Thursday, May 10, 2007

Herschel Hobbs’s Position on the Church

I have sensed that there is some confusion about Herschel’s position on the church. He chaired the committee that framed the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message only mentioned the local church. The 1963 document added the following description:

“The New Testament speaks also of the church as the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages.”

This addition, however, is speaking of a universal church that is not yet in existence. Notice what Herschel said in his commentary on the 1963 document:

“The word ‘church’ in the New Testament never refers to organized Christianity or to a group of churches. It denotes either a local body of baptized believers or includes all the redeemed through all the ages.”

Herschel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville: Convention Press, 1971), 75.

This position was also held by B. H. Carroll, the founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

“Of the 117 instances of use in the New Testament certainly all but five (Acts 7:38; 19:32, 39, 42; Heb. 2:12) refer to Christ's ecclesia. And since Hebrews 2:12, though a quotation from the Old Testament, is prophetic, finding fulfillment in New Testament times, we need not regard it as an exception. These 113 uses of the word, including Hebrews 2:12, refer either to the particular assembly of Jesus Christ on earth, or to His general assembly in glory (heaven). . . . But while nearly all of the 113 instances of the use of ecclesia belong to the particular class, there are some instances, as Hebrews 12:23, and Ephesians 5:25-27, where the reference seems to be to the general assembly of Christ. But in every case the ecclesia is prospective, not actual. That is to say, there is not now, but there will be a general assembly of Christ's people. That general assembly will be composed of all the redeemed of all time.”

B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia,, accessed 23 April, 2007.


Blogger David Rogers said...


I do not know who in Baptist life is saying that the universal Church is either "organized Christianity" or a "group of churches." I believe it is precisely what the BFM 2000 states that it is: "the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages."

Just because its membership will not be complete until the parousia, however, does not mean that it is not a present reality. In the same way that a local church is still a local church, even before other members join at a later date.

Fri May 11, 10:20:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

David, I agree with Carroll that the word "ecclesia" always refers to a visible assembly, not an invisible assembly. Carroll also stated: "But for the church in glory the conditions of membership are justification, regeneration and sanctification of soul and glorification of body." We do not have glorified bodies yet, and the church in glory does not yet exist. If you have not done so, read Carroll's article. It is tough to refute.

Fri May 11, 11:05:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

Oops! I must eat some crow here. I investigated Hobbs’s view on the universal church a bit more, and I found the following comment by Hobbs on Matthew 16:13-20:

“It will be a purely local and democratic assembly operating under the Lordship of Jesus Christ or the laws of the Kingdom of God. And it will be a general assembly of all the redeemed of all the ages and under His theocratic rule. It might be argued that the church in this latter sense will become a reality only when all of the redeemed of all the ages are assembled before God in heaven. However, this is to put undue stress upon both time and space where neither is justified in terms of their relation to God who is Spirit. The fact is that Jesus spoke within the thought context of His listeners, and we must leave it there. Nor are we justified in pressing the general sense of ‘church’ into present day ecumenical molds. For this also was not in Jesus’ mind. We shall do well to let Jesus say what He said, nothing more, nothing less.”

Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), 220.

Thus, the view of Hobbs is different from that of Carroll.

Fri Jul 06, 03:50:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Baptist Theologue said...

P.S.: Hobbs apparently changed his mind after 1960. Notice what he said in 1960:

“In the general sense the church is not to be confused with organized Christianity or with any particular segment thereof. It is correct to use the term in a general sense only with reference to the church as the inclusion of all those who are in Christ, and as such the church will not exist until after the judgment. Strictly speaking, a church is an assembled group. The assembly of all the redeemed in one place will become a reality only after the return of the Lord and the judgment (cf. Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21-22).”

Hobbs, Fundamentals of Our Faith (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1960), 127.

Fri Jul 06, 03:58:00 PM 2007  

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