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.
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?