Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus - Protestant Interpretation of The Dogma

Protestant Interpretation of The Dogma

See also: Solus Christus

The Latin phrase's antiquity has assured its continuance even within the Protestant tradition. Martin Luther, the foremost leader of the reformation, spoke of the necessity of belonging to the church (albeit in the sense of perceived "company of believing people" in Protestantism, not the Roman Catholic Church) in order to be saved:

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.

The Genevan reformer John Calvin, writing his Institutes of the Christian Religion at the very time of the Reformation, wrote therein "beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for". Calvin wrote also that "those to whom he is a Father, the Church must also be a mother," echoing the words of the originator of the Latin phrase himself, Cyprian: "He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother."

The mother of Philip Melanchthon had followed her son in the Protestant Reformation. Dying, she adjured him to tell her unreservedly in which faith she should die. He answered: "My mother, the new faith is the most convenient; the other is most secure."

The idea is further affirmed in the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 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." Despite this, it is not necessarily a commonly held belief within modern Protestantism, especially Evangelicalism and those denominations which believe in the autonomy of the local church. The dogma is related to the universal Protestant dogma that the church is the body of all believers and debates within Protestantism usually centre on the meaning of "church" (ecclesiam) and "apart" (extra).

See Sola Ecclesia for a Calvinist exposition of extra ecclesiam nulla salus.

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