An Uneasy Ecclesiology: Carl F. H. Henry’s Doctrine Of The Church -- By: Jesse Payne

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 10:1 (Spring 2019)
Article: An Uneasy Ecclesiology: Carl F. H. Henry’s Doctrine Of The Church
Author: Jesse Payne

An Uneasy Ecclesiology:
Carl F. H. Henry’s Doctrine Of The Church

Jesse Payne

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

This article evaluates Carl F. H. Henry’s ecclesiology and argues that he highlighted regenerate church membership and mission while he downplayed the local aspects of the church (such as polity and the ordinances). The accent of Henry’s ecclesiology was always placed over the wide swath of churches in the Reformation tradition, rather than a particular stream located therein. This was due to Henry’s unique historical context and calling. This article both affirms and expands upon Russell Moore’s previous work on the topic. The strengths of Henry’s approach lie in the value of a unified evangelical voice in the face of encroaching secularism. The weaknesses lie in the neglect of denominational riches and the possible minimization of God’s ordained vehicle for Christian discipleship: the local church.

Key Words: Baptist, Carl F. H. Henry, ecclesiology, evangelicalism, Holy Spirit, mission, ordinances, regenerate church membership, unity


One of evangelicalism’s greatest minds broke a cardinal rule of pastoral ministry: remove names slowly from the church’s membership rolls. But Carl F. H. Henry, as the new pastor of Humboldt Park Baptist Church, refused to wait. In a November 11, 1940 letter sent to select members of the church body, Henry stated:

Forget for a moment that I am the new pastor. Let’s look at some of the fine things about Humboldt Park Church. We have a splendid building, with ample room. Then, there is a growing atmosphere of worship and friendliness. Of course we are not perfect, but the church spirit is good, and visitors feel as welcome and as much at home as we members do.

We have an increasingly loyal and faithful membership that gives willingly of its time for the Lord’s work. The membership list was carefully reviewed during the past week and nineteen names were removed. I am happy to say that the church desires you to continue in fellowship. It will be good in the coming weeks to find you in the heart of the

work with us. Mrs. Henry and I are eager to know you better, too.1

About two weeks prior, however, other members received a different note from Henry’s desk:

The other day the Humboldt Park members voted on the church’s membership list. The deacons, as all good deacons do, recommended the dropping of certain names, deceased members, those who had moved to distant addressed and no longer kept up their church intere...

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