Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Was the Doctor right after all?

Observing the crack up of the Anglican Communion and reading news that J. I. Packer is to be suspended from the Anglican Church of Canada, it raises the interesting historical question: was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones right after all?

Those who read this blog and who are aware of the "Doctor's" life will remember that Lloyd-Jones, Packer, and John Stott had a major falling out in the late 1960s when Lloyd-Jones raised serious concerns about the direction of the Anglican church and suggested (well, it was stronger than that) that Christian ministers should leave the Anglican church because it was no longer a place hospitable to evangelicals. At the time, both Packer and Stott opposed Lloyd-Jones; the fracas led to the dividing of English evangelicalism (all this can be found in short compass in Iain Murray's Evangelicalism Divided or his biography of Lloyd-Jones).

One of the challenging questions for evangelicals in mainstream denominations is whether and when to separate from unbelief--how to discern what is a "first-order" issue; how to leave as a witness and with tears, not trumpets (in Francis Schaeffer's phrase); etc. These are particularly important questions for the Presbyterian tradition, which has seen its fair share of separation through the years (hence, the mocking label, "the split Ps").

Still, when one observes the trajectory of the Anglican Communion and the PC(USA) over the past 30 or 40 years, it seems clear that the agitating issue of today (ordination of non-celibate homosexuals) was a natural outgrowth of theological trajectories set a generation prior. If that is the case, then perhaps the Doctor was right after all--that there are appropriate times to separate from unbelief as a witness to theological truths and that this can be done without becoming warrior children, no matter what others might suggest.


James Grant said...

Great thought. I have been thinking the same thing about the controversy between Packer, Stott, and Lloyd-Jones, but I don't necessarily think the doctor is completey right on this one.

Although Packer has seperated from the Anglican church in Canada, he is still within the Anglican communion. And I wonder where the rest of the more conservative Anglican communion would be today if Stott and Packer and other evangelicals would have seperated from the Anglican communion at that time.

James Grant

Ken Pierce said...


It really is amazing how this pattern repeats itself again and again. The liberal denominations will accept any doctrinal deviation, up to and including a denial of the divinity of Christ.

What they cannot tolerate is someone who won't tow the party line.

The most famous victim of this is, of course, Machen.

This was also the experience of the Seventh Reformed Church of Grand Rapids while John R. de Witt was pastor. The church conscientiously refused to pay certain assessments to the RCA, while faithfully supporting others.

The GEneral Synod sent word to the classis (presbytery) that they would not be seated at the next meeting unless Seventh was dealt with.

In one classis meeting, the RCA excised its largest church (by attendance anyway), and deposed both her minister and her emeritus minister.

Such is the way of the world.

John D. Chitty said...

Absolutely, Lloyd-Jones was right. When the gospel takes the kind of hit it has received from all of the historic Protestant denominations, the line has been crossed and it's time to, by God's grace, and certainly with tears and without trumpets, to collectively pick up one's candlestick (if you will) and (I guess to perpetuate the metaphor) erect a new temple around it.

But you can't always get everyone to agree to such a thing, so brothers must learn to live and let live about such decisions, which, despite the public conflict between Lloyd-Jones, Packer and Stott, I'm sure they all still held each other in high regard privately.

Reminds me of the story I've heard about Whitefield's comments after Wesley died, that he didn't think he'd see Wesley in heaven, because Wesley would be so far up at the front of the worshiping throng, and Whitefield so far at the back, that he'd probably never see him.

Sometimes this story puts a lump in my throat, other times, it brings a tear and opens my sinuses, but rarely is recalled without a response.

Heck, even when I was a student at Baptist Bible College (IFB) (which, as I'm sure you know, split with J. Frank Norris' World Baptist Fellowship back in 1950), I heard the chapel speakers speak well of Norris despite the rift.

Rick Phillips said...

If I am not mistaken, the issue between MLJ and Packer-Stott was not just an assessment of trajectory. The issue was whether or not one must accept someone as a fellow Christian simply because he or she has been baptized, even when that person consciously rejects essential doctrines of the faith. In this case what Packer shows us now is that there really is little point in compromising when true fundamentals are in question. Unless we are prepared to join in with the rejection of orthodoxy -- which, thankfully, Packer has not been prepared to do -- then sooner or later we are going to face a compromise we cannot accept. This is why, I believe that when a church body knowingly rejects the authority of the Bible, we have little choice but to depart. The particular compromise is not really the issue, but the rejection of Scriptural authority. I do think that Packer's current stand proves MLJ to be right. Undoubtedly, Packer's motives have been noble, and this must be a particularly bitter experience for his gentle heart.