Paul's Passing Thoughts

Does Protestantism Require Church Membership for Salvation?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on April 30, 2015

PPT HandleIt most certainly does, but the reason church membership is required by the Protestant faith is far more scandalous than that one symptom. We will start with the core gospel of the Protestant religion, and then see how required membership in the local church is efficacious to its gospel.

How “Christians” that are far removed from the original Protestant tradition function is no defense for its official Reformed gospel. Protestants can’t have it both ways though they try. They excuse what Luther and Calvin taught because not all Protestants function by every jot and tittle. But on the other hand, they deem other religions as false based on their original statement of faith. Obviously, no Protestant will give a Buddhist a pass for one second because, “Not all Buddhists believe the exact same things that Buddha believed.”

By and large, the problem is that most Protestants really don’t know what the Protestant gospel is, and when they are confronted, they choose to defend their investment in it for whatever reason. At least one reason follows: investing in the truth is hard work. Protestantism, like many other religions, propagates the farming-out of their faith to the experts. Of course, that is very ill advised.

First, we will look at a summary of the Protestant gospel, and then establish the summary with specific citations. The core principle is progressive justification. This is the idea that salvation is a process and not a onetime passing from death to life. This fact about Protestantism surprises many Protestants. Many tout “once saved always saved,” but that’s not what the Reformers taught at all. They taught that the justified state was a progression from definitive justification to final justification, and the process in the middle is subjective justification. The process in the middle is really progressive justification, but many Reformed scholars deny that in the face of insurmountable evidence. In fact, the title of chapter 14 in book 3 of the Calvin Institutes is, “The Beginning of Justification. In What Sense Progressive.” In other words, justification is present continuance; it’s not a onetime finished event.

As we will see, the institutional church established by the church at Rome circa 4th century is deemed as God’s institution that oversees the progression of justification for God’s people. Unless you are a member of a local church, your salvation cannot progress from point A to point B. Remember, the Reformation did not really seek to replace the “Mother Church,” but rather sought to reform it. Luther, Calvin, nor their mentor St. Augustine ever officially left the Catholic Church. Luther and Calvin had a dying devotion to Augustine until the end who is an official Doctor of Grace in the Catholic Church until this day.

Foundational to Protestantism is the idea that Christ’s death served two purposes for sin: an unconditional forgiveness of past sin, and a conditional forgiveness for “present sin” and future sin. The condition for receiving forgiveness for “present” and future sin was membership in the local church signified and confirmed by water baptism. They didn’t teach baptismal regeneration directly, but taught that forgiveness of present and future sin can only be received in the church, and only water baptism made someone a true member of the church:

“Wherefore, our initiation into the fellowship of the church is, by the symbol of ablution, to teach us that we have no admission into the family of God, unless by his goodness our impurities are previously washed away” (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.20).

“Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them” (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.21).

“To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ; but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers” (The Calvin Institutes: 4.1.22).

“Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place” (Ibid).

“…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God” (John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4).

“. . . forgiveness of sins is not a matter of a passing work or action, but comes from baptism which is of perpetual duration, until we arise from the dead” (Luther’s Works: American ed.; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia, 1955, vol. 34, p. 163).

“. . . Forgiveness of sins is not a matter of a passing work or action, but of perpetual duration. For the forgiveness of sins begins in baptism and remains with us all the way to death, until we arise from the dead, and leads us into life eternal. So we live continually under the remission of sins. Christ. is truly and constantly the liberator from our sins, is called our Savior, and saves us by taking away our sins. If, however, he saves us always and continually, then we are constantly sinners” (Ibid, p.164).

“For the forgiveness of sins is a continuing divine work, until we die. Sin does not cease. Accordingly, Christ saves us perpetually” (Ibid., p.190).

“Daily we sin, daily we are continually justified, just as a doctor is forced to heal sickness day by day until it is cured” (Ibid., p.191).

Hence, notice that there is no distinction made between sins committed as unbelievers and sins committed as believers. Sin is sin and needs a perpetual forgiveness in order for the “believer” to remain justified. The only difference is unconditional forgiveness (sin committed as an unbeliever) and conditional forgiveness, i.e., you can only receive forgiveness as a member of the local church.

Also note the shocking assertion, usually attributed to Catholic priests, that pastors/elders have the authority to grant forgiveness for present and future sin.