truth and love

Exactly 40 years ago - and I mean to the very minute - people all over London were heading for the Underground to make their way to Central Hall, Westminster. 18 October 1966. What transpired that night is a 'defining moment' in post-War British evangelicalism.

Now, now ... don't close this window quite yet?! Stick with me for moment. I am going somewhere with this! I've read the story of that night in so many places. Where are those Back to the Future cars when you want them?

Here it is in a nutshell. Chairing the meeting was John Stott. The invited speaker was Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The two key evangelical leaders of the era. In his address Lloyd-Jones gave a stirring appeal that many listeners perceived to be a call to them to leave their denominations and form the true church. He suggested that the mainline denominations, in particular, harbour doctrinal error and that the evangelical should separate themselves from such churches. It would seem that the strength of his appeal caught people by surprise. Instead of closing the meeting, John Stott rose to his feet and said "I believe history is against what Lloyd-Jones has said ... Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside it."
Every account records how "the atmosphere was electric"...

It is the classic debate. Truth vs Love? Doctrine vs Unity? What doctrinal price are we prepared to pay to preserve unity? What fellowship price are we prepared to pay in order to preserve truth? For any faithful Jesus-follower these are questions that will be faced in their own personal lives - and in their relationships with others. Each perspective has merit. They can't just be swept away. It is impossible to read 1 John without seeing this. Love matters. Truth matters.

While Stott and Lloyd-Jones made their peace within days, a bitter dispute erupted more widely and it is Alister McGrath's view that the 'shadow of 1966' has lingered ever since.

Three reflections on which you may wish to comment:
(a) Truth matters ... but if there is very little over which we are prepared to divide for the sake of that truth, then does truth really matter to us?
(b) Love matters ... but if there is very little impulse to reconcile and restore fellowship with others for the sake of that love, then does love really matter to us?
(c) Sometime reflect on the defining moment in the early church in Acts 15. 'Can Gentiles become Christians?' If the outcome of this Jerusalem Council had not gone the way it did the church would have ceased to exist. It was just that critical. And what is the genius of the outcome? Read carefully. Truth wins! Love wins!

nice chatting

Paul

For the record:
+ The incident can be read on-line in an extract from John Stott's biography:
www.e-n.org.uk/1606-Biography-of-John-Stott-Volume-2.htm
The incident can be read also in the Lloyd-Jones' biography:
Iain Murray, D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth, 1990) 513-532

+ The full text of Lloyd-Jones' address is "Evangelical Unity: An Appeal" and is probably on the internet somewhere - although I could not find it quickly - and appears in D.M. Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Banner of Truth, 1989) 246-257

Comments

Andrew Butcher said…
Once again, a challenging blog. Timely for me personally. I'm currently studying 1st Corinthians for an exam in a week's time when I'll be required to exegete it. I think (and my exam result may prove me wrong!) that the entire letter is addressing a division in the Corinthian church of some form or other. Paul manages to combine harsh, provocative, perhaps even sarcastic truth with some extroardinary love in the circumstances (his opening remarks for example).

The second timely matter is that I've just returned from the Younger Leaders Gathering organised by Lausanne. The Lausanne Covenant has John Stott's finger-prints all over it. Like 1966, 1974 was a crucial date in the history of evangelicalism.

The differences amongst us at that Gathering were as obvious as the colour of our skin and the accent in our voice. But, in at least my experience, what united us was far stronger than what divided us (which was more fundamental than skin colour or accent and, in some cases, was national boundaries and ethnicities that had, amongst others, caused wars.)

I'm not sure that we can separate 'love' and 'truth' easily (or at all); they are necessarily two sides of the same coin. The truth of Jesus Christ is liberating ("the truth will set you free") but it also has a remarkable challenge to it ("I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the father except through me"). We can't accept the truth about who Jesus is and not be liberated by it. We can't ignore the truth about who Jesus Christ is and find our liberation anywhere else. As you put it, truth wins, love wins.

But the truth and the love that wins are bigger and greater and deeper and wider than whatever human parameters we might put on it. Jesus Christ completely re-defined those terms, in the cross - as that marvellous hymn puts it - is the trysting place where heaven's love and heaven's justice meet.

May we never lose sight of the truth in that act of love and the love in that life-changing truth.
Paul Windsor said…
The identification of the person and work of Jesus himself at the heart of the 'love wins' and 'truth wins' is such a crucial insight.

I've been reflecting more on the Stott/Lloyd-Jones debate since my post yesterday. In our own NZ setting consider the Methodists and the Presbyterians.
The Wesleyan-Methodist movement in NZ started with evangelical people leaning - quite legitimately, I'd suggest - the Lloyd-Jones way.
The recent struggles within the Presbyterian church presenting itself as the ordination of gay clergy have seen a response by Stuart Lange and the AFFIRM movement that leans - quite legitimately, I'd suggest - the Stottian way. In fact Presbyterian AFFIRM really inspires me because my sense is that they do find the 'love wins:truth wins' path forward.
Alex H said…
It's perhaps an oversimplification, but I find myself asking more and more, 'Does it fit inside the cross?'
Paul Windsor said…
Alex - what specifically do you have in mind with the word "it"?
thalia said…
Hmmmmmmm.

I worry, a bit, that our protestant heritage makes contemporary protestants like me keener on 'dividing for the sake of truth' than we should be.

The unity of the body of Christ seems to be an important thing; we'd need to be pretty jolly sure of our arguments before we broke it.

And that's my problem. The more I learn, the more aware I become that there are many devout, genuine, alive Christians with extremely big brains and libraries who can disagree in good faith on even central issues: the nature of the Trinity; the practice of baptism and communion; what exactly happened on the cross.

There's plenty of stuff that I believe, and believe strongly, fervently and in good faith. But if some of these spiritual and big-brained people disagree with my belief, can I really say they're wrong, I'm right, let's start our own church? That seems like a pretty big call. Historically, it's also been the easy way out, more often than not.

I know that there are people out there who disagree for good reasons about probably everything I've got on my list of Stuff-I-Believe. I'd be keen to be part of a 'spacious' body of Christ, where I don't feel the need to call those people heretics, or liberals, or fundamentalists, or anything else, but can love them as people who've evaluated the evidence of Scripture and life and come to different conclusions than me.

And yes, I'd say that we've got to have some common ground - like, 'Jesus is God' - or we're not even trying to be part of the same body. But exactly where the line is between 'Jesus is God' (which we need to agree on) and 'Christian men should be circumcised' is something I'm not keen on defining. Just about anywhere after 'Jesus is God' is ok for me - if you're in with me on that one, I think we can work something out - at least at a genial affiliation level. I'd still believe and teach the conclusions I've come to, but with a bit more humility than I started out on this journey with.

Last thought: God created a ridiculously diverse humanity. And seemed keen on unity. Ergo, (or at least, it seems to me that) there must be a way to cope with extreme diversity without schism - a way that isn't tried often enough.

Anyway. Long time reader, first time writer, glad to be part of the conversation. Thanks for the space, Paul.
Paul Windsor said…
Appreciate what you are saying, Thalia. Unity is so critical. Division far more avoidable than we think. Christianity more 'spacious' than we usually experience. Yes, Yes, Yes ... I believe!

But alongside this I would still argue that the New Testament concern to discover and conform to 'truth' is more limited than what we experience - yes, even a truth that will sometimes divide. Reading John's gospel with an eye on the place of 'truth' ... observing the way apostles resolved the crisis in Acts 15 ... the motivation behind the Pastorals and John's letters...

I can't help thinking that this reluctance has more to do with our society's discomfort with truth than it has to do with an even-handed reading of Jesus and the scriptures.

For me 'Jesus is God' would not be enough as a common ground. It would create a unity of sorts that should be pursued - but not the deeper organic unity on which the mission of God in this world is so dependent. I still reckon that open, humble lives coming together to Living Word and Written Word can experience a unity hitherto unknown on the way to a spacious Christianity hitherto undiscovered - and so desperately needed. I've seen enough of it to keep me longing for more of it...
Paul Windsor said…
A further comment, Thaila...
I've just started reading Kelly Munroe Kullberg, Finding God Beyond Harvard: the quest for veritas (IVP, 2006).
It is about her experiences as a chaplain at Harvard and her vision to see the "Veritas Forum" movement develop in universities all around the US ... a remarkable story, fired by a commitment to defend and promote veritas/truth.
thalia said…
I don't really disagree with anything you say, Paul, and I'm deliberately oversimplifying when I say 'Jesus is God' is the only bottom line. Perhaps it's fair to say we come from a common position on what Christianity is, but are addressing different worrying trends?

Maybe you're addressing the postmodern allergy to truth, and I'm addressing the protestant addiction to schism.

And you'll notice that my passion for spacious unity hasn't made me less interested in arguing about the truth... :)

Reflecting on your original post, I think we're both in the same game: trying to help create those deep, organic, spacious communities through a transforming focus on the Word and the word. And I guess that a ministry over time that takes truth seriously will help us value true unity when we experience deep disagreement.

I'm keen to hear what Alex H meant, too...
Paul Windsor said…
WOW - such eloquence! I wish I could write like that ... and we are on the same page too.