Outside the Church, There is No Salvation
Editor's Note: Apologist Jacob Michael presents a succinct Catholic Apologetic based on the Holy Scriptures. He has chosen to call his column Quid Dicit Scriptura? - What Saith the Scriptures? He utilizes the approved and superior Douay-Rheims Roman Catholic version in his apologia and holds to the Council of Trent's decree to "accept Sacred Scripture according to the meaning which has been held by Holy Mother Church and which She now holds. It is Her prerogative to pass judgment on the true meaning and interpretation of Sacred Scripture and will not accept or interpret it in a manner different from the unanimous agreement of the Fathers." In place of his anticipated second installment of his series on "Mother's Medicine: Mary as Mediatrix", he provides a special column today in follow-up to our editorial yesterday in defending the First Dogma of the Church. His is much more succinct and extends to Old Testament passages that makes the truths of the 'Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus' all the more solid.
Some passages below are highlighted in blue bold for emphasis.
Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus: outside the Church, there is no salvation. This "hard saying" has been consistently taught as a dogma of the Faith from the very inception of the Church - affirmed by the Gospels and epistles, insisted on by the early Church fathers, and later solemnly defined in holy councils and papal statements.
Naturally, it is the primary dogma being attacked today, because the modern Creed of the unwashed masses (and that includes liberal Protestants and Catholics) has only one article of faith: I believe in tolerance and respect for every religion.
In an age where truth is said to be relative, where "what's right for you is right for you, what's right for me is right for me," and where intolerance is the only mortal sin, the dogma that says "Outside the Church there is no salvation" sticks out like a sore thumb.
"How intolerant! How exclusivist! You mean to tell me that you think your religion has a monopoly on truth? That only Catholics have it all right? How arrogant! No one religion has a monopoly on truth - every religion has some truth, and every religion has some error. We're only humans, after all, and it's unrealistic to think that any one group could be entirely free from misconceptions about Who God is and what He expects of us. In the end, God is not going to give us theological entrance exams before we can get into heaven - we'll be judged on how we treated the sick, the hungry, the poor, and not on how correct our theology was. It doesn't matter what you believe, just how you act."
Do those words sound at all familiar? They certainly sound familiar to me, because those are the very words that came out of my mouth on a fairly regular basis some five-or-so years ago. Those words summarize the overwhelmingly, universally accepted understanding of religion and faith - just do whatever makes you feel good, and don't judge anyone else.
But - as the title of my column asks - what saith the Scriptures? Are all faiths equal? Does it really matter what you believe? Is there a dichotomy between the Christ you worship and the Church to which you belong? Some say that faith in Christ is all that matters, not what denomination you belong to - as though Christ were over here in this box, and the Church is over here in that box, as sort of an irrelevant aside. Is that true? What saith the Scriptures?
As my debut series at The Daily Catholic sought to defend, the Gospel is more than just "Christ on the Cross." No, the Gospel is the restoration of the kingdom of David - which kingdom is the Catholic Church - and the Cross is the royal enthronement of Our King. I would encourage you to read that series if you currently believe that the Gospel is exhausted by the Cross, and that the Church is merely an afterthought.
There is no need to restate all of the proofs that I brought forward in that series - I will simply refer to it as "Exhibit A," and stipulate that the Church (or rather, a proper ecclesiology, a proper understanding of the Church) is absolutely central to the Gospel.
What else does Scripture teach us about the necessity of belonging to the Church, or about the dogma "Outside the Church there is no salvation?"
We may begin with the passage from St. Matthew's Gospel, which every Catholic should know by heart:
And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matt. 16:18)
This is central point #1: there are two kingdoms, and only two. One is the kingdom of God, the Church, and the other is the kingdom of Satan. If you do not belong to one, you belong to the other, as Our Lord implied:
He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Luke 11:23)
That one verse alone is all the proof any reasonable man should need. This verse puts the lie to the false sentiment that all denominations (Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, Anglican, Congregational, Free Methodist, etc.) are equally doing the work of Christ and furthering the spread of the kingdom. If they are not part of the one Church that Christ founded (and He did say that He would build His "church," singular, not "churches"), then they scatter against Him and do not gather with Him. They are against Him.
This understanding is so critical, yet so misunderstood and ignored by so-called "bible Christians" (and, unfortunately, by many Catholics as well) in our day. From the very beginning, Christ founded only one Church, and entrusted to it, in the words of St. Paul:
... one faith, one baptism. (Eph. 4:5)
The utter uniqueness of this Church should be beyond debate by now. We have thus far seen nothing but singularity: one Church, one faith, one baptism. There is no room here for multiple churches teaching multiple disparate doctrines.
So important is holding fast to this "one faith," that Our Lord, St. Paul, and St. John all admonish us to steer clear of those who would tamper with the faith, and to consider them, not as Christian equals, but as pagans:
And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. (Matt. 18:17)
A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid. (Titus 3:10)
If any man come to you and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him: God speed you. (2 John 10)
But though we, or an Angel from Heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. (Gal. 1:8)
Is this exclusivist and intolerant? Absolutely - but how could you expect any different? Is this not the very nature of God, and are not these sentiments - written by the Apostles - the very same as those of the God Who said:
I the Lord, this is My name: I will not give My glory to another ... (Is. 42:8)
For I am the Lord thy God, a jealous God ... (Dt. 5:9)
The Lord His name is jealous, He is a jealous God. (Ex. 34:14)
From the absolute uniqueness of God, the absolute singularity of God, there springs forth an absolutely exclusive truth, revealed unto men by an absolutely unique and singular Divine Man, and entrusted exclusively to His singular and unique Church. Or, to trace it backwards, there is only one faith, found in one Church, with one baptism, entrusted to the Church by Her one Lord, the one and only-begotten Son of the One True God. To introduce diversity at any point in this catena is to destroy the whole.
And what of the "one baptism?" This, too, is a testament to the necessity of belonging to the One True Church. For how are we incorporated into this Church?
For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body... (1 Cor. 12:13)
It is through the sacrament of that "one baptism" that we are made members of the One Church. And of this baptism, it is said:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ... (Mark 16:16)
Amen, amen, I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)
To say that one must be baptized for salvation is to say that one must be inside the Church to be saved, for baptism is what incorporates us into the Church. If baptism is necessary for salvation, and the Church is necessary for baptism, then the Church is necessary for salvation, and being "outside the Church" is to endanger one's eternal soul.
We need look no further than the prophecy of Daniel to find the indentifying marks of this one Church:
... the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth ... the God of Jeaven will set up a kingdom that shall never by destroyed, and His kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people: and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms: and itself shall stand for ever. (Dan. 2:35, 44)
In these two verses, the prophet Daniel reveals to us all at once the visibility, universality, and immutability of the true Church. Visibility, because this kingdom fills "the whole earth" and is as "a great mountain" - who has ever heard of a mountain that was so great as to fill the entire earth and yet remain invisible? Universality, because this kingdom fills "the whole earth," and conquers over "all these kingdoms" of the earth. Immutability, because this kingdom "shall stand forever."
What more proof do we need that the Catholic Church is the one true Church of Christ? Has there ever been another Church that has filled the whole earth, that has been visible for all to see, that had its inception during the days of the Roman Empire (Daniel says this kindgom will be established "in the days of those kingdoms," the last of which was the Roman Empire in the first century), and that has remained upon the earth ever since that time?
Do you require still further proof that the Church which was founded in the Apostolic times was, in fact, the Catholic Church?
Then hear Pope St. Clement of Rome, who says that in this Church the Apostles "knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the bishop," and so they "appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry." (Letter to the Corinthians, XLIV)
Hear the account of the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, after which the Christians "took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom." (The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, XVIII)
Hear St. Ignatius of Antioch, who calls the Holy Eucharist the "medicine of immortality, and the antidote which prevents us from dying, but a cleansing remedy driving away evil, [which causes] that we should live in God through Jesus Christ." (Epistle to the Ephesians, XX)
Hear the same St. Ignatius tell us, "As therefore the Lord does nothing without the Father ... so do ye, neither presbyter, nor deacon, nor layman, do anything without the bishop," and hear him exhort us, "Do ye all, as one man, run together into the temple of God, as unto one altar, to one Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the unbegotten God." (Epistle to the Magnesians, VII)
Hear St. Justin Martyr explain the early rites of Baptism, in which sinners "are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated ... in order that we may not remain the children of necessity and of ignorance, but may become the children of choice and knowledge, and may obtain in the water the remission of sins formerly committed." (First Apology, LXI)
Hear the same St. Justin Martyr explain the early Eucharistic Sacrifice, "of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins." He tells us that "not as common bread and common drink do we receive these, but ... we [have] been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." (First Apology, LXVI)
Finally, hear St. Irenaeus of Lyons, who says that heretics "object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth," and that "these men do now consent neither to Scripture nor to tradition." (Against Heresies, Book III, II, 2)
Hear this same St. Irenaeus tell us that we may "put to confusion all those who ... assemble in unauthorized meetings, by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul," and that "it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority." (Against Heresies, Book III, III, 2)
All of these writings which I have put before you date back as early as the late first century, and none of them are dated later than the late second century. Who can observe these facts and deny that the Apostolic Church was nothing less than Catholic, both in belief and in practice? I submit to you that only the most biased, most prejudiced, and most-bereft of good will and intellectual honesty can read these writings and still not conclude that he must unite himself to this Holy Catholic Church as soon as possible. Such a person is willingly obstinate and blind, and should remember the fate of Pharaoh, who also remained stiff-necked in the face of undeniable evidence.
This is the "faith once delivered to the saints" that St. Jude referred to, the detractors of which "have perished in the contradiction of Core." (Jude 3, 11) You may remember that Core, in Numbers 16, raised up a rebellion against God's appointed vicar (Moses), reasoning that "all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and the Lord is among them: Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?" (Num. 16:3) For this rebellion against the lawfully and divinely constituted authority, the earth opened up and swallowed Core and his band, who all "went down alive into hell, the ground closing upon them." (vs. 31-33)
Is there salvation outside the Church? Ask Core and his followers, or ask St. Jude, who compared the detractors of the Holy Faith to Core, and promised them a similar fate.
No, it is a dogma of the faith, well-attested by Scripture, that there is only one Church, which is entered into by one baptism, and which professes only one faith. Those who reject this Church necessarily reject the "one faith," and are declared by St. Paul to be "heretics" who are "anathema."
Yes, it is an intolerant and exclusivistic position, but it is Divinely revealed truth, which is ours to adhere to and not to alter. The Church is exclusive, and salvation is difficult to obtain, as Our Lord taught:
And a certain man said to him: Lord, are they few that are saved? But He said to them: Strive to enter by the narrow gate: for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter and shall not be able. (Luke 13:23-24)
I conclude, then, with the words of St. Athanasius, written in the fourth century, words which express the unchanging truth regarding the Catholic Church:
"Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith; Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." (The Athanasian Creed)
The Mediatrix at the Wedding at Cana
If you want to ask Jacob a question, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and we encourage you to visit his site A Lumen Gentleman - Lumen Gentleman Apologetics.