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!
For the record:
+ The incident can be read on-line in an extract from John Stott's biography:
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