On October 18th 1966 The Evangelical Alliance organised the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals, which was held at Westminster Central Hall in London. This comprised 3 days of talks and discussions, but it opened with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones giving the first Address. Dr Lloyd-Jones was nearing the end of his 30 year ministry at Westminster Chapel and was the leading evangelical minister in England and many would say the greatest evangelical preacher of the 20th century. I don’t think the Evangelical Alliance would claim to have held many famous evening meetings, but this one definitely came close to it. The doctor had been asked to speak on the subject of Christian Unity and John Stott, the best known and leading evangelical Anglican preacher of the time, chaired the meeting. In brief, Dr Lloyd-Jones voiced his opinion that evangelicals should leave their theologically mixed denominations to facilitate the coming together of a fellowship of evangelicals that would express a true Christian unity. At the end, instead of closing the meeting, John Stott publicly opposed the doctor’s position stating that he believed both history and Scripture was against him. In the words of Ian Murray who writes an account of this in his biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ‘Though calmly spoken, John Stott’s intervention to repudiate the case which had just been presented could not be other than sensational.’ It certainly created heated discussions among evangelicals at the time.
Right now what may be a largely forgotten event over 56 years ago may be very relevant for the present day. What are evangelical Anglicans going to do? In fact, what are evangelicals in many denominations going to do? I am, of course, referring to the recent synod of the Anglican Church whose members have voted to allow prayers of blessing to be said over gay married couples. At the same time the traditional view of the Church with reference to marriage remains the same, namely that marriage is between a man and a woman, and only that will be allowed to be conducted in Anglican Churches. Many people can see that this is an almighty fudge. It is a clearly designed attempt to keep everyone aboard the Anglican ship. However, I suspect I am with large numbers of those who immediately recognised that is going finally to satisfy no-one. The so-called progressives will complain that it doesn’t go far enough and that gay marriages should be conducted in church. They will bide their time and then push harder for this in the coming years. The evangelicals will argue that you can’t say that the traditional view on marriage remains and then bless gay couples who’ve got married elsewhere; the inconsistency is glaring. I read that these prayers are meant to be a blessing for the individuals and not for the act of gay marriage. And so we have super fudge!
I genuinely feel sorry for the Archbishop of Canterbury that this should have happened on his watch. He is a good man who has been forced by the pressures of today’s culture to do something on the issue of gay marriage. Not surprisingly there has been some dragging of feet and much time given to theological commissions and examinations of this issue, but a decision could not be delayed for ever. I suspect, again, that most of us would have preferred clarity to fudge. To have embraced gay marriage would have at least made the situation clear as would not embracing gay marriage. But by disallowing gay marriage and then encouraging prayers of blessing over gay, married, couples; well, it just makes more fudge. Sure, by retaining the Biblical view of marriage with no fudge might mean that those who want gay marriage in church will move out of Anglicanism and in a free country they could go off to do their own thing. Indeed some may well do this because for them the fudge simply doesn’t taste sweet enough. On the other hand the fudge tastes bitter to many evangelicals; so are they going to move out? Reading responses to the synod’s decision from the Anglican churches in Nigeria, Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya wherein lies so much of the numerical strength of the Anglican Church globally, those churches may well be on their way out or they may even consider themselves in and the Anglican Church in England as out! Frankly it looks like a mess and one that was bound to be created once the synod had voted.
So is this the time to revisit Dr Lloyd-Jones call for evangelicals to leave their theologically mixed denominations? To quote the doctor from that famous Address; ‘…ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine. We, as evangelicals, put doctrine before fellowship.’ Really all of this raises the fundamental question: what is the Church? All evangelicals accept we minister to mixed congregations. On every church membership role there are almost certainly some who are not true Believers – the Lord knows who are his. Also, all evangelicals know that none of us are in possession of perfect doctrine. We still debate baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit, women as church leaders, let alone a mixture of opinions on the End Times and there are other subjects as well. But while there has to be room to talk with one another about these issues evangelicals are persuaded that if we are to be true to Scripture then it is clear that God created men and women. Both leave their parents to marry one another and have sex together (with some other blessings thrown in as well). There is nothing in the Bible that gives us licence to claim that a man can marry a man or a woman can marry a woman and have unnatural sex together. (Romans 1:26-27) To hide behind arguments that the Bible calls us to love and acceptance is entirely to misinterpret the Bible on this issue and to respond to the clamour of modern culture rather than to remain faithful to Biblical truth. And to claim such a view is homophobic is to insult many Biblical Christians who are either same sex attracted and choose to remain celibate or who are not same sex attracted but have gay friends and seek to be open hearted and welcoming to gay people. A church which teaches that which is directly contrary to the Bible is not, in the end, a church – and that is the issue.
For anyone to issue a call to evangelicals to leave their church or denomination is an incredibly serious thing to do. To leave a church or denomination may be an incredibly painful thing to do. But, I suspect, this is where we are poised at the present time. What are evangelicals in the Church of England going to do? My heart goes out to them. The one thing I would earnestly plead is they do not try in some way to stay half in and come half out. We’ve had enough fudge.
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