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The End of the Puritan Conference

Category Articles
Date March 12, 2010
EXTRACTS FROM CHAPTERS 8 & 9 OF IAIN H. MURRAY’S Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace1

The position of the mixed denominations in the 1960s was far from static. On account of the ecumenical movement, the whole future of denominations was under discussion as it had never been before. When ML-J raised the great Reformation question, ‘What is a Christian?’, it was directly relevant to the current discussion. As members of the World Council of Churches the mainline denominations were all committed to the ecumenical quest for ‘one world church’. He observed: ‘Though one hand is held out to us, we must notice that the other is held out to Roman Catholics.’2

In the 1960s the term ‘Protestant’ had almost dropped out of evangelical usage. Certainly it was uncommon for anyone to say, as ML-J did, that Rome taught ‘another gospel’ and that ‘there can be no compromise with sacerdotalism.’3 While it was becoming customary for many evangelicals to regard such language as out-of-date, for him the danger was real. It entered into his reason for asking evangelicals at the 1966 Evangelical Alliance meeting whether their association with men of other beliefs was more important than giving their time and strength to a common cause with fellow evangelicals. Instead of waiting until united action might be forced upon a weakened evangelicalism in the future, they should face the main question now whether they would be ‘content with just being an evangelical wing in a territorial church that will eventually include, and must, if it is to be a truly national and ecumenical church, the Roman Catholic Church’.4

One of the contributing factors to confusion in the 1960s was the effort of the Second Vatican Council to soften the Church’s former language on Protestantism, and to speak as though the disagreement was not as radical as was traditionally believed. There were not lacking non-Roman Catholics, impressed by this presentation, who adopted a similar approach. In the words of ML-J in 1969, ‘There are foolish Protestants who seem to think that the way to win Roman Catholics is to show them there is practically no difference between us.’5 He did not know when he spoke these words that conciliation had proceeded far enough for evangelicals to share in a book that would blur some of the main differences with Rome. In Growing into Union (1970) four Anglicans – two evangelicals and two Anglo-Catholics – professed to have found a unity between themselves which they believed would be permanent. They wrote,

We now present our work as those who are still definitely and confessedly Catholics and evangelicals, even as strong and uncompromising men of such persuasions. But equally we are not what we were.

This book endorsed the ecumenical position that there should be no two denominations in the same locality; it allowed that ‘both Scripture and Tradition must be seen as deriving from Christ’; held that the bishop in his diocese ‘presents in his own person a small scale image of the ministry of Christ himself’; and claimed that baptism entitles a person to ‘the riches of his Father’s house’; ‘The gospel makes us one in the Second Adam by baptism.’6

One of the four authors in this concession to Anglo-Catholic thinking was J. I. Packer. It was the publication of this book that brought the letter of ML-J to Packer of July 7, 1970 [see below], and Growing into Union terminated the work in which the two men had been associated through twenty years. To represent this event as Packer being ‘frozen out of the Lloyd-Jones circles’, or as his being a ‘casualty of the advancing separatist movement’ is to ignore what caused the break.7 The issue, as ML-J wrote to Packer, was that

the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist, and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.

In their belief that saving grace is conveyed through the sacraments Anglo-Catholic belief was the same as that of Roman Catholicism. The disagreement that ended the Puritan Conference involved the teaching against which the Reformation had been a protest. I do not think it was a new relationship with Roman Catholicism that Packer and Anglican evangelicals intended in 1970,8 but ML-J saw this alliance of evangelical and Anglo-Catholic as the opening of a door that would open yet wider. That his apprehension was not unfounded is a matter of history. The follow-up to Keele (Nottingham, 1977), taught evangelicals to regard ‘Roman Catholics as fellow-believers’. Packer acceded to this; and, the same year, he was the senior contributor to Across the Divide, a publication which acknowledged ‘the most striking change of stance . . . in relation to the Roman Catholic Church’.9 The nature of this change was not clearly stated. It was not that Protestants now recognised that a Roman Catholic may be a Christian; that had never been questioned. The historic issue between Protestantism and Rome was whether a true believer should remain in that Church. In the words of Richard Baxter:

I affect no union with any that are not united to Christ, or appear so to me . . . I will not close with a Papist, as a Papist; but if I meet with a Christian that goeth under that name, I will own him as a Christian, though not as a Papist and I would endeavour to undeceive him that I might fuller join with him.10

No such qualification accompanied the indiscriminate endorsement Anglican evangelicals now gave to Roman Catholics as ‘fellow believers’. On the contrary, in 1980 Packer would write the Foreword to George Carey’s bookin favour of reunion with Rome;11 and a decade later he was the leading theologian from the evangelical side in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement. It was not without reason, in 2005, that Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom dedicated their book, Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism, ‘To J. I. Packer, discerning pioneer’.

Out of seemingly small beginnings, greater things thus grew. The controversy over the publication of Growing into Union was not prompted by some trivial difference. It was not about ‘separatism or Anglicanism’. Indeed the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles were one of the main casualties in the new policy.12 Yet the alleged cause of the end of the Puritan Conference, as presented by McGrath (on behalf of Packer), has been blindly followed by many others. Don J. Payne, one of those who has accepted the McGrath explanation, wrote:

Packer followed the lead of George Whitefield, Charles Simeon, and J. C. Ryle in choosing to stay in the Church of England for the sake of facilitating reform. Lloyd-Jones found this intolerable.13

It was not the ‘reform’ of the Church of England that was advanced in the pages of Growing into Union. ‘Separatist’, was a label given to ML-J but he knew it had an honoured use at the time of the Reformation. Commenting on John 10:2, Calvin wrote:

We ought not to form or maintain intercourse with any society but that which is agreed in the pure faith of the Gospel. For this reason Christ exhorts his disciples to separate themselves from the unbelieving multitude.

Packer has argued that, in ML-J’s eyes, even ‘opposing and repudiating’ error within a mixed denomination, ‘does not clear one of guilt unless one actually withdraws.’14 I do not know any documentation to show that was Lloyd-Jones’s belief; it was certainly not his main point. His call was not separation from denominations as such; it was for separation from error and unbelief. In 1978 Packer argued that the existing doctrinal comprehensiveness in the Church of England had to be accepted ‘reluctantly and with sorrow’. He believed this was better than ‘an unlovely perfectionism and self-sufficiency’ which supposes ‘God would never show Catholics or non-conservative Protestants anything he had not first shown evangelicals.’15 In another place he writes:

Any who lapse into this intellectual perfectionism will be sharp, no doubt, against their brothers who go into dialogue about divine things in the hope that new insights into the meaning of Scripture will come to them from their non-evangelical partners.16

This admission and defence of the changed position towards non-evangelicals does not appear to be recognised anywhere by Packer when he refers to his difference with ML-J. Thankfully, when Packer and Stott are not constrained by ecumenical or denominational considerations, the evangelicalism of their writings has benefited very many. But the consequences of the course they set in the 1960s are also still with us.


Lloyd-Jones to Packer, July 7, 1970

My dear Friend,

It is with a very heavy heart and deep regret that I write this letter. I do so on behalf of John Caiger and David Fountain as well as myself.

The three of us as the Free Church members of the committee of the Puritan Conference met together yesterday during the lunch interval of the monthly ministers’ Fellowship.

In the Fellowship we spent morning and afternoon in discussing Growing into Union. The general opinion there, without a single voice to the contrary, was that the doctrinal position outlined in that book cannot be regarded as being evangelical, still less puritan. The three of us therefore feel, most reluctantly, that we cannot continue to cooperate with you in the Puritan Conference. To do so would be at the least to cause great confusion in the minds of all Free Church evangelical people and indeed also a number of Anglican people.

We suggest therefore that no Conference be held this year and that a simple notice to that effect be inserted in the Report for 1969 and also in the Evangelical Magazine and in the Evangelical Times list of meetings for December.

This I feel sure will not come as a surprise to you as you must have known that the views expounded in the book concerning Tradition, Baptism, the Eucharist and Bishops, not to mention the lack of clarity concerning justification by faith only, could not possibly be acceptable to the vast majority of people attending the Puritan Conference.

Your mind is made up and you have stated clearly that no wedge shall be driven between you and your Anglo-Catholic associates.17

There is no purpose therefore in any discussion and the last thing we would desire would be to do anything that could in any way harm our personal relationships.

I could write much but I must not weary you. You have known throughout the years not only my admiration for your great gift of mind and intellect but also my deep regard for you. I had expected that long before this you would have produced a major work in the Warfield tradition, but you have felt called to become involved in ecclesiastical affairs. This to me is nothing less than a great tragedy and a real loss to the Church.

After all these years I am saddened at the thought that we shall not meet regularly year by year at the Conference and at other odd times; but I sincerely hope that we shall be able to maintain some personal contact. I shall always be interested in you and your career and in you as a family, and what I say for myself is true of us as a family. We have often disagreed about people but never about you.

With warmest regards and good wishes from John Caiger, David Fountain, and myself and the family,

Yours ever sincerely,
D. M. Lloyd-Jones

Dr Packer and the Rev. G. S. R. Cox were the Anglican members of the Puritan Conference committee. In his reply of July 9, 1970, Packer agreed to the termination of the conference and wrote:

I naturally regret that you and David and John have felt bound to take this line, but I recognise it as one more application of the principles of cooperation which you have been advocating so strongly in recent years (and which, as you know, have never convinced me) . . . My respect for you and my gratitude for what God has given me through you in the past remains undimmed.

The two men met in October to discuss the above issue but the difference of judgment was never resolved. Packer believed that ML-J’s position represented a withdrawal from the historic fellowship which evangelicals had always shared on essentials;18 ML-J held that it was Anglican evangelicals who were introducing serious change for they were acting as though the evangelical understanding of how an individual comes into the possession of salvation was not uniquely different from contrary teaching. Packer responded to a call from Regent College, Vancouver, in 1979, and his teaching and writing contributed largely to the recovery of interest in the Puritans which has taken place in North America. Wendy Zoba writes of his difference with ML-J:

Ten years after their estrangement in 1970, Packer wrote his friend and colleague Martyn Lloyd-Jones asking to visit him on his forthcoming trip to England. Lloyd-Jones, who had been ill, encouraged him to come. ‘I never saw him’, Packer says. ‘He died before I could get there. It didn’t make a great deal of difference’, he says. ‘There’s always heaven.’19

Notes

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      Messenger of Grace

      by Iain H. Murray


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      EXTRACTS FROM CHAPTERS 8 & 9 OF IAIN H. MURRAY’S Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace1 The position of the mixed denominations in the 1960s was far from static. On account of the ecumenical movement, the whole future of denominations was under discussion as it had never been before. When ML-J raised the great Reformation question, ‘What […]

  1. Unity in Truth, p. 181.
  2. Ibid., p. 40. ‘Sacerdotalism’ = ‘The Church [Roman] affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.’ Catechism of the Catholic Church, (1994), p. 259 (para. 1129). Emphasis in original. ML-J regularly read contemporary Roman Catholic literature.
  3. ‘Evangelical Unity: An Appeal,’ Knowing the Times, p. 251.
  4. Preaching and Preachers, p. 140.
  5. C. O. Buchanan, E. L. Mascall, J. I. Packer, G. D. Leonard, Growing into Union: Proposals for Forming a United Church in England, (London: SPCK, 1970), pp. 64, 76, 34, 58.
  6. The opinions quoted on the breach are from McGrath, To Know and Serve God, p. 234, and Brencher, Lloyd-Jones, p. 110. The Conference was reconstituted, without Packer, as ‘The Westminster Conference’ in 1971.
  7. The alliance with Anglo-Catholics grew out of a common wish to defeat the proposals for Anglican-Methodist reunion.
  8. Across the Divide (Basingstoke: Lyttelton Press, 1977), p. 14.
  9. Richard Baxter, Confession of Faith (London: 1655), p. 26.
  10. A Tale of Two Churches: Can Protestants & Catholics Get Together? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1985).
  11. The authority of the Articles, with its clear Protestant teaching, had already been flouted in the Church of England, but until the 1960s the evangelicals in the denomination had professed their adherence.
  12. D. J. Payne, The Theology of the Christian Life in J. I. Packer’s Thought (Bletchley: Paternoster, 2006), p. 70.
  13. Chosen Vessels, p. 112.
  14. J. I. Packer, The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem (Oxford: Latimer House, 1978), pp. 31-32.
  15. Ibid., p. 11. ML-J marked these words in his copy of the booklet with the comment: ‘Fatal admission!’
  16. ‘We are all four committed to every line in the book . . . and we are determined that no wedge should be driven between us’ (Growing into Union, p. 19.) In interpreting the meaning of the book, the fact that G. D. Leonard, one of its two Anglo-Catholic authors, was received into the Church of Rome in 1994 is not without significance.
  17. See Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Chosen by God, ed. C. Catherwood, Highland Books, 1986, pp. 45-6
  18. ‘Knowing Packer: The Lonely Journey of a Passionate Puritan’, Christianity Today, April 6, 1998, p. 40.

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