Tag Archives: Augustine

Quotable Church History: “Outside the church no salvation”

This is the second in a series on famous quotes from church history.  We’re looking at who said these famous words, in what context, and whether it’s biblical.

Today’s notable quote is found in article 28 of the Belgic Confession,

We believe since this holy assembly and congregation is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it, that no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be.

We’re especially focussing on those words in italics:  “there is no salvation outside of it.”  These words (or words similar) are not unique to the Belgic Confession.  You’ll find this notion expressed in other Reformed confessions like the Second Helvetic of 1566 (ch.17) and the Scottish Confession of 1560 (ch.16).  The idea is also expressed by John Calvin in Institutes 4.1.4, “Furthermore, away from her [the church’s] bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation…”  However, none of these are the original source for the saying.  In fact, the saying dates back to the early church.

Especially in scholarship the saying is often referred to in its Latin form:  extra ecclesiam nulla salus [outside the church no salvation].  It’s often attributed to the church father Cyprian (200-258).  Certainly Cyprian uses the expression in his book On the Unity of the Catholic Church.  However, the original source is slightly earlier.  Origen (185-254) used these words in a sermon on Joshua 2.  Rahab and her family had to remain within their house if they were going to be saved during Jericho’s destruction.  Origen explains this as a reference to the church:  “Outside this house — which means outside the church — there is no salvation.”  Not only Cyprian adopted this expression, but also Augustine.  From the church fathers, it was also taken up into the Reformation’s teaching about the church.

But is this a biblical teaching?  It must be said:  the extra ecclesiam quote has sometimes been understood in an unbiblical way.  It has been used by the Roman Catholic Church to claim that salvation depends on membership in their organization.  It has been understood by some Reformed people to mean that salvation does not exist outside of their own particular church or federation of churches.  In other words, if you are not a member of this church, then you are definitely lost.  That makes salvation conditional on the right church membership.  That goes not only beyond what the Scriptures teach, but against.  The Bible teaches salvation in Christ alone (John 14:6, Acts 10:43, 1 Tim.2:5).

However, there is a biblical way to understand these words.  These words, as used by the Belgic Confession and other Reformed confessions, should be understood in a normative sense.  The norm is that Christians experience salvation through the ministry of the church of Jesus Christ — especially through the preaching of the good news.  That is how God has ordained salvation to proceed.  Because that’s the norm, no one should ever forsake or ignore the church.  Her ministry is not superfluous, but necessary.  Article 28 of the Belgic Confession appeals to Matthew 16:18-19 as a proof-text here.  Christ entrusts the keys of the kingdom to Peter as the representative apostle.  The keys of the kingdom are given to the church through the apostles.  Binding and loosening happen through these keys:  the preaching of the gospel and the administration of church discipline.  Salvation is realized through the ministry of the church, not ordinarily outside of it.

This ancient saying is included in our confessional heritage to remind us that the church is not optional.  While our salvation is not based on our church membership, our salvation is ordinarily mediated to us through the church’s ministry.  The church and its ministry of Word and sacrament is where God has promised to be present to bless his people with life and growth in Christ.  If that’s where he has promised to be present, why would you want to be anywhere else?


The Rationalistic Attack on Scripture (Louis Praamsma) — 3

At the end of yesterday’s installment, Dr. Praamsma reminded us that attacks on the reliability of Scripture are nothing new.  Men such as Celsus and Julian the Apostate did everything they could to undermine the Word of God.  Today, as he continues, Dr. Praamsma briefly discusses how these challenges were met by Augustine and, later in history, by Abraham Kuyper.

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How Augustine Met It

The great church father Augustine was, before his conversion, vexed by this same problem which he could not solve.  In the New Testament, Christ was introduced by long and contradictory genealogies.

It is remarkable that although before his conversion Augustine was beset by intellectual doubts, after his conversion he believed the whole Bible as it was written.  “For Augustine, the Bible was the only truly reliable history book, because it was not written by men alone and because the choice of what is significant had been correctly made” (P. Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 322).

“Augustine teaches that, if we think we see a contradiction in Scripture, we may not say that the author was mistaken.  There may be a defect in the manuscript or the translation is not correct or we don’t understand the right meaning” (A.D.R. Polman, “Augustine” in Christelijke Encyclopedie, 1:382).

Augustine was moved by the Spirit to accept the Word of the Spirit without making objections.  He did not even object against the “discrepancy” between Matt. 27:7 and Acts 1:18.  The different versions of Judas’ death were not first discovered by theologians of our time; they have always been recognized.  Augustine found the obvious solution, writing: “He fastened a rope round his neck and, falling on his face, burst asunder in the midst” (Against Felix the Manichean, I.4).

Busken Huet versus Kuyper

Dr. Boer wrote differing Bible passages in two columns.  A man who did about the same was the nineteenth-century minister Conrad Busken Huet.  In letters (not columns) written to a lady friend, he tried to make clear the incontestable incompatibility of several comparable parts of the Bible (Brieven over de Bijbel).

Thirteen years afterward Busken Huet wrote scathing words at the address of a young minister who had dared to attack Modernism and who had taken a firm stand in favour of an unqualified belief in all the facts and figures of the Bible (Litterarische Fantasieen and Kritieken XV, 167).  That young minister was Abraham Kuyper and Busken Huet wrote about him that he was a courageous man but also a man behind the times.  Science had proven that orthodoxy was untenable.

But what was the special feature of the stand made by Abraham Kuyper?  It was the fact that he was a converted man; he had harboured the same doubts.  At one time he’d had the same reverence for the power of modern science as shown by Busken Huet; he had applauded when one of his professors had dared to say that modern man cannot believe any more that Jesus was physically raised from the dead.  But the almighty hand of God had changed his heart and now he believed like a child all the words of God revealed in the Bible, as true and without error.  This is what he wrote: “Each of the writers [of the Bible] was so moved and directed by the Holy Spirit that the page of Scripture which, after pencil and pen had been laid aside, lay before him, was as unalterably written down as though it had originated in an immediate divine creation.”  He added: “The Scripture is God’s Word, both as a whole and in its parts” and “Hence it was a verbal inspiration, not mechanically by whispering into the outward ear, but organically by calling forth the words from man’s own consciousness.  That means: by employing all those words that were on hand in the spiritual senses of the writer” (In Kuyper’s speech, “De hedendaagsche Schriftcritiek in hare bedenkelijke strekking voor de Gemeente des levenden”).

The point is not that the great theologian Abraham Kuyper wrote these words, but that the converted Christian Abraham Kuyper did so.  Much as Augustine had done, he had been forced to conquer all the intellectual objections of his age to which his own heart had responded.  He had accepted the Bible as it was and is, the infallible Word of God.  His wisdom appears in the four caveats which he adds to this lecture:

  1. We don’t have the original manuscripts
  2. Scripture is not the book of a notary, but the work of a heavenly Artist who paints with a diversity of colours
  3. If passages of Scripture seem to be contradictory, they should be brought into harmony in a spiritual way, not artificially
  4. If there remain baffling problems (cruces), I should confess my ignorance