One Reason Why John Stott’s Stand Against Martyn Lloyd-Jones Mattered

A couple of days ago, Justin Taylor published an interview with the Rev Dr Andrew Atherstone, upon the fiftieth anniversary of a pivotal event in English evangelical history. At the National Assembly of Evangelicals on October 18, 1966, two of the biggest figures among British evangelicals in the day, the Welsh minister of Westminster Chapel in London, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John Stott, rector of All Souls Church, had an important dispute about the future of evangelicals within the Church of England.

Lloyd-Jones gave an address calling for evangelicals to pursue visible unity with other evangelicals, accusing Anglican evangelicals of schism for their failure to unite with evangelicals outside of the Church of England, and of serious compromise for their continued involvement in a mixed denomination alongside doctrinally and spiritually unfaithful persons. Although he was the chairman, Stott publicly responded to Lloyd-Jones’ remarks, resisting his claims and appeal to Anglican evangelicals.

This proved to be a turning point in British evangelicalism in various ways, sadly straining relations between evangelicals within and without the Church of England. These tensions between the ecclesiologies of Anglican evangelicals and independent evangelicals brought about a breach between the two groups and probably shifted the balance of Anglican evangelicals’ identity towards one that was more firmly rooted within the Anglican tradition and the Church of England.

It is important to understand Lloyd-Jones’ position against the background of the many compromises, yet considerable ambition, of the ecumenical movements of his day. He was far from unjustified in his concerns about evangelicals’ involvement in mixed denominations, especially if those denominations were driving towards one ecumenical world church. Fifty years on, it seems fair to say that the evangelicals who remained within the Church of England have not escaped untouched by the wider doctrinal and ethical failures of their communion.

However, Lloyd-Jones’ overwhelming concern for doctrinal purity may well have meant that he wasn’t sufficiently able to perceive the importance of other dimensions of the Church’s life: its institutions, traditions, polity, and its many bonds to the identity of communities and the nation more generally. Perhaps such a weakness in his ecclesiology was also reflected in the fact that, as many have suggested, Westminster Chapel functioned less as a church and more as a preaching centre. The quest for a pure church can result from a failure adequately to reckon with the existence of the church as simul justus et peccator, and with the functioning of the church as a flawed human polity among other human polities.

Both the ecumenical movement and Lloyd-Jones’ positions arose from dangerously flawed ecclesiologies. My purpose is not to get into a discussion of their respective flaws within this post, however. Rather, I wanted to highlight one specific area where I believe that the legacy of Stott’s stand is still being felt today and, through it, to identify the value of revisiting the debate between him and Lloyd-Jones.

Looking back to Stott’s struggle with Lloyd-Jones, on balance, I am immensely grateful that Lloyd-Jones didn’t win the day. Had Lloyd-Jones won, the achievement of visible evangelical unity would in all likelihood have been a Pyrrhic victory, one that would have left us a radical marginal and insignificant group. As Matthew Cresswell wrote in the Guardian a few years back: ‘without Stott there would be fewer evangelicals in the Church of England today, and those in it would be brash, old-fashioned and a little like the church’s version of the US Tea Party.’ The state of evangelicals in the country more generally would probably have been more marginal still. Perhaps you could argue that Stott and others like him saved evangelicals in the UK from becoming fundamentalists.

The significance of evangelicals in the UK today is in no small measure due to our presence in Anglican institutions and the influence that we can exert through them. If we hadn’t fought for the institutions and legacy bequeathed to us by former generations of evangelicals in the established church, we would be a much less weighty force today.

As one particular and important example, the place that conservative voices still have in theology departments in universities around the UK is due in large measure to the fact that evangelicals didn’t abandon the Church of England. I am one of a very great number of evangelicals—both British and North American—who have benefited from the academic space for conservative Protestants that was likely maintained in no small measure by the stand of people like Stott in their refusal to leave the Church of England.

When you list the leading evangelical theologians of the last couple of decades, the majority of them will have received their post-graduate education in theological or academic institutions that were established and are maintained primarily by mainline denominations—in the UK, by the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. The fact that evangelicals did not abandon the Church of England has kept some key academic institutions open to more conservative voices.

Such a large number of the leading evangelical and conservative Protestant theologians of recent years are English or were educated in the UK—Carson, Beale, Wright, O’Donovan, Leithart, McGrath, Trueman, Vanhoozer, Thiselton, Holmes, Poythress, Witherington, Begbie, Green, the Wenhams, Webster, etc, etc. I don’t believe that this is an accident. Rather, evangelicals’ place within the academy was preserved because Anglican evangelicals refused to heed people like Lloyd-Jones’ appeal to abandon mixed denominations and pursue a purer church. Instead, they fought for the soul of and their place within crucial elite institutions. We are all so much better off for their struggle.

The influence of the thinkers I’ve just mentioned isn’t merely found in the spread of the specific theological positions that they have taught, but also in the calibre of theological discourse that they maintain by their presence and the weight that they give to evangelical voices and thought by their activity within the broader theological discourse.

The strength of evangelicalism as an academic and ecclesial force within the UK is overwhelmingly due to Anglicans and Anglican institutions (evangelical Anglican training colleges also deserve a mention here). This strength is one that thankfully benefits all evangelicals to some degree or other, whether they are within or without the Church of England. Many North Americans also benefit from the institutional struggles that evangelicals fought here.

Where robust elite academic institutions do not exist, thought goes relatively unhoned, and unhealthy personality cults can develop around smart theologians. One only has to contrast the profile that someone like N.T. Wright enjoys in certain US evangelical circles with that which he enjoys in the UK academy and the Church of England to see the difference. In the UK academy and the Church of England there simply isn’t the same sort of cult following, as his voice is institutionally held in balance with the voices of many other brilliant thinkers and critics. It seems to me that evangelicals tend to produce their best work in such contexts and, when they retreat into narrowly evangelical contexts, their work often suffers in its rigour.

There are huge storm clouds gathering here in the UK and we will need to fight new battles for and in these institutions. However, many of these institutional fights are far more important in the long run than many evangelicals might think. If there is one thing that I think we should take away from Stott’s position in his dispute with Lloyd-Jones, it is that imperfect institutions are still worth fighting for. Pure ecclesiologies can be a deep threat to the development of a rigorous evangelical theological tradition.

Many of us as evangelicals have benefited immensely from institutions that evangelicals in mixed mainstream traditions fought for and within. I came to Durham University as an independent evangelical. However, the fact that there was a place for me to deepen my understanding here as an evangelical is largely due to faithful conservative Anglicans. I, and many others like me, owe these brothers and sisters an immense debt of gratitude.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Church History, Controversies, Culture, The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to One Reason Why John Stott’s Stand Against Martyn Lloyd-Jones Mattered

  1. Chris E says:

    Evangelicals have in the main been very bad at thing through the impact of different ecclesiologys, and that applies as much to those within the Anglican communion as those outside, I think in this we should look to learn from the various Anglo-Catholic movements that have been successful precisely because they have been willing to see ecclesial structures as important and applied themselves to them.

  2. Clarke Morledge says:

    Reblogged this on Veracity and commented:
    Fifty years ago this week, the great British evangelical independent preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, clashed with Anglican, John R.W. Stott, another great British pastor, over the future of the evangelical movement in the United Kingdom. Jones was urging evangelicals to leave corrupt institutions, whereas Stott pushed back, reminding fellow evangelicals of the importance of maintaining a Christian witness. Stott’s argument won the day, yet Puritan historian, Iain H. Murray, believes that the acceptance of Stott’s efforts led to evangelical compromise. However, the following blog post, by British blogger Alastair Roberts, offers a different perspective, that I find helpful to think about.

  3. “Where robust elite academic institutions do not exist, thought goes relatively unhoned…”

    This jumped out at me in particular. I think it’s very true.

    Thanks for this post.

  4. Alastair, do you not think though, that by being in the same church as liberals, you are effectively recognising them as Christians, when in fact they are nothing of the sort?

    Does it not pose an issue that evangelicals (if they are to exist within the Church of England), in order to be consistent with their principles will have to continually resist many aspects of the church’s practice and its affirmation of those who ought to be out of the church altogether?

    • Chris Wooldridge says:

      Don’t get me wrong, there are many aspects of British Anglicanism that I find appealing. I like the emphasis on a broad church in general (ie. including anglo-catholics, charismatics and evangelicals, but not liberals). And I accept that the very existence of multiple denominations poses an issue in itself.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris.

      No, I don’t think so. Or, at least, there is an important difference between recognizing some people as members of the visible church, who do not belong to the invisible. Dealing with someone on the basis of their baptism and church membership doesn’t mean that they are to be regarded as faithful and as true members of Christ.

      Yes, there will be a continual need for resistance. My point is that more is at stake in such resistance than many might think and that much may be lost if the struggle is abandoned. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be breaking points. These will vary for different persons and in different contexts. It is one thing to be a member of a faithful congregation in a mixed denomination, something else to be a member of a mixed congregation with faithful leaders in a mixed denomination, and another thing still to be a member of a mixed congregations with unfaithful leaders in a mixed denomination. It is one thing to be in these contexts as a mature Christian, another thing to have a young family in such a context, for instance. A great deal of prudence is required here.

      • Chris Wooldridge says:

        Thanks Alastair, that makes a lot of sense. I suppose the parable of the wheat and tares plays into this as well. I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should never resist evil, but rather that we should be wary, lest we destroy the faith of true believers through an overly exclusive approach.

      • I would also relate this to my recent discussion of the need for differentiation. Evangelicals, lacking robust differentiation, have often struggled to function with integrity in mixed contexts and have sought to remove themselves instead. What is needed in such situations is more careful differentiation, without disengagement.

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  6. Physiocrat1 says:

    I think you over state your case with regards elite academic institutions since you can’t say Stott was right since we have all these scholars trained in these elite institutions and relatively few came from explicitly evangelical institutions- the appropriate comparison is today’s scholars with what would have existed is Lloyd-Jones would have won out: could explicit evangelical institutions created following the 60s created more and better scholars than the present system? It’s still possible however that Stott was right in this regard.

    Also, on a general ecclesiological question, how bad does a denomination have to be to leave that institution rather than an unbelieving congregation? It seems your views would entail, at least superficially, re- unification with Rome

    • I think that a comparison with the US could be helpful here. Although much smaller in number, British evangelicals have far more powerful a presence in and through their academic institutions than American evangelicals do in theirs. As Alan Jacobs has argued, American evangelicals’ subaltern counterpublics have rendered them increasingly marginal to the wider public discourse.

      A denomination can be pretty bad without one’s position being untenable within it. However, remaining in and battling for a deeply compromised denomination is a very different thing from uniting with one. Struggling against compromise in the place where God has put you is really not remotely comparable with pursuing compromise.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        Your US comparison is well taken although the disposition of UK Evangelicals is somewhat different so better results were at least possible.

        Also joining a denomination is different than fighting for one you’re already in. The thought that prompted the question was, given your broad view, whether the Refomers were right to leave the Roman Church or were they right to leave? This then raised the question, in your view how bad does it have to get before you leave?

      • It seems to me that the different disposition of UK evangelicals, apart from the determination of Anglican evangelicals to stay in the Church of England, would have led to us being much worse off than US evangelicals.

        The Reformers were forced out of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was excommunicated. That is a rather different sort of situation.

      • cal says:

        Alastair,
        How do you define denomination?

      • Roughly, as a group of churches sharing a name, leadership structures, a tradition and history, doctrinal symbols, institutions, and having various other dimensions of shared agency, affiliation, and association. Of course, what it means for a Baptist denomination to be a denomination is rather different from what it means to be a member of a Presbyterian denomination, and being a member of the Church of England is rather more complicated still (and rather less like being a member of a denomination in some key respects as its geographical identification is more prominent).

      • cal says:

        So, the Roman Catholic Church is a denomination in the same way the Southern Baptists are, only different in size? And how does the notion of communion fit in, namely that is the Anglican Communion denonimnation, of which the Church of England is a subset, or is that supradenominational?

        I’m trying to get my head around this because I struggle with thinking through catholicity as a virtue. While it’s not completely true, Protestants suffer from a lack of communitive imagination and produce sectarians left and right. If we’re to recognize schism as a serious issue, then it’s worth reviving that as a possible state of existence in ecclesial discussions that goes beyond the insulting tropes of Rome or Constantinople.

      • No, I don’t think that the RCC is a denomination in the same way as Southern Baptists are (nor are Presbyterians for that matter). The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and even the Church of England are not denominations in the same way as Methodists, Presbyterians (perhaps excluding Scotland), or Baptists (or even Episcopalians in the US). The former ecclesial entities followed a rather different principle of development, with a more pronounced relationship to structures of givenness (geography, nationality, locality, family of birth, etc.) and rather less emphasis upon private choice of religious affiliation according to personal belief.

        The Anglican Communion isn’t really what I would call a ‘denomination’, although there are denominations within it. Denominations are primarily a Protestant phenomenon and, more particularly, a non-conformist phenomenon within an English context.

    • cal says:

      How does one consider the difference between denomination, schism, and being schismatic? Or does it really matter, given the lay of the land as it currently is? Part of the reason Rome doesn’t take most Protestants seriously is that we/they have no coherent sense of ecclesial belonging. How ought we to talk to “non-denominational” people about the virtue of union? Do you have any working definitions here? I’m mostly at a loss, as Physiocrat’s comments somewhat reflect, about the sort of default sense of “reunion with Rome”. Is there an ecclesial justification that distinguishes why not join, and yet sees problems with the constant fragmenting of different Protestants (with women’s priestly ordination and gay marriage being some of more recent fissuring).

      While God maintained a division between Judah and Israel, Israel was still in sin for its practice of Jeroboam’s sin, namely building alternative spaces of worship so his people would not return to Jerusalem and dream of reunion. Not only is this the sin of schism (even if God allowed it for Solomon’s sins), but it’s also the sin of false worship, contrary to God’s command to worship at His temple in Jerusalem. Now, an Israelite is born an Israelite, but it’s hardly God’s wish for him not to worship in the Temple and instead at Bethel or Dan.

      As it was in the days of Israel, there has always been divisions between true Israelites, circumcized in spirit, and Israelites of the flesh only, rejecting the Lord with their words and deeds. Hence, the proper distinction between invisible/visible Church. But it’s hard for Protestants to articulate anything that does not become a constantly fracturing “true body”, or erase the visible for a completely invisible unity, a sum of all elect at all times, as per Calvinistic Baptist theology.

      Personally, this issue haunts me. I have no desire for Rome’s false unity, but I can’t offer a positive statement without appeals to a kind of festishization of my own wants, likes/dislikes etc. It’s a rock and a hard-place.

      my 2 cents,
      cal

      • There are several things to take into account here.

        First, schism is often presented less as a sin in itself than as a consequence of sin. Unless the underlying sins are dealt with, the schism can’t be overcome.

        Second, the Roman Catholic Church took a sectarian line towards Protestants at the Reformation and hasn’t taken the steps necessary to reject that.

        Third, Roman Catholic unity is far less obvious in reality as it is in name. Once you look beyond the structural official forms of unity, Roman Catholicism is fairly fractured and radically ‘mixed’ doctrinally.

        Fourth, Protestant sectarianism is far less obvious in reality as it is in names. Although we have our different denominations, there is extensive collaboration and mutual recognition among Protestants.

        Fifth, Scripture pushes back against the over-identification of Christian unity with institutional unity. When the disciples see someone else casting out demons in Christ’s name, for instance, they are told not to rebuke them.

        Sixth, there is a danger of focusing upon unity at some universal level, looking for some single unifying institutional expression of the worldwide Church. I believe Scripture focuses the task of unity primarily at the local level, as the recognition of our neighbours. We should be cautious of analogies with Israel and its unified temple worship. The Christian Church is decentralized on earth, as the source of its unity lies in heaven.

        Seventh, the primary union of the Church is found in Christ, so faithfulness to him must take priority over all else. On the other hand, we can’t relate to Christ without relating to other Christians. The important point here is that schism is principally a matter about our relationship with the Head of the Church. The historic Protestant claim that Roman Catholics were the main schismatics is, I believe, exactly right. We can recognize Roman Catholics as part of the Church, while appreciating that our unity with them is necessarily currently impaired. They are alienated brothers, whose return we must earnestly desire. But we shouldn’t settle down with them in the far country.

      • cal says:

        First: Are you making a distinction between schism and disunity? Because there are many proverbs about the abomination of discord among brothers, disunity etc etc. You’re right though, schism is the manifestation of other sins as a product, but so are a number of other sins (murder, adultery etc.).

        Second & Third: Agreed.

        Fourth: I’m not sure about this, unless you’re fencing the word Protestant in a particular way. If you are (which I’m curious about) what makes something Protestant vs. non-Roman Western Christianity? Is it the 5 solas?

        Fifth:I’m not sure if that’s a fair equation. It’s one thing to not collapse the Kingdom of God into the Church, or to recognize that the Church is not the boundaries of an institution. But it’s another thing to say that the Church should not desire institutional unity. I’m not worried about over identification, but under identification. If Protestants are willing to find substantial unity, why not pool resources? Why remain distinct?

        Sixth: Yes, but we pray for on Earth as in Heaven. And while not locationally focused, the earliest defenders of the Church appealed to the Apostles. I think there’s a difference between universality and catholicity. I think Orthodoxy makes better sense of this than Protestants, at least the learned, peaceable, less-rabid proponents of Orthodoxy. It’s about forging serious bonds that ecumenism is about. I think institutional formation is a part of the gig.

        Seventh: It may be a historical truth that Rome was the schismatic in regards to the Reformation, but that part of the story isn’t the whole picture. My query/agony was less about whether Rome is a good option (I don’t believe it is), but rather offering a compelling alternative that is coherent is possible. I think having a good ecclesiology is not far off from having a good account of soteriology. I’m encouraged by the Anglican communion as those who get together (I think Desmond Tutu coined that). But, with Christ as head, how can Protestants work towards greater unity? How do we integrate with one another? How does a form of Fundamentalism (defined as a lowest common-denominator set of propositions being the litmus test of in/out) not become our destiny?

        cal

      • I’m rather busy at the moment, so this will have to be my last comment in this thread.

        Yes, I would distinguish schism from disunity, although they obviously overlap. In the case of schism there is a more decisive cutting off from brothers.

        Protestantism is more particular than mere ‘non-Roman Western Christianity’. Nor, for that matter, is it anti-Roman Catholic Christianity; Protestantism primarily stands for, rather than against, something (and that something isn’t just a set of ideas, but also a tradition, liturgical and ecclesial order, etc.). By the term I refer to Christian groups that stand in historical succession with the Reformation movement (Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, most Baptists, etc.). There are other non-Roman Catholic groups whose identity is rather more nebulous. Some of these groups will also be rather more Protestant than others.

        Institutional union can be a good thing where deeper forms of union exist. It is never presented as the primary form of union between Christians. That union is more a matter of mutual recognition, welcome, and fellow labouring in our common faith. Where deeper forms of union are lacking, focusing on institutional union can be a matter of putting the cart before the horse.

        Further, a lot of union can exist between Christians who lack institutional union on other levels. I can go to virtually any Protestant church and know that I will be welcomed at the table. I wouldn’t be welcomed at the same way in a Roman Catholic church. However, most Protestant churches I know would also welcome any Catholic who professed Christian faith at the table. Having a big and structurally unified institution is a VERY different thing from exhibiting the reality of Christian union. None of this is to deny a place for institutional union, but it is greatly overrated in its importance and priority.

        If we are looking for genuine union, we should stop fetishizing grand institutional and structural union and focus on recognizing and welcoming Christians in our localities. In each locality the Church should be expressed in a broader community of Christians who love and serve each other and labour together. We should also seek union in the challenging task of pursuing Christian truth, arguing with each other in a manner tempered and driven by Christian love as we ought to be. Denominations can be important in some respects. They prevent a suffocating institutional union from stifling the truth, ensuring that we hone each other in a more aerated conversation, without preventing us from recognizing and welcoming each other. Unity is an important task, but it principally works from the ground up. It is quite possible to have mutual recognition and welcome in the absence of structural and institutional unity.

  7. quinnjones2 says:

    Thank you for this, Alastair.
    ‘…on balance, I am immensely grateful for the fact that Lloyd-Jones did not win the day.’ So am I – despite the fact that, having grown up in Wales, I have a strong affiliation to my compatriot!

    ‘…his voice is institutionally held in balance with the voices of other brilliant thinkers and critics.’ Spot on! Many (maybe all?) Church of England priests receive their theological training in UK Universities and it is good to know that there are ‘checks and balances’ both in the universities and in the church. Sometimes the ‘checks and balances’ seem to behave like a wayward see-saw, rocking from one side to the other, and sometimes the ‘see-saw’ seems to get weighted down on one side for a while, but there are nonetheless checks and balances.

    I have been a member of a CofE church for more than 20 years. Before that I was, for a short time, a member of a very charismatic house church, which had broken away from the mainstream. It was the ‘checks and balances’ in the CofE which drew me to the church I currently attend, but I remain indebted to our brothers and sisters in the ‘breakaway’ church.
    I think of myself as both charismatic and evangelical – not a totally impossible mix🙂
    Christine

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    Alastair and Cal – I have been following your conversation with interest.
    I have just a few thoughts.
    ‘I believe that Scripture focusses the task of unity primarily at the local level, as the recognition of our neighbours.’ I have been thinking about Churches Together in our area and have become more aware of just how thriving it is. We (a large CofE church) have links with the local Baptist and Methodist churches and also with the Salvation Army and the United Reform Church. The local Catholic church also joined Churches Together in recent years. In our church there is a dearth of youngsters between the ages of about 16-29. Some in that age group attend the local Life Church, including the offspring of one of our leaders! Our church has started a monthly worship service/fellowship group for youngsters in that age group in an attempt to bring them together a bit more.
    Examples of ecumenical links in our area are:
    Healing service
    Prisons Week service
    ‘Street Care’ – many people evangelize in the evening in the local park and on the town streets, chatting with youngsters who are at a loose end and just hanging around. This has a base at the Salvation Army Headquarters.
    Many people spend Maundy Thursday at the Baptist church.
    ‘Meeting Point’ is a midweek worship and fellowship group for elderly and unemployed people.

    ‘The historic Protestant claim that Roman Catholics were the main schismatics is, I believe exactly right.’
    I did not know that Martin Luther was excommunicated by the RC church until I read what you wrote about this, Alastair. I have family links with the RCC and it took me a long time to come to terms with this schism – to some extent I am still coming to terms with it. I have been taken aback, for instance, by the extent to which some Catholics I know hate Henry V111 and the extent to which they venerate Thomas More. I have also been concerned about the exclusive attitude of the Vatican to intercommunion. On the other hand, I have been told by an Anglican priest that some Catholic priests turn a blind eye to the Vatican ruling on this and will slip a wafer to non-Catholics at the Eucharist🙂 I do feel encouraged by the links between Archbishop Justin Welby and Vincent Nichols, the RC Archbishop of Westminster. I also confess to having a personal interest in this because Vincent Nichols was a good friend to some family friends whose son died of cancer when he was a young seminarian, and encouraged him to write the book ‘Tears at Night, Joy at Dawn: Journal of a Dying Seminarian’ (by Andrew Robinson)
    A former rector at our church once said, ‘There can be no peace without the Prince of Peace.’ I thought of this again when I read these words above: ‘…the primary union of the Church is found in Christ, so faithfulness to him must take priority over all else.’
    Christine

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