By Jake Griesel
This is a very brief article on the 1561 Belgic Confession, Article 28, specifically with a look at its assertion of extra ecclesiam nulla salus – “outside of the Church there is no salvation”. Very helpful in this regard, I believe, is a glance at 1 John 4. Though there is much more which can be discussed on the issue, my point here is simply that the core issue at stake is love – the love of God shared in fellowship with fellow believers:
Belgic Confession, Article 28: The Obligations of Church Members
We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it…
Often people say that they still believe in God but want nothing to do with the Church. They want to be part of so-called “churchless Christianity”. The Church for them contains too many sins and infighting, or is too strict and limiting. They feel it is easier and more desirable to serve God apart from the Church.
The Belgic Confession (Article 28) unmasks the attitude behind such thinking. It confesses that “no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition.” It is self-contentment or self-sufficiency which lurks behind this separation from the Church. This self-sufficiency is in fact a disdainful attitude toward their fellow believers. It loudly proclaims: “I am not like them! I have no need of them! God and I will manage between the two of us, thank you very much!”
In 1 John 4:7-21, John shows that such an attitude is utterly flawed. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20). It is true that there are many flaws in the Church. The Church is after all an assembly of sinners who are redeemed and forgiven in Christ, who, despite sanctification being wrought in their lives by the Holy Spirit, will never be perfect in this life. It is also true that the Church will not save you; it is Christ alone who saves. But it is a horrendous lie that someone can love God without also being lovingly involved in koinonia or fellowship with fellow believers.
The Church is the place where the love of God is received and shared. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:20). To assume that there is any salvation without this love is therefore entirely erroneous. It is therefore a mark of true Christianity that the love of God which has been bestowed on us is also shared with our fellow believers in loving fellowship as the Church. And if we understand our being the Church in this light, we can affirm with the Belgic Confession that outside of the Church there is no salvation – extra ecclesiam nulla salus.