A publication for our time
By J.P. Thackway
An extended review of THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN …
An urgent plea for evangelicals to recognise the danger of the Ecumenical Movement and remember the stand that the British Evangelical Council and Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones took against it. By R.E. Palgrave. Unity in Truth Literature, booklet, 41 pages, £1. Obtainable from Unity in Truth Literature, PO Box 4357, Cardiff CF14 8HY.
Sometimes, a new publication appears that breaks the mould of the ordinary and predictable. Such literature is rare in our day. Christians tend to write on safe and acceptable subjects. Authors who do this will be read with approval and credibility. However, let someone touch the areas of say, worship, or separation from errorists, and our evangelical politically correct climate breaks into a storm. Those who write forthrightly on these matters find themselves accused of an uncharitable spirit and being “divisive.”
The booklet mentioned above fits into this category. Not because Ruth Palgrave is an uncharitable or divisive person – she is quite the reverse of these – but because she dares to raise a matter that many would rather see quietly laid aside. The booklet’s message is that the present generation of evangelical/reformed Christians have largely forgotten something historic and epoch-making. I refer to the convictions concerning separation from ecumenism that shaped our forefather’s actions until recently. To read or listen to many these days, one would think that such convictions relate to an outdated and outmoded concern. Certainly, Professor Donald Macleod thinks so, in the piece we covered last time.1 And many others, while not so blatant, yet believe there are things that are more important now.
The booklet and its author have already come in for the expected criticism, both privately and publicly, and probably more will come. However, we hope that others will be more discerning and prepared to take seriously what is said. In this extended appreciation, I would like to highlight some of the issues raised and commend the booklet’s message to our readers, and to all who will consider these things. This magazine has already covered a number of aspects dealt with here by Miss Palgrave2 because it is in line with the Bible League’s own witness. However, it is a great encouragement to see such a succinct and well-researched treatment3 that calls us to think and act biblically in the light of the onward march of the ecumenical apostasy.
The booklet begins with an Introduction giving a brief history of the British Evangelical Council (BEC).4 It reminds us of that body’s stand against ecumenism – and for true spiritual unity based on faithfulness to biblical truth, and the corollary of separation from the Ecumenical Movement (EM). This stand was necessary, not only because God’s word requires it (Romans 16:17; 2 John verses 9-11), but in order to maintain a clear testimony to what the gospel is and what a true church is. While embracing all who love Christ and the gospel, it had to exclude from its membership those who, while professedly evangelical, nonetheless chose to remain affiliated to doctrinally mixed churches and denominations. This separation was officially at church level, not necessarily at a personal level. Foremost among the BEC’s representatives back then were Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and its General Secretary until 1982, Rev. Roland Lamb.5
The first chapter documents the witness of Dr. Lloyd-Jones, a discerning and far-seeing leader whom God raised up for the times. His anointed preaching during the 1960s onwards clarified these issues. Through his leadership in the 1960s and 1970s, the BEC became, for evangelicals, the counterpart to the World Council of Churches (WCC), and the church fellowship of those days the counterpart to the EM. Believers knew where they stood concerning the gospel, what a Christian is, and what a Christian church is. These were the issues at stake, and were faithfully contended for against the Church of Rome, liberalism, and false ecclesiastical unity.
The six pages of Chapter 26 give an incisive little history of the rise of New Evangelicalism during the 1940s in the USA. That movement repudiated separation from liberals and from the social gospel. It led to theological seminaries and churches being involved with enemies of truth up to their necks. E.J. Poole-Connor, founder of the FIEC, declared, “The ‘New Evangelicalism’ that had arisen was a departure from the old. It stood for ‘infiltration’ and not ‘separation.’” Tragically, infiltration developed into participation and ultimately imitation. It came to the UK via the Billy Graham evangelistic rallies and his accepting the sponsorship of liberals and apostates. Thus, the issue of separation became clouded by the pressing concerns of evangelism. The rise of New Evangelicalism was followed in 1948 by the founding of the WCC – a date surely not unrelated to what preceded it.
The following three chapters – The Ecumenical Movement and the WCC, The attitude of Dr. Lloyd-Jones and the BEC towards it, and The Scriptural necessity for believers and the BEC to separate from the WCC and apostate denominations and organisations7 – complete what is really the first half of the booklet. These pages leave us in no doubt about the apostasy of the EM, and the impossibility of professed evangelicals being involved with it. Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ trenchant phrase “guilt by association” was criticised even back in 1967 by some, but far from retracting it he was to assert by 1974 that what he saw as implicit then was now explicit.8 More testimonies from Christian leaders follow, together with supporting scriptures, to show that the duty of separation from errorists is as clear as the duty to separate from sin.
The facts here are undeniable, except for those who wish to re-write this history. That later writers have engaged in historical revisionism is documented in one of the articles mentioned earlier, the July- September 2001 issue of the Bible League Quarterly and also Sword & Trowel 2000 No 2.
The second half of the booklet covers Chapters 6-9.9 Here, the author shows that BEC’s successor – Affinity – does not stand in the same clear-cut separatist tradition. Looking back, this outcome is traceable in part to the loss of Dr. Lloyd-Jones in 1981. As soon as 1984, respected leaders like T. Omri Jenkins were warning about a weakening and drifting among evangelicals. The firm stance against ecumenism, once so evident, was giving way to an alarming passion for evangelical unity that was prepared to widen the parameters of fellowship.
The short-lived Essentially Evangelical10 morphed into Affinity in 2004. The new body opened its doors to member churches belonging to the WCC, namely the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union, also to those wedded to the Church of England.11 This would have been unthinkable in the old BEC days, unless the ministers concerned were intending to bring their people out of such affiliations. Moreover, it meant that member churches of BEC found themselves by default belonging to Affinity – as “Gospel Churches in Partnership” with these ecumenical denominations. An embarrassing and dismaying fait accompli.
Affinity claims to “continue the work of the British Evangelical Council.”12 This sounds reassuring, but surely if this were the case one would expect it to carry the BEC’s Official Statement: Attitude to Ecumenicity on its web site, but it does not.13 This is surely to play down its BEC roots. Affinity’s own statement on ecumenicity includes the following,
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.14
In theory, the doctrinal basis15 could be as restrictive as is claimed in the above paragraph. However, in practice, this is clearly not happening and will not happen. One need only cite again the admission of a United Reformed Church (a member of the WCC and of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) as an Independent Corporate Partner.16 Affinity’s non-mention of the evils of the EM and WCC has made this wider connection possible, giving the impression that the old battle lines are no longer important.
Also, perhaps, for this reason individuals are assessing the current situation too sanguinely, forgetting (as the booklet says) the real issues lie behind it. One writer on his blog does this,17 and gently chides Miss Palgrave for her unfairness to Affinity. The writer then makes the astonishing claim concerning Affinity’s above-mentioned position on ecumenicity,
These statements clearly lay out Affinity’s position as non-ecumenical. Member churches that are actively involved with the ‘Churches Together’ movement would clearly be in breach of them.
Yet, as we have seen, Affinity has a URC church as a partner – a denomination that is part of Churches Together! Also, see the article elsewhere in this magazine, where an FIEC church (which belongs to Affinity) supports a missionary who “… in his own words for years ‘started Catholic fellowships’ in Poland, a longstanding faculty member of a seminary that proudly styles itself a ‘promoter of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.’” Clearly, what is claimed and what is done are two different things.
It is sometimes said that BEC became Affinity because the former had stagnated or had become irrelevant. That a noble Christian body can become so over time is not disputed. However, if it is to have new life and be re-branded, as claimed, into a “re-invigorated, re-focussed and re-presented BEC,”18 then we look for continuity regarding its founding principles and practices. However, when we compare the rather muted and careful wording of Affinity with the robust, clearly spelled out terms of the BEC’s Official Statement, we are in a different world. We suspect more was behind Affinity than the desire for a new image. It was also to create a new BEC more accommodating and inclusive than its predecessor would allow. In other words, as the booklet claims, “They have forgotten…”
The booklet’s Conclusion on page 34 rightly acknowledges the true unity that exists among churches throughout the UK and the world that are separatist yet together in the love of the truth. Such churches continue the work of the BEC and have not forgotten the clear and rugged witness of their forefathers in the faith. Let us never forget this either, and seek to be their worthy successors. Only then shall we be faithfully serve our generation by the will of God (Acts 13:26). We thank Ruth Palgrave for such an excellent publication and warmly commend it to all our readers.
1 See Bible League Quarterly, July-September 2012, pages 248-252.
2 See, Is Evangelicalism Divided? and The Sad Saga of Praise, April-June 2001; Today’s FIEC and E.J. Poole-Connor, July-September 2001; and Affinity, April-June 2005.
3 The meticulousness of the author can be seen in the 145 endnotes that document her assertions. 4 They have Forgotten, Page 5.
5 It was Roland Lamb who, before he died in 2011, was particularly concerned to see the contents of this booklet in print. The title of the booklet, “They have forgotten …” was his estimation of the changed climate among evangelicals concerning biblical separation.
6 They have Forgotten, pages 8-13.
7 Ibid, pages 14-20.
8 Ibid, 18,19.
9 Ibid, pages 21-33.
10 See Bible League Quarterly, April-June 2005, pages 61f for fuller information on the part it played regarding Affinity.
11 They have Forgotten, page 22.
12 The words of its Director, Peter Milsom, http://exiledpreacher.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/
13 They have Forgotten, page 23.
16 http://www.affinity.org.uk/find-a-church/church-information/ grange-united-reformed-church
17 http://marprelate.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/response-to-they- have-forgotten-by-r-e-palgrave/#comment-579