Beginning with Augustine but continuing with Luther, Calvin, The Scots Confession, and the Second Helvietic Confession, the church, both Protestant and Catholic, has declared that there is “no salvation outside the church.” The Westminster Confession is a little more cautious by saying that outside the church “there is no ordinary possibioity of salvation.” Does such an assertion sound arrogant and triumphalistic in our time.
If the polls are correct, there are millions of people who claim identity as Christians but do not see any necessity to belong to a church. Even the majority of members of churches, while finding the church helpful to their own personal faith, do not agree that the church is necessary for salvation. The church is being challenged by people to answer some very serious theological questions. Can we support the historic claim that God established the church as the instrument of our salvation? Even if God once chose the church as an instrument of our salvation, do we now have to conclude that this divine experiment was a failure?
Some streams of thought in historic Christian faith concluded that Israel had failed to be obedient to God’s gracious choice and so God replaced them with the Christian community. This is known as supersessionism. While I do not agree with this understanding of how God works, the logic of such thinking would suggest that if God made one such mistake, it may be only one of series of such mistakes. This is the path of thinking that led Joseph Smith to found The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or Mormons. The logic of such thinking not only places the church in question but also challenges the omniscience of God. Yet if that is not true, how does one understand the means by which God intends to effect the salvation of the world through the church?