Does Church Membership Represent Being in Noah’s Ark?

Going back to at least Tertullian in the late second century there have been many who have taught that church membership is, as a general rule at least, necessary for salvation in the same way that being in Noah’s Ark was necessary for being saved by God’s judgment from the flood in Noah’s time.  They obviously mean that Noah’s Ark represents the visible church.  It is no wonder that one of the most well known people to have taught this is the Roman Catholic theologian Augustine.  Augustine taught that there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church.  When he, like Thomas Aquinas and many others, spoke of the Ark representing the church, they definitely meant the Roman Catholic Church.  Others however who teach that the Ark represents the Christian church speak of the church in reference to another particular church or group of churches.  Others who teach that the Ark represents the church would clarify and say “A Biblical Church” or something along those lines without referencing a certain denomination.  Others who teach this might say “the church” in a really, really general sense or they might even say “a church.”  What they even mean by that is vague and unclear, yet that’s what some say.  

If being in Noah’s Ark represented church membership, it would have to represent membership in a group which God considered acceptable to Him.  We see in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 how God threatened to remove the candlestick from churches that didn’t root out the sin and false doctrine in them.  Being part of a church which doesn’t have a candlestick in God’s estimation couldn’t profit anyone anyways.  Yet it could very well damn someone by the dark associations involved therein.  There was corruption setting into the churches the Apostles had founded before the Biblical Canon even closed.  Many of these churches were in danger of losing their candlestick even then.  Some people actually claim that people weren’t commanded to leave those churches that had sin in them.  But if you read the Revelation chapters 2 and 3 it is obvious that Jesus Himself was going to remove the candlestick of the churches He rebuked if they did not receive His correction.  It is implied then that if the candlestick is gone, the one who would be faithful to Christ must leave the church as well.

Why should we blindly accept any church as Apostolic now?  Why should we join a church which we can clearly see has deviated from the instructions and principles of Scripture?  We shouldn’t.  We should rather flee from such a church so we are not condemned for partaking in its corruption and so we can find a group which does represent Christ faithfully.  That is, a church which is at least diligently striving to represent Christ faithfully and is willing to adjust as it receives a better understanding of light from the Bible.  Yet with many churches it is plain this isn’t going to happen.  You can waste your time trying to change it from within, you can lay down and bear with its man-made traditions and its sins in general, you can leave and give up on church altogether, or you can leave and do your best to find better or at least do better somehow.  

But does being in Noah’s Ark even represent church membership at all?  I believe it can be demonstrated that the answer to that question in general is no- yet it is a no which must be clarified and expanded upon.  People will still go to hell for forsaking Christian fellowship (see Hebrews 10:25), but not specifically because they were not part of a certain visible church.  There are other issues in the picture here.

Here are some Biblical thoughts:

Consider Noah himself.  

Genesis 6:5-9: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. 7 And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. 9 These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.”

Was Noah part of a church at this point?  Not by the definition of many people, including most of the people who have taught that church membership represents being in Noah’s Ark.  There can be no doubt that Noah had worship among his own family (Noah had a family; some don’t).  I don’t see any reason to doubt that others would have been welcome to join as well if they were willing to separate themselves from the corruption of the world (God’s moral law is everlasting and has always been written on every man’s heart) and do whatever was known that God had ceremonially prescribed for worship by this time.  

2 Peter 2:5: “And (referring to God) spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly”

We just have to look at Cain and Abel several generations before to know that God had made some ceremonial requirements known to man at this time.  We also know from Cain how man was especially defying God morally and even defying His authority by altering the ceremonial requirements.  There was obviously exceedingly great moral corruption, even in those who professed to worship God.  Consider how many religious gatherings filled with idolatry, foolish man-made traditions, and other sins must have been going on right around Noah.  

Genesis 6:10-12: “And Noah begat three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.  12 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.”

Do you think that Noah wasn’t told that he needed “to get himself and his family into fellowship?”  Do you think that there were not wicked religious leaders who thought they knew better than Noah who also disdained his righteous preaching?  Do you think that there were not many bothered that their group wasn’t good enough for Noah?  I can picture them saying about Noah “he thinks he’s too good for us”-right as murderers, robbers, and harlots read from the Book of Cain during their (the corrupt church’s) worship service.  There may have even been more conservative groups which didn’t allow murderers, robbers, and harlots but for some strange reason still supported a movement to recover Cain’s descendants from the Land of Nod so they’d have a safe place to dwell (and this movement of course at its roots, when really examined still promoted theft, murder, and many other sins- see our message on Cain’s Sentence to the Land of Nod for more, especially if you can’t see how this relates to the Zionism prevalent among Evangelicals now).  

These groups may also have believed a Prosperity Gospel and told Noah that his Ark building couldn’t be of God because of all the time, effort, and especially financial expenses involved in building it.  This would have offended them and destroyed any possibility that they’d ever worship with Noah and any possibility that they would ever believe his preaching about the coming flood and enter his Ark when he told them to enter it.  

Anyone who believes that mankind is not significantly different now than mankind was then is a fool.  Noah and his family worshiped alone.  Noah preached righteousness in the context of the coming all-consuming flood.  There were many different forms of false piety which people used to oppose him and excuse themselves for not heeding him.  

Do you think there weren’t people telling Noah “God is love” in the context of using this as an excuse to not forsake their sins, be obedient to the true God, and flee from the wrath to come.  They eventually found out the hard way that God’s love does not mean that He allows rebellion against His righteous authority.  He rather, in time, puts the hammer of His holy wrath down unbearably on those who sin against Him.  His love is rather seen in the escape which He provides for those who will choose to fear Him by turning from their sins and welcoming His righteous authority over them with their whole hearts.  

That brings us to what the Ark which Noah built really represents and what being on the Ark in principle must represent in our lives if we are to partake in the escape from God’s wrath which Noah’s Ark represents.

Note that the Ark is what saved Noah and his family.  The congregation on the Ark was not the Ark.  The Ark was prepared by a faithful man who spent himself for its construction.  Jesus Christ spent Himself to prepare a way for us to be redeemed to God and safe on the day of His wrath.  He died for us as the perfect Lamb of God to make a way into God’s grace for us.  He applies His blood and pours out His Spirit to cleanse and sanctify (that is, set apart as holy) those who come to the Father through Him.  Therefore, it is obvious that both Noah himself and the Ark which Noah built are types and foreshadows of Jesus Christ.  

At this point the “Church is the Ark” people are likely to say something about how Christ’s grace is given in the context of some visible entity which they call a church.  By church, they might even mean a building or they might not even be consistent about what they mean.  A pastor whose church I was once in, but have since left, never directly taught that the church is a building itself (to my knowledge- I would never have been at his church to begin with if he had been teaching such a thing to my knowledge before I was at his church), yet later on, around the time that I left his church, when he was constructing a building to meet in (the church had been meeting in an extension of his home while I was there and for many years prior to that), he put a picture on his church’s website with the caption “Building an Ark for my generation.”  That is foolish and utterly inconsistent.  He basically, implicitly said by the caption that this building is the means of salvation now.  

Even someone less illogical and inconsistent who believes this “The Church is the Ark” doctrine will still call their organized gathering or their particular church institution “The Ark.”  Yet this logically implies a violation of 1 Timothy 2:5 where Jesus Christ is called the one mediator between God and man.  Aside from the blatant violation of this monumental Biblical principle, the burden of proof is upon them to demonstrate that Christ’s grace is in the hands of their particular church.  And I recommend you hear them out on that if you want to hear a prime example of presumption and blasphemy in a package.  

They may point to 1 Peter chapter 3.  And that is where I’ll go too.  It is where I’d go now anyways.  

1 Peter 3:15-22:  “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16 Having a good conscience (that may cleanse your hands and purify your heart so that God has nothing against you and so that people have nothing righteously against yousee also 2 Peter 3:10-14 to back this up); that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation (conduct) in Christ. 17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. 18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh (the body), but quickened (made alive) by the (Holy)Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison (consider with verse 22- He preached victory over them) 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”

It is exercising a living faith in Christ in doing what it takes to have a good conscience towards God that is our ticket on to the Ark (which is the same as saying our ticket to partaking in Jesus Christ and His saving grace). As in Noah’s time, the people exercising faith in the living God with a good conscience before Him are the true church.  To do this they must necessarily reject congregations corrupted by idolatry, man-made religious traditions, and other sins. 

The corrupted churches are not the answer.  It is these very churches which have been known to teach the doctrine that the church (their church) is the Ark.  It may be an ark, but it is not the thing which Noah’s Ark represents which will actually keep one safe on the day of wrath.

Proverbs 11:4: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.”

Revelation 18:4-5: “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. 5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”

Luke 6:46-49 (if we’re going to apply things spoken to individuals to churches as well, then you especially can’t neglect the obvious that a church might be built on sand just like an individual life can be).  “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? 47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: 48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. 49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.”

Earlier in the same chapter, we read in Luke 6:39: “And he spoke a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind?  shall they not both fall into the ditch?”

Continuing where we left off before at the end of 1 Peter chapter 3 (remember that there are no chapter breaks in the original text), Peter thus continues in Peter 4:1-2: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; 2 That he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.”

In order to have a good conscience before God.  

Consider that those on the Ark were of the same family.  You may not know of anyone doing this whom you can reasonably gather with.  However, many compromise truth and they sin because they choose not to suffer spiritual isolation and/or they want to defend the church they’re comfortable in and/or they want to preserve their church without the genuine righteous, cross-carrying living which is required to do church according to God’s ways.  They lie to cover up scandal or other pathetic realities in their church rather than acknowledge them and do what it takes to root them out.  They want to justify the unrighteous and unholy norm in their church rather than confront it with the heart-piercing sword of God’s Word.  They have things they are holding onto, and limits in their own mind regarding the extent they will actually go to, to follow the truth and suffer for righteousness themselves.  Therefore, they are shackled concerning righteousness, their conscience is defiled, and they are not on the Ark in their church membership anymore than those who are likewise defiled and shackled from righteousness which are not members of the particular church which they consider to represent Noah’s Ark now.    This refusal to carry the cross and suffer for righteousness is sometimes even very much related to their pursuit of their own chosen vision of a church and their defense of what they have built, or been involved in building, in relation to that vision hitherto.

2 Timothy 2:16-22 says: “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17 And their word will eat as doth a canker (a gangrene): of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity. 20 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. 21 If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

This was said in the first century AD, a time when churches founded by the Apostles abounded throughout the regions in which the Apostolic letters originally circulated.  The “Church is the Ark” people love to talk about how the Apostolic epistles were written to churches- yet they don’t want their lives and churches to be scrutinized and adjusted according to the same epistles.  As I was researching this topic, I found a rather long sermon by one guy assertively claiming that the church is the ark.  Not only did he not specify which church or churches are supposedly the ark, but his wife (whom there is a picture of on his website) is also his co-pastor (an obvious violation of the instruction of the Apostles) and she wears more make-up than many prostitutes wear.

Properly receiving Christ with a good conscience, the thing which being on the Ark truly represents, must involve fleeing youthful lusts and following righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  That necessarily means making sure that we are proper companionship for those who do this to join in their pursuit.  

2 Peter 1:3-4: “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

No one who hasn’t made this escape should even bother with church membership at all.  Yet many churches gladly receive those who evidently haven’t made this escape or have perhaps gone back after making it.  Their leaders themselves especially have not made this escape.  They rather use church as a means for their own gain like the Levite in Judges chapters 17 and 18 who hired himself out to the highest bidder.  He was seeking a place in life and a stable income- just like many who are paid pastors now.  He got what he was looking for by accommodating double-minded men, men who wanted the gain of unrighteousness and the blessing of God too, in their corrupt religious pursuits.  That describes so much of what is church now.  Is it highly deceitful and misrepresentative of Christ to equate such gain with authentic Christianity?  Yes.  And those who teach such, knowing full well what they are doing, while praising Jesus with their lips and cloaking their covetousness in spiritual talk, are among the most morally corrupt and hardhearted people that have ever existed.

Noah walked before God, separated from the corruption abounding around him, and he kept God’s instructions faithfully.  That was very hard and costly in many ways.  To equate this with membership in a church is an easy out for the genuine faith which actually saved Noah and those who followed him on the day of God’s wrath.  

Don’t ever be part of any church assembly because you don’t want to look bad before others over not being part of a church or because you want to release some superstitious pressure you have allowed to be put on yourself.  In that case, to even be part of a faithful church is a dead work.  Your hypocrisy would actually be worse if the church you joined for such reasons actually was something God considered a faithful church.  You would be a corrupting influence on a pure church by joining it in that case because you wanted to look better before others (it doesn’t matter who they are) or because you joined primarily to appease superstitious scruples in you which you ought not to have.

Understand that failed church meetings, disappointments in many ways (including regarding Christian fellowship), betrayals, controversy, and messy situations are the types of things which those who would be faithful to the Lord, and remain faithful, have to face and have to navigate through in the Lord.  If you say “I don’t want to get hurt” or “I don’t want to be inconvenienced” or “I don’t want to invest myself in something which might very well fail” then you simply can’t be a faithful Christian.  It can actually be for similar reasons that people go to compromised churches- especially very impersonal and/or ritualistic churches.  Like those who want to say they’re Christians yet are set upon having nothing to do with Christian fellowship, these are also governed by things along the lines of (perceived) predictability, comfort, and keeping their own chosen status quo intact.  

Genesis 6:13-22: “And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. 14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch. 15 And this is the fashion which thou shalt make it of: The length of the ark shall be three hundred cubits, the breadth of it fifty cubits, and the height of it thirty cubits. 16 A window shalt thou make to the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above; and the door of the ark shalt thou set in the side thereof; with lower, second, and third stories shalt thou make it. 17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. 18 But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons’ wives with thee. 19 And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. 20 Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. 21 And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be for food for thee, and for them. 22 Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.”

Acts 24:10-16: “Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself: 11 Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. 12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: 13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me (Paul was being falsely accused of the Jews on this occasion and he’s answering for himself before the Governor). 14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: 15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. 16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.”

Here are some more thoughts which are related to this topic.

Don’t underestimate the example of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8.  He believed in Christ with all his heart through the preaching of God’s Word.  This made him a fitting candidate for baptism.  He then got baptized in the middle of a desert.  Then, by God’s own supernatural intervention, he lost contact with the man who baptized him.  He then went back to his own country.  He had God and the Scriptures.  Was he going to be expected to do what he could to preach Christ and start a Christian church in Ethiopia?  Yes.  Yet even in the best case scenario then, it would take a considerable amount of time before that would even have a chance of becoming a very noticeable and visible thing- especially if he stayed faithful and didn’t compromise.

Those who say that the church is the Ark basically say that one’s faith in Christ must be dependent on others.  And if you really believe that lie, you are sure to compromise light and truth to fellowship with others as they compromise light and truth.  This is sure to leave you in the realm of darkness and not in the salvation which Noah’s Ark truly represents.

Don’t assume that you’re not just as desolate as the Ethiopian Eunuch was when he got back to Ethiopia just because there are a thousand churches around you.  Our circumstances may actually be more complicated given the present confusion and abounding wickedness in the realm of professing Christianity.  Don’t assume that you are just as desolate either.  Someone may have begun a faithful work near you which you should join if you become aware of it.  You may be greatly disappointed and hurt in the process of finding this and/or working towards it yourself.  Expect this.  If it happens, continuing to pursue a faithful church is part of exercising a good conscience towards God- and you must do this in order to be a partaker of God’s Covenant in Christ.

Many who say “Amen” upon hearing that some visible church is not the thing which the Ark represents will go to hell just like those whose hope is in their church will go to hell.  To avoid being in either category, do everything in your power to keep what the Bible actually instructs of Christians and thereby demonstrate to God that you want to please Him and not be His enemy.

Consider that God also called Abraham alone out of the corruption which had engulfed the world after the flood in Noah’ time.  Abraham had been among heathen idolaters.  His faithfulness involved not congregating with them.  It also involved the sacrifice of leaving his hometown and traveling a long distance to an unknown land which he was unfamiliar with and was a total stranger in.

Moses walked with God and grew in His grace without a church for 40 years in the wilderness.  Those who can’t fathom what it is to walk with God and grow in His grace without a church do not know God (though of course one could imagine walking with God and growing in His grace when that is not really so- and that could happen when one is part of a church or not).

David could not worship at the Temple when he was being hunted by Saul.  Many of the Old Testament Saints were unable to partake of God’s public worship or limited in their participation therein.  And that was even when God’s appointed public, visible worship was centralized and pinpointed. 

God indeed has a prescription, protocol, program, etc. for being fitted for His eternal kingdom and spared from His just condemnation in the lake of fire.  If someone puts their trust in a doctor, they will do what He says concerning their health.  Whether you call it adhering to his prescription or following his program, or you call it something else which essentially means the same thing, to believe the doctor you must do everything he says to the extent that you are able.  Think also of an exercise program.  Some of it doesn’t require equipment.  Yet some of it does.  To be faithful to the one who prescribed it you have to do the parts you’re able to do, make reasonable efforts to change your circumstances so you can do the rest, and not act in any way which you ought to know is counterproductive to the program.  

The true God’s program for us is that we exercise a living faith unto a good conscience before Him and therein inherit the promises of His covenant which is in the only Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Exercising a faith in the living God with a good conscience was the very ticket of Noah and those in his family on to the Ark.  

Aaron’s email is: [email protected]