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.

Do You Have An OT Pastor?

ot-leaderChristians often tend to view the Old Testament like their embarrassing, kind-of-crazy uncle. He’s family; and, he can produce a funny story on command. But, we can’t help but think that our family gatherings wouldn’t suffer too terribly if his tobacco spit and his confederate flag, and rusted out pick-up truck didn’t show up at the next family party.

Similarly, we are thankful for the story of David and Goliath and some of the other more PG OT narratives. But we are more than willing to dispense with David and his buds if that saves us from having to deal with the more barbaric stories of rape, genocide, and world-wide floods.

But when we focus exclusively on the later third of the Bible, we lose a great deal of the mercy and grace of God. The God of the NT is the same as the God of the NT. After all Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. As Lloyd-Jones notes,

Read these four Gospels, and watch [Jesus’s] quotations from the Old Testament. You can come to one conclusion only, namely that He believed it all and not only certain parts of it.

And because Jesus believed the whole OT, we should embrace the beginning and middles of our Bibles. Those pages speak both the warning and grace with cherish in the NT.

The kindness and mercy of God show up profoundly in 1 Samuel 12. The prophet Samuel has been removed from national power by the people of Israel through the sovereign will of God. The people have also rejected Samuel’s sons and have embraced the weak-willed Saul as king. Worst of all, the people have turned their back on God, looking to men for salvation. When the stiff-necked Israelites finally understand that they, “have added to our sins this evil” and seek repentance, Samuel extends them the hand of friendship and love. Notice his powerful words in 1 Samuel 12:23,

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.

The prophet of God does not sit in his office with a smug expression on his face as he haughtily tells them, “I told you so.” No, he does the opposite. He loves this cruel, unteachable, and incentive people. He prays for them. And he does not pray for God to send fire upon them. He asks God to forgive them and to bless them with faith. But that is not all. He promises to teach show the people the good and the right way of God. Samuel loves those who abused him and wants them to excel at life and godliness.

Why does this OT prophet extend his abusers such mercy and forgiveness? He understands that his calling, his mission, and his ministry comes from the Lord. He loves others well because he fears the Lord who loves him well.

Friends in ministry, would we do the same? If our Sunday school class asks us to resign and then asks us to pray for Susie because she is struggling with cancer, would we pray? If our son is asked to resign his youth pastor position by our elders for misusing church funds and then those same elders asked us to forgive them for making a mess of the music ministry, would we forgive them? If our church accused us falsely, asked us to resign, and mocked the doctrines of grace and then pleaded with us to forgive them, would we go back and pastor them?

I fear many of us would not. Most of us would want to punch the above people in the face. At the very least, we would either give them a dressing down or whine about them to our fellow pastor buddies. But Samuel does not attack; nor does he whine. He keeps his eyes upon God and dives head first into the ministry, praying for and teaching the nation of Israel.

Samuel’s life perfectly illustrates Paul’s command to pastors in 2 Timothy 2:24-25.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

The faithful Pastor or elder understands that their call descends from God as opposed to ascending from the pew. The faithful pastor will not quarrel with his people but will teach them. Moreover, the faithful pastor will endure evil. He will anticipate being maligned, attacked, and abused by his congregation. But He will keep going because he know ministry is not ultimately about the people in the pew. It is about glorifying God. And when he endures the abuses of others for the purpose of seeing those in sin redeemed through a knowledge of the truth, God is glorified.

Our churches struggle today, because our pastors and elders don’t wrestle with the whole counsel of God. We don’t know of Samuel’s patience and grace. Thus, we complain and strike forth in anger at the very moment we need to extend the forgiveness modeled by Samuel and discussed by Paul. Bonhoeffer helpfully admonishes all weary pastors and church leaders when he writes,

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all to in Jesus Christ. This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregation. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.

Samuel modeled thankful leadership because he understood God well.  Thus, his people grew in their faith! We need more pastors like Samuel.

If we toss the OT into the trashcan, we will lose this beautiful picture of spiritual leadership. We pastors need both the OT and NT to lead well. Our church need both the OT and NT to understand God.

How can any Christian say that they do not need the OT?

Lloyd-Jones: The Christian’s Response To Persecution

studies on the sermon on the mount“The Christian must not retaliate….he must also not feel resentment. That is much more difficult. The first thing you do is to control your actions, the actual reply. But our Lord is not content with that, because to be truly Christian is not simply to live in a state of repression. You have to go beyond that; you have to get into the state in which you do not even resent persecution. I think you all know from experience the difference between the these two things. We may have come to see long ago that to lose our temper over a thing or to manifest annoyance, is dishonoring to our Lord. But we still may feel it, and fell it intensely, and be hurt about it and resent it. Now the Christian teaching is that we must go beyond that. We see in Philippians 1 how the apostle Paul had done so. He was a very sensitive man – his Epistles make that plain – and he could be grievously hurt and wounded. His feelings had been hurt, as he shows quite clearly, by Corinthians, the Galatians and others; and yet, he has now come to the state in which he really is no longer affected by these things. He says he does not even judge his own self; he has committed to the judgement of God.

But we must go further…When you are persecuted and people are saying all manner of evil against you falsely, you ‘rejoice’ and are exceedingly glad.’”

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Pages 122-23