Friday, June 30, 2006

The Welsh Factor

Dr David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (yes, how many names does one man need?) was one of the most significant western evangelical figures of the 20th century. And he was was Welsh (not sure if there's a connection between those two sentences).

Much of what we take for granted as basic to the teaching of 'good' churches nowadays was revived at least partly due to Lloyd-Jones' ministry and influence (under God). Much of what is wrong with ‘Christianity’ today Lloyd-Jones’ fought against in his day, and things would’ve been very different today if perhaps more attention had been paid to his prophetic voice back then. So, no wonder I enjoyed reading the first volume of Iain Murray’s excellent biography of ‘the Doctor’ during my hols.

I’ve been trying to think of an appropriate way to draw together all of the things I learned and noted from just the first forty years of the life of this great man of God, but that would take too long, (for example – the necessity of strong confidence in God’s power and sovereignty, the importance of prayer, the need to preach a God-centred gospel not a human-centred one, the importance and place of preaching and teaching, the need for preaching and teaching to be in the power of the Spirit, the vital (truth-driven) experiential side of the Christian life, the importance of the local church with real relationships and genuinely spiritual fellowship, and so on).

Instead I’ve settled for two major themes that emerged as I read, partly because they’re a helpful corrective to what is often true of evangelicalism today.

1) We must preach sin and judgment

Lloyd-Jones was serving at a time when many in all the major denominations (especially his own) were abandoning the preaching of sin and judgment because it was seen to be too negative or not intellectual enough for modern sophisticated 20th century people. By contrast, Lloyd-Jones recognised that understanding sin and judgment was necessary both for converting the unbeliever and for firing up the believer to evangelise;

‘The sinner must feel his own sin and the Christian must feel for the sin of others’[1]

He followed up this statement with a plea for Christians to pray for God to save people rather than spend time looking down on unbelievers. It seems Lloyd-Jones preached such a ‘negative’ message out of genuine love for people and a passionate desire to see revival in the church. As a Doctor (he gave up a lucrative career as a Harley Street Doctor to become a minister) he fully understood the necessity of telling people the bad news so that they could receive the remedy; in his view it was cruel to say that ‘all is well’ when ‘In the name of God, all is wrong’.[2] He only told people about sin so that he could tell them about grace.

2) The Gospel is for all people.

Two quotes will put this clearly enough;

‘He (Lloyd-Jones) was preoccupied with the need for evangelistic work amongst the poorer, working-class people. This conviction arose not simply out of interest in them as people, but equally out of a persuasion that modern Christianity, unlike the apostolic faith (which was as relevant to the “Barbarians” and to the “unwise” as to the “Greeks” and the “wise”) seemed to appeal largely to only one social and cultural group. That was evidence to him that the transforming power of real Christianity was largely absent. He wanted to see the message which he believed had been given to him of God tested in a place where social habits did not support church-going.’[3]

Secondly, writing about a particular phase of growth at Sandfields - the first church Lloyd-Jones was minister of, Murray says

‘…probably the clearest lesson he gained from this period was the lifelong assurance that, in days when the church’s influence is limited and restrained to certain types of people, the power of the Holy Spirit is able to reach and convince all classes. No single section of the community was left unrepresented in Sandfields…’[4]

He believed in a universal problem for all people (Sin and God’s Judgment) and a universal remedy (Christ and God’s grace) and then he preached and lived it. The result was a church with prayer meetings over two hours long, a church where congregation members constantly brought friends to services, and a church with a steady stream of new Christians from across the social spectrum.

What could things be like if there were only more of that sort of gospel work today?

[1] Iain H. Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: the first forty years 1899-1939 (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982) p.208
[2] Ibid., p.216
[3] Ibid., pp.105-6
[4] Ibid., p.226


Jude said...

I agree very much with the two points drawn out being a necessity for evangelism today. I work as a part of a Christian project and have struggled when the issue of hell became too taboo for one of my co-workers and she has adopted a universalist approach, claiming it is 'as Biblical as evangelicalism'...for example, I took one of our non-Christian young adults to Church and she was upset at the point in the sermon where Peter Lewis made is clear she was going to co-worker wanted to give the girl some reading on universalism as 'evangelical theology isnt working her for her' and claimed our view on hell was modernist (as in cultural rather than truth)...I am in no doubt that my co-worker is saved, but been taught and lead astray, sin and hell are indeed subjects that people seem to feel the need to 'get around'. Worrying!

Pete said...

The sad thing is, it's right and good that your friend be upset at being told about condemnation. It is upsetting. And many people would testify that the initial offence of the gospel is what made them 'come back for more' - even sometimes just out of fear that it might be right or out of a desire to prove it wrong!