It is not often that one single address has the power to shape the direction of Evangelicalism for a generation. Such a distinction must go to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' 1966 message, Evangelical Unity: An Appeal. Much ink has been spilt in discussing exactly what Lloyd-Jones hoped to achieve in that address. What is certain is that his appeal for unity left the Evangelical movement more divided and fragmented than ever before. The issues he raised exacerbated divisions over how Evangelicals should relate to theologically mixed denominations. Lloyd-Jones argued that Evangelicals should separate from the denominations and come together in church-based affiliation. On the other hand John Stott, who chaired the Evangelical Alliance meeting at which Lloyd-Jones spoke feared his address would trigger a mass exodus of impressionable Evangelical Anglican clergy. Stott used his position to publicly dissociate himself from what the preacher had said. He favoured an integrationist stance where were Evangelicals were encouraged to be more actively involved in the Church of England. This policy was formally adopted by Evangelical Anglicans at the watershed Keele Conference in 1967.
Meanwhile in 1970 J. I. Packer co-authored Growing into Union together with Anglo-Catholic theologians, minimising doctrinal differences in order to make common cause against theological Liberalism. His actions led to the disbandment of the Puritan Conference in which Packer had played a prominent role along with Lloyd-Jones. A fissure had opened up between Lloyd-Jones and those who followed his his separatist line and integrationist Evangelical Anglicans like Stott and Packer.
It isn't always easy to separate issues from personalities when it comes from deciding who was right and wrong in church history. This is especially the case when it comes to considering very recent history. But our aim in discussing 1966 and its relevance for the contemporary scene should not be the vindication of Lloyd-Jones or the vilification of Stott/Packer, or visa versa. It is the issues not the personalities that matter.
In this case the nub of the matter is whether Evangelicals ought to withdraw from theologically mixed denominations and come together on a church-based level? Should loyalty to one's denomination be placed before ecclesal fellowship with other Evangelicals, especially when the possibility of reforming the denomination is remote? Should we opt for separation or integration? If, as I've argued elsewhere, Lloyd-Jones was basically right to urge Evangelicals to separate and come together, then we need to ask how we might apply this principle to today's situation? Here are some proposals:
1) Separation from the theologically mixed denominations is still a live issue that needs to be faced. Evangelicals cannot be content simply with being a tolerated "wing" of a denomination where serious heresy is allowed to remain unchecked. Such a stance relativises the gospel.
2) Evangelicals should endeavor to unite in church-based fellowship. Co-operation at the para-church level while remaining in mixed denominations won't do.
3) How Evangelical churches come together as an expression of unity in the gospel isn't easy to figure out given that Evangelicals differ over ecclesiology, baptism etc. We need a little dose of realpolitik, or realecclesiastik here. All Reformed Evangelicals are not suddenly going to become convinced Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Grace Baptists or Calvinistic Episcopalians. But this does not mean we should be indifferent to the biblical doctrine of the church. Evangelicals need to give fresh and urgent attention to this matter. For my money a form of interdependent independency would amount to a pretty good expression of the New Testament's teaching. But given the current lack of consensus amongst Reformed Evangelicals on church government and baptism, perhaps an affiliation of individual Evangelical churches and church groupings is the best we could hope right now. How can Affinity be made to fulfil this role more effectively?
4) Separated Evangelical Churches will want to support Evangelicals in the mixed denominations who are fighting for reform rather rather than seeking integration. (Gospel Partnerships anyone?)
5) Should the grouping of Evangelical churches (under the umbrella of Affinity or whatever) be distinctly Reformed or merely Evangelical? I think we should work towards a fellowship of confessional Reformed Churches that is generous enough to allow for differences on ecclesiology, baptism etc. This does not amount to "doctrinal indifferentism" as the affiliation would be clearly Reformed in its agreed confession.