodies (1 Cor. v. 9).—This
communion with saints is to be exercised in private converse
(Ps. ci. 4, 5, 6, 7); And in public assemblies (Heb.
x. 25; Zech. xiv. 16, 17). And, doubtless, it
ought to be used for the attainment of holiness as may be
First: In general, because God communicates all salvation to
a people ordinarily by, or in a church; either by taking
them into fellowship, or holding forth the light of truth by
his churches to the world. A church is the temple of God,
where God dwells (1 Tim. iii. 15). He has placed his name
and salvation there, as in Jerusalem of old (Joel ii. 32; 2 Chron. vi. 5, 6). He hath given to
his churches those officers and ordinances whereby he
converts others (1 Cor. xii. 28). His springs are there (Ps. lxxxvii. 7). He
makes the several members of a church, instruments for the
conveyance of his grace and fulness from one to another, as
the members of the natural body convey to each other the
fulness of the head (Eph. iv. 16). All the newborn are
brought forth and nourished by the church (Isa. lxvi. 8, 11,
xlix. 20 and lx. 4); and therefore all that would be saved
should join to a church: they shall prosper that love the
church, so as to stand in its gates and unite as members,
brethren, and companions (Ps. cxxii. 2, 4, 6). And wrath is
denounced against those that are not members of it, at
least, of the mystical body: they cannot have God for their
Father, that have not that for their mother (Song. i. 7, 8).
This maketh those that desire fellowship with God to take
hold of the skirts of his people (Zech. viii. 23).81a
Born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, in what is now N. Ireland, Stuart
Robinson (1814-1881) ministered for most of his life in the US, though
he pastored a church in Toronto, Canada, for four years
(1862-1866). Robinson took a special interest
in ecclesiology, as is evident by the names of the three periodicals he
edited (the Presbyterial Critic, the True Presbyterian
and the Free Christian Commonwealth), his chair at Danville
Theological Seminary in Kentucky (that of professor of church government and
pastoral theology) and his writings, especially The Church of God as
an Essential Element of the Gospel (1858). Robinson affirms "the
definition of the Church, as a point of Calvinistic doctrine, in the
Westminster Confession" in chapter or article 25:
The entire article forms one definition,
containing, in their logical order, the three elementary
ideas which enter into the complex whole, in three
distinct paragraphs: first, the Church ideal, or
invisible [25:1]; second, this ideal as manifest and actual in
the Church visible [25:2, including its statement that
outside the visible church "there is no ordinary possibility of
salvation"]; third, this visible body as an
organic body, receiving visible officers, laws, and
ordinances from her great Head [25:3]. Any definition of the
Church, therefore, is doctrinally defective, which
ignores either of these elements, the internal call (klesis)
of the Spirit, the external klesis [call] of the word,
or the organic nature of the ekklesia [church]. As with
the peculiar ordinances of the Church,—Baptism and the
Lord's Supper,—the three elements of the internal grace,
the external act, and the Divine appointment thereof are
all essential to the true definition,—and that is ever a
dangerous description which ignores either of the three;
so with the definition of the Church itself, and for
precisely like reasons.82
The Presbyterian ecclesiologist
[Since] the effectual call of the Spirit ... is
externally through the word and the visible
ordinances, the very process of calling and
preparing the elect of God creates the visible
Church in the very image of the invisible. And
it is in this visible body that the Mediator
carries on his administration, works by his
Spirit, gives laws and ordinances for the
present and exceeding great and precious
promises of that which is to come ...83
Scottish Presbyterian, Hugh Martin (1822-1885), in his fine commentary
on Jonah, declares, "The Gentiles, as a whole, as nations, were
obviously given over in the meantime to the reign of spiritual death,
cast out beyond the pale of that visible church, within which alone
salvation is ordinarily revealed."84
Martin's slightly younger
contemporary, A. A. Hodge (1823-1886), American Presbyterian and
representative of "Old Princeton," had this to say on Westminster
But our Confession
intends in these sections to teach further that ordinarily, where
there is the knowledge and opportunity, God requires every one who
loves Christ to confess him in the regular way of joining the
community of his people and of taking the sacramental badges of his
discipleship. That this is commanded will be shown under [Westminster
Confession] chapters xxvii.-xxix. And that when providentially
possible every Christian heart will be prompt to obey in this
matter, is self-evident. When shame or fear of persecution is the
preventing consideration, then the failure to obey is equivalent to
the positive rejection of Christ, since the rejection of him will
have to be publicly pretended in such case in order to avoid the
consequences attending upon the public acknowledgement of him.85
Writing in New Horizons
(July, 2003), the magazine of the Orthodox
Presbyterian Church (OPC), Stephen Pribble, an
American OPC minister, argues that church membership
is "necessary," not merely "optional." The
Westminster Confession, he observes,
underscores "the supreme importance that God
attaches to the church by its insistence that
outside of it 'there is no ordinary possibility of
Pribble has this to say on the
Some, like the penitent thief on the cross, may come to saving faith in
Christ, but through providential hindrance never
have the opportunity formally to join the church
prior to death. But certainly such a case is the
exception rather than the rule. That is why the
Confession uses the word "ordinary." Outside the
church, "there is no ordinary possibility
of salvation." But many people in our day think
to themselves, "I have a personal faith in God.
I’m not a member of any church, but there are a
lot of hypocrites there, so I’m not going to
join." So they live their life blindly convinced
that all is well with their soul.87
The OPC minister explains extra ecclesiam
nulla salus in the light of our duty to church
office-bearers and its presupposition for church
The Bible commands, "Obey them that have the
rule over you, and submit yourselves" [Heb.
13:7]. This does not mean to obey in some vague
way, simply paying lip service. You cannot obey
those empowered to rule in Christ’s church if
you never join. You cannot submit to the
church’s lawfully constituted leadership unless
you become a member. You could never be
excommunicated if you were never a
communicant member to begin with.88
OPC ruling elder, librarian and professor, John R. Muether
has gone into print in the Modern Reformation
magazine advocating the historic Christian teaching that
outside the church there is no salvation. He refers to the five
Reformation creeds on extra
ecclesiam nulla salus: Luther's Larger
and Calvin's Genevan catechisms and the Belgic, Second Helvetic and Westminster
confessions. Muether also quotes Cyprian, Ursinus and A. A. Hodge as
upholding this doctrine.89
The OPC office-bearer points out that "the very chapter
of Paul that includes the principle proof text for adoption
(Gal. 4:5-7) argues also for the motherhood of the Church:
'But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our
mother' (v. 26)."90 Muether appeals to Calvin's
commentary on Galatians 4:26:
The Church is the mother, and she has the milk and the food
that the Father has provided to nourish his adopted
children ... This is why the Church is called the mother
of believers. And certainly, he who refuses to be a son
of the Church desires in vain to have God as his Father.
For it is only through the ministry of the Church that
God begets sons for himself and brings them up and they
pass through adolescence and reach manhood.91
Immediately before his quotation of
Westminster Confession 25:2, including its
affirmation of extra ecclesiam nulla salus,
American Presbyterian Richard Bacon writes,
Those in Zion are those upon whom the
Lord has arisen. The glory of the Lord is risen upon
Zion, but darkness covers the world outside Zion (Isaiah
60:1-2). Outside the kingdom – the house and family of
God – i.e. the visible church, is the outer darkness –
where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In each
instance where Isaiah's outer darkness is mentioned in
the New Testament, its inhabitants are weeping and
gnashing their teeth. The unbelieving Jew (Matthew
8:12), the guest with no wedding garment (Matthew 22:13)
and the unprofitable steward (Matthew 25:30) are all
cast out of the church. Each has suffered the loss of
real blessings and there is weeping. Each also, it
seems, angrily gnashes his teeth against the kingdom.
God has placed the means of grace in His church. If we
would do His will and receive His blessing, then we must
be in the place of blessing.92
In an article explicitly mentioning Cyprian, Calvin and
Westminster Confession 25:2, and affirming their view that outside
the church there is ordinarily no possibility of salvation,
Rev. Michael Glodo of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of
Seeing the unbreakable connection between Gospel and
Kingdom, we also see how Christ's roles as Savior and
Lord are inseparable. To repent and believe the Gospel
is to acknowledge that Christ is king, to submit one's
will to his, to be ruled over by him in his dispensation
of mercy, justice, and love. But how does Christ rule
over his Kingdom? How does he administer his kingship?
He does so through the Church, to which he has given the
Kingdom's keys (Matthew 16:19), the gifts of office
(Ephesians 4:8ff.), his own shepherd voice in the
preaching of the Word (Romans 10:14, 17), his faithful
shepherd's care (I Peter 5:1-5) and the means of grace
(Acts 2:42). To be without the Church is to be at odds
with Christ's rule—his protection, provision, and tender
C. Matthew McMahon, an American
minister affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church
and the webmaster, founder and president of "A Puritan's
Mind" website, edited, updated and published John
Philips' The Way to Heaven. Philips'
seventeenth-century work, which emphatically teaches that
outside the church there is no salvation (as we saw
earlier), is endorsed by McMahon as "an excellent
work." This is McMahon's on-line recommendation:
This work by Philips covers the important topic of
the nature of the church. Philips explains that
salvation is only found in the Church. He demonstrates
what the Church is; by what means men are added to the
Church; the Author, or Efficient cause of this addition;
the time and continuance of that work; and the happiness
of those that are added to the Church. His text comes
from Acts 2:47, "And the Lord added to the Church daily
such as should be saved." In this treatise he covers
three branches to define the church, and then explains
how the church ministers the salvation of God through
Jesus Christ by the ministry of the Word, faith and
baptism. This is an excellent work which is also a
polemic against the Roman Catholic Church as well as
"We are all saved in the context of the church,"
declares Robert Letham, a theologian and author, who has
ministered in the OPC in America and is currently a
pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England
and Wales. He explains, citing Cyprian, Augustine and
As Cyprian put it, "he cannot have God for his
Father who does not have the church for his mother"
[On the Unity of the Catholic Church 4].
Augustine added that, "outside the church sins are
not remitted. For the church has the pledge of the
Holy Spirit, without which there is no remission of
sins" [Enchiridion 65]. Calvin echoed
Augustine in his comment that, "away from her [i.e.,
the church's] bosom one cannot hope for any
forgiveness of sins or any salvation" [Institutes
4.1.4]. In the church we flourish, our gifts are
used to the common good. It is in the company of the
whole church of the redeemed that we will enter
Bruce P. Baugus is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian
Church in America and an associate professor at Reformed
Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. Writing about
the goal for the development of the church's mission, in the
context of China, the world's most populous nation, Baugus
explains, in terms redolent of Stuart Robinson, that "the
well-ordered institution of the church" has "a unique role
to play in God’s redemptive program" that is "so vital"
because of the extra ecclesiam nulla salus:
Jesus Christ, in whom all authority in heaven and on
earth resides, is the head of this institution
[i.e., the church], which has been entrusted with
the ministry of word and sacrament in order to make
disciples of all nations, gathering in and building
up God’s elect wherever they are found throughout
the world. So the visible church not only has a
particular institutional shape, but a unique role to
play in God’s redemptive program as well. This role
is so vital to that program that outside the visible
church, as the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)
asserts, “there is no ordinary possibility of
salvation” (25.2). In other words, by God’s own
design, the life and health of the body of Christ
and household of God are provided for and sustained
through the well-ordered institution of the church.94b
Moving to the southern hemisphere, we come David
Higgs, a minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
of Australia. The first paragraph of his review of Prof.
Engelsma's Bound to Join reads:
At last! a book with a high view of the Church;
a high view that faithfully reflects the teaching of
Scripture and the creeds [including Belgic
Confession 28 and Westminster Confession
25:2 which state extra ecclesiam nulla salus];
a high view that, sadly, is missing in the thinking of
most who profess faith in Christ; a high view that, even
more sadly, is rejected by many who claim to be
From all this, it is
evident that extra ecclesiam nulla salus
is not "just Engelsma’s view!" This is the explicit
teaching of several major Reformed and Presbyterian creeds (the
Catechism of the Church of Geneva, the Belgic Confession,
the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Confession)
and the churches in Europe and around the world that have maintained
Luther's Larger Catechism of the Lutheran churches and many
theologians in the history of the Christian church—including some of the
greatest—such as Ignatius, Cyprian, Augustine, Cyril of Alexandria, Luther,
Calvin, Bullinger, Beza, de Brès, Ursinus, Olevianus, the fathers at
Dordt, John Philips, John Ball, the Westminster
divines, David Dickson, van Mastricht, Van Oosterzee, Stuart Robinson, Hugh Martin, A. A.
Hodge, R. B. Kuiper, P. Y. De Jong, etc. Moreover, scholars of historical
Protestant theology, such as Heinrich Heppe and Richard Muller, testify
with one voice that this is the orthodox Reformed (and Lutheran) view.
In this, the Reformers and their successors are following the teaching
of the church fathers, as per patristic scholars, such as J. N. D.
Keith Mathison summarizes well the historic Reformation teaching
(over against the weak view of modern
Evangelicalism, the classical Protestant Reformers held to a high view
of the Church. When the Reformers confessed extra ecclesiam nulla
salus, which means "there is no salvation outside the Church," they
were not referring to the invisible Church of all the elect. Such a
statement would be tantamount to saying that outside of salvation, there
is no salvation. It would be a truism. The Reformers were referring to
the visible Church, and this confession of the necessity of the visible
Church was incorporated into the great Reformed confessions of faith.98
It should also be noted
that many of the above quotations—especially those of Calvin, Ursinus, Olevianus,
Philips, Dickson, Kuiper and De Jong—provide scriptural proof and give biblical
arguments to show that
"outside the church there
is no salvation" is not "just Engelsma’s view" or even
merely the Reformed view or even the view of the historic Christian
church; it is the teaching of the Word of God! Bound to Join
itself makes this point more fully.
2) "But That’s the Romish View of the Church!"
Another objection to Prof.
Engelsma’s instruction that
"outside the church there is no salvation" is "But
that’s the Roman Catholic view of the church!"
Is Engelsma a
crypto-Romanist? Has the British Reformed Fellowship, through its
conferences and e-mail forums, been giving a platform to a popish
preacher? Has the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) been
printing books by a Romanizing theologian? Was the chair of dogmatics at
the theological seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches held for
twenty years by a man with Romish views on the church?
All who have read Engelsma’s many articles and books or heard him preach
and teach know that he is a sworn enemy of Roman Catholicism, root and
branch—as Holy Scripture, the Three Forms of Unity
(e.g., Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 80’s condemnation of the Roman
mass as "a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ
and an accursed idolatry"), his denomination, his church vows and his
conscience demand of him.
Moreover, if the teaching that "outside the church there is no
salvation" is Romanism, then the same opprobrium that some would heap on
Engelsma must also be piled on the Reformed confessions, as well as the
churches and saints who have held, and still do maintain, them. It would
be strange indeed if the
Belgic Confession with its
"outside the church there is no salvation" were to teach the papal view
of the church in article 28, only to condemn Rome as a "false church" in
the very next article. If
Westminster Confession 25:2
teaches Romanism, why in the same chapter does it call the Pope
The Reformers were converted from popery by God’s sovereign and
irresistible grace. They knew the nature of the beast and fought against
it with might and main by the sword of the Spirit. Calvin called the
French Nicodemites to join a true church and flee the idolatry of Rome,
for some of them dissembled, reckoning it was OK to join in papal
worship. Bullinger and the other Reformed leaders understood Rome’s
doctrine of the church only too well. De Brès was
martyred by this "false church" (Belgic
29) that he had so faithfully opposed. After strenuously teaching
extra ecclesia nulla salus, John Philips spent twenty-three
pages ably refuting thirteen of Rome's heresies.99 The
Westminster divines knew that their great confession was not teaching popery but attacking
it with the Word and gospel of Jesus Christ!
The confusion of some
arises because the Reformed and Presbyterian churches on the one hand
and Romanism on the other both state extra ecclesiam nulla salus.
But the similarity is merely formal. Likewise, Protestantism and Roman
Catholicism both claim to believe the inspiration of Scripture; the Holy
Trinity; creation; the two natures of Christ; our Lord’s virgin birth,
crucifixion, burial, bodily resurrection on the third day and ascension
into heaven; the Deity and personality of the Holy Spirit; the one,
holy, catholic and apostolic church; infant baptism; the general
resurrection of the dead; the final judgment; heaven and hell. But if
you begin to study Rome’s views on these subjects and understand how
they fit in her whole system of false dogma, you will see that the
"agreement" between the Reformation and Romanism on these issues is only
formal and superficial, masking deep and irreconcilable theological
First, the question is,
Outside which church is there no salvation? The Reformed teach it
must be a "true church" (Second Helvetic Confession 17), a "holy
congregation" (Belgic Confession 28) wherein "the true religion"
is confessed (Westminster Confession 25:2). In other words, it
must possess the marks of a true church, as the Reformed and
Presbyterian creeds (Belgic Confession 29; Second Helvetic
Confession 17; Westminster Confession 25:4) and theologians
teach (see especially the quotes above from Olevianus, Philips, De Jong,
Muller), and not the marks of the false church (Belgic Confession
29), borne by the Roman Catholic assemblies, which are "no churches of
Christ, but synagogues of Satan" (Westminster Confession 25:5).
Engelsma quotes French Confession 28, which is clear and
In this belief we declare that, properly speaking, there can be no
Church where the Word of God is not received, nor profession made of
subjection to it, nor use of the sacraments. Therefore we condemn
the papal assemblies, as the pure Word of God is banished from them,
their sacraments are corrupted, or falsified, or destroyed, and all
superstitions and idolatries are in them. We hold, then, that all
who take part in these acts, and commune in that Church, separate
and cut themselves off from the body of Christ (p. 132).
second question is, Why is it that outside the true church there
is no salvation? Rome’s answer would include the necessity of union
with the pope, "the successor of Peter;" the mediation of her
ecclesiastical hierarchy; and her whole sacramental system with grace
being given ex opere operatum, especially through priestly
baptism and the physical eating of the worshipped wafer in the mass.
Reformed answer is very different. It rests upon a biblical
understanding of what the true church is and does. Since the true church
is the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, Jehovah’s flock, the temple
of the Holy Spirit, etc., how could there be salvation to those who
needlessly remain out of it? Can those detached from Christ’s body or
living apart from God’s kingdom really be in communion with Jehovah? A
faithful church preaches the pure gospel of salvation; administers the
two Christian sacraments; practises biblical church disciple; worships
the Lord in spirit and in truth; offers prayer to the Triune God through
the only mediator, Jesus Christ; and enjoys the communion of the saints.
This is precisely what the child of God needs! Why would a true believer
not want this and do all he could to join and remain in such a church?
Once one grasps the nature and work of the church, it is easy to see why
there is no salvation outside a true church. Thus extra
ecclesiam nulla salus is not something added to the biblical and
Reformed doctrine of the church; it flows from the very nature of the
church and what it does.
quotes from the Reformed confessions and authors above—especially those
from Robinson, Dickson, Kuiper, Olevianus and Calvin—develop the matter further,
as does Zacharias Ursinus in his The Larger Catechism (1561 or
264 Q. What is the ministry of the
A. It is the public preaching of God's Word, the
administration of the sacraments, and church
discipline—instituted by Christ for bringing to
completion the salvation of the elect.
265 Q. Why did God institute the ministry of the
So that through it he might receive us into his
covenant, keep us in it, and really convince us that we
are and forever will remain in it.
266 Q. Why do you say that we are received and kept in
God's covenant through the ministry?
Because it is the instrument of the Holy Spirit by which
he works and confirms in the hearts of the elect the
faith and conversion that God requires of us in his
270 Q. Isn't it enough to learn God's Word privately?
A. It is indeed necessary for our salvation to meditate
on it day and night, but if we want to be Christians, we
must also make use of the public ministry when we are
not prevented by circumstance.
271 Q. Why is this necessary?
A. First, because of God's command. Second, so that God
may be publicly glorified by the whole church in the
sight of all people and creatures. Third, so that the
unity of the church might be preserved and displayed.100
Engelsma also explains the ground for Belgic Confession
28’s statement that out of the true church there is no salvation:
… the means of grace and salvation have been given by Christ to the
instituted congregation and are enjoyed only by the members within
the church. Christ, the living, life-giving Christ, is in the church
as the savior. As there was salvation only in the ark, so there is
salvation only in the instituted church. There are other reasons
everyone must be a member of the church institute.
One reason is that one glorifies God by joining the congregation in
worship of the triune God and in proclaiming and confessing Christ.
First Timothy 3:15 highly commends the local congregation as "the
pillar and ground of the truth." Shall we live apart from that which
alone upholds the truth of God in the world?
Further, according to I Timothy 3:15, the congregation is the "house
of God." God lives there as the covenant God of friendship with his
people. Outside the house is no fellowship with God (p. 4).
Clearly, Engelsma’s view is not Roman Catholicism; it is orthodox,
biblical and creedal Reformed doctrine.101
But those who call his teaching—and that of the Reformed faith—Romish
thereby reveal that they have understood neither Reformed nor Roman
doctrine, in that they confuse the two. Moreover, they reveal that their
position on this point is not Reformed but nearer to those of the false
churches. As Dickson, van Mastricht and others point out (above), the
Schwenkfeldians, Libertines, Anabaptists, Enthusiasts, Quakers, Socinians and other
fanatics are the ones who deny the necessity of joining a true church.
On the other hand, as van Mastricht states, where it is possible to join
a true church, the Reformed "lay it down that you simply
It is tragic, as De Jong
notes, that "many" Protestants think this Reformed doctrine is Romish.102
Many factors could play a part in this: the prevalence of sub-standard
teaching on the church through revivalism, fundamentalism and modern
evangelicalism; ignorance of biblical and
Reformed ecclesiology; the rampant individualism of society
and Christianity today; the high cost of joining a faithful church,
especially if it is some distance away; etc.
Right at the beginning of
his instruction, in Letter 1, Engelsma recommends "that all read, or
reread, Calvin’s treatment of the church in the first part of book 4 of
his Institutes of the Christian Religion" (p. 3). In his second
letter, he draws our attention to Come Out From Among Them: ‘Anti-Nicodemite’
Writings of John Calvin
(p. 8), before quoting it extensively, especially in Letters 6-10 and
13. In the Preface, Engelsma introduces his instruction with these
words, "I urge the reader to read [Belgic Confession 27-29]
before beginning to read the letters" (p. x). Besides, he quotes Luther,
the French Confession, etc., on the church.
Thus there is no excuse
for any who have actually read Engelsma’s Bound to Join to charge
him with Romanism! After this review article, it is as clear as the
noonday sun that the Professor stands firmly in the Reformed tradition.
Some readers of (or perhaps only "dippers" into) the original e-mail
correspondence or the book would be well served with following Engelsma’s recommended reading—and perhaps also reading other Reformed
writings on the church, such as the ecclesiology sections of solid works
of dogmatics or systematic theology—before returning to
Bound to Join with a less jaundiced eye and a more biblically
Equipped with a strategic grasp of the subject of the church gained
through such literature, the reader is best positioned to grapple with
the more specific—and vital—issue of joining a true church.104
3) "But That’s a Denial
of Justification by Faith Alone!"
Others have charged
Engelsma not only with a Romish ecclesiology but also with a heretical
soteriology, more specifically, that he denies justification by faith
alone! This is alleged, mind you, against one of the main opponents of
the Federal Vision (including its attack on justification by faith alone),
yea, its most penetrating critic, for Engelsma traces the Federal Vision
to, and destroys it in, its theological root: a conditional covenant! The
interested reader can turn to Prof. Engelsma's pamphlet, "The
Unconditional Covenant in Contemporary Debate," or RFPA books
The Covenant of God and Children of Believers (2005) and
Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root (2012). Moreover, the fifty or so e-mails, Engelsma sent to the
BRF forum (2007-2009) in defence of the scriptural and Reformed truth of
justification by faith alone are to be reworked into a book to be published by the RFPA (DV).
Furthermore, Bound to Join itself clearly and antithetically
affirms justification by faith alone (pp. 68, 106-107, 149, 156-159).
Moreover, if teaching
extra ecclesiam nulla salus makes Engelsma a purveyor of the heresy
of justification by faith and works, there go the Reformed confessions,
the Reformed theologians and the Reformed churches. The same could be
said concerning Luther, Luther's Larger Catechism and orthodox
Lutheran theologians. Thus even the Reformation itself is heretical!
Belgic Confession 22-23 on justification are overturned
by article 28 on the church. Likewise, Westminster Confession 11
is overthrown by chapter 25. The same goes for the writings of Luther,
Calvin, Beza, Olevianus, etc. John Philips is just as clear on Reformed
soteriology with its sola fide as he is on Reformed
ecclesiology with its extra ecclesia nulla salus. He faithfully
presents the truth of justification by faith alone, the article of a
standing or a falling church.105 Apparently, the modern critics have
spotted a contradiction in the faith of the Protestant Reformation that
the Reformers and their successors did not notice!
Observe too that Belgic Confession 28 states that "it is the duty
of all believers [i.e., those (already) justified by faith
alone], according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from all
those who do not belong to the church, and to join themselves to this
congregation, wheresoever God hath established it."105a
Referring to this creedal statement, with its
extra ecclesiam nulla salus, Herman Bavinck declares that it is "the
obligation of all believers to join the church that is the truest
manifestation of the church of Christ (Belgic Confession, art.
28)."106 Does this make Bavinck heretical on justification? Of course
not! No more is Bound to Join heretical for issuing the biblical,
Reformed and confessional call to join a fatihful church.
Church membership is not a good work compromising justification by faith
alone, any more than are loving one’s wife or honouring the Lord’s Day
or partaking of the Holy Supper or praying out of gratitude to God.
These things are the fruit of our salvation. As has been well said,
justification is by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone, for
from it spring all manner of good works. As R. B. Kuiper put it above:
"The Scriptural rule is that, while membership in the church is not a
prerequisite of salvation, it is a necessary consequence of
salvation." Likewise, Ursinus states, "I am one of this number [of
those truly converted]; and therefore a member of both the
visible and invisible church, and shall forever remain such."
This is what we have in Acts 2 on the occasion of the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit, the preaching of the first Christian sermon and the
birthday of the New Testament church. Some three thousand people
believed in Christ and so were justified—by faith alone! (Acts 2:37-41).
Then they "were baptized" and "added" to the church (v. 41). These new
disciples "continued steadfastly in  the apostles’ doctrine and 
fellowship, and in  breaking of bread, and in  prayers" (v. 42).
Also  they supported each other materially (vv. 44-45). Verse 47
continues, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be
Joining the church did not compromise or deny justification by faith
alone any more than did water baptism or any of the other five "good
works," such as fellowship and prayer.
if someone claimed to believe in Christ alone for salvation but
refused to join the church or support his poorer brother financially or
did not continue in apostolic doctrine, this person is not making a
credible profession of faith (John 8:31; I John 3:17). What right has
such an one to profess to be a brother or sister or be received as such
short, those who are united to Christ by faith alone unite themselves to
His body, the church; those who are in the invisible church join the
visible church; true saints seek the communion of the saints in the holy
4) "But That’s an
Attack on Marriage and the Family!"
fourth charge against Engelsma’s instruction on the necessity of joining
a true church is that it undermines and attacks marriage and the family.
What a veritable plethora of terrible heresies there are in Bound to
Join—concerning the church, justification and now marriage and the
family! All between the covers of a book of only some 180 pages!
Engelsma is no stranger to taking flak for his forthright teaching on
marriage (which is at the heart of the family). In his Standard
editorials, various pamphlets ("Marriage
and Divorce," "The Lord’s
Hatred of Divorce" and "Until
Death Us Do Part") and his RFPA books,
Better to Marry (1993) and
Marriage, the Mystery of Christ and the Church (rev. 1998), he
has defended the covenant bond of marriage between one man and one woman
"till death us do part."107
Here he was attacked from the left, as it were, for making too much
of marriage. Now, through Bound to Join, and perhaps for the first
time, he is criticized for making too little of marriage!
us hear the Professor begin his treatment of this subject:
I come now to the extremely difficult and painful matter of one’s
relationship to his or her own family, when this family is not one
with him or her in the faith and in the conviction of faith that he
or she must belong to a true church. The rule is that membership in
a true church and the right worship of God in a true church prevail
over the earthly family relation. Also family must, when necessary,
be sacrificed to the calling to worship the triune God and Father of
Jesus Christ rightly (p. 72).
The Professor goes on to explain that this may involve separation from
family and spouse in order to join and attend a true church (pp. 72-76).
Some negative responses from the European forum reached Engelsma before
he wrote his next instalment. Indeed, this was the most controversial
aspect during the Professor’s e-mail instruction. Here Engelsma
especially responds to "Dr. Fierce" (pp. 78f.), a name he gave to his
most "hostile correspondent" (p. 78, n. 1).
does Engelsma defend his teaching? First, he appeals to Scripture on the
difficulty of the Christian life (Matt. 10:32-39; 19:27-30; Luke
14:25-35; Phil. 3:8; pp. 71-72, 81) and our calling as pilgrims (Heb.
11:13-16; p. 72).
Second, he quotes Christ’s famous words specifically teaching that we
must follow Him, even before family (pp. 72, 84):
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and
wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life
also, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).
He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me:
and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me
And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or
father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s
sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting
life (Matt. 19:29).
Engelsma notes we must
obey God rather than man or woman (Acts 5:29; p. 74). He adds, "We
require this of the Muslim who converts to Christianity. Why should it
be different among Christians?" (p. 73).
Third, the Professor
appeals to Belgic Confession 28 which declares,
We believe, since
this holy congregation is an assembly of those who are saved, and
out of it there is no salvation … it is the duty of all
believers, according to the Word of God, to separate themselves from
all those who do not belong to the church, and to join themselves to
this congregation, wheresoever God hath established it, even
though the magistrates and edicts of princes were against it, yea,
though they should suffer death or any other corporal punishment.
As Engelsma notes, loss
of life or liberty is a higher cost than loss of contact with an
unbelieving family member (p. 72). Belgic Confession 28 is the
calling of all Christians of "whatsoever state or condition" they may
be, including married or single.
Fourth, Engelsma proves with lengthy quotes that his doctrine is the
same as that of Calvin, the great Genevan Reformer (pp. 81-83). He
"If my advice was wicked, so that it can be summarily dismissed as a
troubling of God’s people, so also was the instruction of Calvin" (p.
Fifth, Engelsma turns the tables on his critics, showing the dead-end
position of those who contradict this teaching:
It is easy enough to denounce my instruction with the emotional
charge that I break up marriages and families ... But note well that
rejection of my advice (which was that of Calvin) in this matter
implies that one rather instructs a believer, "Stay outside a true
church! Your wife comes before your worship of God and before
confession of Christ! There is salvation outside the true church,
apart from the preaching and the sacraments!" Let one take this
position who dares (p. 83; cf. p. 89).108
Engelsma Is Hardhearted!"
In a sort of last
desperate attack, some have criticised Engelsma as hardhearted or
heartless. Not content to malign his instruction as merely his personal
opinion or as a Romish doctrine that attacks the church, justification
by faith alone, and marriage and the family, the poor man is also regaled
as lacking in compassion!
Engelsma is no stranger
to such criticisms. In his exposition of the book of Ruth and in
connection with her forsaking family and country for the church and
covenant of God, he writes,
How suspect is the
faith professed by many church members today! Their professed faith
will give up no one and nothing for the sake of Christ, least of all
a blood relative. Friendship with an unbelieving son or daughter is
more important than friendship with God. Their faith esteems the
love of a husband or wife to be worth more than the love of God in
Jesus Christ. Of one who today is willing to leave father and mother
or a son or daughter for the sake of the covenant, this alleged
faith cries out, "You are hardhearted! You are not loving! You
are un-Christian!" This dubious faith of many professing
Christians stubbornly holds on to the old friends, the old ways, the
old pleasures of spiritual Moab, regardless of the unique friends,
unique ways, and unique pleasures of the covenant. It is a dead
Like Calvin, Engelsma's teaching flows from the biblical and Reformed
truth of the church of Jesus Christ. Carlos Eire writes of Calvin's
battle with the Nicodemites,
Calvin's opposition to compromise and his call to exile
[to join a true church, if such can not be found in one's own country] stem not only from his fear of the "contagion" of idolatry, but also
from his ecclesiological doctrine. For Calvin, the
visible church played a central role in Christian
worship and in the controversy over compromise. In
fact, the true "nationalism" of Christians was never
something disembodied for Calvin—it was never merely
an adherence to a certain kind of worship—but rather
adherence to a certain social group: the "true"
Christian church. The visible church was not the
perfect church of God (it did not consist
exclusively of God's elect), but it still offered a
great assistance to the faithful. Calvin maintained
hat there were great benefits to be derived from
belonging to a community devoted to the pure worship
of God, insisting that it is very beneficial to be
able to worship freely, openly confess one's faith,
pray, hear the Word preached, and participate in the
sacraments established by God. Calvin stresses the
importance of the worshiping community against the
dissemblers who scoff at his call to exile. Those
who think they can do without the church, he says,
know very little about the faith they claim to
follow ... there is ... a divinely ordained need for
organized worship. This need is met by the church
[For, as Calvin says,] "the command to invoke His name in the
company of the faithful endures forever: because
this is not one of the figures of the Old Testament,
but is a command which our Lord Jesus has given
until the end of the world."110
Calvin adds that there is no choice in this
matter, that Christians are required to use the aids
that God has given them in the church ...
This means, of course, that in cases where one has
to choose between membership in the visible "New
Israel" of the church, and citizenship in an
idolatrous nation, preference is to be given to
God's kingdom. To this extent, then, the visible
church becomes a nation for Calvin, in that the
ultimate allegiance required of all Christians
(regardless of their place of birth) lies with God
and his commandments ...
Not surprisingly, Calvin's exhortations met with
opposition and a bit of sarcasm.111
As Prof. Engelsma points
out, "You are hardhearted!" is merely the same charge hurled at Calvin
by the Nicodemites (pp. 8, 77-78, 82).
It is Belgic Confession
28, not Engelsma, which declares that we must join a true church
"wheresoever God hath established it, even though the magistrates and
edicts of princes be against it, yea, though they should suffer death or
any other corporal punishment." It is the Lord Jesus Himself, not
the Professor, who lays down costly terms for Christian discipleship
(Matt. 10:32-29; 19:27-30; Luke 14:25-35). If Engelsma
is too hard, then the same criticism must be made of Calvin, the
Belgic Confession and even our Saviour Himself! Ultimately, this is
a complaint against the goodness of the Triune God (cf. Matt. 25:24;
Right from the start of
Bound to Join, Engelsma acknowledges the deep and heartfelt concerns
of the scattered sheep (pp. xv, 1). On the first page of the Preface, he
describes the "informal meeting" to discuss church membership, "called
by the group" of saints at the 2004 BRF Conference, as "distressing,
indeed heartrending" (p. ix).112
Repeatedly, he explains that he undertook to write about joining a
faithful church because his brothers and sisters specifically asked him
to do so (pp. ix, 80, 86-87, 160).
does the Westminster Confession (25:2) and, following it, David
Dickson, Hugh Martin, A. A. Hodge and Stephen Pribble—"there is no salvation outside the
institute [church] ordinarily" (p. 5; italics his).113
He gives as an example a believer being "wickedly confined to a dungeon
or prison by the foes of the saints" (p. 5). A biblical instance would
be the penitent thief on the cross. Earlier in this review article, R.
B. Kuiper was quoted giving another example: "It is possible that a true
believer because of some unusual circumstance may fail to unite with the
church. Conceivably one may, for instance, believe in Christ and die
before receiving baptism."
It is in Letters 12-14,
as one might expect, given that they were the most controversial
chapters when this instruction was first given, that the Professor is
most pastoral. He acknowledges that leaving family for the sake of
Christ and His church is "extremely difficult and painful" (p. 72). Any
Christian faced with the option of leaving his or her unbelieving spouse
or remaining without a true church should not immediately desert him or
her. "He must, of course, patiently and lovingly explain his calling to
her, as he works and prays to bring her to Christ" (p. 73). Later, Engelsma writes,
The actions of a
believer … seeking to fulfil his or her calling to join a true
church may not be taken hastily, but only after sufficient time of
pleading with the unbelieving mate and of prayer to God has made
plain that the unbelieving mate will not permit the believer to be a
member of a true church and will not accompany the believer to a
place where he or she can be a member of a true church (p. 75).
In seeking to join a
true church, the Christian must also be concerned for the salvation of
his children and his fellow saints, since the Word of God teaches us to
think covenantally and generationally (e.g., pp. 5, 9, 35, 160). Above
all, he must be ruled by zeal for the glory of God: "This, even more
than our own salvation, motivates the believer to be a member of a true
church, whatever the cost and difficulty" (p. 58).
It is not hardhearted of
Engelsma or anyone else to follow the Word of God and teach its
doctrines, even the ones with rough edges, refusing to "smooth" them
down (Isa. 30:10). Jesus calls it greatness in the kingdom of heaven
(Matt. 5:19). It is hardheartedness to resist the Word of God and
tenderheartedness to humble oneself before it, repent and obey it (II
Sometimes a good
defence—if such this is—can be, in effect, a good attack. Yet sometimes,
even a good defence cannot placate an inveterate opponent. No matter
what you say, you always meet with "But …!" Remember the apostle Paul’s
plaintive question: "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell
you the truth?" (Gal. 4:16).
In signing off his last
letter, Engelsma writes, "I trust my instruction has been profitable to
some" (p. 160). It has been. For several people I know, it has been a
factor or a confirmation in their moving house to join a true
church—some of them even left their own country for their spiritual
welfare and the honour of the Triune God. And what a great witness they are to a watching world
(which is amazed that they should think Christ and His gospel so
precious) and to church members in danger of taking the privileges of
church membership for granted! May Bound to Join be used by Jesus
Christ, the head of the church, to stir up others!
Bound to Join is the most
faithful, sustained and thorough treatment of the subject; the best book
on the need to join a true church since Calvin’s anti-Nicodemite
writings in the sixteenth century.114 Its message needs to get out and be
discussed widely. This truth must be appropriated and obeyed, after duly
counting the cost (cf. Luke 14:28-32). This book is desperately needed
in the British Isles and continental Europe, where understanding of the
doctrine of the church is weak and few live as members of a faithful
Reformed congregation with Christ and His church central in their lives
(cf. pp. x, 1, 66-69). This need is shared in the other continents of
the world, including N. America.115
On average, people move
house every seven years. Getting married, upsizing when God grants
children, a new job, downsizing when one’s children leave, the desire to
be nearer one’s (grown-up) children or grandchildren or to help care for
elderly relatives, retiring to the seaside or countryside or warmer
climes—all these and others are reasons why people move.
What of moving home to
join a good Reformed church? Many of God’s children have become the sons
and daughters (so to speak) of Ruth the Moabitess.116
In the days of the Reformation, saints from Spain and Italy moved north
to join Reformed churches, such as the Turretin family from Lucca, whose
son, Benedict, and grandson, Francis, were to adorn the church of
Geneva, as theological professors and successors of Calvin.117
Reformed saints in France, some of whom had earlier dallied with
Nicodemite ideas, moved to join true churches in Switzerland, the
Netherlands and elsewhere, in part through the anti-Nicodemite writings
of Calvin. Later many Protestants from the British Isles and continental
Europe moved to America for freedom of worship. This was the case with
the ancestors of some members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The
Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in N. Ireland has members who moved
house and even country to join. Such could be said of many Reformed
churches over the centuries and today.
If you, dear reader, are not a member of a faithful church, clearly
manifesting the three marks of a true church, let me plead with
you to doubly redouble your efforts to join one!118
An internet, or virtual, church is not enough. Shall not we who will
inherit many mansions in the next world be prepared to move house in
this world for the sake of Christ and His church? "Where there is a
will, there is a way"—even more is this true for the people of God. Our
Lord commands us, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33). He
calls us to pray in faith, for the Triune God opens doors for His people
(I Cor. 16:9; Rev. 3:7-8) and gives us the godly desires of our renewed
hearts (Ps. 37:4). "Now unto him that is able to do
exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the
power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ
Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph. 3:20-21)!119
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2008), pp. 282, 310.
Arthur Cushman McGiffert observes, "The
difference at this point between Cyprian and earlier Christians was
not that he asserted that no one could be saved apart from the church,
for upon this there was general agreement from primitive days, but
that he identified the church with a particular institution" (A
History of Christian Thought, vol. 2
[New York: Scribner's, 1933], pp. 30-31).
J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (USA:
HarperSanFrancisco, rev. 1978), p. 403.
John Calvin, Treatises on the Sacraments: Catechism of the Church
of Geneva, Forms of Prayer, and Confessions of Faith, trans. Henry
Beveridge (Scotland: Christian Heritage, 2002), p. 52.
Philip Schaff, The
Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2 (New York and London:
Harper & Brothers, 1877), pp. 468-469.
Peter Hall (ed.), The Harmony of Protestant Confessions
(USA: Still Waters Revival Books, 1992), pp. 214-215.
5a James T. Dennison Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation: Volume 4, 1600-1693
(Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), p. 510.
The other two creedal documents in the
Three Forms of Unity also
have something to say in this area. In Lord’s Day 38 of the
Heidelberg Catechism, the
answer to the question "What doth God require in the fourth
commandment?" includes "that I, especially on the sabbath, that is, on
the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear His
Word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and
contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian." The
Canons of Dordt teach
that Jehovah’s "supernatural operation" of grace in us is by means of
"the Word, sacraments, and discipline" and so we must not "tempt God in
the church by separating what He of His good pleasure hath most
intimately joined together" (III/IV:17). Likewise, God "preserves,
continues, and perfects" His "work of grace in us" "by the hearing and
reading of His Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, as well as by the use of the
7 Martin Luther, Luther's Works, eds. Hans J. Hillerbrand and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 52
(Philadelphia, PA: Concordia Publishing House/Fortress Press, 1974), pp. 39-40.
8 Timothy F. Lull (ed.), Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 58.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T.
McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster
Press, 1960), 4.1.4, p. 1016; italics mine. A few pages earlier
(4.1.1, pp. 1012), Calvin also uses the biblical imagery of the church
as our mother (Gal. 4:26), developed by Cyprian: "You cannot have God
for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother."
Calvin, Institutes 4.1.10, pp. 1024-1025; italics mine. Calvin
also states that "no one escapes the just penalty of this unholy
separation [from the true church] without bewitching himself with
pestilent errors and foulest delusions" (4.1.5, p. 1018).
13 Willem Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, trans.
William J. Heynen (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1981), p. 112.
14 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 112.
15 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 160.
16 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 160.
17 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 160.
18 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 227.
19 Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, p. 244.
20 Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of
the Word and Sacrament (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1957), p. 234.
21 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine
of the Word and Sacrament, pp. 234-235.
Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, p.
23 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and
Sacrament, p. 236.
24 Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life
(Edinburgh & London: Oliver & Boyd, 1959), p. 243.
25 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 232.
26 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 195.
27 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 200.
28 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 195.
29 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, pp. 196, 197.
30 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 195.
31 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 232.
32 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 200.
33 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Christian Life, p. 204; cf. p. 205.
34 T. H. L. Parker, John Calvin (Glasgow: Lion Publishing, 1982), pp. 159-160.
35 As well as Willem Balke (Dutch), Ronald Wallace (Scottish)
and T. H. L. Parker (English), see, e.g., François Wendel, Calvin:
The Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, trans. Philip Mairet (London: William Collins, Sons
& Co., 1969), p. 294; Harro Höpfl, The Christian Polity of John Calvin
(Bristol: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 70, 88-89, etc.
Quoted in Nicolaas H. Gootjes, The Belgic Confession: Its History
and Sources (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2007), p. 85.
Gootjes, The Belgic Confession, p. 72.
Gootjes, The Belgic Confession, pp. 85-86.
39 Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of
Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, repr. 1956), pp. 292-293.
40 Quoted in Lyle D. Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism: Sources, History, and Theology
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), p. 185.
41 Quoted in Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 185.
42 Quoted in Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 186.
Quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, rev. and ed.
Ernst Bizer, trans. G. T. Thompson (Grand Rapids, MI:
Baker, 1978), p. 671.
Caspar Olevianus, A Firm Foundation: An Aid to Interpreting the
Heidelberg Catechism, trans. and ed. Lyle D. Bierma (Grand Rapids,
MI: Baker, 1995), p. 98.
Quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 671.
Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 671.
Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms:
Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker, 1985), p. 112. By the word "scholastics" in the
quotation above, Muller is referring not only to Reformed but also
Lutheran theologians, as Muller's Preface makes clear (pp. 7-15).
J. J. Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics, trans. John Watson
Watson and Maurice J. Evans (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878), p.
709; italics Van Oosterzee's.
49 Herman Hoeksema, The Triple Knowledge: An Exposition
of the Heidelberg Catechism (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA,
1971), p. 255.
50 Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, p. 252.
51Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, pp. 253, 256, 257,
52 Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, pp. 255-256;
53 Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, p. 257; italics
R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner,
1967), pp. 111-112.
P. Y. De Jong, The Church’s Witness to the World (St.
Catherines, Ontario: Paideia/Premier, 1960), part 2, pp. 242-243.
56 Daniel R. Hyde, With Heart and Mouth: An Exposition of the Belgic Confession
(Grandville, MI: Reformed Fellowship, Inc., 2008), p. 377.
57 Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, p. 378.
58 Hyde, With Heart and Mouth, 379.
61 John Philips, The Way to Heaven (USA:
Puritan Publications, 2013), p. 6.
62 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 6.
63 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 23.
64 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 23.
65 E.g., Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 23, 46-48, 93, 104,
66 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 24.
67 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 24.
68 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 31.
69 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 31-32.
70 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 22-33.
71 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 25.
72 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 33-42.
73 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 34.
74 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 42.
75 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 42.
76 Philips, The Way to Heaven, p. 48.
77 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 43-45, 55-58, 87-90.
78 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 47, 55, 59.
79a David Laing (ed.), The Works of John Knox (Edinburgh: Banner, 2014), vol. 3, p. 103; spelling modernized and italics mine.
David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error (Burnie, Tasmania:
Presbyterian’s Armoury Publications, 2002), p. 155.
81a Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (London: Oliphants Ltd., 1954), pp. 210-211.
82 Stuart Robinson, The Church of God as an
Essential Element of the Gospel (Willow Grove, PA: OPC, 2009),
83 Robinson, The Church of God, p. 36.
84 Hugh Martin, The Prophet Jonah (Great Britain: Banner,
repr. 1966), p. 4; italics mine.
A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Edinburgh: Banner, 1958),
89 John R. Muether, "A Sixth Sola?" Modern Reformation, vol. 7, no. 4
(July/August, 1998), pp. 24-28.
90 Muether, "A Sixth Sola?" p. 27.
91 Muether, "A Sixth Sola?" p. 27. In the light of the
Reformed doctrine of the church, Muether critiques the
ecclesiologies of Romanism (the "repressive haughtiness of
Catholic sacerdotalism;" p. 24), Promise Keepers (a "lower
common denominator parachurch" institution; p. 27), John
Frame's Evangelical Reunion (an "inclusive, 'big
tent' ecclesiology;" p. 27), and fundamentalism and
liberalism (their "embarrassment over the visible Church;"
93 Michael J. Glodo, "Sola
The Lost Reformation Doctrine," Reformed Perspectives
Magazine, vol. 9, no. 39 (23-29 September, 2007).
94a Robert Letham, A Christian's Pocket Guide to Baptism (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2012), p. 37.
94b Bruce P. Baugus, "China, Church
Development, and Presbyterianism," in Bruce P. Baugus (ed.),
China’s Reforming Churches: Mission, Polity, and Ministry
in the Next Christendom (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation
Heritage Books, 2014), p. 17.
95 David Higgs, "Review of Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership," The Evangelical Presbyterian
(July, 2011), p. 9.
Rare are the (faithful) Reformed churches in the last five centuries
who have not subscribed to at least one of these four creeds.
Later, I shall refer to the preceding quotations to make various points
in different connections.
98 Keith A. Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura
(Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001), p. 268.
99 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 65-87.
100 Quoted in Bierma, An Introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism, pp. 211, 212.
101 Cf. Glodo:
"Therefore, Calvin’s view of the Church [which is also Engelsma's
view] is not Romish, speculative or cultural. It is biblical. And so
the confession is thoroughly biblical that 'The visible Church ....
is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of
God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation' (Westminster
Confession of Faith, 25.2)" ("Sola
102 John R. Muether rightly states that "the Reformers embraced
the centrality of the Church without the sacerdotal errors of Rome."
He also observes, sadly, that this "high and necessary view of the
Church will inevitably be mistaken for sacerdotalism in our
low-church evangelical subculture" ("A Sixth Sola?" p. 28; cf. p.
One could also check out this on-line page of
Resources on the Church.
Some may reckon that this call to read, and think biblically, about
the church is very difficult, being "too much like hard work!" Part of
the blame for this lies at the door of the false and departing
churches that give little or no teaching on the doctrine of the church
and/or much of what they do say is false. But it also needs to be
underscored that the Christian life is hard and requires exertion and
perseverance, like running a long distance race (Heb. 12:1). The
kingdom of heaven is obtained by "violence" (Matt. 11:12) and it is
only "through much tribulation" that we finally enter it (Acts 14:22).
Christ taught that following Him involves hating one’s family and
one’s own life, bearing one’s cross, counting the cost and forsaking
all (Luke 14:26-33). Our Lord calls us to the difficult but blessed
work of searching the Scriptures (John 5:39) and the Bereans are our
example in this (Acts 17:11). By meditating on God’s law "day and
night" (Ps. 1:2), we "grow" "in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18) and so become "men" (or mature) "in
understanding" (I Cor. 14:20). Thus we are able to "try the spirits"
(I John 4:1), including what the spirits or preachers say about the
church (its blessedness, its preaching, its sacraments, its
discipline, etc., and the necessity of joining it).
105 Philips, The Way to Heaven, pp. 35-40, 108-111.
105aThe Baptist Charles H. Spurgeon also saw the pressing obligation
on the children of God to join a faithful church. In a sermon entitled
"The Head and the Body" on Ephesians 4:15-16, he preached,
"I believe that every Christian ought to be joined to some visible Church–that is his plain duty according to the Scriptures. God’s people are not dogs,
otherwise they might go about one by one. They are sheep and, therefore, they should be in flocks."
106 Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 4, p. 374, cf. p. 376.
Bound to Join even contains some good instruction on the
lifelong bond of marriage (pp. 73-74, 114-115, 122).
Some who put house or spouse, land or family, job or children, or
anything else above joining a true church have found themselves
outside a true church for many years, even decades (cf. Mark 10:29;
Luke 14:26). This has been the bitter experience of some who intended
to be without a true church only for a while but the years swiftly
passed! What assurance can those who neglect and despise the church
institute have that they will be part of the church triumphant? Dutch
preacher, Herman Veldkamp asks, "How many have allowed their souls to
perish because they regarded clothes, a home, and a comfortable salary
as primary, despite the Biblical teaching that such things are
secondary, that they are given to us if we first seek God’s Kingdom?"
(The Farmer From Tekoa: On the Book of Amos [St. Catherines,
Ontario: Paideia, 1977], p. 136).
110 Carlos M. N. Eire,
War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 262.
War Against the Idols, p. 263.
"Did this in Engelsma seem hardhearted? Hardheartedness should be made
of sterner stuff!"—to paraphrase Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s
Julius Caesar (Act III, Scene II).
Cf. Glodo: "We must also note with care Westminster’s
qualification of 'ordinarily.' But this term qualifies the doctrine in
terms of what God may be pleased to do apart from his
prescriptions to us, not what we may choose to do to vary from
Ecclesia;" italics Glodo's; cf. Muether, "A Sixth Sola?" p.
114 Carlos Eire points out that Calvin's
anti-Nicodemite works were translated into Dutch, English,
German, Italian and Latin (War Against the Idols, p. 273, n. 154).
115 In one sense, N.
America may even need this book more because of the influence of
Harold Camping and his bizarre hermeneutics and heretical
eschatology and ecclesiology. Since 1994, Camping alleges, God's
Spirit has left all instituted churches. Thus Camping not only
declares "outside the church there is salvation," he
maintains "only outside the church there is salvation," for "inside
the church there is no
salvation"! Whereas Engelsma's book's title is Bound to Join,
Camping insists that all are bound to leave all visible
churches! For more on Camping's attack on Christ's church, see
David J. Engelsma, A Defence of
the Church Institute:
Response to Critics of Bound to Join (Jenison, MI: RFPA, 2012), pp. 122-139; James
R. White, Dangerous Airwaves: Harold Camping Refuted and
Christ’s Church Defended (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press, 2002)
and Martyn McGeown, "Harold
Camping Refuted: The Necessity of Membership in the Church
For more on Naomi’s sin (leaving the true church for economic and
family reasons), God’s chastisement of her for this and her
repentance, as well as Ruth’s faith in moving to Israel, the covenant
community, and ultimately becoming an ancestress of King David and the
Lord Jesus Christ, see Engelsma,
Judges and Ruth, pp. 164-169, 192-199. Jonathan Edwards, in
his sermon on "Ruth’s Resolution" (Ruth 1:16), observes, "Ruth forsook
all her relations, and her own country, the land of her nativity, and
all her former possessions there, for the sake of the God of Israel;
as every true Christian forsakes all for Christ … ‘Hearken, O
daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own
people, and thy father’s house [Ps. 45:10]’" (The Works
of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 [Edinburgh: Banner, repr.
1974], p. 664). Matthew Henry has some fine remarks on Ruth 1 in his
famous Bible commentary. Also check out the free on-line audios and
videos of "Moving House for
God's Church," a series of six sermons I preached on Ruth 1 in
Cf. James T. Dennison’s biographical sketch in Francis
Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 3
(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), pp. 639-642.
119 This review has dealt with objections to Bound to Join
thematically. Two other works organise their material by responding to specific critics of the book:
Engelsma, A Defense of the Church Institute; Nathan Langerak, "Belgic, Bound to Join,
and an Extraordinary Situation," Standard Bearer, vol. 88, issue 8 (15 Jan., 2012).