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Bound to Join: A Review and Defence

Rev. Angus Stewart


Bound to Join: Letters on Church Membership
by David J. Engelsma
Reformed Free Publishing Association, Jenison, Michigan, USA, 2010
Hardback, 184pp.


"For my 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 anti-Nicodemite writings).

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. 97).

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 definition:

… 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" (Letter 15).

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 Engelsma’s View!"

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!"

Church Fathers

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 that "outside the church there is no salvation," as Engelsma notes (p. 5).1 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.

Reformation Creeds

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 Church:"

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 article 28.

This truth also occurs in the Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), designed for the covenant children of that great Reformation city:

Master - Why do you subjoin forgiveness of sins to the Church?

Scholar - 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.

M. - In this way you conclude that out of the Church is nought but ruin and damnation?

S. - 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 Scotland."4

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 church discipline.

The Westminster Confession of the 1640s, on behalf of Presbyterianism in the British Isles, declared,

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 salvation (25:2).

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 Confession 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 world.

Martin Luther

Moving from the Reformed confessions, we begin with Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther's Large Catechism was, of course, written by Martin Luther himself.

In a 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 corpus."9

John Calvin

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.

Engelsma 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 extensively.10

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 Reformer's words,

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 the sacraments.16

Balke concludes, "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 placed it.'"17

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 assertion:"

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 devils.18

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 commentaries:

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

Wallace proves his point with three citations from Calvin's commentaries:

"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 Isa. 33:24].

"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. 45:14].21

Wallace continues his exposition of Calvin's teaching:

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 commentaries:

"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 Heb. 10:25].

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 Church."31

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 world?

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 Saviour.36

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 contrary.

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 such.39

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 others hypocrites.41

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

Caspar Olevianus (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, Ursinus:

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 2:47.43

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

German-Dutch theologian, 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

Nineteenth-century Dutch 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 21.50

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 membership:

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 visible church.

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.

Extremely significant 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 language.55

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

John Philips

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 faith alone.

Philips (or 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 author's reasoning:

  1. That salvation is only in the Church [the main thesis of the book]
  2. What the Church is [in which alone salvation is found]
  3. By what means men are added to the Church [in which alone salvation is found]
  4. The Author, or Efficient of this addition [to the church in which alone salvation is found]
  5. The time and continuance of that work [of adding men to the church in which alone salvation is found]
  6. 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 [1] to a house; [2] to a city, [3] to a mother, [4] to a vine."67

After 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

Then Philips 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

This opening 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

Next, Philips 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

After his 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 it.75

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

Philips is 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 Thirty-Nine Articles.77

Thus the English Puritan expressly states,

… the roadway [to heaven] is to be joined with some visible orthodox congregation.

Such therefore as desire salvation, must join themselves to the visible Church.

The visible 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

Presbyterian Tradition

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 body.79a

Oxford-educated English 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 (1640).80

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?
No; Acts 2:47.

Well 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?

By what 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 church:

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 proved:
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 explains further:

[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

Nineteenth-century 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 Confession 25:2:

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 salvation' (25.2)."86

Pribble has this to say on the word "ordinary:"

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 discipline:

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 America writes,

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 discipline.93

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 heretical sects.94

"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 Calvin,

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 heaven.94a

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 Reformed.95


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 them,96 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. Kelly.97

Keith Mathison summarizes well the historic Reformation teaching (over against the weak view of modern evangelicalism):

Unlike 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 "antichrist" (25:6)?

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 Confession 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 differences.

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, Riddlebarger and 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 antithetical:

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).

A 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.

The 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.

The 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 1562):

264 Q. What is the ministry of the church?
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 church?
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 covenant.

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 must."

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 informed mind.103 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!

Then 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 [1] the apostles’ doctrine and [2] fellowship, and in [3] breaking of bread, and in [4] prayers" (v. 42). Also [5] they supported each other materially (vv. 44-45). Verse 47 continues, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."

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.

But 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 by others?

In 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 church!


4) "But That’s an Attack on Marriage and the Family!"

A 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 Bearer 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!

Let 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).

How 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 (Matt. 10:37).

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 rightly adds, "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. 83).

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


(5) "But 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 faith.109

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

Eire continues,

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; Luke 19:21).

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).

Engelsma acknowledges—as 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 Kings 22:19).

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 or building a home near such a congregation? Prominent Westminster divine and leading seventeenth-century Puritan, William Gouge, in his Of Domesticall Duties (1622), urges this duty out of love for the spiritual prosperity of one's wife:

Now there are many houses of God, places for the public worship of God, but yet through the corruption of our times, the ministry of the word [the most principal means of spiritual edification] is not everywhere to be enjoyed: therefore such ought a husband's care for his wife in this respect to be, as to dwell where she may have the benefit of preaching the word, or else so to provide for her, as she may weekly go where it may be had. If men of wisdom and ability make a purchase, or build a house for their habitation, they will be sure it shall be where sweet rivers and waters are, and good pasture ground, and where all needful provision may be had. God's word preached is a spring of water of life; the place where it is preached a pleasant, profitable pasture; all needful provision for the soul may there be had. Let this therefore be most of all inquired after: and no habitation settled but where this may be had.

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

1 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).
2 J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (USA: HarperSanFrancisco, rev. 1978), p. 403.
3 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.
4 Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 2 (New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1877), pp. 468-469.
5 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.
6 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 sacraments" (V:14).
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.
9 Kurt K. Hendel, "No Salvation Outside the Church: in Light of Luther’s Dialectic of the Hidden and Revealed God." This article was originally published in Currents in Theology and Mission, vol. 35, no. 4 (August, 2008), pp. 248-257.
10 John Calvin, Come Out From Among Them: ‘Anti-Nicodemite’ Writings of John Calvin, trans. Seth Skolnitsky (Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 2001).
11 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."
12 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.
22 Wallace, Calvin's Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament, p. 236.
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.
36 Quoted in Nicolaas H. Gootjes, The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker, 2007), p. 85.
37 Gootjes, The Belgic Confession, p. 72.
38 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.
43 Quoted in Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, rev. and ed. Ernst Bizer, trans. G. T. Thompson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1978), p. 671.
44 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.
45 Quoted in Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 671.
46 Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 671.
47 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).
48 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, 258.
52 Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, pp. 255-256; italics mine.
53 Hoeksema, Triple Knowledge, p. 257; italics mine.
54 R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner, 1967), pp. 111-112.
55 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.
59 Kim Riddlebarger, "The Yoke of Jesus Christ (A Sermon on Article Twenty-Eight of the Belgic Confession)."
60 William Boekestein, "Join or Die?: Addressing the Question of Church Membership."
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, 118-119.
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.
79 For a review of John Philips' The Way to Heaven, see Angus Stewart, "A Westminster Divine and Extra Ecclesian Nulla Salus."
79a David Laing (ed.), The Works of John Knox (Edinburgh: Banner, 2014), vol. 3, p. 103; spelling modernized and italics mine.
80 Quoted in Richard Bacon, "The Visible Church & the Outer Darkness: The Church in Extraordinary Times."
81 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), pp. 57-58.
83 Robinson, The Church of God, p. 36.
84 Hugh Martin, The Prophet Jonah (Great Britain: Banner, repr. 1966), p. 4; italics mine.
85 A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (Edinburgh: Banner, 1958), pp. 314-315.
86 Stephen Pribble, "Is Church Membership Optional?"
87 Pribble, "Is Church Membership Optional?"
88 Pribble, "Is Church Membership Optional?"
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;" p. 28).
92 Richard Bacon, "The Visible Church & the Outer Darkness: The Church in Extraordinary Times."
93 Michael J. Glodo, "Sola Ecclesia: The Lost Reformation Doctrine," Reformed Perspectives Magazine, vol. 9, no. 39 (23-29 September, 2007).
94 C. Matthew McMahon, "The Way to Heaven by John Philips (1585-1663)."
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.
96 Rare are the (faithful) Reformed churches in the last five centuries who have not subscribed to at least one of these four creeds.
97 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 Ecclesia").
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. 24).
103 One could also check out this on-line page of Resources on the Church.
104 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.
107 Bound to Join even contains some good instruction on the lifelong bond of marriage (pp. 73-74, 114-115, 122).
108 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).
109 David J. Engelsma, Unfolding Covenant History, Volume 5: Judges and Ruth (Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2005), pp. 195-196; italics mine.
110 Carlos M. N. Eire, War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 262.
111 Eire, War Against the Idols, p. 263.
112 "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).
113 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 them" ("Sola Ecclesia;" italics Glodo's; cf. Muether, "A Sixth Sola?" p. 26).
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 (Institute)."
116 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 early 2011.
117 Cf. James T. Dennison’s biographical sketch in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 3 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), pp. 639-642.
118 Cf. Angus Stewart, "Joining a True Church."
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).