Stand fast for authentic evangelicalism: 5

By F.J. Harris

In the previous parts of this address, Mr. Harris covered the first main cause of the decline of authentic evangelicalism: the rise of New Evangelicalism. This led to four catastrophic consequences that have weakened the true faith in the last 60 years. Now the next cause is examined.

2. The great change in the approach of Evangelical Anglicans to Non-Evangelicals in the Church of England

The first National Evangelical Anglican Congress met at Keele in the Spring of 1967, with a thousand delegates present, both ministers and lay people. Here the policy which had already been in operation was spelled out – there was to be no confrontation with Non-Evangelicals.

John Stott was the Chairman and he said that Evangelicals have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism (that’s how he defined standing for the Truth!) and he went on to say that we must acknowledge this and admit that the blame lies with us. He went on to say that we need to repent and change.

That change was very apparent for Michael Ramsey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was the preacher invited to open this Conference. Just ten years before, Ramsey had said that Evangelicals were heretical and sectarian; that he expected to meet atheists in heaven. He was an Anglo-Catholic, liberal in theology and very sympathetic to reunion with Rome.

Subsequently, John Stott wrote, “Keele expressed the formal, public renunciation by Evangelical Anglicans of the pietism that had too long marred our life and our testimony.” The use of the word “pietism” was an unjust and indeed false description of those who held to Evangelical Truth.

John King, a former editor of the Church of England Newspaper expressed pleasure that “monolithic evangelical unity” had given way to “church consciousness;” and he added, “the outstanding effect of Keele was to deal a death-blow to the idea of an Evangelical unity existing as a kind of alternative to the ecumenical movement.” Others wrote that Evangelicals were now to think of themselves as Anglicans first – Anglican Evangelicals, not Evangelical Anglicans.

This was a distinction that Dr Lloyd-Jones had long complained about at the Westminster Fellowship of ministers. I can still hear him saying, “You Anglicans have got to face up to the question of whether you are Anglicans first or Evangelicals first. What is more important to you, your Anglicanism or your Evangelicalism?”

For several years before the Keele Conference, Dr. Lloyd-Jones had been speaking more and more about the need to separate from doctrinally mixed denominations, particularly at the Westminster fellowship of ministers, of which it was my privilege to be a member. (The editor was also privileged to be a member from about 1978).

He said, “To concede the title ‘Christian’ to those who deny the fundamental truths of the gospel is to undermine Christianity itself. Those who question and query, let alone deny the great cardinal truths that have been accepted through the centuries, do not belong to the church and to regard them as brethren is to betray the truth.”

In October 1966 he had been invited to preach at the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Alliance. He had begun his sermon with these words, “My subject is Church Unity and I am speaking on this at the request of the Commission which has asked me to state in public what I said to them in private!”

In other words he had informed the leaders of the Alliance what the theme of his preaching would be, and he proceeded to issue a clarion call for true Evangelicals to come out of the mixed denominations. It was a most powerful address, and John Stott who was the Chairman and, of course, a dyed-in-the-wool Anglican, stood up and publicly disagreed with the Doctor – a gross misuse of the chair for which, some years later, he apologised to Dr. Lloyd-Jones.

My personal view is that John Stott was afraid that there would be a mass exit of evangelicals from the Church of England and felt that he must seek to dissuade them. Tragically, Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ appeal fell largely on deaf ears as far as the Anglicans were concerned, and it had little effect upon the majority of the non-conformists who were still in mixed denominations.

We must remember that Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ call for separation, and for closer visible fellowship between evangelicals based on a common belief of Gospel Truth (though he never envisaged forming a new Denomination) was made over 40 years ago, before the worship decline and overwhelming worldliness had set in to so many Evangelical Churches.

After that Evangelical Alliance Meeting, the Westminster Fellowship of ministers met for their monthly meeting. After some discussion of that meeting the Doctor rose and said that the time had come to bring the Fellowship in its present form to an end on account of the fundamental cleavage that existed between those who believed in staying in their doctrinally-mixed denominations and those who saw no purpose in that.

I was present at that meeting, and I can remember the sense of shock and sorrow that swept over the meeting although the decision had clearly been coming for some time. Most of us who had met in the morning re-convened in the afternoon without the Doctor. A resolution was proposed that he be asked to lead a re-constituted Fellowship which would be based upon the principle of separation from the doctrinally-mixed denominations. As a result, 96 voted for this resolution, 13 against and 31 abstained.

The Doctor accepted the invitation. Soon after that, in his annual letter to the members of Westminster Chapel, MLJ wrote, “No longer can it be assumed that to be evangelical means to accept the authority of the Scriptures on matters of history and on the creation of the world and man.”

From then on he no longer looked for a broad influence, and aimed to concentrate on the strengthening of those churches and agencies which shared a common commitment in the existing conflict. He was convinced that the way for the whole situation ultimately to be improved was for a minority to stand fast and in so doing to prepare the way to brighter days. He believed that by the grace of God the principle of the remnant would be vindicated again.

Ten years after the Keele Conference, 2000 delegates attended the second National Evangelical Anglican Conference which met at Nottingham, (also chaired by John Stott). David Watson, one of the younger generation of Anglicans, deplored the division of the church at the Reformation, and spoke of the profound grief that God must feel at the separation of His body(!).

Before that Conference, Gervase Duffield, a prominent Anglican layman had written, “Evangelicals outside the Church of England wonder why on earth their fellow Evangelicals are hobnobbing with Anglo-Catholics and liberals. The reason is very simple – the doctrine of the church has been re-discovered, that is that entry into the church is by baptism!”

I ask you, dear friends, Is that a new discovery? Is it not a repetition of Romish error followed by the Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England? Duffield went on to criticise Evangelicals in the Church of England who follow the example of 18th C Evangelicals like John Berridge who, he said, “seems to have held an inadequate doctrine of baptism and went around asserting that conversion, not baptism, was the means of admission into the church.”

The outcome of all this was that part of the statement issued at the end of the Nottingham Conference contained these words: Remember this was a Conference of Evangelicals!

Seeing ourselves and Roman Catholics as fellow-Christians, we repent of attitudes that have seemed to deny it … Deeply regretting past attitudes of indifference and ill-will towards Roman Catholics, we renew our commitment to seek with them the truth of God and the unity he wills, in obedience to our common Lord on the basis of Scripture.

Neither were the Non-conformists stronger: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists were all breaking from their traditional moorings and involving themselves in all kinds of ecumenical ventures. Though there were individual churches within these denominations which maintained a staunch Evangelical stand, the denominational leadership was continuing the theological downgrade which had led Spurgeon to secede from the Baptist Union in 1887.

One leader of the Congregational denomination said in regard to the Savoy Declaration of 1658, “To accept it as a valid declaration for today would be unthinkable.” Other denominational leaders held similar views.

As I said earlier I know this is a sorry tale I am telling you dear friends, but again I emphasise that it is necessary to understand these things if we are to understand the present state of things and if we are to have any understanding of some of the pitfalls we should and must avoid in future days.

To be continued

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