Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones Edited by Andrew Atherstone & David Ceri Jones. Review Part 3

Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The life and legacy of 'the Doctor',
Edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones, IVP/Apollos, 2011, 370pp

A second controversial feature of the Lloyd-Jones legacy is his call for Evangelical unity in 1966. Andrew Atherstone gives a fair account of the event and its aftermath in his chapter, Lloyd-Jones and the Anglican succession crisis. The 'Doctor' argued that Evangelicals should come together in a loose church-based affiliation rather than  remain in the theologically mixed denominations. Some understood Lloyd-Jones to be calling for Evangelicals to succeed from their denominations without delay and unite to form a new purely Evangelical super-denomination. John Stott was so alarmed at the prospect of Evangelical Anglicans leaving the Church of England en masse that he used/abused his role as chairman to declare that Scripture and church history were against Lloyd-Jones. For him Evangelicals were called to be a faithful remnant within the professing church, rather than separate themselves from the denominations.

At the heart of Lloyd-Jones' case was the argument that Evangelicals should put fellowship with Evangelicals first rather than allow themselves to be kept apart due to their various denominational attachments. He reasoned that placing involvement in the mixed denominations before church-based fellowship with Evangelicals was tantamount to schism. His address was given added urgency by his understanding that the Ecumenical Movement aimed at uniting the historic denominations under the banner of Rome. In that situation Evangelicals would find themselves as one wing of territorial church that was in submission to the pope. Far better, he urged that Evangelicals should stand together outside of the Ecumenical Movement, giving a united witness to the gospel.

A number of Evangelical Anglicans and Nonconformists did leave their demoninations in response to Lloyd-Jones' call, but many did not. John Stott, Jim Packer and others wanted to see Evangelicals further integrated in the Church of England rather than septate from her. The drift of the Keele Conference in 1967 and Packer's involvement in writing  Growing into Union with Anglo Catholics only served to confirm this. Ironically, Lloyd-Jones call for Evangelical unity only helped to cement divisions between separatist Evangelicals and those who remained in the mixed denominations.

The reason why Lloyd-Jones spoke as he did in 1966 has been variously explained. Gaius Davies interprets his call for Evangelical unity in psychological terms. He charges Lloyd-Jones with control freakery.  He had a desire always to be right that verged on an infallibility complex. Davies explains that this psychological malady was the product of traumatic experiences in Lloyd-Jones' youth. If I were to don the mantle of amateur psychologist, I might wonder whether Gauis Davies' hatchet job might be the result of him being far too in thrall to the 'Doctor' in his earlier years. Now, somewhat like a difficult teenager, he feels compelled to give his spiritual father figure a hard time in an attempt to establish  his own identity. But far be it from me to suggest such a thing. Others posit that as a Welshman Lloyd-Jones had an inbuilt antipathy towards Anglicanism, making his call the product of nationalistic prejudices. Now, it's true that no one is free from psychological 'issues', not even the great 'Doctor'. National identity no doubt colours our thinking in a whole range of often imperceptible ways. But to try and explain away the burden of Lloyd-Jones' 1966 message in such terms is reductionistic in the extreme.

Carl Trueman, whose criticism of Lloyd-Jones is cited in the book (p. 19-20) charges the 'Doctor' with presenting a "completely incoherent vision" of the doctrine of the church in his 1966 address, "for one cannot call a group to an ecclesiastical action (separation) which leads to a non-ecclesiastical result (some broad, parachurch alliance)" - here. But this is not quite right. For many years Evangelicals in the UK were largely content to remain in the mixed denominations. They co-operated with fellow Evangelicals in parachurch organisations such as missionary societies and the Evangelical Alliance, but were united on a church level with Liberals, Anglo-Catholics, and other dodgy characters,  Lloyd-Jones challenged the status quo by arguing that mere parachurch fellowship between Evangelicals was not enough. Those who were united in the gospel should come together as churchesThat is why John Coffee is incorrect draw a parallel between the 'Doctor's' prescription for Evangelical unity and movements in the USA like Together for the Gospel or the Gospel Coalition (p. 323). Those groups are based on an alliance of Evangelical leaders (or even personalities) rather than churches. The British Evangelical Council (forerunner of Affinity) was founded to facilitate fellowship between individual local churches and church groupings, not merely to enable Evangelicals to engage in fellowship and mission on a personal level. Separation from the denominations is indeed an ecclesiastical act, but in Lloyd-Jones' vision, separation had an ecclesiastical goal,  "stand together as churches, constantly together, working together, doing everything together, bearing our witness together." (Knowing the Times, D. M. Lloyd-Jones, 1989, Banner of Truth Trust p. 256). This was also emphasised in his 1967 address, Martin Luther and his message for today
Come out of it! [Denominations signed up to the ecumenical movement and heading for Rome] But come together also, come into fellowship with all like-minded Christian people. Come into an association such as this British Evangelical Council, that stands for truth and against compromise, hesitation, neutrality and everything that but ministers to the success of the plans of Rome and the ecumenical movement. Come out; come in! (Unity in Truth, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, 1991, Evangelical Press, p. 43). 
The problem is that Evangelicals are not agreed on the issues of church government and paedo/credo baptism. That is why the formation of a new Evangelical super-denomination would have been impossible. Given the reality of the situation, a loose alliance of Evangelical churches and church groupings was the best that could have been hoped for. However, one difficulty with Lloyd-Jones' proposals is that he envisaged a pan-Evangelical grouping of churches that included both Calvinistic and Arminian fellowships. He was by his own admission and 18th century man. The trouble is that if the Evangelical Revival of the 18th century becomes the starting point for defining authentic Evangelical identity, then Wesley's Arminianism must be added to the mix alongside Whitefield's Calvinism. While Lloyd-Jones deprecated Wesley's Arminianism and was Calvinistic in his own convictions, he argued that the issues of Arminianism and Calvinism should not divide fellow Evangelicals. When played out at the level of a church-based alliance, his vision involved a  measure of doctrinal indefferentism on issues that are not indifferent to the clear presentation of the gospel. It would have been far better had Lloyd-Jones proposed an association of distinctly Reformed independent local churches and church groupings that was based on the historic Reformed confessions of faith, or their contemporary equivalent. That way differences over church government and baptism could have been accommodated, while enabling Evangelical and Reformed churches to retain a united witness to the truth in all its glory.

But where does Lloyd-Jones' address leave us today? There is currently a substantial sector of Evangelical and Reformed churches in the UK that do not belong to the mixed denominations. Many, but by no means all of these churches belong to Affinity. How should separated churches relate to Evangelicals who remain in the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Baptist Union, Presbyterian Church of Wales, etc? I sense that a new generation of Evangelical leaders in the Church of England, especially those associated with the Proclamation Trust do not ascribe to the intergrationist policy of Stott and Packer. They have little time for ecclesiastical politics and simply want to get on with the work of preaching the gospel at the level of the local parish church. Links are bring fostered with such Anglican Evangelicals and their Free Church colleagues through regional Gospel Partnerships. But Gospel Partnerships are alliances of Evangelical leaders, rather than church-based groupings. The Gospel Partnerships may do some good and separated Evangelicals should encourage and support friends who stand for the gospel in the mixed denominations. But the issue of separation is being fudged and Lloyd-Jones' strategic vision of Evangelical church-based unity has yet to be realised. 

1 comment:

Ben said...

Thank you.

On this subject, albeit from a different time in church history, can I point to a book by Allan Brockett, Nonconformity in Exeter 1650-1875 (Manchester University Press 1962). It includes a salutary account of how a local association of churches, whose commitment to united action included cooperation in the selection of candidates for the ministry, shifted their position in respect of confessional orthodoxy (the key point of orthodoxy at the time being the doctrine of the trinity). Once it was accepted, after long argument, that a man's view of the person of Christ was no business of the examining committee, the leaven of unitarianism spread through the lump at a speed which, arguably, would never have been the case had independent churches been free to guard their own pulpits.

Together, we fall?