Lloyd-Jones, Cultural Problems, and the Power of the Gospel

The following article was published on the Credo Magazine Blog. If you have not visited the Credo website or listened to their podcast, I encourage you explore both!

The explosion of the German V1 rocket shook the spine of the historic Westminster Chapel, jolting the congregation to its feet. Seconds earlier, the rumble of the rocket’s engine had forced the pastor, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, to pause his prayer. But as the plaster dust from the ceiling settled on top of his pulpit and black robe, Lloyd-Jones returned to his conversation with God.

At its conclusion, he allowed Mrs. Marsh to dust off both his robe and the pulpit. He also encouraged those perturbed by the blast to sit underneath the gallery for protection. He then proceeded on with the service with no more regard for the rockets. This brief picture of the Doctor’s preaching ministry encapsulated the Welsh Pastor’s understanding of how ministers should relate to the world of politics and culture. Lloyd-Jones believed God had commissioned pastors within the context of the local church to preach the gospel. It alone could cure sin and deliver men and women from the fear of death.

The Difference Between Sin and Sins

Throughout his career, Lloyd-Jones faced calls to address the political and social concerns of his day which encompassed everything from birth control to nuclear warfare. Though he carried around many firm political opinions within the folds of his black suits, he resolutely refused to share his political perspective on Sunday because he thought the fundamental problem facing humanity was ‘sin’ and not ‘sins.’

Though he carried around many firm political opinions, he resolutely refused to share his political perspective on Sunday because he thought the fundamental problem facing humanity was ‘sin’ and not ‘sins.’

The Doctor understood the term “sin” to encompass the effects of the fall, men and women’s separation from God and the ensuing pollution of their souls. Though restrained somewhat by God’s common grace, unredeemed men and women walked about the world in spiritual ignorance, lacking the ability to understand God and to do good. Because of the fall, men and women committed ‘sins,’ particular expressions of evil in time and space.

In the Doctor’s mind, political and social institutions such as the U.N, the English Parliament, and the trade unions dealt with sins as they sought to end wars, pass just laws, and advocate for fair wages. Though such endeavors were not inherently bad and deserved the support of individual Christians, the Doctor believed they would always prove inadequate. They treated only the symptoms of the sin and not sin itself. Despite the efforts of the philosophers and the politicians, sin remained fully entrenched in the human heart, pumping out sins that would continue to wreck both the individual and the institutions he or she occupied. To make matters worse, the Devil also avidly stirred humans towards sins and blinded them to truth. Humanity faced a spiritual pandemic it could not cure.

The Doctor concluded, “If any man could have saved us, the incarnation would not have taken place.”

Sin’s Antidote: The Gospel of Jesus

To save the world from sins, pastors had to move past sins and deal with the root problem, sin. Thankfully, God had designed the Church to proclaim the gospel specifically for this purpose. The Doctor noted:

That is the business of the gospel, not to be spending its time in treating the symptoms but to tell the world about the one and only remedy that can cure the disease which is the cause of all our local and particular problems.

When men and women responded to the good news of salvation, they gained liberation from sin and could overcome the sins in their hearts through the power of the gospel. The Doctor regularly witnessed transformation as he preached the Word. Drunks abandoned their liquor bottles, young widows found comfort in the midst of tears, and discouraged pastors found the hope needed to reascend their pulpit stairs. Lloyd-Jones believed such responses were normal because every human event from the death of Winston Churchill to the Cold War could be explained through the Bible’s redemptive narrative that chronicled the creation, fall, redemption, and new creation of humanity. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the “unique message of the Church,” transformed the human heart which could in-turn transform political and social institutions.

To change the world, pastors did not have to march in protests or speak at political rallies. In fact, the Doctor disliked the “pastor politician.” Lloyd-Jones believed the pastor politician’s constant denunciation of communism and other groups resulted in the “shutting of the evangelistic door upon that section.” Rather to improve the world, pastors needed only to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the apostles and preach the gospel. The Word of God changed lives.

A Word of Caution

Despite the efforts of the philosophers and the politicians, sin remained fully entrenched in the human heart, pumping out sins that would continue to wreck both the individual and the institutions he or she occupied.

But even at this juncture, the Doctor’s optimism remained muted. Though he believed in, advocated for, and dreamed of revival, the Welsh pastor did not believe any pastor, denomination, or revivalist could usher in an era of perfect social harmony or world peace. Lloyd-Jones believed humanity would devolve until Christ returned. He wrote, “The Apocalypse alone can cure the world’s ills.” For this reason, even the inspiring movements of faith that came out of the First and Second Great Awakenings proved fleeting. The local church could not Christianize the world. The recreation of the world was the special purview of Jesus.

Until Christ returned to judge the living and the dead, the world would continue to know of divorce, wars, and every other social ill. Christians could expect to be marginalized and to experience persecution. But even in this world of gloom, Christians did not have to fear their neighbors, society, political institutions, or anything else under heaven. Their salvation and eternal destiny remained secure. The Doctor said,

Let your hurricanes come one after the other, and all together it will make no difference. Let men set off all their bombs in the whole universe at the same time, this inheritance remains solid, durable, everlasting, eternal.

Though tomorrow might fail the Christian, eternity would far surpass the believer’s expectations.


Prudence demands that historians, pastors, and the average reader should not attempt to insert Lloyd-Jones into twenty-first century discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement, the Coronavirus pandemic, or the storming of the U.S. Capital by rioters. We have no special insights into what the Doctor would have thought about such things.

But of this we can be sure. The man who preached Christ while bombs fell out of the sky would never abandon the gospel and devote his pulpit to the advancement of social causes. The Scriptures spoke to the needs of every age. As the Doctor noted, the gospel, “alone deals with our fundamental need.” Jesus saves.

Finding Clarity in Confusion: Understanding Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 Address

The following was published at Credo Magazine which is an excellent theological resource for scholar, pastors, and lay readers! I highly encourage you to visit their sight.

Confusion hung over the crowd of the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals like a cloud of secondhand smoke. Moments earlier, the famed pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had appealed for the creation of a new evangelical association. He believed an evangelical exodus from mainline denominations would facilitate “a mighty revival and re-awakening.” As he brought his appeal to an end, everyone seemed to know what was expected of him or her. The evangelical leader John Stott shared this impression believing his audience would “go home and write their letter of resignation that very night.” Fearing that this assembly which had been formed to further ecumenicism was about to condemn ecumenicism, Stott broke professional protocol and proclaimed, “I believe history is against what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside of it. I hope no one will act precipitately.”

The battle had been engaged. Yet few in attendance could clearly articulate why these two leaders of British evangelicalism had exchanged blows. Both seemingly advocated for the gospel, the supremacy of the Scriptures, and unity. Yet they had both just thrown verbal punches at one another. The crowd was confused. Historians and theologians are still confused about what happened.

Much of the confusion over what had transpired on October 18, 1966 centered upon the content of Lloyd-Jones’s now famous speech “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal.” Stott and the evangelical press of the day believed that the Doctor’s speech “should be interpreted as calling for evangelicals to leave mixed denominations.” They believed Lloyd-Jones was schismatic, working against the unifying influences that had risen to prominence in British evangelicalism during the 1960s.

By contrast, the supporters of the Doctor believed Lloyd-Jones had offered a positive appeal that had little to do with the creation of a new denomination. His grandson and historian, Christopher Catherwood, concluded, “The doctor was arguing for unity, not for division or schism.” The debate over whether or not Lloyd-Jones was a unifier or schismatic still smolders in more than one evangelical fire pit and will not be put out anytime soon.

Though many scholars huddle about the fires that seek to illuminate the Doctor’s intentions, little effort has been devoted to understanding why Lloyd-Jones’s speech proved confusing. While scholars have credited Stott, the evangelical press, and Lloyd-Jones with igniting the fire of controversy, they have not examined why Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 address was so ready for the kindling.

Why the Confusion?

Lloyd-Jones’s address lacked clarity in part because it lacked Scripture. Though Lloyd-Jones believed evangelicalism had reached a “most critical moment” in 1966, he approached this monumental time with only a partially open Bible. He referenced the Word of God twice during his speech, mentioning Acts 2:42 and the “First Epistle to the Corinthians.” He spent more time discussing the Reformation than exegeting the Word of God. Consequently, J.I. Packer would conclude the Doctor had contended for a kind of Puritanism. Other listeners believed the Doctor had been consumed with denominational concerns. Catherwood wrote his grandfather had placed “his emphasis on structure rather than doctrine.” The Doctor had been misunderstood because he stood upon logic and church history instead of the Scriptures. Because of this mistake, he suffered the loss of both friends and influence.

The Lessons of Failure

Pastors, theologians, and lay leaders should take note of Lloyd-Jones’s failure. The man who had devoted his life to glorifying God through sermons designed “to make doctrine real to the heart and therefore permanently life-changing” had stepped out from underneath the shadow of the Scriptures. Without the Word of God, the Doctor’s logic and knowledge of church history proved to be as vibrant as a water-soaked piece of charcoal.

If Christians wonder into ecclesial, social, or political spheres without the Scriptures, they too risk being misunderstood by their listeners. Such presentations may win some adherents in the moment, but they will not advance the gospel, strengthen the Church, or edify local congregations. Lloyd-Jones correctly noted, “You cannot build up a church on apologetics, still less on polemics. The preacher is called primarily to preach the positive Truth.” The Christian’s ability to influence others rests upon his or her ability to exegete and teach the gospel. The Christian has no other power. The people of God must ground their arguments in the Word if they hope to influence hearts.

Lloyd-Jones: A Man of the Scriptures

In many respects, Lloyd-Jones would recover from the wounds of the 1966 controversy because he never wandered far from the Scriptures. Over the course of his life, he lived by the maxim, “Any doctrine that we claim to believe from the Bible must always clearly be found in the Bible.” Three years after the controversy of 1966, the Welsh pastor delivered perhaps his most famous lectures in Philadelphia. These addresses would later be edited and published under the title, Preaching and Preachers. His influence did not stop with this volume. Crossway and Banner of Truth continue to release new editions of his sermons and lectures which cover everything from Romans to the Psalms to the theology of parenting. He was a profoundly biblical man. As his daughter Elizabeth Catherwood noted, “He read his Bible regularly. He knew it and loved it. At the very end, when he couldn’t speak, he would point to verses out of it.” The Doctor remains a fixture upon the evangelical mantel because he loved the Word.

Lloyd-Jones, the Scriptures and 1966

Even his 1966 address had been sparked by his earlier exegetical work. Many of the arguments the Doctor put forward in 1966 had appeared in a booklet he wrote in 1962. In those pages, Lloyd-Jones built his understanding of ecumenicism upon his exegesis of John 17 and Ephesians 4. The booklet restated the conclusions of numerous exegetical sermons he had preached at Westminster Chapel in the 1940s and 1950s. Though Lloyd-Jones shared only his logical conclusions in 1966, they were conclusions that had been extracted from the Scriptures. He had not abandoned his principles. Rather, he had forgotten to fully share them. This oversight doomed the Doctor’s address.

The Scriptures clarify and empower our thoughts; our thoughts do not clarify and empower the Scriptures. Regardless of the Christian’s training, intellect, and persuasiveness, nothing can compensate for the absence of the plain and powerful words of the Scriptures. As Lloyd-Jones said in 1969, “What matters is not the man or his ideas: it should always be this Word, for it alone is the sources of the preacher’s authority.” May God keep us grounded in this Word.

Did the Reformation Destroy the ‘Church?’

Catholics, academics, and some protestants view the Reformation launched by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 as being a less than helpful historical development. Prior to the posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Chapel, seemingly one unified Christian church existed. Our Christian friends in the East who assemble under the banner of the Greek Orthodox Church take issue with this Western view of church history. Almost five hundred years before the Reformation, they broke with the Bishop of Rome on July 16, 1054. But the great schism did not destroy the unity of the Western Churches. Luther and the second generation of Reformers deserve the credit or the blame for that development. Baptists have a president, Methodists have bishops, and Presbyterians have presbyters in part because Luther walked off the field and refused to play with the historic and unifying expression of Christendom, the Roman Catholic Church.

Did Luther and Sola Scriptures Destroy the Church?

But is this truly what happened? Did Luther’s quest for a purer church destroy “The Church,” dividing that which God has always intended to be unified?

Those who view the Reformation to be primarily schismatic in nature, point to the most famous line of the Reformation. At the Diet of Worms in 1521, the representative of Pope Leo X demanded that Luther recant of his errors and his teaching. His errors included such things as Thesis 36 which stated, “Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.” Luther asked for an adjournment of the meeting to form his response. When he returned to the hall the following day, he replied:

I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.”

Here I Stand

Protestants champion Luther’s statement because it encapsulates the idea of Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. Instead of looking to Rome for truth, protestants can scan the Bible and discern God’s truth through plain reason. Luther had shifted the authority of the church from the Pope’s throne to the pew. Protestants rejoiced.

Christendom quaked. The democratization of the church’s authority threatened to destroy all authoritative claims. Any man or woman with access to the Bible could reason himself or herself to a variety of doctrines that may have no relation to the doctrines proposed by other Christians. Essentially Luther and the Reformers who followed the pugnacious monk had turned theology into a subjective experience that seemingly undermined the idea of truth, leaving no place for cultural much less spiritual unity. Interpretive anarchy reigned.

What Did Luther Really Do?

Though Luther and those in the Reformed camp turned the world upside down, they were not seeking to create a new church, modeling a theological paradigm of unending evolution and progress. The Reformers were inherently theological conservationists who wished to lead the Church back to the historic, apostolic faith. Luther had said his 95 Theses aligned, “with what is in the Holy Scriptures…and then what is in…the writings of the church fathers.”

Luther had not advocated for theological anarchy. He and those who followed him believed that the Holy Spirit that had inspired the New Testament text, converted the lost and sustained the church as the caretaker and protector of the evangelical witness. Christians were free to interpret the text according to their own conscience as long as that conscience aligned with the Scriptures and the testimony of the historic church that affirmed the apostolic witness. Theologian Kevin Vanhoozer correctly noted that for the Reformers, “Tradition was not the Word of God; it is the testimony to that Word.” Luther took issue with the Pope not because the Vatican championed tradition. He took issue with Rome because it advocated for theological positions that ran counter to the Scriptures and the testimony of the historic apostolic faith. Vanhoozer helpfully describes what Luther did, writing,

Protestantism is not the virus that divides and attacks the body; it is the antibodies that set to work attacking the body’s infection (e.g. late medieval Roman Catholicism).

Luther had not protested the authoritative nature of apostolic tradition as taught in the Scriptures. He protested against the commands of the Pope because the Pontiff, “distorts the Holy Scriptures.” He was not an theological anarchist. He was theological purest, Sola Scriptura.

Why Is the Church Fractured?

The church lacks unity not because the reformers protested the authority of Rome but because men and women of every age refuse to acknowledge the Scriptures and the apostolic tradition of the Church as Rome has done. The ancient church father Irenaeus whom Luther knew well described schismatics as follows:

When we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they [the schismatics] object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth.

The unity of the church fractures when men and women walk away from the apostolic witness of the Scriptures preferring new sources of authority ranging from prophetic dreams, to religious traditions, to personal feelings. Regardless of their claims, the new traditions always produce schism.

Luther did not infect the church with schism. He reintroduced the church to the cure for division, the gospel once delivered for all and attested to be all true believers. May we be wise stewards of the cure.