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Historical Christianity used to be led by men who called for repentance in 'sackcloth and ashes' - as even the pagans of Nineveh did in Jonah's day (cf. 2 Sam 3v31; 1 Kings 21v27; 2 Kings 6v30; Joel 1v8; Jonah 3v5-8; Job 42v6; Dan 9v3), i.e. a severity of repentance that Jesus used to warn the unbelievers of His day (Matthew 11v21). While it is apparently acceptable for you to write and make baseless accusations of 'harbouring hurt [and] anger' because you believe dangerously un-Scriptural views should be tolerated, we are happy to side with genuine Christians of integrity who also made clear in their day that errors in doctrine - and therefore behaviour - are not to be tolerated, but actively avoided, e.g.:
'I believe in saints. I've met the comics; I've met the promoters; I've met the founder who puts his name on the front of the building so people will know he founded it. I've met converted cowboys not too well converted. I have met all kinds of weird Christians throughout the United States and Canada, but my heart is looking for saints. I want to meet the people who are like the Lord Jesus Christ....Actually, what we want and ought to have is the beauty of the Lord our God in human breasts. A winsome, magnetic saint is worth 500 promoters and gadgeteers and religious engineers.' (A.W. Tozer)
Religion has become jolly good fun right here in this present world, and what's the hurry about heaven anyway? Christianity, contrary to what some had thought, is another higher form of entertainment. Christ has done all the suffering. He has shed all the tears and carried all the crosses; we have but to enjoy the benefits of His heartbreak in the form of religious pleasures modeled after the world but carried on in the name of Jesus. History reveals that times of suffering for the Church have...always sobered God's people and encouraged them to look for and yearn after the return of their Lord. Our present preoccupation with this world may be a warning of bitter days to come. God will wean us from the earth some way - the easy way if possible, the hard way if necessary. It is up to us. (A.W. Tozer, The Best of A.W. Tozer, p. 57)
I have to say this: I have no fellowship with a man who says that he is a Christian, unless he believes that the eternal Son of God was made flesh; unless he believes that God has sent forth His own Son and made him of a woman; that the eternal Son, the everlasting Christ, took unto Himself human nature. I cannot say that there is such a thing as Christianity while there is any doubt or hesitation concerning this, and unless I am greatly mistaken, if we do not fight on this matter and stand on this truth, we shall find that we shall have betrayed the Christian message, and the whole of the glorious Christian salvation. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Gospel of God, 111)
It is being said that men and women may receive the Spirit in all His fullness and continue as Roman Catholics, believing in transubstantiation and in all the magic of the Mass, and the sacramental views of the Roman Catholic Church. What people believe is not important; what matters is that they have the Spirit within them. Such talk is becoming quite common at the present time. People are saying that you can have true unity in spite of profound disagreement concerning vital and essential doctrines. But I want to put it to you again this is a complete denial of the teaching of this one verse, Romans 12:5, even without going any further. You cannot have unity unless it includes unity of mind and of thinking. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Conduct, 192)
You do not start with fellowship, you must start with doctrine. There is no fellowship apart from the doctrine. The order is absolutely vital. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Conduct, 193)
We are not merely to speak lovingly, or simply to be nice and friendly; we are to speak the truth in love. Truth must always come first. The result is that it is quite impossible to discuss unity with a man who denies the deity of Christ. Although he may call himself a Christian I have nothing in common with him. If he does not acknowledge this one Lord, born of the Virgin, who worked His miracles, and died an atoning death, and rose literally from the grave in the body, I cannot discuss the unity of the Church with him. There is no basis for the discussion of unity. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity, 268)
We must never start with the visible church or with an institution, but rather with the truth which alone creates unity (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times, 159)
To me one of the major tragedies of the hour, and especially in the realm of the church, is that most of the time seems to be taken up by the leaders in preaching about unity instead of preaching the gospel that alone can produce unity. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth, Issue 275)
It is clear, from the brief sentences you have constructed, that you have swallowed the lie of ecumenism that preceded the Great Apostasy that is now thoroughly in the worldwide church and which the Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones biography (The Fight of Faith 1939-1981, Iain Murray, particularly p427-450 in 'Unity: Ecumenical or Evangelical?') exemplifies:
'For evangelicals in England the 1960's were not to be a decade of revival but of controversy and, paradoxically, it was the question of unity which was a principal cause. Churchmen of other persuasions had already settled their position on this subject. A flood of ecumenical articles, books, 'conversations', commissions and conferences could all take the view that the hope of transforming the existing denominations into one church was a good and proper thing. In 1964 a Conference of the British Council of Churches at Nottingham would commit itself to 'one Church . . . not later than Easter Day, 1980'. All that remained, it seemed, was discussion over the means by which this was to be brought about. For evangelicals, however, the fundamental questions were only beginning to be faced.) exemplifies:
How the need for true unity was to be met was much more important to Dr Lloyd-Jones than mere opposition to the ecumenical movement, yet, holding the position which he did, it was inevitable that he would have to take a leading role in opposition to the latter. He differed with ecumenism on its fundamental principle, namely, that all dialogue should proceed on the understanding that it was between fellow Christians. He objected to this because it meant giving a breadth to the meaning of 'Christian' which was unknown in the New Testament. The fact was that the movement for the reunion of the denominations had grown up in conditions where the liberal view of Scripture was so pervasive that the idea that anyone needed to believe certain definite truths in order to be a child of God was no longer taken seriously. In theory some kind of recognition of Christ as 'the Son of God' might be required as a statement of belief, but the willingness of leaders to dispense with any doctrinal test of Christian profession indicated an underlying attitude. ... Michael Ramsey, Fisher's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, was reported to have pronounced 'Heaven is not a place for Christians only . . . I expect to meet some present-day atheists there'.
Such a view was not the temporary aberration of one leading Anglican. The same basic attitude was in all the churches, as may be seen by the way in which Albert Schweitzer, Nobel Prize winner and medical doctor at Lambaréné in Gabon, was commonly regarded as a very eminent Christian. Yet Schweitzer was a self-confessed agnostic without a shred of Christian belief. A prominent article in the British Weekly (July 28, 1960) by Professor John G. McKenzie discussed, 'Is Schweitzer a Christian ?' and concluded that there ought to be no hesitation in saying that he was. 'Life is bigger than intellect,' McKenzie wrote. Schweitzer had 'the spirit of Christ' and anyone who has that is a Christian regardless of what is believed or disbelieved. Professor John Baillie of Edinburgh had argued the same point in his book, Our Knowledge of God. According to Baillie an alleged atheist who denies God with the top of his mind may nevertheless believe in Him in the bottom of his heart even though he does not know it. [In a review of Baillie, John Murray speaks of his 'plausible yet fatal charity' (Collected Writings, Vol. 3, 1982, pp. 295-300).]
Instead of regarding this interpretation of unbelief as a happy advance in the spirit of charity, ML-J saw it as an error denying the exclusiveness of the Christian message and threatening the very life of the churches.
Dr Lloyd-Jones took up this subject at length in two addresses which he gave to the Westminster Fellowship at the annual outing to Welwyn in the summer of 1962. In expositions of John 17 and Ephesians 4 he argued that the biblical definition of what it means to be a Christian must precede an understanding of the unity in which Christians share:
There is no real fellowship and unity in a group of people where some believe in 'the wrath of God against sin' and that it has already been 'revealed from heaven' (Romans 1:18), and others not only do not believe in the wrath of God at all, but say that it is almost blasphemous to teach such a thing, and that they cannot believe in a God who is capable of wrath. Fellowship exists only among those who believe, as the result of the operation of the Holy Spirit, these essential truths concerning man's lost estate - that we are all 'by nature the children of wrath' (Ephesians 2:3) - and the action of God in Christ Jesus for our salvation and restoration. There is no fellowship between people who believe that and those who believe something else, which they may call a gospel but which, as Paul tells the Galatians, 'is not a gospel' (Galatians 1:6).
Both in these addresses, and elsewhere, what is noticeable in his definition of 'Christian' is that he stipulates the necessity of both belief and experience. Christians are people who have experienced conviction of sin, who know repentance and who possess new life as the result of a re-birth. But the experience and the doctrine they believe belong together. If a person does not love fundamental truths, and desire to know them more, he has no claim to be regarded as a Christian. 'There is an irreducible minimum, without which the term 'Christian' is meaningless, and without subscribing to which a man is not a Christian . . . There is to be no discussion about 'the foundation'. If men do not accept that, they are not brethren and we can have no dialogue with them.'
Christian unity is the result of a common faith in the gospel of Christ and while he did not regard all beliefs associated with evangelicals in the 1960's as tests of a person's Christianity, he considered the word 'evangelical' rightly understood to be synonymous with 'Christian'. Evangelicals, in the historic sense of the word, are 'gospellers'. Certainly he believed that a man might be a Christian who did not employ the name 'evangelical' and he knew that it does not belong to us to be the final judges of a person's Christian profession. But the fundamentals of evangelicalism are the fundamentals of the gospel, and to concede the title 'Christian' to those who deny those fundamentals is to undermine Christianity itself: 'Those who question and query, let alone deny the great cardinal truths that have been accepted through the centuries, do not belong to the church, and to regard them as brethren is to betray the truth.'
It was pre-eminently because of this point that ML-J drew such criticism from ecumenists. He was denying the validity of their main presupposition. We noted the antagonism of the British Weekly to his Maintaining the Evangelical Faith Today in 1952. In the 1960's the opposition was to increase. When some evangelicals shared in the ecumenical discussions of the First British Faith and Order Conference at Nottingham in September 1964, to which we have referred above, they spoke of being 'keenly conscious of the prejudice and even hostility' towards the IVF's position (of which ML-J remained the chief spokesman).' At that Nottingham Conference it was ML-J's convictions which John Huxtable attacked. 'Not the least of my difficulty with the Conservative Evangelicals,' Huxtable said, 'is their characteristic insistence that, unless the Faith is expressed in their particular way, it is not truly expressed at all . . . that, unless we believe in a substitutionary theory of atonement, it is doubtful if we believe in salvation at all . . . if we do not agree with their reckoning of what Scripture amounts to, we are only questionably Christians. ... [Evangelicals and Unity, ed., J. D. Douglas, 1964, p. 14.]
Huxtable was more guarded than another ecumenist, Douglas Jones, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University. In his book, Instrument of Peace, Professor Jones deplored that ML-J's 'influential book, The Basis of Christian Unity' taught that 'the true believers are those who believe in the historic fall, the wrath of God against sin, the substitutionary atonement, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ, and ... a fundamentalist approach to the Scriptures'. He applauded the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury that, 'Christians do not 'believe in the Creeds' but, with the Creed to help them, they believe in God'. 'Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones,' he complained, 'is trying to persuade us that there are precise doctrinal distinguishing marks of Christians, that we can distinguish him who believes from him who does not believe . . . In this respect he has learnt nothing from the greatest evangelical theologian of modern times . . . [i.e. Karl Barth]. There is no greater scandal in this complex situation than the refusal of Christians to accept their fellow Christians.' It is plain that the Durham Professor of Divinity differed in his whole conception of salvation. Denying ML-J's conviction on the Church as separate from the world, he argued, 'The Church is the emergence within the body of mankind of the unity to which not only Christians but all men are called - more than that, in which they already exist in Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of every man . . . the Church is . . . never possible to define.' [The above quotations from Jones are taken from Instrument of Peace, 1965, pp. 69-74. Gilbert Kirby, under the heading 'Ecumania' reviewed this title in The Life of Faith, Sept 2, 1965, pointing out how the author 'singles out for particular attack Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones', and concluding, 'Those critics of the ecumenical movement who have expressed disquiet at the thought of the coming 'super-church' may well feel, from reading this thesis, that there is some justification for their fears'.]
[TCE: ML-J correctly identified Karl Barth as a philosopher, not a theologian!]
Still stronger words were to follow. Dr Lloyd-Jones' position, it was to be said, was akin to that of the self-righteous Pharisees. Such antipathy was to persist. A decade late James Barr was to direct his readers to ML-J's Basis of Christian Unity, 'For an example of a harsh and rigid opposition to any participation by conservative evangelicals with non-conservatives'. [Fundamentalism, 1977, p. 362.]
Criticism of this kind did not worry ML-J but what did concern him deeply was the cleavage appearing within evangelicalism on how the ecumenical movement should be treated. In the thirteen years from 1954 to 1966 there was a major shift in evangelical opinion on this point. The background to this shift we have touched upon earlier. Clearly a change of some kind in English evangelicalism was inevitable, because ecumenism had raised new issues and was endeavouring to alter the denominational boundaries in a manner hitherto unknown. Congregationalists were in active discussion with English Presbyterians with respect to union, the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) was in consultation with the Church of England and the Methodists were likewise engaged in plans for re-union with the Anglicans. If the church structures were thus changed there was obviously no way in which evangelicals could remain exactly as they were. Uneasy though they had often been in staying in their respective denominations, at least they had known what those denominations were. For long years the boundary lines had been static. Now, amidst the general call for new alignments and for visible 'Christian unity', the old evangelical status quo was scarcely tenable. One way or another there was bound to be movement.
Dr Lloyd-Jones believed that this situation presented evangelicals with a great opportunity. Instead of simply adopting delaying tactics in their denominations, evangelicals should themselves take up the New Testament emphases on unity and on the evil of schism. Opposition to error and warnings over the growing doctrinal indifferentism were not enough in this new situation. If men were orthodox and yet content to remain separated and divided from one another then they were not, he argued, taking the New Testament with sufficient seriousness. In 1961 he spoke of this as one of the main problems facing congregations which were concerned to be faithful to Scripture: 'How are we to draw the line between allowing heresy and apostasy on the one hand, and being guilty of schism on the other?' [Sermon on 'Schism' from Ephesians 6v10-13, Feb 5, 1961, WR, June, 1963, p. 85.]
For Dr Lloyd-Jones the correct answer to this question depended upon a true understanding of the nature of schism. Schism, he argued is the division of Christians, that is to say, of those who are agreed on fundamental truths. The Reformation was not schism because it was a division from an institution in which the meaning of 'Christian' had been lost. There can be no unity without the gospel. It is, therefore, to those who are one in the gospel that the New Testament's commands on unity and its warnings on schism belong. ML-J believed that evangelicals had long taken these commands too lightly and that the ecumenical movement was showing them to be in a position of inconsistency. Evangelicals said that they were 'one in Christ' at such gatherings as the Keswick Convention, and 'one' in the many evangelical organisations (whose work was too important to allow the membership of non-evangelicals), yet in the corporate responsibility for unity required of churches in the New Testament they were not one at all. Now, with the denominations themselves in a ferment of change, ML-J believed that the scriptural duty for evangelicals was to translate their oft-affirmed oneness into practice: 'If we have not a burning desire and longing for this unity of true believers I say we are false to the New Testament.'
This was the burden behind Dr Lloyd-Jones' address at the Puritan Conference in December 1962 - the year which marked the tercentenary of the ejection of some 2,000 Puritans from the Church of England. He argued that the Puritans, united in the fundamentals of the Faith, lost their cause in 1662 because they were disunited in secondary matters, and he seized on this point as a lesson for the present:
The movements around us today, the ecumenical movement in particular, are forcing us to ask this question: what is our view of the church? Is it right that we belong to the same company, calling itself a church, as men who deny almost everything we stand for . . . What is the gospel? Our whole position is based upon this, that we say the gospel can be defined, can be stated in propositions. We do believe in Confessions of Faith, we do believe in Creeds. It is just there that we are differentiated from the majority of people in the Christian church at the present time . . . Is it right that we should be more associated in general, and in our total life as Christians in the church, with people with whom we do not agree, than with people with whom we do agree about these central vital matters?' [Puritans, pp. 68-70.]
The need for a more biblical unity among evangelicals was the subject he took up and elaborated in speaking to the Westminster Fraternal outing to Welwyn on June 19, 1963. Reading Haggai chapter 1, he commenced by pointing out a parallel between Haggai's time and the present situation. Both were periods of reconstruction and new beginnings, yet both then and now God's cause was at a low ebb. The text he repeatedly emphasised was, 'Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled houses, and this house lie waste?' (Haggai 1:4). His main theme he introduced with a seven-point survey of 'certain unique features' of the day:
(1) We live at a time when everything relating to the church is in the melting pot. It is more similar to the Reformation than anything that has happened since. Everything is once more being queried. (2) Unions between different sections of the Christian church are taking place (e.g. South India) and many are involved in movements for union. (3) On the mission field there is a new nationalism. People are no longer ready for us to impose our pattern upon them but are going to think out the whole problem of the Church for themselves. (4) I am impressed with what has happened amongst the Exclusive Brethren. Here are numbers of people who have come out of the bondage in which they have been held for so long, and they are scattered all over the country not quite knowing what to do nor where to turn. What is going to be our relation to them? (5) The blatant unbelief in the official churches is coming into the open. And there is evidence of a subtle change of emphasis in evangelical thinking - an acceptance of looser views of the early chapters of Genesis and of miracles, a new atmosphere in book-reviewing, a disinterest in doctrine and a tendency to gloat in scholarship. (6) There is the whole moral condition of the country. There is need of prophetic statement but we seem to be living in our 'cieled houses'. (7) There is an appalling need of evangelical preaching. Evangelicalism is concentrated in the Greater London area. We forget the appalling conditions that prevail in the great bulk of the country.
This is a great challenge and unique opportunity. It is we alone who can give the message. But we seem to be ineffective and silent ... our statements are tepid and harmless. Evangelicals in all the major denominations are in the same position. Why?
The main answer is that we are so divided up that our witness is diluted. We have avoided the Church problem by contenting ourselves with movements.
This principal statement he proceeded to analyse and some of his observations were as follows:
Our testimony has been inevitably inconsistent because it is scripturally defective. We have criticised those in error yet continued to belong to the same church and have acknowledged them as members and dignitaries. This more or less nullifies our criticism. With intellectual dishonesty rampant in the church, how can we speak to the nation?
[TCE: this was ~50 years ago and nothing has changed; when we listen to the likes of 'Archbishop' Rowan Williams and his repeated embarrassing statements, e.g. his recent plugging of the social gospel he believes unregenerate men need ahead of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, we can only say 'Amen' to the assessment by ML-J]
Non-evangelicals are generally consistent. They say the same things at all levels. We do not. For example, evangelicals advocate separation at the student level (recommending attachment to IVF, not SCM) and then at the church level evangelicals do the exact opposite and advocate participation in the WCC. If separation is right on one level should it not be right on the other? This makes the evangelical position almost untenable.
Movements have led to the sheer indiscipline of evangelicals. That is inevitable because movements are voluntary associations, they cannot and do not discipline. If you have gifts and power, no one can stop you from doing what you like. The tendency is to chaos. Further, because evangelicals have tried to solve problems by getting into movements they have by-passed the whole question of the church. Our grandfathers went wrong. They met in 'little conclaves' and more or less retired from the church situation. They avoided church questions because they were afraid of disharmony in the movement where they said, 'We are all one in Christ'. Disharmony would wreck the movement so, out of fear of division, they evaded the church question.
Has the time not arrived when we must re-examine the whole thing? Many of the movements are running to seed. Here is a unique opportunity to re-examine the position and see whether we have not to start anew and afresh.
This led him to his second main heading, the statement that the nature of the church had become the major problem.
All evangelicals agree that they can only decide issues according to Scripture but, in practice, their decision here is so often influenced by tradition and history. They start with the status quo and their main argument becomes one of expediency.
We must go back to New Testament teaching. (1) What is a church? It is an assembly of true believers, those who have been born again, the association of people who are the body of Christ and who meet conscious of His presence. They are a spiritual society (Acts 2:41; Eph 2:19-22). (2) What are the marks of a true church? An assembly where true doctrine is preached; where the sacraments are faithfully administered and where discipline is exercised. The 'power of the keys' there is to be exercised in admission and excommunication, without which there can be no guarantee whatever of purity of life or doctrine (Matt 18:15 ff; John 20:22-23; 1 Cor 5; Gal 5v12; 2 Thess 3:6; Titus 3:10-11). Is this teaching compatible with saying, 'My church is a good place to fish in?' Is the church a place where members need to be evangelized? The popular exposition of the parable of the tares is to justify the absence of church discipline but this makes the parable contradict other teaching in the New Testament. John Owen gives five reasons why Christ instituted discipline in the church. [These he quoted. See The Works of John Owen, vol.15, p. 519.]
We need to concentrate on this question of the nature of the church. It would be tragic if we let this go by default because of fears of upsetting people.
It is astounding that we should be in this world at such a time as this, when we see the breaking down of things once regarded as unmovable in the realm of the church. One possible reaction is to be depressed at it all and to wring our hands over such degenerate times. Another reaction is to say, 'Well, as far as my particular church is concerned, at any rate, everything is all right'. Haggai ought to put us right on that once and for ever. We cannot contract out of this situation, for the essence of the gospel is at stake. We must be clear about the one big, grand objective or we will lose everything. We need an over-all strategy and must refuse to allow ourselves to be side-tracked by matters of lesser importance . . . We must be ready to say that men are not Christians and are enemies of the Faith. But how can you if you belong to them and to the same church?
We have an opportunity which has not confronted evangelical people for a long time. I have no cut-and-dried scheme but it behoves us to face this question of the nature of the church together. We need positive, constructive thinking. We must approach the situation theologically. The position is moving very rapidly and if we do nothing we shall have to crawl out of a terrible wreckage. The first thing is to clarify our minds. We must stop avoiding this central doctrine. That time has gone.
The reaction within the Westminster Fellowship to Dr Lloyd-Jones' Welwyn address revealed what he already knew: instead of leading the way in terms of biblical unity, evangelicals were themselves going to be divided.
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