Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Ecclesiastical Polity Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

Hemmingsen on the Church (2)

This is the second part of Hemmingsen’s discussion of the church from his Enchiridion Theologicum. In this installment, he gives two definitions of the word “church,” one longer and one shorter.

Text and Translation

Hinc iam plenam definitionem elicere, non erit difficile, qualis haec esse poteris: ECCLESIA est coetus hominum, evocatus e regno Satanae, ut Christum audiat, sequatur, eique vero cultu serviat, utque huic Christi vero capiti suo ita adhaereat, ut suis membris coalescat, unumque corpus constituat, ac tandem per eundem Christum fruatur in coelo perpetuo Dei et angelorum consortio. Brevius: Ecclesia est congretatio membrorum Christi, id est, sanctorum, qui credunt vere et obediunt Christi, cui in externa societate hypocritae et multi mali admixti sunt, iuxta parabolam de Zizaniis. (Classis III, Caput II)

From what I have said, it will not be difficult now to draw out a full definition, such as the following: the church is a gathering of men, called out from the kingdom of Satan, in order it they may hear Christ, follow him, and serve him with true worship, and in order that it may cling to this Christ as its own true head, in order that it may grow together with his own members and constitute one body, and finally through the same Christ enjoy the fellowship of God and the angels in heaven forever. More briefly: the church is a congregation of the members of Christ, that is, of saints, who truly believe in and obey Christ, in which, in terms of external society, hypocrites and many evil men are mixed together, according to the Parable of the Tares.1


  1. Once again, the idea of calling is paramount and primary. The church exists because God has called it into being–thus by necessity the Word of God is always prior to and always stands above the church. Correspondingly, as a response to “calling” hearing is once again prominent.
  2. Once again, God’s evocation is purposive. The gathering (coetus) is called in order to hear, follow, serve, cling, grow together, establish, and enjoy.
  3. As we saw last time from the Abraham exemplum, defined most closely the church is the gathering of those who truly believe and truly obey, and so is not to be equated simpliciter (again, defined most closely and sub specie divinitatis) with the visible assembly as such. For that reason, Hemmingsen draws a distinction between those who are really and in fact members of Christ (which comes about by faith in response to God’s call) and the church’s externa societas, which is a mixed multitude and therefore includes hypocrites and those who remain in their sin. This is just basic Augustinianism, but more importantly it is the teaching of Holy Scripture; Hemmingsen’s exegetical warrant in this instance is the Parable of the Tares.
  4. The title “saint” is not for superhero Christians, as it were, but simply means one who trusts in Christ. See the writings of the Apostle Paul passim.

  1. The translation is my own. 

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.