Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – Outside the Church there is no Salvation

July 29, 2009

The Latin phrase Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus means: “Outside the Church there is no salvation“. This expression comes from the writings of Saint Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop of the third century. The axiom is often used as short-hand for the doctrine, upheld by both the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, that the Church is absolutely necessary for salvation (cf. “one true faith“). The theological basis for this doctrine is founded on the beliefs that (1) Jesus Christ personally established the one Church; and (2) the Church serves as the means by which the graces won by Christ are communicated to believers.

sourch: wikipedia – Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one for whom this sounds somewhat strange.

  • Firstly, any New Testament scholar, and many critical readers of the New Testament, will tell you that Jesus did not personally establish the church. He did not start a new faith either.
  • Secondly, the idea that the church serve as the means by which grace is won obviously won’t hold ground if the first foundation doesn’t hold ground.
  • However, to be honest, most of us probably had to change our minds because we had friends who simply don’t attend church. These doctrines won’t hold in a post-Christondom environment, because the concept of “church” and it’s place in society has changed completely.

The environment within which these doctrines developed worked with this structure:





King and Nobles




Animals, Plants, and Objects

But this has changed. Or so we would think.

Andrew Root has done a brilliant study on how we made the relationships of relational youth minitry an end to a means, the end being getting kids into heaven. But getting kids into heaven doesn’t even seem enough of an end anymore. We gotta get them into church. So even though we talk about missional churches all the time, we structure entire youth ministries around getting kids into church. Yeah, they do short-term outreaches and community projects, but in the end we add these to a growing list of “church-stuff” that our kids have done.

If our entire youth ministry goes about to get the next generation into church, aren’t we then still holding to “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus”? If we measure our success against how many kids we got to church how frequently, what is the theological presupposition underlying that?


2 Responses to “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – Outside the Church there is no Salvation”

  1. Michael Says:

    I know that you know this, but I can’t resist pointing out that “Being Church” is more desirable than going to church. In my own experience of youth ministry, the shift in emphasis has not been from “getting them into heaven” to “getting them into church” but from “getting them into church” to “getting them to BE Church”. This has resulted in smaller ministries but better relationships and more vulnerability and “realness” in meetings.

    In a sense then, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” holds: although as you say, Jesus never instituted a new organization or religion, He did come to end religion (referring to rites or structures as a means of relating to God) and establish His Sacrifice and His Spirit as the only means of access to the Father. If living in His Grace, following His Spirit and being transformed into His likeness day by day means “Being Church”, then I think perhaps, “there is no salvation outside of [being] the Church”.

    But perhaps that is an oversimplification.

  2. iacovos Says:

    To say there is no salvation outside the church is simply to say that there is no salvation outside of Christ. Christianity is not a religion, it is a life, the life of the God-man Jesus Christ. To be saved, we must die to ourselves and let Christ live and reign in our hearts, we must offer our bodies as living sacrifices in union with his sacrifice, we must become partakers of his Body and Blood, we must put on Chirst. We do this in his Body, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Check out these articles:


    Click to access Saint-Hilarion-Holy-Scripture-and-the-Church.pdf

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