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The Ark of Safety: Is There Salvation Outside of the Church?

By Ryan M McGraw
January 2019 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-60178-526-8
  • Pages: 132
  • Price: £7.99
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Tucked away in Chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) is a reference to ‘the visible Church… out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation’. To lovers of Protestant theology, this statement may sound a little, well, Roman Catholic. However, The Ark of Safety demonstrates persuasively that, when understood correctly, it is true and biblical. Ryan McGraw goes on to provide that correct understanding, albeit taking a rather circuitous route to get there.

He begins this little volume by delving into the subject of the church’s invisible and visible natures. His survey of the writings of various Reformers reveals a consensus that, other than in exceptional circumstances, those who are elected to salvation will identify with the visible church during their lifetimes.

Over three subsequent chapters, the author gives his own presentation of the classic paedobaptist view of the covenant of grace, seeing the mixed nature of Old Testament Israel carried over into the New Covenant. Because of its brevity, this section may prove rudimentary to those sharing McGraw’s position and unconvincing to those who do not.

Despite some useful observations about the link between baptism and membership of the visible church, these chapters do not address the question of how that membership is essential to salvation. Those answers only come near the end: the final chapter shows from Scripture that God has entrusted the task of gospel preaching to the church. This is his means of leading his elect to faith. Without such preaching – and by implication, without the church – ‘How shall they believe?’ (Romans 10:14-17).

McGraw also argues that the visible church is necessary for the believer to seek spiritual growth through living in communion with the saints. It is vital in order to facilitate obedience to God’s commands to love, forgive, exhort and live in unity with one another. These explanations are clear, illuminating and compelling.

For that reason, it’s disappointing that a mere eleven pages are given over to them (the previous chapters addressed this issue only indirectly). However, it appears that this approach was necessary in order to untangle related questions which arise for those who subscribe to the WCF’s position on infant baptism. Are non-elect children of believers true members of the visible church? Of the invisible church? To what extent should the visible church aim at correspondence with the invisible, by seeking a credible profession of faith in its members?

As a result, The Ark of Safety is recommended reading for church leaders who subscribe to the WCF and for those wishing to understand and explain its system of doctrine cohesively. Those taking a Reformed Baptist position can skip to the final chapter and still find benefit! Moreover, believers of both persuasions should be convinced of the book’s overall thrust, that the church ‘cannot save us, but salvation lies within her walls. She is the ark of safety in a world that is drowning under God’s wrath. Should we not value her and love her as Christ loved her and gave himself for her?’ (p.83).

Matthew Cox

Bethersden, Kent