The Doctor on True, Evangelical Ecumenism

Martin has re-posted extracts from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ 1966 address which marked a turning point in British evangelicalism and which is worth considering again.

Update 19 October, 2009: David posts some helpful comments on the Doctor’s ecclesiology.

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  1. The last 43 years since his address have shown just how correct the Doctor was in his diagnosis. For conservatives to stay in liberal denominations in the hope of reforming them is, almost always, a hopeless cause. One rare success was the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, about 20 years ago or more. But, I understand that the liberals there are beginning to make headway there again. And, reformers in the Southern Baptist Convention have had only limited success, so far.

    It doesn’t mean it can’t be done, DV, but it is a long and difficult fight.

  2. The old doctor didn’t seemed to heed his own advice when it came to the Pentecostals, Charismatics and Arminians.

  3. By Martin-Lloyd Jones’ definition, I am not an evangelical.

    If being an evangelical means forming a Church on the basis of a truncated confession of fundamentals and a common experience then I don’t want anything to do with it. And this is what the good doctor was offering. He said:

    “These are the doctrines which are essential to salvation; there is the truth that is to be preached, the message which is the first of the true marks of the church. And a church, surely, is a gathering of people who are in covenant together because they believe these things. Not only do they believe them, but they are men and women who have experienced their power. They are men and women who are born again and born of the Spirit, and who give evidence of this in their daily life. Surely that is the evangelical view of the church.”

    Should we respond to unbelief within denominations through “Evangelical Reunion” or by forming Confessionally Reformed congregations? I say that latter. This has implications in evaluating the choice of those who chose not to leave compromised churches to join Martin Lloyd-Jones’ movement. The choice was not between joining the Episcopal Church USA or the URC. The choice was between staying in a technically confessional church that hopefully could be reformed and joining evangelical chaos driven by personalities.

    Having grown up in a “mainstream” congregation, my personal tolerance for liberalism is exceedingly low – so I probably would have held my nose and made the move; but this doesn’t mean that those who didn’t were somehow being unfaithful.

    • David,

      This is a fair point. I noticed the brevity of his list of points. Nevertheless, since I’ve been pretty hard on the Doctor (in RRC) I thought I should post this. I noticed that his list did stipulate a number of things (e.g. imputation) that seem to be pretty important to real, old-fashioned, classical evangelicals.

      I was impressed by the desire to be together in a real, visible church and not simply to meet occasionally in rallies etc. This seemed like a genuinely churchly desire on the part of the doctor and worth considering. For all the problems with the doctor’s theology (esp. later in life) and for all the criticisms one might make of the movement he helped to foster, the fact that he tried to move beyond the typical churchlessness of contemporary evangelicalism to a real, visible, institutional church is significant.

      • DML-J was very reluctantly drawn into English evangelicalism, with its focus of activity away from the church. The whole enterprise was very different to his Welsh heritage which saw the church as the place of Christian nurture and evangelism.

        One must also set his concerns, 43 years on, against the backdrop of ecumenism, and the drift from distinctive evangelical principles for the sake of influence (represented by the Anglican position set forth at Keele in 1967). Without some historic sensitivity, even if you still disagree with him, it is harder to represent his actual concerns. The last thing he was advocating is the kind of entity that evangelicalism in our own day stands for. He would have despised the posturing of personalities, and the incessant fawning over as celebrities, as abhorrent man-centredness. And a man whose influence stood behind the 20th century interest in Puritan literature can’t be pigeon-holed as a doctrinal minimalist.

        • While I am fairly confident that you are right about the good doctor’s concerns (and happy to grant that you know more about him than I do) , a non-confessional church union always ends up being driven by personalities, money, or both (i.e. those who pastor the largest churches). On the question of whether or not others, such as J.I. Packer, should have joined with D-MLJ’s movement shouldn’t we evaluate what he was actually proposing rather than what we all know he felt deep down in his heart?

          On the question of being a doctrinal minimalist, whatever his personal views were, that is precisely what D-MLJ proposed as a basis for evangelical union. If we evaluated his proposal by thinking that D-MLJ is better than what he actually proposed, aren’t WE the ones who would be judging on the basis of personalities?

          • For sure.

            I don’t believe that he was asking for confessional presbyterians to stop being so, neither was he asking for the jettisoning of secondary matters (when viewed from the standpoint of essential saving truths). He was pleading for an expression of evangelical unity, on essential matters, at the church level, and the rejection of the kind of ecumenism rampant at that time that really had no clear doctrinal substance at all. His reading of the times was that evangelicals in mixed denominations were being sucked into accepting this doctrinally vacuous ecumenism and treating those who preached “another gospel” as if they were brothers and sisters in Christ.

            That said he never laid out a blueprint for this, even though he did not think that any existing models (such as the FIEC–a loose affiliation of independent churches) was really sufficient. The closest thing today, in the UK, would be the existence of the “Gospel Partnerships” made up of evangelical Anglicans and Free Churches for the sake of mutual co-operation in evangelism and training.

  4. Thanks Dr. Clark, and I agree with David.

    As I shared over at Martin’s blog …

    Hardly a surprise there, since the approach of JI Packer leaves no urgency or imperative to contend for the Reformation Faith of the Church of England and Anglicanism.

    The problem is not as Lloyd-Jones construed in crude terms of Church of England versus non-conformity but simply this:

    Is justification by faith alone as the standing or falling article of the church and the hinge by which true religion turns truly understood, proclaimed and practiced by evangelicals whether Anglicans or Non-Conformists in this day and age?

    If so, why the compromise with sola fide and sola Scriptura in doctrine and practice in BOTH evangelical Anglican and evangelical Non-Conformist circles?

    The hope of the church is not revival as the old doctor said, but the recovering confessional vision …

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