Response to ‘They have Forgotten….’ by R. E. Palgrave
Romans 14:4. ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant. To his own Master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.’
For a more recent post, go to https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/ruth-palgrave-blq-and-west-seminary/
Many evangelical churches will recently have received an unsolicited copy of a booklet entitled ‘They have Forgotten…,’ written by a lady called R.E. (Ruth) Palgrave and published by Unity in Truth Literature. No website for this group is given, but its members have clearly invested a sizeable amount of money in the booklet since as well as giving away several hundred copies, advertizements have been placed for it in Evangelical Times and Evangelicals Now with a cover price of only £1.
The booklet describes itself as, ‘An urgent plea for evangelicals to recognize the danger of the Ecumenical Movement and remember the stand that the British Evangelical Council and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took against it.’ It is a well-written and persuasive piece of writing, and the original Martin Marprelate, who wrote against the Bishops of the Church of England would doubtless have supported it. Indeed, I find myself in substantial agreement with much of what I find in the booklet. As a member of a church that finds itself standing almost alone in a sea of ecumenism and where the Christians Together movement seems to have swallowed every morsel of inter-church cooperation in my town and regurgitated it with all doctrine and Gospel content removed, I certainly recognize the danger of the Ecumenical Movement.
The key issue, and the point at which I differ from Miss Palgrave is whether our separation from error is to be one-stage or two-stage. In other words, are we to separate only from those churches which have abandoned Biblical doctrine and the Gospel, or are we to separate also from those which, though orthodox themselves, associate in any way with liberal and apostate churches?
Miss Palgrave is clearly a big fan of the late Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The booklet’s argument is basically three-fold:-
1. That Lloyd-Jones stood firmly against ecumenism and strongly advocated separation from false teaching and apostasy. He also called upon evangelicals in the mixed denominations to come out of them.
2. That the British Evangelical Council of which Lloyd-Jones became a great supporter also advocated Biblical separation and restricted its membership to those who kept clear of the ecumenical movement.
3. That Affinity which became the successor to the B.E.C. in 2004 no longer upholds Biblical separation and is therefore no longer worthy of the support of evangelicals.
That Dr. Lloyd-Jones was opposed to ecumenism is quite undeniable. My own church was started in 1966, around the time of Lloyd-Jones’ calls to evangelicals to leave denominations and start independent churches. Although there is no mention of it in the founding documents, it is more than likely that its founders were moved by his exhortations. However, right from its inception, the church was a member of the F.I.E.C. which practices only one-stage separation. Westminster Chapel, of which Ll-J was minister at the time, also joined F.I.E.C. when it left the liberal Congregational Union. There is no record that either Ll-J or the founders of my church were unhappy at the F.I.E.C.’s stance on ecumenism. Indeed, Lloyd-Jones battled quite hard to persuade the membership of Westminster Chapel that the church should join (1)
Miss Palgrave quotes extensively from Lloyd-Jones’ writings to show that he opposed what she describes as the ‘New Evangelical philosophy of always being positive’ and never criticizing error. However, Ll-J was more balanced than she allows. Earlier in his ministry, he rebuked the famous Canadian preacher T.T. Shields to his face for his negativity and constant criticisms of other ministers. His biographer, Iain Murray wrote; ‘Rather than helping young Christians by the strength of his polemics against liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics, Lloyd-Jones believed that Shields was losing the opportunity to influence those whose first need was to be given positive teaching’ (2). The answer of course is that balance is always needed. When building up the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah’s workers carried both a sword and a trowel . So metaphorically should we; the one to defend God’s people against the enemy, the other to build them up spiritually.
Although Miss Palgrave quotes extensively from Lloyd-Jones’ exhortations to evangelicals to leave the mixed denominations, she has a harder time showing that Lloyd-Jones ever practised two-stage separation himself. For many years he worked closely with evangelical Anglican J. I. Packer, and it was only in 1970, when Packer co-authored a book, Growing into Union, which clearly espoused non-evangelical viewpoints that Lloyd-Jones severed the relationship. I fully agree that evangelicals who are in liberal or mixed denominations are compromising themselves and should leave. I have encouraged several to do so. But ultimately this is something that the individual has to decide in his own heart before God. Many faithful Anglican ministers sincerely believe that they can do more good staying where they are than leaving, and history tends to support them.
In the 19th Century, a number of Anglicans left their churches and founded the Free Church of England. That denomination, never large, has shrunk over the years and has now split into two bodies (3), both having only a tenuous existence. More recently, some other Anglicans departed from the C of E and started the Church of England (continuing). Without doubt, these are faithful men who have given up much to follow their convictions, but the denomination remains tiny and it could certainly be argued that they would have more influence and more opportunities to reach the lost by remaining in the national Church.
As a convinced Independent, I would urge evangelicals in mixed denominations to become independent churches. Over the years there has been a trickle of Baptist Union and Methodist churches doing just this, and joining the FIEC. But these churches often owned their own premises- Anglican churches do not. An Anglican Vicar considering separation has to contemplate either leaving his flock and becoming minister of an existing free church, or trying to find a meeting place at a school or elsewhere. It has to be said that churches taking a stand against homosexuality are likely to find State-owned venues increasingly closed to them if the proposed change to the marriage laws comes about. Of course, if it does, then it is probable that sooner or later Anglican churches will be required to celebrate homosexual ‘weddings.’ In that case evangelical Anglicans will have to leave their churches as Lot left Sodom, and take refuge where they can. In the past few weeks, news has broken that a Church of Scotland congregation, St. Georges Tron, is departing from its denomination. It is uncertain whether it will be able to stay in the church building. If it is not, I wonder how many of the congregation will decide, like Lot’s sons-in-law, to remain where they are. I know several Anglican ministers who are looking forward with deep concern to the choices they will have to make in the near future, and how many of their flocks they can carry with them. They have my sympathy. They need support and encouragement from their Free Church brethren at this stage, not condemnation.
Miss Palgrave gives a quote from Lloyd-Jones, given to the Westminster Fellowship in 1963 (4): ‘When do you decide that a church is apostate? Is it when the majority, and the controlling powers in particular, are teaching error? Is it when they no longer exercise any discipline and are not even concerned about discipline and the reformation of the church?…..I would suggest that the above is the very minimum, that when the main teaching, and the power in the church has passed into the hands of those who teach error, who deny the truth, the essential truths, such a church is apostate, whatever it is, whatever it has been in the past, and whatever its own professed standards are.’
I can agree with this statement, so long as by ‘church’ one does not mean ‘denomination.’ As a convinced Independent, I am not interested in what this or that bishop or presbytery may affirm or deny. If an individual church, in its beliefs, its practice, its leadership, is orthodox, then I regard it as a sister church to my own, and its members, unless and until I learn otherwise, as my brothers and sisters in Christ.
The British Evangelical Council was a sort of umbrellaorganization for bodies such as the F.I.E.C., Free Church of Scotland and Evangelical Movement of Wales, which could not support the more open and liberal stance of the Evangelical Alliance. The B.E.C. never had any sort of control over these bodies; its main occupation seems to have been the organization of conferences. Dr. Lloyd-Jones used it during the 1960s as a platform for some of his finest addresses against the Ecumenical Movement. Miss Palgrave quotes from several of these. However, with the passing of Lloyd-Jones, the B.E.C. became increasingly somnolent, and by the time I became involved with an FIEC church, ten or twelve years ago, it had become an irrelevance, most of the membership being quite unaware of its existence.
As Miss Palgrave points out (5), the B.E.C. did accept an Anglican church into membership in 1987. At the time, the B.E.C. stated, ‘They [the church leaders] have made it clear that they are not willing to remain indefinitely in a church that tolerates heresy. We would be unable to receive a church which sees the only saving Gospel merely as one of several equally valid options in the body where they are content to remain at all costs.’ Again, there seems to be confusion between ‘church’ and ‘denomination.’ However, I can say without any doubt that the evangelical Anglicans whom I know most certainly do not regard the Gospel merely as one of several equally valid options. As a matter of fact, the church that was admitted in the B.E.C. did not leave the Church of England for another seven years.
The belief of Lloyd-Jones and the B.E.C. during the 1960s was that the denominations would be swallowed up by the World Council of Churches which would itself be dominated by the Church of Rome. Although this was a reasonable concern to have back then, the years that have followed have proved it to be unjustified. The W.C.C. is pretty much a dead letter these days and the Anglican Church’s obsession with women priests and bishops have made union with Rome most unlikely. I might add that denominational loyalty is much less strong than it used to be. The attitude of evangelical Anglicans has certainly changed since the Keele Conference of 1967, and I think therefore that we should not take denominational affiliation as a conscious alliance with doctrinal error – I would say it is for many no more than an accident of history.
Affinity was an attempt to breathe new life into the B.E.C. I think it unlikely that the latter body would be in existence today as originally constituted. Certainly many in the F.I.E.C., its largest constituent member, had come to regard it by 2004 as an irrelevance and a waste of money. Whether Affinity has achieved all that was hoped for it is debateable. To my mind it is still something of a fringe organization, but it is most unfair of Miss Palgrave to suggest (6) that Affinity does not have a clear Statement of Faith and a position on separation. One may wish they were firmer or more detailed, but it is simply untrue to claim that they do not exist. The Statement of Faith may be found here: http://www.affinity.org.uk/doctrinal-belief/doctrinal-belief and here are two statements on ecumenism taken from the website, http://www.affinity.org.uk/introducing-affinity/introducing-affinity-1
- The biblical Gospel defines the boundaries of true Christian fellowship. Affinity churches, with real sadness, cannot enter into Gospel partnership with churches which deny the fundamental Bible doctrines set out in the Affinity doctrinal basis.
- When necessary we are ready to oppose those who deny biblical truth and who preach a different gospel. In such situations it is our solemn duty and privilege to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
The one area where Affinity has become relevant to churches like mine is in the Gospel Partnerships, specifically the Peninsular Gospel Partnership which covers Devon and Cornwall. Whilst I wish it was more active than it is, the meetings that have been organized have been excellent. The most recent meeting was addressed by Philip Jensen, Dean of Sydney, Australia and was truly inspirational. It will have been helpful both to Anglicans and Free Church men in a part of the world where evangelical conferences and good teaching are hard to come by. Liberals and Anglo-Catholics were not invited, and even had they been, they would have found it utterly unsuitable for their tastes.
In the city of Exeter, near where I live, I know of only four churches where I am certain that the Gospel is faithfully preached at all times (7). The two largest and most effective of these are an Anglican and a Baptist Union church. I cannot treat these people as my enemies or as heretics. For, ‘Who are you to judge another’s servant. To his own Master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand’ (Rom 14:4). To be sure I will (and do) tell them that they should withdraw from their denominations, but nonetheless so long as they preach the Gospel faithfully they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Finally, if we come to the texts quoted by Miss Palgrave, evangelicals who are in denominations would say that they are obeying them. For example, 2 Cor 6:14. ‘Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness?…..’ The two churches instanced above say that their churches are separate, inasmuch as only orthodox preachers are allowed in the pulpit, and the undesirable elements in the denomination are kept at arm’s length. Also, does the text say that we are not only to separate from unbelievers but also from true believers who we think are associating with unbelievers? I don’t believe that it does. I wish these people would come out from their denominations, but for my part, I cannot separate from those I believe are truly God’s people (Mark 9:38-41).
There is much more that could be said. Should churches separate over such issues as baptism, church governance, the administration of the Lord’s Supper? All these are serious issues which affect one’s view of the nature of the Church. Dr. Lloyd-Jones believed in the continuance of the ‘sign gifts.’ To many of us, this was a major flaw in his ministry which has had baneful results, continuing after his death. Are we to burn his books? Surely not! ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing- Life forevermore’ (Psalm 133).
(1) Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Fight of Faith (1982, Banner of Truth) pp. 542-544.
(2) Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the first Forty Years (1982, Banner of Truth) pp. 271-273.
(3) Free Church of England and Free Church of England (continuing).
(4) ‘They have Forgotten….’ Page 17.
(5) Ibid. Page 23.
(6) Ibid. Pages 23-24.
(7) I do not pretend to know every church in Exeter. There may well be more than four faithful churches, but I only know of four.