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What does a historical debate between Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott have to do with the modern happenings of the Church of England?

What does a historical debate between Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott have to do with the modern happenings of the Church of England?

May 8, 2019

There's another big story that comes on the heels of this. Christian Today, from there in Great Britain, recently ran a news story with this headline, Evangelical Anglicans demand answers after GAFCON criticism." That might sound like a religious equivalent of Inside Baseball, and it is to some extent, but that's actually a pretty explosive headline. You have Evangelical Anglicans, evangelical believers within the Church of England, who are demanding answers after Anglican conservatives were criticized by an Anglican leader.

As Christian Today reports, "Suggestions that a fellowship of orthodox Anglicans is fueling divisions in the worldwide Anglican Communion have been strongly criticized. The Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC) has written to General Secretary, the Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, asking him to explain comments he made during an address to the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong, which drew to a close just last Sunday."

Now here's the interesting part of this story, you have controversy over this Anglican Archbishop criticizing GAFCON, that's the group of conservative Evangelical Orthodox Anglicans that came together to form a Communion in the aftermath of the liberal action taken by the Episcopal church in the United States, in ordaining and consecrating an openly gay bishop. Let's just remind ourselves, that was way back in 2003.

And the tepid response of the official Anglican Communion, and you look at GAFCON developing and what's the link to the previous story? Well, guess where most of the energy for GAFCON is to be found. It's going to be found in Africa and in other nations in the developing world where, once again, where you find Christians, and specifically where you find Anglicans, they are overwhelmingly not theologically liberal. They define marriage as the union of a man and woman, they are not going to accept the LGBTQ revolution.

And thus you have this headline. But those who observe such things should look at this story a little bit more closely. You have the group known as the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion demanding that this Anglican Archbishop clarify and correct what he said in his criticism about conservative Anglicans being essentially schismatic, leading to a loss of unity within the Anglican Communion.

The point being made the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion is that it is the theological liberals who are the cause of disunion within the Fellowship, it is not those who hold to Orthodox Christianity. You had this group known as the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion coming to the defense of GAFCON.

So what's the big story here? Well, in order to understand this, we have to go back to October 18, 1966, that was the meeting of the National Assembly of Evangelicals there in London. And it was the occasion for one of the most historic developments in Anglican Evangelical history. It was then that Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, the pastor of Westminster Chapel and the lead speaker of the Evangelical Assembly, called for what he termed a visible unity among evangelicals. To put the point bluntly, he called upon evangelicals in the Church of England to leave. He declared back in 1966 that the Church of England was theologically beyond reformation and he called for evangelicals to come out.

This led to an open confrontation with perhaps the most famous evangelical figure within the Church of England at the time, the Reverend John R.W. Stott, one of the most influential figures of English speaking evangelicalism throughout all the world. It was John Stott inside the Church of England, he was then the rector of All Souls Church in the heart of London, it was Stott who called upon the Anglicans to stay, evangelicals to stay within the Church of England and not to leave.

But the most important issue in this article is that John Stott was cited by this Archbishop as someone who would support unity at virtually any cost. But it was the leader of Stott's organization now, the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship and the Anglican Communion, who responded to this quite strongly. That Evangelical Fellowship continues to define Christian marriage as the union of a man and woman. By the way, so does the official doctrine of the Church of England.

And the leader of the Evangelical Fellowship said that it was unhelpful, I'll go on and say outright dishonest, to present John Stott's position for the 1960s as a solution to today's issues in the Communion. That's the language of the news release. And then the leader went on to say this, "The current crisis in the Anglican Communion is caused by a different issue, same-sex marriage and partnerships, an issue on which the views of the Reverend Dr. John Stott were clear."

Though few may recognize it now, this current headline brings us right back to the issues at stake in that debate between Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones and Dr. John Stott on October 18th of 1966. True, neither man then could have foreseen the precise issues that are of central debate now. But I dare to say, I think Dr. Lloyd Jones would have been far less surprised than Dr. Stott.

Dr. Stott called for evangelicals to stay in the Church of England as a conserving force of evangelical influence. And his hopefulness was largely grounded in the fact that evangelicals were beginning to have far larger representation in the pipeline producing priests within the Church of England. But he did not foresee, I think it's safe to say, the revolution that would take place and the acceleration of that revolution in sexuality and morality, even down to the institution of marriage.

It's historically illegitimate to go back a meeting in 1966 and say we know what those men would say now, but it is not illegitimate to go back to what they said in 1966 and say, "That's what they said in 1966." And that's why it matters even now.


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