‘Is John Stott Mad?’ ‘Has Lloyd-Jones gone off his rocker?’

by
07 October 2009

Roger Steer tells of a seminal Evangelical showdown in 1966

Evangelicals disagree: John Stott, when he was Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, in 1969

Evangelicals disagree: John Stott, when he was Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, in 1969

IN THE late 1920s, Martyn Lloyd-Jones abandoned a career in medicine to becomea minister in a small Presbyterian church in Wales. Two years before John Stott arrived at All Souls’, Langham Place, as curate, Lloyd-Jones had become sole pastor at Westminster Chapel in London, and preached there almost every Sunday night until 1968, when ill-health forced him to retire.

Lloyd-Jones had no formal theological training, but read widely. His preaching was what is known as expository, drawing out the meanings of every phrase in passages of scrip­ture in his sermons, and attempting to apply them to his congregation. For this he had a large and loyal following.

In June 1965, he addressed the Westminster Fellowship, an interdenominational ministers’ fraternal that met in his chapel from the end of the war. “Theologically orthodox Anglicans”, he argued, “and others with similarly ortho­dox beliefs should consider leaving their denominations. Instead of trying to ‘infiltrate’ the various bodies to which they belong, Evangelicals should stand together.”

In the summer of 1966, when Lloyd-Jones was 67 and Stott was 45, John gave three Bible readings at a meeting for doctors in Oxford. At the end of one of them, Lloyd-Jones took John to one side and surprised him. “I would like you to be my successor at Westminster Chapel,” he said.

Totally taken aback, John replied: “While I am greatly honoured, I have no sense of cal­ling to leave All Souls’, or, indeed, the Church of England.”

THE Evangelical Alliance invited Lloyd-Jones to give the keynote address on the theme of church unity in the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. In particular, the organisers asked him to speak in response to a report that stated that the time was not ripe for Evangelicals to seek to form a United Church.

It would be the second National Assembly of Evangelicals, and, in view of the impor­tance of its subject, the first really significant gathering of British Evangelicals to be organ­ised by the Alliance since its foundation in 1846. The date was set: 18 October 1966.

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The Alliance had a new general secretary, the author and Baptist minister Morgan Derham. Lloyd-Jones met the Alliance Council beforehand, to share with them what he planned to say. Derham realised that Lloyd-Jones intended to make the assembly meeting the decisive event in his crusade for Evangelical separation from mainline deno­minations. So he rang John, who had been asked to take the chair at the assembly.

“I believe”, Derham told John, “that Dr Lloyd-Jones may well exceed his brief, which is simply to explain his case, but not to make an appeal for action. Frankly, if he does this he will be violating his rights as a guest at an Evangelical Alliance event. And, if he does so, I feel that you, as chairman, would be well within your rights to challenge him.”

John was grateful for this advance warning.

John was grateful for this advance warning.

WHEN the great day arrived, many hundreds of Evangelicals made their way to the Methodist Central Hall. The impressive building had, since its opening in 1912, played host to events of national and international importance. The suffragettes, campaigning for the vote for women, met there in 1914. Mahatma Gandhi addressed the Temperance Movement in 1931. During the Second World War the basement area became the largest air-raid shelter in England, housing hundreds of people every night. Here, General de Gaulle announced the foundation of the Free French Movement in 1940. William Sangster had attracted a con­gregation of 3000, morning and evening, every Sunday until the mid-1950s.

On the evening of 18 October 1966, the hall quickly filled. In the vestry, the atmos­phere among the platform party was warm and friendly as they prayed together.

“I suggest now”, said John as chairman, “that we make our way to the platform.”

“Where would you like me to sit?” Lloyd-Jones asked.

“Sit at my side,” John replied.

“Which side?” Lloyd-Jones asked with a twinkle in his eye. “You have two sides, John.”

There were merry, if slightly forced, chuckles.

John had been allocated ten minutes for his chairman’s remarks. As agreed beforehand, he referred to his own conscientious, continuing membership of the Church of England: “Its formularies are biblical and evangelical. Evan­gelicals are therefore the Anglican loyalists, and non-Evangelicals the deviationists.”

John made four brief points on church unity. “First, spiritual unity should be expres­sed visibly. Second, the visibility of this Chris­tian unity must include the mutual recogni­tion of the ministries and sacraments — there must be full communion. Third, this visible unity of the Church must be founded on the biblical faith. Fourth, this visible unity of the Church must also allow room for divergence of belief and practice in matters of secondary importance.”

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John concluded his remarks by referring to Lloyd-Jones as “in every particular my elder and better. I hold him in great esteem and affection in Christ.” As general secretary of the Alliance, Morgan Derham then spoke in ap­preciation of the main speaker of the evening. One who was present thought that he “eulogised the doctor with faint praise”.

At last it was time for Lloyd-Jones to get to his feet. “It would be churlish of me not to thank Mr Morgan Derham for the remarks he has made,” he began, “but I wish he had not done so. He has robbed me of my valuable time!”

AS LLOYD-JONES got into his talk, he warmed to his theme. “Ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine,” he said. “We, as Evangelicals, put doctrine before fellowship. . . I make this appeal to you Evangelical people this evening: what reasons have we for not coming together? Some will say we will miss evangelistic opportunities if we leave our denominations, but I say ‘Where is the Holy Spirit?’. . .

“You cannot justify your decision to remain in your denomination by saying that you maintain your independence. You cannot dissociate yourself from the Church to which you belong. This is a very contradictory posi­tion, and one that the man in the street must find very hard to understand. Don’t we feel the call to come together — not occasionally, but always?”

The atmosphere as he spoke was electric.

In the audience were many Anglican clergy; John felt especially responsible for them. “From the platform,” he later recalled, “I could see younger men with flushed faces, sitting on the edge of their seat, hanging on every word, and probably ready to go home and write their letter of resignation from the Alliance that very night. I hoped at least to restrain some hotheads from doing this.”

Members of the audience who valued their existing denominational allegiances were horrified by what Lloyd-Jones was saying.

Douglas Johnson, of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, thought that John looked “flushed, rattled, and annoyed”. And, indeed, John thought that using the opening address to make an appeal for action was an improper use of the assembly.

WHEN Lloyd-Jones eventually finished, John rose to thank the speaker and announce the closing hymn. But he had something more to say. “I hope that no one will make a precipitate de­cision after this moving address,” he began. You could have heard a pin drop as he aban­doned a chairman’s neutrality. “We are here to debate this subject, and I believe history is against Dr Lloyd-Jones, in that others have tried to do this very thing. I believe that Scripture is against him, in that the remnant was within the Church and not outside it.”

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The assembly delegates sang their closing hymn, and a buzz of conversation began. “Thank you for your timely intervention,” John Laird, general secretary of the Scripture Union, and not an Anglican, said to John. Others were also supportive — but not all.

In his home in Oxford that evening, Jim Packer’s phone rang. “Jim — is John Stott mad?” the caller asked. But, the following day, someone who had been at the meeting ob­served to Packer: “Martyn Lloyd-Jones has gone off his rocker!”

The Church of England Newspaper de-scribed Lloyd-Jones’s proposition as “barmy. . . nothing short of hare-brained”. Others wondered whether Lloyd-Jones had theorgan­­isational skills to get his idea off the ground.

A week or two later, John took the initiative and called on Lloyd-Jones to apologise —not for what he had said (which he continued to believe), but for misusing the chair and almost turning the meeting into a debate. “I scarcely restrained myself from answering you and developing the debate,” Lloyd-Jones replied.

THE incident generated so much con­troversy within Evangelicalism that the Evangelical Alliance National Assembly had to be cancelled the following year as a direct consequence. And, from 1967, the Westminster Fellowship ceased to offer a wel­come to Anglicans.

When John became president of the Evan­gelical Alliance, he told a “President’s Night” event that “Some Evangelicals, like myself, believe it is the will of God to remain in a Church that is sometimes called a ‘mixed denomination’. At least until it becomes apostate and ceases to be a Church, we believe it is our duty to remain in it, and bear witness to the truth as we have been given to under­stand it.

“Some of us who do this, however, are thought not to care about the truth. I want to say to you with all the strength of conviction that I possess that we care intensely about the truth, because we believe that God has re­vealed it fully and finally in Jesus Christ.”

This is an edited extract from Inside Story: The life of John Stott by Roger Steer (IVP, £12.99 (CT Bookshop £11.70); 978-1-84474-404-6).

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