[This is the second part of a four part series from Mike Horton on some of the misunderstandings that are prevalent within American evangelicalism about the “nature, marks, and mission of the church.” Part one can be found here.]
Misunderstanding #2: “Getting saved” doesn’t mean “joining a church”
Although evangelicals are used to hearing this contrast between a personal relationship with Christ and joining a church, it has no basis in the New Testament and in fact runs counter to specific examples. From the day of Pentecost itself, “What must I do to be saved?” is answered in the Book of Acts by the call to repent and believe the gospel and to be baptized. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Public profession of faith is essential (Romans 10:10). We have no access to hearts and surely there are instances (like the thief on the cross) where baptism and formal church membership are impossible. However, it is a public profession of faith, not merely a private testimony of a personal relationship with Christ, that is required. Not all who are outwardly members of the visible church are inwardly united to Christ. This has been true in Old and New Testaments, as Paul reminds us especially in chapters 2 and 9 of Romans. The body of elders who examine such professions is no more competent to judge hearts than the rest of us, but a credible public profession means that we cannot exercise vigilante judgments about the state of fellow members.
The apostles addressed concrete churches in specific locales and not only their leadership but the whole fellowship of communicant members. Paul addresses the Corinthian church as those “who are called to be saints,” and on the basis of their visible membership calls them to discipline their worship and their erring members. Believers are called to submit themselves to the spiritual leadership of pastors and elders whom God has placed over them (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17). This is not “Churchianity.” It’s Christianity.