Outside of it there is no salvation - Dr. K. Schilder

Clarion Vol. 38, No.15

Translated by Dr. R. Koat

The first part of Dr. K. Schilder's article on "Outside the church there is no salvation"' is concluded with the summary observation that a person has to preserve the unity of the church by joining himself to the true church. "This issue", he says, 'Is dealt with in article 28 of the Belgic Confession of Faith. There is no way of getting around this issue: it is that church, it is said, outside of which there is no salvation at all. [italics by K. S.] "How could that be the so-called invisible church? How can one join what is invisible in essence? The more so as we read, further on, that this church is upholding the doctrine and is administering discipline. One has never yet listened to a sermon from the invisible church and neither has the invisible church ever dispatched an excommunication bull to somebody's home. Here one is faced with the problem again. But he is certain about one thing: he must know what article 28 states in its few sentences."

At this juncture K. Schilder begins the second part of his exposition on "Outside the church there is no salvation." He writes: To understand the true intent of this well-known expression of article 28, we must first backtrack to article 27.

One of the most important clues that help us understand this brief sentence and that guides us back to article 27 is the expression in article 28 that "this holy congregation (= coetus) is an assembly of [1]'servandi'."[2] The Belgic Confession states here: "an assembly of those who are saved." But the proper translation would read: "of those who must be saved"; "of those who are destined for salvation" or "of the candidates-for-salvation ".

This throws us right into the middle of the question. This interpretation shows us the church-gathering as God's work that is still ongoing and which only ends on the final day. According to His unchangeable purpose, God has chosen for Himself the elect for eternal life. To execute His decree He concentrates His power throughout the ages to have His call go forth through the Gospel, to have the Spirit unite Himself to the Word, so that successively all those who must be saved are really congregating because He brings them together.

This kind of work is, therefore, happening in the present progressive tense. Only a fool would now suspect "Barthian" tendencies in this brief sentence. That Church is, indeed, "universal" (article 27); that is to say: God's action through which He draws unto Himself all His "servandi", is spread out over all the ages and is dispersed over all location, taking into account - of course - the different dispensations of the covenant.

That is why article 27 is able to say that this church-gathering work of God, throughout all the ages to the end of history, is bringing together ALL believers. [capitals by K.S.] Don't raise objections now by saying that, surely, there are many who are for some time foregoing all church assemblies here on earth, or those who are erring or are getting lost in all kinds of sects, or even those who are being held in the grip of the false church.

Because when they die God calls them home, does He not? If harlots and publicans can go into the kingdom before others, then also those people who have lived in a strained relationship with the norms of the fourth commandment could go in ahead of others. Far from it that the church-gathering work should have nothing to do with the earth and the temporal society here below; on the other hand, it doesn't end up in them either. The Heidelberg Catechism says that those who believe shall immediately, after this life, be taken up to Christ their Head. (L. D. 22) Isn't this, too, church-gathering work? The deathbeds of God's children, also those of the "naughty" children (allow me to use this peculiar expression) are infallible, divine church-gathering activities. In one single moment everything comes right, even the matter of church membership [3] Before their deaths, the deceased may have resisted frequently and annoyingly, having been led astray by a tremendous lot of misunderstanding and sinful doctrine, yet their participation in and their relationship to God's universal church-building work was here below (like of everything else) merely a small beginning of the obedience that is still required. Yet, they are arriving home: God keeps an eye on His "servandi" and brings them to that large crowd, delivered - here above - from error and sin.

Indeed, they have been "sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit" (article 27). The method applied can vary a great deal, but the sanctifying and the sealing (that is: keeping them from ultimately falling away from God's church-gathering work) will continue for certain.

You have noticed that everything is as simple as it is miraculous. And I don't believe that there will be any among our readers who at this point still has trouble with the words that outside this gathering work (that is still under way) there is no salvation, no salvation at all.

So - the invisible church after all?

Not by any means - because now comes the - application- after our discovering this fact of God's action. BECAUSE God is acting in this manner, we have, therefore to do our part. Article 28 says: Because God infallibly gathers together into one body, THEREFORE must we as His subjects also start doing this. Infallibly we can't accomplish this, and we are daily making mistakes. Yet, we possess the revealed NORMS to which WE are bound in our churchgathering work. It is here that the next article (29) speaks about the MARKS (distinguishing characteristics) of the true and the false church. If the assembly of believers were a matter of their approval, of their taste, according to their preferences or "spiritual leanings", well, then the lid would be off! But since it is God's work, because He has said: there is no salvation at all outside My congregation, THAT IS WHY you must do your utmost to banish (also with regard to your own contribution in the church-gathering work) all wilfulness and highhandedness. Do you happen to be an Excellency, and your Excellency finds it barely so-so to join yourself to that 'bunch' which - oh well - is faithfully assembling according to the norm, but really isn't "worth writing home about"? Maybe so; but nobody whatever his rank or dignity - may withdraw himself from the assembly which is taking place according to the norm, and thus continue being separate and contented with himself. This is what article 28 says. All are equally (pariter) bound to join themselves to that assembly which is faithful to the norms, and to let themselves be united with it. Now, all of them on their part will have to preserve the unity of the church, which does EXIST AS FACT (article 27), by means of and through their action here on earth, whether in the village or in the town where they have been placed by God. All will have to accept, in submission, the doctrine and the discipline of the church according to the revealed norms. And all will have to join in edifying (building up) the brothers, and do this in accordance with the gifts entrusted to them. Woe betide the brainy chap who is loafing around in this area, or is following his whims.

This is, therefore, a far cry from asserting that in the church (that we ourselves belong to) the "servandi" have been infallibly brought together locally either by us or by the church community as successful conveners-underGod; and that it was done in such a way that we (so far) managed to be successful and daily keep on being successful. The truth is that, in the first place, we are not infallible; time and again we make mistakes. And those "servandi", in turn, are daily committing a lot of sins -just like us - also with regard to their own church-gathering work. Just like us they, too, are afflicted with a host of sins: obstinancy, sloth, imprudence; in short: by no means do they all let themselves be gathered according to the revealed norms.

But it's an equally far cry from having us say: look here, we don't succeed anyway, and the others don't want to do everything they're supposed to either; besides, also the harlots and the publicans can get into heaven, so ... just let this church-gathering business remain secondary, as long as you love Christ This reasoning is precisely as ungodly as practising antinomianism which says: you don't make the grade in the matter of sanctification anyway, and the church will never succeed in formulating a rendition of God's norms, so let us leave the matter of sanctification for what it is, as long as you love Jesus. The sanctification should also be evidenced in the gathering work of the church (with fear and trembling) in faithful subjection to the (revealed) norms. Because precisely here lies the proof of this love for "Jesus": He is the Christ! BECAUSE God "succeeds", we (as His subjects) must make it our aim to succeed as well. Since outside His churchgathering work (already under way here on earth) there is no salvation at all, that is why God's word is ringing in our ears, also regarding that church-gathering work: for the sake of your life, hurry!

[1] <RETURN> K. Schilder, De Kerk, Vol. Ill, Goes, 1965, pp. 248251. An attempt has been made to reproduce the stylistic effect of Schilder's use of capitals and italics for emphasis.

[2] <RETURN>Schilder writes here: "dat deze heilige bijeenkomst (coetus) en vergadering (congregatie) een bijeenkomst is van "servandi". In Schriftoverdenkingen 11, (p.369) he calls coetus the voluntary assembly, whereas congregation is to be seen as a multitude brought together by its supreme Shepherd.

[3] <RETURN> The original expression reads: "ook het gaan wonen onder het kerkdak". A literal translation might cause some misunderstanding: 'Starting to live under the roof of the church included."