Most churches built by men teach that membership in the church is not necessary to
salvation. Their mantra is that, "The church doesn't save" and is therefore
unnecessary to salvation. In one sense they are right. Christ is the Saviour, but
they refuse to understand that it is the church which constitutes the saved. "For
the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and
he is the saviour of the body." (Eph. 5:23). The church is that which Christ
saves and one cannot be saved outside of it. One may as well argue that Noah could
have been saved outside the ark as to say one can be saved without being in the
church. On the other hand, if their meaning is that one can be saved without being
in a denomination, they are entirely correct. Denominations are not the
church, nor a part of it and when one is saved through obedience to Christ he is not
added to a denomination by the Lord.
The general order for salvation and "church membership" among denominations is for one to "get saved" in whatever way the denomination prescribes, then "join a church." Those who so teach will say salvation is not dependent upon one being in a "church" — that one can "get saved" and go to heaven without church membership. But the apostle Paul said that the church is the "fulness" of Christ (Eph. 1:23).
"The idea that one is first saved by some mystical or mystified, unintelligible or intangible process, and afterwards 'joins some church', is a common religious delusion. Yet there is no truth more plainly emphasized in the Bible than the fact that the process of being saved is the process of entering the church (Acts 2:47). First, it is affirmed in Acts 4:12 that salvation is in Christ. Then, to have salvation, one must get into Christ. But Paul, by analogy, in Ephesians 5:30, teaches that as husband and wife are one, so Christ and the church are one. 'I speak concerning Christ and the church,' he said. Christ and the church being one, how can one be in Christ and out of the church? Second, Paul makes the fact that Christ is 'the Saviour of the body,' (Eph. 5:23) the ground of his exhortation to the Ephesians concerning the church as the bride of Christ (verse 25). He washed it and sanctified it; cleansed it and saved it; purchased it with His blood and redeemed it; reconciles us to God in it and adds all the saved to it. Therefore, out of the church there is no cleansing, no blood, no redemption, no reconciliation to God, no salvation. Third, the relation between Christ and the church is the same as that which exists between God and Christ. Christ is the 'fulness' of God (Col. 1:9), and the church is the 'fulness' of Christ (Eph. 1:23). Therefore, no man can come to Christ and ignore the church for the same reason that no man can come to God and ignore Christ" (Wallace, Foy E., Jr., "Christ And The Church," The Present Truth, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Publications, Ft. Worth, 1977, pp. 26-27).
Denominational thinking can be illustrated by drawing two circles, one inside the other. According to denominational doctrine, the outer circle represents salvation in Christ. Having entered that circle, man must then enter the inner circle which represents the church. But Paul said the church is the fulness of Christ. One cannot be saved in Christ without being saved in the church of Christ. The Bible knows only one circle and to be saved is to be in the body of Christ, for it is His fulness.